Colombia has a reputation for danger. If I believed all the tall tales about Colombia I would huddle in a corner of my basement, quivering, while watching the Colombia roll by on the Discovery Channel. I wanted to surprise a friend I had made on my ride through Colombia in 1997, Miguel Giesener. On that earlier ride my BMW had broken and the Giesener family from Cali had put me up in their daughter’s room for a week while I waited for parts to be flown in from the United States. While waiting Miguel introduced me to a wide number of his motorcycling friends and I found all of them to be warm and friendly. My plan for this year was to show up on his doorstep Christmas Eve unannounced with a few presents for thanks for his hospitality in 1997. If Miguel’s lower jaw could have dropped any lower when he saw me it would have hit his belt buckle. I was the last person he expected to see Christmas Eve with an armload of presents spouting “Feliz Navidad.” Miguel insisted my pillion, Donna-Rae Polk, and I spend the evening with his family and friends. Dancing and the sharing of news followed their traditional Christmas meal. Miguel’s English is about as good as my Spanish so it took he and I several hours to trade seven years worth of news. I learned his daughters had grown to be wives and mothers living in the United States. Sadly Miguel told me my lady friend from 1997 had been shot and killed in her hair salon while cutting a customer’s hair. The male customer was the target of a contract killing and the gun guys decided to shoot the witness too. She left two small children and an empty feeling in my warm memories of that earlier visit. On Christmas Day Donna-Rae and I went to the horse parade that takes place in Cali, mostly rich horse people showing off their best horses. The sidewalks were packed and I was the mark for a pickpocket who got my wallet. On four rides around the world and hundreds of other crowded places like Times Square on New Years Eve or Mardi Gras in New Orleans this was the first time I had my wallet clipped. What could have been a disaster turned out to be a $10.00 lesson on following my instincts. Before going out of our room that morning I had carefully gone through my wallet and removed nearly everything of value. I moved my passport to a secret pocket sewn on the inside of my Levi pants leg. The $400.00 cash I was carrying I left with several of my credit cards hidden in my riding clothes thrown in the corner of the hotel room. What the dipper got when he went through my wallet were some business cards, one credit card, some papers with Cali telephone numbers written on them and a $10.00 bill. I realized immediately when my wallet got taken. I had it in my front pants pocket and I felt the dip, but by the time it registered in my mind what it was the thief had melted into the shoulder to shoulder crowd we were wedging ourselves through. A quick trip back to the hotel for the telephone numbers for VISA and a long distance telephone call from a phone booth had the credit card killed in two hours. As most of the stores were closed because it was Christmas Day I doubted the thief would be able to charge much but was relieved to hear the VISA representative tell me that nothing had. The next day Miguel wanted us to take his big BMW R100 GSPD motorcycle while he and his wife rode his BMW R60 for a day ride in the country. Before we left he got a telephone call from someone who had found my wallet lying on the sidewalk. They found Miguel’s telephone number inside and my cards. Before we left on our ride the finders showed up and gave my wallet back to me. All that was missing was the $10.00. Even the small “Good Luck” Buddha given to me by a friend was still inside. My lesson was to keep listening to that little voice that sometimes whispers into my gray matter to do things that seem unreasonable at the time, like leaving my money and credit cards in a hotel room that could easily be searched by hotel personnel while I am out. That little voice has whispered many odd things to me in life and I have always followed what I heard. I will keep listening to it.
Miguel Giesener and I share a few moments appreciating the BMW motorcycles and the excellent day of riding we had through some of the Mafia controlled hills outside of Cali. I had doubted I would ever see Miguel after my first ride through South America but here I was again, enjoying his warm friendship.
Working our way south from Colombia we found ourselves spending several days as guests of Ricardo Rocco Paz in Quito, Ecuador. Ricardo had stayed at my Denver house the summer before and we both own Kawasaki KLR motorcycles. He made a thorough inspection of our Honda GL 650 Silverwing and said he thought it was a smart choice for where we were planning to ride.
I chose the Silverwing over several other choices I had because it had low mileage and a few scratches. It also had a reputation of being a solid motorcycle and fell in one of what are called Dr. G’s Rules For Riding In Third World Countries: Never take a motorcycle you can not afford to lose to a thief, crash or confiscation by authorities. I call this one our $1,500.00 special because that is what I had invested in it before preparing it for the trip. The money we saved over buying some new $15,000.00 - $20,000 motorcycle for this ride should get use quite a ways around the earth.
The 1983 Honda Silverwing dwarfed Ricardo’s Kawasaki KLR in the garage but both had the same size engine, 650-cc’s. Where Donna-Rae and I suffered was on the bad and gravel roads. Where we will be rewarded is in the money we saved over using some expensive “adventure” motorcycle. Ricardo and I both felt if lucky, Donna-Rae, I and the Honda will all reach Ushuaia, the southernmost point in South America we can ride to, and our destination.
Peru took longer than I had expected to get through. Part of the delay was due to work I had to do for a publisher, part due to a reoccurring bout from malaria I had gotten years ago, and part due to our short mileage each day. When I had been in South America before I could manage 300-500 miles per day. On this trip with our overloaded motorcycle and Donna-Rae’s Parkinson’s Disease we manage about 250 miles on a good day.
While Donna-Rae tries hard to be quick, we must live with her physical disability. She can not make her hands, legs and arms do what she used to do easily as a dancer. To close the chin strap on her helmet is as frustrating for her as trying to zip up her jacket. I sometimes find it easier for me to close her chinstrap and zip up her jacket than to stand by and watch her struggle with these simple tasks that Parkinson’s makes so hard.
What would be for me riding solo a 10 minute “spash and dash” gas stop for the two of us easily approaches 30-45 minutes, sometimes an hour if she needs food to go along with the medication she needs to take. While it is frustrating for me to find myself standing in a gas station parking lot, sweating in my hot riding gear, it is more frustrating for her as she has to deal with toilets and getting into and out of her riding gear. Often rather than taking off her helmet when we stop, she keeps it on and strapped, a hot and frustrating way to get refreshed at a rest/gas stop. Just before my fuse blows with her slowness I remind myself how lucky I am not to have to live with what she does, an unfriendly nervous system disease for which there is no cure.
Donna-Rae has a small digital camera she carries strapped to her wrist. While she can not see around me in front of her and much of the road ahead, she can see sideways and often takes pictures of what is flashing by. We have an agreement that she gets to stop, get off the motorcycle, and take two photos each day. Getting on and off the motorcycle for her is a major chore, often requiring several minutes as she fights to lift her leg high enough to clear the luggage on the back and sides. Her Parkinson’s Disease limits her leg movement making what would be an easy leg lift a painful exercise for both of us. She has to balance herself using her weakened hands on my slippery jacket while I have to balance the 1,200 lbs. of us and the motorcycle using my right knee which should have been replaced 15 years ago. While she has not fallen during this process we can still laugh that when she does I will take a photograph before helping her up.
What Peru did have was an abundance of small motorcycles. Most were modified into three wheeled taxis. I often wanted to stop and take photographs of these colorful people movers, especially the ones that were carrying goats, pigs, chickens and once or twice a cow.
Honda is the big player in the motorcycle market in Peru. While I saw numerous other makes, including some from China, the Honda name was the one I saw most often. The owner would buy the motorcycle, then have it modified into a three-wheeled taxi. Most were small, 100-cc’s in engine size.
One decision I made for the Honda was to stick with the stock gas tank rather than spend $700.00-$1,000.00 for a custom made tank that would carry more fuel. We would use the savings for food, sleeping and fuel on the trip rather than make some gas tank supply company a little richer.
With the stock gas tank we could usually ride 150 miles before having to switch to reserve. With careful riding at a slower speed we could get another 20-30 miles on reserve. Usually there was a gas station within our 170-mile range.
While the gas was plentiful it was expensive. We have often paid $5.00 for a gallon, and the same for a quart of oil.
Once we were going to end up out of gas in the desert because we had spent some gas taking side trips off the main road. If that were to happen it is Donna-Rae’s job to hitch hike into the nearest town and return for gas while I guard the motorcycle and our luggage on the road. In this small town I managed to find three nice men working on a truck who sold us 2 liters of gas from a gas can, enough to get us into the next town. They were fascinated with us and we were thankful for their kindness. They very much liked seeing their picture on the digital camera, not having seen one before.
The desert of Chile seemed the same as before, only drier. It was day after day of riding through some of the driest places on the planet. I was still amazed at the number of memorials that are built alongside the road. There are put up by families to remember a member who died in an automobile or truck accident at that point of the road. Some are small, maybe only a welded car wheel with a name and dates. Others are works of art, small houses with glass windows and growing plants. For the plants to survive in the desert someone has to water it, meaning a drive of unknown miles. Nearly every curve along the road has these memorials, and they are even on the straight sections, probably where someone fell asleep and drove off the road. Once or twice I saw multiple memorials, meaning a bus or fully loaded car took a number of lives at once.
After several days of riding across the desert we found a small village on the ocean where we rested, enjoying the sound of waves and refreshing cool air blowing in at night. I needed to do some more writing and it was a good time for Donna-Rae to catch-up on her shopping and painting.
There is a misconception that writers like myself can magically pound out some earth moving treatment given a setting by the sea. What I find is I am easily distracted. Here I had everything from kids screaming and laughing on the beach, people constantly walking by and asking me about my work and noise from animals like dogs and birds. In the end I felt what I had written approached junk so deleted a great deal of it. I really long for the quiet solitude of my quiet office in Denver when I am forced to have to write what would appear on the outside to be in a perfect setting.
Argentina welcomed us with mountain scenery, blue skies and cheap prices, except for gas. We moved through Patagonia slowly, then raced through our last days to cut down on the number of hours we had to spend fighting the famous Patagonia winds each day. These winds often reached 70 mph or more, which was fine when it was from behind, but ugly when from the side trying to blow us off the road.
We rode into Ushuaia about two weeks behind our schedule. This town had been our destination for nearly one year in our planning. It is an upscale town, a jumping off place for many tourists who are booked for ship cruises to Antarctica, and so is home to many fine restaurants, souvenir shops and expensive hotels.
We rode around town for nearly an hour trying to find an inexpensive place to stay for two or three days, but everything was about twice what we wanted to pay. About to give up and bend to the high rent places, we were run up to on the street by a man wearing a Norton motorcycle tee shirt and who asked us if we were looking for a good value place to stay. I cautiously answered that we were and he told us to keep riding several blocks south and we would see his motorcycle parked out front. I said to him, “Hey, you’re Jeff aren’t you?” And he looked at me oddly, then said, “Yeah, how do you know me?” I laughed and said I was in his bar in Cusco, Peru about a month earlier and had heard he was riding his Norton to Ushuaia and that there could only be one person that crazy in all of South America. He owns the Norton Rats Tavern that is a motorcycle motif filled bar, one which all traveling motorcyclists must see if they are passing through Cusco. Although South America is big, amongst the motorcycle travelers it is very small.
It was in Rio Gallegos, just two days north of Ushuaia that I met another pair of travelers in 1997. I can remember walking down the main street in town when a woman walked up to me and asked, “Are you from Montana?” It was Susan Johnson and she and Grant had pulled into the same small hotel I had for the night and seen the license plate on the back of my motorcycle. My surprise in 1997 was how Jeff Powers must have felt when I asked him on the street in Ushuaia if he was who I thought he was.
Jeff Powers, formerly of Cleveland, Ohio, the “Mr. Norton Rat” of Cusco, was probably the first motorcyclist to ride a Norton motorcycle to the furthest point south on the South American Continent you can ride, done on February 9, 2005.
On February 8 Donna-Rae and I reached the end of South America, the second time by motorcycle for me, the first for her. We made a small celebration that night, then turned around and headed north to Buenos Aires from where we will fly, cruise or swim to Africa.
We have now ridden to Deadhorse, Alaska and turned around and ridden to “the end of the world”, the end of Route 3 on the South American continent. Our little Honda did an admirable job getting us there. Donna-Rae did an admirable job of putting up with a grouchy lone wolf pilot.
I probably did less than an admirable job than I could have in making her ride comfortable but had told her since we started this ride around the world I would not baby her, that I was not a care-giver. I told her she would have to toughen up or throw in the towel.
You can read her views on our ride so far at www.ultimategloberide.com as well as see some of her pictures.
I can still laugh at most of our experiences, like the night after a hard cold riding day when I was sure the motorcycle rear shock or the frame was going to break from the hammering they were taking from our heavy load over very bad roads. We were at dinner and my body was aching. My knees hurt from having to hold the motorcycle up as Donna-Rae had gotten on and off numerous times during the day. My right wrist was throbbing at the place it was broken years ago. It was swollen from the banging it had taken through the handlebars over the bumps and potholes for the day.
I was tired, hurting and grouchy, mostly because of all the weight we had on the motorcycle and how Donna-Rae had picked up a small rock from the road to carry as a souvenir. All I could imagine throughout the day was the expense and loss of time if the roads beat up our motorcycle enough to cause it to break.
I gulped down a beer and immediately ordered two more, confusing the waiter because he knew Donna-Rae did not drink alcohol. As the second beer was drained and the third was on its way down the same path Donna-Rae said, “Do you think you might have a drinking problem?”
As I set the empty bottle on the table I said, “Hell yes I have a drinking problem. You.” I saw her eyes swell up and start to water. Dr. Greg did not feel very good at having said that. I knew her day had been no easier than mine had. I ordered a cola and said I would apologize if she did not cry, but if the tears started I was going to order beers number four, five and six. The tears never came and I said, "I told you when we started on this ride, what you call your ‘Riding The Dream,’ that I was no bunny traveler, that going around the world with me would be hard, that I do things the hard way, like the risks and thrive on the toughness, not the soft easy rides.”
Donna-Rae smiled, called the waiter and ordered me a beer, then said, “I just thought once in a while we could have an easy day.” As I write this that is what we are doing, an easy day. Donna-Rae is off shopping and mailing boxes from the post office while Jeff Powers and I have been trading British and German motorcycle horror stories.
Donna-Rae and I reach the "fin del mondo,” the End of The Earth. The Honda was resting, now having 8,000 more miles on it than a month and a half ago.
On the back of the sign at the end of the world I found where some earlier traveler had carved “Greg Frazier, 12/97.”
July 27, 2000, Going Out Again - 'Round The World
October 4, 2000, Why Another Long Ride, The Plan, and Mr. Fish
October 10, 2000, the beginning, in America on an Indian
November 6, 2000, AMAZONAS-Tamed By Beasts in Brazil
November 22, 2000, Monster Cow, Wolpertinger and Autobahn Crawling Across Europe
December 22, 2000, Enfield 500 Bullet, India Motorcycle Dementia, Ozoned Harley-Davidsons and Gold Wings
December 25, 2000, Yeti on a Harley-Davidson, Nepal By Enfield, No Carnet Sexpedition
January 1, 2001, Haunting Yeti
January 25, 2001, Monkey Soccer, Asian Feet, Air 'em Up: Bhutan and Sikkim
February 12, 2001, Midgets, Carnetless, Steve McQueen on Enfield, Bangladesh
February 20, 2001, Higgledypiggledy, Salacity, and Zymurgy - India
March 20, 2001, Road warriors, sand, oil leaks - meditating out of India
April 8, 2001, Bike Cops, Elephants, and Same-Same - Thailand
May 1, 2001, Little Bikes, Millions of Bikes, Island Riding - Taiwan
May 15, 2001, Harley-Davidson, Mother Road and Super Slabs - America
June 8 , 2001, Crossing The Crazy Woman With A Harley-Davidson, Indian, BMW, Amazonas, Enfield, Hartford, SYM, Honda
January 1, 2002, Donged, Bonged, and Gonged - Burma
January 20, 2002, Secrets of The Golden Triangle - Thailand
March 31, 2002, Bear Wakes, Aims Green Machine Around The World
April 10, 2002, Moto Cuba - Crashes, Customs and El Jefe (Fidel)
May 20, 2002, Europe and The Roads South to Africa
June 10, 2002, Morocco Motorcycling, Thieves and Good Roads
July 30, 2002, Russia – Hard and Soft, By Motorcycle
August 30, 2002, USA – American Roadkill, Shipping Bikes and BIG DOGS
September 30, 2002, Good Times Roll Home, Riding With Clothes On, Team Green - USA
November, 2002, Mexico By Motorcycle - Gringos, Little Norman Bad Cock, and Bandits
March 2003, Laos by motorcycle - Guerrillas, Mekong Beering, and Plain of Coffins
July, 2003, Alaska by motorcycle – Deadhorse, Fish Story and Alaskan Bush
January 2004, Angkor, Bombed Out Roads and Dog Eaters - Cambodia
April, 2004, Minsking, Uncle Ho and Snake Wine
August 2004, Around The World Again, 1st Tag Deadhorse
February 2005, Colombia To The End Of The Earth - South America
January 2006, My Marriage, Long Strange Ride, Montana Nights
May 2006, Cherry Girls, Rebels, Crash and Volcano - Philippines
September 2006, Break Bike Mountain Ride – United States
March 2007, Kawasaki Cult Bike “No Stranger To Danger Expedition” - Thailand and Cambodia
November 2007, Lone Wolf Wanders: Bears, Moose, Buffalo, Fish
April 2009, Global Adventure Roaming: Burma through the USA to headhunters on Borneo
February 2010, Adventure Motorcycle Travel: Expedition to Alaska, then Java
Copyright © Dr. Gregory W. Frazier. 1999- All Rights Reserved.
Thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author,
and not necessarily Horizons Unlimited