Thursday, March 5, 2009

Final Thoughts... The End of the Journey - March 5, 2009

This will probably be my last post on this blog. Tomorrow morning I fly to Santiago, Chile, for a few days of business and to visit some friends, then on Monday I return to Panama. As you can imagine, this final piece is being written with a great deal of emotion.

This has been an incredible journey. Four years ago this trip was just an idea of something that I would ¨kind of like to do someday¨. I remember sitting around a table at about 2am at my 40th high school reunion and telling some friends what I was planning. I got some looks that made me feel like I had probably forgotten to take my medications, or maybe just had most of my spinach salad stuck in my teeth.

Then the idea started to become a plan: A new bike, and some real research into how one actually goes about doing this kind of adventure. I had never taken on anything so extensive. My ¨practice trip¨ for six weeks through Central America last year was a good beginning, but the difference between six weeks and six months is not linear... it´s a difference of geometric magnitude.

The bike I selected for the trip, the Kawasaki KLR650, has proven to be an excellent choice. In case I didn´t mention it before, it now has a name: El Pinguino, in honor of the fact that a piece of her went to Antarctica with me.

The Kawi is not the best bike in the world, but everything is a compromise and this was a good one. Powerful enough, not TOO heavy, and simple enough that I could find parts and fix pretty much anything. I would select it again in a minute.

It´s currently in Buenos Aires waiting for the next phase of the trip. In some ways I don´t want to see it again for a while... I´m tired and I think we need some time apart. But I know that in 3 or 4 months when I return it will be waiting for me like a faithful friend, and I will be ready once again to climb back into the saddle to see where we end up together.

This has been six months of riding by myself through six countries plus Antarctica, 24,000 kilometers, mountains, deserts, cities, icebergs, and virtually everything else. I´ve gone from 9 degrees north of the equator to more than 67 degrees south (south of the Antarctic Circle). At times I didn´t know if I would make it. There were certainly times when I just wanted to throw the bike down and shout ¨It´s enough already. I want to stop¨. And then I would come upon a scene, a road, or a mountain pass and say to myself ¨Yes, this is what it´s all about. Life just doesn´t get any better than this¨.

I´ve often said that this was the ¨bipolar trip¨, periods of intense lonliness as well as great joy over the people that I have met. Balancing these emotions hasn´t always been easy, but that´s what makes it an adventure and a learning experience.

I have met some incredible people along the way, and want to express my gratitude to so many that supported in ways large and small. It could have been through advice on a road to take (or not take), or just being available for a beer. Also, I want to thank many of you who have been following this blog and wrote words of encouragement. It´s the people in our lives that make the difference.

In particular, I want to thank Karen. There are not too many people in this world who will tell their significant other ¨Sure, take off on a motorbike around South America for the next six months¨. I know that leaving her to deal with houses, pets, bank accounts, and the other minutia of daily life that I usually handle (in Spanish) wasn´t easy, and I appreciate it. This is also the woman who said to me a few weeks ago, as I was still debating what to do when I reached Buenos Aires (sell the bike?, ship it?, continue later?, etc.) ¨You haven´t finished the trip yet. Of course you have to keep going¨. What an attitude!

I really have no idea how to sum this up, and how to end this blog. It has taught me so much about people, places, and myself that I think it will take years of reflection to make sense of it. I´ll be returning to Buenos Aires in 3 or 4 months to ¨complete¨ the journey: Brazil, Venezuela, and probably back to Bogota and Panama.

In the meantime, I´ll leave you with my last view of El Pinguino, sitting at the Dakar Motos shop in Buenos Aires. I know it will be there waiting for me to continue the next adventure.

To Be Continued ...

Finally... Buenos Aires: March 2 to 6

The ride from Mar del Plata to Buenos Aires was uneventful... 500 km of tarmac. Getting into BA was another matter. This is a huge city, and the place I was looking for is in a far suburb.

I had arranged to store my bike at Dakar Motos, a shop used by many intrepid bikers like myself. After two hours of searching -- unsuccessfully -- I finally called and Javier, the owner, sent someone to find me.

I spent the next two days sleeping in the back room of the shop (pure luxury) and doing general maintenance on the bike. There´s a little more repair to be done before I continue (the wobble in the front end turned out to be bad wheel bearings that need to be replaced), but Javier will take care of that before I return.
Yesterday (March 4), I moved to a hostel in San Telmo, one of the more active and interesting areas of Buenos Aires. I left the bike in the attentive hands of Javier, to be ready for my return. I´ll miss the old girl!
On Friday (March 6) I fly to Santiago for some business with a university there and to visit some friends. Monday, March 9, it´s back to Panama and the end -- at least for now -- of the journey.
It´s been a hell of a ride !

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mar del Plata.. On the Beach: Feb 25 - March 1

It had been about two months since I had been in a major city, and entering Mar del Plata was a bit of a shock. Normally I leave my bike parked in a place like this, but first I have to get someplace to leave it. Fortunately for GPS, I was able to find the apartment that my friend Alicia (from Ushuaia) had offered to loan me.

Mar del Plata is a huge beach resort. Think Miami Beach on steroids. Also, like Miami, the average age appeared to be in the low 100s. This is high season, so things are crowded. It was nice to just walk around and along the beach for a few days, get laundry done, and catch up on the blog.

Alicia eventually showed up and we did a little sight seeing. One was to the beach (about all I could deal with). More fun was riding my bike to Sierra de los Padres... a village about 20 km from Mar del Plata.

First we went to visit Alicia´s friend Joyce, her daughter Jackie, her boyfriend Ali, their two dogs, and eight horses. It was this last that was the most fun: We saddled up the mounts and all went for a nice ride in the country.

Gauchos we were not, but we still had a lot of fun.

We then went to visit Cristian Villouz and his family, also in Sierra de los Padres. Cristian is a friend of Angel Costa, who had helped me with a project in Uruguay last year. He kindly offered to let me store my bike at his place while I returned to Panama, but in the end I decided to leave it in Buenos Aires. However, it was nice to visit him and see his business operation (fruit preserves)

After a few days it was ¨hasta luego¨ to Mar del Plata, and off for the final run to the Big Apple, Buenos Aires.