August 26, Quito, Ecuador
Fridays ride here from Riobamba was tough. It should have been an easy 2 1/2 hour day but it was closer to 5 because of really bad rain, thunder and lightening that turned to an extreme hail storm, and lots of Friday afternoon traffic jamming things up. My ankle is healing faster this time and I don't know if it's because the more immediate treatment with icing and wrapping, or maybe it's simply not injured as bad as the first "mishap". My shoulder and hip, however, still feel like they were slammed against the pavement at about 45 mph, but at least I can walk alright.
Quito is a beautiful city with tons of things to see but it's a pain in the ass if you're looking for a hotel room! Their downtown center hotels are not well marked at all, which I'm sure is a zoning thing because they want to keep the colonial charm of the place - which they've done well - but in heavy traffic and wet slippery roads it's nearly impossible to spot a hotel. I found two hotels where I could park my motorcycle - one was $500 a night (for real!) and the other was $13 and was one of the best bargains I've had on this trip - very clean, good bed, TV, hot water that actually worked, and a safe location close to everything cool in the historic district.
I had hoped to see a college friend of mine, Patricio, but wasn't sure how to get in touch with him. In a "small-world" sort of coincidence my cousin, Katie, spent a year working at a hospital here in Quito. She's kept in touch with some of the folks she worked with and one of them was Patricio's sister! That made finding him easy. He's got a beautiful family - wife, Andrea, daughter, Barbara and son Andreas. Patricio's dad is a moto enthusiast so we had much to talk about as well.
One of the most important things to see around Quito is the "Mital del Mundo", a park to represent the 0 degree point, or the exact middle of the world between the northern and southern hemispheres. Of course I brought my GPS along to test the accuracy and found that my GPS marked the actual 0 degree point about 200 meters north of where they've got the big building, museum, and all the little signs and things that represent the middle of the world, 0 degree point. I was disappointed and thought that maybe all the thrashing my GPS has gone through had ruined its calibration. I showed some of the park employees my GPS readings and was joking about how we needed to get to work and move the memorial about 200 meters north. It turns out that my GPS is correct and all the readings and lines and everything else at the Mital del Mundo memorial are all wrong! It was simply a better place to build a park than where the actual 0 degree point is located.
I think I should get some kind of an award for this discovery but I won't hold my breath. I did get a chance to put together another page of pictures - at this rate I'll have pictures from the Mital del Mundo park in about 12 years...
August 23, Riobamba, Ecuador
Yesterday afternoon about 20 miles south of Riobamba I hit a dog, or actually he hit me and the outcome was not good. I was going about 45mph when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a dog running toward me from the left. They do this all the time in South America, especially down in the Patagonia region, and 99.9% of the time they run along side of you and bark because they just need to know they're chasing you out of their territory. Adam, one of the many bikers I've met along the way, learned that you don't try to kick them. If you've ever thrown a table scrap or doggie snack to any dog you are well aware at how fast most of them are at catching things in their mouth. Adam's foot was quickly caught by that dog, just outside of Ushuaia, and the dog actually held on for several seconds and Adam needed treatment for the puncture wounds. I usually ignore the dogs or sometimes bark back at them just to see how they react, which can be sort of fun. But this has nothing to do with my doggy incident, sorry.
I chose to ignore this particular dog but he was one of the .1% that was either chasing something on the other side of the road, trying to race me to a finish line that only he knew of, or trying to commit doggie suicide. As with all of these things it all happened much faster than me telling you about it; it was only about a second between seeing the dog behind me to my left, then looking forward, then seeing a big brown flash of fir, then laying by the side of the road.
Anyway, this medium/large size dog, running full speed from my left, made full impact with the front left side of my front tire and I immediately went down hard on my left side. While I was rolling down the side of the highway I felt the pain in my left ankle, just like the other little mis-hap in Argentina [if I could determine which part of the moto keeps on hurting my ankle I would have it removed, but I think the better option is to simply remain upright]. Actually most of the left side of my body was hurting. The only other thing I was thinking about was the very loud crashing sound the moto made when it hit the pavement and I was sure it would be messed up pretty bad.
This all happened in front of a house where there were a 8-10 locals watching. 3 of the guys helped me pick up the bike and to my surprise it seemed to work. I rode across the street to a more level spot where I could check things out and it seems that other than a bunch of new deep scrapes, broken left blinker, bent handlebars, cracked wind screen and other things like that, it generally still seems functional. There was no sign of the dog and I asked the locals if they saw it and they had no idea what I was talking about. I sort of expected to see him on the side of the road next to me but he wasn't around. I really wanted to take pictures of the skid marks on the other side of the road where the moto slid about 15-20 feet, but my ankle hurt so bad I could hardly take a step, never mind the 20-30 steps it would have taken to get there and back so I got on my motorcycle, limped my way to Riobamba, checked into a hotel and went to get X-rays to see if I would need more than just ice and Advil.
The X-ray tech and the first "doctor" that looked at the X-rays seemed to think that something was broken but they found the bone doctor guy who determined that it was just a sprain. X-rays are more expensive in Ecuador than Argentina - $51.50 here and $18.00 in Argentina, if I remember correctly but good news nonetheless.
My left shoulder, which had never really fully recovered from my little diving injury in Bacalar, Mexico, hurts like hell. My left hip is very badly bruised (they actually X-rayed that as well) and of course there's the ankle. The only skin I lost was a small round spot on my left knee, smaller than a dime. I've always been a good "roller" when I fall, whether on motorcycles, skateboards, skiing or whatever; it minimizes injury and helps you keep skin on your body.
Now I'm in Riobamba debating whether I should take the short 130 mile trip to Quito or re-coop for a day with more ice and Advil. Never mind, I'm staying another day, I've got pictures, GPS stuff and other things to catch up on.
August 22, Guayaquil, Ecuador
Still here. I got a bit of a late start yesterday but not too late to make it to one of the several ideal midway stopping points between here and Quito. Those "well organized" highways and streets I mentioned yesterday are well organized for entering this city but I spent almost 2 hours trying to leave this city and it really appears that almost any turn you make brings you right back to the tunnel that takes you down town.
Yeah, I know I could have paid a cab a couple of bucks to lead me out of town but it's the principle of the whole thing; I like to find my own way, even if it takes longer. I didn't even use the "follow a cab" technique in Mexico City and I'm not going to do it here. The only time I've used a cab like that was in San Salvador because I arrived just after sunset and San Salvador, from what I know, is one of the worst places for a lone gringo on a moto after dark. Anyway, by the time I found my way out of this city I realized it would likely be dark when I would be reaching a good stopping point so I turned around and here I am. I'll try again and should be reaching Quito by Thursday.
August 21, Guayaquil, Ecuador
Yesterdays border crossing into Ecuador was standard and took less than an hour. It's a bit confusing to see where to go next during the crossing, as the various border offices are interspersed with a very busy market area, but there were no problems. Ecuador, so far, reminds me of Central America, with a more tropical feel than Peru that was noticeable almost immediately. I arrived late here in Guayaquil and was surprised to find it a huge, very busy town of about 2 million people with surprisingly well organized highways and streets, and I only say 'surprisingly' because the highway between here and Peru was not very good. Hopefully I won't have to waste as much time writing about cops in Ecuador as I did in Peru.
This morning I'll head toward Quito and I'll probably be there tomorrow. I'll try again in Quito to find a way to fix my computer. I had thought it might be some sort of software issue that kept the "motor" running in high gear all the time, heating things up very fast, but now I'm thinking it has to do with the power source itself because if I have the computer running while it's plugged in I can feel a slight electric current on the bottom of the hard drive, not very comforting. Both batteries used to last about 2 1/2 hours and now only last 20-30 minutes each and their rapid decline started with these overheating problems, there's gotta be a connection there somewhere...
August 19, Piura, Peru
The morning before I left Chachapoyas I met a family from Seattle. Tony was born here 70 years ago and is thinking about living here again. He'll be in Chachapoyas 'till March giving it a trial run. On the ride to Jaen I pulled over on the side of the road to take picture and was joined by the highway patrol. They jumped out of the truck and came over to see how everything was going and if there was anything they could do to help, thereby supporting once again the distinction between the highway patrol in the mountains being generally professional, while those on the coast seem more "opportunistic"; another word for shit-heads.
The next day on my trip here to Piura I was stopped at another roadside checkpoint just outside of Chulucanas. This was close enough to the coast so I was concerned but there was a third individual with the two cops this time. He was older and looked like a superior officer, and was wearing a bright orange vest. It seemed like he was in some kind of supervisory role, checking up on the officers. They all just asked questions about the trip and then let me go.
I finally finished the last several pictures from Cuzco and in the area around Cuzco. It's taking much longer now because I can only work on my computer for 20-30 at a time before it gets too hot and turns off on it's own.
August 16, Chachapoyas, Peru
Last night, some time just after 7:00pm, I was sitting on the least flattering seat in my hotel room taking care of business when I started feeling a circular vertigo type of sensation and I wondered for a moment if it could be a lower back spasm that was causing this gentle rocking. The next assumption was an earthquake, which it was. It lasted for 20-30 seconds and was very mild in this part of Peru but many towns south of Lima weren't so lucky, namely Pisco, Chincha and Ica, where a bulk of the damage has taken place.
I turned on the news in the morning and immediately recognized the cathedral in the town center of Pisco, where I was 12 days ago. It was obviously damaged and there were cracks across the front but the bell tower but it still stood and it looked like it might have been in tact, but then I noticed the daylight coming through the large front doors and it was clear that everything beyond the front wall had collapsed. Pisco seems to be the worst hit. I recognized most other buildings in the center, many of which were just piles of rubble. One reporter said there was 80% destruction in Pisco. The $8.00 hotel I stayed in had been 5 stories tall but the whole thing was reduced to a 5 foot tall pile of rubble. They had let me park my motorcycle in the lobby, right next to the front desk when I was there.
The top two floors of that hotel where I stayed in Pisco 12 days ago weren't finished and I went up to check it out to see if there was anything to photograph from up there. I was joined by the maintenance guy who explained that the owners had big plans because there was only one other hotel in town that was five floors high, he pointed to it, but it was 3 blocks off the center and since this hotel is right on the center it would be the most important hotel in town. He was obviously very proud of being part of something important, I hope he's okay and that he finds something as important to him as that hotel was.
The building next to the hotel was about the same size and I was glad to see on the news that it was still standing. There's a novelty store on the ground floor of that building and I went in to buy some Pisco, a Peruvian liquor, because I thought it would be kind of a novelty to get a bottle of Pisco from Pisco. The woman running the store was there with her very shy little three year old grand daughter in a pink, slightly dirty dress, and some other family and friends. She explained that they don't actually make Pisco in Pisco and that Piscean Pisco is actually made in Ica. We all had a fun conversation about telling the world that Pisco is a lie and it should be actually be called Ica, because that's where it's made, and how we could make tons of money if we decided to make Pisco in Pisco because it would be the only true Pisco and as we laughed about that stuff the little three year old girl was laughing with us and wasn't afraid of the big blonde gringo anymore. I hope they're all okay.
The reporter from the Seattle PI asked if this trip had changed my perspective on Central or South America; I said it hadn't really changed my perspective much but it really has "personalized", or put a face on the countries through which I've traveled. My Pisco memories are the best possible example of this so far and as I look at the many different news channels and watch people in Pisco crying about losing their loved ones when the cathedral collapsed, or their house, or any of the other tragic losses resulting from this catastrophe, I remember the faces and laughs and that makes it bigger and more real, or personalized to me.
August 15, Chachapoyas, Peru
From Chiclayo I made it to Bagua Grande, 10 miles down the road from Bagua but a bit bigger than Bagua, just about 20 minutes after sunset and I spent the night in that dusty little friendly town. It was a long and very tiring day on the road through some beautiful scenery, great roads and a surprisingly warm climate. I was heading into the Andes so I had planned for cold but the road through the Andes in this part of Peru doesn't reach very high altitudes and the mountains are much more tropical and warm. The region is called Amazonas, which is a little misleading because it's not the Amazon rainforest, but sort of a cross between that and the drier Andes, with high, steep hills covered in a moderate amount of vegetation and fast running rivers between those hills; sort of like what I expect to see in Colombia.
Yesterdays ride here, to Chachapoyas, was also warm with great scenery but the 15 miles of road just before Chachapoyas was some of the worst I've seen on this trip. Gravel, dusty and muddy in some places as the road climbs to the 7,500 feet level of Chachapoyas, and it's not one bit of fun on a street motorcycle but it's a great workout. Reaching Chachapoyas was a great reward for the tough road and the timing couldn't have been better - this is their annual celebration of "Dia del Pan". It means that everyone comes to the plaza and watches fireworks towers being lit and it's just a generally festive atmosphere with very friendly people. Chachapoyas is a small city of about 25,000 people that is a little dusty, dirty and smelly, but just enough to meet the necessary Peruvian standards.
This morning I took a tour to Kuelap, a moderately impressive ruin site, with a fun group of seven Israeli students, a crappy tour guide and two other tourists from Chiclayo. I hate doing those tours because they never leave on time [this was supposed to leave at 8:00, but we left at 9:30] and generally just take up way too much time. Carlos the crappy tour guide [from "Andes Tours" located in the center, don't choose them], had lied to the Israeli students when they signed up the day before and told them there would be an English speaking guide, but there wasn't. They were going to abandon the tour so eventually Carlos decided to go, because he kind of speaks a little English, but it took 90 minutes worth of convincing because he wanted to attend the Dia del Pan festivities that continued through today.
The driver was some old guy with no eyebrows and a baseball hat with a few strands of hair sticking out behind it that made it look like he sweats too much and doesn't bathe. The Israeli students needed to be back in Chachapoyas by 6:00 and it's a 3 hour ride but this driver did it in a little under 2 hours. That kind of thing doesn't usually scare me but it was a very narrow winding road, more than half of which dropped off very severely into canyons that were several thousand feet deep with nothing to slow us down between the road and the bottom, should we leave the road, which we didn't so here I am talking about it. The only reason I was a little freaked out was that the driver was absolutely lousy, whether on pavement or gravel, and the gravel roads and blind-corners with extreme cliffs combined with the sketchy driver were a scary combination.
I'm getting to some more pictures but I can only use my computer for about 30 minutes at a time and then need to let it cool off because I still haven't figured out the details of what's wrong.
August 13, Chiclayo, Peru
I'm starting the day late over a hot water disagreement; I said that my room has no hot water and they said it did. This simple little disagreement has happened a couple of other times between Mexico and the bottom of South America and for some reason, every single time it takes well over an hour to work out. They send someone to the room who checks, he calls someone else who comes to the room to check, I go to the front desk and ask if I can check another room to see if it has hot water, I wait longer for someone else to check and then eventually end up taking a shower in another room. Usually it's not a big deal but today I planned to head to Chachapoyas, which is a travel day of about 8 hours so I needed to get an early start. I always regret not just taking a cold shower in this situation because it would save time, but they always constantly assure me that there will be hot water any minute. Two and a half hours later I'm debating what to do...
Yesterdays trip from Huanchaco went well and I only had to talk with one cop, just as I was leaving Huanchaco, who looked at my moto registration papers for a while like he was trying to think of a reason to take some of my money but it was too early in the morning for him to come up with a good reason.
Last night I put together a page of pictures from Ollantaytambo.
August 11, Huanchaco, Peru
I started the day in Barranca and talked to several locals before hitting the road; everyone with a motor vehicle said they also hate the cops on the coast of Peru, but I learned that the going rate for a local bribe is only 5-10 soles, while mine went from 340 to 50 soles after a 20 minute retard show. From now on I'm carrying even less money in the open part of my wallet.
Yesterdays ride to Trujillo was long but I only met with one brief cop situation. It was in the middle of nowhere and when the highway patrol guy motioned for me to pull over I couldn't really pretend like I didn't see him, but I was very tempted to punch it and see if they could catch me. I pulled over but stayed in the middle of the road. He introduced himself as a member of the Peruvian police force, which seemed a little odd, and asked my nationality. Some folks have told me that I'm somewhat transparent and it's easy to tell what I'm thinking; if that's true then he could plainly see in my eyes that I hated every molecule of oxygen that supported his life, as I slowly responded with a slow growl through my gritting teeth that I was from the USA.
I was so instantly enraged by the notion of another bribing cop that I may have had smoke coming from my ears and nose. I was still recovering from the slight brain damage of the previous days dumm act and wasn't in the mood for another quite so soon. Just like when your mom told you to stop crossing your eyes or else they'd stay like that, if you stretch the limits of dumm too many times it'll stick and you'll find yourself in a grocery story staring endlessly at the cans of food, just wondering how the hell they got all that food inside the can. Anyway, the cop acted like Mr. happy hand-shaker guy and asked me if I had any water or soda and said he was very thirsty from standing in the road all day. I had a partial bottle of water strapped to my bike and I handed it to him, then I said "todo bien" and rode off. I looked back to see if they were going to pursue me but they were clearly not going anywhere. In retrospect he probably guessed exactly why I looked so hateful and figured that if I was that angry looking I probably had no money left to give him and he therefore settled for a beverage.
When I got to Trujillo I went to the I.Peru office and asked if there was any group that I could report bad-cop events to and they just said the police. That doesn't seem like a wise choice, at least not while I'm still in the country. The next morning at my hotel there was a group of important looking military folks and a couple of them were from the USA. I was going to ask them if they had any ideas about the bad-cop problem and as I was waiting a guy in a suit named Daniel M. asked if he could help me. He's from the US Embassy and works closely with the Peruvian Police force and gave me his card and asked me to send him an email with the details of my police incident and others I've heard about, which sounds like a much better idea than marching into a Peruvian police station to complain about Peruvian police.
Now I'm in Huanchaco, a small surfing, tourism and fishing town just 10 miles north of Trujillo. I was here several years ago and wanted to take pictures of the tiny, straw fishing boats they use, that are pretty much the same as they were 2000 years ago. This is the place I would recommend for anyone that wants to take a surfing vacation. The waves are constant, strong and I don't know enough about surfing to say exactly why, but many surfers say it's great here. You can tell from the satellite view of the town just how good the waves are.
Tomorrow I head to Chiclayo and then it's off into the mountains for a look at an old ruin called Kuelap, I think. I'm way behind on pictures but have another page coming soon. It's more difficult in this part of Peru to find a good internet connection for that kind of thing.
August 8, Barranca, Peru
I started my day in Lima, looking for a tourist police office so that I could get some kind of official looking business card, or any kind of document that could make it look like I know someone important in Lima, so I could show it to any bad cops I might meet on the trip up the coast. The Peruvian coast is very well known for bad-cop bribing and I felt lucky that I made it from Nasca to Lima with no problems, but that was probably because I made most of the trip on a Sunday when the bad cops are at church, I guess. In my brief morning search I met several people; many agreed and said there are bad cops on the coast of Peru; those who disagreed, saying there are no bad-cop problems on Peru's coast, had never driven there. I ended up in some official tourist office on the phone with Raquel Cuzcano, from the I.Peru office; she assured me that there are no bad cops on the highway on the coast of Peru; she's never driven the coast of Peru.
W. Cornado S. is what the badge most likely said but the "orn" was covered by a uniform strap. I had passed 6-8 other highway patrol SUV's without a problem. I was coming into Puerto Supe, a little town just south of Barranca and a couple hours north of Lima. I hadn't gotten as far north as I wanted because it took 90 frustrating minutes to get out of Lima.
I saw the two cops standing in front of their cop SUV as I was being passed by a bus and I was in a long line of slow moving traffic. One of the cops immediately motioned for me to pull over; it was like a very rapid, well conditioned reflex that kicks in when he sees an obvious non-local motorcycle, or gringo vehicle, and it was about 96% clear that his whistle and arm motions were directed at me but I decided to go with the 4% chance and ignored him because I was 100% sure that his reason for stopping me was to play the bullshit bribery game. I've heard that ignoring them actually works sometimes because they really don't want to waste the gas to chase folks unless they have to, but there was a speed bump about 100 yards ahead and all traffic came to a stop so they didn't have to travel very far to catch me.
They pulled in directly behind me, then beside me while I was waiting in the long line of traffic, and they were honking their really loud annoying cop horn the whole time as I just kept motioning for them to go ahead and pass already! They used the SUV to force me to the side of the road, at walking speed, and the passenger got out and asked my why I was running. Let the dumm begin; the next 15-20 minutes were frustrating, but maybe a bit entertaining, for the cops. It was the passenger who was trying to communicate to me that money needed to be paid for my infraction. He never asked me to get off the motorcycle or remove my helmet, which helped me because he obviously wanted this to be a quick transaction and the longer I could draw it out the better my chances of saving cash. Also, leaving the helmet on allows me to produce a sort of bobble-head effect to accentuate the idiot factor, helping to draw things out.
He tried to explain that the sign said 45km and I was going faster than that and after several minutes of claiming to not understand what he was talking about I started telling him that the big big bus was going faster than me, in the worst Spanish I could muster, and therefore I didn't know why he was pulling me over for speeding and not the bus. I was on the side of a busy road at the edge of a busy little town in broad daylight and felt pretty safe so I decided to take dumm to the limit. At one point I actually started singing "the wheels on the bus go round and round" and then pointed to my tires and made a slow wheel motion, then I pointed off in the direction that the bus and other cars were going and made a faster wheel motion with my fingers. He just sort of looked at his partner, who really didn't seem to be invested in the whole bribery project, and chuckled.
Then he started trying to emphasize the fact that I ran from him and I needed to pay for that. He took out a little booklet with dozens of pages of infractions and subsequent fines and pointed to the one that said 340 soles, about $110 US dollars. At many points in the conversation while he was trying to explain the situation to me, I took to endlessly staring out into space - like I may have been trying to figure things out, or maybe having some kind of silent brain seizure. I had a couple of hours of daylight left and I could do this as long as it took. I was consistent in not understanding the whole notion of trying to run from them and just kept asking about the bus, and what are we doing here; besides, if I'd actually tried to out-run them, we wouldn't be having this conversation (but I only said that part in my head).
He kept on pointing to the 340 soles number and saying I needed to pay that to get my papers back and I just pointed at his notepad, where he had put my papers, and shrugged my shoulders and said "but they be there, all okay" [They always get some document from you that you need. I've heard it's a good idea to get copies of everything, which I had given him, but they just keep asking for things 'till you have to give them an original, or simply make you produce the original because you can't really say no to that, then they simply sell the document back to you for whatever they think they can get from you].
So the last time he mentioned the 340 soles I just pulled out my wallet and laughed and showed him that I only had 60 soles, about $20 USD, which is all the money I've kept in the open part of my wallet since I've hit the coast of Peru where this kind of bad-cop-bullshit thing is very common. He said I needed to go to a bank machine to get money for him, then I started having a little Belize flashback; if these guys were going to ask me to get into their car to go to a bank machine they were going to not only have to pull a gun on my ass but they'd also have to convince me that they might actually use it because I'm never making that mistake again. I went back to the blank stare thing while I thought about numerous ways to stop traffic, get everyone's attention and make their job more difficult than they wanted.
Instead of getting mad about my Belize flashback I decided instead to push dumm to even further limits, misunderstanding the concept of a bank machine to get money, and kept asking why I was now supposed to pay the bank money I didn't have, and why was the bank involved in this thing, and what are we doing here, and isn't it dangerous to be on the side of the highway like this; with blank stares between each new, poorly communicated thought and a couple partial reruns of the "wheels on the bus" song.
By that point I think this cop was really starting to wonder how I could even dress myself in the morning and I was even starting to annoy myself with these far reaching limits of dumm so I pulled out the handy old business card, acting all giddy and excited like I finally came up with the solution to this whole problem, and explained that my brother wrote the business card and he speaks Spanish and it will help explain that I'm here to write a book about this country.
He read the card and handed it back to me and wrote a new number on the pad - 50 soles, about $18 USD. I could handle this number but I still had to act confused about the whole thing because if I agreed too quickly he would have seen through the act, and I was still hoping for a free ride. Long story finally ending, I eventually handed him the 50 soles, got my Peruvian motorcycle registration paper back and now I'm sitting in a cheap hotel only about 5 miles north of where it happened. He had asked where I was staying tonight and I told him that I would keep riding for another hour or two because I didn't want him to know that I would be staying there in his neighborhood.
When we shook hands at the end of the transaction I said "gracias Sr. Coronado" and he corrected me, saying "Cornado", so I guess that's his name and I need to tell someone here in Peru that gives a shit about stupid bad cops hurting their economy.
August 8, Lima, Peru
My 4 days in Lima have been spent looking for hotel rooms. Every one of the nights here has been in a different hotel and every one has only had an open room for one night at a time and most other hotels in the Miraflores neighborhood have been full. I'll be heading up the coast tomorrow, toward Trujillo. I finally put together a page of pictures for Machu Picchu:
August 6, Lima, Peru
I thought it might have been cool to show the satellite view of Lima without the clouds, but it seems that Google Maps happened to snap their photo's during one of the 9 out of 12 months of the year that it is cloudy, foggy, misty, rainy, cold and simply Lima, in Lima. I've been to Peru 3 times now, which means several flights through Lima and one moto arrival. I've never seen the sun here and didn't expect it.
On another note, I found an 80 gig external hard drive to back up my pictures, for about $135.00, and it seems to be working very well so I'm a little less worried about computer issues; if it crashes I'll still have copies of all my pictures, GPS coordinates and journals. Also I had someone help me with the slow leak on my back tire and it was as predictable as clouds in Lima; "Beto", the guy in Iquique that put on my new back tire, left the "bead" area of the tire dirty as hell so it simply leaked air through all the dirt, grease and grime that he left on the rim (anyone that has even touched a moto tire knows that's a bad thing). And on a really different note I'm really impressed with the Peruvian laundry services.
When I've had my laundry done in other countries it comes back smelling like some kind of laundry soap, or maybe even fabric softener, but it's generally a different smell than before it was washed. Here in Peru they provide a special kind of service; they somehow find a laundry soap that matches the smell of your own ass. I don't know how they do it, but I also don't know how they built Machu Picchu and the many other amazing ruins, or drew the Nasca Lines, or accomplished many of the other great mysteries of this enchanting country. But I do know that they've matched my laundry to a special kind of ass-soap than matches my own biochemistry and they've done it many times. I doubt I'll solve this mystery before leaving here.
August 4, Pisco, Peru
Yesterday I saw the Nasca lines from a plane and this morning I saw a couple of them from the tower built by Dr. Maria Reiche, a woman who committed 40 years of her life to exploring, measuring, unearthing, theorizing and probably even talking to the Nasca lines. I had to see them because it's just the thing to do when you pass through this part of Peru but I wouldn't bother doing it again. If you ever sign up for a flight over the Nasca lines and your tour guide says that the seat next to the pilot is the best for taking pictures, hit him. It's the worst seat in the plane because you mostly get to see the wing brace instead of the lines on the ground.
Nasca is an unimpressive little dusty town whose main purpose is to get gringo's on a plane over the lines, sell some trinkets, feed them and ship them out again. I was glad to leave and here I am in Pisco, a cloudy little fishing town on the coast about 150 miles south of Lima. I chose Pisco as a stopping point because I know a guy who got robbed by gunpoint in Ica, the town just south of here, so this seemed like a better choice for spending the night. He had arrived in Ica as it was getting dark, pulled into a gas station on the edge of town and a car full of bad guys pulled in behind him and, well he didn't go into much detail but he's okay and they got a bunch of his stuff and his money. It was all a re-confirmation for him and the others he's told that the standard operating procedure, especially in the more "developing" countries such as Peru, is to get into town long before dark, find your hotel near the center, then do your wandering around.
Tomorrow I'll go to Lima to see the city a bit and figure out what's wrong with my computer. I'm not looking forward to driving in Lima traffic but I'm assuming that Sunday is probably the best day for it, barring any kind of major road closures due to riots or protest marches or anything like that. I've finished another page of pictures and the one after this should be the Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo pictures...
August 2, Nasca, Peru
[Last 3 days downloaded today]
More altitude today, with a steep and very curvy decline to the city of Nasca where tomorrow I'll take a plane ride to see the mysterious Nasca lines. The computer is still acting funny and I only use it for short periods of time as it seems to be heating up quickly and then the functions start to get slow and that seems like a bad sign. Hopefully I'll be able to get help in Lima...
August 1, Puquio, Peru
Really really cold again. I'm in Puquio, Peru at about 10,500 feet above sea level. After staying last night in Abancay, at 7,500 feet, I thought the altitude of the road would get lower but I was wrong again. The road initially went down to about 6,000 feet but then gradually climbed back up to about 14,500 feet and I spent most of my cold travel day on the highland plateau of the Andes with the llamas between 14k and 15k feet above sea level; not as cold as my BIG Andes day but close, especially since I hadn't exactly dressed for the occasion.
Yesterday's trip to Abancay and the first part of today's trip took me through some amazing canyons and river valleys, quite often with the snow capped peaks of the Andes showing above the mountains. I think I have the coldest room in this little hotel and I'm sleeping with much of my cold weather stuff on tonight.
July 31, Abancay, Peru
Every time I ride into a town center in South America I see typical things like restaurants, town squares, cathedrals, hotels and teachers protesting. I haven't said much about the teacher protests because it just seems like a natural part of the scenery but I've met some of the protesters throughout South America and last night, here in Abancay, I met a group of them and took their pictures and talked with them for a little while.
Last October and November in Mexico's Oaxaca the protests reached epic levels when the teachers union hired thugs to cause problems with the Mexican Federal Police, who the teachers felt were brought in to threaten and intimidate them during their previously peaceful demonstrations. It made national news when the subsequent riots resulted in stores and properties being burned and destroyed, cars being overturned and several people were killed. That's why I skipped Oaxaca on my way south.
The protests throughout Argentina were in almost every city, even down in Tierra del Fuego and the rest of Patagonia, regardless of how cold it was. Teachers would set up camp in the middle of a divider of a main street, or part of a town square or any other visible location; the camps often looked like miniature shanty-towns with improvised heating devices such as burning barrels or improvised portable wood-burning stoves, and various temporary shelters. Their protest signs are often specific to the local names but the sign themes always referenced the teachers being hungry because they can't afford food, or telling government officials to stop lying to them (in response to various promises) or about the future of their country depending on a solid education, so it's about time that education is valued appropriately. The protests in Buenos Aires also reached riot proportion worthy of national news during my stay there and I always heard about them from friends back home. I noticed some protests in Chile but not as frequent as Argentina, and in my short trip through Uruguay I saw signs and stickers with similar themes, but no protests.
The day after I arrived in Peru I learned about the 2 previous weeks of protests, when roads were blocked and fires were set and more property destroyed, all in the name of teachers protesting. I could see the evidence as I rode from Puno to Cuzco where tires and other things were left burned on the side of the road. Boulders and other objects which had been used as road-blocks were pushed to the side of the road and some areas just before and after many of the small towns looked something like a war zone. When I told the folks in Cuzco which day I rode from Puno to Cuzco they were surprised I hadn't met with any problems but I saw no protesters, just the ugly aftermath of an angry group.
I saw a very large, peaceful march in Arequipa while I was there, which also seemed like part of the regular functions of a South American society, and now the group of teachers I met tonight. All of the protesters I've met during my trip, from the Veracruz farmers protesting in their underwear in Mexico city, to the teachers I spoke with tonight, have all been very friendly and just glad to share their issues with someone new. They usually seem particularly interested in sharing their issues with a gringo, probably in hopes that the issue will be heard by a larger group and may be taken more seriously. I just empathize with them and wish them the best.
In many of these protests, marches and demonstrations there are other government workers protesting with the teachers but the emphasis is always on the teachers. I guess now is where I could say something wise and insightful about the value of education, especially in a developing nation like Peru, but that would be too obvious; I'll just report what I've seen for now.
July 30, Cuzco, Peru
Computer maintenance is a smart thing to do to keep your hard drive working well, but not when it's impossible. There are spy-ware programs, antivirus programs, disc cleanup programs and disc defragmenter programs that are all a great idea to use, in theory. Several months ago it started that about 25% of the time I tried any of the above my computer would simply power off mid-way through the execution of the program. It gradually got worse until now - 100% of the time I try any of the above, the computer simply powers off long before the task is complete.
Saving my photo's to DVD's is a pretty good idea in case something happens to my computer. This paragraph may be too obvious but that's also impossible. Yup, it just powers off somewhere long before the task is complete. Sending copies of those DVD's back home was also a good idea (when the copying worked) but I tried that in Costa Rica 5 months ago and they still haven't arrived even though I triple checked everything and asked 2 different folks at the post office if I had everything right.
Motorcycle maintenance is also a good idea, but not with a Suzuki. Now one of the other chain adjusting nuts is almost stripped because I had the crazy idea to adjust the chain, which has bee a bit too loose since the "Bemoto" mechanic, Beto, in Iquique (another force that does more harm than good) replaced my back tire and was most likely the catalyst for the whole nut stripping episode. Now that tire has a slow leak, the only one I've had on the whole trip through 6 different tire changes.
Good ideas are usually good, but not when you own a Suzuki or an Averatec computer (which seems to have been made by Suzuki). I'm pretty sure that one of these times I try another good idea with my computer it'll just power off and that'll be it, but if I don't it'll crash because it hasn't been maintained, and it's similar with the Suzuki. Maybe someone in Lima can give me a computer clue. I think the first clue they'll offer is that this stuff is happening because the 1 year warranty just ran out. I can still use it but it sort of feels like I'm on borrowed time.
Okay, I'm done complaining for today.
July 28, Cuzco, Peru
The last couple of days in Cuzco have been relaxing and fun. Norton Rat's Tavern has a motorcycle theme and has been the watering hole of choice and a great place to catch up with other bikers to find out more about trouble spots and cool places on the highway. Most folks just come here because of it's great location overlooking the Plaza de Armas and they've got the best burgers in town and a good beer selection. Cuzco is completely over-run by gringo's of every nationality and it's a relaxing and fun place to hang out. Many of the restaurants and the buildings in and near the centro have walls and partial foundations that are the actual large granite boulders perfectly chiseled and fitted together by the Inca's well over 500 years ago, which really helps define the character of the oldest city of the America's.
I've met many other tourists but I have to say that the funniest contrast is between the "spiritual explorers", and everyone else. There are probably hundreds of spiritual guides, shaman, and other such guides who are glad to take gringo dollars to provide an "enlightening" experience; some include natural hallucinogenic drugs but most don't. They learn about many aspects of the Inca religion, which emphasizes nature and it's cycles, polarities such as high/low, masculine/feminine, right/left, good/evil, etc. and other more cosmic things I don't know about. What they don't seem to include is one of the most significant of the Incan spiritual practices - child sacrifice.
I've met 3 different "spiritual explorers" and asked each one of them if they knew whether the Inca's practiced human sacrifice or not, like many of the other ancient Latin American cultures did. Every one of them has either said no, or they didn't think so. I've asked other gringo's the same question and every one of them that has been on a guided tour of the ruins around Cusco says yes, they used to sacrifice children. My guess is that the spiritual explorers are picked up at the airport by their spiritual guides and taken to their spiritual locations and spoon-fed carefully selected aspects of Incan spirituality that are spiritually pensive, but inoffensive (leaving out the child-sacrifice detail) and then they start the ritual of rubbing oatmeal on their foreheads. Okay, I don't know anything about the oatmeal it was just a funny visual. Other visitors with standard tour guides hear about the child sacrifices.
Child sacrifice was customary for the Incas during or after important events, the death of a leader, or during times of famine to entice the gods to help things out. It is believed that the children used were in perfect physical condition because that would be the best and most valuable thing the Inca could possibly offer to their gods. These children were dressed in fine clothing and jewelry, taken to the top of a mountain and either strangled, bludgeoned or buried alive. Spanish missionaries reported this practice and recently archaeological evidence has been found to support that claim.
Anyway, I just thought it was a funny contrast between the standard gringos and the spiritual travelers' tour details and it made me laugh while I was putting together the second page of Peru pictures:
July 26, Cuzco, Peru
I saw Machu Picchu yesterday and spent the last two nights in Ollantaytambo, which is as far as the road goes to Machu Picchu; from there you take a train. Ollantaytambo is also a pretty impressive, although unfinished, ruins site which would likely be even more popular if it weren't overshadowed by one of the new 7 wonders of the world. The ride from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo was a very scenic 58 mile trip, mostly along the mighty Urubamba River. I but I didn't stop for pictures because I thought I'd hit all the spots on the return trip, today, but it rained; a bit rare during the dry season (now). I'll take an extra day or two in Cuzco to catch those sights.
Five years ago I visited Machu Picchu and the train ride was about $15.00. This time it was about $100.00 and the reason they charge that much is simply because THEY CAN!! And the train ticket costs the same whether you start in Cuzco or Ollantaytambo because either way you have to reserve the seat for the whole trip. The entry fee was $40.00 and I don't remember what it was before but I think it was also around $15.00. Altogether it was definitely still worth the trip and the money. Machu Picchu is really the most impressive ruins site I've seen, and I've seen many on this trip through the America's, and I was lucky to have a great sunny day to see the park.
The Sacred Trail 4 day hike was also filled through the end of October. They only let 400 people a day on the trail and it's obviously a very popular hike, made more so by M.P.'s recent hike in fame.
In typical fashion I'm talking about one spot in the world and posting pictures from something I saw a week or so ago. I'm really looking forward to getting to the Machu Picchu pictures... Here's the first page of pictures from Peru:
July 24, Cuzco, Peru
Sunday's ride to Cuzco went well. I spent much of Monday getting a train ticket for Machu Picchu and today I'm heading to a small village near Machu Picchu called Ollantaytambo. The train ticket purchase shouldn't have taken so long but I ended up having to wait for everything twice because the "new girl" behind the counter messed everything up and the lines were very long.
Machu Picchu's recent induction to the list of Seven Wonders of the World has really made things difficult and more expensive here. This is the high season and there seem to be more gringo's than locals. Cusco is an amazing city in many ways and Machu Picchu is worth the trip and the expense as well - even at the elevated prices - or at least that's what I'm telling myself. I'll let you know if it's really true in a couple of days...
July 20, Puno, Peru
Another cold, high altitude trip for today's ride from Arequipa to Puno, on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500 feet above sea level. I knew that Puno was high altitude but I sort of hoped that the day would be a gradual climb to that altitude; no such luck. From Arequipa the road very rapidly ascends from 7,800 feet to about 14,500 feet above sea level, the altitude where I spent most of my 200 mile day. It was cold and exhausting and I was very happy to quickly find a hotel in Puno with a hot shower.
Across the street from the hotel is a restaurant called "heros" that has guinea pig on the menu. The menu said it was a favorite meal of kings. I had alpaca the other night so I figured why not try it - maybe guinea pig tastes like cow too. But then it arrived, just laying there on the plate looking like deep fried road kill all sprawled out in front of me, face down, his egg sized head with a carrot in his mouth and each of his four legs reaching out to the edges of the plate. I tried to get a little bit of gamy tasting meat from the hind quarters, back strip and little legs but there wasn't much and I have to admit I wasn't trying very hard. Guinea pig has a flavor all it's own that I'll likely never taste again, not on purpose anyway, and it didn't make me feel one bit like a king.
I finally put together the last of the Atacama pictures:
July 19, Arequipa, Peru
I'm at a hotel called "La Casa de me Abuela", my Grandmothers house, and last night I had an alpaca steak that tasted like cow [I'd seen several restaurants advertising it and I just had to try it!]. The town center in Arequipa is definitely Peru's twin to that of Guatemala's Antigua, although a little higher, at 7,800 feet above sea level. It's similar in size and style of the surrounding buildings, it's surrounded by high mountains, there are old stone sidewalks and narrow cobblestone streets and tons of old churches, monasteries, convents, colleges and a fair amount of gringos. The main difference is that Antigua is far more colorful than Arequipa and the city of Arequipa has a population of a million while Antigua is a mere fraction of the size at about 30,000.
The ride here from Moquegua was nice except for being stuck behind long lines of trucks going uphill a couple of times. That and my pulling over for pictures made my Arequipa arrival later than I would've liked and I spent the first night here in a crappy hotel for $21.00 before finding this place yesterday for $28.00 - one of the better values of the trip. I'll stay at Grandmothers house another night to catch up on pictures and other things because there's a great internet connection here, which is a bit rare in Peru. I finished another page of Atacama photo's and there'll be one more before I start catching up with what I've seen in Peru so far...
July 17, Moquegua, Peru
Moquegua is a nice town with a centro that is just a huge marketplace, about 15 blocks wide and 3-5 blocks deep, with hundreds of little stands, or tiny stores, and people selling everything from radio parts and socks, to vacuum cleaners, food, coca leaves and spices. Many of these tiny stores specialize in one thing while others attempt to be a miniature Wal-Mart. The uniquely interesting Plaza de Armas up the hill from the market displays a random mix of very old and very new churches and buildings because they were hit by an earthquake in 2001 that destroyed much of the town. Today it's off to Arequipa.
July 16, Tacna, Peru
Tacna is only about 40 miles north of Arica but the border crossing makes it a full afternoon trip. Chile and Peru don't like each other very much and it's obvious at the border; after the formalities of leaving Chile are taken care of, which is the easy part, you ride another 500 yards down the road to the Peruvian Customs office. On the way you pass through a section where both sides of the road are labeled as "mine field", it's about 20-40 yards wide, barbed wire fenced on both sides and extends as far as you can see, both ways. Just a little reminder to not sneak across the border, either way.
I asked someone who's done it before and he said it'll take a couple of hours and expect to be frustrated. He was right. The Peruvian technicalities involve getting 6 different stamps, for no apparent reason, from 6 different folks who are never where they are supposed to be. It's a process of being directed to wrong lines, filling out forms and waiting for different stamp holders to finish lunch and running around trying to find the old fat-guy who has the final stamp... It's a real pain in the ass and it took me about 2 1/2 hours, after which I didn't feel like riding a whole day so I stopped in Tacna, which is a much nicer city than I thought it would be. Today I'll head to Moquegua, which I hear is also very nice. I finally finished the second page of Atacama pictures:
July 14, Arica, Chile
I guess I celebrated this Friday the 13th on Thursday the 12th because on the actual Friday things worked out pretty well. I sent an email to 5 different mechanic connections (including Beto and Piero from the updates below) in Chile and Argentina on Friday morning asking for help with my stripped axle and nut. Mariano, the guy in Buenos Aires from Motocare [www.motocare.com.ar] was the only one to respond. He said he'd be glad to look for new parts but suggested that the quicker and easier solution would be to see a "Tornero", or a machinist, and have them re-thread the bolt and buy a new nut.
$4.50 later all is well and the only thing remotely bad about this Friday the 13th is that I'm just a little embarrassed that I didn't think of that common sense solution on my own. I mentioned my new Spanish word [Tornero] to Rodolfo, front desk guy at Hotel Americano, and he happens to have a good friend that is a Tornero on the other side of town; good coincidence. The axle threads weren't stripped, they only looked bad because the threads from the nut were completely stripped and their remnants were left on the axle threads. The axle threads were damaged, which is what caused the nut to strip, but the axle threads were easily fixed by the Tornero [$4.00 for fixing the axle threads and .50 for a new nut, definitely the best money I've spent all year!].
I still haven't heard from Beto or his friend Piero. My guess is that Piero knew that something was wrong because when he tightened the bolt it wasn't very tight and he probably didn't want to get into a whole new mess since he was just there as a favor for Beto. He must have called Beto and told him there were bigger problems and Beto decided to cut his losses and not respond. I don't know if Beto damaged the axle threads or not but his not responding makes me suspicious of a guilty conscience and earns him the title of "punk-assed-bitch".
I also met a biker couple here in Arica waiting for parts, Adam and Valerie from California, and we went out for beers, stories, laughs and great conversation. Not a bad day for Friday the 13th. Today, Saturday, I decided to stay and change my oil and catch up on some pictures. Here's the first batch from the Atacama Desert region:
July 12, a little later, Arica, Chile
Okay feel free to take that happy horse-shit ending to this little mechanical scenario below and just replace it with the worse case scenario. After Piero left I went to finish up and make the last adjustments and then tighten everything up and when I went to turn the nut it just kept turning and turning and turning and turning and I'm sure you get the point. Not only is the inside of the nut completely stripped but the threaded part of the axle it grabs onto is also destroyed. Bad.
Two possible scenario's: Scenario one - Force fitting it in the backwards position like Beto did somehow tore everything up. Scenario two is that the parts on this bike are weak; I have always said that the absolute worst thing for this motorcycle is maintenance. Some of the only real damage to this bike has occurred while fixing or adjusting something because the nuts and bolts are very easily stripped. It may be a combination of Beto's reverse fitting and cheap metal parts (I don't know if their being backwards would make any difference at all, and I do know that the metal on this bike is cheap so it's all really hard to say) but it really doesn't matter because liability has nothing to do with what needs to happen now to make it all better. I'll start by emailing the two aforementioned mechanics and then check out Horizons Unlimited for more clues and connections, and Mariano's team in Buenos Aires...
July 12, Arica, Chile
Yesterday's trip to Arica was warm, then cold, then warm, then cold again. Route 5 runs right down the middle of Chile, just like I-5 runs north and south through Washington, Oregon and California. But in the northernmost province of Chile, the Arica Province, the road passes through two very deep canyons and toward the ocean. As the altitude descends from 4,000 feet toward sea level, the warm air of central Chile is replaced by that cold coastal, foggy winter air of the Chilean and Peruvian coastline. As the road climbs the other side of the canyon the air gradually warms up again.
I decided to stay two nights here instead of one so that I could work on the bike a little. I noticed the chain was lose and when I went to clean and adjust it I realized that "Beto", the guy mentioned below who put my new tire on, seems to have somehow reversed things and as a result nothing can be adjusted appropriately and all the "notches" that indicate when the tire is straight are all way off and I'm still trying to figure the whole thing out. The new chain has never been loose and changing the tire shouldn't have made it loose unless Beto somehow rearranged everything and then re-adjusted it according to some bran new northern Chilean specs because it doesn't work by the regular methods. In order to adjust the wheel to the straight position it rubs against the back brakes so bad it'll never move. Yada yada yada, I'm pretty pissed about it right now but hopefully I'll figure it out and not have to stay here too long. Arica isn't a bad city to be stuck in, but I really need to make up some time and get back north again...
...Okay, that wasn't bad. I called Beto, he called a friend here in Arica, Piero Aratto, and I got schooled on how to return things back to the way they were. Beto typically works on Motocross bikes and they are usually set up the opposite of big street bikes on the back wheel's hub area and Piero guessed that Beto just followed habit and set it up like motocross [I still don't understand how he readjusted everything to make it straight, with a looser chain, but it's better now so who cares]. It looked to me like many more parts needed to be removed and would have been a huge project but using a screw-driver as a mini pry-bar to remove a certain part made it a fairly quick job. So tomorrow I'll see if they'll let me into Peru...
July 10, Iquique, Chile
Yup, still in Iquique. I got a new back tire today - the other one still had enough rubber to get me to Lima and further but I would rather have a new tire than be constantly wondering how long the patch will hold up on the old tire. Alberto Arayo, "Beto", who owns "BeMoto" hooked me up with a Pirelli and it seems that $300 is the going rate for a back tire in South America. You can email him if you get stuck in Iquique and need help with your motorcycle: email@example.com. It was mid-afternoon before all was taken care of so I decided to stay for another night for more ceviche and other seafood before the 4 hour trip to Arica tomorrow.
Last night I got my first taste of what seemed like poison air. There was some sort of "police activity" near my hotel and a crowd needed to be dispersed so the cops used one of those tear-gas smoke bombs about a block from my hotel. I was just returning from a long afternoon of wandering around taking pictures and checking out the town, and the closer I got to my hotel the more my eyes, nose and throat burned. I asked about it at the hotel and they told me about the smoke-bomb that had been set off 5-10 minutes before. The funny thing is that I never saw any police, or any indication of bad things going on in the area, or anywhere around town for that matter and still have no idea what it was about.
July 8, Iquique, Chile
Iquique is a city of about 150,000 with the same cold foggy winter climate as Antofagasta. When I arrived yesterday I went to get ceviche at a restaurant and they told me it was against the law to serve uncooked fish so I couldn't have ceviche; then I went into a deep, dark, extended period of agonizing depression; but today I went to the fish market and they had ceviche so I snapped right out of it and I'm happy again! I guess it's only against the law to serve ceviche in places where they cook things? I don't know and I doubt I'll figure out the complexity of the ceviche regulatory systems down here before I get my tire fixed and head north toward the Peruvian border.
The mountain range that parallels the coastline of Northern Chile actually reaches the coastline just north of Iquique, which means that between here and Arica there are no beaches, and no coastal towns, because the mountains drop very abruptly into the sea (you can really see this from the satellite view). Arica is just south of the Peruvian border and will be my last stop in Chile.
I finally finished that page of pictures from my very cold high altitude crossing of the Andes...
July 6, Pozo Almonte, Chile
From Antofagasta I took a cold, foggy ride up the coast to Tocopilla, a small, dusty, dirty little town at the foot of the same very steep mountain range that runs parallel to and just 1-5 miles inland from the coast line. The mountains form a natural barrier that keeps the coastline cold and foggy in the winter, while everything east of it stays warm. Tocopilla's dirty funk seems to come from everywhere; road signs are dirty, things that were once white are now a yellowish brown color and everything in the town just seems to have an extra layer of muck. The muck-funk ambience was accentuated in a unique way by the worst and most spazzy high school marching band I've ever seen or heard; they were "practicing" the night I arrived and the morning I left.
From Tocopilla I went back to Calama; I started the day with Iquique as a goal but it's a very long trip and after spending a couple of hours in a small town called Maria Elena, Calama was the closest and most reasonable choice to get a good start for Iquique the next day (today). Plus, I wanted to take the inland route instead of spending another long day riding up the cold foggy coastline.
I left Calama this morning with plenty of time to take pictures and make the trip to Iquique. I was told by a couple different people that there would be fuel at Quillagua, a good midway point for the trip, but there was nothing at all in that tiny little oasis in the desert except some folks that told me about a guy who sometimes has big tanks of gas that he sells fuel from but he's not here today. A little while later I had gone 190 miles on a tank that gets only about 200 miles [I've got an extra gallon with me so it would've been fine] but out of nowhere I saw, from about 3 miles away, what I thought was a gas station sign. It was a small town called "Victoria" that had a gas station and a restaurant. Victoria wasn't on my map but my map is from Argentina and it seems that they purposefully miss little details and miss-spell names of towns in their little passive-aggressive show of distaste for all things Chilean (they don't like each other very much).
As I was leaving Pozo Almonte I pulled over to put a sweater on under my jacket because it was getting late and cooling off and would only get colder the closer I got to the coast at Iquique. I was glad to be leaving Pozo Almonte because it's just an ugly little truck stop town with dirty, gimpy stray dogs running around and tons of semi-trucks driving through its somewhat narrow main road and only one hotel I saw which also made me glad to keep on going.
I got back on the highway and felt the unmistakable squishy flat-tire feeling that is immediately recognizable, even though I've never had a flat tire on a motorcycle. Denial is a very funny thing because for a moment I actually thought that if I pulled over and checked the tire that it would almost certainly be flat, so I began rationalizing that if I kept on going maybe things would actually be okay! Logic beat denial today so I pulled over, unloaded the bike, looked the tire over and found where the hole likely is, then used a can of that "fix-a-flat" that seems to be holding for now but I didn't want to ride another 30 miles on a tire that may or may not make it. So here I am having dinner in this greasy little gimpy dogged town, hoping that my tire still holds air tomorrow so I can make it to Iquique for a real patch, or new tire...
July 4, Antofagasta, Chile
Happy 4th of July! Here in Chile they're so excited about the 4th of July that they act like it's just a regular day, but I can tell that they really want to light explosives and grill stuff.
I'll be heading north today, toward Peru, but I still can't get over the name of this place. if it were the name of a food it would be some Italian pasta dish - probably a bow-tie pasta in a nice pink tomato vodka cream sauce. If it came in a can it would be a hot pink can with rainbows and a picture of Liberace and George Michael face to face, staring intensely at each other like they're growling, with a big bowl of that hot pink pasta between them (with two forks) and a caption saying "Antofagasta: Grrrrrrrrrrr Yummy!!"
Sorry, I couldn't help it. Actually there's nothing about this town that resembles pink pasta or the two aforementioned individuals, I was just working on a resume for Director of Marketing at Kraft Foods - think I'll get the job?
July 3, Antofagasta, Chile
Ceviche!! I'm back on the pacific coast and reminded of how great that meal is! Ceviche is basically raw fish that is marinated, or "cooked", by the acids in lemon and/or lime juice. The fish varies from shrimp and other shellfish, to general white meat - usually the less oily types of fish, cut into small chunks. The simple version is just fish, lemon/lime juice, some cilantro and maybe a little red onion, which is the version I like best. I'm still recovering a bit from the cold, sore throat and general ass kicking I took by crossing the Andes in such cold weather and ceviche will be the elixir to finish off my ailments.
This city is slightly south from the route I'd planned but I'm glad I'm here. Antofagasta reminded me of Lima, Peru, from the moment I arrived. It's a cool, foggy/cloudy coastal town that seems to have a somewhat significant poor area surrounding the safer, more established areas. The difference between here and Lima is that probably at least 60% of this city is safe for gringo's walking around with camera's, while there's only about 10% of the Lima city limits where that would be safe. But the important thing is that I'm here and they have lots of Ceviche for me so I'll stay one more day to get some photo's of all the fishing stuff and city in general. If you click on the Satellite version above you can see the harbor and my hotel is just north of all the harbor buildings. It's $40 a night but during the summer it's 2-3 times that much so I'm enjoying it. The harbors fish market is large, colorful and loaded with ceviche. I don't think I've mentioned ceviche this many times in one day before but it's my favorite South American food, so ceviche, ceviche, ceviche!!!
And I've finally got another page of pictures from the Salta area:
July 1, Calama, Chile
So here I am in the Atacama desert, the driest place on earth. Calama is a city of about 100,000 that exists mainly because of the largest copper mine in the world, just north of here (if you pan down with the satellite view you can actually see the very large dump-trucks carrying the copper out of that huge hole). I have come down with a delayed onset case of altitude sickness, cold, whatever that had me pretty drained but today I'll head to the coast for some better recovery.
June 29, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
[The following 3 days were not downloaded 'till today].
Today was the second most challenging day of the last 8 months; beat out only by my March 30 trip to San Sebastian, Argentina, closing in on Tierra del Fuego in the beginning of their winter. But today was also very rewarding.
In one word; cold. Really really cold with snow all around and I spent over 2 hours at altitudes between 14,000 feet and 15,800 feet above sea level. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and I've never been more cold on such a sunny day. Cold is far more difficult at high altitudes. At low altitudes there's sort of a constant air pocket of atmosphere all around you that acts as an invisible insulation. At 15,000 feet, especially when it's close to freezing, that invisible insulation is functionally non existent; and on a motorcycle the cold, fast moving air all around you goes on a heat-seeking mission to suck out every little nugget of heat it can take from your body [yeah, I'm pretty sure that "nugget" is the scientific term for a unit of heat from the human body]. Sounds like war but it only feels like punishment.
Altitude can be pretty tough on mountain climbers but a big reason for that is because THEY CLIMBED to that altitude. My cold, achy, altitude weakened ass was carried there by 4 cylinders and 2 wheels and it was still incredibly taxing. I probably stopped to take pictures about 8 times and every time it was a very slow and careful process of balance and choosing just the right spot because if I dropped the bike I would have had to wait for someone to come by and hopefully help me pick it up, and dropping the bike was a very distinct possibility from my being weaker due to the altitude and my gimpy left ankle. Contending with rock slides and llamas in the road also increases the challenge. At one point I stopped to roll a large, relatively round, rock from the middle of the road -it was about twice the size of a basketball, which normally would have been easy especially since I was rolling it at a downhill angle, but it was difficult today.
What made the altitude even more difficult is that I hardly slept the night before. The night got colder and colder and I was shifting around in the cheap little single-sized mattress trying to find just the right position and putting on more layers of clothing, and then there was the breathing thing. My best guess at an explanation for this difficulty is that when we fall asleep we breathe at a rate that we're accustomed to, from the oxygen level that we're accustomed to, which for most of us isn't way way above sea level. So when we fall asleep at 12,000 feet above sea level (Susques altitude) and we're not used to it we begin that same old breathing rate that's worked for years and after a little while the body goes into emergency panic wake-up mode from oxygen deprivation and you wake up panting, gasping, or at least taking deep breaths. So by the time it was morning I could hardly get out of bed because I was still so tired.
But after all that sleep deprivation, cold and concentrating on balance and keeping everything going, one of the most unique experiences of this whole trip was the descent to San Pedro Atacama. Within about 25 miles the road descends from 15,400 feet to exactly 8,000 feet above sea level. It's a very warm and welcoming feeling as the temperature gradually increases and the atmosphere becomes less hostile; minute by minute I could feel the air thickening around me like a slow, invisible hug. So now I'm in the Atacama desert. Dusty is the one word I'll use for it, at least so far... And I've finally found a place to download the last couple days of stuff.
June 28, Susques, Argentina
The ride here from Jujuy was absolutely amazing and I don't think I've stopped to take pictures this many times since Yellowstone Park. The road reached an altitude of 13,800 feet above sea level at "Altos del Morado" and the temperatures, while not exactly warm, were much better than I had expected. It was very sunny all day, which is typical for this part of the world where they get very little precipitation. The pass into Chile has been closed for 3 days now because they had a rare snowfall that made spots of the road too icy to drive on. There was very little snow on the road today but in the areas where the sun would melt the snow it would immediately freeze, creating miniature frozen-streams.
When I arrived in this little town I thought for sure there wouldn't be any hotels because the roads are all lined with trucks that have been waiting to pass into Chile. I was grateful to find this little place called Las Vicunitas where dinner, a room and breakfast will cost me around $22.00, which was fortunate because when I arrived it was still daylight but getting very cold very fast and I would have been willing to pay far more than that to avoid turning back to look for something else. Continuing on to Chile at that hour would pretty much be an act of suicide on a motorcycle.
About 1/3 of the way to Susques, from Jujuy, is Purmamarca, a little tourist-trap town with dozens of stands around the town square, selling alpaca wool clothing and any kind of trinket that represents the area. They don't, however, have a gas station and I was counting on one so I had to turn around and go about 15 miles down another road to Tilcara, which was fine because I had plenty of time and there was more amazing scenery.
Now I'm in bed, it's really really cold and the little radiator style space heater only keeps the things near it warm so I've situated it by my feet. These homes and hotels are all made out of adobe style mud brick material, which by itself does a decent job of insulating, but then they use doors and windows that are cheap, drafty, poorly fitted and negate any insulating ability that the one-foot thick mud brick walls may possess.
June 27, Jujuy, Argentina
When I talked to people in Buenos Aires about the northwest part of Argentina they always mentioned Salta and Jujuy [pronounced "who-who-ee"] without really distinguishing between them. They are relatively similar in size and only about 62 miles apart but the music, food, people and general decorative themes of Jujuy are much more influenced by the Andes than those of Salta; probably because Salta is separated from the foothills of the Andes by a large valley, while Jujuy is at the very foothills of the Andes.
My trip to Susques tomorrow will only be about 120 miles but will take me to altitudes of around 14,000 feet before a slight descent to the 12,000 foot level of Susques. I decided to stay another day in Jujuy to make sure that everything is ready for that kind of climb and to enjoy the plentiful Oxygen levels and relatively warm temperatures before the very cold, thin air of the Andes. I wish I had a way to store some of this oxygen in my body now to help me deal with the high altitudes later.
There are some very large salt flats that I will be riding through and I'm sure a fair amount of it ends up on the road so I'll need to be cleaning and lubing my motorcycle chain or risk it being destroyed in a very short amount of time (like what happened after riding behind the salt truck in the snow storm leaving El Calafate).
Salta and Jujuy are both good cities to visit with good scenery. They're a little on the 'touristy' side but that's fine because it's the off-season so hotels are cheaper now. I'll miss them dearly when I'm in the Atacama desert in a few days - the Atacama Desert region of Chile is literally the driest place in the world and I'm sure it'll be an interesting experience...
June 25, Salta, Argentina
My ankle is getting better and I'll be leaving for Jujuy tomorrow morning for some more great scenery and to get ready to cross the Andes into Chile. I went on a van trip yesterday to view some areas south of here but it was cloudy and the overall quality of the trip reminded me why I almost never do those group ventures; you end up waiting for everybody all the time [not that I'm impatient, just "time efficient!"] and stopping to take pictures at the worst places. Plus it was cloudy and rainy all day so the best places for pictures weren't that great anyway.
I put together a page of pictures for Iguazu:
June 23, Salta, Argentina
Yesterday I arrived in Salta about 4:00, found a hotel, then found a medical clinic to make sure there wasn't anything seriously wrong with my ankle. It was $7.00 to talk with some nurse/doctor/intern/whatever person, $17.00 for X-rays and X-ray review with the same guy. Finding out that nothing was broken so I won't have to learn to ride my motorcycle with a cast; priceless. They let me keep the X-rays which seemed pretty cool for a second but then I remembered that whenever I've seen other peoples' X-rays they only seemed cool because something was broken and you could see it. There's nothing cool about an X-ray where nothing is broken so I limped myself out of the clinic with the same degree of coolness I had when I limped in.
The highway between Monte Quemado and Salta was perfect, which was helpful because it hurts like hell every time I have to shift gears. The cops continue to be fine but I was a little worried when I was stopped about 40 miles after leaving Monte Quemado at a checkpoint with one young cop and one big fat cop whose shirt was unbuttoned well below his man-boobs. The less professional they're dressed, the more likely they are to bribe you. There happened to be a handful of cars passing by at the time so he just asked me questions about my trip and the motorcycle, which is probably what he would have done anyway but it's the first time in quite a while that I've even thought there was a chance of bad-cop bribery-BS.
My right shin just looks like some small animal took several bites out of it and my wrist will be fine. Mr. $7.00 says I need to not walk for a couple of days and ice down the ankle. Salta looks like a good city to be stuck in for a couple of days with lots of old colonial architecture and other things to photograph.
June 21, later today, Monte Quemado, Argentina
Today I had my first, and hopefully only, accident of the whole trip. I was about 240 miles northwest of Corrientes, still 35 miles from Monte Quemado, and it had been a long day of mostly good highway with a few rough spots where they were rebuilding the highway. In most of the construction areas the pavement was broken up with areas of gravel mixed with dirt between the pavement islands. I arrived at an area with no pavement or gravel, just a section of that red clay-like dirt which had been flattened out and wetted down shortly before I reached it. The smooth, slippery, wet clay surface might as well have been ice, and when it slanted to the right I went down fast on my left side.
I don't remember falling, only sliding along with my bike and my left ankle hurt in a way that wasn't extremely bad, because of that initial numbing effect of shock and adrenalin, but I knew it would hurt much worse later. I was only going about 25mph but probably slid somewhere between 20 - 30 feet because of the incredibly slippery surface. As soon as the bike stopped I hit the kill switch, because it was still running, and made sure that no traffic was coming at me. The only traffic was a large Shell Oil tanker coming from the opposite direction and he was just coming to a stop. I started trying to pick up my motorcycle but I was a little shaken and I couldn't get enough traction in the slippery clay to pick up the bike and I couldn't put any weight on my left ankle, but before I had the chance to make a really good effort I realized that the guy from the tanker had jumped out of his truck to help me.
We picked up the bike and the 10-15 construction workers who had run over to help, walked me and my bike back to firm, packed-gravel ground where I made a quick check of everything, got myself together, thanked everyone and continued riding on to this $7.00 hotel called "9 de Julio, Hotel Comedor".
You'll never see that hotel name in any guide books and you probably won't see this town's name on most maps but here I am. The sign for this hotel was on the main highway but I couldn't find the actual hotel because the electricity was off in this section of town but some guy in the grocery store, where they had electricity, said he'd lead me here. I would have never found it on my own because with or without electricity the front looked like everything else on the street, except for the broken sign that looks like it has been grown over by trees for years. I limped around for an hour, waiting for the electricity to come on so they could prepare a room for me, which took another half an hour.
It's late and my left ankle, right shin and right wrist hurt from the spill and I need to get to my "U" shaped musty mattress and get some sleep so I can make it to Salta tomorrow...
June 21, Corrientes, Argentina
From Iguazu I returned to Posadas for a night, then yesterday morning I left the rolling hills and tropical landscape of the Misiones district and traveled 220 miles through the flat grassy planes of the Corrientes district to the districts' capital city of Corrientes. It's amazing how rapidly landscape and scenery can change - the Misiones district looks and feels more like Central America but when you cross into the Corrientes district it looks and feels like Kansas.
The police haven't been bad - between Posadas and Iguazu I was stopped 3 times; once because I had my high-beams on [I do that sometimes when it's cloudy or foggy to make sure that others see me] another time I was stopped simply because they wanted to ask about my motorcycle and my trip, and the third time was asking for insurance. I'm not sure if I need insurance in Argentina or not but I've been asked twice and both times I tell them that at the border they said I didn't need insurance and that's ended the conversation. Actually, yesterday it simply changed the conversation from the insurance issue to questions about my trip, motorcycle, GPS unit, etc.
Between here and Salto it looks like 500-700 miles of nothing so I need to figure out the best route before I leave this morning, the best route being one which includes gas stations and hotels...
June 19, Puerto Iguazu, Argentina
[Google Maps is acting differently and I'm hitting the road so I don't have the time to figure it out right now. "Foz do Iguacu" is on the Brazilian side of the river from where I am]. The last several days in the Misiones district have been good. It's warmed up and the weather and landscape are much more tropical here, reminding me of Costa Rica. Yesterday I visited the "cataratas" or waterfalls at Iguazu and it was absolutely amazing. As usual when I'm on the road the pictures are a week or so behind, so in due fashion I've finished a page of pictures from Uruguay...
June 15, Posadas, Argentina
Leaving Uruguay yesterday reminded me of a difference between Uruguay and Argentina: Landscape grooming. Uruguay has more animals along the side of the road than Chile and Argentina. Along the highway are tons of skunk road-kills, many different types of birds, some sort of rodent that looked like a grey hamster but was the size of a guinea pig, a groundhog looking varmint and coyotes. The landscape in Uruguay allows for places for those furry little critters to hang out; bushes on the side of the road, around creeks and ditches, and frequent non-groomed sections of land. Entering northeast Argentina shows a much more industrial side of South America where every bit of land, at least along the main highway, is used for crops and tree farming and most of the space around it is clean cut grass. There are non-groomed areas along the road in this part of Argentina, they're just far less frequent than those in Uruguay and results in a lower roadside varmint-count.
Last night I made it to La Cruz - a small town with one paved road that goes through the middle of town, and all the other roads are a well packed red-clay. I found what may be their only hotel and spent the night in a dank little musty room with a single light bulb hanging down from the center of the high and dark ceiling. That was it for the hotel room - a light bulb and a bathroom. The small brick hotel building was made in 1913, around the time of the rest of the neighborhood, and 2 blocks away was one of the many Franciscan Missions from the 1700's.
Tonight I'm in Posadas, if you click on the satellite view above you'll see a thumb-shaped section of Argentina pointing to the northeast. Paraguay is to the northwest and Brazil is to the south and east and the thumb section of Argentina looks greener than the surrounding countries, probably from years of differing agricultural policies and practices in the neighboring countries. That's been a huge realization of this trip; crossing from one country to the next and seeing an immediate and dramatic change in ecological appearances depending on how each country has decided to treat their land.
This little corner of Argentina is a province called Misiones, specifically because of the dozens of Missions that settled in this general area. The old ruins left behind are popular tourist spots. The film with Robert De Niro called "The Mission" was filmed at an old ruined mission near Iguazu falls that I may see if the weather improves. Yesterday was a little rainy but warm, while today was very cold and windy with rainy spots here and there. I should be in Iguazu tomorrow afternoon. Meanwhile I finished the last bit of photo's from BA and the first couple photo's from Uruguay...
June 13, Salto, Uruguay
The last couple of days in Uruguay have been very relaxing, easy travel days, even when I hit the dog. Carmelo, Mercedes, Paysandu, and Salto are all towns of varying size but similar style; they all remind me of the province capitals throughout Patagonia - old style, well kept, clean, safe and they all score close to zero on the "glitz-and-glamor" scale. The landscape between towns is green gently rolling hills with cattle, dairy farms, corn fields and many different types of trees - eucalyptus seems to be the most common. On the way into each little town the smell makes it immediately apparent that people heat their homes with wood stoves and fireplaces and the smell gets stronger in the evening hours as the smoke is held down by the low lying fog. It's a nice smell to me, as I grew up in a home heated mostly by an old wood stove. Everybody I've met and seen here leaves me with the image that Uruguayans are hardworking people who don't complain.
Uruguay definitely makes the list of countries for really safe gringo motorcycle travel, along with Mexico, Argentina, Chile [and maybe Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama on a different level]. The most common danger I face here everyday is that when I stop for any reason it seems like the people nearby will never stop talking to me! They all want to know about the trip; where I've been, how the motorcycle has been holding out, does it really have 4 cylinders and 1,200cc's, how fast I've gone on it (actually, yesterday I broke my two-wheel land speed record at 124mph because the highway and conditions were just soooo perfect for a good throttle slap) where I'm going next and tons of other questions about individual cities where they've been or want to know more about.
I guess I meant to elaborate on the dog thing earlier but got carried away with Uruguay appreciation ramble. I was about 20 miles south of Salto and there was a dog in the middle of the opposite lane, facing to my right. In general dogs seem to pay attention to traffic, but dogs have a very limited attention span and this dog was very focused on something on my side of the road that put his potential pathway between me and the rest of my day. I was going about 80mph and he was just within 100 yards so I slowed down.
I think he wanted me to hit him, like he was in some sort of doggy insurance scam, because he crossed in front of me at the worst potential moment, but it turned out okay. By the time I made contact with the dog I was only going between 5-10mph. Just before I hit him I released the brakes because, for reasons that would be difficult to really explain right now, if you're definitely going to hit something on a motorcycle it's best to do so when you're free wheeling, not trying to brake as hard as you can. Anyway, the hit was really more of a "nudge" and I could feel the very mild impact but it was light enough that I wasn't worried about him or me. After the nudge I looked back and saw him trotting down the side of the road like nothing had happened.
So I guess this is like another "good cop" story where the ending is simple and safe, and nothing happens that would ever make headlines or even a good dinner time story. I pretty much aim for these kinds of road days.
June 10, Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Yesterday afternoon I took a 250 foot ferry, that travels at a nautically-amazing 38mph, from Buenos Aires, to this foggy little colonial town. Colonia del Sacramento became a sunny little town this morning so I decided to stay another night and take more pictures before heading north because it really is a great place and I'm relieved to be out of the smog, finally surrounded by fresh air.
I put together another page of pictures from the Recoleta Cemetery. I originally skipped over them but then looked again and found that these "inside glimpses" of the cemetery were, in some ways, even more interesting than the statues. Keep your eyes out for the black cat...
June 8, Buenos Aires, Capital Federal, Argentina
I'm here in BA at "Cruzat Beer House", a great pub that I just discovered on my extra day in BA. There's a Jethro Tull documentary video playing and I'm drinking a Cardos Scottish Ale, from the local Cardos brewery. My GPS is giving me grief - it used to last 20-25 hours on a set of batteries, now it lasts less than 10 hours so I thought I'd look for a replacement. Mine was only about $150.00 in the US but the closest thing I could find today, after about 4 hours of looking, was just under $300. So the current solution to the problem is beer and the second solution is buying more batteries; I like beer better but I guess it'll be both. I'll leave for Uruguay tomorrow and I'll try to stop dropping my GPS unit.
"Cartoneros", the mystery word from my most recent page of pictures, isn't a mystery anymore thanks to my kick ass cousin Katie from Seattle providing the translation. Cartoneros are the folks that dig through the garbage and sort out anything that can be recycled so they can sell it back to the city. During this and my previous visit to BA I noticed folks going through the garbage. This group of folks is more clean and organized than the typical street bums you might expect to see digging through garbage looking for skittles and beer, and you can't visit Buenos Aires without noticing the cartoneros. They all have some type of push cart or some variation of a shopping cart and it seems that some specialize in cardboard and paper, while others specialize in plastics and glass, and whatever's left goes to others or is just left there. Then I learned that they really are organized...
After I read Katie's email I visited the South American Explorers clubhouse so I asked them what's up with the "Cartoneros" and the protest issues. The Cartoneros are actually a very large unionized group - and they vote, so that makes them a pawn in the theatre of local politics. The garbage in the city is simply left on the sidewalk in plastic bags. There are no large garbage bins in the city for people to store the garbage and none of the businesses or residents are allowed to put their garbage out on the sidewalk 'till after 8:00 pm every night. This is because the numerous carts being pushed around town by the Cartoneros would clog up traffic if the garbage were left out earlier, during the busy rush-hour; it sort of forces the Cartoneros to work from 8:00 pm and throughout the night, when traffic is lighter. Sounds sort of logical, right?
Logic is cool but politics are powerful. One of the negative aspects of the Cartoneros is that many of them rip through the garbage, pulling out the stuff that they can recycle, leaving the rest allover the sidewalk. Then the garbage truck comes by in the middle of the night to pick up the "bags" of garbage, but of course there is much left behind that the Cartoneros left laying around. So they're messy. So why doesn't BA simply initiate a cleaner, more efficient method of recycling and handling garbage? The answer to that is a long string of rumors and definite maybes that involves, above all else, the fact that the Cartoneros are unionized and they vote. After that simple fact, digging deeper into the issue only leads to stories about corrupt politicians, prostitution rings, mafia involvement and other things that I don't have the time to figure out. If I did come up with a solution I'm pretty sure they'd elect me Mayor if I didn't end up "sleeping with the fishes", which would appear to be a likely outcome of one man trying to solve the cartoneros problem.
So that's the thing I learned yesterday. Today I learned that GPS's are too expensive in BA and tomorrow I'll hopefully learn how to get to Uruguay so I can take pictures of another country. I've got some more BA photo's to catch up on as well...
June 7, Buenos Aires, Capital Federal, Argentina
I recently had a telephone/email interview with the Seattle PI and today received emails of encouraging words from some folks I've never met because they had read my article in today's PI! Here's the Seattle PI article.
I'm leaving my Buenos Aires apartment today and tomorrow I'll head into Uruguay on my way north to Puerto Iguazu for some of the most impressive waterfalls in the world. The waterfalls are on a three-way border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay and I'll be on the Argentina side of the falls for some of the best views. It's been a relaxing stay in BA and I've meet some fun people who help make it impossible to imagine never returning to this wonderful city. Next time I'll get an apartment that's higher above the road and maybe a little further from the center of town to avoid the smog and road grime that caused the respiratory issues which have plagued me for more than half of my stay. But even with those unpleasantries Buenos Aires is still one of my favorite cities in the world.
One of my favorite things about South America has been not having to worry so much about the police. In Central America, and other poorer countries [Mexico not included] cop corruption is the norm but in the more developed nations - like Chile and Argentina, police corruption tends to be more rare because it is less tolerated. It seems that the corruption of the less developed nations tends to keep those nations poor, giving their citizens very few options on how to live, leading to a general state of "learned helplessness" that simply makes people more tolerant of bad things going on around them. They end up just accepting police corruption because they've learned that there's nothing they can do about it.
I learned an example of a very distinct difference here in Argentina the other day. There is a police checkpoint on the highway where bikers and foreign travelers have consistently been hustled for money by the corrupt cops. I learned of it from asking Ed, a Horizons Unlimited member, because that stretch of highway is on the way to Iguazu and he warned me about it. Later on I spoke with Mariano, the guy with the motorcycle shop that helped with my mechanical issues, and he said that particular checkpoint is no longer an issue and he hasn't heard of any other problems.
Police checkpoints are very common here [and pretty much everywhere south of Texas]. They usually just let you pass by but sometimes they stop you and request information - passport number, title, name and other basic information. I've gone through dozens of these police check points in Chile and Argentina and have never had a problem.
News of the above-mentioned corrupt-cop checkpoint on the way to Iguazu eventually reached the right people and they contacted the media about the bad cops. Shortly thereafter the police in that checkpoint were all replaced with good-cops and now gringo's on moto's no longer have to subsidize the incomes of bad-cops at that stop. In Central America and other poor regions something like that would have never been reported - and if it ever were nothing would be done about it. I hope all that changes someday...
June 4, Buenos Aires, Capital Federal, Argentina
My bike is back on the road and doing great! If you are ever in BA and need a good mechanic call Mariano Calderon, who speaks perfect English and has a very helpful and experienced team working at his shop, www.motocare.com.ar
The electrical problem that had left me without gauges, blinkers or any other lights (except for my bright head light) during the last 4,000 miles, turned out to be a wire casing rubbed through by friction with the frame. They covered the wire and anchored the whole bundle of wires and took care of many other little details so the bike is as good as new. They also washed it and I could hardly recognize it; no more butterfly butter from Texas! So now I'm even more anxious to leave town but there are still things to see around here...
Yesterday afternoon I had another good cop incident! These 'good cop' stories are short and boring but when it comes to cops I'm hoping that boring, short, pleasant stories are the only ones I'll ever have to tell, other than my bad cop incident in Belize (those F&*^$ers!!!!!!).
Sunday afternoon traffic was light and I was on Avenida 9 de Julio, which is the huge downtown Avenue with 7 lanes going in each direction - and it's flanked by another 2-3 lane avenue on each side for accessing the businesses and neighborhoods. The light was red and wanted to take a picture of this huge Don Quixote statue I saw. I slowly turned right, going the wrong way down a one way road (there was no traffic) and pulled up onto the sidewalk and parked the moto (it's okay to park your moto on the sidewalks here as long as it's not blocking anything).
As I was taking off my helmet and getting my camera I saw a police officer walking very briskly toward me. As he approached I saw that he had his ticket book out, opened to a fresh ticket page and pen ready to write. I thought for sure I was going to get a ticket and wondered whether it would be for turning right on red, which is a huge no-no here in Argentina, or for going the wrong way down that one way street, or both of those things, or perhaps parking on the sidewalk. He began explaining the light was red and turning at a red light is an infraction in Argentina and he would have to give me a ticket. I just put on my nice, but stupid, gringo face and asked him to please speak a little slower because I don't understand much.
I always find that it's best to answer the question that you want to answer instead of answering the question that they've actually asked you. And if they haven't asked you a question just act like they have. So I acted like he asked me what I was doing and I pulled out one of my cards and explained that "I was just pulling onto the sidewalk to take another picture for my book, and here's my website for you to look at, and thanks for your help and there are tons of pictures on my website and you can see them if you want and what a great city this is, etc, etc, etc", all spoken in the appropriately half-witted Spanish grammar. Again, the goal was to assure the cop that I wouldn't be causing any problems and that it would be too difficult for him to explain the details of a ticket to me, like where, when, who and how to pay; therefore, writing me a ticket would only be a waste of his time.
It worked! He told me that was fine, to go ahead and take the picture and have a nice day! I still thought there was a chance that he would just wait 'till I took the picture and write me a ticket anyway so I took my time with the picture but he left me alone and just waved as I rode away.
After that I realized that along Avenida 9 de Julio there was a cop at almost every intersection and many other cops at other large intersections. I also realized that I hadn't even realized there were that many cops around, then I realized it was because I hadn't been looking for cops because I realized many weeks ago that a majority of the cops here, and in Chile, are not looking to rob gringo's. In Central America every moment on the road was like a game of "Where's Waldo" and I could spot a cop from any distance or direction, because I needed to. It's nice to focus more on the scenery instead of looking for uniformed-robbers but when I get to Peru I'll need to turn on the Waldo-Cop sensors again.
I finally finished some pictures from the Centro area that I took last week, many just down the street from the nice cop incident...
June 2, Buenos Aires, Capital Federal, Argentina
I've been here 3 weeks and have done very little at all. I've been a bit under the weather for much of the time, and just lazy the rest of the time. The last 7-8 months on the road have certainly created a craving for a touch of normalcy and a bit of routine; making my own meals, not having to look for a hotel room, etc. But now I'm getting a little stir crazy and it's starting to feel more like wasting time than anything else so I'll be leaving here next week, several days short of my one month stay.
I've decided to skip Cordoba and Mendoza because it's getting fairly cold in Mendoza. Instead I'll ride to Puerto Iguazu, for some of the most impressive waterfalls in the world, then head west into the Jujuy and Salta area for some of northwest Argentina's greatest scenery, then I'll cross the Andes at Passo de Jama and descend into the Atacama Desert of Chile - the driest place in the whole world. 'Till then I've got some more pages of pictures from BA - here's another one...
May 25, Buenos Aires, Capital Federal, Argentina
I've been sick for the last several days, some sort of sinus infection, cold, whatever. I'm trying to remember the Forest Gump line; "ya got the cough do the cold thang??" and I think that's about it. I guess I'm a little more accustomed to spending the day breathing fresh air on the highway and now I'm on the second floor of an apartment-building in a particularly crowded barrio of a very large city, with an appropriately proportionate amount of road dust and smog from the busy intersections below. Even with the windows closed there's a fair amount of that road scum that ends up in my apartment. I don't feel that bad, just a little worn down with that cold sort of tightness in my chest and sinus pain that may require antibiotics if it gets worse.
May 25th is huge here - it's their 4th of July, or Independence Day, thanks to an Argentinean man of history, General Jose San Martin, who was largely responsible for independence of Argentina, Chile, Peru and several others in South America so I'm sure there'll be many statues of him doing the 'man on a horse' pose. They usually celebrate these holidays by having family parties instead of large parades and fireworks. Either way I missed it all and hopefully there'll be something good this weekend. My camera has been serviced and I can tell a huge difference. It costs about $40 US and back home it costs more like $90, which is why I've never had my camera serviced in the past. It was well worth it. It functions like new again so I need to get out and start pointing it at stuff. My motorcycle is being worked on and hopefully Monday I'll see a dramatic improvement with that as well...
Haircut? I haven't had one since I quit my job and I probably won't get one soon, but a couple of people asked. I bought a beard trimmer because I don't like finding old food and birds nesting in there. I would almost consider cutting my bangs and the sides to keep the hair out of my eyes but then I'd be left with a mullet and Dog The Bounty Hunter is one of the only men left who can pull that off. The other one is Gordon G, soon to be famous author...
I thought long and hard about the hair-cut thing one day while I was on the road, before anybody asked about my grooming; one of the many "helmet thoughts" kind of days when I think about something long and hard; family, friends, college, different jobs, other peoples jobs, future jobs, past, future, and it all happens when I'm "in the now" on a highway going somewhere between 30 and 90mph depending on conditions. I remembered two pertinent 'hair' things: a little girl I met when I was a drug rep, and beauticians always say I have great hair.
The beauticians always told me that women would kill to have my hair and I sort of hoped they meant while it was still on my head, or that they wanted me because my hair is allegedly so great, but they always meant that women wanted hair like mine because it was a great color and very fine but thick at the same time. They called it strawberry blonde and I always made the same dumb joke insisting that they call it something more manly, like "chainsaw blonde" or "monster truck blonde." Actually, wait, that joke was brilliant!!
The other pertinent thing about hair was meeting a little girl at a pediatric outpatient unit I visited when I was peddling insulin as a pharmaceutical rep. I was waiting to talk about insulin with the medical practitioners in the pediatric diabetes unit next door. While wandering around the waiting area I almost ran into this little girl and said “excuse me pretty lady”. She looked angry about that statement and mumbled something about not being pretty. I couldn’t understand exactly what she said but it was clear what she meant and it stopped me quick.
She was about 9 years old and I assume she had an appointment with the pediatric cancer unit. Her hair was mostly gone, patchy at best, and she looked like the true embodiment of fear and anger of a little girl going through chemo-therapy. I’m usually not very argumentative, especially with people I don’t know and especially with random 9 year old girls, but this little girl really needed a fight, or at least another point of view.
After she mumbled, whatever, about not being pretty I just looked at her and said “hey pretty girl, I’m in my 30’s which is waaay older than you and maybe even older than your parents. I’ve been looking at pretty girls pretty much my whole life and between us that pretty much makes me the expert on pretty girls; that’s what I see right now.”
She didn’t say anything but rubbed her head and just looked frustrated. I just said “it totally doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad hair day, or even a bad hair year, pretty girl.” She just sort of looked at me in a way that I can’t describe.
This brief interaction took place while she was on the way to or from something else, like visiting her doctor or going home after a visit and after our brief dialogue her name was called, by her mom I think, and she sort of waved as she left but still looked somewhere between angry, confused, surprised and wondering 'who is this guy in the suit telling me I'm pretty'. It was only a brief interaction but it was one of the two or three most memorable moments I had as a pharmaceutical rep; immediately after which I found a bathroom stall and wept like a true monster-truck blonde. I found myself wondering about other things I wanted to say to this little girl to make her feel better, questioning whether I should have stopped her and said more. But since I knew nothing about her or her situation it was probably best to just wave back and let her go on with her day, so that was it.
I guess part of the reason I'm thinking about this now is that I recently learned about a friend of mine back from Connecticut, Tom T., who passed away from cancer last week after a 7-8 year fight. That pretty much sucks because Tom was a great man of integrity and I hate seeing the world lose one of those. But I remember that Tom got married while he was beginning treatment; he had undergone some exploratory operations and was bald for the wedding but it didn't matter because he married a great girl, Angie, and had a wonderful family and friends there for the wedding and it was a good celebration. But it's different for a kid, especially a little girl.
Okay, anyway, as far as my haircut? I'm keeping it for now because there's this little program called "Locks of Love" and I think there are more just like it - they use the hair from actual donors to make prosthetic hair pieces for kids undergoing cancer treatment that results in hair issues, or have a hair loss disease called 'alopecia areata'. So sometime shortly after my trip there'll be some kid out there running around with a head full of "chainsaw blonde" hair, hopefully being all happy about it, and that's the motivation for my continued hair growth.
It doesn't just have to me mine; anybody with great hair, guy or gal, that wants to make a kid happy - just let it grow! If you're a Corporate American Dilbert, like I've been from time to time, don't worry about it! If Human Resources or your manager mention that your hair is getting too long for this particular organization just tell them what it's for, because the "PC" notion of making sick kids without hair happy and more self confident will immediately trump any sort of dress code or grooming standard of any company in America!
So go forth and grow!!
And if it doesn't work and you get fired, buy a motorcycle and ride south 'till the road ends, then turn around and find the best route home...