So I moved into my new apartment and couldn't be happier. Both Mariana and Diego have been very welcoming. She being an artist, and he a musician, their flat is very bohemian and stylish. The location is stellar. Two blocks from nice parks, and on the outer edges of the very trendy Palermo neighborhood. Close enough to get involved, yet far enough away to enjoy some rest in a quiet section of the hood. Lennon, their massive black lab and I have hit it off as well. Copious amounts of drool aside, he's starting to grow on me.
Yesterday morning I slept in a bit, due to being tired from hostel livin' the past few nights I suppose. Immediately I slapped on some shorts and went out for an exploratory run and exercise session to/through the nearby parks and the Cemetario de la Chacarita. After that and breakfast, Diego let me borrow his bicycle to explore the city. I ended up riding for miles and was able to see a large swath of BsAs. After a few highlights like Puerto Madero and Camanito, I ended up in Plaza Dorrego (San Telmo) and found myself sipping an espresso, watching the city pass, all whilst a couple danced beautiful tango directly beside me. I've heard wonderful things about this city, and I feel like I'm starting to see it, and know I'll really enjoy the next three weeks living here.
A few questions around my trip have come through recently, so figured I'd hammer those out. So, here goes...
- Would you consider your trip economy, middle of the road, or high end from a budget perspective? That's a tricky one... I would consider my trip 'middle of the road'. I camped a bit, but due to cold weather, ended up in lodging frequently (used CouchSurfing a few times as well). From a food perspective, I ate mostly at restaurants and hardly cooked for myself. However, both of those things I'd consider to be on the 'low end' (i.e. hostels when available, local street food vs nice restaurants). I've heard of people spending as little as $45/day realistically, and I've heard of people exceeding $100/day USD. I'll come in just under the middle of that, but that includes some hefty expenditures (i.e. Stahlratte crossing from Panama to Colombia, and bike shipping from Bs.As. to California). Factor in things like tires, fuel, etc, and I think I did fairly well from a budget perspective. I could have done it MUCH cheaper I think, but then I wouldn't have experienced a lot of the trip (i.e. entertaining chicas, sampling and enjoying grog from all over the world, park/preserve entries, occasional nice meal or hotel, etc).
- Can you break down lodging type (i.e. what percentage camping/hostels/other)? I wish I had kept track of all this, but I'm a slacker and didn't. I'd say the breakdown most likely looks something like this. CouchSurfing (or bunking with friends) 15%, hostels 30%, hotels 35%, camping 20%. That's a rough breakdown, and if you do a trip of your own you could tweak that how you wish. CouchSurfing is one of the better ways to get to know people and a city/culture intimately. Hostels can provide the same, but usually end up being a bit more party focused. Hotels can be found incredibly cheap throughout the majority of LatAm. My best find was a really nice hotel w/ great parking at Atitlan, Guatemala for $5 USD per night. I actually stayed in several through Peru and Bolivia for the equivalent of around $2 USD, but those were 'rough around the edges' to put it kindly. Camping can be found essentially anywhere if you are willing to seek it out. The best resource for this are blogs maintained by the bicycle touring lot. Out of necessity, they have to camp it (sometimes takes days to bicycle to next village/town/city).
- Bike maintenance: During the past 8 months, how many tires replaced? Have you had any major repairs? How close were reliable mechanics if needed? Again, a total crapshoot if you are planning an adventure of your own. Some get lucky like me so far with minor issues, others have the opposite with engines grenade'ing into pieces in the middle of F all. However, I did have my fair share of maintenance. I changed the oil and filter four or five times I believe. I've spooned on three new rear and front tires. I had to replace the battery in Antigua due to a charging issue. I swapped out the front and rear brake pads once. Although not necessary, I ended up swapping out the chain and sprockets in Peru (didn't want to chance it and not have parts). I had a blown fork seal, so replaced both in Peru. Had a bent rear rim, so hammered that back in shape. Ended up replacing both sets of wheel bearings (rear preventatively / front out of necessity). I went through three cans of quality chain lube, and lubed up with used black oil at moto shops when I ran out. I had four punctures along the way (all rear tire), which required pulling tube and replacing with patched 'extra'. Finally, I ended up yanking out the charcoal canister due to stalling issues, adding an air filter to fuel vent line, and plugging the other.
Using recommendations and ride reports through ADVrider, I was able to find able mechanics when needed. However, sometimes they were few and far between. While the BMW has been a trusty sidekick and reliable friend, I've noticed people riding KLRs seem to have no issue whatsoever finding parts, even in the middle of nowhere. I guess ride what you like, or what you have, but if on a more 'modernized' bike, be prepared to potentially have parts sourcing issues in rural areas.
- How did you communicate with people? Laptop, smartphone, both? What percent of the time did you have internet? Ahhh communication, something I've learned that I absolutely SUCK balls at. However, when I did communicate it was through a number of different means. First off, T-Mobile allows for free int'l data and text, which makes them the carrier of choice hands down if you travel. That said, I used my iPhone frequently to stay in touch via e-mail, text, and various other sources like Skype and WhatsApp. I'm pretty sure they have weekly board meetings discussing how 'this one dude' traveling via moto through South America is absolutely wrecking their profit model. I've been streaming Google Maps, Spotify, and surfing the net for the past year... for free. I also bought and brought along a Macbook Air, which I couldn't be happier with. I used the laptop for blogging, GPS routing, internet porn (kidding - ummm, sort of... Sorry mom), and longer messages and communication to people. Internet is widely available around the world now, even in the most surprising of places. However, there are still some spots in Peru and Bolivia that I crossed with absolutely no service. I'd say I had reliable internet 65-70% of the time. It may have been slow, but it was there.
- What are some things you wish you had brought? Conversely, what would you have left home? Another great question... Turns out, I think I'm pretty decent at this moto adventure travel thing (at least the packing portion). Not a lot stands out on either end. I feel I packed rather light compared to some I saw on the road. Yet, I felt I had everything I needed. In fact, I probably could have left several shirts behind. I overspent on several 'adventure' branded shirts and undergarments that I haven't really used. Or if used, wasn't necessary for it to be 'quick drying'. See here for a layout of my gear. I ended up leaving behind the water filtration system and MSR stove, and lost a few items during the trip. I gave away a few items of clothing to needy locals. And I lost a hat after a steamy affair somewhere in Central America. That's it. Everything else I've used and abused accordingly.
- When did you feel most unprepared? I don't know if I felt unprepared, but the most helpless I felt was when I woke up in my tent to the thundering sound of two surrounding rivers cresting their banks due to torrential downpours in Mocoa, Colombia. Chalk it up as yet another near death experience I guess. Ended up having to drag my tent, bike, and gear to higher ground in a panic at 2am wearing nothing but underwear and a headlamp in the cold rain. Scary at the time, ridiculous in retrospect. What a sight that must've been!
- From a health perspective, did you ever get sick and need a doctor? How did you deal with that? I only went to a doctor once, somewhere in southern Mexico (can't remember exact location). I had a cold that turned into a bit of a chest infection, so decided to swing through. I think the consultation was around $5 USD, and the round of meds prescribed another $5. In all, doctors are cheap and readily available throughout LatAm in my experience (at least in larger cities). In addition, before I left I purchased 12 month travel insurance through World Nomads. This covers (not completely) things like emergency accident/sickness, emergency dental, adventure sports and activities (i.e. motos), baggage and personal effects (theft), accidental death and dismemberment, etc. Have I used it? Not once. Was it worth the $1,200? Hard to say. Had I fallen and broken a leg, or had my laptop stolen, it may have been. But, none of that happened, so I can't comment.
- Safety and security: Did you ever get into a sketchy situation? Were you ever robbed? What can riders do to keep their risks lower? I had a few sketchy situations while on the bike (i.e. drunks trying to grab at me, things being thrown while passing through roadblocks, etc), but was never attacked or robbed. What's surprising however, is the large number of people that I ran into who did have serious issues. Countless numbers of kids coming home from bars being beaten/robbed, several motorcyclists that had their gear or entire bikes stolen, stories of girls being raped, and the tragedy of Harry Devert being kidnapped/murdered in Michoacan, Mexico. Now that I'm nearing the end of this I sometimes think, "how the hell did I make it through alive?" I don't know if I'm lucky, good at traveling, have street smarts, or a combination of all of it. Or none of it... Who knows?
Staying off highways for the most part, I did travel through sketchy areas. However, the majority of people I interacted with were warm, and full of smiles. My general thought on this... If you are patient, friendly, and smiling yourself, most people want to help, NOT harm you. There are $hitbags out there, and those can be dealt with accordingly. From a riding/routing perspective, in addition to preparing routes each night before setting off (on both GPS and paper), I talked to as many locals, truckers, and police as possible. I gathered information and made changes accordingly. From a personal safety perspective, I have a knife on my side, and made the decision before I left that I am absolutely prepared to use it (along with several other 'items') if needed. Even if lost, I typically walk with confidence. Depending on the area, I usually never pull out a map in public (can duck into public restrooms). I am aware if a person is following, and typically turn and approach them directly, or pretend to drop something or tie my shoe until they pass. I use common sense and don't stumble home drunk alone, I shell out money for a cab when needed, and know that dark empty streets are my enemy. On an important side note, typically it's best to just hand over whatever 'they' want. I always carry a false wallet for this reason. Fortunately, I've never had to give that over. A good idea to prepare one though.
I'll add one more thing to this. As referenced above, 99.9% of the people that I came across on this trip were incredible, generous, kind, and welcoming. The fear that something 'might' happen shouldn't keep you from doing a trip like this. Just use caution, and talk to locals. Also, get multiple opinions and take the running average. What I mean by this is, a lot of people will tell you "this road is dangerous" or "you shouldn't enter this area". If I turned back every time I heard that, I'd still be sitting at the border with Mexico. Take advice, process it, get more, then make decisions accordingly. Don't let paranoia ruin your trip. Be vigilant, but don't forget to enjoy the ride! Besides, you can just as easily be robbed 'back home'.
- How important is it to have support back home? Uhhhhh... Incredibly important! For me, my father has been an invaluable resource. He lives in Denver, so checks my PO box, opens anything that looks important, and keeps me posted. In addition, he helped with my taxes earlier this year, and has followed up on a few add'l items on my behalf. Before leaving, I gave him full power of attorney, and recommend you do the same with someone you trust before leaving. That aside, having people back home who you can communicate and connect with while away long term is incredibly important. For me several people have been a crutch. I'd be lying if I said I didn't get down at times, lonely, and/or sad. Family and friends have all been there for me. I feel supported, and know that I have a group of people who have my back and are following along on the journey.
- Thinking back, what are two or three of the most memorable moments of the trip? Oh man, that's difficult! I'll just fire off a few that come to mind... The first day I crossed the border into Mexico I was incredibly excited, but terrified. I blasted south far away from the border. That put me into La Pesca (sleepy fishing village) in late afternoon. A few things stand out. First, I nailed a topé (speed bump) at speed and learned immediately that those are disaster if not paying attention. Second, I was so excited to see the ocean that I rode directly onto the beach, and directly busted my ass, quickly remembering how difficult sand is to ride in. Third, after getting the bike up, and setting up camp, a truck came roaring onto the deserted beach directly towards me. I noticed there were several guys in back armed with machine guns. I thought to myself "Jesus, this isn't starting off well! A crash and kidnapping all on the first day!"... Turns out, they were members of the military coming to check on the "gringo loco" camping on the beach. Instead of harm, I was offered protection for the night after we talked and laughed for a bit. They took a few photos of them and the bike, and it was an eye opening experience. Here I was terrified that something bad would happen, and the opposite, I was warmly welcomed into Mexico.
The next thing that comes to mind are the incredible people I've met. I don't want to start a list, as I'm sure I'll leave someone out. I do however want to touch on one memory/experience I'll never forget. Crossing from Panama to Colombia through San Blas was one of the best weeks of my life. Boarding the motorcycle onto a sailboat, and setting out through paradise, with an amazing group of people... Does it get any better? I didn't think so, but it did. Before I set off on this trip I was (and still am at times) recovering from a divorce. I wasn't sure I'd ever find love again. However, I met Nina. She was the first person I noticed and talked to on the boat (probably helps that she's an incredibly attractive girl). We had an instant connection and within hours were swimming together through emerald blue water, and exploring a nearby island. That week, and the following in Cartagena together, we grew very close. While the memories of sailing will stay strong, the memory of meeting Nina will forever be in my mind. She made me 'feel' again, and showed me that it's possible to care about someone deeply, and for them to care for me. For that I'll be forever grateful.
The last thing I'll list is the riding and emotions that came with it through Peru and Bolivia. There were bike issues, crashes, intense cold, being lost, etc. Because of all that, there were times when I was frustrated, scared, and wondering why the hell I was even doing the trip. However, peppered in with 'the bad' was some of the most wonderful riding, scenery, and landscape that I've ever experienced. There would be days that I would cry tears of joy cresting a mountain with the perfect song playing in my helmet, then tears of frustration because I was lost and had yet another flat tire. I learned a lot about myself during those days. I became much more confident, not only in my abilities to travel, but in myself. I felt like "if I can achieve this, I can achieve anything". It was intense and hard to explain, but I'll never forget the mixed emotions that came with riding through the desolation and dirt roads of Peru and Bolivia. Something I would highly recommend to anyone if given the opportunity. In retrospect, it was one of the best parts of the entire trip.