About half way through the trip I named the bike "Thatcher". The bike was small of stature and fiscally conservative. She may not have been our first choice, but there was no denying she achieved more than a lot of people every thought she would.
I had been partying with this girl a few days in Rio, just kicking around doing stupid things when we both decided we needed to leave town. This girl had a wicked sense of humour and could really throw down for a party like no one else. She was heading South and I was heading North. I was looking at a 18hr bus ride and while we caught a cab there I realised I had no drugs to help me sleep. She nicely offered me a couple of blue "Valium" tablets. Not even thinking, I washed them down with a beer and jumped on the bus.
After about an hour, I realised I was still very much awake despite the drugs, and I had this crazy, unexplainable hardon. It was then that it clicked that she had given me a couple of Viagra instead of sleeping drugs. To this day, I don’t know if it was an honest mistake or she just had an amazing sense of humour. If I didn't happen to have a small child sitting next to me, it would have been hilarious. She got me good. That was not a fun 18 hours.
We had held up in this tiny little beach town in Chile called Tatal. We didn't plan to spend the night, but when we rolled through at around 3pm, the town had no power and no way to pump up the bike tires, so we called it. Finding the only residencia/homestay in town, we decided to kick it and spend the night drinking pisco and watching the sun set. Sure enough there was a cute golden skinned Chilian girl heading to some place I can't recall. Turns out it was her birthday at midnight, which meant I needed to bust some tequila for this situation asap.
Gabby, my faithful traveling friend, knew what was up. He rolled his eyes and went to bed.
By midnight, we were beachside, watching the ocean, checking out the amazing stars, and drunkenly making like you can only do on a beach in Chile half a bottle deep on bootleg tequila. She's in my leather jacket as its cold then she pulls me close and tells me she wants to go skinny dipping..
Before my hormones had time think my brain had blurted out. "No way! You are absolutely insane its freezing!"
And this moment.... I will never forget it.
She pulled me close and whispered into my ear in this accent.
"I know" She didn't say anything else... just "I know" in this stupidly cute accent.
Grinning she slipped my jacket off and took my hand to the beach.
When I am old man, senile, medicated and most likely in a wheelchair, I will look back on those words and that night and smile.
It was a long stretch from Cochbalms to Santa Cruz.
It was dark long before I had made it into town. I had the address of the hostel and a photo of a map of town printed out. I knew that finding the hostel would be difficult. When I caught a large neon light that read "motel," I didn't think twice about heading down the small lane on the outskirts of town.
I pulled into what looked to be a crappy highway single story hotel-- the kind you see on the american slasher videos. I pulled up the front security/reception stall. The girl looked at me up and down like I was truly an alien. I was tired, covered in mud, bugs and who knows what else, so I wasn't too surprised. Using my limited Spanish, I picked up that she kept asking for how many hours I wanted the room. Thinking it must cater for the truckies that work strange hours, I said ten (much to her surprise) then paid $20 and started to look around while she radioed a few people. I thought $20 was pretty steep for such a shitty hotel in Bolivia, but whatever, I was tired and just needed to crash.
She pointed me towards my room. I was midway through unloading the bike when I noticed that the staff carrying the linen to the rooms were dressed like hookers. A washed up hooker was now walking towards me.
The trucks parked in the yard, the surprise at the 10-hour time request, the attractive front desk girl and the staff member beckoning me towards the room all made sense. I had booked in and paid for 10 hours at brothel.
I wish I had handled the situation better. I wish I had a more rock and roll story to go with it. I wish that instead of undertaking services paid for, we had spent the night practicing Spanish or playing cards. Sharing stories and chatting to a prostitute wouldn't be such a bad outcome. Given the rate of rather serious STDs (the kind that don't go away after a course of antibiotics), I had no intention of further goods.. I shook my head at my stupidity loaded my bike and rode off. The girl had a strange look on her face -- almost anger --as I rode out $20 poorer. I just hope she still got paid.
Bolivia continued to keep on kicking my arse. Every time I thought there was a break in the weather, and I hit the road, it back fires. I left La Paz for the 6 hours to Cochcabamba. Over that 12 hours, I had rain, hail, snow and a land slide. I am not sure why I thought it would take 6 hours. I knew from past history that I should always double and sometimes triple suggested google “driving times,” but after a week of being off the bike around La Paz I guess I thought I would be ok.
I left town easily enough and hit the highway determined to just crunch kms. Traffic was the usual chaotic mess around La Paz, and soon enough I was blasting down the highway at a comfortable 96km/h. There was a menacing looking storm up ahead, but given this had been happening for a week, I figured it would be a quick downpour and would leave just as quick.
Shortly later, I rode through snow for the first time. I have never ridden in snow, but I knew that it should be avoided, so I pulled off to the side of the road. I looked around for somewhere to pull over and wait it out. Being so high up and between towns there was no real form of cover--no trees or bridges. The sleet came down, and I just accepted that it was going to one of those days when riding would be consistently wet and miserable. I stood around with my helmet on and blasted Tom Waits “Make it rain” while the storm passed.
I continued on with the day. Once I dropped altitude, it warmed up a little bit and storms became heavier and more tropical. While it was wet and cold, it was great to be on the bike again. I made regular stops to warm my gloves on the exhaust pipes.
On the one of the final drops down into Santa Monica through the twisting ranges, I noticed a range of backed up trucks and cars. It was dark, and I couldn’t really see the distance ahead so I pulled into the left hand lane and started filtering towards the front.
Expecting to see a broken down truck or perhaps a one of those horrible bus crashes you always hear about but never see, I was intrigued that that line of stopped traffic just kept going on and on and on. It had clearly been stopped for a while.
How to cross a mudslide late at night.
There was a mudlside across the road, and a bus was stuck halfway across. It was on its side anrunning water surrounded it. The water wasn’t running high or fast, but I could see that it was causing some issues.
It was hard to really see what was going on through the darkness. Most of the truckies seemed to have resigned that they would have to spend the night there. Some were drinking beers while others had lights around trying to work out if they should try and cross (or how they could pull out the stranded cars blocking their attempts.)
I parked and walked around.
There was no way given how wet and cold I was that I would be able to spend the night on the mountains. I am sure I might have been able to barter for a night in one of the trucks, but that was not overly appealing. I knew that I would have to cross the mudslide--with or without the bike. My guess was the next town was only 20kms away, and, after 12 hours on the bike, I just really wanted to find a bed. Somewhere, anywhere with some warmth. I figured I would give the mudslide a crack, and, worse case, I would drop the bike, get water in the air intake, flood the engine with mud water, tow it out, leave it on the side of the road until morning and camp out. Regardless, I would be in the same position I was in if I didn't at least try.
The water didn't look too deep, and I saw people traversing it on foot regularly. I rolled up to the edge of the slide. My plan was to ride on the highside - I figured that if I washed out I would at least have the bus to support me and hopefully prevent me from being washed over the edge. One of the truckies noticed what I was doing and suggested that I take the low side of the bus. It made sense when I thought about it as the bus did block most of the heavy water.
So I start to cross. It was unlike any the other river crossing I had undertaken before. Water then loose rock. I kept the speed steady and it was going well. After several meters, my front disappeared into rock filled mud. The bike stalled. I put my boot down, and it was swallowed to the knee. I eased the clutch out with the revs high trying to shake the bike loose, but I was having no luck.
Later I googled about mudslides. It turns out the edge of a mudslide dries out and forms hard rocks, while the flowing centre tends to be a combo of water, mud and smaller stones.
Now I could hear the historical laughter of the half drunk truckies ,and they kindly to pointed spot lights at me. I am sure it was so they could see their entertainment, but it did let me see what I was doing. I jumped off the bike and started rocking it backwards and forwards, side to side to try and gain some/any traction on the mud.
Thank god Thatcher was so light.
I was able to free the bike by keeping the bike redlining while pushing/muscling it across the rest of the distance. Once I hit the other side, there was no cheering from the truckies as I had hoped. I jumped on my bike and headed towards town. While I was riding along the backed up gridlock I had plenty of questions fired at me, but but my struggling Spanish was no good.
A short time later, I dropped altitude. I could have sworn that by the time I hit town, the mud in my doc martens was actually warm.
I had to leave the bike. I didn’t want to, but I had to. I needed to cover more distance than Thatcher would ever allow. I wanted to see Brasilia then I wanted to spend my birthday in Buenos Aires surrounded by lovely drinks, large steaks and Argentinian girls with ready smiles. To do this, I need to leave the bike behind. I gifted it to Gabby, grabbed my bag and leather jacket and headed to the bus stop. There were no busses to Brasilia for six hours, so I found a small jazz bar in the town of Pusso Alegre to kill time.
There was a doors/acdc cover band, and hipsters were milling around stencilled walls and furniture made from vintage blenders welded together. I found a cute young girl with a Andy Warhol velvet underground tattoo and was drunk enough to ask for a photo. I knew that after traveling for several months through various counties that I shouldn't ever really be surprised by anything, but I couldn't help but be surprised by the resemblance this bar bore to the ones I would drink in at home. Brisbane has blackbear lodge and rics, Sydney has goodgod, and Melbourne has the black cat. The patrons looked the same; the bartenders carried that familiar atmosphere of surly contentment.
Grabbing a local IPA, I headed to the smoking area. Asking for a lighter (despite the one in my pocket) enabled me to strike up a conversation. A short time later, I was surrounded by interested locals and was chatting away with new friends
As tends to happen when the booze is cheap and the music is pumping, I ended up on the dance floor. It was a heaving mass of bodies and the doors/acdc cover band was giving it all as it shifted from the slow melodic numbers to the more lively hits. There was a cute girl throwing occasional glances in my direction and soon we were doing that awkward dance floor dancing where there is too much of a crowd and you are not really sure whose arm it is that rubbing against you, but you really don’t care. She sang along to “break on through to the other side” with an impossibly cute accent as I ran my hand ran along her responsive body.
I was midway through wondering about marriage and Australian immigration laws when I remembered my 15-hour bus trip. Midway through “highway to hell,” I smiled, kissed my Brazilian hipster goodbye and ran for the bus stop.
I missed my bus.
I had legged it to the station with my bags, leather jacket and a plastic cup holding half a warm caprihina. When I got to the bus station, my bus had left, and I had no caprihina left. Suspiciously,I don't recall drinking it.
I wasn't so keen on heading back to town, and there wasn't another Brazlisa bus for 12 hours. Cute singing girl would have left brics (Brazlian rics) and falling asleep in a seedy bus/truck stop downtown didn't sit right with me..It might have just been the paranoia, but I thought a few days beach side would be the best course of action. There was a bus to Rio shortly and a petrol station selling beer. I stocked up on the necessities (beer and what I thought was beef jerky) and boarded the bus.
It was the first time leaving a city in South America not on Thatcher. The sun came up on the highway as the bus pulled out of town, and I felt intensely incomplete without her.
We woke up early in our hostel in Mendonza. I, of course, was hung over from too many bottles of the local Malbec wines and content to sleep off the mammoth sized steak I had consumed the night before. Gabby, being the perpetual motivator and just a generally great person, pulled me out of bed.
Checking out the hostel, we found the owners of 3 touring bikes we’d spotted the night before. We got talking to the 3 Argentinians, and, as we were both heading to Chile that day, we decided that we could ride together.
As a small note, there are two ways through the Andes from Medoza to Santiago. You climb to 3200 meters above sea level in both options; however, one route allows you to take a tunnel through the mountain. The other option is to take the old pass over the Andes, which climbs to 3800meters. There was no way we would pass up the opportunity to take the old road over the top. The adventure riders we met decided to take the tunnel.
That was the first time I really felt the cold; it was windy and damp and even the amazing view was not enough to inspire us to spend any large amount of time there. We jumped down and waited in the rain for several hours until we could get across the border into Chile.
You can click through the gallery below for more pictures.
I had been riding for two solid days on long boring straits of highway in the West of Brazil through the Pantanal and the Amazon. I was so exceedingly close (1000kms) to being back to where I started--to a hot shower, a friendly face and a BBQ with old friends. The highway was of amazing quality, and, compared to Bolivia, I was making amazing time. Florence and the Machine was blasting on the ipod, and I was rolling hills at a comfortable 93kms an hour. My bike needs an oil change every 2000kms, but, as the bike spends its entire life at the redline, I like to change it every 1000kms.
I felt like a cigarette and found a nice little place to stop. While running through the motions of an oil change, I noticed the back tire was rather flat. I got out my cheap bike pump and worked until the tires felt like they could hold the pressure. I finished the oil change and hit the road.
I made it through one singing rendition of “Only for a night” before I noticed the back is light, and my rear tire is clearly flat.
Pulling to the side of the road less than 3kms after pumping it up, I notice that yes, as expected, the tire is flat. With no spare tube, I start pushing towards the next town. Having only replaced the rear tire 4000kms ago, I didn't want to destroy the side walls of the rubber by riding while it was flat.
Luckily the next town was only 5kms down the road, and, like all towns, the tire shop to service the highway and trucks was close.
I feel I need to say again… My Portuguese is non existent; I know some basic words, but, for the most part, I have to rely on hand gestures and some basic concepts that yes… My tire is flat...and yes.. I need a repair.
The guys pulled off the tire. They sunk the inner tube into a bathtub to find the leak and proceeded to plug it. After some time they took a few dollars. They gave me the directions to find a beer and food at a local bar on a letterhead.
I love small Brazlian towns. Like the city I started in, you know that there is very little chance that they have ever had a westerner visit before and they always love to chat. The housing is typically interesting and the bars are friendly. I pulled in for a beer and a pasties in the town centre.
After a quick meal I jumped in the bike and headed out towards the highway.
Not long after I started, I got that feeling. The old-fashioned cobblestone roads are very noticeable with a flat rear tire.
I pull up.
The back was loose and flat. Not just a little. It was well fucked.
As always, don't panic, breathe, light a cigarette. Do not think about what the fuck you are doing in the middle of a small Brazilian village with no money, no idea how to speak the local language., Do not think about how close you are to your friend’s house, how you have ridden 11,000kms to be stuck here. Do not think about that.
A 3 wheeled homemade version of my bike pulled up. He was a guy who worked as a water delivery courier, but the universal biker code still applies in Brazil. See a guy broken down, pull up and see how it goes. While we were unable to communicate it is clear that he knew what my problem was. A flat tire is flat tire no matter where you are and what language you speak. By some chance I happen to have a letter head with a phone number (and directions to the highway) from the place I had the tire repaired. I somehow managed to explain to the water courier that I had just had the bike repaired with the above mentioned Borracharia place. After some communication, I understood that I should wait in my location. Soon a friend of the water courier turned up with an iced pitcher of water. We drank together and smiled and tried to chat.
On my second water, a small ute turned up. I recognised the driver from the work shop. The two Brazilians had an animated conversation as only Brazlians can followed by all around hugging. Everyone helped me load the bike into the back of the trailer.
I was back at the shop that I was in 4 hours before. In the same situation that I was in… 4 hours before.
It turns out one of my spokes on the tire had pushed through the rim and punched the inner tube. We it in a very very short time, and I was back on the road.
For another 50kms before my rear tire went flat again.
I had done 11,000kms with only a single flat tire then I get 3 in one day. The fuck.
I rolled to the side of the road… I am so close to being home… I could just leave the bike here… Hitch… I could be in a familiar bed tonight if I really wanted. It wouldn't be that hard.
I chain smoked the better part of a packet of cigarettes on the side of road. I realised I have no choice but to ride the bike into the next town. This will destroy the tire and likely damage the wheel rim, but I figured that shouldn’t really matter so close to the end.
Riding on the verge of the highway, I started the trip towards the next town, which I am hoping is only 30kms away.
Not long into this a police car came tearing down the highway and overtook me.. I didn’t give it much thought as this always happens in Brazil. The cop car pulled across the traffic, lights still flashing, and came to a stop. I’m across the road from very recent motorcycle crash--a horrible one. There was car facing the wrong way on the highway, a wreck of a bike. I see a young guy helmet off - half his teeshirt missing-- yelling and pacing across the road. Bloodied down one side of his body.
There was a girl, spread out on the highway. I noticed a helmet on my side of the highway..It was obviously forced off in the crash. I have seen a few motorcycle crashes before, some scary, some painful looking. The young guy kneeled next to the girl.
After that, my tire just wasn’t that important.
We found a place to stay and decided to go down to the beach and drink pisco sours while watching the sun set.
Having worked with Gabby for years in bars, we knew each other well. I am not proud of this, but, occasionally, when working bars, we like to check out the patrons (by occasionally, I, of course, mean constantly). We have subtle code comments that enable us to evade the patrons..These include:
“I need to check my bacardi light,” which translates to “You should see how few clothes this girl is wearing in front of me.”
“Can you confirm you have a copy that in front of the beer taps?,” which translates to “I think that girl at the beer taps is attractive, can you please confirm?”
Kinda like how scaffolders cowardly heckle females from above, we would make comments from behind our 3 feet of bar.
Given that we were visiting countries where for most people English was a 2nd or 3rd language, we didn't keep at this chat as often. When we found someone who we thought was attractive, we would slip into a really heavy, thick and fast Australian accent. This worked perfectly for the entirety of the trip until we happened to sit next to an attractive Canadian and her incredibly attractive Chilean cousin.
She called me out. Nothing I had said was too poor.Something along the lines of how the women in Chile continue to amaze…. She went still and her head turned in recognition at a familiar sound. Whoops. She told me proudly she was Canadian and was grateful for the comment. We got talking. It was friendly enough and Gabby was keen to carry on and party. He was clearly very smitten with the local girl, but the girls wanted to head home, so they could get ready for a night at a disco-tech. I didn’t feel up for a night on the town and we had the bikes to think about… The only way I would have fun in a nightclub would be to get ferociously drunk, which would leave me unable to ride the bikes back to our redcidenica.
We came to a happy medium. We would drop the girls home, see how we felt and then, perhaps, catch up later in town.
Most SA countries tend to have real crime, so there is a general lack law enforcement… about well… anything. We didn’t have helmets for the girls but insisted they take ours. We fired up the bikes and blasted down the highway along the beach. The Canadian on the back of the bike squealed and held me tight as we overtook a bus. Hot summer air, eyeburn from the speed, a beach on one side, the shadows of the Andes on the other. Gabby pulled up next to me. I could see the grin on his face as he accelerated away, cute Chilean girl gripping onto him like a backpack.
We never did catch up that night in town. However, that coastal road at point in time was perfect.