journal

28 April 2004 -  Sad to say...

I am sad to say my trip is over. I have finally arrived back in San Francisco.

During this trip I came to know vibrant cities, saw beautiful natural wonders, experienced cultures never dreamed of, and met peoples previously unknown... I even started to learn this weird language they call Spanish (of course, in some places, they change the pronunciation and call it Castellano).

I want to thank those of you who followed along at home, those who helped out with donations, swiftly completed parts orders, or sent an occasional email.

A special thanks to those people who I met on the trail.. the other motorcycle travelers, backpackers, traveling beekeepers and everyone else.

And most importantly, thanks to those great people that I met on the trip that opened their homes, lives, and hearts to me as I passed through their cities and towns. You made this trip incredible.

Until next time,

Robb

27 April 2004 - Trouble with the bike..  and my last day in Buenos Aires.

So, everything was supposed to run smoothly..  After spending last night with Ana and Guille at Evelina's (see Tango a few days back) birthday party, watching all the girls sing and play guitar, I made it so sleep about 3am.  Got up at 10am when Guille called to confirm my dentist appointment.  All I had to do was go to my shippers and pay for the freight of my bike..  simple enough, an I had an appointment at 10:30.  Off I went, after checking out of my hotel.

I arrived at my shippers, and had to wait about 10 minutes before the woman came in and asked me if I had received the email she had sent the night before.  I said no, and she said ok, well, she had to do the paperwork, so could I wait?  Now, this sort of pissed me off, as one, I had confirmed with her and set up an appointment to meet her and pay, and she hadn't done anything to prepare, and two, I had a dentist appointment for a cleaning (only about $15 down here), and didn't have much time.  Anyway, she scurried off to her desk to do the paperwork, leaving me with the printed email she had sent the night before, that I had yet to see.  So, with time to kill, I glanced at the email.  And freaked out!  She had quoted me $2 per kilogram, which with my bike and crate (and all the wine stashed in it) made the freight about $1000.  Absurd, but I checked around, and this is the going rate.  Anyway, because my crate was too big (made by her crating company), I was getting an oversize charge, and the 'billing' weight was now twice what it was in actuality, making the freight almost $2000.

I jumped up, ran to her desk, and bitched, raising holy hell.  I was not going to pay $2000.  So, after she almost cried, she accepted that she had screwed up (she should have told either me or the crating company that she works with about the size restriction) she said she would eat the loss, and we agreed I would pay the original quote.  So, ok, no problem, here's my Mastercard.

Nope, not accepted, cash only.  What?  I almost hit her.  Who the f%$* carries around $1000 cash, and what business requires payment in cash?  And, if that's all she could accept, maybe she should have let me know?  Well she says, she will accept a check.  No problem, I got a few of those.  But no, she will only accept a check drawn on an Argentinean bank.  So, anyway, I screamed at her and left..  As I still had the dentist appointment, you will remember.

So, I had my teeth cleaned, then went over to Anita's, where she was waiting to have lunch with me.  Well, first I gots to try and solve this payment problem.  So, I emailed, called, checked websites, and may have arranged for a wire transfer.. we will see.  My bike was scheduled to fly out of Buenos Aires tomorrow.. but now who knows?

After I finally got this possible wire transfer settled, Ana and I had lunch, walked around, went to the supermarket for some more mate to bring home, then packed up and headed to a cool park in Palermo, a section of Buenos Aires.  We passed the afternoon sitting by a lake drinking mate in the sunshine.  Very nice last day.  We left to pick up Guille as the sunset and headed to the airport.  Ana and Guille hung around with me at the airport drinking more mate until I had to go....  So off I went, getting onto my 11 hour flight to Dallas..  the first leg of my 17 hour journey.  It was tough to leave... It seems like each place I leave it gets harder and harder to leave.  Maybe I just need to live down here.

26 April 2004 - Bike is gone...

Well, I spent most of today running around..  but everything is accomplished.  I received my plane tickets via Fedex (thanks to Carrie for dealing with that).  And my bike is crated and at the airport, having been delivered there with me by it's side.  It has cleared customs, and will be on it's way soon (thanks to Ana for making some phone calls for me).

One funny thing I noticed at the store the other day...  They have a brand of frozen hamburgers here called 'Barfy'.  Mmmmmmm.

Below are some facts and figures I did for the end of the trip...

Motorcycle Accidents (2)

02-Dec-04, La Paz, Bolivia: Passenger in cab opens door immediately in front of me..  Cylinder destroys car door, I fall over into brand new Toyota Landrover and break right mirror.  I take off before trouble starts.

 

11-Jan-04, outside Puyuhuapi, Chile: Speeding minivan takes me out on the Carretera Austral.  He continues on, I piece my bike together on the side of the road, and limp from town to town until I can get it fixed.

Countries (12)

in order of time spent: Argentina (60 days), Chile (49), Guatemala (48), Uruguay (29), Honduras (28), Peru (22), Bolivia (19), Mexico (18),  Nicaragua (18), Panama (12), Brazil (11), Costa Rica (5)

Mileage (23,000 miles)

the most miles in a country: Argentina (4500+ miles), Chile (4200+), Mexico (3700+), Guatemala (1500+), Uruguay (1400+), Brazil (1400+)

Corrupt Police (3)

26-Jan-03, outside Somotra, Nicaragua: Pulled over for speeding, I pretend to not understand anything, even when the officer asks in English for a $20 bribe.

 

10-Feb-03, Managua, Nicaragua: Pulled over with friend Tom on the back, we return to my other friend's house for my paperwork.  When I go inside for the papers, Tom pays the $20 bribe.

 

05-Mar-04, Entre Rios, Argentina: Pulled over because I was a foreigner, I get all pissed off and bitch and complain, then I pay the $20 they have been asking for.

Ferries (6)

09-Jan-04, Shortest, Chile: Quick twenty minute jaunt from mainland to the island of Chiloe

 

23-Oct-04, Longest, Mexico: Eleven hour ride with no creature comforts from La Paz to Topolobompo

Motorcycle Travelers Met (18)

from: Australia, England, France, Germany, Mexico, United States

Different Places I Slept (69)

for five days or more, in order of time spent: Buenos Aires, Argentina (31 days); Poptun, Guatemala (24); Utila, Honduras (17); La Paz, Bolivia (17); Punta del Diablo, Uruguay (15); Antigua, Guatemala (13 days); Little Corn Island, Nicaragua (11); Puerto Varas, Chile (8); Panama City, Panama (7); Cusco, Peru (6); Iquique, Chile (6); Santiago, Chile (6); Omoa, Honduras (5); Lima, Peru (5); Ensenada, Chile (5);   Montevideo, Uruguay (5)

24 April 2004 -  A Sad Day

Well, yesterday I dropped off my bike at the company that is building it a crate..  and I will ride no more in South America.  A sad day.  Monday I go with the bike in a crate to the airport, take care of all the paperwork, then it is on it's way to Los Angeles.  Very sad.  I can't believe I am going home.

But, other than the sad part, things have been good here in Buenos Aires.  A couple of nights ago Ana, Guille and I, as well as a few of their other friends, went to see the Helsinki Symphony Orchestra in the incredible Teatro Colon.  We were in the cheap seats..  Seven stories up..  and actually without seats for the first half.  But the price was good, only $2.50.  Oddly, the section we were in was called 'Paraiso'..  paradise.  The second half of the show was much better, as a few of us got prime seats, dead center.  Of course, we were still 7 stories up.. but Ana claims the sound is much better there..  which I figure is what everyone says when you get stuck in the cheap seats..  But it was great.

Last night we went out to a club near my hotel.  It was a club that Robert, my friend from Punta del Diablo, had told me about.  Big old warehouse type building, with three stories of balconies, with old New Orleans type steel railings.  Very cool physical plant.  Music was amusing if nothing else.. classics like Joan Jett's  'I Love Rock and Roll', mixed with a heavy beat.  My problem is that after my time working at the Endup, in every nightclub I walk into I have to fight the instinct to throw people out for being jackasses.  Oh well.  I did end up spraining some guy's wrist for messing with one of my friends, even if I couldn't kick him out.  The best part was, as we were in a crowd, his friends didn't even realize what was going until it was over, and he was too much of a wimp to do anything.

Unfortunately (assuming Fedex doesn't screw up) I will be leaving in a few short days.. 

21 April 2004 - Buenos Aires

So, my headlight switch has completely given up the ghost.  I managed to fix it so the high beam stays on by taping the high beam flash switch down..  Without the tape, I have no headlight at all..  and I tend to prefer having one, especially at night.

As for riding in Buenos Aires, it can be fun.  The main roads in the city are huge..  up to 16 lanes wide.  Many have 6 or more lanes..  so there is plenty of room.  And everybody goes as fast as they can.  On one stretch of one of the main roads, Avenida del Libertad, the lights are timed for miles.  And they are timed for doing about 60mph.  It's great.  One problem though, is while many roads do have lanes painted.. nobody pays the least attention to them.  It is not uncommon to see someone driving down the line, in the middle of two lanes.  Also interesting are rotaries.  While there are lines painted, people never stay in their lanes around rotaries, choosing to take the shortest distance from where they started to where they want to end up.  So it can be interesting to get through.

Giving credit to Bob Morley, a fellow moto traveler I met in Chile, here are his rules of the road in South America, taken from his site: www.smellybiker.com:

    *    Don't use indicators, they confuse people

    *    The biggest vehicle on the road has the right of way

    *    Green light means GO

    *    Yellow light means GO FASTER

    *    Red light means GO IF NOBODY IS LOOKING

    *    At junctions, watch the lights for the crossing traffic, you GO as they turn from green to yellow

    *    One way streets can be used in both directions if you are lost

    *    Only STOP after an accident if a policeman points a gun at you

Spent last night eating panqueques with Ana and Guille..  Panqueques are the Argentinean equivalent of crepes, a little thicker.. like, say pancakes.  We started with a ham, cheese, and grilled onion one and a tomato, mozzarella and oregano one.  Then we moved on to dessert..  One panqueque with dulce de leche (local caramel sort of substance), whipped cream, and strawberries, and another with ice cream, raspberries, and of course, dulce de leche.  Mmmmm.

19 April 2004 - Buenos Aires

So, I have been spending time in Buenos Aires..  trying to get Alaska Airlines to get my flight re-booked.  Seems it is a little difficult for them.  I may have to send my ticket home, have Carrie rebook it, then have her send it back.  But one woman I traded emails with at Alaska said it was possible to do it from here.  So I have been trying.  But, of course, everyone I email or talk to tells me something different.  I am trying for the rest of this afternoon, then I am giving up and sending the ticket back to Cali.  As for my bike, that should be easier.  I have an appointment with the woman from the shipper tomorrow, and I should settle everything then.

As for my off time, I have been hanging out with Anita and her friend Guille.  Last night we, and a whole bunch of their other friends, went to see another friend sing tango near my hotel.  Good singer, good time.  The only problem is that after speaking Spanish in Uruguay for a month..  Anita (who speaks nearly perfect English) refuses to speak English..  saying my Spanish is much improved.  She also tells everyone I meet that I understand everything said.  Which is fairly far from the truth.  But what the hell.

For dinner last night the three of us went to my favorite parilla..  saw my old friends from there.  The waiter that Mason and I usually had waited on us..  and was his usual amusing self, making jokes in Spanish and English.  At the end of the night he said, in Spanish, that the next time I had dinner there, I didn't need to bring the girls.  I agreed, saying no problem, I agree.  The girls assumed I didn't know what he said, but then asked if I understood..  Of course!

16 April 2004 - Return to Buenos Aires

So, after a few days in Montevideo, I moved on to Colonia, an old smuggling town in Uruguay, across the Rio de la Plata (big old river, bay, sort of thing) from Buenos Aires.  It was a miserable ride, pouring rain most of the way, high winds, and of course, some lightning to mix it up a bit.  I arrived in Colonia, quickly found the tourist office, and dripped all over their floor asking for a hotel with garage.  I found a nice hotel, one of the most expensive I have been in on the entire trip..  US$24.  But they had a good garage, good hot showers, and cable TV.  I spent the afternoon watching TV as the rain kept coming down.

Luckily, the next day it cleared somewhat, as the ferry to Buenos Aires left at 5:30pm, and I had to check out of my hotel hours earlier.  I spent the day in Colonia taking photos, mucking about cafes, and waiting for my ferry.  I finally hopped on the ferry, which was the coolest ferry I have been on..  The Albayzin, which has four, yes for, 5000 horsepower engines.  This thing moves, doing 37 knots (43 mph, 70kmh), and completing the crossing in one hour..

I arrived in Buenos Aires, and made it back to my hotel, got my bike in the garage, and grabbed some sandwiches from across the street, right before the rain started again..  And man, did it start.  It rained most of the night, and is still raining.  And I have no rain gear.  The only thing I have that is still waterproof is my huge Dainese jacket..  which has armor, and smells pretty bad.  So I think I am going to take a cab somewhere, and find an umbrella or something.

Anyway, now I am back in Buenos Aires, I need to find a way to get my bike home, and see if I can get my own airline ticket changed.  As for my poor old bike, here is a few other things wrong with it..  in addition to the list I did a month or so ago:

    *    speedometer is all jacked up...  doesn't work, face rattles like crazy, etc.

    *    something is wrong with the front suspension..  doesn't work well and it's a bit notchy

    *    front brake lever mechanism is very stiff and problematic

    *    headlight switch is broken, resulting in low beam not working, high beam intermittent

 

Amazingly, though, after blowing a tail light bulb on average once a month for the entire life of the motorcycle, I have yet to blow one on the entire journey.

12 April 2004 - Pedro es un adicto del ajedrez

So, I finally left Punta del Diablo for the last time..  and am now back in Montevideo.  Had a great time in Punta del Diablo..  Spent most of it hanging out with the folks at El Portal.  The weather was kind of crappy, so that was a bummer.  But we spent many late nights hanging out playing chess, cards, and whatnot.  Chess is very popular throughout Latin America, but seems especially so in Uruguay.  Pedro is an addict, playing over ten games per night on the internet, and playing for real whenever he can...  I had played a total of two games of chess in the last twenty years, but I jumped in after watching a few games.  After losing my first two matches, I started having some success, and even managed to beat Pedro twice in five or six games..

Noelia offered a few weeks ago to translate the Jaime Roos song I posted back then, Brindis por Pierrot.  I am pretty sure she regretted that offer, as it took her a bit longer than she had thought.  But she finished it, hours before El Portal closed and she left to return to university..  Anyway, if you are interested in knowing what the lyrics mean, check it out here.  Special thanks to Noelia for her work.

I also talked to Niko and Cecilia, who are Xime's sister and brother-in-law...  and the owners of El Portal.  Niko also built and maintains a great website about Punta del Diablo.  And they are interested in the idea of me working there next summer, so depending on what happens in the job front at home, I may spend next December-March or so sitting on the beach and pouring drinks.  Sounds good to me.  Special thanks to all the folks working at El Portal..  Xime, Pedro, Noelia, Niko, Ceci, Adan and Sebastian, for showing me some true hospitality.

As for me, I will stay one more day or so in Montevideo, then off to Colonia, then back to Buenos Aires by ferry...

07 April 2004

I had this grand plan to have a little April Fool's fun.  I was going to mock up a crash site, then take pictures of it, as well as me with bandages and crutches and whatnot, and make up some unbelievable story about how I crashed... however, I figured my dear parents would both have heart attacks on the spot, and I couldn't deal with the guilt.  So I decided to skip all my fun.

Anyway, my ride from Montevideo to Paysandu was uneventful, but beautiful.  Most of Uruguay is farms, and I rode through a good section of them.  The landscape is rolling hills with lots of fields...but whatever they grow turns the fields into shades of green, gold, yellow, orange, and red.  Really beautiful.  I took some photos, but they don't really do the colors justice.

I made it to Paysandu, found a hotel, and relaxed and drank water after dehydrating myself a bit on the road.  I met Robert at the bus station when he got in, we ate some asado, then found a nice old man dive bar and pool hall, and hung out and had a few beers.  The next day we got up and headed down to the Semana de la Cerveza, which is on the waterfront, near the main river beach in town.  We got there before it started, but walked around and checked out the lay of the land a bit, and had lunch at a little parilla nearby, where we ended up eating at three more times.

That afternoon we spent a few hours searching for an apron.  Why, you ask?  Well, our friend Adan in Punta del Diablo is a hell of a cook, doesn't have an apron, and never says anything more than "todo bien?" which means "everything good?"  So we wanted to get him an apron with that printed on it..  It took a while, but we finally woke some woman up from her nap and set her to work making one.  We picked it up a few days later and dropped it at the printer.  It is great, and he loves it.

Anyway, after that little admin adventure, we headed back to the Semana de la Cerveza, and sat around watching the sunset and drinking mate (I seem to have acquired a taste for it now..  have not had coffee in a week or more).  Anyway, after the sunset, we hit the beer fun, and bought our big steins with the logo on it, then proceeded to quickly make friends with the vendors at the big pavilions on either end of the street.  We had our choice of the cute women, but they were having a hard time pouring foamless beer, or at the other end, the guys, with the "artesanal" beer.  We alternated all night, making friends with them all.  We also got to see the coronation of the queen and the two princesses of the 39th Annual Semana de la Cerveza.  Towards the end of the night, we met two guys from a city south of Paysandu, and ended up going to a bar with them.  They were uber-geeks, an I amused myself by laughing at them.  They actually used this line on a girl..  seriously.  They were confident it would work..  it goes something like this:  "¿Donde esta la fabrica?" "¿Que Fabrica?" "La fabrica que hizo una muneca tan la linda como vos." In English: "Hey, where is the factory?"  "What factory?" "The factory that made a doll as beautiful as you."  No joking here, they were confident this would work on women.  Anyway, they finally left after I was grabbed by another duo of dorks.  Turns out we were in the dork bar...  or maybe the cool bar, but after everyone had left to go to the disco.  Anyway, we finally extricated ourselves, and headed for bed.

The next day, we ate lunch at our favorite parilla, and spent a bunch of time at the beach.. then headed back to the festival to hang out, see our friends at the beer pavilions.. who waved at us and said hello before we even saw them...then off to the Ruben Rada concert.  The concert was great, he has a great band.. somewhat like Santana's.  Four or five percussionists, good bassist, but the guitarist wasn't quite up to Santana's standard.  But Ruben was amazing, interacting with the crowd, feeding off them, and my Spanish had progressed where I even understood some of his jokes and stuff.  Yay for me.

Monday, we were pretty beat, so laid low drinking mate on the beach and having an early dinner.  We had intended to get out of there relatively early on Tuesday.  Unfortunately, we woke up and it was pouring rain (see videos).  So we mucked about town a bit, then it started to clear, so after lunch, I packed up and headed out to Tacuarembo.  I arrived there just as a bicycle race was making laps of downtown, so I had to park my bike and walk around, looking for a hotel.  Man, I don't know how the backpackers do it.  Anyway, found a hotel, the race ended, and I then headed out to find a new tire.  I was trying to nurse my front tire home, but it was burnt.  It started to bubble and warp it was so toast.  And with rain in the area, I needed something decent.  So I picked up a nice new $23 tire.  Yup, a sweet "Duro" brand.  I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little sketched out having a $23 tire..  but I didn't have much choice..

But after 300 plus miles today on street and gravel, it was ok.  I am now back in Punta del Diablo..  it is weird, as half of Uruguay seems to be here..  much more crowded than before, but it should be fun.

Odd thought for the day:

Robert and I were talking, and we laughed about the fact that we can now spot the type of insect by both flight pattern and the bite mark it leaves..  To many bites I guess, but I can tell what bit me, flea, mosquito, horsefly, bedbug, whatever.  All I need to do is look at the mark, they all leave different kinds.

01 April 2004

Xime, Pedro, Robert and I managed to finally make it to Playa Grande on Monday..  after planning to go for the previous three days.  We packed a lunch, and walked the 30 minutes to this great secluded and big beach.. hence the name.  Noelia had left for a week of vacation from her summer vacation working at El Portal, the bar, so she was missing..  The rest of us spent the day mucking about, swimming, and snoozing in the sun.

That night the four of us hung out at the bar..  and Robert and I even got to run the place for a few minutes when both Xime and Pedro were out.  Woo hoo, in charge of the bar!  It was weird after Noelia left, because the conversations switched to all Spanish...  luckily I can more or less keep up, and had Robert to translate when necessary..  which he did once for a German customer, who Pedro was serving, but needed help with English.  The guy was really rude to Robert and Pedro... and later apologized to Robert, saying he was sorry he was rude, but he was only rude because he thought he was a waiter..  as Xime said, evidently waiters are not people.

I finally got out of Punta del Diablo the next morning, and it was the hardest place to leave since the Finca in Guatemala.  Beautiful place, good food, great house, and an amazing group of friends.  Oh well, there was talk of me working there next January through March...  Sounds good to me.

I rode to Montevideo that day, and have spent the last few days sleeping, walking around the old city, checking out some museums, and eating meat.  Last night I went out to Xime and Pedro's favorite parilla.  It is in Montevideo, but about 5 miles from centro, where I am staying.  I met the crazy waitress who ran the place, and she was very amused that I rode my bike all the way out there for dinner.  Manana I head to Paysandu and catch up with Robert for Semana de la Cerveza.

Some other things..

On March 17 I wrote that I would likely be back in the states within three weeks.  I lied.  It has been over two weeks, and I won't be back in Buenos Aires for at least a week, and then I need to figure out how to get my bike home...

In Uruguay, outside of cities, when you arrive at someone else's house for whatever reason, you don't knock on the door..  you clap your hands as you approach the house.  That lets the people inside know that someone is looking for them.  I think it is brilliant.

Uruguay.  Pequena tamano grande corazon.. Small size, big heart.  Pedro gave me this saying, which is very descriptive and very true.  This country is proud, has tons of music, good food, and has it's act together as much as any other country down here..

And, a funny story about Robert.  When he arrived in Buenos Aires, he wanted to see a band called Flora de Piedra..  which is a slang term for crack cocaine.  So as he met people, he asked if they knew where Flora de Piedra might be playing..  and his Spanish is good, but was a little rusty.  So he received many funny looks as people thought he was asking if they knew where he could get some crack..  Oops!

 

 
 
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