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Istvan Szlany, Canada

Alaska to Ushuaia

South America -
Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile

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Lessons learned - from Valparaiso, Chile


Last time I e-mailed from Quito, I think, around Jan. 20th. You already know everything about Quito, except that the beer over there is very cold, so sample it carefully. I learned this by acquiring a sore throat. Since then I'm still coughing, and drinking Peruvian beer - slowly!

A new friend of mine who I met on the Galapagos trip was kind enough to take with him my gifts I bought and my diary, so he will mail them from Germany to Hungary to my parents. Unfortunately I didn't keep the papers that belong to the motorcycle. For a little while I thought I am now in deeeeeeep trouble, and I carefully considered every possibility on how to get out of this. Border crossing without papers for the bike might be you-never-know! But I decided that since I have a stamp in my passport, I just blame everything on the Quito customs, and improvise if I have to.

When I was a young climber-caver, I dreamed about the big mountains of the Andes. 20 years later I'm here! (whoever says that dreams won't come true, just laugh at him/her straight into the face!) I have seen Cotopaxi and later Chimborazo, from down, where the road is, because I wasn't in that good shape to even think about climbing it, and I had no equipment what so ever. If you think about renting in Quito and do the climb, I suggest you DON'T! bring your own. I've seen the rental gear, and another friend told me that rental crampons do break where you least want that to happen! I looked at that mountain, sparkling in the afternoon sunshine, and I was really satisfied. I might return one day and do the climb and see the crater up close, but right now, this is perfectly enough for me. I guess I learned where are my limits - a thing unknown when you are young. When we are just kids all we hear is "don't!" and "no!" For a while we need the guidance and the barriers in order to survive the dangeous of life, but many kids will take these barriers with them into the adulthood, and never even attempt to challenge them. Dear Reader, believe me, there are barriers that can be opened, and the walls do have open doors. For YOU, too! So go ahead and fulfil your most beautiful dreams!

In Baños I decided to check my e-mail. Neat little town, full with tourists.

What do you think is the probability of bumping into a motorcyclist traveller? In my case 1. At the Internet Cafe a guy smiled at me, or rather to my bike. He looked like one of the local crooks, so I didn't really pay him much attention (I'm sorry, but so far so many locals called me "amigo" just to sell me something). Then he said that he, too, has a bike. "What bike?" "Un Transalp" - he said, and he started to tell me his story. Started about two years ago from Argentina, travelled all over, crossed deep and scary rivers in Bolivia ... and I started to believe him.

After talking for a while we decided to go to a nearby waterfall together, with two bikes. Cool! And a few minutes later we were riding together.

The road became a single lane dirt track that goes down all the way to the jungle. We went only to the waterfall, only about 10-km west from Baños.


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Szlany's Home

Travel Stories

October 2000,

November 2000,
Nevada and
California, USA
via Singapore?

December 2000
in Mexico and
Central America
Screw-ups in
roads, malaria
pill blues,
feeding fish
the hard way

January 2001,
in Ecuador,
South America
An Ecuador
customs saga,
the Galapagos

February 2001,
Peru, Bolivia,
dealing with
unfriendly dogs
crossings and
lessons learned

March 2001,
guide to
Wherein our
hero's tire
reduces him
to hitchhiker

April 2001,
Argentina to
Tao and more
bike trouble

More to come...
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Very nice place, but what do you think what is the probability of meeting here other people also travelling on a motorbike? Yes, you are right, it is 1 again. While we were admiring the tricks that Mother Nature created, there comes a couple on a BMW R100GS. We were just laughing, and talking for a while, and changed addresses (sorry, I can't remember their names now, and I don't have my address book with me either) then we shook hands and departed.

The road from Riobamba to Cuenca is ... not good. Several years ago the rains washed away about a dozen bridges, and they are still not replaced, instead there are some rough go-arounds, some of them not very charming.

When I was there all Ecuador was protesting against the government because of the price increases (the 89 octane gasoline costs have increased from 0.80 USD/gallon to 1.00 USD/gallon). Therefore there were many roadblocks, which consisted of cacti or moss, trees or just branches, a deep cut in the pavement, small rocks or huge boulders. At one point I had to go through between the villagers (on the hill) and the Ecuadorean Armed Forces, young soldiers with plastic shields hiding behind the their trucks, expecting a rock-shower any moment... For a moment I wasn't sure whether I can pass through safely, or not, ... but since there were no rocks flying at that moment, I accelerated and got out of the danger zone unharmed. There was a roadblock where the locals gave me a lecture on what are they doing here and why, and they told me that I cannot pass through, unless I gave them a donation to their cause. All I had in my pocket was about 1.50 USD, and after I gave them they quickly kicked the rocks away and wished me good journey.

If you think that the locals know where the ruins of Ingapirca are, you are wrong. I learned that by asking around and wondering around when I was nearby. Everybody told me something else, and finally when it started to rain badly I gave up.


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Loja and Vilcabamba were very nice, but I should have spent more time than I did. I headed towards a tiny border crossing between Ecuador and Peru, called Macara'. Oh, God, here we go without papers for Csardas. Migracion exit stamps in my passport and Adios! Aduana: I give them my passport.

"... and the papers for the moto?"
"... what papers? I have this stamp here. All I need is an exit stamp next to it."
"... ???"
"Here is my stamp for my moto."

They just looked at each other totally puzzled, and one of the officials said "Carramba, they have changed it again in Quito, and didn't tell us!"

So the whole thing took me about 5 minutes and no fee to pay. I was very much relieved when I crossed the bridge into Peru.

Over there, I could not find anybody at the Migracion office. A guard told me that I might find the officer at home. I went there. The wife said that he is playing soccer right now, but soon will be over. Cool. 10 min. later I found my man, but ... he is off today. Even so, he was very kind, and returned with me to the border crossing and gave me an entry stamp, and 90 days tourist card. No fee here either. At the customs I had to tell my whole story, so that took me a whole hour, while the papers for the bike were completed. No fee here either, but it was dark when all this was done.


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I started riding in a beetle-shower, that was one very disgusting thing. Beetles, the size of my thumb, by the millions, even at only 60 km/hr, smashed on the bike, on my helmet, the headlight grill was clogged with them... Yukk! And they smell bad. ... I haven't seen anything like this.

Everybody said that it is dangerous in the countryside, but I decided to camp in the bush. And there was no problem, I have learned much earlier how to camp without being seen by anyone.

In and around Sullana and Piura I was amazed by these things called "mototaxi" this is a small cc motorcycle ending in a cart. Yes, two wheels in the back. And their shapes, colours, designs and size is different from one to another. Amazing! And you have to know, that there are no traffic rules here! Just keep honking, and go. I tell you, until you have seen it, you can't imagine it. This is chaos!

After I have seen Trujillo and the ruins of ChanChan I headed towards the mountains. Bad mistake, but I didn't know at that time... although it is dry season on the coast, in the mountains it is raining. I rode the bad roads of Cañon del Pato, and it was a beautiful place, but the level of difficulty, the cold and the amount of rain flowing through my underwear did not justify it. Now that it is over, I am still glad that I did it. These are two contradicting sentences, but that's how I feel about the ride.

Alpamayo, Huandoy, Huascaran and the other giants in the Cordillera Blanca were covered with clouds, and I had to decide what do I want: do the hike around the Huascaran as I planned from home, or get out of the rain. I think I decided correctly when I headed south riding the bike, because after an hour the clouds became threateningly black and the wind behind me made me ride a little faster. Faster? I don't know, this is the Andes, the road has thousands of turns, like a huge flat serpent lying among the valleys and 4000+ m high passes. I had to take aspirin a few times, because otherwise the headache took my attention away.

The road from Chiquian towards Huanaco started as a paved road, despite what the map showed. It turned out that it is a private road, built and maintained by a mining company at Antaminas. The guard told me, that I can not enter. I started to talk to him, asking about the road, and other roads that go to Huanaco. Then we talked about the motorcycle, about the economy, politics and girls - of course. After about a half-hour of friendly conversation I was free to go, and the guy gave me even his magazine of local female celebrities. I guess this trip for me is a great lesson of psychology, too.


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This is a beautiful country, but is very hard to find a time when you don't soak yourself for hours. High passes, humidity, and bad roads make travelling here a nightmare. Worth it? Yes and no. I curse myself at the end of the day, because I'm dead tired, wet and cold. But next day morning, looking around from the tiny tent, my heart is full of joy, and looking forward to the ride. Then there is more rain, and the roads have no bridges, so I have to ford the creeks that are turned into flooding raging rivers by the constant rains. Sometimes I'm really scared, and Csardas started to cough many times, because water got into the air filter.

I got to the point with this damp/cold weather, that I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. I turned towards Lima, the coastal warm weather. I spent a few days exploring this giant city, and I started to ride south on the Pan-American Highway.

In Nazca I've seen some of the lines, but did not go for a plane ride. Not enough money. I rather go farther, and maybe I don't have to stop to work anywhere... I bet you already guessed what the weather was like in the desert. Yes, it rained. Light rain, but it was still quite wet - nothing out of the ordinary.

The coastal zone of Peru is all desert country. Nothing but sand. I got bored, and I decided that after visiting Nazca I head back into the mountains. I have to tell you, that sometimes I have a very hard head, and tend to bang it against brick walls. I needed a second lesson to learn: in the mountains is rain and cold! Riding some horrible roads in even more hellish weather I arrived into Cusco. Or Cuzco? I don't know, the map has the later spelling while every sign here spells it with S.

Dealing with Dogs

On the way here I had some encounters with the local dogs. So far I loved dogs, but after learning that these racist Inca beasts hate motorcycles and riders, I was even thinking about killing some of them. One of them bit me on the leg, too, but other than the pain, - wearing jeans and riding pants - no harm was done. I learned my lesson and I started to think about all kinds of strategies on how to get out unharmed from these encounters

1. Outrunning them - not always works,
2. Running them over - some of them is quite large, or there are more of them, so I might end up dropping the bike and get more bites.
3. As the dog gets close enough, honk LOUD!!! if you have a loud horn, that is.
4. in villages ride as slow and silent as possible, so these lethargic animals will not wake up.
5. Talk to them - but some of them doesn't understand Spanish, nor English nor Hungarian.


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Cusco's downtown is very nice, and around it the ruins are worth visiting. Nothing else. Like any other pueblo in Latin America is a ghetto, a gathering place for the poverty. I could never imagine that people can live in conditions like they do, without the slightest desire to do something about it. I learned throughout my life that education is the only way out of this kind of life, but what chance has a nation to fight poverty when kids work like adults instead of going to school? They sell things on the streets, they want to do shoeshine on you even if you wear sandals (?!), run businesses like hotels, restaurants and mototaxis, too. Anything, just to get a few extra Soles for the family. I wonder how long can this be done?

Machu Picchu

It is a tourist magnet, and a private company bought the railway, so they can charge 30-70 USD for that about 120-km ride. Absolute business, because there is no road up there, and if you want to see the world famous ruins, you will have to pay. Local bandits prey on unwary lone tourists, so tour companies flourish, too, but their employees, the guides have no shelter, heating or food. Very bad social experiences, you can say. This lesson, too, had to be learned, so when I go home, maybe one day I can use it in a good way.

The bike - after 5 days of waiting - did not want to leave Cusco. Not because it was so great for the bike, but because of too much rain the battery went flat. No juice, nothing! So I packed up, pushed it out on the door, and because there were plenty of bystanders around I easily got a bunch of helpers to push my bike. Second gear... and it worked! I gave them about 15 Soles and they were happy to help a stranded foreigner. After about 2 hours of riding I had my batteries charged, but the short was still there. No clue where. All that rain, river crossings, ... I guess simply the wiring is wet. I rode hard, and long, but the weather did not help me. It rained at Lago Titicaca as well. Day after day I got soaked to my underwear, and I dried it on myself, shivering for hours on the bike.


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Crossing the border at Desaguadero was easy. The Peruvian side was about 15 min. and no fees charged. On the Bolivian side everything went smooth until the police charged me 20 Bolivianos. I told them that I have no cash, only 20 USD travellers cheque. There is a bank, and they explained to me where is that. On the way out I was thinking hard how can I get out of this unlawful charge. I asked again where the bank is: "there... but it is closed now" "Cool!" ... it was just around 1:30pm, but they were closed already. That was my solution. I told the police, but they still didn't want to give me back the driver's licence. I offered my Canadian stem as a gift. ... the officer just made faces and threw my licence at me.

At the Customs I got my paperwork for the bike done - after 2:30pm, because they had their lunch break. No fee.

The Altiplano in Bolivia is beautiful, peaceful, and wet this time of the year. I didn't spend much time at the Tiwanacu Ruins either (didn't really impress me - perhaps because after Machu Picchu will be hard to impress me) and I was running away from the rains ... to La Paz. It was a great city to visit. I liked it very much, its charming up-and-down side streets, and the street vendors food was pretty good, too. Here, too, I noticed the huge difference between the majority who can barely survive from one day to another, and the very rich driving the biggest sport utility cars they can get. It was part of the learning experience.

After I left La Paz, I still hoped for some beautiful scenery to be seen in dry weather. Well, the scenery was like I expected, but not dry, like I expected... don't ask me why I expected it to be dry!

Cochabamba was the only place where I was dry for a day, before and after was... not so dry, to put it the nice way. I descended towards the Jungle, hoping to see Beni. Baaaaaaaad road, raaaaaiiiinnnn, ... and the bike, my dear Csardas, started to cough again. Okay, that's it! ... I turned around, and headed towards the Atacama Desert. That should cure her sickness. Miserable weather all the way to the border, with some short time to pretend that I dry myself in the wind, in fact I was just shivering between the high, 4600+ m high passes.


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At the Bolivian border no problem, about 15 min, and had to pay to the police 10 bolivianos for the Chilean side road fees. Yes, it is not legal, but they don't care. I just used up all my paper money at the border gas station (3.31 boliviano/liter for the 84 octane), they don't take coins at all! - so I had to change 2 USD. Here is the worse rate of change anywhere in the country: 1usd=6bol instead of 6.48 ... there are some losses, I learned that long time ago, so I didn't care.

On the Chilean side: no problem, except that for quarantine reasons they took away my honey, and all the fruits - what I could not eat. I hate throwing away food, so I processed my paperwork while I stuffed my face with bananas and tomatoes. Funny to see, but I had to learn this trick, too.

It rained all the way to Arica, and - you won't believe this - in the Atacama Desert, too. The driest place on this planet! I find it amusing that I can bring rain even in the desert... but luckily the desert was stronger than my curse, and I had about 1500 km of dry high speed ride south - just what we needed!

Chile is a very civilised, modern country, in total contrast with Bolivia's and Peru's poverty, and all the bad things that affect the travellers in a negative sense. It was a relief to arrive here. Camping in the desert gave me some chance to return to my favourite routine from N. America: watching the sunset and the changing moon. Before the first sunrise in Atacama, when I looked out from my tent, all the clouds were gone, and the first constellation I've recognised from an unfamiliar southern sky was the Southern Cross! It is really like you see it in books, or not? There is something missing in those pictures, and I just realised what is it: SPACE! And here in the desert I found it, hovering on that total silence you can even touch, but only carefully, so you don't disturb either of them. Go and try it! It is there, you will find it in that semi-darkness before the Sun rises.

Now I'm in Vina del Mar, but Valparaiso was shorter to write it into the Subject. Sorry for the confusion. Most of you read this from N.Am. or Europe, so for you all, it is close enough.


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Where do I go from here? Well, I have about 6-7 weeks to go, and this trip is over. June and I decided to get married (please, don't flood my mailbox with your kind messages, I know you all wish me good luck and such, and I thank you all, before you send them!) I still want to do my ride to the End of the World, and I will ride north from there, perhaps to Sao Paolo in Brasil. I had much time to think about things, life in general and my life, where to go from here, how to live and such, and I think this is the way it should be.

Because financially this trip is a little hard, I think that if there is a chance of selling my bike instead of shipping it home for 2200USD (thanks a lot, Carl, for the information!) I will do it. For those of you who can help me with information on prices and dealers interested in buying an excellent Kawasaki KLR-650 A13 (1999) with right now 49250 km ran with no major problems, please, let me know. So if you know anything that would help selling my dear bike, please, e-mail me. (I guess you know how do I feel about this decision, but I do plan to buy a new KLR-650 as soon as I can afford it!) The bike is equiped with 3 good 27 litre Pelican 1520 boxes, MSR bash plate, Master Cylinder protector, NATO 7.62mm ammo Tool box, map-holder above the gauges, EMGO aluminum hand guards under the original hand guards and the original hard saddle is well softened :o).

That's all for now. Next report will be sent out either from Ushuaia or from a major city in Argentina. Wish me dry weather and soft winds!

All the bests to all of you on my list, I hope you are doing well, and healthy! Take care and be safe, whatever you do. I learned that long ago, at work, but I really used this lesson on this trip, and I do every day.


Istvan (the Rainman :o) and Csardas (KLR-650 A13, where "A"stands for AMPHIBIAN !!!)


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Story and photos copyright © Istvan Szlany 2001.
All Rights Reserved.
Grant Johnson

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