Thornton Wilder once said:
"The test of adventure is that when you're in the middle of it, you say to yourself, 'Oh, now I've got myself into an awful mess; I wish I were sitting quietly at home. And the sign that something is wrong with you is when you sit quietly at home wishing you were out having lots of adventures."
After three months of "sitting quietly at home" in Panama, I'm back on the road again. I left Panama on June 17th and flew to Buenos Aires, where I had left my bike. El Pinguino (remember: I had to name the bike after our adventure to Antarctica, and El Pinguino just seemed appropriate) was waiting for me patiently. I wasn't planning on leaving until the second half of July, but another adventure stuck its head out of the sand and I had to move the trip up. I've been offered a visiting professorship at Konkuk University in Seoul, South Korea, and have to be there to begin teaching (international business strategy) on September 1.
So this trip will be a little more rushed (maximum of two months), but that should give me a pretty good feel for the Atlantic side of South America. I came down the Pacific, now I'll return via Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia. The plan is to fly the bike back from Bogota about the 10th of August, spend a few weeks in Panama, and then off to Seoul. It's been 10 years since we last returned from Asia, so I'm looking forward to it. Initially I wasn't too excited about the idea of spending 7 or 8 months in Korea, but it turns out that their first semester runs from September 1 to the middle of December, then the next semester doesn't start until March 1, 2010. Plenty of time to return to Panama and remind Karen, Maggie, Josh, and Josie (the last three forming part of the Barnett Menagerie) who I am.
So, after my 5:30 am arrival in Buenos Aires I went to Dakar Motos where I had left the bike and waited for someone to wake up and let me in. A few minor repairs, and at 1:30 I was on the road again heading north. My first major stop would be Iguasu falls on the border between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. My major worry about this part of the trip was corrupt police. Ruta 14 through northern Argentina is famous for cops looking for a little "coffee money", and I'm not always the most lawful driver on the road. What's a few more km per hour, anyway? The first night I arrived in Colon and had a nice room at the Hotel Rio de Pajaros. More importantly, after two hours sleep on the plane the night before I had a decent steak dinner, a comfortable bed and a good night's sleep.
The constant repairs of the bike have started again. Last night´s problem was that nothing electric worked. That was an easy fix. It turned out that in fixing the turn signal Javier (at Dakar Motos) had loosened the wiring harness. it took me about an hour to find and fix. However, now the right turn signal isn´t working again, so I guess I can only turn left until I fix it. This afternoon I ran out of gas and the speedometer only said I had gone 68 miles. Since I normally go about 200 miles before I need to get gas something was definitely wrong! I don't have a gas guage, so the odometer is my proxy. Actually, I don´t even look at the speedometer itself when I have the GPS on since I have the GPS in kilometers and the speedo is in miles. It turned out the speedometer had stopped working, and I hadn´t noticed (dumb). Anyway, I made it to a gas station on reserve, and fixed (I think) the speedo at the hotel. But I think I got crappy gas and the motor keeps sputtering and died a few times. I´ll drain the carb in the morning. In other words... when you travel by motorcycle you damn well better have a mechanic with you! Damn good thing I learned a few things, but I wish I had learned more.
My paranoia about the corrupt cops on Ruta 14 finally came to fruition today. I hadn´t been stopped yet, but this afternoon I came to the infamous roadblock at km 341. I new it was coming up and so VERY carefully followed the rules. I slowed to 80 at the 80 sign and 60 at the 60 sign. They pulled me over anyway. First the cop told me I was speeding and they had me on radar. I said (politely) BULLSHIT! I told the cop that I knew that they were there, that I knew that this section was very ¨vigilantly¨ patrolled, and that I wasn´t speeding. I also showed my badge. Then the cop asked me for my insurance papers. I had the copy of my Panama insurance, appropriately doctored to include an ¨international coverage endorsement¨, and an appropriate Panama document stamp, so he accepted that. Then he told me he could fine me because I wouldn´t have stopped if he hadn´t pulled me over. So I guess now they are mind readers! I told him that wasn´t true, that I had every intention of stopping, and I did stop. There wasn´t much more he could say so he let me go, and didn´t look very happy doing it.
Night time found me in Santo Tome, Argentina, in a POS hotel in a POS town. Oh well, tomorrow I should get to the falls and some more interesting opportunities.
More bike problems today. The bad gas I got yesterday is still plagueing me. The motor sputters and dies when I idle. I probably need to take apart the carb and the gas tank and clean them out. Then, just to make sure that I knew that the bike gods were out there, the starter wouldn´t work. It died at a gas station.
Fortunately Johnny, a very nice Argentinian guy (and a musician) came along to help. He actually then towed me with a rope with his 70cc minibike to a shop about 2 km away. It was quite a site to see! On the inclines we actually had to both run along with the bikes since his didn't have enough power to pull the "fat Penguino". Eventually we got to a mechanic who fixed the starter, but not the gas problem.
I also got stopped by the cops again today. This time it was totally my fault. While I hadn´t seen anybody passing over a double yellow line further south, up here they do it all the time. Of course when I did it there was a cop in back of me. It took a LOT of talking to get out of this one. They told me I would have to follow them to the station where they would lock up my bike until I paid the fine on Monday. I know that is complete bullshit, but they were hoping I would ask what I could do to avoid it. I finally talked my way out of it by a combination of ¨fellow cop¨ routine and telling them that the slow truck that I passed had kept motioning for me to pass and I thought he had a problem. When they finally told me they would have to fine me or their chief would get mad I said ¨I understand. Take me to your chief and I´ll talk to him too¨. They didn´t like that idea too much and let me go. Phew!
The next trauma occured when a wasp flew up the sleeve of my jacket. Ouch! Sore and red. So, it´s been quite a day here in Argentina. I arrived at Puerto Iguasu at about 4, but you can only see the falls from the park (about 10 km away) and when I went there they would charge me the entrance even tho it closed in an hour. So tomorrow it's Iguasu Falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the World!