Tag Archives: motorcycling

The Wayward Roll 101: How to Adventure Motorcycle Travel in Latin America

 

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Step 1. With only 10 days to prepare and no planning whatsoever, fly to South America and buy a tiny motorcycle commonly referred to as a “pizza” bike. Ignore those who tell you a 125cc motorcycle will barely get you to the shops.

Step 2: Also ignore the fact that you have no knowledge of motorcycle mechanics and dad isn’t around to come pick you and your motorcycle up when stranded. You’ll learn on the road.

Step 3: When leaving the motorcycle shop where you just picked up your new pizza bike, try not to get crushed by semis, bus drivers on cellphones, or taxis. Use your horn liberally, at every intersection and while passing most other vehicles, especially those trying to merge into you even though they obviously see you.

Step 4: Cruise at top speed (45mph) and realize why people suggested a larger bike. Throw caution to the wind and proceed, racing fellow 125cc’ers up large hills in 1st gear. Earn bonus points by pretending to peddle a bicycle.

Step 5: When you see oncoming traffic in your lane, assume they’ll run you over. Why? Because they’ll run you over.

Step 6: At a four way intersection; remember that the larger car will always win. Or a taxi. Always give way to a taxi. Better yet, steer clear of taxis altogether.

Step 7: Upon getting chased by a pack of savage street dogs of all shapes and sizes, avoid riding into the ditch in fright. Aim for the jaw and give good sharp kicks. If sharp kicks don’t do the trick, stop moving. Unlike a zombie horde, once you stop, the dogs generally lose interest.

Step 8: Don’t assume the guy who asks if you can give him a ride on your tank is kidding. He’s not kidding.

Step 9: When approaching a police check-point, slow down slightly and then blow past with a smile and a wave. On the off-chance they actually stop you, say “oh, me?” and pretend you don’t speak the language. And if you really don’t speak the language, try to speak it, and it’ll be even funnier.

Step 10: When lost, avoid asking for directions unless you’re prepared for 20 minutes of “male explanation mode”, only to find out the man really doesn’t know the way and has no idea where you both are on the map he’s just taken out of your hands. Nod your head politely and keep going.

Step 11: If you must ride through a larger city, act like a Dakar rider, ignore street signs and one ways, pop curbs, and lane split. And most importantly, don’t stop for pedestrians unless you want to get rear ended and honked at! It’s all part of the daily grind. Just don’t forget Step 4.

Step 12: Welcome to Latin America. You’re now on Latin Time. Don’t stress if someone is an hour late, the poopy toilet won’t flush, the gas station is out of gas or the electricity is down. “In 20 minutes” means an hour, and “tomorrow” means next week.

Step 13: When choosing a hotel, don’t settle for anything with less than a couple of stairs at the main entrance, or you’ll take the fun out of the experience. Riding your bike up/down the stairs and through the lobby, livingroom or diningrom is no big deal in these parts.

Step 14: Never, ever go into a gas station bathroom (or any bathroom) expecting to find toilet paper, soap or an “automatic” toilet. 9 out of 10 times you will be very disappointed. When the toilet won’t flush, get a pitcher of water and dump it in. Or ride away quickly and never return.

Step 16: Relax! You’re not in Kansas anymore. Enjoy the ride (through fancy lobbies), the change of scenery, and your newfound respect for American bathrooms.

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CGL 125 Mini-Motorcycle Diaries: 16,000 feet up, an Andean adventure

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The water rushed by cold and fast, and like a dog that’s scared of swimming, I padded back and forth at the river’s edge, waiting for the courage to make the plunge and swim for it. Or in this case, ride my tiny motorcycle to the other side. When I set out to do this part of Ruta 40 in the arid northwestern corner of Argentina, I didn’t expect to find myself fording rivers. But here I was, and it was time to take the plunge. This was not a hot summer day, but a fall afternoon ride that would take us 175km to biting air up 16,000 feet in the Andes range. With wet gear. Tom, standing in the river to find the best route, gave me the thumbs up and indicated like one of those guys in neon vests and light sabers on airport runways. I opened the throttle and bombed into the river, excited at the depth and chill of the icy current. Keeping my eyes up (and well away from that little rapid and drop off just a few feet away), I gunned it across and found myself emerging on the other bank unscathed. We would do this half a dozen more times by the end of the afternoon.

The ride was slow and hard going. I felt like Fred Flintstones peddling my little Honda up the side of the biggest mountains I’ve ever traveled over. Even well before approaching the summit at 16,000 feet, I was as out of breathe as my bike. I knocked her into 1st gear and slowly, slowly jerked forward until I reached flatter ground. Flat ground quickly turned vertical and I spent the next couple of hours fiddling with the fuel intake and coaxing the girl up and around hairpin turns and narrow switchbacks along cliff edges until at last, staggering to the top and frozen through, we snapped a few hasty pictures and hurried towards the decent in the dying light of day. Of the 175km of dirt road we would ride that day between Cachi and San Antonio de Cobres, we still had another 50km before reaching civilization. The last thing I wanted was to be caught having to camp in the cold alpine altiplano with damp gear and plain noodles for dinner.

By evening, we had only seen one other vehicle, two shepherds, a handful of inquisitive chinchillas and a few hundred startled llamas, their long puckered faces turned towards us and ears perked up high. By nightfall, we were following a dusty road when my headlight fizzled out, just before rounding the bend to the lights of a dusty town in the valley below.

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(We ignored that sign)

 

It was the most beautiful and desolate ride of these last 12,000km through Chile and Argentina, and even though I write this just a few days later, it feels like it could have been weeks ago. The density of experiences each day pushes even recent adventures far back in memory, but certainly not to be forgotten.

 

CGL 125 Mini-Motorcycle Diaries: Flight of the Guanacos

February 7th, 2014: I complete this latest post on my 30th birthday and mentally prepare myself for a new and exciting decade while attempting to ride my mini motorcycle from Patagonia all the way home to Seattle. ETA: July-August, 2014. Wish me luck, friends.

With the Carretera Austral behind us and back in Argentina, we ride east to the town of Perito Moreno and then south to Gobierno Gregores. The verdant green hills of Chilean Patagonia have turned to harsh plateaus, sandy hills and scrub as we once again cross the border into the barren rain shadow of the Andes range.

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Llama-like animals called “guanacos” peer at us curiously before bolting, levitating their slim forms gracefully over the fence that lines the route. You can see the power in a kangaroos jump, but the guanacos just float effortlessly over the barrier in high elegant leaps, like clouds drifting tranquilly over the arid plains. Every now and then a large carcass decomposes, legs still tangled in the lines of the fence. A terrible death, likely very slow and painful, unable to free themselves from the man-made structure invading their native land. I hold my breath as they pirouette over, praying for a safe landing.

In the next few days and several hundred kilometers, we battle extreme winds and gravel roads southwest towards El Chaltén. A wrong turn sends up southeast with a strong tailwind, blowing us in the opposite direction for a gloriously speedy 60km before realizing the mistake and turning around to fight the wind back. Every day is grueling in these conditions, but I enjoy every moment of it. Ruta 40 is more paved than we expected, but even so we rarely get above 65km/h with the brutal gusts blowing us all over both lanes. The headwinds are more bearable than the sidewinds, which crank our necks at an awful angle until our shoulders and backs burn with pain. We play with slip-streams and riding formations such as the “Mighty V” to help Kath’s bike battle the winds, which has lost some power recently.

We sometimes go 60km down a perfectly straight road and only see a handful of cars. Hitchhikers have become very scarce, unlike in Chilean Patagonia, and even bicyclists are few and far between. We ride slowly and cautiously, knowing help would be hours away if anything were to happen on the long stretches of desolate gravel roads.photo 2

100km from El Chaltén I meet Quentin, a young Frenchman alone on horseback in the bleak wilderness. He worked for three months on a farm in El Calafate in exchange for two horses, before setting off to traverse Argentina south to north. Before departing, a gaucho (an Argentine cowboy) gifted him a collie pup to keep him company.

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Two weeks before I met Joanna, a lovely curly blonde, blue-eyed and freckly Scottish girl alone on her bicycle, camping on the shores of a wild lake. Her mother had died the year before, leaving her a small inheritance. To honor her memory and adventurous spirit, Joanna set off to ride her bicycle from Canada to Ushuaia. Joanna tells me of a young German couple riding their bicycles from Alaska to Ushuaia with their baby in tow. I meet this lovely couple and their now 2.5 year old daughter at my camp just moments before sitting down to write this missive.

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It’s a reminder of the amazing adventures people are out having all over the world, and the possibility of experiencing things in such unique ways.

*More photos to come, as soon as the internet cooperates here in El Chalten.

CGL 125 Mini Motorcycle Diaries: La Patria de mi madre

 

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The Mini-Motorcycle Diaries continue in Argentina, my mother’s homeland. After two nights in Puerto Montt trying to arrange a ferry for a roadless section of Chilean Patagonia, we decided not to wait and backtracked 100km north to Osorno, and then east a 100km to the Argentine border. The ferries were few and far between, and I was eager to get to Argentina. Having heard the border generally takes 3 hours, we camped at a National Park (for an outrageous $42/site) before making a break for the border the next morning. The crossing was smoother than expected, and within an hour we were cruising through the Paso Internacional Cardenal Antonio Samore Andean pass, making our way to Bariloche. The forests turned from lush green to stark white and brown, evidence of fire. The ground was covered in tiny jagged grey pebbles that looked a lot like ash, maybe from the surrounding volcanoes. The clouds threatened rain as horses and cattle roamed the range, calves and foals in tow.

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We spent one night in Bariloche gawking at the chocolate shops while navigating South American road rules. We had no Argentine pesos yet, so were sent to the back room of a souvenir shop to a Black Market money exchanger who gave us 10 pesos for every 1USD, 4 pesos higher than the government exchange rate of 6 pesos! How and why this system works I have no idea and am trying to find out, but I imagine it is unsustainable and bad for Argentine. One night in Bariloche was enough, and the next morning found us flying south on the famous Ruta 40 with a strong tailwind.

In El Bolsón we were graciously hosted by Roberto, a friend of my mother’s from high school. Although they haven’t seen each other in 40 years, he welcomed us like old friends and made us feel at home in a guest apartment opening onto his fruit filled patio. After two full days of hunkering down from the rain, the clouds parted and we were treated to a panorama of jagged peaks and snow covered mountains as if saying bienvenidos a la Patagonia. From the top of a hill we could see the whole valley and small town running south-north, covered in green forest. A group of youthful Argentines played the guitar while hiking, rejoicing in the change of weather.

The three sister Marias: Maria Katalina, Maria Jesus and Maria Luisa
The three sister Marias: Maria Katalina, Maria Jesus and Maria Luisa

El Bolsón is my favorite town so far, with a lively artistic and hippie vibe. The weekly market bustles with stalls selling all variety of artisan goods from homemade cakes and savory pies to jewelry, clothing, healing balms and blow dart guns. Stray dogs roam between feet scouring the ground for crumbs. We saw a man let in 8 stray dogs into his house, and another man pushing a cart with a herd of 10 at his heels and wheels.

We’ll be re-crossing the Andes again soon via the famous Futaleufu river and meeting up with our intended route: The Carretera Austral!!

CGL 125 Photo Update: Lakes Region and Hot Springs

 

A photo update of the last few days through the Lakes Region of Chile, between Pucon and the Termas Geometricas (thermal pools) near Lican Ray. We’re now in Puerto Montt after a long stint on the Panamerican Ruta 5 highway. The scenery changed from arid land and pines to rolling yellow and green fields and forest covered hills, with views of the Andes peaks to the east. We’re here for two nights preparing for the next leg of the adventure: Patagonia via the legendary Carretera Austral! 1000km of dirt roads!

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