December 4, 2014

South America: The Beginning, Chile

In November 2013 my now fiance left Whistler, Canada and rode down the west coast of the US, down Baja and into Mexico, through Central and South America to the southern most city in the world in Patagonia with his best friend on two Honda XR600 motorcycles he custom built. You can see their adventure at When his best friend flew home after 6 months of traveling, I flew down to meet James in April after driving 2,000 miles to Texas to see family beforehand. After 4 planes and almost 40 hours of travel/waiting in airports time, I ended up in Temuco, Chile and was picked up by James and his parents who had flown down a few weeks prior. From there we would ride together on his motorcycle as far north as we could make it. We had little clue as to how far our small budgets would get us, how much longer the motorcycle would live and how long we could put up with each other sandwiched together on a one-person dirt bike. In three months we rode 10,000 miles on both pavement and dirt through 6 countries in South America: Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. We then shipped the bike via plane from Bogotรก, Colombia to Miami, Florida, and from there rode to Houston, Texas to see family and friends before buying a trailer to tow the bike back home to Oregon, making pit stops for family in Colorado and Ontario, Canada. 

Since we would be camping as much as possible, there was little room on the bike for personal stuff. All I packed was: sleeping bag, mat, knife, first aid kit, camp utensils, tiny towel, headlamp, 2 film cameras, 20 rolls of film, 1 pair of boots, 1 pair of pants, waterproof motorcycle riding pants, wool base-layer, 2 shirts, a flannel, down jacket, rain coat, swimsuit, 1 sportsbra, 3 pairs of underwear, 4 socks, toothbrush, hairbrush, contacts and glasses, sunglasses, beanie, journal, iphone and good-luck charms from friends and family. 

The Lake District of Chile reminded me a lot of the Pacific Northwest. Lots of farm land, big green trees and snow capped volcanos, and lots of rivers and lakes. We stayed for about a week in Pucon hiking, soaking in hot springs and relaxing. It was weird to be on the other side of the planet only to end up in a place that looked so much like home. 

The first two days of riding from Villarrica to Santiago, Chile were pretty miserable. The bike's top speed on the highway is only 55mph, so we were moving slow along the PanAmerican highway, trying to avoid all the truck traffic and cars moving much faster than us. It was pouring rain, the beginning of winter and despite wearing 5 layers of clothing and rain gear, we got completely soaked. The first night we rolled up to a call box and gated motel with barbed wire fences in the dark and rain and tried to book a room, but had a hard time understanding the voice on the other side, but they opened the gate for us anyways. We pulled into another gated garage door to the room and was a little weirded out by the whole scene. We assumed all the security measures were in place for safety reasons, as it was a similar setup to a place James stayed in Honduras. The whole night the phone rang every hour or so with the woman on the other line speaking Spanish I could barely understand, having little experience with the language since high school. Cars were pulling though the driveway all night, with the metal gates slamming in the rain. We woke up in the morning and were ready to get the fuck out of there. Later when we had a chance to speak English we learned we stayed at one of those pay-by-the-hour places for prostitutes and what not, and so all the security measures weren't for safety, but rather privacy for the guests. The first of several occasions we would end up being dumb gringos. 

James’ had yet to make any alterations on the bike to accommodate for me, so we used extra bag straps for stirrups for my feet and my seat was a rolled up wool poncho wrapped in a goat hide - which would end up being my seat the entire trip. The first day riding my boot got wedged up against the muffler, but since it was so cold and wet I had no clue my boot was melting until it almost burnt a hole completely through my new Danner boots. Luckily James’ had made some friends on the way down, so in Santiago we had a great place to stay for a week and work on the bike with a wonderful family who were in the process of starting their own motorcycle shop Milla Motos. Sven and Cota were incredible hosts, showed us around the area, provided a space for James’ to work on the bike and helped me figure out how to get necessary vaccines so I could enter Bolivia. It was amazing to be able to spend that much time with locals to get a better understanding of the places we were visiting and to have such a warm welcoming to a continent I had yet to explore. They and their friends treated us like family, and I will forever remember and be grateful for their generosity and hospitality. 

After sad goodbyes to new friends we headed into Argentina towards the Mendoza Province crossing the Andes Mountains at Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Western and Southern Hemispheres reaching 22,841 feet. We made it to the border town of Uspallata, Argentina after sundown and ate a delicious steak with Malbec wine, all for only a several bucks. The next few nights we had our first nights camping on the trip off back roads through the Mendoza province of Argentina. The second night I distinctly remember for the many tears I cried missing my friends and family back home. 

I had never felt so vulnerable and exposed to the elements in my life, coupled with my lack of knowledge of the Spanish language, with no home but the bike and the bag on my back, left my two cats and personal belongings with friends in Portland, and had an unknown future ahead of me. We had maps that were often inaccurate and planned our routes day by day. It would be a lie to say I wasn't afraid. I had more fears in my mind than ever before: fears of crashing on the bike, fears of human dangers, fears of weather dangers, fears of never seeing loved ones again, fears of running out of money, fears of the unknown and the unplanned. We literally flew by the seat of our pants and it was the most terrifying and liberating feeling I have yet to experience. 

More posts to follow...

And stay tuned for the story on Shwood Eyewear here coming later this month...

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