I tended the fresh wounds from losing my Father in Lyttelton. Watching the tugs turn huge forces in the harbour, like magic, Rugged up and clutching tea on the verandah, brave against the southerly. I nurtured the green shoots of love into a fully formed partnership in Lyttelton. Birthed a daughter on Park Terrace, and softly, softly breathed a family into being. I let the old ways drift out on the tide in Lyttelton, Shouldered the korowai of fatherhood, Accepted the cloak of becoming a husband, In Lyttelton, in Lyttelton. Kaha ake! I grew stronger, gazed further, loved more, learned to sacrifice with joy, found my words, found my voice. I found my Life, in Lyttelton. cjG
Nothing has changed Since you caught me in your unfurled sail Like a shifting trade wind Sending you across to a warmer ocean Before your breeze I would seek to reiterate beginnings Over and over Forgoing those lessons that you would hold for me In some far off determination Refusing to see my suspected implication In future lamented wreckages I would put stock in signs and symbols Believing in stacked decks Providential intersections Always hoping to have the rules changed It wasn't until out there on the water When all my tides had gone too far out That I began to see the true north The long sail between narrow straights Of mutual trim and tackle Nothing has changed Since I landed in your sheets But the hemisphere of my entire world
The port hums the coloured boxes stack And the harbour lies wide with arms that Do not care 200 years ago it was all the same, hurrying On the breeze and the tide and the hint Of some next fortune just off the edges of the map. There will be no surprising of these brown eyes Having witnessed the first fleets of Rakaihautu Paddling weary next to the rocks Accepting this gift of shelter and hungry for the Seals, birds, and fish - calling to the people to settle here. The giant Horomaka looks over the stripped land And whistfully recalls times of simple techtonics Before Te Rauparaha filled these bays with deceit and blood And forged a nation From beneath the shame filled gaze Of these wise Banks.
The Preface In a word, you’d be hard pressed to call The Preface to My South American Adventure much less than preparation-perfect. Ups and downs and lessons to draw my attention toward the realities of life on the open road, and the uncertainty I would have to deal with there. The dominant issue of course was the miraculous obtaining of a Full (unrestricted) New Zealand motorcycle license, way inside of the prescribed period it normally takes to obtain and progress your way from Learner's, to Restricted, to Full motorcycle license. And so The Preface is all about how this went down. If Your Ship Doesn’t Come In Swim Out To It October 2009, and my initial first suspicion that I had a motorcycle adventure coming my way precipitated in two things; one, obtaining my learner’s motorcycle license, and two, obtaining a 250cc Kawasaki cruiser I named Elle. She was beautiful. An elegant older lady who was always up for it. How could you resist? So being all set to learn the fine art of motorcycle riding I had just one small issue remaining, which was how to trim a 12-month-license-maturation period down to fit inside my departure date for Buenos Aires, set for a few months later in February 2010. Cut to lengthy nights spent researching options and chasing dead-end online threads about the NZ licensing system. If I didn’t have a license recognised by the countries I’d be riding in overseas then I wouldn't be covered by my travel insurance should I have an accident while riding there. As I was planning on riding a motorcycle around the entire South American continent for the foreseeable future the whole no-license-equals-no-insurance-issue was actually a bit of a showstopper. But finally a break. As it turns out, if you have a valid international motorcycle license then you can apply through the New Zealand Transit Authority (NZTA) for an exemption to sit your Full-motorcycle test, essentially leapfrogging you completely over the Restricted licensing period directly to the prize. Which is brilliant. And the reason this was so helpful for my case was that I had a Cook Islands Motorcycle License thank you very much from when I was holidaying there earlier that year. So it should have been as simple as filling out the applicable paperwork requesting the exemption and sitting the test and then hey presto pack your bags look out Buenos Aires! It should have been. But not so fast. The fishhook in the whole scheme was that the NZTA licensing authority also required a written letter from the Cook Island’s Police Department stipulating the details of the motorcycle test I sat. Which seemed reasonable. So I got in touch with the CIPD, that is to say I tried for two weeks to get in touch with them, including phone calls through the NZ High Commission in Rarotonga, faxed messages, all to very little gain. It seems that you have to have sat the official test with the Cook Islands Police in order for them to write you that much needed letter, and I got my C.I. license through the typical backdoor-rarotongan-tourist-route of paying the $10 fee at the scooter hire-place. Eventually I just arrived at a point where it was obvious to me that my only shot was to fly back to Rarotonga, ask to re-sit my license test, this time with the actual Police, not scooter-Bob, and then just hope that I could convince whoever the Licensing Officer was to write me the required paperwork. It was a bit of a long shot. But it was my only shot. And the whole adventure of travel for me has always been about intentionally stepping-out-in-Faith. So I delayed my departure to South America by a couple of weeks, booked a three day round-trip to Rarotonga and braced myself for the coming detour. The Cook Islands Chronicles I arrived in Rarotonga and headed straight to the Police Station in the hot-and-sweaty-morning where I met the Licensing Officer on the front desk. A kindly looking lady I think, professional, compassionate. Who informed me straight there was simply no way she was going to write me the letter I needed. None. Some had already tried this backdoor licensing pathway before me you see, like I really was the first, and it appeared we had an incorruptible bastion of the local gendarmerie on our hands. Oh. Ok. "Well, if it’s all the same to you I’ve come all this way I’d like to re-sit my motorcycle test anyway". Go ahead and pay the money and sit it she informs me, I’m still not writing you the goddamn letter. Fine. So I go ahead and sit this 2-minute scooter test involving a stop-sign, a give-way sign and slalom through some cones, and I take a seat inside the Police Station and get myself prepared to wait. How long am I here for again? Three days. Okay well I’ll just sit here patiently for three days and perhaps in time my luck will change. With a little Faith. Until the Licensing Officer tells me to get the fuck out of her Station. And this is then the point where shits-are-all-trumps and it’s just time for me to just lay-it-all-out on her: “Look lady I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t super important to me, you know, I need this for my dream trip to come true and I am not taking the piss here, I am prepared to wait and be patient, I really do respect your position”. Thanks for all of that she says, now again get the fuck out of my Station. Is my trip round South America on the roaring shanks of a motorcycle finally sunk I think? Maybe, but come back on your last day on the island she says to me in parting, and maybe I’ll have changed my mind. Which is good enough for me. Three days in Rarotonga. Three days in paradise. Three days to explore the fine line between persistence and obsession. To get in there and explore true acceptance. Because really, at the Zen level, none of this actually matters of course. Letter or no letter, license or no license, and the associated down-stream implications of all of this that I couldn't see right then. The prayer wasn't for one outcome or another, the silent message out to the All was just for the strength to Accept. Whatever. So it's the final day. I shuffle my way back to the Police Station before the 3pm closing with the feeling that my chances were probably as good as 50/50. I ring the desk bell and out comes my buddy, Mrs. Licensing Officer. Who looks me up and down. And I'm pretty sure I can see the disdain seeping out of her. And she says: "Okay come back in half an hour and I’ll have the letter written for you. See you soon". Holler! I go ride around Avarua for 30 minutes scarcely daring to feel anything or believe anything. Until I get that piece of paper in my hot little hands and ride away from that Police Staion victorious and believing in it, the power of Trust restored. I got on my 1am departing flight and the feeling was one of gracious Providence. I arrive in Auckland around 04:30am, get on my motorbike, break about all of my learner’s license conditions to ride myself back home in order to pass out to blissful, job-well-done sleep. But The Job Is Not Quite Done Yet Having slipped past that gatekeeper I now needed to hope my luck held with the gatekeepers back at the New Zealand licensing people and that the letter from the Cook Islands Police would indeed get me the exemption as advertised online. It was, after all, not much of a motorcycle riding test. So I submitted my application letter and wished it a speedy return on the breeze. And one week goes by. Then two. I took the down-time opportunity to tour around the East Cape by Elle and fell more in Love with my Home, Land, and Sea and got seriously pre-emptively homesick. A good sign I thought. Almost three weeks go by. I make a call to NZTA to chase things up, and, and... yes we have received your application for exemption and Yes an exemption to sit your Full license test has been granted! Wooooooooooo!! Six-shooters firing into the air!! ~Fiesta!!!~ With exemption in hand I I booked that Full Motorcycle Test, sit and pass it, pack, sell Elle (I still miss that gracious lady) and my final partying before departure ensues. As luck would have it I win a skydive for having the sexiest skirt on at a backpacker skirt-party while visiting in my home town and skydive out over the town on the gin-clear morning of my departure to my South American adventure. Sometimes. You just get lucky. “I tore myself away from the safe comfort of certainties through my love for Truth, and Truth rewwarded me." Simone de Beauvoir cjG #mygroundtruth
Learning to Speak Week two in Buenos Aires is not the same as week one in Buenos Aires. For one thing there’s the change in hostel, which while not being a change in neighbourhood is nevertheless a change in pace, allowing the nights to regain their natural duration and for me to refocus on learning Espanol. Cue in Matias my spanish tutor, a guy who was as funny as he was insightful into language acquisition. I learned that there are tutors who love it and tutors who do it, which led me to walk out on one guy 2/3 the way through the lesson when I still couldn't figure out what-the-fuck he was saying to me in his thick region-specific del Plata accent. Rainy days got spent researching motorbike-buying. It turned out after lengthy online thread-trawling that Santiago was the place to pick one up. Not for the price but for the paperwork, and as I was about to learn, having the right paperwork when crossing border after border can save you a whole load of heartache. Argentinean bikes at the time had a tendency to get bounced back at borders whereas Chilean registered bikes slipped through wherever you wanted to go in Latin America. So that is where the trail pointed me to next; to a 20 hour nightbus across the continent to Barrio Brasil in downtown-ish Santiago, and to La Casa Roja hostel complete with swimming pool, just perfect for those long Chilean afternoons. Knowing When To Fold 'Em My final few days in BA did not disappoint; I took more Spanish lessons with Matias, I solo-bike-explored the city, I went and experienced the biggest football rivalry the world has ever known at Boca Stadium where the home-side beat River 2:0 amongst heaving crowds of structural-integrity-threatening-fans all jumping and singing in unison. 35 odd thousand of them and hats off to Argentinean engineers. For those thinking "the world’s biggest football rivalry" reads a bit rich, I would refer you to one of the flotilla of outrageously-sized Boca banners in the stands waving “we shall never be friends”. Should there be any confusion. I definitely dug-large on some parts of BA and my last few days biking got me back on good terms with two-wheels for sure. But part of me justdidn’t share in the same amor professed for the city that many people feel and I kept looking over the horizon eager for and unquestionably distracted by Santiago-promises and motorbike-buying-whispers. On my last night in town I got invited to argentinean-slow-barbeque (asado) on the rooftop terrace of a friend of a friend of a friend’s apartment. And it all peaked beautifully, right there up on that open-air-night-deck amongst smokey philosophical chats over prime cuts, long pours, and deep souls. Santiago Writing The bus ride from BA to Santiago is a 22 hour straight shot from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Andes. Bus seats lie completely flat, with in-flight food and movies and the occasional game of bingo hosted by the onboard attendant. I bagged the first border-crossing of the tour rather painlessly given the altitude up there in the Andes and the at-times notorious bureaucracy. While I'm collecting passport stamps an overlander zooms through the border in a cloud of dust on a Kawasaki 650, and I spit jealousy and excited, inpatient anticipation. Hostel choices assume disproportionate importance when you're looking for a home away from home on the far side of the world. La Casa Roja turned out to be traveller's paradise, complete with cheap breakfast served by the local mum and amazing in-house dinner couple of times a week by a catering-start-up aussie-ex-pat. The pool out back by the thatch-roof bar was handy when its 32 chilean degrees outside. Not only that, but right before stepping out on day one of the search round local bike-shops I walked past a kiwi t-shirt belonging to Nadine, one of a two-up couple riding South America on a Honda 250. She introduces me to her partner Dave who's a motorcycle-mechanic-riding-guru from Nelson who’s done the whole continent by bike and is replete with words, wisdom, and ways to make the upcoming journey safer-better-easier. So yeah. On this occasion, my choice of hostel was probably the right one. cjG #mygroundtruth
Up and Down on Luck When you're going to expedition-motorcycle across an entire continent it's best to have a very good idea about bikes. Like what condition of servicing is your bike in, how to service it yourself, and how to carry out minor repairs for when you're lost and isolated and potentially hundreds of miles away from the nearest mechanical support. Things of that nature. Things, that at the start of this adventure, I knew nothing about. But I did know how to find people who knew. That's how I met Ricardo, a Santiago community member of the overland motorcycle forum www.horizonsunlimited.com who offered to help me out when I emailed him ahead from BA calling inbound. And as was my experience all the way around Latin America, when you ask the local people for help they are likely to drop everything and support you going above and beyond. That's how it was with Ricardo, from cruising the local bike shops to look at options, to finding parts and spares stores, places to get pannier racks welded-up, even surfing the online buy-and-sell forums with me back at the hostel over a beer calling potential rides on each webpage. Day one of my search for a bike left me empty-handed but nevertheless up on luck on balance with promises of checking out two bikes on day two, one of which was the hot, albeit expensive, favourite. The hot favourite got sold next morning and not to me. I then got completely over expedition-hiking the endless city grids heaving-in what engines spew-out looking for a bike that wasn’t there. But it wasn't all bad. Back at the hostel I had a maintenance lesson with Kiwi Nick who taught me how to change a chain-and-sprocket on his Honda 250, as well as a bunch of other nifty little tricks you can only learn growing up fixing tractors on a rural sheep-station in central Canterbury. When you're at the mercy of serendipity and timing you win some you lose some, and your focus and attitude decides the final balance. On the way over from BA l almost got robbed in the bus-station leaving town, only just managing to grab my bag back off the thief as I was gullibly distracted by his accomplice who’d dropped crumpled dollar bills next to me as an attention grab. Almost down on luck that time. Few days later I got stiffed by a taxi-driver in Santiago who took off with my change, then got stiffed by the ticket-counter-lady when buying a metro ticket. Few days later, when I needed a pay-phone with none around in the local suburbia, a crew of dudes having lunch tossed me an iphone for the call, completely gratis, then we all sat around and had a friendly chat about bikes. Ricardo’s help. No bike. Up or down on fortune, who gets to decide? Looking For and Losing Hope But even knowing that does not stop me from the pursuit of the bike-search internally wound up way, way too tight. Having rested so much hope and expectation on how this was all meant to play out it inevitably breaks apart when it doesn't conform to my agenda. So one day I'm staring out a gas-station window sipping coffee internally licking my wounds and I realise, or I'm reminded, ah fuck none of this actually matters. And there’s joy in my heart and tears in my eyes. Experiencing the kind of stuckness the Buddhists try so hard to induce, the kind that is a precursor to all real understanding, and the place where anything can happen and probably will. Realising this I see clearly that it's time to be off the very next day, down into southern-Chile, Pucon, where wilderness and small towns await. No more chasing shadows I arrive in the place that this trip was meant to be all about for me, where finally I'm listening to the hints to just shut-the-hell-up-for-a-minute and wait for the right circumstances to produce this elusive bike I've been holding out for. If at all. And that’s fine by me. I make some great friends in the hostel, the saving grace of a city I never really liked, and overnight-bus myself down into where I needed to go all along. Confident in the uncertainty. cjG #mygroundtruth
Headin’ Down South and Around Pucon is a beautiful southern Chilean mountain lake town. What makes this place distinctive amongst all the other beautiful Chilean mountain lake towns is that it's dominated by the smokingly active volcano Villarica, which provides a lung-tearing 4 hour grumble-slog up to the vent at the top, and a 1 hour holler-and-hoot down courtesy of snow-ass-sliding-ice-axe-braking and scree-running-hilarity. Best day out! Worth every lactate-inducing step to get to the top to stand and hold up your ice axe channelling Hillary. There's also amazing hotpools in the town that my loose and laid back hostel owner Jose takes me to late at night under the stars and it's just a brilliant magical place away from big cities. At the vegetarian-social-consciousness-cafe !Ecole! I hear from the owner Herman that a guy was through here three weeks ago trying to sell his touring bike, which is like an aha! moment telling me that I am on the right trail after-all. Sustainability I think about what sustains you. How your lifestyle and all of its facets either supports your growth, provides you with nurturing challenges, or detracts from your growth, holds you back strangling you. The topic comes to me graciously, as I sip-coffee during the morning’s walking-the-town joe-break. It’s ironically pertinent sitting and writing about this, as another walk-in customer slurs over a bottle of Heineken asking me for money while he takes lines. Travelling these past few weeks has clearly been a trial of ups and downs. ‘Seeking’ is the primary battleground for me. When I’m winning I’m not seeking-at-all but trusting and enjoying the moment! When I’m losing it feels like I’m seeking at each turn. A lack of mental stillness while travelling might keep you moving-too-fast to be able to build on any clarity, maybe it can hold you back indefinitely as you become addicted to the newness of the next town, the next new group of friends, the next thing, the next thing... This could go-on indefinitely. It leads me to ponder the backpacker-lifestyle, does it help or does it hinder. More Detour I kept trekking further south to Valdivia, an estuary town, the first navigable river system as you come north having rounded Cape Horn. I headed back across the Andes to Argentina and to Bariloche, another mountain lake town, but what a difference being raped by the tourist-industry makes. So I got out of there as fast as the bus timetable would allow further south to El Bolson, where the alternative lifestylers micro-brew their own beers and sell their crafts at the town-market. And all the while I'm bus-and-town-hopping hauling my not-at-all backpacking-friendly-bags of motorcycle-gear from bus-station-to-hostel-to-bus-station wide-eyed at all the mountain scenery I cannot wait to explore, hopefully one day soon on the back of something bike-like. And as I follow a trail of breadcrumbs around the southern cone of South America I ask myself this; have my feelings of spiritual wealth, sense of character, and stability increased? Have there already been insights on the road into things you can obtain no other way? Amazing people and magical moments? All unquestionably, inargueably, yes. So I let go the reins and wonder what's in store for me as I roll on towards the next town. cjG #mygroundtruth
Rendezvous Things you take for granted when you're not on the road #47: Your own room. And having the dorm-room to yourself for a night doesn’t even come close to scratching that itch. So when I check-in to Break Point Hostel in the wine-growing region of Mendoza with the two Canadian-kids from the overnight bus-ride and discover there is a tiny-but-solo-room off one of the dorms, do you think I snap it up? Do I what. Ah the simple luxury of being able to spread out your stuff in fearless-of-robbery-abandon. But first let’s gather up the scene. I’ve come from southern Argentina to meet American overlander Chris, who's sellling his Kawasaki KLR 650 at the end of his ride down from Costa Rica. One of the many wonders of the online motorbike-touring site www.horizonsunlimited.com is this way of buying-and selling with other riders, and the timing has all just worked out for our rendezvous. Isn't that funny? I arrive a day or two prior to the scheduled transaction and settle into the place, with the bar and the restaurant on the premises, the huge public park and gardens down the road for running around, and the bbq and courtyard out the back. And all this combined with my own private residence makes this a little home-away-from-home which is why I ended up staying there there for close to two straight weeks. 10am. The morning of. I nervously awaited the purr of a 650 heading down the road towards the hostel. And then one does. And then 3. Chris rolls up with his posse of American-riders who step off KLRs and one motley-looking BMW all covered in dust and gear and stories it’s all just a bit goddam exciting aswell as a bit intimidating. And in amongst all the introductions and first impressions and banter of instant friends there she is, my new ride, I just know it. Handover Chris and I head out to lunch to raise a mendozian Malbec together and close the deal and it’s all settled but for three days of hanging with the yanks and being shown over the bike, the spares, and the bike registration paperwork. I couldn't have asked for a better handover. Any lingering gaps in my essential maintenance knowledge are plugged patiently right there by Chris on the footpath outside the hostel in that town in Argentina. There is just one, little, lingering, issue, which in my excitement and gratitude for finally having a touring bike to get on with the trip of lifetime I completely fail to recognise the significance of; the bike is in Chris’s name and registered in Costa Rica. With no way to change the ownership outside of Costa Rica. But hey, this is South America right, what could possibly happen? Everything will work out fine now, see, I have a bike! Eventually, despite an agonising hiccup-last-minute-hurdle trying to get enough cash out to pay for the bike (can’t withdraw the necessary funds from an ATM, no bank will issue the necessary funds, walking around 10 banks all morning seems to impact little on the situation) I finally get the keys and Chris gets on his bus. And with him gone. And the keys in my hand. And the bike parked outside. I guess this means that ride is mine. Gettin’ Ready The hostel-kids and I asado-bbq out in the backyard most nights after I hunt extra spares by day with Ricardo my mate from Santiago who's passing through on his way up north on his own overland. I get the bike serviced and a further education by legend-mechanic Tulio who Ricardo manages to stumble across by great-good-fortune. And by the time you do all of that, celebrate the passing of another year, pack-up that one little bedroom of yours, get crunk and decide to delay the departure for just one more day. Well, two weeks have passed. Aroha 1. (verb) to love, feel pity, feel concern for, feel compassion, empathise. Ladies and gentlemen, may I please introduce to you Aroha Ngaire, my trusty steed for the rest of this tale and the journey to come. I cut out a stencil and spray-paint ink her name on the side of the tank, Aroha, and saddle up for the first leg northbound. And I swear she’s stamping the ground impatiently as I to-and-fro with gear and fuss and strap too much shit on the back and it's like what-fuck's-taking-so-long. I know I know I’m sorry we would have left yesterday but papa-bear had a hangover. And we roll outta town and into the very first day of the rest of this South American Adventure. cjG #mygroundtruth
Looking Good on Paper Lessons Getting out of town through a foreign city's incomprehensible one-way-grids can prove problematic when you haven't invested in a GPS and you're relying on your pre-departure map-study. Which is where I rediscover some of my old favourite lessons from being on the Royal New Zealand Air Force's pilot's course in my youth; Proper pre-sortie-planning-prevents-piss-poor-performance. Roger that! It takes me a while to get used to a bike as big as Aroha having only ridden 250s in the past. Add all the extra weight of my gear I'm just not used to it and it makes me nervous plus loaded up Aroha’s so top heavy that if while I’m stopped she leans over just a little bit too far I can’t stop both her and I from toppling over. Getting back upright again takes two or three people. Once out on the open highway it’s all magic scenery and zipping by trucks and everything is just great. Very first time I pull in to get gas I promptly drop Aroha in the forecourt like a chump as helpful locals scramble over to help pick me and her back up. Lesson number two, switch on Carsten. The first day is just a short warm-up to stretch the legs and I find great stabling for her and I in a pleasant catholic looking town called San Juan, where I initiate the soon-to-be very familiar ritual of park-shower-reconfigure-myself and go out to walk the grids explore and reflect. Which is when the benevolence of this whole lead-up to now really dawns on me, the series of consecutive miracles that had to occur just to get to this place, in this coffee-shop, in a place called San Juan, with Aroha safe at the hostel, and me quite emotional with gratitude. Copping Realities Leg two was always going to be ambitious but there’s not much between San Juan and the next stop of Cordoba, the loftily-titled 'cultural capital' of Argentina with a gluttonous 7 universities and 200,000 students. Not much but 604 kms of highway. So we're up early and set off, the gas-station stops go better and I’m having lunch in a small town, stopping for pick-me-up-coffees in truckstops and pounding out miles. And before you know it I'm rolling up to stop at my first Police check point, and boy do they see me coming, I can almost see them rubbing their pudgy little hands together, but then I was expecting this sooner or later. Officer short-and-plump asks me for my paperwork then motions for me to park the bike over there as he saunters on over to collect what he can only be thinking will be a fat bribe out of the gringo. But oh, I'm so sorry Officer, I’m playing a stupid-ignorant-gringo-tourist and “no entiendo” I don’t understand and “I don’t speak Spanish” shaking my head, shaking my head, I don't understand. Ok then son. Then why don't you come on inside the station-house for a wee chat. Uhm, okay. Inside the cramped hut, Officer sidekick looks me over and I can tell he's looking forward to playing fleece-the-gringo. But you know what, “I don’t speak Spanish” and I’ll just stand here shaking my head, I've got all day boys, I hate corrupt cops and you’re not getting nada outta me. Wills locked, they feint and probe to see if I actually do understand, don’t you, you little punk. But eventually it's somehow clear, while not necessarily stated, that 7-months dealing with corrupt Bamiyan police while deployed in Afghanistan means my lifetime’s supply of patience for this kind of bullshit carry-on is well and truly depleted, and you are not getting a mutherfucking peso out of me. So go ahead and arrest me. Eventually I am back on my bike and off on my merry way. Grimmy 1, corruption 0. As I ride away it does bring home to me my precarious position with-respect-to having Aroha registered in some other dude's name. Explain that to Officer diligent at the inevitable next police-check-point in your crap Spanish. Shaking your head won’t get you out of that one. So I resolve to try and find a solution in Cordoba somehow. Nightmare and Deliverance I arrive on the outskirts of this huge city Cordoba and it's back to lesson number one, proper pre-sortie planning. I have a hastily-sketched-map from google of how to get to the hostel downtown but it helps me little after the first missed motorway-exit and before you know it I’m in the middle of my nightmare-Grande, lost in a foreign city during peak-rush-hour Friday-early-evening traffic on a fully-loaded-bike not speaking the lingo. Bugger. I pull into a gas station to calm my nerves and to get further directions and get another hastily sketched map off the young attendant, which again counts for nothing after another mere 5 minutes of slalom with the buses and missed turns. Darkness spreading and desperate, while waiting at a set of lights, I lean over and ask a kid on a scooter stopped next to me for directions to the hostel’s address, but he doesn’t just point and shout over the howling traffic noise, he says “follow me amigo!” and guides me there, all the way through 20 minutes of narrow-traffic-gaps and stop-lights to right outside the front door. Brother, you might not understand my words, but I am absolutely sure you can understand my gratitude for rescuing this gringo's tired ass. So in the end, I've arrived just in time for a hot shower and an asado-bbq-dinner put on by the Columbian-family running the hostel and if there’s anything you need after a day like today it’s this, sitting around a table of big smiles and new friends. History & Paperwork Cordoba has a rich Spanish-colonial-plundering-history, and what my Jesuit University tour-guide has forgotten about the colonial-period is probably still enough to fill up a couple of Ph.Ds. Back in the hostel garage I tinker on Aroha as the hostel owners stop-by and follow-up on yesterday’s conversation about my paperwork situation. The son who works the front desk is currently studying to become a lawyer and is my translator, his Dad is a lawyer, and Dad’s friend who is also a lawyer walks in and the whole garage just fills up with lawyers. Who after the prescribed period of pontification agree that all I need is an officialised-stamp on the purchase-contract and to get some third-party insurance. No arguments here gentlemen, but will this be enough to get me through the Argentina-Bolivia border I ask? Mutterings, expounding of the universiality-of-civilian-common-law then finally the “as-your-lawyer” advice is you should be okay, but then you could always just bribe someone. The next working day lawyer Dad and lawyer-student Son help me get that official stamp on the purchase contract Chris and I wrote up over some red wine back in Mendoza, which amazingly then flies fine with the insurance people and I manage to get me some cover. Sold! Later in the afternoon I’m out riding a sunny-sightseeing-excursion to pay homage to Che Guevara’s childhood home and of course I’m stopped at a police checkpoint where what-do-you, it's Officer diligent, who asks for my motorcycle papers, which this time I can hand over with confidence. And as I’m waved through with everything all in-order I'm again just marvelling at the beauty of trust and timing. cjG #mygroundtruth
Bracing for What's Coming With getting my paperwork sorted comes the itch to get going and to get north. Large days in the saddle push me through a string of towns on the northbound-gringo-Argentina-Bolivia-trail; Catamarca, Cafayate, and Salta. And with increasing northness comes increasing altitude and barrenness, rock desert landscapes with tenuous micro-climates and their tenuously irrigated vineyards. The going is made challenging by my too-top-heavy loading of Aroha, it’s an issue, and I’m really not happy to push into the unknown dirt-roads of Bolivia with this current set-up. I need to sort some panniers and get a rack welded-up for it all to sit lower on the bike and have a lower centre-of-gravity. I need to get myself prepared for what I know is coming. But finding things for the bike proves challenging, taxing and frustrating. Time and again through a succession of towns looking for something appropriate to turn into a pannier rack I’m disappointed despite grid-walking and searching. And I have two choices here, I can keep this up, or I can begin to accept that finding things and doing things and getting things done here is just that much harder than what I’m used to. Accept it. Which, though it takes me over a thousand kilometres, slowly seeps into my head one day sitting in the central square in Cafayate. Eventually I’m aware that last-stop-before-the-Bolivian-frontier-Salta has been promising a lot through reputation. So I relax, and wait and see. If you read people’s Facebook posts you'll see that few don’t fall in love with Salta. It’s a charmer. Perfectly positioned on the northbound circuit through small towns leaving you with a hankering for something just a wee bit more sophisticated, Salta delivers. For me it delivers a groovy crew complete with an Irish-poet at the hostel, and after a faith-filled-Salta-search it delivers me with two heavy-duty plastic panniers for all of my shit and a custom-made welded-up lockable pannier-rack from a back-alley-bike-garage. I ride away from my amigos who looked after me so well at the mechanics with Aroha stoking-out-wholesale on her new set-up, ready, eager and braced for whatever Bolivian roads have in mind. Getting Through the Border There’s only one more thing to do then, and that’s put this all where my mouth is. I ride a big day north to within 20km of the border ready for come-what-may-tomorrow. Day of border crossing with the bike numero uno. First item of business: Tyre-change. From my current asphalt-road-slick rear to a dirt-track-knobbly. A twenty-minute job takes me about two-hours on the side of the border-town-road the whole time Aroha looking over her shoulder at me wondering what-in-God’s-name-I-am-up-to-back-there as she’s propped-up, tyre-off with tools, panniers, and general motorcycle paraphernalia spread everywhere as far as the eye can see. Err, it’s okay honey I’ve seen a YouTube clip on this. Eventually sorted, loaded, and wondering how my dodgey-gringo-motorbike-paperwork will go, I ride-up to the customs office just-in-time for them to close-up for their two-hour afternoon siesta. So I go ahead and prop-myself on the ground next to the customs office window and settle-in, patient, accepting whatever outcome might come. While I wait I'm also secretly planning a ride to an alternative border crossing site in a tiny-tumble-weed border-town to try my luck there if this doesn’t work. Siesta over, doors open and I’m passed from Argentinian-customs-to-immigration to Bolivian-customs-to-immigration, I’m generously given more days entry-visa than I asked for, waved through and wished a very happy stay in Bolivia. It's. Just. Miraculous. Papa G & Aroha 1. Customs 0. Getting Dirty Only a few clicks out of the Bolivian side of the border it starts. Dirt. Dusty, slippery, bus-and-truck-churned-dirt-roads. And good call on changing that tyre back there by the way. Oh and incidentally there are no more road-signs anymore. And your ‘highway’ map you inherited off the Americans back in Mendoza is about as accurate as that sketch you made getting directions in the gas station in Cordoba. I can hear my underground-punk-rocker Uncle Johnny-Concrete in my head saying "this is the real rock’n’roll!" so fuck it, lean into it, twist on some throttle and get covered in dust and it’s not long before I’m standing-up-on-the-pegs-motorcycle-overlander-style and screaming into my helmet “This is soooooo worth it wooooohooooo!!!” cjG #mygroundtruth
Riding into a Bolivian town is not the same thing as riding into an Argentinean town. For one, it’s a little harder to pull off the inconspicuous gringo when you are all brown-caked with road dust, riding a motorbike about 3x times the size of anything else in the town, over-loaded with gear. And looking lost. In the first Bolivian town I roll into, Tupiza, I experiment with I'm-such-a-trusting-traveller-I-don’t-need-the-Lonely-Planet-guide-Faith-will-find-me-a-hostel. And ride around for over an hour. Then concede to dig out the LP for directions. Finally I settle-in-clean-up and meet the first of several German guys I bump into on the trip who are cycling round South America. Good on them. But fuck that. I head out the door for food and tourist friends from earlier in Argentina are hanging out in tourist bars and it really dawns on me how strong the gringo-trail is here. You’re either heading North or you are heading South and same direction travellers will see each other again in an inevitable town or two. I'm feeling pretty much done with the gringo-trail so I bail town and resolve to take the path-less-trodden which is a direct road to Uyuni and the Salt Flats despite warnings from Ricardo not to ever ride that road if you can avoid it but that's just a red flag to me. And it’s really not that bad. In fact I’m making great time. In fact it must have been upgraded heavily. An hour-in my creeping suspicion is enough to make me stop for directions from some local workmen. And in fact this road is the main highway to Potosi. Not Uyuni. Aha, right. So that’ll be why then. So looks like I’m heading to Potosi today then. The Devils Mine At 13,420ft perched on the side of Mt. Cerro Rico the mining-town of Potosi is both brutal and wonderful. The getting-lost-hostel-search in Tupiza was a mere hors d’oeuvre to this treacherously sloping warren of streets. Gringos come here to take a tour down the mines inside "The Hill That Eats Men". In the 465 years of mining here since the Spanish-occupation it has consumed over 8 million lives. Thanks to Greed. I go and sample the hell that 5,000 miners live with everyday that my addiction to consumer products made from the minerals extracted from here encourages. I love getting cheap silver and cheap computer chips made from the death of these guys and I won’t deny it. A kilometre inside the mountain, the snaking corridors have splintered branches holding up the roof scarcely delaying a cave-in. Only through sacrifice to their devil, Tio, do the miners get out alive every day. Well, some of them do. www.thedevilsminer.com tells the story of the many children that work in here. 3 hours inhaling silicosis-inducing-dust and crawling through Hades leaves me weak physically and emotionally and I shamefully keep asking myself how is it possible these conditions are allowed but I already know what the answer is. Truth in the Whiteness With my soul feeling shaken I trek west to Uyuni and to the spectale of the salt plains. A natural wonder of white vastness freezing at night and blinding during the day. I head out of town solo in the afternoon after I arrive to poke-my-nose-into the flats, until about halfway there I look around at nothing as far as the eye can see and I can hear my mum saying that when you break down isolated and helpless you won’t feel like a such a bold daring adventurer anymore. So I sell-out-a-bit or let-reason-prevail I'm not sure which and allow myself the safety of a one-day tour the following day in amongst all the other gringos crammed into 4x4s and I sway between awe and cursing my lack of nerve. I’m out riding on the flats first thing early the next morning for painstakingly-dedicated-self-timer-perspective-shots of me & Aroha. And it's incredible. I'm blinded and freezing, as well as breathing hard from the altitude and wobbly from the intensity of just being at this amazing place. Satisfied, it's time to get moving and I pin-back my ears for the back-track through Potosi to the next-trail-stop of Sucre. About an hour out of town I crest a small rise and almost ride straight into another solo-KLR-brother, Igor from the US. In the middle of dusty-desert-cactus-nothingness we swap maintenance tales, and bike-loading tidbits, and email addresses, and laugh about KLR quirks that only a special brotherly bond born out of saddle-knowledge provides. Nourishment and Heartache As if getting off the gringo-trail isn't reward enough, Sucre feeds me good coffee, good people and less touristy-things-to-do. It's really easy to stay a week. I get that oil-change done that was about due. I spend relaxed cafe-time sitting and route-planning and staring at the map for hours, pondering this way or that way, pouring over the spiderwebs of roads on the map looking for the just-right track that will unlock the secrets of this amazing countryside. I spy an off-the-trail back way to La Paz, dropping down off the Andes through the jungle and I can't wait I'm totally excited for it. Just as I'm thinking about leaving, I have my drink-spiked in a gringo-bar while I'm unaware and with my guard down, and somehow next thing I know I'm stumbling, violently-ill, through some street-darkness back alley, all-alone. I look on helplessly as that local-couple from the dark corner of the bar ride up to me on a motorbike, casually dismount, walk up beside me while looking down on me buckled over there, and they take my wallet right out of my back pocket. I don't know where I am, I'm completely chemically messed-up, I have no money, I am in a Bolivian alleyway in the middle of the night, I don't know how to get back to my hostel. I am pretty sure, that this time, I am completely fucked. And it's right then that I hear a New Zealand accent in the dark, out of nowhere, unmistakable in those beautiful flat antipodes vowels: "Are you ok?". Ngaire, happened-to-be-walking-by-kiwi-girl, totally rescues me from the pavement and through the drug haze I have to ask her which city we are in. She gives me her bed and sleeps on the couch and I take two days to recover. I went and filed a Police report for whatever that's worth, and cancelled cards and arranged for some replacements to be shipped out to me. And yeah, I am pretty well ready to never be around anymore obvious tourist spots for the rest of this trip. When I'm a bit more recovered first day back in the saddle I go easy on myself by only riding 8 straight hours of treacherous-powder-dust-near-miss-mountain-hairpins. Nobody said that this trip was about being sensible. And though I pull into Samaipata in the dark, it’s also clear that I've pulled in to a completely new chapter and a new Life. In the local dialect, Samaipata means rest in the mountains. The very first crew of hostel-people I meet when I walk-in dusty through the front door are all Searchers, who have all been here a month already taking Tai-Chi classes and not-travelling, and meditating, and being. And within a week we are all staying on an organic-Dharma-farm high-up in the hills, taking meditation classes with a one-legged-ex-buddhist-monk-spiritual-guru, Da-Dennis. Completely stoked on the silence. Completely wonderous of the grace that always follows the breakdown. “The unknown is not to be feared, as it is the region from which the next good thing will emerge.” – Deepak Chopra. cjG #mygroundtruth
This is the place where I cast my ideas adrift. Born in Denmark, I consider myself an adopted son of Aotearoa New Zealand. I feel a strong connection to the land and wairua (spirit) of these sacred isles that have supported and nurtured and raised me on their shores, and in their rivers and lakes. A helicopter pilot in my former career, I am a registered psychologist with a toolbox focused on nurturing high performance, resilient behaviour, and mental skills under pressure. I see my contribution as helping to increase the density of human mental wellbeing on the planet, starting in my country, starting within my community, and starting with my family. I consider myself a curious observer of the human condition with a thirst to understand, and to support, those who aspire to do great work. When you dare greatly, you should be supported greatly. These people, those of us who dare, these people are my people. This is my ground truth. cjG #mygroundtruth
What you find when not looking. Up on the Hill Samaipata was a bit of an oasis of truth for travellers like me who were seeking but weren't too sure exactly what for. In the town at the time was an Austrian gestalt psychologist who ran a Tai Chi school and would take numerology readings on the side if you were really curious. The crew I was hanging with all had readings done and we would discuss and debate the findings at night after Tai Chi class over good salads and good company. Outside of town Sukhiwat Dharma Centre was a small organically run farm and retreat set in the highlands of Samaipata, in the exact same countryside as what Che Guevara would have used to hide out in when he was nursing his revolutionary ideas. We heard about it by word of mouth around town and decided to walk up there one day, into the hills, and see if we could find the monk who ran the place and if we could convince him to let us stay for a while. We found the small thatched community of huts, perched sleepily on the side of some rolling hills, and knocked on the door of one of them, nobody having any clue what to expect or what we might find. And that's where we met Da-Dennis, the one-legged ex-Buddhist monk, who opened the door to us in his peering kind of way with his eyesight going, and calmly answered the knock, "Yes?". Seven of us arranged to stay with Da for an undetermined length of time. We would rise early to meditate in the dark, and afterward Da would have us write and reflect on our experiences and what we noticed. Food was spartan, potatoes, salad, and we would help around the farm in the afternoons mending mud walls, or harvesting sourgum, in between meditation sittings, and noticing, noticing, noticing. Gradually our number dwindled to just a couple-of-us left on the farm. Some had had enough after one week and found the silence too defeaning. One day I followed Da out on his crutches as he hobbled over to fix an irrigation pipe that had blocked and in a small-talk kind of way I offered to him about something that "ah well Da, everything happens for a reason." And at that he stopped his hobbling, turned to face me only inches away from my face so his eyes could focus, and expressionless he bore into me with; "nothing happens for a reason." And then turned to move quietly away, with my view of the world shattered, but with new unexplored rooms opened up in my mind for the very first time. It is hard to leave Sukhiwat Dharma Centre sunrises and solitude, after just a-few-weeks stillness it becomes difficult enough riding down off the hill into the ‘rush’ of Samaipata village to pick-up groceries but after a while it became time to get back on the road. Leaving Da-Dennis and all his rambling-gems-of-teachings is emotional but it comes time to sow what we learned in the safe solitude of the mountains into the busy reality of everyday. Reunion dinner with the original-crew back in the village is last supper and next morning I am up sunrise-early and saddled, anxious and eager, ready and not, for Bolivia Phase Two.
Goodbye to Bolivia I'm walking along a hustling La Paz city street one day and two overlander-dudes riding KLRs are stopped in traffic. So I wander over to shoot the breeze and talk KLR mechanics and parts until the lights turn green and they’re consumed by the traffic and off once again. It’s forgotten until a few days later while getting lost on my way out of town I see these same guys on the side of the road getting chain-lube so I pull over and before you know it’s me, Paul the US Doctor and Laurent the Belgian Insurance Salesman all travelling together northbound, hooting our way round Lake Titicaca’s twisty- scenic-roads and getting-on famously. Instant motorcycle-posse just add trail-magic. Copacabana is nestled on the shores of the world’s highest navigable lake in the middle of which are Islas Sol y Luna, according to Inca the birthplace of the Sun and Moon. You won’t argue either when you see the place. The question for me then becomes do I stay-on here in this magical spot or is it the season for producing some northbound miles and besides which the next day’s ride includes the border-crossing into Peru and perhaps pushing-through my hopeless bike-paperwork will be easier with the company of my two-new-spanish-speaking-compadres. It turns out to be an excellent-call, as next day the first thing the Peruvian-border-guard says when he sees my hopeless bike papers is that it’s just plain impossible for him to let me through but then you almost feel sorry for the guy when his tiny little customs office is packed til bursting with helmets and bike-gear and three-gringo-motorcyclists and resolve. I’m walking out of the customs office with my entry-stamps thinking that was too-close and I’ll probably need to get some kind of a photoshop solution to help me out with my subsequent border-crossings. Loose Sometimes you pull into a town and if first-impressions are anything to go by you’d keep right on riding to the next dot on the map and this is definitely the case with welcome-to-Peru village Puno. But then this place is the stepping-off-point for visiting communities in the middle of the lake living on islands made of floating reeds, so we stay and take the tour. Islands of floating reed villages, complete with 'authentic' local villagers - cjG. Next day we're packing up our shared hotel-room for Cuzco but then I'm like, fellas I gotta sit-this-one-out as I’m popping antibiotics and staying within a 50m dash of the hotelroom-bathroom. And really, after 4 months on the road one day holed-up watching movies as you wait for confidence to return to your pants is a pittance-to-pay compared to the amount of very suspect street-food that gets consumed during lunch-stops and sampling the local markets. A day later I’m just-confident enough to make a break for Cuzco and catch back up with the crew, which although we’ve lost Laurent due to his crazy-tight-itinerary we’ve added Josh the 22-yr-old version of Ewen McGreggor but much looser riding a Suzuki from the 1980s which is running much better now after the last crash. On Missions & Outdoing En Zed for Lord-of-the-Rings-Scenery The merest suggestion by some waitress is all the convincing we need to attempt to ride our way to the gateway-to-Machu Picchu-township of Augas Caliente, a long roundabout route through the Sacred Valley and jungle hamlets and a traffic-roadblock that’s only open for an hour around midday and it sounds like a helluva mission and we’re up for it. So we pack lite, leaving the rest of the gear at the hotel, and rise-and-shine early out of Cuzco in order to make the roadblock-window and before long things turn absolutely, stunningly, magical. Beautiful, Inca-era terraced hillsides and perfect twisty mountain roads so exciting we’re all hollering and man-hugging at the top of mountain-passes. We even make it to the traffic-roadblock with time-to-spare and from there it’s dirt-roads to even smaller towns and it just feels like we are riding through a Fairytale. So agonisingly-close we can almost taste the celebratory-beer we’re stopped by park guards at the entrance to the Machu Picchu National Park and though we plead-at-first then pseudo-demand to be allowed to ride the last 7kms to Auguas Caliente we’re shit-outta-luck today and we’re forced to lock our bikes together at a local Senora’s shack and catch the train, yes train, those final seven clicks. But it doesn’t matter. We’re up head-achingly early in the morning to queue for buses heading up the cliff to catch the sunrise at Machu Picchu and the best call of the day was to make the hike up the steep-hour to the mountain-lookout behind the ruins where we’re three of only a dozen people looking down and out across I dunno how to describe it; Majesty? Suffice to say I kinda get why the Incas were so into this ridge-top they decided to carve a city out of it. It is all Very. Nice. Work. Over looking Machu Picchu at sunrise, July 2010 - cjG. Ancient Inca ruins explored, we train back to the Senora’s shack, push-start Josh’s bike, ‘cause like I say it’s from the 80s, and we’re back out the way we came in, pushing hard into dusk to give us a shot at making that section of roadblock the next morning before it shuts again until the midday opening. Which necessitates another horrifically-early wake-up, but Doc's jokes make for a hilarious alarm clock. And then we’re back on the bikes conducting what amounts to night-time white-light-close-formation operations up a misty-mountain-side. And by the time we make it back to Cuzco we’ve spent two hours crashed-out asleep in a cafe garden-courtyard and seen more jaw-dropping scenery than anyone can really remember. It all gets aptly recounted over beers to other travellers that night as the Experiencing of Epic. cjG #mygroundtruth The crew through Peru, stopped at some mountain-saddle for high-fives - cjG.
The Real Peru 7:10 PM — Carsten Grimm We bail out of Cuzco with grand plans to boost all the way along the next-leg but man the stop-worthy-photo-worthy-scenery is just killing any hope of making Ayacucho today so we pull into Abancay on the way instead, a rather unassuming place for a night, until we’re dragged out by 6 nursing students to a local’s nightclub where we are absolute rockstars to everyone in there it’s unbelievable, you’d think they’d never seen a hammered gringo before. So that place we’d hoped to make from Cuzco in a day, yeah it takes us three days, through the Andean countryside’s twisting roads then dirt twisting roads and tidy cultivated steppes from pre-Inca times. On the way we pull over at a family “restaurant” for a coke where it’s three sisters and a zoological-park of pigs, cats, chickens with shoes on (WTF?) and then the sisters put on an impromptu fashion show for us of Peruvian-national-dress complete with bowler hats and peacock feathers. We arrive in Andahuaylas a mere 180kms from the last overnight town but a notable achievement when we’re all very nearly too hungover to balance upright on a bike. Another perfect twisty mountain hairpin for three dudes on motorcycles to holler and hoot their way around - cjG. When we eventually do make it to Ayacucho (all these places starting with A, goddamn, there are other letters people) it’s just fantastic and we score heftily with the Hotel, right on the town square rivalling Cuzco’s but without any of the hordes of tourists wearing alpaca, the ‘dorm room’ is split three-levels and unoccupied so we have a floor each thank-you and there’s a kick-ass-restaurant attached with a balcony hanging over the whole central-scene. And we rode our bikes from the square up the footpath through the foyer to park them in the downstairs courtyard. So what’s not to like? So let’s stay three days. Eventually though you feel that the mountains are cool and all but let’s make a run for the coast. And while we aim to drink Pisco in Pisco that evening we pull into the outskirts and the place is just a dump unfortunately as it’s still recovering from the earthquake three years ago so you can’t begrudge them that and we pop down the coast a bit and stay on a pleasant boardwalk town. Which is still pleasant in the morning for breakfast right up til about 10am then blam! The gringo-hordes descend, the alpaca-salesmen and pipe-music gets rolled out and we pack-up and roll. That is to say, we just need to jump-start Josh’s bike first. Like we also needed to yesterday afternoon when it wouldn’t start at the gas-station and we couldn’t push-start it because it is very, very, suspiciously difficult to get going. So while there are sights to see down here on the coast the adults among-us are beginning to think that if we do actually get Josh’s bike started then it would be a wise-choice to bomb-up the Pan-American Highway and get it to a big-city-mechanic. Peruvian Hospitality Will Kill You. We make it to Lima just in time to plough headlong into metropolis traffic which serves to heat up Josh’s bike sufficiently that the plan is changed from finding the hostel first to finding the mechanic immediately. Through some grace and map-reading so good I must have been a helicopter pilot in a previous life we find the motorbike store and workshop and who is the first person we bump into there? Local-dude Fernando! A fellow motorcyclist Doc Paul rode with down on the Salt Flats in Bolivia and who we caught up with for a night downtrack in Puno. We stash the bikes in the workshop for tune-ups and new tyres for Paul & I and some serious starter-motor engineering for Josh and then Fernando drives us and all our gear to the hostel and then we're out! For a Local’s Tour of Lima which includes awesome-grungy-dive-bars from the 1930s and then the hippest renovated old casa in town where we sip Pisco til our heads cave-in. That is to say, Doc and I call it good at gentlemen’s hours, but young-fella Josh and Fe-fe push through. Which is why we don’t see Josh again til after lunch next day and why when we’re in the cab back to pick up the bikes Doc is holding Josh’s head out the window while he’s yawning chucks like a champ at 5 in the afternoon. That a boy. Back in the hostel we’re slowtime recovering and chatting to the German-couple staying here who’ve been riding their BMW 650’s round the world for three-years-so-far-and-counting including from Europe to Asia (my next trip – did I tell you?) all around Australia & New Zealand and even East Timor. What a dream-ride, Legends. Why do people even bother with normal jobs? Why did I? And what took me so long?? Next day Fe-fe picks us up for a barbeque round his family’s place. So. We start around 3pm. We finish around 3am. The whole time Fe-fe’s mum’s bringing out delectable meats off the grill and brother-Oscar is mixing a mean Pisco-sour that is Getting. Everybody. Loose. To our amazement we’re shown around the family’s private Museum collection which is not limited-to dozens of recovered muskets and rifles from the Chilean-Peruvian War, the preserved head of a Spanish Conquistador and rock paintings from around 5000BC. It’s a staggering achievement by one family. It then comes as less of a surprise when they show us pictures of how they recovered an unknown combatant from the War and were then responsible for orchestrating the National Memorial Parade of the Unknown Soldier. All this and much more in one evening in one Peruvian Family’s House in Lima. We don’t do much the next day. cjG #mygroundtruth
Running The Gauntlet
To plan our next move out of Lima we hold a team planning meeting and opt to head back into and across the Andes in order to get to the jungle and catch a riverboat down the Amazon. That’s all easily enough said we’re all thinking, as we soon find ourselves pressing into hour number 5 of 8 in the saddle and riding through stinging hail and rain up puffing at 4000 meters, frozen, with still a looooooong way to go to the day’s destination.
Things I Routinely Forget: A List
My sunglasses. Particularly now that I have had my prescription put in them.
To take my vitamins, but then I will remember halfway through breakfast or later in the day so that's not so bad.
That I enjoy walking by myself listening to lectures or podcasts. It always calms me and resets my dials I don't know what I don't do it more frequently, the wise words of Shane Mulhall from the School of Philosophy in Ireland, especially Philosophy and Happiness, is one of his best talks in my opinion.
I forget that I am patient and kind, and somehow I end up being short and bitter to be around and I don't know how that happened.
I forget how much I need my own clear space to sit and write, or to just sit and reflect and let the muddle in my mind settle into still clarity. I forget I need to do this regularly, often, daily, and then it's been a few months and I wonder why I'm off track somehow. Same thing with meditation.
I forget my favourite songs, and then I take such joy in rediscovering them.
I forget the joy I take in hanging out with my friends.
I forget to stretch or to do yoga, and then wonder why I'm feeling it in my back or in my hamstrings.
I forget that dishes left on the bench or unfolded washing in a pile, or the fact that I'm the only one taking out the rubbish again, must mean I'm surrounded by other people, my family, and that I am one of the lucky ones. I forget to be grateful for my family. How do I forget to be grateful for my family?
I forget that there are enormous, daring, tremendous tasks to be done and that my small day to day life is only a fragment of my entire potential.
I forget that this is only one way of living; this job, this house, these routines. As grateful as I am for them right now in this moment and as much as they serve me and as much as fortune has smiled and reigned down on me, I could be happy and just as productive in other towns with different commutes and other daily habits.
I forget that this is all just a play. A very short, fleeting, speck of time in an eternity stretching out in all directions, on a small planet hurtling through space around a pretty ordinary star.
I forget that how we live has changed, and is changing, so rapidly that most of us haven't caught up and figured out how to make it all work properly, and that our systems haven't caught up and figured out how to support us and make this healthy and sustainable yet.
I forget that no-one is responsible for my happiness. I forget that I alone get to choose what I am going to allow myself to routinely think. I forget that what I practice I get good at, both good and bad. I forget that blaming other people for where I am at will not change where I am at.
I forget that I am you. That we are all Love. And that our relationships together are the only thing we will ever have of any real value.
I forget to let go, and to enjoy this miraculous ride.
Back and Forth
Right. Fix-up Aroha time. I mission across town in taxis here and there following the usual trail of breadcrumbs when looking for very specific bike parts in a foreign city; sorry we don’t stock for that model - go here, sorry we don’t stock those parts - go here, until eventually I get to a motocross store where the owner speaks good English and he’s straight onto the phone ringing around town trying to help me out. Next thing you know he’s grabbing his bike-keys let’s go I know a place, I’ll give you a ride on the back of my Yamaha Roadster. After my shady experience on the back of Doc Paul's bike I'm thinking, hmmmmm I’m not so sure in my ‘saftey’ cotton shirt and ‘safety’ sunglasses. But I’m grateful for the guy's help, so I'm like, okay guy but go easy alright I've only just had an accident. Should have listened to my intuition. Next thing we are absolutely TEARING our way through the streets of Cuenca on this roadster with zero design consideration for pillion passengers, all the way up the gearbox and all the way back down the gearbox with the taste of pure fear in my mouth and cold sweat everywhere. It's the most frightened I've ever been, and I've spent 7 months in Afghanistan.
After a few bike stores that turn out fruitless there’s just one more place to check out at the guy’s own mechanic but it’s kind of far. Shit. What do I do here? Do you look a gift-horse in the mouth when he’s taking time out of his day to ride you around town on his bike....? But what if that gift-horse is a reckless bucking bronco that could scrape you all over the pavement at 120 km/hr? Okay, okay fuck-it lets go to this one last place. Just a few moments later I am desperate for this to stop and making solemn promises that I will never, ever, ride pillion like this again. I honestly don't know how other people do it.
Finally we make it to the mechanics and success! A real motorcycle-yard full of every type of bike being worked on including my very model and I arrange to drop Aroha off later in the day for the necessary patch-up work. With great-outcome-in-hand my guy offers me a lift back to my hotel but I laughingly-high-five-him saying thanks heaps bro but I’m catching a taxi back home and keeping that promise I just made to my creator or whoever just delivered me from a nightmare. Two days later I have all the bits and pieces I need for Aroha installed including a windshield sourced from another type of bike and she’s purring away like nothing ever happened.
And this is the part of the journey where me and the guys have to part company. Having been looking forward to my own space again but having loved being part of this crew the morning they load and head north without me, the first time I've been alone in over a month plus, it's so bittersweet. There are final man-hugs and long last looks as they ride off through the morning commuter traffic and around the stop-sign. And then gone.
And that's when the homesickness kicks in. Out of nowhere, apparently, or maybe it’s when that protective insulating chrysalis riding posse falls away and you dry back out those solo wings. It’s a desperate beauty, raw and transcending. I miss my family and I miss my friends back home and so I sit in a solitary-cafe-corner-and-write. Homesickness brings all your spiritual and emotional planets into alignment eclipsing the ego momentarily, stealing the light of day so you have to find your way by feel reaching out sensitively with fingertips. You make promises to yourself you won’t keep to stay in touch with people better, wanting so intensely to keep hold of this beautiful tragic clarity, to treat everyone better because of it and to go back out into the world a better person.
There & Back
I'm arranging to catch up with a friend of mine who's flying into Lima and busing up into Ecuador to teach English at an orphanage there. Emails bouncing between us eventually result in arranging to meet back at the beach in Mancora, Peru. Which is totally fine by me, I loved it there, but I’m not tempting the customs-paperwork-gods by exiting Ecuador/entering Peru again and a few days later running the reverse-gauntlet so I think I'll just find a place to leave Aroha on this side of the Ecuador border, save all the customs fuss, and short-bus-ride the rest.
But I bail south out of Cuenca and instantly stress over finding a place to store the bike. How the hell do you find somewhere safe enough? I pull into one town on the route to the border but turn right around and back-track-out again as I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up the nearer I get to the town centre. This happens in two more extremely-ratty-looking-towns even closer to the border. I ask at one hotel about bike-storage for a week and the owner lady looks at me like the suspect-smuggling-gringo that I feel like I am so I hop back on and ride off in a squeal of stress and how-the-hell-is-this-one-going-to-work-out. With trust, like it always does.
Now I am literally IN the border, the town that straddles Ecuador and Peru and okay here’s a hotel sign, I pull-in and start right on chit-chatting to the owner instantly. Who is totally cool about the plan to leave the bike and all my riding gear for a very small fee and it seems safe-as and convenient-as. I pack-a-bag and bounce my way through customs, again stressing that on their computers will be the note in BOLD associated with my passport number saying "This gringo entered/exited the country last time with a motorbike; All customs officials are to stop him immediately and question him thoroughly in Spanish why he is no-longer with his bike and how this relates to his motorcycle-ownership-papers". Ridiculous. Surprisingly, this doesn’t happen. And before you know it I crash my bag on the floor of the hotel back in Mancora and it's great to be back at this place, grab a burger and a beer and drift off with a smile on my face at how things will insist on working out despite your incessant, trivial, little worrying over them. A lesson I fear I am doomed to repeat.
Delight in my amazon fortune,
Awaiting ships down mighty rivers as the jungle rains come.
Muddy banks with locals pondering what locals ponder,
River dolphins slowly coalesce upstream, no hurry,
With rainforest the uniting factor for all of us.
The impossible becomes manifest here on these shores,
Far away from anything but themselves,
A place in which beauty will make you believe again,
Despite all your relinquished idealism,
Will help you choose again;
I will believe in magic.
I will believe in majesty and providence.
I choose to believe in love and the power of salvation.
Because looking out the window at the Amazon River taking in the raindrops of storm clouds,
There is not enough justification to not believe.
Come the rain,
Come the evening darkness.
Let the ripple on the hotel-tin-roof confirm everything we've ever suspected about the true nature of the world and how those who earnestly seek,
Are found out there in the dark.
These are the places to which those of us faithful will come,
Trusting in the signs and entrusted with a lover's intuition,
Doing all that we can to stay the narrow course,
And be true to the rivers,
Ecuador and the Concluding Drama of Part One
Ecuadorian orphan kids sharing the love and getting kicks off rabbit-earring their buddies - cjG
An incredible clarity comes over me around that time that a kind of closing to the current season is descending, maybe Part One of this Trip is drawing to a close, having looked so frighteningly tenuous from all the lead-up. All the final loose puzzle pieces snap perfectly into place over about a 24hr period: Christmas comes early for me as a package I had sent over from home is collected from the efficient Ecuadorian customs office; my engine-upgrade comes off without a hitch with the spare parts my buddy brought down with him from the States for me; and my new & improved bike ownership paperwork comes off looking genuine-as (I learn a bit about photoshop along the way). Suddenly we’re sitting having our final beers together and it's just been magic having such a familiar friendly face to hang out with here on this far-away continent.
Riding out of Quito and across the equator into the northern hemisphere and towards Columbia I’m alternately flawed at my good fortune in the wake of the weight of all my unnecessary worry in the past, and singing Jeff Buckley's 'Hallelujah' into my helmet, and grinning into the welcoming arms of South America Part Two.
The only interesting event at the Columbian border is the crew of female customs officers commenting on my eye colour. Columbia welcomes you with unashamed friendliness. Two hours north at a ubiquitous highway police-check-point the guys are more interested in chatting bikes than looking at paperwork. Hola fellas. I’m riding through a town looking around for a lunch spot and a 4×4 pulls alongside me with the window down and a dude leans out to ask me what I’m searching for then leads me to a nice restaurant, parks next to me and has a chat. The people here. Are. Friendly.
Two days north I ride into the Zona Cafeteria where Columbia grows all those beans we rely so heavily on for our espresso addiction (ok I’ll speak for myself). I stay on a working coffee plantation in the old converted Plantation House and tour through the farm and its produce. Fresh cup? This place is essentially pick your own. The township of Salento is a misty-sleepy-backwater that is dangerously difficult to leave. My mate Fernando turns up a day later and we’re reunited briefly as he heads south home to Lima to conclude his trip, me unsuccessful in convincing him The Guyanas are essentially on his way home too.
Bold statement, but then so are the cups - cjG.
Along the way I have an electrical problem; my cooling fan isn't working properly leaving Aroha red-hot up hills and in traffic and just about any other time I’m not flying along in the cruise being air-cooled. So when searching for the road to Salento the other day I stopped at a random car park and asked a random guy for directions, who turned out to speak English and was a biker who recommended me a mechanic nearby and organised for me to meet up with his best-friend the following day. This guy, the friend-of-some guy I met on the side of the road, takes me out for the most amazing lunch of the entire trip, wouldn’t let me pay for a thing, and then his mechanic Magician diagnoses the electrical problem, calls his other mate, who then turns up at the workshop 5 minutes later with the exact right replacement part. All the while these generous guys are checking over the bike's electrical system as the mechanic and his crew and his Mum are all hanging out in the basement workshop oooohing and ahhhing over me and the bike. Good fortune? Providence?
It’s time to take on the Capital. It’s Bogota Time. A metropolis the size of NYC or Mexico City isn’t particularly welcoming to a motorcyclist at the best of times not to mention during peak-hour traffic in one-way-streets and roadwork-detours jealously hiding away the historical district and the hostel. This could be a first-person-xbox-game; nope that way didn’t work back track and try another way nope that way didn’t work backtrack and try another way… et cetera. But Bogota is mad cool about it all and lays down a Good Time and Good Vibe and a very cosmopolitan city which surprises by its hipness. Don’t be fooled, Columbians know how to get down. Which again is testament to the resilience of a people that by-rights could be suspicious and bruised after a decade of drug war violence, but instead they're unashamedly abandoned in their vibrancy and open-spiritedness and hospitality. We’ve all been lied to by the media, again. Columbia is safe and rad as hell.
Mission to Mompox
So the river-dingy captain and I just need to swing by an ATM to close-out our transport transaction and I can be on my merry way. That is, right until I get collared by the local constabulary and walk-escorted round the corner to the Police station for a thorough searching. Thorough. As in they make me strip everything off the bike and go through ALL of my gear. All of it. I’m in for a hefty bride here I’m thinking as I sweat through my shirt and make a good attempt at sweating through my motorcycle jacket as I try to keep everything in sight and within arms reach as about ten cops stand around scrutinising me and my gear as it's spread all over the floor of the station. Eventually, miraculously, or maybe because I played just the right balance of friendly-cooperative-gringo and bitter-hard-unbribeable-gringo I am let away and boy do I spin the tires and get out of town. Thinking and laughing to myself it’s been quite a day already….
….up until I get about 5km down the road to another washed-out road. This one has a 'footbridge' over it precisely 2 side-by-side planks-of-timber-wide and 40-feet long and one-foot above 1.5 meters of swift gushing current. So how do I feel about this? I am absolutely shitting. Because there is simply no way in hell I can ride that. And it turns out I don’t have to, luckily, as the locals are doing a roaring trade pushing motorbikes over the bridge, some of them walking in the water alongside holding the bike upright while others push across the narrow planks. So we cross and I gladly pay the men and ride off. 200 meters. And repeat. And ride off. 300 meters. And repeat...
And ride off. Until I get to another washed out road. Which a local guy in a passing truck tells me isn’t that deep and just follow his tracks through it which I do and it only just comes up over my boots even though it’s a freaky 50 meters of muddy unknown surface condition. And I ride off until the other river-ford which again is sweet I’m told just follow my tracks and this one comes up about mid-calf. And the inevitable third ford is suspiciously deep, like, are-you-fucking-serious deep. But after I watch two fellas on 125’s cross it successfully without requiring down-stream-river-rescue I concede I will just have to suck this one up and look straight ahead and just plow through …with water up over my knees and my heart in my mouth and Aroha wondering if I have rocks in my head.
The friendly truck driver who’s been pseudo-guiding-me-along tells me the next one is actually impassable and to go round the back of the village where I find, incredibly, two guys and a dugout canoe. Ready and waiting to cross the river I’m told, for the final time. A dugout canoe. Yeah and the two guys artfully manage to wheel Aroha aboard and I’m pushing us away from the bank with a stick and we’re sailing through the glades in the beer-golden afternoon sunlight with a head-full of how-did-all-this-actually-happen-in-one-day and I’m stoked.
Mompox rewards. This old-time forgotten-about savannah-town where kids jump out of trees into the muddy waters and I join them for afternoon swims and walk stunning colonial streets while drinking fruit-vendor milkshakes and to top it all there’s a delight of a hostel and new friends.
The mission to Mompox. Worth every single zig and zag.
Colombia Then Venezuela
So what can you do? The hotel owner’s friend Jose (call me Pepe!!) comes to my aid and we go trawling for the kid in the photo cause that punk must know something. Find him by the markets but he’s stony and his Mum assures us he’s clean. So it’s off to the Cops then, from whom I have very little hope of getting any assistance let alone a theft-report to be included with the stack of insurance claims I'll make when I’m done with this trip. After an hour wait for the Lieutenant to finish up with that girl in his office with the door closed Pepe and I get in there and sweet-talk the shit out of him and we’re leaving 15 minutes later with the quickest theft report ever produced by the Santa Fe Policia.
Run for Miles
What to do now. Well I’m gonna need a replacement jacket first up and good luck ever finding one here. I back-track straight to that moto-store I stopped at on the way here yesterday and explain the story to my mate who works the counter and well, wouldn’t you know it, he just happens to be selling a used-only-once jacket on behalf of someone who had their WHOLE freaken bike nicked. Bike but no jacket, jacket but no bike. With a fair price settled I ride off knowing how much worse off things could be and resolve to not feed any more opportunists. The Arabs have a saying; Trust in God, but tie your camel. No shit.
So I know there are places here in this part of the world still worth checking out and islands to explore but the urge to outride my misfortune is intense so I just load and go, bail and bomb straight south 1200 kms in two days. Across the mighty Orinoco River, through the Grand Savannah rolling grasslands of southern Venezuela and arrive, rain-soaked weary and justified in Santa Elena De Ularien just 10kms from the Brazilian border.
The Guianas Part II
Jerry’s in Georgetown is another of those places where it’s difficult to leave the convenient easiness of being there for the frequent-grind of getting even the basic-necessities met on the road. Wifi upstairs with which to skype home (necessity), bar and good cheap eats downstairs, friendly cafe for writing-in down the road. And then leaving gets that much harder.
Graham turns up. Without his motorbike. Ahh, what’s the story? The story is after we crossed paths in the Guyanese interior he broke down, about 10hrs into the jungle from Georgetown, and had to hitch a ride back to civilisation on an open-air flatbed truck. Misery. The bike’s still out there in the jungle someplace. He couldn’t fix a fuel injection problem. So it’s about as bad as it can get really when your whole trip - your whole journeying livelihood - is reliant on the bike starting when you turn the key. Still, there is another overlander on-hand for him to talk through his options with, so it's providential timing nonetheless.
So with an ex-English colony to hang-out in and two white-guys in town who are unable or unwilling to leave we resolve to go to the weekend cricket final at the International Stadium. It’s in a suburb called Providence. It's a pretty relaxing event to while-away a Saturday at really, chatting run-rates with the locals, sipping locally produced rum which is cheaper than their bottled water and being interviewed as the-celebrities-we-are by the cricket commentators and some local journalists who come find us in the crowd with wireless mics and stream it all live to air on National Radio. Uhm, ok, sure. I like rum and ride a motorbike. On Sunday there’s the Jamaica versus Guyana football match back at the Stadium and as we walk through the stands its clear we’re pretty much national identities round these parts by now.
I manage to squeeze in a few domestic errands while in town such as procuring the necessary Visa paperwork plus motorcycle insurance for my next-stop Suriname, or 'Dutch Guiana'. Shopping around for bike-parts seems unlawfully easy here when you can actually converse with people and I find a new chain AND sprockets AND an excellent mechanic to change it all out for me. Stoked! Meanwhile Graham stresses over getting a truck to haul his bike out of the jungle and wrings-hands over potentially having to ship parts out from the UK for a fix. This is all bike-maintenance-producing-anxiety that overlanders know only too-well. We visit my mechanic contact ‘Smelly’ who it turns out is on the Guyana Superbike Team – so he's handy with fuel injection problems then – and I’m confident that Graham is in professionally capable hands.
And now it's really time to go. It's another tough departure but I feel good about having spent the time I needed to really feel the place. Guyana is an incredibly friendly country laced with the kind of third-world poverty that makes it deadly to westerners in some pockets. But social-consciousness is also very close to the surface here, clearly evidenced in every Government sponsored road-sign advertising safe-sex or education or public health. That all takes money and they don’t have any. Oh they could rape their interior jungle which is unfathomably rich in minerals from Gold to Bauxite – they could exploit and destroy it just like their greedy South American neighbours are ALL doing – but they’ve said No. Actually. You know what. We’re going to be custodians of this miracle rainforest for our kids. And we’ll just get by living in poverty in order to do that. Wow Guyana, I did NOT expect to come all the way through the steaming Guyanese rainforest in order to have you guys make me believe in good Governance & Nationhood - unlike ANY other country I’ve ever been to. Quite seriously. Hats. Off.