"Isn't that Osama bin Laden over there?" A perfectly executed diversion tactic. It works a treat. That, and switching the passports for immigration. They examine the ticket and the passport separately. And there is no record of my nationality on the ticket. Easy really. I am sneaking my way into Colombia. Some might say that was unwise Simey boy. But what a rebel.
Retrieve my bike from the warehouse. The sweat I exuded on the road to the Panama Airport has been brewing quietly for three weeks. The jacket and helmet are covered in thick mould when I open the box. This discovery is made too late in the day. Dusk is decending. It is time to go. Everyone is looking. The bike's running. I swallow and stick them on. Yuk. I really am disgusting.
Bogota could be any town in southern Europe, just don't go out at night. I stay at the backpackers and hook up with the gap year boys. They get drunk every evening and spend the rest of the time planning ways to get coke. It occupies them for hours. They revel in the rituals. There are hand shakes, earnest nods and fists-met all over. Hard boy is Sebastian. There might be something almost endearing in their earnest rites of pseudo-adulthood. Or maybe not.
Every Colombian I talk to either tells me to be very very careful or not to travel at all. Too late now.
Fifth pull of the day. The carretera police. Of course they are going to: politely, more out of inquisitiveness than anything. These ones are very keen for the "seguro obligatoria". I hand over as many sheets as I can find, blunderbus approach. There're some pizza fliers in there somewhere. The boss looks at the paperwork with all the horror I had hoped for. He returns it fussily and goes through my boxes. He repeats "seguro obligatoria, seguro obligatoria". He is absent-mindedly turning my Collins mini Espanol-Ingles dictionary over in his hand . I smile more broadly at each request. This dumb tourist routine really is pathetic. I should have got the insurance back in Bogota. But it was too cold. I was too lazy. Too arrogant. I dunno.
They look at each other. They don't know what to do. Knife edge time. The dictionary is functioning as worry beads. It turns over and over. Don't read the title officer. It will help you way too much. Is the centime going to drop? He is agitated. He feels that I have taken away his role in life, his power. Imagine authority without language. Difficult isn't it? What to do?
As long as it doesn't occur to him that this is deliberate I will be okay; no one would be that duplicitous, especially not this pleasant adventurer. I am callously exploiting his generous worldview. He takes on a pleading tone, which must hurt a lot, "Seguro obligatoria, senor". Nope, definitely don't get it my friend. This is my moment, when they are completely at a loss. Before they find an English speaker. I start to pack up, avoiding eye contact. They can't say different. He replaces the book gently. I will pack it deeper tonight. They are non-plussed. I am away, but I can't do this pantomime too many times. It's all a bit demeaning.
Every tale needs an ending. Mine is biological.
I am having aluminium boxes made (again) in Viedma, southern Argentina, when an email arrives from Europe. Rachel has just got back after a tough trip down the pan-American highway - weeks of gravel roads, camping rough and being blown off her bike. There’s some big news.
Photo by Lois
Unknown to us, cells had been dividing all the way down the left side of the continent, and back up the right. Spliting, multiplying, making something new. Supposedly one-up on that jaunt, it looks like we had underestimated the KLR’s carrying capacity.
She’d just seen a doctor she says, and nothing now can stop her (or she would if she followed 1970s English pop music closely enough). You make your bed, you have to lie in it. We’d been tucking in northern Mexico a bed of mountain highs, and deep damp valleys.
So tra la la. Fatherhood.
It seemed right for me. Four years of road is quite enough. Too many “yes, all the way”; “six hundred cc” and “about the same as a small car”. Too many random menu meals. Too much black snot and fear around the corner. The life of a rootless rep, only without the expense account. I was pleased to have a reason to end. A good one. Africa will wait.
The night before my home flight saw me up on a Uruguay border selling the Kawasaki and riding wide-open back to Buenos Aires through the freezing autumn night. Bed at one a.m. shivering, making lists that will be forgotten by morning.
Start up again at six to wash the motorcycle ready for transit. Ride to the port. Get lost in the barrios. The street kids intrigued. Friendly. But I don’t stop for directions. Late at the exporter’s office. Smiles and paperwork. Part-dismantle the bike for the crate. Taxi back across the city. Pack. Pay the rent. Taxi to the airport. Get on the plane at midday sweaty and smelly, looking forwards to a gentle month in England of anticipation and tiny purchases. Exhausted.
After a breathless Argentine morning and twelve hours over the Atlantic, London has only reached mid-afternoon. Warm and welcoming, the city is relaxing into spring, its untended corners blooming and fecund. Sometimes lovely things come along without planning.
Rachel is well. We chat the day away. I feel the bump. It wriggles. I make pasta for the evening and am happily bellyful by bedtime. I am the only one. Pacing: ”This is it. He is coming”. A true traveller abides by no schedule - although they are invariably late, not a month early.
His hardest journey to date. Due south.
Newham maternity is a suitably international environment for the long 15cm trip. I lose track of time among the white-coated strangers and souless neon. A long grey body is pulled out early on May 21st. Relief: tears.
Foxes are playing tag outside, gleefully chasing tails and calling names. The morning light gives its permission, pale and full of promise. It is a new day. And a new journey.
His name is Patrick. He has a lust for life and a ready laugh. Favourite pastimes: reading the atlas and listening to the hoover. The small motor seems to give him comfort.
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