From December 2009 through the spring of 2010 I'll be traveling by
motorcycle from Boulder, Colorado through Mexico, Central America and South

The purpose of this trip is simple- to live in the moment, enjoy life, see the world, make some great memories and maybe learn a thing or two along the way.

Monday, June 21, 2010

5-16-10 Montevideo, Uruguay

Getting to Uruguay was an entertaining ordeal as we took a huge ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia, about two hours from Montevideo. The ferry was one of the larger vessels I’ve been on and was well equipped with a restaurant, bar and large DutyFree shop. Not long into our voyage we started hitting some rough seas which caused dozens of perfumes, chocolates and crystal trinkets to fall to the ground with each wave.

We were the first off the boat as we’d been the last to park on the lower deck. Waiting for us when we rode off was Sami, who’d taken an earlier ferry the same day. He showed us where to go to get processed into the country. Their customs office was a small Toyota pickup truck with a fat man inside who filled out our paperwork on a clipboard perched on the steering wheel which honked the horn frequently by accident.

It was really overcast and misty as we rode out of Colonia making me wipe my visor frequently. We were happy to be out of the city and relax a bit while riding. BA was great but it’s nice to get away into the country as well. The highway was lined with palm trees, each unusually thick and about 30 feet tall, spaced every 50 feet or so. Thousands upon thousands of them all perfectly uniform, very impressive. After several miles the palms changed to equally well-planted pine trees.
They aren't big on signs here in Uruguay which is somewhat annoying but we were able to find our hostel surprisingly easy. It's not downtown but is located in a quiet suburb with lots of Victorian styled homes, not what I expected at all.

Uruguay is the North Dakota of South America. From what I’ve seen, it has nothing that you can’t see better elsewhere and is simply mediocre and remarkably unremarkable. The only thing that stands out in my mind regarding the country and their inhabitants is that they drink more mate than anywhere I’ve ever seen. What bothers me about their mate consumption is the inefficiency in which they do so. In one hand they have a thermos of hot water. In the other they have their gourd filled with dried mate, hot water, and a filtering straw. If I were to like the lawn-clipping flavored concoction enough to drink it on a regular basis I’d somehow fashion the mate cup to the top of the water thermos as it would free up one hand which would allow for productive things to be done. However, maybe this is all well known to the average Uruguayan and they are thoroughly enjoying the simplicity provided by having both hands occupied.
I saw the nicest memorial yet of South America today. It was a maosoleum of sorts for some warlord general. There was a huge statue of him on his steed, maybe three times the real size. Underneath him was a set of stairs that led underground to a dimly lit room that was spectacular. Dark granite that was spotless with large, back-lit cast concrete letters on the interior walls which spelled out important dates in the life of Sr. Artigas who apparently slayed more than a few uncooperative natives throughout his days. Two sword-toting soldiers were on either side of his urn which was octagonal and adorned with gold writing and placed on an altar of sorts under a beam of light which looked like something Indiana Jones might try to heist.  Perhaps most pleasant was what was missing... no trash, no typos, no bums, no strange smells, no broken tiles and no stray dogs. It was perfect. Felt like I was back in the States for a few minutes.

Later that night we went to a strange indoor market that housed dozens of small BBQ or 'Parilla' restaurants.  They were all out in the open, each with about a dozen stools surrounding a huge fire with a 15'x8' grill over it whose height was adjusted by a series of winches and chains.  Mark instantly recognized one as being from the show, "No Reservations" with Anthony Bourdain so we thought we'd give it a try.  Our order came out heaped on a small, personal grill with various sausages, entrails, steaks limbs and a few non-meat products as well.  All excellent except for what we thought was intestine. Too chewy.

Monday, June 14, 2010

5-10-10 Buenos Aires, Argentina

Getting into Buenos Aires was a bit of a nightmare. We hit the outskirts of town at dusk and didn’t waste any time getting lost. The problem was that the street names changed every few blocks, even on the largest of roads which frequently forked, making us choose at random which way we thought was best.
We pulled over and started looking at a map of Argentina which was too big to be very useful as it showed Buenos Aires as a splotch only an inch in diameter. We knew if we could just make it to the coast of the city that we could take a coastal road north to Dakar Motos, a hostel/motorcycle shop on the northern side of the city.

While pulled over mulling our options a friendly couple came upon us and asked us if we needed directions. We accepted though didn’t have high hopes for their help as to date I have yet to meet anyone in Latin America who can use a map. I showed him the map and told him that we wanted to get to the coast within the city. He paused for a moment to study the map before declaring that we were, “Aqui” while pointing to the center of Uruguay some 1000km from our current location. Close, but not quite.

Several hours later, with my low fuel light on, after riding down the wrong way of numerous one-way streets we rode past an old Jeep with DAKAR MOTOS painted on the side of it, we’d made it. Inside was a bit of a biker utopia. It was a small shop that catered mostly to motorcycle travelers as ourselves. There were several other riders there as well. A few guys from Sweeden, a few Canucks and another gringo.

This was the first time we’d meet up with a group of riders and it was refreshing. None of the usual questions from annoying tourists, ‘Why are you riding that thing? How fast does it go? How much did it cost? How large is the engine? There was a bit of calm there as well as a sense of security. Everybody had their gear spread out which is something we never do at hostels but this was a safe zone of sorts. It was a good spot to swap info on different routes, where crooked cops were, which passes were frozen over for the year, etc.

I swapped out my tires, did an oil and filter change and had the valves adjusted slightly and also had a Helicoil put in as one of the engine head bolts was stripped out.

One of the riders at Dakar Motos was Sami, a Lebanese/Canadian hybrid who we’d met briefly in Ushuaia. I had chatted with him upon arriving at our hostel in Ushuaia a month back while Mark was off unpacking his bike in the dark and didn’t join in the conversation.

I introduced Mark to Sami, who was confused for a moment, “I thought you were traveling with a black guy?” Nope. Mark does look a bit darker these days as he’s sporting quite the bushy beard which is capable of hiding various objects including pens and forks he found out.

Sami informed us that he was going to a soccer game in the next few days and asked us if we wanted to join him. We had heard that these ‘futbol’ games weren’t the safest of things and agreed that it would be best if we all went to it together.

The morning of the Boca vs Hurican game we took a bus over to the Boca stadium where we were told tickets would go on sale at 10am. However, upon getting there, we soon realized that all the tickets had been sold out and but scalped tickets were an option.

We were approached by several guys offering scalped tickets which was illegal, but our options were limited. There were perhaps a dozen other people in search of tickets, but nobody was buying. Sellers would approach potential buyers who would look at the tickets then hand them back and walk off. We watched numerous interactions until we saw some local guys buy some tickets which we took as a good sign as we’d heard the tickets can be fake at times.

$30 later we had three tickets which we hoped would get us into the game that evening.

We arrived early to the game and found a sea of fans and riot police packing the streets. Barricades were erected to herd people through the streets as well as to separate the opposing fans as violent fights are said to break out frequently. The police presence was unreal, hundreds upon hundreds of cops decked out in full riot gear along with armored vehicles and huge water cannons. And this wasn’t even an important game as neither team was advancing in the post season.

Not a drop of alcohol was sold in a wide radius of the stadium in an effort to reduce problems but that didn’t do much to stop people from bringing their own booze with them as the streets were covered in bottles and cans. Also disturbing was when we saw a guy take a box cutter out of his pocket and hide it in his shoe before cruising through security.

We were unaware as to whether or not our tickets would work as we’d heard that many sold on the streets were fakes, but that some of the fakes were good enough to get into the game with. We quickly found out that our tickets were not only fakes, but were also not good enough to get into the game with when the ticket attendant yelled, “Trucha!” and we were busted.

We quickly chatted up one of the other guard/ticket takers and came to find out that he knew somebody who could get us into the game. We waited around for a bit before somebody showed up and sold us another round of tickets that the employee confirmed we could get in with. The only problem was that the tickets were for the visiting team, Hurican, and Mark was wearing a Boca jersey which we were told would be a problem. I took off my long-sleeved shirt and gave it to Mark which covered all but a bit of blue and yellow of the collar. Nothing to be worried about, or so we thought.

We made it through all of the security checkpoints and ran up all the flights of stairs to the very top of the stadium which was shaking gently due to the stomping crowd. The energy of the place was like nothing I’ve ever seen, absolute mayhem.

Being that we were in the visitors section, we had tall barbed-wire fences surrounding us, prison style. Long cloth banners were tied to the top rail of the stadium and were run down the steep stands. These banners were then held onto by dozens of rowdy fans while balancing on handrails throughout our section. There was constant drum beating and chanting of songs that everyone in the stands knew. At one point a few guys unleashed a barrage of whole onions and golf ball-sized ice chunks onto the Boca fans below no doubt doing some serious injury to some unlucky fans.

Hurican scored a goal late in the first half which caused the intensity level to rise to a new level I didn’t think was possible. Absolutely deafening with people yelling to the point that you couldn’t hear individual yells, it sounded all as one, reverberating in my chest. There was more swaying of the stands, as well as another barrage of random objects in the air. Mark and I looked at each other and shrugged as if to say, ‘So this is what soccer fans are like’.

Hurican remained in the lead till part way through the second half when Boca scored. Our section couldn’t have been more quiet while the other end of the stadium celebrated. During this silence, our buddy, Sami, took a few distant pictures of the Boca fans celebrating, and some of the Hurican fans must have noticed.

What happened next I’ll never forget. It resembled the wave that fans do at baseball games, but instead of the wave traveling horizontally; it went vertically, from the bottom of our section to the top. The wave didn’t consist of people raising their hands in the air, but rather people spinning around to watch the 15 guys rushing up the stands towards our location.

The group of hooligans didn’t run past though, because we were their target. The first guy to come up was a thick guy with a shaved head. He grabbed Mark’s collar (as you could still see the blue and gold underneath) and ripped it open, exposing his Boca jersey. “Eres de la Boca!” (You’re from Boca) he yelled and slammed his fist into Mark’s face. I lunged forward towards the guy but received a cheap-shot to my right jaw and another to back of my head.

The next thirty seconds seemed like hours as we were surrounded on the top deck of the stands, each with approximately 5 guys throwing punches at us. At one point both Mark and I were knocked to the ground when a bit of a boot party took place on us. We were kicked in the ribs, head and back. At this point it was as if everything stopped. I realized that if I didn’t do something soon that I’d be dying at a lousy soccer game in Argentina.

I then relied on a bit of advice that my dad, an old Marine, once gave me when we were watching some old war movie together. Basically, when faced with multiple attackers, don’t try to fight the whole group, but pick them off one at a time.

I managed to pop to my feet, fists up and locked eyes on the skin-head that had hit Mark first. I charged him and landed a hellacious left hook to his right eye, snapping his head back like a Pez dispenser. I reloaded and threw another punch, hitting him in his right eye again and he clutched his face and staggered off.

With their skin-head down I then charged the guy next to him, picking him up and slamming him to the ground. This gave me a bit of an opening and I dashed across the top deck of the stands towards the exit where we had come up earlier. There was a row of cops there which was a welcome sight. I also saw Mark ahead of me who made it to the cops first.

What happened next was rather shocking. Mark was behind a cop when two more guys charged him. The cop squirmed out of the way and offered no assistance, nor did the ten other cops nearby.

Mark escaped and we then made it into a calmer section of the crowd where we sat down briefly, adrenaline still pumping. While catching our breath in the stands, another hooligan ran up and kicked Mark in the kidney then ran off. I grabbed a cop and told him that we needed to get out of the stands and he heed and hawed a bit. A paramedic for our section of the stands came over and argued with the cop briefly before he opened the huge gate which led us out into the internal hallways of the stadium.

The paramedic brought us down to the team’s doctor who had studied in Minnesota, Mark’s home state. The doctor apologized profusely for the delinquency of his country as he looked us over.

Sami then showed up, escorted by some other cops. He hadn’t been hit at all, but had everything of value stolen from him..wallet, cell phone, camera, glasses, hat and even his hotel key. He had sought refuge behind some lady during the whole ordeal and got out unscathed.

The cops then escorted us to the police station which couldn't have been any more of a wast of our time.  We sat there for several hours, looking at a trophy case with trophies for 'Efficiency' and 'Valor' neither of which we saw that day from the cops.  Finally a police officer interviewed us but he warned us that if we stated that we had been assaulted, that we would not be able to leave the country before having a court hearing so we just left.
Mark later went in for X-rays of his ribs which showed no fractures, just badly bruised ribs.
The next day we woke up in our little hostel room in downtown Buenos Aires.

“How you feeling, Ben?” Mark asked,

“Like I got beat up” I replied managing a faint chuckle.

“Don’t make me laugh, Ben, it makes my ribs hurt” He said breathing hard.

While there’s no denying that we got beat up, things couldn’t have turned out much better given the circumstances. Anything more serious could have ended the trip. We believe that our bushy beards did a sound job protecting us for the most part, softening and deflecting punches. Mark has a swollen lip and sore ribs, while I’ve got a black eye, a boot-print on my back, a swollen jaw but also some sore knuckles which hurt in a good way.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

4-28-10 Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina

This is not the nicest place I’ve ever been. We’ve been seeing a lot of good stuff in Argentina so I suppose it’s only fair for us to see some of the other side. If Argentina were the US, then this part of the country would be much like North Dakota, central Nevada, or Kansas in its entirety. There is nothing out here worth seeing really. Sure, there are interesting things here and there, but nothing that can’t be seen elsewhere and better at the same time. The only reason people are here is because they don’t know any better. The landscape is nothing but rolling hills covered in some sage brush-like plant. Dead alpacas are seen about every 15 miles. Dead coyotes are every 20 miles. The wind is constant, only varying in direction, intensity and frequency of gusts.

We arrived yesterday around 1pm and found a bike shop that had tires for Mark, but they were closed for their mid-day siesta and wouldn’t reopen until 3:30 so we went off and found a little hospedaje owned by a friendly older guy who showed us around the place. They have a long garage for our bikes which is important as a safe place for the bikes is a prerequisite for a place for us to stay. Our room is a bit barren except for the large painting of eight wild stallions running through water that looks like it has lightning bolts coursing through it. The comically muscular horses have unusually long snout-like faces and extra large eyes. There are four Chinese symbols on the painting as well. It is stunning, thought provoking and of Peruvian quality even though we are in Argentina.

The bathroom is a real treat. It’s set up like an RV bathroom in which the shower and toilet are all in the same area. The design of this place baffles me. The floor plan is the same size as two refrigerator boxes placed end-to-end. Long and narrow. At the far end of the hallway-like room is the toilet. Adjacent to the toilet is the leaking shower head (there is hot water, though!) from the shower head back to the door is about 8 feet of walking space. The drain is at the door as well, so the water has to run down the little hallway before hitting the drain. All the plumbing is done externally thus the shower head could be relocated to an ideal spot in minutes with nothing more than a Leatherman, a garden hose and two clamps.

The kitchen which we were free to use was along the same level as the rest of the place. Most notable was the prison shank sitting next to the sink. It looked like some old sort of machete which had been ground down to a butcher knife size. The handle was impressive, made out of numerous layers of burned and melted plastic bags wrapped around each other.

After the brief showing of our luxo-hotel we rode over to the bike shop where Mark got a new set of Metzlers put on. Argentines have a funny way of pronouncing foreign words as though they are Spanish. I suppose we do the same at times in the US, but not to the extent that they do it here in Argentina. My favorite thus far has been their pronunciation of the word ‘Firestone’. They say ‘Fee-ray Ston-ay’. The mechanic put one of the tires on backwards but happily changed it when we pointed it out.

Upon getting back to our hospedaje the friendly older man was no longer there. In his place was an unfriendly older man. We started pulling our bikes into the parking area when he started throwing a fit, saying that there is no way the bikes would fit and that there needed to be room to walk to the back of the garage. I assured him that they would fit just fine but he carried on protesting with the typical pessimistic attitude that Argentines are known for (it clearly states so in my guide book even).

Mark and I blatantly ignored the guy and proceeded to park the bikes just fine (It would have been too easy to make a comment regarding American ingenuity so I held my tongue). Once parked the guy protested again, saying that there was not enough room to walk past. There was over 3’ of walking room between our bikes and the wall which he said was not acceptable even though his personal motorcycle protruded well beyond ours. “Hay muchas gorditas aca?” I inquired sternly. He said nothing and walked away.

One thing that I’ve learned quite well on this trip is that I shouldn’t always be my normal friendly and polite self as it doesn’t always get the job done. Being frank and somewhat unpleasant is required at times.