Reflections on Traveling

August 28, 2017

Traveling has a long term, if not permanent, effect on your life. Your views of the world and its’ people change; your views of yourself and those around you change; your focus on what is important and what is less important change. I recently re-encountered a quote attributed to Mark Twain that brought back to mind many of my encounters along my route across four continents:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

I’ve been back in the States for just over a year now. The urge to travel is still strong, and my long-range plan is built completely around getting back on the road. And I am making strong headway in that direction.

After spending most of a year in Central America, South America, and Africa, perhaps one of the strongest images I acquired was seeing how people with virtually nothing lived happily. Many of these people lived in small, one-room huts or shacks, without running water or electricity. Their jobs were not attached to some Fortune 500 company, but rather in day-to-day living, whether farming, taking what they grew to market, finding food and water, or otherwise providing for their families. These people in general were happier than any that I met in cities. They had less stress, no imagined timetable, no made-up cultural rules or dress code. No outside media screaming stories of inflated importance at them 24/7 that had no actual impact on their immediate lives.

A simple life.

I simplified my life in many ways before leaving on my trip. I sold much of what I owned, including a house, car, and other belongings I had acquired over years that I attached false importance to. I eliminated bills, payments, unnecessary mail and emails. Six months into my ride, I had settled into a very relaxed existence, living mostly in a tent with enough bedding, clothes and cooking supplies to be comfortable, and a means of transportation that could take me to the next village or country. Even though everything I had with me fit on a motorcycle, I still had a lot more material goods than most of the people I met along the way.

It was around Central America that I began to understand that you can be happy with very little, and make more of what you have. I noticed that people who lived in a very small home with a large family made good use of outdoor space. They lived outdoors, often cooked outdoors, worked outdoors, and only slept or sometimes ate inside the house. I made a note to myself for my return: Outdoor space is cheap. Live more simply. Stay downsized. Don’t let the “stuff” take over your life again.

Africa again reminded me of this. Simple houses. Outdoor living. Hard working, yes. But happy people.

When I returned last year, I had a firm goal: build a small(er) house as a base to return to while traveling; a place to re-charge every now and then, or to plan the next stage of travel. Continue to live a simple life. Continue to spend less and save more in order to get back on the road sooner.

In the past, while living in the US, when I would stop to buy gas for my car or truck I would inevitably walk into the convenience store and buy a candy bar and a soda. For no reason. Just because it was there. I learned that in other less-developed countries, gas stations are just that. There is no store attached to it. You buy gas. Period. This was a great way to eat better, and save money. And “fix” one of my bad habits.

In the past, I would eat out many times a week, often at rather expensive restaurants, but even fast food drained my budget. I would buy concert tickets, or tickets to a play on a whim, just because it sounded interesting. Now, I stay focused on the long-term goal of traveling full time. (Note that I, like many others, used to refer to this as “my dream”. I no longer do that, because I have proven to myself that it is fully achievable.)

You might think I am living a boring life, or “wasting” the present because I’m not enjoying myself. You’d be wrong. It’s amazing how many free things there are to do if you just look around. Free concerts. Free movies. Free food events. Free sporting events. I’m still enjoying life, maybe even more, because I’m around people who don’t judge others by how much they spend.

A year into non-traveling, my house is almost finished. Soon I will be saving more money, happily working toward my return to the road. Still living a much simpler life than I had before. Still focused on what is important to me, and not the material “stuff” that weighs us down. Happier. Less stressed. Okay, more stressed than when everything you own is on a 250cc motorcycle and you’re living in a tent in Namibia. But much less stressed than I used to be.

Another quote that I’ve seen often is attributed to St. Augustine: “The world is a book, and those that don’t travel read only one page.”

I truly believe that travel can and will change a person’s view of the world and other cultures. I am living proof. And I can’t wait to get back out there and experience more of the world.

Questions From The Road

July 4, 2016

Most other travelers I’ve spoken with tell the same story. The top questions they get are always:

  1. Where did you come from?
  2. Where are you going?
  3. How long?
  4. How big is the bike?
  5. How much does it cost?
  6. How fast does it go?

These are typically questions asked to the guys riding BMW’s or other large adventure bikes. My little 250 eliminates most of the “How Big? How Much? How Fast?” questions. Although I do still get those occasionally. But they are usually geared in a different direction: the “Why a 250?” being more prevalent.

But by far, the Number One question I’ve had from all people, whether motorcyclists or not, regardless of the country, income, education, background, etc, is this:

WHAT IS THAT???

I usually just say “Tools”, “Herramientas”, “Spanners”, or the like, and they nod and walk away. Once in a while, I go into my longer speech about carrying so much weight on the rear of a small, lightweight motorcycle, and needing to transfer some weight to the front. But leave it to the French guys in Scotland on their way to the Isle of Man to have a fittingly French response: “It’s not for wine?”

I had never even given that one a thought.

The other question (and comment) that I’ve received a lot in many different countries, and which I still struggle with, is “Aren’t you afraid? You’re so brave!”

Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out the “brave” part. I understand why people would be afraid to do this, and most of that is unfounded fear based on media hype and propaganda. And I guess that leads to their thought that it takes someone “brave” to travel alone through all the places I’ve been.

I think the only “brave” thing I’ve done in the last year is to follow through with the decision to do this journey. The most difficult part of it all is deciding to walk away from everything at home: the job, the house, the lifestyle. But once you’ve done that, everything else is easy. Looking back, it’s easy for me to say it was “pan comido” (a piece of cake), but until you cross that line, it can be scary.

I haven’t met a single other traveler that has regretted the decision. And I put myself in that category as well.

Sensory Overload: Austria to Switzerland

July 2, 2016

My mind is having trouble making sense of what I am seeing. I’m nearing the top of the Arlberg Pass in Austria. It’s been raining steadily on the climb up and it’s also getting cold. I’m in a long tunnel, and thankful for the reprieve from the rain.

The tunnel bends, and as I exit the curve, ahead of me is a puffy, bright blue blob. It looks like someone put a blue light bulb in a large ball of cotton and stuffed it in the end of the tunnel. The tunnel’s edges are fuzzy, not defined. It’s hard to tell where the road goes, but the cotton ball is approaching fast. Suddenly I’m at it, and I realize that it’s dense fog. So dense I can barely see the front fender of my motorcycle. I can’t see the road at all, but I know I’m out of the tunnel and on top of a mountain, with drops on each side and little or no guardrails. If I look straight down, I can see the white stripe on the side of the road, but it fades into the fog within just a few feet ahead of me. I’m traveling about 50 kph (30mph), and I’m hesitant to slow down because I know from the tunnel that there are cars behind me. But I have to, because I can’t see where to go. 

I flash my brake light hoping that will help, and begin to slowly lose speed. I can make out headlights behind me, or at least a bright spot, and I’m hoping he can see my tail light. 

Suddenly out of nowhere there’s a guy on a bicycle in front of me, and he’s headed the opposite direction, up the hill. I can see him for all of about two seconds before he disappears into the fog again.  This is crazy, but there’s no place to safely pull over. If I cross the white stripe, I risk riding off the road and/or off the mountain. I don’t think there’s a shoulder, and if there is, it’s not much safer to stop there than in the middle of the lane. 

Within a couple of miles I’ve lost some elevation and the fog is lifting. I’m back to just rain, which before seemed bad, but now is welcome. 

The rain continues on and off all afternoon, sometimes heavy, which prevents me from taking many photos. Even so, the scenery and the roads are beautiful. I’ve entered the alps in Tirol, in western Austria, and headed for Switzerland.

That tower is the top of the Olympic ski-jump in Innsbruck. It’s right in town, with a beautiful view from there overlooking the city.

 

I cross through Liechtenstein and into Switzerland, staying off the motorways and on back roads. The road marked T16 up to the village of Wattwil is beautiful; billiard-table smooth, with fantastic sweeping curves. I consider turning around and riding back down, just so I can ride this stretch of road again.

Yep, it’s a country. With a total area of only 62 square miles, it has the third highest GDP per person in the world, and one of the lowest unemployment rates at 1.5%.

As I near Lucerne, I decide that camping tonight is not going to be much fun, since it’s still raining and everything is very wet, including me. I decide to search for a hotel and quickly find a place with a nice view of a lake from my window. 

I missed the 125th anniversary by one day.

 

Looking out the window of my room this morning. The rain stopped, and the sun is out. I had to carry all of my wet gear down and lay it in the parking lot to dry for a couple of hours.

 

Everywhere around me looks like this. Beautiful.

 

There used to be a dairy advertisement in California that said something like, “Great cheese comes from Happy Cows. Happy Cows come from California.” I’m willing to bet these cows would argue that point. Except maybe in winter. These cows probably dream of California in winter.

Social Status Among the Homeless? Perspectives on Tent Envy

June 20, 2016

It’s funny how perspective changes with time. In the past eleven months, my perspective of what I need to live comfortably continues to change. 

When I decided to do this trip, I sold my 3,000 square foot, 3 bedroom house and my 5,000 square foot shop, along with most of my “stuff”. The remainder went into storage. I moved into a 900 square foot one bedroom apartment for the last six months. It was a serious downsizing, but it was comfortable. 

In July 2015, I left Texas. I brought along a 2-man MSR “Hubba Hubba” tent. I told people “I don’t know why they call it ‘Two Man’. There’s no way two men could fit in there.” But it was a great size for just me and a bit of my gear at night. In addition to my sleeping mat and sleeping bag, I usually keep my jacket, pants, helmet, laptop, and a few clothes in the tent with me at night; I use the jacket rolled up under the head of the mattress for a little elevation so I can sit and type or read. The rest sits to my side, comfortably. I’ve also got a small “attic” net that I can keep my camera, phone, head torch, and a few snacks in for easy access. I love my tent. It has become my home, and it’s very comfortable. But in some ways, it seems a bit excessive now, in the same way the house was before.

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed solo motorcyclists on both extreme ends of the camping spectrum: a guy on a Triumph that I met in Durness, Scotland, had a queen-size inflatable bed (one of those that is about a foot thick) in his tent, and the tent itself had a separate “living room” that he could park his motorcycle in and still sit in a chair in the same space. On the other end, Allan, my neighbor on the Isle of Man, showed up on a KTM 690 from Aberdeen, Scotland with a one-man MSR tent that was definitely less than half the size of mine, yet it had lots of room inside for him and his gear. For the first time, I began to look at Allan’s tent as a more appropriate alternative for my needs. I was considering downsizing again. 

I’ve spent the past couple of days in a campground north of London. This whole “perspective” thing came to mind again because as I sat in my nice chair next to my “house”, I looked across to a tent that two women were staying in. 

Tent McMansion?

My initial thought was “What do they do with all of that space?” It seemed as large as my apartment. In my mind, I started placing furniture in it, realizing that it was more space than I could fill, or needed. It has a fully enclosed porch, for God’s sake. Then again, it is England. Camping in the rain would be much more comfortable with a porch to sit on in the rain.

I’m sure to them, or to many people who go camping for a weekend or a long holiday, that tent is “roughing it” or at least “primitive camping in comfort”. I looked at it as if I was considering moving across town to a nicer subdivision. 

But in reality, there is no social status assigned to size of tent like there tends to be with the size of your house. People buy tents based more on personal needs, and less on a need to impress the neighbors at the campground.

When I began my travels, the tent was a means of “sleeping cheap”, and some level of discomfort was expected. Now, I look forward to my tent; it is a known quantity, unlike many of the hotels and hostels that are more expensive. I’ve learned the correct air pressure for my mattress and my pillow to allow a good night’s sleep. I can quickly set everything up, and I know where every piece of gear goes. 

I recently, after ten months, splurged and bought a cooking pan and a spatula. Up until now, my entire kitchen cooking system consisted of a titanium mug and set of utensils. I would boil pasta in the mug, drain the water, add the sauce, heat it, eat it, then wash the mug and make coffee in it. For months I had told myself that the pan would take up valuable space that I didn’t have. Then one day I realized that the pan was just slightly larger diameter than my rolled sleeping mat, so when placed in my duffel bag at the end of the mat, it only took up about a quarter inch of space (the thickness of the pan material). Now I’m cooking eggs and bacon, sausage, meatballs, chicken, you name it. 

I now have a pan, and I’m STILL making pasta!

In one year, my entire lifestyle has changed dramatically, and I think it’s for the better. I’m living with less stress. I have everything I need. I’m living cheaper than I was when I was just sitting at home — no mortgage, no utility bills, no homeowners insurance, no car payment — and I’m experiencing the world in the process. Of course, it would be nice to have an income, and to not watch my bank account shrinking every month, but with proper planning, I can slow that to a trickle as well. Or I can work for a while, and save a lot more, now that I know I can live a much more simple lifestyle and still be comfortable. 

Maybe even upgrade to a new tent. 

Nah.

Tanzania and The CNN Effect

May 12, 2016

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I’m going to go through it again, because I keep having similar experiences and it bears repeating.

The United States media tends to focus on shock headlines. I guess that sells news, and ads for them. They run stories about how dangerous certain countries or places are, and the U.S. government issues Travel Advisories against travel to nearly every country in the world based on these dangers, real or perceived. 

The example most everyone in the U.S. is familiar with is Mexico. I would guess that the majority of people in the United States believe that Mexico is dangerous, and that if visiting Mexico, the chance of being killed by a cartel or drug gang is high. 

So, is Mexico dangerous? I tend to use this comparison: a month or so ago, over thirty people in Chicago were shot in one weekend. I didn’t read anything in the U.S. news that advised the rest of the world not to travel to the entire United States because of this. So why does the U.S. media paint an entire country as “dangerous” with a broad brush because of something that happens in one city, or one state, or province? Is it dangerous to travel to the southside of Chicago at night? Probably. Is it dangerous to travel to East Los Angeles at night? I wouldn’t do it. Does that mean I shouldn’t visit San Diego? It has no direct correlation, and you’ll never hear the U.S. media make such a ridiculous, over-broad statement about their own country. And Mexico should be the same. Yes, there are places that are less safe than others. A little common sense goes a long way. 

This applies to other countries as well, of course. Since I began my journey last year, I have noticed an ongoing and continuous routine: in each country I visit, I am told by the locals that the country I just came from is dangerous, and the country I am headed to is dangerous, but the country I am presently in is perfectly safe. Whether this is due to political propaganda, or previous border disputes, or other factors, I can’t say. But it is consistent. 

And it happened again here in Tanzania. In Malawi, I was warned that Tanzania was much poorer, more corrupt, and more dangerous. And maybe it is. But that’s not been my experience. Perhaps it’s my common sense approach of staying out of what might be bad areas, but overall I’ve met a good number of people in Tanzania, and have had nothing but friendly encounters and never felt threatened or that I might be a victim of theft. I’ve been told by Tanzanians that this is the safest country in East Africa. Yet its’ bordering residents would tell you otherwise, for some reason.

At Meserani Oasis Lodge and Camp near Arusha, the owner went out of her way to call around and find a tour to Ngorongoro Crater for me (one that I could afford; there are lots of Crater Tours, but they can be quite expensive. She was able to get me on a tour with a group, cutting the price by more than half). She verified the tour details, and even waited with me for the driver to arrive on the morning of the tour. She didn’t make a cent for the time she spent to help me.

The lodge doesn’t have wifi, but her son-in-law brought me his personal wifi dongle and allowed me to use it to check my email, going to the trouble of buying a new prepaid card for it to give me enough data to do what I needed to do, and helping me set it up on my laptop. 

All along the roads, people wave as I pass by, or wave back when I wave to them. Most of them are smiling big when they see me ride by.

Sure, there are hawkers at the tourist locations that line up to try to sell you everything from jewelry to artwork, and they can be pushy and insistent. But in general I found Tanzania to be a friendly and welcoming place, even with a bit of a language barrier. 

Not everyone in this picture is trying to sell things to tourists and locals. The two men on the right are Masai warriors, and just passing through.

I’m really curious to hear what Kenya has to say about Tanzania when I get there. 

How To Turn A 4,300 Mile Trip Into 13,200 Miles

March 19, 2016

Buenos Aires, Argentina to Cape Town, South Africa. Direct, it’s a bit over four thousand miles. Not bad. That would be about eight hours on a plane. If there was a plane from Buenos Aires to Cape Town. But there isn’t. For me, or for the bike. South African Airways used to fly between these two cities, but no longer does. Which means that instead of eight hours to cover 4,300 miles, it now takes 37 hours and just over 13,000 miles to travel between South America and South Africa.

I left Buenos Aires at 9:30pm on Thursday night. Eighteen hours later (and seven hours of time zone changes), I landed in Dubai, UAE, at 10:30pm Friday night. I’ve traveled to Japan many times from the United States, but this was the first time I had been served dinner, breakfast, lunch, and dinner again on a flight.

I had a nine and a half hour layover in Dubai, and the airline provided me with a free hotel room near the airport to get some proper sleep before continuing on in the morning. I was a bit disappointed to be there only at night, and not get to experience this incredible city in the daylight. But I was also exhausted from being on a plane for so long, and was ready for a bed.

Dubai at night

Arriving in Dubai Friday night.

 

The hotel apparently functions solely as a stopover for Emirates Airlines. When I checked in, they already knew my schedule, and had already set up a 5am wake-up call, and informed me that check-out was at 6am (how’s that for efficiency?). By 6:30am I was back at the airport and about to board my nine hour flight to Cape Town.

By the time I arrived in Cape Town Saturday afternoon, I had been served six meals and watched ten movies, including:

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • The Big Short
  • The Martian
  • A Walk in the Woods
  • Amy
  • Truth
  • The Program
  • The Legend of Barney Thompson
  • Trumbo
  • The Intern

You’ve probably never heard of more than half of these movies. I hadn’t either. But I have to say, they were all good. Some were good for helping me catch up on my sleep. Others, like Barney Thompson, were just plain strange.

As of this writing, the bike hasn’t left Buenos Aires yet. It will fly to London, then change planes and head to Cape Town, and should arrive here Tuesday afternoon. Meanwhile, I’m on foot (well, foot and a half, actually; my ankle swelled up tremendously from all of the plane time, but I’m still walking fairly well), so I plan to do some walking today, and head to the shopping area to acquire some things that I couldn’t fly with, such as gas canisters for my camp stove.

Swollen ankle

27 hours in economy coach seating is not good for the ankle.

The area I’m staying in reminds me a lot of Southern California, and in particular Orange County. The neighborhood, the weather, and the landscape looks and feels a lot like it.

Since I’m restricted to short distances for a few more days, I probably won’t post much until the bike arrives, unless something interesting happens between now and then. Otherwise, I plan to catch up on my reading and rest until then.

You Can’t Fix Stupid, But Fortunately You Can Find Ways Around It

March 16, 2016

Never let it be said that I am not capable of doing some really stupid stuff. Yesterday is just my latest shining example.

Yesterday (Tuesday) was supposed to be “shipping day”: the day I took the bike to the airport and delivered it to the shipper. I had a 10:30am appointment at the cargo terminal. It takes just under an hour to get to the airport from where I am staying in Palermo, and I needed to get just a little gas before heading that way so I wouldn’t run out (the bike is supposed to have less than two liters of fuel in it when it goes on the plane).

I made sure the bike was sorted, packed and ready to go the night before. Tuesday morning I left about 9am, and rode a block to the gas station where I bought exactly two liters of fuel, figuring I would burn about a liter on the way to the airport.

After getting fuel, I pushed the bike off to the side, out of the way, and pulled out my waterproof zip-lock pouch with all of my documents in it. I looked at the information from the shipping broker, DakarMotos, which had the GPS coordinates of the cargo area on it, and entered the coordinates into the Maps.Me app on my phone. The route came up, I slid the pouch into my tank bag, put my gloves on, and set off for the airport.

About two miles up the road, I stopped at a stoplight. A cab pulled up behind me, honking furiously. I looked back, and the cab driver was pointing behind him and yelling something at me, but with all of the traffic noise I couldn’t hear him. I assumed I must have run a red light or cut him off in traffic, so I simply waved at him and when the light turned green, I took off.

About a half mile later, I looked down and noticed my tank bag was open. And my document pouch was gone. Massive panic immediately took over. The pouch contained the original title to my bike, my Argentina temporary import certificate, my Argentina reciprocity fee document, the shipping paperwork for the bike, and a bunch of other stuff that I can’t even remember.

I spun an illegal U-turn in the middle of an eight lane busy avenue and started splitting lanes as fast as I could to get back to where the cab driver had been honking at me. I rode in the gutter, between cars, around trucks and buses. When I got back to the street where the cab driver waved me down, I rode slowly up and down the street all the way back to the gas station, several times, looking for my documents. I kept thinking someone would see me and yell at me, waving my documents. No such luck.

Dejected, I went back to the apartment, and set off on foot to walk the entire route. I spent another two hours walking both sides of the street, looking on cars, in windows of buildings, in trash cans, everywhere I could think, with no success. Eventually, I began to accept that my documents were gone, and I was stuck in Argentina. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get a replacement title from the US, and a new temporary import document from the Argentina Customs offices, or if that was even possible. Fortunately, I had two pieces of good news: first, I had the original Texas registration for the bike in a different pouch at the apartment, and I thought I might be able to use it in lieu of the title at Customs. Second, Sandra and Javier at DakarMotos had photocopies of my temporary import certificate, which I hoped would make it easier to get a replacement original.

I contacted Sandra, and after a long discussion with the airport Customs officials, she suggested I file a report with the local police, and get an affidavit from them advising that I had lost the documents. So after a couple of hours at the police station, and the help of Sandra’s daughter-in-law acting as translator, I walked out with the affidavit.

Meanwhile, my brother in Texas was working on getting a certified copy of my title from the Texas DMV. I was somewhat shocked to learn that I could send him an email and he could take it to the DMV and they would give him a copy of my title. For all the difficulties I usually suffer at the DMV, this seemed way too easy. Perhaps they felt sorry for me? Nah, it’s still the DMV.

I went to bed with the bike still in the garage…it should have been on a plane or at least in the cargo area at the airport. I couldn’t help but think of all the things that had to be addressed now: besides documents, there was local logistics (I had to be out of the apartment by Friday morning, as new renters were moving in, and now I had two large roller bags with all my stuff packed in them that wouldn’t fit on the bike); travel logistics (I was going to miss my flight Thursday night, and I wouldn’t arrive in Cape Town when I was supposed to, so my hotel reservation needed to be changed or canceled); and bike logistics (what if I exceeded my time limit in Argentina waiting on documents? I had no document to allow me to exit the country with the bike and then return to start the clock over).

It’s amazing how quickly the stress level can rise after months of virtually no stress. Eventually I took a deep breath, sat down and made my “to do” list, and got to work.

Sandra and Javier are experts at shipping bikes into and out of Argentina, and I was not the first person they had dealt with who for one reason or another didn’t have a full set of documents. After exchanging a few texts, Sandra agreed (for a small “Stupidity Fee”) to meet me at the airport Wednesday morning with the remaining copies of my documents that she had, along with the registration and police affidavit that I had, to see if we could convince Customs to accept what we had and allow me to ship the bike.

After four hours, and another hand-written statement explaining what had happened, I was allowed to take the bike into the freight warehouse and put it on the pallet. Things were once again moving forward!

Before putting the bike on the pallet, I rolled it onto a freight scale. The fully loaded bike, with everything except my camping gear, weighs 174.5 kg, or 384 pounds. For reference, an unloaded BMW 1200GS weighs 260kg, or 573 pounds dry, and a stock KLR650 with no luggage weighs just more than my fully loaded bike, at 176 kg claimed dry weight.

Bike going onto the pallet…

 

It’s definitely getting real now. This is the first shipment for the bike with the exception of the Stahlratte; I’ve ridden it everywhere until now. It’s a lot farther to ride home from Africa than from Argentina.

And finally some good news: since my bike is considerably smaller than the typical 1200cc adventure bike, the shipping cost turned out to be 20% less than I was originally quoted. So even with the Stupidity Fee it turned out to be less than I had budgeted.

One more day in South America, then a very long flight to South Africa.

 

Buenos Aires, Part Two: The City

March 13, 2016

With the bike prepped and ready to deliver to the shipper on Tuesday, I have a few days to relax, wash gear, pack everything, and see the sights.

This is a very lively city, with tons of sidewalk cafes and beautiful parks. Today I walked about six miles in one direction, then caught a cab home at the end of my tour.

From the apartment, I walked to Plaza Serrano, a small park surrounded by bistros and sidewalk bars and cafes. Being Saturday, the park was covered with arts and crafts vendors selling their wares, while others continued to assemble more booths for Sunday’s large event. I stopped at a nearby cafe for a couple of empanadas and a smoothie, then continued walking northeast.

Palermo Buenos Aires

The trees and plants here are beautiful. The front of this cafe was covered in an enormous bougainvillea.

Palermo Buenos Aires

 

Triumph Thruxton

Saw this nice Triumph parked on the sidewalk while walking along.

 

My route took me past the Buenos Aires Zoo. Beautiful place…I might even go back and pay to go in. But for free, from the sidewalk, I saw flamingoes, giraffes, and hippos. For a moment I couldn’t help but think about the expense of shipping to and from Africa, versus walking past the zoo here and seeing the same animals.

Yeah, I know….I’m going to Africa.

Buenos Aires zoo flamingoes

 

Buenos Aires zoo giraffe

 

Past the zoo, I walked through several more large, shaded parks. In the corner of one, near Plaza Italia, is the Jardin Japones, or Japanese Garden.

Jardin Japones Buenos Aires

Jardin Japones Buenos Aires

Jardin Japones Calendar Buenos Aires

I found my ultimate dream job: I want to be the guy that changes the date every day on this rock calendar at the Japanese Gardens in Buenos Aires. The most stress he could possibly experience is leap year.

Eventually I made my way to the Cementerio del Recoleta. This huge cemetery in the middle of Buenos Aires is absolutely incredible. Well worth the price of admission, which by the way is nothing. Nada. Free.

 

Cementerio del Recoleta

Cementerio del Recoleta. Feels like a small city of buildings.

 

Cementerio del Recoleta

 

Cementerio del Recoleta

 

Cementerio del Recoleta

 

Cementerio del Recoleta

 

Evita cementerio del Recoleta

Evita’s resting place.

 

Eva Peron Cementerio del Recoleta

 

Next up was Calle Defensa, a street in the San Telmo district that is lined with flea market vendors on Sundays. Probably a kilometer of them. With a few side streets joining in with vendors as well. It ends at Plaza de Mayo, which is also filled with vendors.

Calle Defensa San Telmo Buenos Aires

Defensa Market San Telmo Buenos Aires

I ran into this guy with a Luckenbach Texas t-shirt.

 

Great street entertainment.

This guy was quite entertaining as well:

And great street food.

 

Reflections of the past

 

Citroen 2CV Limo Buenos Aires

You can tour Buenos Aires in a stretch limo Citroen 2CV.

 

I saw this on the way back to the apartment. Not sure what it means…

 

Then back at the apartment, I was looking through a coffee table book on Banksy, the graffiti artist, and ran across this. Apparently there is quite a bit of copy-cat Banksy artwork in Buenos Aires. I’m guessing the overpass sign is one of them.

 

Buenos Aires, Part One: The Bike

March 11, 2016

Before I could allow myself to do any serious sight-seeing in this city, I needed to get to work: I had a list of items to be done on the bike before taking it to the airport for it’s first flight.

First things first: get all the mud, dirt, and grime off so I can work on it. It’s nice to have car washes that will actually wash bikes too. These guys did a great job: they used degreaser, soap, and not too much pressure. Cost: about $7.

 

The Butterfly Effect: lots of white butterflies on Ruta 3 heading north. Many of them were kamikazes, turning my helmet into a sticky mess.

 

Meet Paolo. This guy is awesome. He runs Moto Avenida, a little one-man independent parts, accessory and service shop just around the corner from my apartment on Avenida Cordoba in Buenos Aires. I stopped in and asked him if he would let me use his shop to change my oil & filter and chain & sprockets. He gladly allowed me to use his space. I bought a few small items and my oil from him. As usual, not a word of English, but incredibly nice and helpful. I had to remove the swingarm to install the endless chain, but everything I did took about an hour and a half at his shop. Just coincidence that he was wearing a Yamaha t-shirt when I showed up.

Back at the apartment, I removed the fuel tank and swapped out the fuel pump and fuel filter. As noted earlier, there’s nothing wrong with the fuel pump, but unfortunately the in-tank fuel filter is part of the fuel pump and only comes as an assembly.

One of these things is not like the other: old fuel filter/pump on the left. Filter is just a wee bit black compared to the new one. I’ll clean it again and keep it as a spare just in case.

I also replaced the mirror that was broken when the bike was dropped off the worklift in Punta Arenas. I removed my GPS, its’ mounting dock and associated wiring for shipping, and installed a new air filter.

At this point, the bike is ready to ship. I’ll cover those details Tuesday when it goes to the shipper.

Tangled Up in Blue

March 6, 2016

Just south of Bahia Blanca the scenery finally begins to change. Things start looking greener. Trees appear. I spend the night on the coast in a public park called Balneario Maldonado. A nice older couple manage the campground, and it’s just me and a guy from Buenos Aires staying there. 

In the morning I pack up late, taking my time. The weather is good — clear skies and temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s — and my days are getting shorter, both in mileage and in daylight. Today is my last “long” day in South America: 245 miles to Azul. 

South of Tres Arroyos I pass a couple on a Kawasaki KLR on the side of the road. They look like they are in need of help, so I turn around and ask. They are from Buenos Aires, and have been to Ushuaia and are headed home. It seems the KLR has stopped charging and died. He has a small set of home-made jumper cables, and I offer to try to jump the KLR from my XT250. We succeed in killing my battery as well, which is tiny and the KLR is really dead. Fortunately my bike push starts easily and I’m able to get it going again. No such luck for the KLR. I offer to give him (or her) a ride to the YPF service station 15km up the road in search of a new battery, but he insists on waiting for a car to stop that hopefully will be able to jump-start the KLR. They thank me profusely, but I feel bad as I ride away leaving them on the side of the road. 

I pull into that YPF station several minutes later for fuel, and there are a half dozen other bikes there already. They are the Fuser biker club from Punta Alta (just north of Bahia Blanca), and are returning home from a weekend ride. They stand there bug-eyed while I discuss riding my 250 from Texas to Ushuaia and now to Buenos Aires. You can almost see the wheels turning. Most of them are on 250s, with a 400 and a 600 thrown in. Suddenly their world seems to be getting bigger. They can imagine traveling further on their 250s. We sit down and have lunch together in the fast food restaurant at the station, and, as usual, have a conversation in Spanish only. It’s getting easier, but can still be exhausting, probably for them as well, since I have to ask them to repeat several sentences. 

Fuser Moto Club Punta Alta Argentina

After lunch and trading stickers, I head north and they head south. The landscape continues to get greener. Crops appear; corn, soybeans, sunflowers, olives. 

Hard to see, but sunflowers as far as the eye can see.

 

These signs are randomly placed along the highway; not anywhere near the Malvinas (or Falklands) Islands. It seems Argentina wants to be sure to remind everybody who these islands belong to.

For seven months, I’ve been riding with a Sena bluetooth headset on the side of my helmet, but I haven’t used it once. I used it constantly in the States, but in Mexico, Central America, and especially Peru, I didn’t want any distractions taking my attention away from the other drivers. Now, on Ruta 3, I finally feel comfortable that I can listen to music in my helmet again. It seems appropriate to listen to Gotan Project as I make my last days towards Buenos Aires.

As I pull into the campground in Azul, I am approached immediately by a gentleman in a new motorhome. He invites me over for a maté (tea), and wants to discuss travel. Hector and Olinda are from Buenos Aires and have just purchased their motorhome. They are clearly excited about traveling.

Hector and Oly and their new motorhome.

 “Oly” wants to take it to Central America and Mexico. We have a spirited conversation about getting the motorhome around the Darien Gap to Panama, and she begins to make a list of places to see in each country, asking questions about my route. They are not computer-literate, so I pull out my Michelin World Map that I have traced my route on with a black Sharpie, and we talk about where I’ve been, and why I chose to go where I did (and didn’t) go. This couple speaks absolutely zero English. I spend a good two hours with them before I even get the tent off the bike. It’s fun, but at the same time, exhausting. Hector gives me a tour of the motorhome. I am actually amazed at how much space there is and how nice it is considering it’s built in a Mercedes Benz Sprinter. It has a bathroom, and double bed, a nice kitchen with a fold-down dinette, and lots of storage. I tell them that next time I’m doing this trip in their motorhome. 

With all of the time spent talking with others, it’s been a long day. I finally get the tent pitched, and cook the last of my pasta for dinner.

And I had “Birthday Cake” for dessert…

 

My brother and sister-in-law sent me this awesome card for my birthday. I think they hit the nail on the head.

Two hundred and sixty miles left to Buenos Aires. I’ll take two more days to do it, just to make it easy.