After travelling Latin America for something like 5 months, something wasn’t right. I pondered and processed all of my thoughts over the months leading up to this and made the observation, or maybe diagnosis that so far there had been a notable lack of challenge, and a total absence of the kind of sheer terror needed to ever have a truly good time.
The situation peaked, or lulled, or something, in Banos – Ecuador, where one beautiful and uncharacteristically irresponsible day I made the best decision of the trip so far; when seriously in lack of real motorcycle experience and without any kind of licence for such a contraption I hired a Honda XR250 Tornado headed up some mountain roads and tracks to explore. What could go even wrong?
And it was good, very good. The day following I went out for another dose, this time recruiting an Englishman who on hearing how good the first day was, agreed without hesitation before asking “wait.. is it hard to ride a motorbike?” He ended up on a quad.
The two days could easily be described as nothing short of some kind of enlightening experience. Both times after returning the bike to the hire shop I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through the quiet streets of the pretty spanish colonial town in the cool Autumn afternoon under-dressed in just my shorts and T-shirt, with nothing between the skin on my feet and the few century old stone cobbles. I felt so good I wondered if there was something in the tap water. I gazed up at the surrounding mountains, who were immediately present in every direction.
I saw beauty in every small thing, I had a general projection that everything would be just fine and wondered if this was similar to what some friends had described parts of an LSD trip to be like. At this stage in the journey I switched to drinking bottled water, at very least to insure against the risk of ever voting for the green party.
But it seemed that the damage was done, after a few weeks of dreams featuring visits from big knobbly dirt tires on dirt roads and roads that turned into tracks that turned into trails that simply had to be ridden, it was apparent that I was in need of professional help, but professional anything is something I can’t afford, or at least bring myself to pay for.
What seemed to be much better value was to self medicate, so I wrote myself a prescription for a full course of motorcycle riding – to be taken in full shortly after breakfast every day until cured or out of money, which on the remainder of this budget looked to be about 3 months if I could be careful.
Being the thrifty individual my mother raised me to be I knew it’d nothing short of financially reckless to hire a motorbike every day for the kind of period this kind of treatment calls for, and considering my fond habit of destroying all things mechanical, I decided I would buy a bike of my own, so I consulted the smartest friend I have – The Internet.
I also had one other minor hitch – no licence. ‘Fine’ some people say, ‘You can bribe the cops for cheap here’ or ‘you can just make fake papers’ they say, “That’s cool, not a problem” I said. But have you ever heard of something called a motorcycle accident? Well they have them here and there is no lack of sheer volume or severity, and if I’m in one and need an airlift and a stay in a hospital bed two things would start happening if I had been riding without a licence; first, my travel insurance company would shrug it’s shoulders and make “sorry, too bad” faces at any claim, and second I would be changing my name to Pedro and moving to Mexico to work the rest of my days in a burrito stand and acting weird when people mention debt collectors.
So contrary to can’t-do attitude of the majority of travellers I met, some of which had given half hearted attempts themselves, I was certain that to buy and register a bike somewhere in this continent was do-able one way or another, that the licence and insurance thing could be fixed too, and I was going to make it happen for sure. I was Bruce Willis in Die Hard, I was Jack Bauer in 24. There was no stopping, persuading, or even reasoning with me, and I was willing to be as ruthless as I needed to be, especially when it comes to getting across those international borders, at least to the full extent of my photoshop abilities anyway.
So after an embarrassing and just slightly disgusting number hours and days on sites like www.horizonsunlimited.com and www.advrider.com I found a glint of light, then a solid ray of hope in what had started to look like a darkening situation, that ray of hope shone from some 5,000KM away in Paraguay, where after a few questionable confirmations I confirmed a foreigner can buy and register a bike, and most importantly get a licence which can legally be used to ride all the countries I’ll be visiting, and I’ll even be able to do the border crossings without any help from adobe photoshop and his naughty old Hewlett-Packard printer friends.
So, with this much research the only thing left to do was to think seriously whether I should actually do this…….ok done, let’s do it. And with that I hightailed it to Paraguay and just a 3 week long blink of an eye later I was flying in to Asuncion, the capital city of Paraguay, once home of the world’s longest running dictatorship. I arrived complete with my recently home-modified ‘return’ ticket, as some reported needing to flash on the way through the airport to get let in. The fabricated return ticket proved unnecessary, but it would have been reckless to have turned up without correct documents, and I just can’t imagine taking a risk like that.
It’s also worth mentioning camping gear I picked up on the way through Bolivia, I bought myself a waterproof tent which without being asked transforms into a self-contained swimming pool at the first sight of light rain, but my personal favourite is my new sleeping bag – who’s label cheerfully lies “Marmmut, -10°C” on the bag. I’ve spent a total of 2 and a half hours repairing and re-enforcing the stitching at the blistering speed of about a meter and a bit per hour to stop the constant outward flow of whole feathers.
For you mathematically challenged that would be 180% – how absolutely incredible. This proves the theory held by many that the world’s great physicists and mathematicians aren’t dead, but are actually working in a sweat shop somewhere in the P.R.U.S.A.