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Archive for February, 2011

February 23rd, 2011 - For change of scenery

Totally unrelated, but how often do i get to hang out with Miss Paraguay again?
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February 21st, 2011 - The Beautiful Paraguay

All the struggles, ups and downs, and self mutilations finally found me in an emergency room. High fevers and not being able to breathe didn’t leave me much choice, but to listen to Robert and see a doctor. Robert generously put all the medications on his company account as if it was for himself, and I started medicating with colorful pills and drops.

The doctor urged me not to get out of the bed, but the prospect of staying still was too much to even consider. So we loaded up and headed out to the countryside to have a look at the beautiful Salto Cristal water fall, joined by Leti, her mom and grandma. The climate was tropical and very hot, but equally beautiful. Lush vines and green trees obscured the path down to the fall, and we trekked down for a good 45 minutes to get to the bottom. The route was almost 90 degrees down with class 5 scrambling, so we had to leave Roberts’s 8 months pregnant wife Sandra, and grandma at the base camp.

I’ve seen a lot of waterfalls, but Salto Cristal stands out because of its secluded location, and climate. The water was cold and it was a welcoming relief to my fever. We spent a few hours swimming, and laying in the sun before leaving the heaven. Now that I look at the pictures, I look whiter than Casper himself, and all the weight I lost concerns the hell out of me. So the next step was to fatten up.

The next day I made some Persian Kababs for the family, and although I couldn’t taste anything myself due to being sick, I devoured as much as I could to get some needed fat back. I visited the fascinating sugar factory with Robert, and we did some riding around Tebicuary. This town is very clean, with almost no garbage anywhere. The people are laid back, friendly, and always ready for a good fun. As most of South America, Dirt rallies are very popular in Paraguay and we had a chance to go and see the first race of the season. Although it rained a lot before the race, people pushed through the flooded roads on bicycle, motorcycle and small cars not to miss the race.

With Subarus and Mitsubishis being the predominant race cars, these amazing drivers cut through hard corners, and mud with unbelievable speeds and managed to keep their wheel on the ground. It was an exciting race and the locals did everything in their power to make it more fun, whether throwing their shirts on the track to have the tire mark as a trophy, or by jumping after the cars.

My stay at Robert’s house was a great experience and I got to know him and his beautiful family. He’s an amazing guy, with high hopes for his country. He welcomed me to his home and showed me nothing but good times. Paraguay is not a tourist destination by any means, and for no good reason. It is safe, beautiful, relatively cheap, and quiet. It’s a perfect getaway. Don’t miss out on this country, you’ll love it.

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February 15th, 2011 - Back to Tropics, Paraguay

With every fall we learn something new, and with every rise we stand taller. This only holds through if we accept the reality and move on. And best of all, it gives us a chance to evaluate who’s a friend, and who’s a foe, and who to keep and who to let go. My friends list is much shorter now, but more realistic.

As I have been blessed many times, I managed to meet some of the best people I could wish for in Paraguay. I met a cute and very down to earth girl in Asunción named Leticia. To my delight, she spoke very good English, and showed me much of the city. We became friends and by the time I left, she was like a little sister to me that I never had. I stayed at a flat all to myself, and recuperated. I spent the next few days getting back to shape by force-feeding myself and trying to get a grip on reality, and Leti did her best to cheer me up.  It was nice to have a friend to talk to and fight like teenagers about music and travel. Leti and her mom looked after me, and I’m very gracious for their hospitality.

While I was still in United States, a friendly biker named Robert Rolon from Paraguay sent me an email, and told me to count on a friend when I get there. Robert is a civil engineer and economist who studied in the states, and one hell of a genuine guy. I called him up in Asunción and we all went out to dinner joined by his beautiful wife, and his good friend Christian. Robert works at a sugar mill in a beautiful country town of Teibcuary, and of course he invited me to go visit.

Paraguay is landlocked between Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia and it truly is a lovely country. With only 6 million inhabitants, it’s a wide-open country with miles of nothing especially in the north. Most of Paraguay’s economy comes from agriculture, and farming and it’s no surprise. Everywhere you look, there’s an exotic tropical tree with shiny, and delicious fruits hanging from it. The people are amazing, the weather is almost perfect with a permanent chance of rain, and it’s nice to know that Paraguay is the only bilingual country in South America. Spanish is spoken everywhere, but the native language of Guaraní is predominant in rural areas. Guaraní is nothing like Spanish, and the first time I heard it, I was like what?!! I don’t have a chance in hell in learning it but it’s beautiful.

Although something’s are similar here to Argentina and Uruguay, Matte is definitely not. The tea is almost the same, but they drink it with cold water, and it’s called Terere. It’s a refreshing drink in the sub tropical and hot Paraguay, and I honestly like it better than hot matte in this kind of climate.

When it was time to leave Asunción, I headed out on the open country road to central Paraguay with clear mind, and started to see the country the way it was meant to be seen. I started to notice every cow, every blade of grass and the amazing skies again. Robert welcomed me at his beautiful home and I settled in. As every South American I met, he’s the master of the grill, and he showed his talent the very next day by grilling some serious meat. For the time being I’m enjoying their company, and will get on the road soon for eastern Paraguay to visit a local office of Action Against Hunger, then head to the field for some serious work with children.

Life is what we make it, love is what we give with no reason, and travel is what we do to challenge no one, but ourselves. To give up exploring is inconceivable to me. I’m back. And I’m loving it. Stay tuned.

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February 14th, 2011 - The Indignation of God

I usually don’t post random pictures, but i was in an out of this world mood when i took this one today in Central Paraguay.

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February 12th, 2011 - No Man Knows My History

Is it the struggle towards the goals, which makes mankind happy? Or is the goal the struggle to stay conscious in the midst of ghastly twinges? What is the value of having goals for our own sake? After 30 years of living on this green and blue ball, I know one thing… they all vanish… It is merely a question of time.

All I remember is the screech of the car tires behind me trying to avoid collision, and the sound of metal scraping on the wet asphalt in the Paraguayan tropics. Just moments before the slide, I tried to pull over to the shoulder to wipe off my visor, and that’s when I went flying to the middle of the road.

When I left Argentina for the beautiful Uruguay, I was happy with no worry in the world. The bike was fixed, the hospitality of the locals was top notch, and the weather was glorious if just a little hot. But my mind quickly tuned into the ever-changing state of this expedition, and with that came the thoughts, and agonizingly hurtful memories of my recent relationship. Explaining the causes and details is not something I’m willing to do, but the outcome was devastating nevertheless for both of us. And with every mile, this pain became more tangible to the point that it was unbearable to carry on. Somewhere in northern Uruguay, I got sick. I started to vomit few times a day and eating became a chore. I tried to force-feed myself, but I couldn’t hold anything down, and the burning fever skyrocketed to compound my misery in the already hot weather. But my deteriorating physical condition was no match for the despondent mental state I was in.

I rode day after day with no real destination as my compass pointed north towards Paraguay and Bolivia.  The perpetual fights and indecisions went on with Cynthia via emails and phone calls, and I hoped against hope just to have something to cling on to. I met amazing people on the road and they all showed me nothing but the greatest care and love, but I failed time after time to even take out my camera to snap a photo of them to remember them by.

For two thousand miles I hallucinated. So when I found out that I washed my passport inside my riding jacket in the washing machine for two cycles, I wasn’t one bit surprised. My only identity and my ticket out of this land now looked like a watercolor painting of a shity story as my stamps resembled the famous painting; “Persistence of Time” only more incoherent. My importation papers for the bike looked like a wet clump of toilet paper, and I didn’t even notice that until I reached the border of Paraguay.

I spent hours at the border going from one office to another to beg the apathetic officials for mercy, and at last I succeeded. This was a true test of my Spanish limit and, I was exhausted when I received my entry stamp and stepped foot in Paraguay.

I rode towards Asunción, with nothing on my mind but Cynthia, and I lost my focus on the road and my surrounding. For the first time in my life I hit the ground while riding a motorcycle. I spent years perfecting the art of alertness in traffic, but I succumbed to what I knew too well. I let my guard down, and I simply didn’t think of what any idiot would already know. I pulled into a muddy shoulder after heavy tropical rains at speed, and the rest is history.

I have to get my focus back, and this country is going to be the place to do it. Paraguay is beautiful, but also is one of the poorest countries in South America with a real grip of poverty, and malnutrition chocking its population. Countless skinny and dirty innocent little faces made me realize once again that nothing in the world is ever worth fighting for than standing up for those who can’t. I’m here to stay and I’m here to do what I set out to do. I tried to take a trip, but the trip took me.

We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.- John Steinbeck

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February 6th, 2011 - Touring Uruguay

My stay in Montevideo was one of the highlights of my travels. Montevideo is a beautiful city with a lot of history. Uruguayans are proud people and one of the most welcoming I’ve seen so far, and Eliseo and his family were no exception. Eliseo’s father took me out on a grand tour of Montevideo. In seven hours, we literally scaled the town, and I was fascinated on how knowledgeable he was about his country. Although he didn’t speak any English, I almost understood every other word and we got along really well.

Eliseo and his father have a very impressive machine shop in Montevideo, and as the internet in his apartment wouldn’t work with my laptop, I chose to stay at the shop. I felt like man. Smell of metals and oily machines was like a pacific breeze to me. We tried to fix anything and everything as I knew I would never find another shop like this anywhere. We fixed the troublesome kickstand again, and this time we made it bulletproof. The new motor had a stripped spark plug hole, and we fixed that with helicoil as well. After 4 days of wrenching on my bike and Eliseo’s Katana, finally everything looked good. We went out for a ride in the city, and tested everything to be sure.

It was so nice staying in Montevideo that I really didn’t want to leave, but I was anxious to get back on the road. I chose to take the long way round, and pretty much covered half of Uruguay by the time I reached the border of Argentina again. The roads were spectacular, and weather held gloriously the whole time.

My plan was to enter Argentina again (I have 8 stamps in my passport just from Argentina for going in and out back and forth. They should make me an honorary citizen soon) and head north on the border of Brazil until reaching Paraguay. This section is long, flat and hotter than hell. And it was made harder by me not feeling well. I started to go down with something, and I kept vomiting and having fevers. Not being able to sleep, eat or drink, every mile felt like eternity, and the tropical climate made it worse. On one of these agonizing sections, a wasp flew into my helmet (my visor was up as it was a million degrees) and stung me on the corner of my right eye. I let go of the handle bar, and took of the helmet off so fast that I almost crashed. Getting stung by a wasp is one thing, but at 60 mph, it doubles your vocabulary (just the cuss words of course.)

Uruguay was beautiful and I truly enjoyed its people’s company. I already miss Eliseo’s family, and I hope to have a chance to meet them again. I made a friend for life.

I’m not feeling well so I’m going to cut this short, but I will cross into Asuncion, Paraguay tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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February 5th, 2011 - Entering Uruguay

Finally came the time to leave Otamendi and Argentina for good. I double checked everything, mounted the bike after 58 days of involuntary encampment, and left Tati’s farm in Otamendi for Buenos Aires, 500km to the north. The weather turned out to be hellish. Temperatures rose to high 90’s, and high humidity made it impossible to not sweat like a pig. I stopped at every shaded gas station, and dumped water on my head so not to pass out.

After a long ride, I finally reached Buenos Aires around 4 pm, and met up with Adrian. We took the bike straight to his friend’s shop to check out the carburetors and spark plugs. What I feared came through; the spark plugs were as white as Casper, and the lean condition was still haunting me.

To fix the problem, we had to raise the needles in the carbs to adjust the mixture, but the North American CV carbs never had that option. The solution was to add spacers to the needles to fix the height, but the spacers had to be 2mm in diameter. I searched the giant city of Buenos Aires for small washers in that size, but I came back empty handed just short of a heatstroke.

The very talented mechanic, Luis fabricated the spacers on his 1930’s out of shape lathe, and the bike finally started to run the way it should. In the mean time I spent my time with Adrian and his family, and went windshield shopping in the city. The windshield on the bike shredded to pieces in the wicked Patagonia winds, so I replaced it for a better one.

Adrian and his family showed me the utmost hospitality in Buenos Aires, so it was hard to leave the delicious food and comfortable bed behind, but it was time to get back on the long road. On the fourth day, I packed up the bike, and headed for the Uruguayan border town of Frey Bentos. To cross into Uruguay, I had two options. One would have been crossing the Rio de la Plata on a ferry for $200; the fastest and easiest option, but I chose to ride inland along the river until I could find a bridge of some sort to cross the widest river in the world. 270km north of Buenos Aires finally was such a bridge and I crossed into Uruguay.

The border crossing went well, but the officer kept asking about my insurance. I handed him an official looking piece of paper and assured him that it was my “international insurance” (I don’t have any insurance whatsoever). This was the first time that anyone at any border in Latin America asked for insurance, so I suppose I have to make one up for the next border in case I get asked again.

Uruguay started pretty, and it turned prettier with every mile. I was going to Montevideo to meet a GSR member named Eliseo who happened to be a machinist. That would give me a chance to fix all the small problems once and for all, and continue my travels north for the Brazilian Amazon worry free. In his emails, Eliseo suggested a road that wasn’t even on the map but I took it anyway. For 260km, I saw only a handful of cars, and three villages as this road passed through some of the most secluded, but beautiful parts of Uruguay along the Parana River. I was finally out of the overpopulated Buenos Aires province, and the fertile pastures of the quite Uruguay were a blessing. It was a love at first sight. I love Uruguay.

Uruguay is a very small country the size of Iowa, tucked in the far-eastern corner of South America. Being sandwiched between the two South American giants of Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay is sometimes looked at as another province of Argentina rather than a wholesome country. But it’s not. Uruguay is a unique place of its own in my opinion. Majority of the population come from direct Spanish and Italian ancestors, and unlike Argentina, it hasn’t quite mixed in with its neighbors. Blue eyes, blond hair and super tan skins are predominant looks, and a beautiful smile to cap it off comes standard with every face in Uruguay. Every person I met was happy and laidback, and without exception wanted to know everything about me and my bike. At every gas station, I held small press conferences for the crowd as I entertained them with my ridiculous sounding scanty Spanish, telling tales of the far-faraway lands.

I decided to stay for the night 150km before Montevideo as it was getting dark, and I would continue the trip the next day. I stopped at Juan Lacaze, a very small town off the main highway to Montevideo. I stayed the night at the house of a genuinely sweet Uruguayan girl, named Paola, who happened to speak very good English. She made an amazing dinner of traditional Uruguayan meal and educated me on customs and traditions of her country. The bike was running fine, the weather was cooler, and I was welcomed into Uruguay with topnotch kindness. I could relax at last.

The next day, I blazed the short leg to the capital city of Montevideo, and met up with Eliseo at his machine shop. Eliseo received me with his never-fading smile, and ten minutes later we were drinking Matte, and chatting with his father like we were friends for years. He put me up in the guest room at his apartment, and after meeting his beautiful wife and a great meal, I retired for the night. I’ll stay in Montevideo to round up the odds and ends of the bike, and will head north from here for Paraguay. Stay tuned.

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