All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusky recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.
"Are you sure this helmet is the right size?"
"Yup, but you've got poo on your tyre again"
Acting on dreams is not something the average man of my age is able to do, but when you fnd yourself in the predicament that you are failing to live anymore, but simply to work or exist, then you have to do something drastic. Simply put, when "Means, Motive & Opportunity", all come together, something's gotta give.
Initially, the plan was to spend a year volunteering in Central American health facilities prior to which, I would learn some Castellano. After a while, I thought that if I really want to make the most of this opportunity, and if I really need to do something drastic wth my life, why not live the dream properly and take the scenic route to my job in Guatemala. I had always had a hankering to complete a life-changing solo journey in any event, and a curiousity about Buenos Aires, that it had never been possible to sate so economically before. HorizonsUnlimited was providing enough of the answers to embark on the challenge of a life-time. So I took the Ex for a last dinner, rented out the flat and took a hammer to the piggy bank.
An unexpected highlight was crossing the 120 km stretch through the Waimiri Reserve, a little way short of the Equator en route to Boa Vista. A lot of Brazilian countryside is disappointing. Obviously, the areas in proximity to roads are the first to be settled, and native vegetation makes way for the ubiquitous beef cattle. In other areas, particularly where sugar cane is grown, the sides of the road are constantly on fire, making for a spectacular display when riding at night - lorries swerve to avoid the flames, in fear that their cargoes will catch alight.
The Waimiri Reserve, however, brought home to me how this part of the world would really look if it were not for man's interfering hand. Forbidden from negotiating the road between the hours of darkness, I thought I might just have time to make it as the sun neared the horizon. My encounter was wonderfully atmospheric, almost mystical, as I flew through an enchanting primeval land. Every nook was crammed with different species of vegetation, towering into six separate levels. There were black pools presided over by white storks, whilst parrots chattered in the trees.
The experience was a little scary. Forbidden to stop, film or take pictures, because of "incidents", I almost expected to see an Indigeno crouched in the undergrowth, spear in hand. The indigenous people of this land objected strongly to the construction of the road, and they made those feeling plain. My thoughts raced, and turned to concerns over fuel, punctured tyres or mechanical breakdown.
To emerge unscathed just as the sun was setting was a relief, but depressing too as I caught sight of the "normal" Brasilian land that comprises desolation and beef pastures as far as the eye can see.
Where am I - Still in Venezuela?
Isla Margarita was a gas - 16 days of Sun, Salsa and well...ah hem, Rum, but more of that later, things to do.
I spent 2 hard days, slogging across the hot, dry plains of Venezuela from Puerto de la Cruz to get here. Being stopped every couple of hours and having all my stuff pulled apart by fascists, (sort it out Chavez), was a bit of a pain. I have learnt, also, to make the best of these situations. My aims are;
1 To make them smile against all their best endeavours not to.
2 To refuse to part with any money, (or 'presents'), despite implied threats/facial contortions
3 To leave them thinking I actually enjoyed having my bags unpacked and unceremoniously inspected.
4 To educate them to the fact that England is part of Great Britain, not the USA.
Arriving all of a sudden in the foothills of the Andes was a shock. It was like an amphetamine rush - maybe it is the light, maybe the altitude. The arid, dirty, noisy, smoking plains were replaced imperceptibly, (but, I'm definitely getting something), by the breathtaking beauty that only mountains can bring. I could not stop stopping, to look at the incredible Alpinesque views, listen to the silence punctuated only by the gurgling of streams or the birdcall. To me places like this represent true freedom, such a contrast and relief from my experiences of this country in it's seige-like state. Why, even the women became more beautiful, Indian features enhanced.
En route from Merida to Cucuta at the Colombian border and thence to Bogota, seven bridges had washed away or collapsed as a result of the same flooding that had so devastated Caracas whist I was lying low on Margarita.
Two of the crossings required getting wet, and on the last one I nearly lost it all, as I became stuck and the fast moving water, rising to my thighs, threatened to stall the engine and topple me. It certainly entertained the locals, though.
I arrived in the "City of Eternal Spring" more infamously known as the home of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin drugs cartel at a strange time. The city has far more about it than the latter, and a sensationalist and egotistical article in the National Geographic was causing ructions amongst these hard-working, ingenious and friendly people.
Love him or loath him, one thing's for sure, he's dead and buried...
The descent into the modern, but pleasant city was spectacular. The trip from Bogota was largely uneventful with army lining the road, in some cases sporting heavy armour which reminds one of the precarious state this country is in.
But still, my determination to reach Medellin meant that I arrived after dark and as I spiralled into the valley, the view resembled a Star Wars movie as the brightly lit, well-planned roads seem to hover in a veil of mist below me.
These are wonderful hills to ride in, the roads good and twisty. Many of the fincas resemble farm buildings and homes you might discover in the Alps or Pyrenees, a legacy of mountain colonisers. The abundance of shops selling artesan goods and rustic and colonial style furniture give clues as to the status of these people as hard and skilled workers.
I rode either by myself or in the company of Dan from Sweden, who had been here three months. My host also, Paul Thoresen from Seattle, en route to Buenos Aires from Alaska, got stuck some two years ago and has now taken root.
Starsky & Hutch...
Although Medellin boasts scant trace of it's forbears, the pueblitos perched in the hills, previously seats of conflict in Colombia's most famous war, display their colonial heritage proudly. However, the country now fights a war of attrition against bad publicity, a weapon wielded by unfriendly states and their allied publishing empires. But, everyone who comes to see first-hand falls in love with the climate, the surroundings and not least of all, the people.
I spent far longer than I was supposed to in Medellin. I dropped reluctantly from the Antioquian Highlands on a two day ride in search of a boat to Panama. I kept my oft-broken promise of riding only during daylight, and for the first three or four hours was escorted by Paul and his girlfriend, Monica, during which time we refused to stop at roadblocks and Paul took some great photos. I treated my "Mangoes" acquired hangover to regular doses of "Aguila" and "Club Colombia", and by nightfall I had made pretty good progress.
In 2 days, the 31st of March, I leave South America after journeying across her for 6 months. I have seen wonderful places, but it is the people who I have met along the way that I will remember. They have changed my life forever.
My journey has not finished, however, and after a voyage by sailboat lasting six days via the San Blas Islands, I will continue rapidly through Cental America where I will begin my voluntary work, in Guatemala.
The excerpts here are but a fraction of my written journals, and I hope to continue adding to this blog from time to time to time.
Loading the bikes on deck - earlyish...
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