Motorcycle Trip, South America


We left on the 28th or 29th of December. Our destination was Bolivia. Paul’s father, Don, and my beloved, Devon, were all going to stop at a wedding reception at the infamous Bohemian Grove. We intended to ride all three of us on motorcycles in spite of the cold and rain. Our plans were thwarted when, in the process of moving out of his house Paul and Don had somehow packed the key to Don’s motorcycle into one of the boxes in the storage unit that all of Paul’s personal effects had been transported to. After rummaging through the boxes for a couple hours with no luck, they started calling around to locksmiths, none of whom had blanks for an Aprillia.

So in the proud history of strong anti-climaxes, and possibly the least triumphant departure on an epic motorcycle journey in the history of epic motorcycle journeys, we loaded my XR600 and the Aprillia into a U-haul and left for northern California.

Paul was sick and the cab of the truck was full since Devon was coming along in order to visit her friends in Oakland and see me off. I was determined to ride out and to not let that Olympia shame me ever again, so I rode on Paul’s KTM. Somewhere in Oregon there was snow, and Paul and his dad decided that I wasn't counter-weighting and that it was unsafe for me to ride anymore. This was probably a fair estimation, since I had no more than a few hours experience riding motorcycles before leaving on this trip, and no motorcycle endorsement on my license. We stopped and loaded the KTM into the truck as well, and squeezed into a very tight fit in the cab of the truck.

In California the weather was much better, and we decided to go out for a ride in the hills I admired the mansions of the rich, the northern California flora, and the vestiges of a rural American culture that had almost disappeared. As we started to head back to the rental house where Paul’s family was staying, my front tire went flat. The reception was in two hours and we were thirty minutes away from the house. Both of us raced back on the KTM, got the U-haul, loaded my motorcycle, raced back, and arrived at the reception about 25 minutes late. It wasn't too formal though, so it was fine, and we had a nice lunch and a nice tour of the grove, where I urinated in the belly of the world eating owl statue. The Bohemian Grove seems to be a summer camp for the influential and wealthy. Reading the cast of characters of a play that was performed there that I found pinned in a shed, I saw that these men must have interesting minds, judging by the wide cosmic and philosophical scope of the play.

Upon returning from the reception, which was a bit awkward for me, we easily fixed the flat (we had been practicing in Olympia, and fronts tires are not too difficult) and found a hobnail in the tire that had caused it.

We left the rented palace in a field of lavender and rode to Oakland.

After a few days in Oakland I was feeling very anxious to get out of the neurotic, expensive prison of my home country, but the morning we chose to leave, my motorcycle failed to start. After messing around for about 2 hours and badly flooding the engine, we finally got it to start by pull starting it with the KTM. The oil dipstick read empty, so I added a couple quarts, thinking two quarts must have burned off while I was riding it.

Overall, I put about 5 quarts of oil in the engine, though the limit is meant to be 2. We planned to cross the Sierras and ride off-road for a while in Death valley. About two miles down the freeway, I felt a lurch in the performance of the motorcycle. I realized I had to give it more and more gas in order to maintain a speed of 60 miles an hour. I tried to honk, but I had no horn, and I tried to yell ahead to Paul, but we were on the freeway. I felt a lurch that nearly threw me from the bike, and then it abruptly died. I disengaged the clutch and coasted through four lanes of traffic to the shoulder. Paul had no rear view mirror so he didn't see me pull off, and he continued on.

I tried kicking the engine over on the shoulder, but the kickstarter had seized. With all my weight on it nothing happened. I knew almost certainly that this meant the engine had seized, so I sat down on the shoulder and cried to the sound of four lanes of unsympathetic traffic.

I waited forty five minutes, but Paul didn’t come back and no one stopped. I finally decided to walk up a busy off-ramp with cars driving angrily around me. I had lost my cell phone a few days earlier, so I had no numbers to call. I called my mom who gave me Devon’s number, who had Paul’s number. I called him and found out that due to a misunderstanding he had continued riding for an hour and a half. He set to come back, and I set to walk the bike 10 miles from east Oakland to downtown Oakland.

It was around this point that I noticed the gas station clerk who had been lending me his cell phone was encased in three inch thick bullet proof glass and that I was the only white person around. When I told the people hanging out around the gas station of my plan to walk to downtown Oakland they pointed out “You in the ghetto now, white boy, if you walk down there somebody gonna jump you,¨ so someone offered to drive me to the shop I had called earlier that day. The guy driving me told me about how he too had had an engine seize- he had been changing the oil in his Explorer and had left it overnight, and someone had stolen it and driven it not knowing it had no oil and had destroyed the engine.

A New Motorcycle

The man who gave me a ride dropped me off at Hayasa motorbikes in downtown Oakland, whose owner Tyler Carson, took pity on me and let me sell the ruined bike out of his shop, including teaching me how to use the tire puller so I could salvage my tires and put some of his worn knobbies on the derelict motorcycle. Having bought it two months earlier for two thousand dollars, I sold it for three hundred and fifty. The engine had seized, I later found out, due to a bad bearing. In any case, I had no money, and I was unable to borrow much over a thousand to buy a new one. Tyler, the owner of the shop, had gone to the same college as me, The Evergreen State College (also the school that sponsored my trip) and I think he felt sorry for me for losing my bike. I spent a couple of days at his shop getting to know him, and finally he agreed to sell me his XR400, which he was selling for 2500 dollars, though he agreed to accept 1500 at first, and the other thousand to be paid on a later date. I saved the large tank from the XR600 and tried to put it on my new bike, but the tank didn’t fit so Tyler and his friends machined new brackets for it and were generally incredibly nice and helpful. It was an ideal situation for a catastrophic breakdown. His shop exemplified an amazing community of motorcyclists, and I felt a great deal of respect and gratitude for the shop and its owner as he saw us off.

We rode on the freeway to Santa Cruz, planning to take the coastal route to LA. Driving on the freeway in California on a dirt bike with a top speed of around 55 miles per hour was not ideal, but I was happy to have a motorcycle that I could rely on.

Paul and I took off down Highway 1 after spending the night in a bizarre studio storage unit rather than trying to ride in the rainstorms that were hitting the California coast. The next day the weather was clear and the drive down the coast, as any who have taken Highway 1 will know, was scenically inspiring. Paul and I stopped for gas somewhere in central California, and we managed to get separated, having no protocol for meeting up if we got separated.

We left the gas station with me in the lead, but Paul had forgot to turn his petcock on, so I got to the second stop light, saw he wasn't behind me, and turned around by circling around a building, and headed back up the street. Meanwhile, he had got the KTM started again and somehow managed to get by me in the tiny window of time that I wasn't patrolling up and down the street trying to find him. I went back to the gas station and waited about half an hour while he figured I had just gone ahead without him and went ahead for twenty minutes. Then he realized he wasn't going to catch me so he turned back to come to the gas station but got caught in traffic and saw me ride by. After another 20 minutes. I correctly assumed he must have just gone ahead without me.

Luckily, in my pocket was the address and phone number of his uncle. I didn't have a phone since I'd lost it, and his was out of commission because it had been water damaged when we were stuck in the rain in Oakland. So I made directly for Redlands, where his uncle lives, figuring he would go there as well, since it was where a luggage rack for his motorcycle was being shipped. I didn't have much money for a hotel because my financial aid check still hadn't come, so I just went straight on through the night, on an XR 400 with no turn signals through LA in torrential downpour. I ended up getting to Redlands after getting lost in the desert because the exit the directions said to take was improperly signed. I finally tried to call his uncle at midnight. No one answered.

I spent the night in a Denny's in soaking wet clothing. I ordered one cup of tea and passed out on the table, though I woke up shivering and feverish several times in the night. At 7 AM the manager noticed that I had ordered 1 cup of tea at 12:48 and was going to try to kick me out till I stunned him by ordering some pancakes and more tea.

I went to the library the next morning and got the directions to the house on the internet, and called his uncle who came and got me and took me back to the house where I washed my clothes and watched some TV, feeling much better.

Paul arrived later that day and we began waiting for his baggage racks. This is where we bought a lot of the stuff we thought we would need- waterproof duffels, a dog back pack for my luggage system, a camelback, some books- I don't remember what else except that the area east of Los Angeles is what would happen if a bunch of diabolical real estate developers got together and tried to create the most intensely corporate and most pedestrian unfriendly hell imaginable. Paul's aunt and uncle were very kind and hospitable, but not without their idiosyncrasies, so I was very glad when we finally left.

In Redlands I experienced my first broken bolt in the oil filter cover for me and Paul drilled a hole in the catalytic converter of the KTM while mounting the racks.

After leaving we rode over a mountain range that Paul’s uncle insisted would be impassable due to snow, which was a beautiful alpine ride. In this way we entered into the high desert and went to Johnson valley for some off-road practice. This is where I realized what the XR400 is supposed to do… it did very well on very rocky and technical parts, though twice while speeding through the sand I dumped all my luggage and had to comb the desert for hours to find it again. Rural desert California life, the glimpses I caught of it, looked to be a very strange existence. We frequently passed trailers sitting in the middle of barren, lifeless wastes, and I wondered what kind of people might live in a place like this.

We decided to try to make it to Joshua tree that night, and we did make it to the town. We camped in an empty patch of desert that turned out to be across from the police station. That was our first night camping, we didn't put up the tent, and slept poorly.

Joshua Tree

The next day we decided to try to find a road that led into Joshua Tree National Park, thinking that you had to pay admission at the gate but that if we followed to old mining roads we could avoid paying. We searched in the desert for a while and finally found a road just before an abandoned gas station that we decided to follow. The road was deep sand and we started crashing, over and over again. Eventually the road split into a bigger road and went further into the hills. We ran into some prospectors but they didn't know anything about where we were, or were unwilling to tell us. We kept following the roads and the road got rougher and more technically difficult. It's an exhilarating feeling for a young man, the openness, freedom, and solitude, with nothing but open sky and desert ahead. As we got into the hills the primitive road got more primitive and jagged, and we started doing some more technical riding through very rocky sections, this was some difficult riding and I dropped the bike many times, once hard. After the hard drop, I noticed the engine seemed to be running a little differently, but it did fine and just kept going.

We had no idea if we were going in the right direction, but we didn't care because we were winding through dramatic canyons and boulders in brilliant sunlight and learning how to ride off-road. We went down one road that ended in a dead end. There was a water tank that had been ruined by a hole that had obviously been made by a shotgun, so that other prospectors couldn't use it. We went back to the last fork we had taken and took the other route. After more of the desert scenery the hills leveled out and we saw a sign that welcomed us to Joshua Tree NP, so we had in fact made it! The desert there was much greener. The land took on a softer and more intense quality when we entered the park, as if the efforts that had been made to protect this land could be felt. We climbed up a large mound of boulders and had our lunch of 4 slices of bread and a can of sardines, thus marking the end of our food supply.

The road was still dirt but was wide and level so we knew we were on the right track. Eventually it joined the paved road and we went ahead, planning to try to make it near Arizona before nightfall. We were enjoying the scenery in Joshua Tree so much though, that we decided to stay the night there at one of the campgrounds.

We were planning on crossing the border in the next couple of days, and a tinge of paranoia about border crossing motivated me to get rid of six small squares of paper with LSD on them that a friend had given me. I took five and gave one to Paul. As he began setting up our tent, I announced that I was going to nearby Mastodon peak.

I began walking, carrying a mangled plastic bottle with some water in it and a flashlight, since the sun was low in the sky and I didn’t know how long it would take me to scale Mastodon peak. I noticed some cacti began to glow with brilliant clarity, standing out against the sky in three dimensions that seemed somehow more full of depth and texture than the dimensions I had been living in.

As I reached the base of the mountain I felt a little unsteady, so I sat down. I quickly realized I would not be able to climb the peak due to the feeling that all of my bones seemed to have turned into jelly. I sat down and looked at an unrecognizable seething ocean of forms waving in some unearthly breeze that just moments before had been a desert. The glowing red sun was the only constant, and I sat soaking in its light until it disappeared behind a mountain. As soon as the sun’s light no longer fell upon me, wind began to whip around me and I began to feel cold. It was three miles back to camp, and I was not very well prepared for the cold of the desert night. I began walking back, but my inability to distinguish my thoughts from objects like rocks and cacti made it very difficult to navigate the desert. I quickly became confused and lost the trail. I had my flashlight, but when I got down on my hands and knees to see if I could find any footprints to identify the trail, my field of vision rapidly warped into interlocking streams and bands of moving energy of all colors, interlocking and creating all manner of intricate details, like the pattern of a fine Persian carpet weaving itself through dimensions. My sense of space and time was completely distorted, so I decided my best course of action to avoid freezing in the desert night, was to pick a direction and try to walk in a straight line until I found someone or some landmark.

I walked for what felt like three, perhaps four hours, increasingly sure of my own death being upon me. I mustered the willpower a couple times to utter the word “Help!” but there was no one nearby. Once, I don’t remember why, surged through the chaos of my thoughts and spoke the word “Fear,” aloud, and saw the entire left side of my field of vision explode with red and patterns that looked like a broken window pane, as opposed to the normal streaming crystalline networks.

After several hours of walking I felt a different surface underneath my feet, and caught a glimpse of pavement beneath my feet before it disappeared into the visual manifestations of my mind and became unrecognizable again. I walked a little more and saw a yellow line, but as soon as I stood still it disappeared. I found that if I walked along the yellow line, I could keep it from disappearing, but that if I allowed my thoughts to distract me I would veer back into the desert. I was afraid a car might come but there was no way I could stay on the road if I didn’t follow the yellow line, and I had to repeat to myself over and over the phrase “Yellow line, yellow line,” to remind myself of my objective.

After another eternity I was able to identify a building and some signs, and I realized I was out of danger because I had found the campground. Now I was presented with the problem of finding our tent in the dark and in a highly inebriated state. I was able to identify a middle aged woman walking her dog and I asked her for help. She agreed to help me find my campsite. She asked me if I was one of the guys on the motorcycles, and I said yes. We walked together for a long time, and then she said, “There are the motorcycles, right there.” I explained that I couldn’t see them, and asked her to put my hand on one of the motorcycles. She agreed, but stipulated that she was not going to tuck me in.

I entered into an endless reverie once I found my way back into the tent. When Paul came back I was pounding one of his suitcases and I proclaimed that I had to become a musician because it was the only way to save my consciousness. A steady, rhythmic beat allows you to center your mind and remember that you exist. We used the time there to conquer some of the fears and ego that were creating tension between us, though being able to travel together was going to require much more work than a simple nights communication free of anxiety and the famous egoism that has plagued my race, men in their early twenties.

We ate saltines with peanut butter and jelly for dinner, and looked at the stars. A meteor, seeming to be inches away from my head shot through the sky, stunning me with its brilliance. The stars rearranged themselves into many variations on different constellations, and then disappeared entirely, to be replaced by a spinning wheel of Greek letters and a myriad of different ancient symbols for sea navigation, some I recognized, others were entirely unfamiliar. I decided to go to sleep.

The next morning I woke up at dawn and went to watch the sun rise from atop a large boulder. The wind was relentless and constantly varying in intensity. We left and rode to Arizona, where Paul’s tire went flat at a rest stop. After a thoroughly exhausting and depressing six hour ordeal we managed to fix the tire, and we spent the night at a very right wing and unfriendly motel with stacks of Jehovahs witness magazines in our room. I went and got a pizza and a case of Miller Genuine Draft and ate and drank until I felt uncomfortably bloated, and went to sleep.


After the desert of California, we emerged from the desert to an illusion of non-desert that was in reality a desert superimposed over what had been less than a hundred years ago desert, in the normal and arid and sandy sense of the word. I'm going to write about my impressions of Phoenix, Arizona, and if you're a fan of the city you may not want to read. I'll start with a few general impressions, since these are the easiest, and then I will try to support them with specific impressions.

If there was a reason that I got stuck here for two weeks, it was to make sure that I had no remorse whatsoever about leaving the United States.

Phoenix is a city that exists with its only real resource being the constant sun. In a country with a normal amount of wealth, people avoid the desert as unpleasant and leave it be, quiet, barren, secretly full of life and often sacred. In a country that is obese with plundered capital, Phoenix exists as a malignant tumor on the pale and decaying underbelly of a monster that wants to destroy the world if only for sheer self loathing. I can't name the monster because words only confuse its identity, but those who have looked into its eyes know it. It's okay, it's in its death throes due to the inadvertent heroism of consciousness devoid agents of destiny like the Bush administration, we will be okay.

As I was saying, the origin of its existence as a city is the sun- it became an economy based on a steady flow of retirees in search of endless warmth and sun. In the past, people in my country lived in large houses with several generations living all in one house- grandparents, children, and grandchildren. The grandparents no longer worked and were able to teach the grandchildren the values and the beauty of the past and help the parents raise the children to be good and happy people, since the parents were often busy working to help provide for the whole family. Of course a generalization, but somewhere in the last one hundred years, it turned out that it was very profitable for families that once consisted of more than a dozen individuals to split up into multiple households. This amplified consumption which amplified profit.

Part of this development was that grandparents ought to live alone. With the huge amounts of disposable income individuals had at hand after world war two, why wouldn't retirees want to go live in eternal sun rather than stay with their children and grandchildren, who probably would just view them as a burden? And with the new endless supply of money, they could just fly to visit their families. Old age is unsightly, isn't it? Isn't it a better arrangement that the old go live somewhere else? Mutually beneficial, it seems like. If you ever wonder why the US has such incredibly high rates of gun murder, produces far more serial killers than any other country, as well as school shooters, etc., I'll bet this is key to understanding the phenomenon of our singular sickness. To skip ahead a few steps in logical tracing, it's what happens when a huge excess and imbalance of wealth amplifies selfishness.

So now I've gone on a tour of the philosophical origin of Phoenix. But can a city's origin affect its nature? The city sprawls for nearly as far as you can see in every direction, almost completely one story construction- many strip malls, housing developments, condos, and other hallmarks of the new America. You can't walk far without seeing empty lots, though. If the city was a being, you would think that it was determined to swallow up as large a piece of land as possible, spreading out all its resources as much as it possibly could. The downtown is almost always more or less deserted, as is most of the rest of the city, unless you count automobiles as inhabitants. The only people you see walking are usually black, mexican, or white drug addicts.

The University in Tempe is an exception- I saw people chatting in the streets on their way to mosque near here. There are a lot of students around the campus area. The campus food service seems to be in large part provided by the same corporations that populate mall food courts. I also visited a store called 'Hippie Gypsy' which is a small franchise selling hippy paraphernalia like clothing with 60's cultural icons and marijuana smoking devices, as well as other items associated with the counterculture that have now been absorbed. The people I saw and met here seemed happy and generally intelligent, though I'm not sure how aware they were of dilapidated houses just a few miles away that exhibited a level of poverty that would have been noteworthy even in Mexico. The campus in general seemed to ooze money and felt very isolated from the rest of the sprawl.

On a positive note, the public transport system was excellent, with bus service affordable and efficient all over the city. There were not very many white people on any of the buses, and I heard an anectdote about it not being uncommon for Mexican parents scolding their children for speaking spanish out of a desire to assimilate. The Mexican population is great in the city. There is very good and very cheap Mexican food available all over the city. I went to one place where the cook didn't speak English at all in the south end of the city. While I was eating I saw two white policeman arresting a Mexican man rather roughly but I don't know why.

While I was in Phoenix tragedy struck. A wire in my motorcycle that had somehow lost its insulation grounded on the frame of my motorcycle, shorting and burning both my stator and CDI, about 450 dollars worth of replacement parts. I tasted the first bitterness of motorcycle travel. We were staying at hostel, the cheapest place in town at 20 dollars a bed, with a flaming gay jingoistic libertarian New Yorker as a host. At first the place seemed nice, and they let us work on my bike there, but soon it became clear that something was not quite right. There was one very ugly scene where the manager blew up in violent rage at me when I suggested that the New York Times was controlled indirectly by the US government. I just think the disappearance of all their progressive commentators and the ownership of the newspaper is an interesting coincidence.

To escape the tension and paying a lot of money while we waited for parts, we went to camp at nearby lake Bartlett. This is an artificial lake created by a dam. If you are following my creation of the image of the spirit of Phoenix you will see how congruous the lake is with the city. Climb a hill nearby and you will see that a river valley has been filled with water, destroying all the vegetation of the hillsides. I wanted to walk around the lake. I walked up one shore, maybe seven miles. The entire shore was coated with garbage- mostly empty cans of Bud Lite, Budweiser, Miller, Miller Lite, Busch, Busch Ice, etc. There were also many abandoned shoes and other miscellaneous trash, like plastic palm fronds from fake palm trees. The whole shore was lined by a sickly looking foam that I now associate with pollution.

Otherwise we camped in a nice spot and ate Campbells soup directly out of the can. We heated it up on my stove. It was a peaceful spot, but in the daytime speedboats, ATV's and jet skis sped back and forth along the lake, and at night our neighbors generators and music ran late and loud. In order to get to our camp spot we had to ride through the town of Carefree, an upscale retirement community with strictly enforced noise ordinances and a strangely high number of 60,000 dollar or more cars able to be spotted. I asked a gas station attendant about it, and he replied in an American working class dialect about all of the Ferraris, Porsches, Lamborginis, and other cars he had scene. I asked him if he lived in carefree, and he laughed bitterly and said that he and everyone who worked there lived in a nearby town and that the rents and property values were very high in Carefree.

It occurred to me how many people there were around there whose recreation i.e. all of their pleasure in life, revolved around gasoline related activities- speed boating, ATVs, cars, RVs, dirt bikes, jet skis, motorcycles, and such. I realized that the inevitable increase in gas prices (aside from reading about it, I had personally witnessed that gas prices were artificially low for a long time in the US) was going to hurt these people badly, and that they would probably condone any moral savagery to prevent expensive gas revealing their dependence on it and inability to engage in recreational activity without petroleum. I am sure they will adapt though, but change sometimes hurts.

I was also a little surprised by the number of lawns in Phoenix. A lot of people have great desert suburban cactus gardens, but a lot also have pristine green lawns that must require a lot of water. Another anecdote I was told described the water conservation board building having a large lawn with constantly running sprinklers in front of it.

I liked Phoenix while I was there, though I was a little skeptical about it. Only in retrospect do I realize that it was kind of perverse. One night I went out to a weirdly hip bar and got drunk with some Dutch girls from the hostel. They had been working as nutritionists on a nearby Indian reservation and said that the health, alcohol abuse, and misery on the reservation was really depressing. I noticed that getting drunk I didn't feel as bad about things anymore. I didn't really care about all of the things I was observing. I was just vaguely focused on hitting on the girls- this annoying social consciousness I am subjecting the reader to was gone. I wonder if that is why alcohol is legal, because it does that? It certainly seems like it is helpful in making me at least not agonize about the horrible state of my home country.

I got drunk several times while at the hostel. One of the times I had a little to drink and a few cigarettes. I woke up around four am feeling a little weird. I was seeing a lot of colors and rippling on the ceiling above my bed. I tried to focus on the colors, to augment them. Soon I saw them as an avenue to more and more complex patterns, until it seemed as if I was surfing in a tunnel of millions of points of light and colors that formed alien images and some of them seemed to have a life and will of their own. I was barely aware of my body at this point. Then, as if from nowhere, the thought occured to me that I had a heart defect and I was going to die.

I felt as if icy invisible fingers gripped around my heart and tried to squeeze it and make it stop, while another hand grabbed what I felt was my life force and tried to rip it out of my mouth. I cried out loud from fear and recoiled with all my being. It felt like I escaped the hands, but I saw three foot tongues licking out of the ceiling, as if some malevolent being was trying to break through and get me. By focusing very hard on details like the feeling of the sheets, the air in my lungs, and other very physical things I distanced myself from it. If my thoughts became more abstract I felt like I was getting closer to it. I was terrified and couldn't sleep the rest of the night. For the next couple months I felt like something was watching me and waiting for an opportunity. Every night for the next two months I woke up, wide awake, at the same time of night, around 4 am, with a sensation of fear.

Whatever this experience was, presumably my own psychological instability, it was very scary and I hope that you can understand that something this crazy happening to me might have colored my view of my time in the city towards the negative. This may have been entirely my fault, and I am working on dealing with things like this. In any case, suffice to say I had a bad time in Phoenix, pushing my bike through five miles of slums after it broke down, having mechanics try to rip me off, touring motorcycle dealerships and seeing incredible disparities in wealth.

One of the other details that stands out in my mind is reading through a plastic surgery magazine and seeing the almost all white clients of the surgeon looking deranged and miserable in both the before and after photos. The people I saw downtown in suits looked a lot like the people in the plastic surgery magazine. All white.

Phoenix has an excellent public library with really interesting interior and exterior architecture. There are a lot of computers and the library seems to be used by a lot of members of the community. High school kids fill it sometimes and are laughing. They have a lot of really good periodicals, like the Economist and Harpers.

I was thrilled when we finally fixed my bike ourselves, loaded all of my belongings onto it, and left for Mexico. We passed through Tucson on the way, a much more hospitable place to those of a disposition like my own. Here a half insane motorcyclist implored us to stay for the gem show in two weeks. He wore a pin that read “Loud pipes(in reference to loud exhaust pipes on motorcycles) save lives, but Jesus Christ saves souls!”

This was a good person to be the last American I interacted with before leaving the country.


I had been eager for months to leave the US, the experience of being in that country sometimes like a poison that builds inside me until the pain is unbearable. I have crossed the Mexican-US border by land four or five times now. One thing that an overland traveler realizes very quickly if he or she is at all lucid is that borders are a criminal and absurd tragedy. This border illustrates this well. The US side is a little chaotic, and it becomes much more chaotic once on the other side. I had crossed before in Tijuana, but never in Nogales. They are similar but Nogales seems less sinister and is much more navigable.

A few moments after crossing (there is no control entering Mexico, at least for the border zone) I nearly hit a woman crossing the street. I locked up my brakes and the tires skidded and I narrowly missed her. She didn't seem phased by it and I was thrilled by this simple event that could never occur just a few miles away. Dodging through cars and pedestrians and no longer rigidly following traffic rules, the sounds of megaphones playing Sonoran music, I felt much more at home.

In the border zone sometimes one sees shacks that are impoverished and made out of scrap even by Mexican standards. I don't know if this is because of deportation policy. I didn't meet very many men in Mexico who hadn't been deported. Almost everyone has their story.

We spent the night in a town called Magdalena. There had been a soccer game and pick up trucks full of young boys shouting rolled by as we stopped for dinner. The people were notably friendlier than on the other side of the border, and the tacos were very good. I felt, as I do in all of the third world, a tremendous freedom that I miss when I am in the CCTV on every corner Europe or police who will shatter your life for nothing US.

The next day we decided to ride to Chihuahua to fix Paul's rear brake. This meant crossing the Sierras occidental. This turned out to be an incredible area. The mountains were dramatic and very sparsely populated. The vegetation was beautiful, with succulents dripping down cliff sides and entire mountains covered entirely with trees that were blossoming purple, the entire tree, bright purple mountains. The mountain range in general had a very alien, reptilian feel to it from my perspective. Neither photographs nor words will capture it.

We spent the night in a strange and oddly hostile feeling town. We were overcharged for a dismal hotel room and it was cold. The next morning we left early. I asked a man I had been talking to the night before about what kinds of jobs were available there and he vaguely said something about wood, or logging. I asked him how the economy was and he said it was terrible and everyone was poor. We left.

Shortly after leaving I crashed in what must have been a combination of my utter inexperience as a motorcyclist and the idiotic ego games that two men in their twenties on motorcycles will play. It was raining and I lost traction going too fast into one of the hundreds of blind mountain turns and went flying down a hillside at about thirty five miles per hour. A tree stopped the bike and I continued flying. I was unharmed except for a few scratches. I tried starting the bike and riding back up but the hill was way too steep. After about half an hour Paul came back.

A moustachioed man in a pick up truck arrived and exclaimed “What barbarism!” when he saw the bike. He declared it was a miracle that I wasn't hurt. We tied the bike to the back of the truck and pulled it up. There was no significant damage. He told us that I was very lucky that he came instead of the locals, and he said they only would have stopped to rob me. People always seem to think that the other are bad and dangerous. In each state or country in the world I have always heard about how bad and dangerous the neighboring place is.

This was my worst crash yet and it was really invigorating. I also was stunned by just how badly the left dorsal muscle can hurt when you ride for hours and hours and hours. But a sort of craziness from listening to nothing but the wind and engine noises all day sets in and things get really fun inside your own head, inside your helmet. We arrived in Chihuahua at a cheap hotel with a heater. I watched a film with Cuba Gooding Junior called “Cruzero de locas” about two straight men who in trying to book a singles cruise end up accidentally on an all gay cruise. This was part of me getting my spanish back- very effective. “Es un cruzero de gays!!!” Why would I get homesick when my culture is exported to the rest of the world?

Next stop was Durango. We just passed through to get some bolts for the KTM(Paul's bike) sprocket that had gotten lost. We stopped at a disgusting Chinese restaurant and then headed out. In the hills outside of town the KTM had its first major failure. The engine died and there were metal shards in the oil. It wouldn't start. I went to a motorcycle shop across from the Chinese restaurant where two boys, one about 12 and the other 16 were replacing the clutch disks in a Chinese moped that looked to be in not very good shape. The owner, Rudolfo, went with me in his pickup truck to get the KTM. He was for the current president, Calderon, and thought that Obrador was a worthless jabberer, something along those lines that doesn't translate.

Traveling by motorcycle really colors the experiences you have and the people you meet. It's not better or worse than other types of travel, just different, and if you have mechanical problems it is more expensive.

We looked around Durango’s main drag for a hotel and finally found a place that was too expensive for the first night. As I was sitting on my bike three incredibly attractive Mexican girls fixed me with flirtatious stares as they walked by, and continued looking back at me as they continued by. I, of course, did nothing, but I realized the role that motorcycles can play in certain types of courtship rituals.

The KTM ended up having new valves machined for it for some reason. It was too expensive. Durango was a pleasant city to stay in for a couple days, beautiful Spanish buildings and generally friendly people. Especially a shoe shine boy who told me about how he learned to speak English in prison in the US. There was excellent fresh fruit with chili and lime for cheap. I tried to read Tolstoy in Spanish in the park and enjoyed the sun of the Durango plains.

On the way into the city we had ridden around golden rolling hills and ranches through tiny nearly deserted village. Riding on rough terrain on dirt bikes is an incredible experience. It incorporates all of the joy of insanity with none of the negative effects on your relationships and professional life.

On the way to Durango I had found everyone I had stopped to ask directions to be very helpful. I remember distinctly seeing a truckload of Indian children who invariably look dusty and charismatic. One girl stared into my eyes with her strange cloudy blue and piercing eyes, and I hope I will remember her eyes until I die.

After Durango we went to Mazatlan where I hoped to find a new sprocket, since my front sprocket had broken off several teeth and was causing performance problems. The road from Durango to Mazatlan is called espina del diablo, or the devils spine. Mexico may have some of the best motorcycling roads in the world. Incredible cliffs and views, to say the least. At one roadside stand where we ate excellent gorditas, a man who was very enthusiastic about motorcycling insisted on putting a sticker on either side of my tank that read “Cotizado.” He wouldn't explain to me what it meant but I was happy to share his enthusiasm. I looked it up and found that it meant “To have been evaluated, appraised.” Bizarre, I thought.

We happened to arrive at Mazatlan for Carnaval. Most of the tourists were Mexican. Carnaval seemed to be a weird orgy of consumption. I had never witnessed one before. I didn't see any of the religious aspects, just people drinking beer and playing intensely racist carnival games like “Tirale al negro” Or “Throw it at the black” where a black sambo character taunted passer bys by calling them “joto” or “faggots” and then sold heavy balls that the players tried to throw into the mouth of the black. I gave it a go myself, but didn't win.

We decided to join in the celebrating by drinking a couple of micheladas, delicious beer clamato and spice cocktails. We got drunk and then I confronted Paul about what I perceived to be his issues with women. This is how intellectuals celebrate carnaval. Then some girls started flirting with us. We flirted back. The conversation was going well until I asked how old they were. The answer was fourteen. We decided in an English side conversation that it was best not to pursue them, attractive and physically mature though they were.

Through Rudolfos brother we managed to find a thirteen tooth sprocket that fit my bike. This increased my torque but decreased my top speed. Before this trip I had no real concept of how combustion engines work. Now I do. With my sprocket replaced we headed down the coast, a route a Mexican doctor in Chihuahua had recommended. It was spectacular. We stopped for lunch in front of a very disorganized and primitive motorcycle shop. When Paul tried to start his bike it didn't start. Luckily we were in front of a motorcycle shop. The problem turned out to be the regulator. The mechanic put a regulator from a drastically different motorcycle in and it ran. While he was doing this, though, I was riding around for fun. I decided to do a wheelie, and I did, but immediately after my bike died and wouldn't start. The carburetor had to be cleaned. We didn't get as far as we would have like that day, instead we stayed in my childhood home of Barra de Navidad, about 10 km away, on the beach.

The local youth seemed to enjoy riding up and down the beach on ATVs, which are used as practical vehicles all over Mexico. I noticed in Barra de Navidad that there were a lot of expatriates, mostly Canadians and mostly personable. We continued down the coast which was incredibly scenic, mostly winding around the coastal hills formed by various rivers running into the ocean. Somewhere in Michoacan the KTM had another electrical failure due to the regulator the last mechanic had put in and I went to the next town for help, leaving Paul on the side of the road.

Outside of Time in Caleta de Campos

The nearest town was called Caleta de Campos. On the approach to the town there was a huge deserted beach lined by palm trees and cultivated fields looking to yield papaya and coconut most obviously. I got to the town, which consisted mainly of one cobbled street with shops and a few restaurants on it. The street ended in cliff that overlooked the sea.

I asked a few people about mechanics, and was sent to the house of a strangely lucid looking young man in grease covered clothes. He told me to wait and that we would then go and get Paul and the KTM. I stood in the intersection of two dirt roads and waited. After a few minutes the KTM arrived in the back of a blue pickup truck. As it turned out, the next two passer bys had asked him if he needed a ride, and the second truck ignored his explanation about me having gone to get help and lifted the bike into the truck without hesitation.

The men in the truck introduced themselves as Juan, a mechanic and Jesus, a welder and handyman but they rarely used these names. Their real names (nicknames) were El Diablo and Barrancas (The devil and “canyons” or “creeks”) The origin of Barrancas' name is a mystery, but El Diablo's name was not. One of the stories I heard from townspeople was that if he saw someone on the town’s main street parked poorly that he would ram their car. He also had an incredible alcohol and cocaine habit. A few weeks after we had been staying there, the doctor told him he would die if he didn't stop drinking, so he limited himself to cocaine and crystal lite.

He took us and the bike to his shop and then bought some fourty ounce bottles of corona, which tastes much better in Mexico. We ate some green mangos from the tree at the outdoor shop which was littered with garbage, husks of cars, and engine blocks. We got drunk and I sampled some of the cocaine, which was, of course, of very high quality and very cheap.

We pitched our tent in the field that was the shop that night and slept there. The next day a hose was running with water we could drink and bathe in. The hoses in Caleta run on odd schedules- six hours at a time and certain days of the week, which is why everyone has cement cisterns at their houses that they put the hose into to fill.

We hung out at the shop and examined the KTM. The regulator was ruined but when we ran it from a car battery there was a sound in the engine that caused all of the mechanics to say it needed a rebuild. The beer was still flowing and we decided it would be a good place to stay for a while.

The major factor in our decision to stay was a man name Max. He arrived in a truck with Juan and asked grinning through yellowed teeth “You want smoke-a weed? Heh eh eh eh!” I declined because I generally avoid marijuana due to a lot of negative effects it has on me, but Paul went with him. He came back a little later, and told me that Max had a house we could stay in. Our understanding of the story at first was that the original residents had been killed in a gang war between the various factions of organized crime in the town.

We went to look at the house. There were some papaya trees and coconut palms, a dysfunctional truck, and a few brick shacks that were littered with syringes, vials of antibiotics, and childrens schoolbooks, as well as pornography and some x-rays of a broken knee. There was also a terrified, neurotic, and emaciated cat that only emerged from the shadows to steal our food, but eventually I befriended it, only to turn against it as it became increasingly bold in stealing my food. It's hard to watch a creature you've tried to nurture back into mental health steal away from the table with a bag of eggs, smashing them all on the ground as it runs.

We set up our tent on a filthy mattress in one of the brick huts and I picked up a moth eaten and dusty picture of the Virgin of Guadelupe that appeared to have a bullet hole through it on the wall. Max had also gifted a fist sized ball of marijuana to us which I put in a small bucket on the floor next to the bed, completing the bedroom set.

Across the dirt street from our house was Max's shop and house, a tarp suspended by a couple of sticks with clutch disks and engine blocks and other bits of scrap metal littered around. Max smokes a lot- and has mastered the art of speaking with a lit joint in the corner of his mouth. He smokes Boots brand cigarettes (because they come with free lighters) and only listens to American oldies. Mungo Jerrie's “In the Summertime” will always have special meaning for me, as will “The Night Chicago Died.”

The story of my stay in Caleta can't be understood without understanding the marijuana culture there and the evolution of my relationship with marijuana. I always refused when Max offered me marijuana because I had had bad experiences smoking in the US. Marijuana experiences often turned into intensely negative journeys into my own loathing for myself and the world. I had decided to avoid it entirely, but as we continued to wait for the KTM to be fixed(I don't know how it ended up taking two months, but I think the marijuana had something to do with it) the bucket of distinctly Mexican smelling marijuana began to burn an imprint into my consciousness.

One night I finally relented and tore a piece of newspaper and rolled a joint, roughly the thickness of my thumb and about seven inches long. I smoked it. Then I rolled another and smoked it. I listened to Pink Floyd's “Dark Side of the Moon.” I thought to myself “Hey, this isn't so bad…” I felt as if I was riding space mountain at Disneyland, except I was having a lot of fun. I was speeding through a tunnel of bright colors in the night, bleary eyed. You could say my mind was blown. The next day I said to Paul “Man, I got really stoned last night and listened to Dark Side of the Moon. That song is amaaazing..” He looked a little surprised and asked me if I could imagine how many time that exact phrase had been uttered since the release of the song.

Soon I was smoking more and more. I developed a deep love for Bjork. The negativity was still faintly in the background, but breathing the sea air and absorbing the warm sun and friendliness of Michoacan made me feel as if I was ice skating on a tropical cloud. As I smoked more and more I gradually gave up drinking for the most part.

A typical day in Michoacan- wake up to find Tahuache(Squirrel) or as I call him, Mexican Cletus, asking me for rolling papers or weed. Then sit down in the street to smoke some joints. Some of the other crew, most connected with the mafia might come by. By afternoon I might have smoked three joints. Other smokers include Casimira (trans. “Almost look”) who earned his name by having one eye, or Pedro, who works with marijuana in the US. He gets tourist visas to Canada, flies, and then walks through the woods to Washington where he works with a number of grows. Max is always smoking. The gang is called the “chicos malos” or “bad boys”. I was later made a member.

Then I might walk to town, soaking in the heart inspiring beauty of Mexican music. My favorite is Ranchero style music. I might go to the internet cafe and play Half Life on the LAN with Mexican schoolboys, who came to know me as El Gringo. I got so good at half life that I could beat almost all of them, with the exception of Miguelito. Miguelito is a truly bad spirited boy. He has an incredible talent for killing people in video games and takes a perverse enjoyment in it. His main trick is playing a certain level, getting the most powerful weapon in the game, and then shooting at the ground so the recoil launches him into the air. Then, while flying, he shoots through walls and easily kills everyone. He looks completely manic as he plays, and I think he gets the money he pays for his gaming habit with by stealing. He has few friends and is good at sneering hatefully. I was told several stories about the depths of his criminality, like the time he stole the town garbage truck and drove it to school. He is about twelve.

I took some trips into the hills behind the town. Once I went with Max and Paul iguana hunting. We searched for a long time. On a cliff we saw some. Max put a few pellets into one but didn't get a head shot, so it got away. We walked for a long time, winding through the hills, sometimes scrambling up steep slopes. There were cows and sometimes barbed wire fences. Finally Max spotted one in a tree. They have a dark skin color. He crept to one side of the tree and I to the other. He was carrying a decrepit shotgun from the era of Pancho Villa. It was actually dated 1896, so a firearm more than a century old. He shot it and the bullet went into its eye. It didn't fall, instead it just clung to the branch, upside down. I aimed with my pellet gun and fired at his head. It his and he fell from the tree, and to my surprise, he ran. I swung my rifle over my head and brought the butt down hard on its body. He still ran, but Max caught him by the tail and we dragged him up to the road and smashed his skull with a rock. Then we walked back and made a nice soup. The meat was tender and had good flavor.

I went out several times by myself, looking for pray, trying to shoot birds. I managed to stalk some and surprise them, but I was never able to shoot both quickly and accurately enough to kill anything. I enjoyed roaming the hills with my senses alert, listening for any sign of game. I learned that the trick to hunting is observing your prey and understanding its habits.

We also fished quite a bit. I caught some edible fish, and some strange eels, as well as small river fish. I threw one fish back at the river because it was too small, and Max scolded me. He told me that you should dry the little ones out in the sun and eat them with eggs or rice, along with the bones. “Mucho calcio!”

I was waiting on a financial aid check that was taking a long time to process and was very low on money. Luckily we were staying for free, but when Paul went to Morelia to drop the KTM of at a dealer and rebuild the engine, Max told me he was going to las Sierras to fix some cars and because one of his cousins had died. He offered to take me and pay me ten dollars a day to be his assistant. I accepted.

Max drives a Jeep Grand Cherokee which he modified himself to run on propane, which is much cheaper than gasoline. We left, listening to American classics on his stereo, and sped off to go to a mountain village called La Palmita, stoned and smoking lots of Boots. I felt a little sick so I smoked slowly. After about two hours of slowly negotiating the very bumpy dirt road winding through the mountains, there was a clicking crunching noise and Max immediately stomped down on the brakes. He looked at me, grinned, and said “Uh-oh!”

His transmission had failed. It was the third transmission to fail so far on his car. We backed the car down the hill, and waited for a ride. Eventually a pickup truck full of mustached rancheros wearing cowboy hats, boots, jeans, and clean pressed button up long sleeve ranchero shirts came and we got in with them. We drove for about another hour. The pickup truck was full enough to force me to use the art of holding oneself on the edge of the sidewall by tensing and relaxing at the same time. At a certain point the truck stopped and one of the men took a plastic shopping bag out of the space between the plastic bed liner and metal and passed out several semi automatic handguns to the men in the truck. They were fairly new, especially compared to Max's Pancho Villa gun, and had detailed gold engravings of eagles and other things. I asked how much the guns cost and the answers were above two thousand dollars, for guns I knew would cost about a quarter that in the US. Running guns to Mexico looks to be very profitable, and will probably only become more so, since I heard the US governments announcement of “Plan Mexico” earlier today.

We finally arrived at a dusty creek bed near a small schoolhouse in miserable condition. Around the creek bed were sitting thirty men and a few women. I sat down also. I had been told a little about Martin Shultz, a German who had moved to this remote area in the year 1945 and set up a gun smithing shop from scratch. They told me how Martin spoke 5 languages- German, Japanese, Italian, English, and Spanish. He had died just a few years before and left two sons who had come to the funeral.

Later that night I got to participate in the vigil next to the dead man. There was a lot of tuneless chanting about the most holy virgin. Beautiful girls took turns kneeling in front of the altar and reciting rosaries. After the vigil we ate, I believe chicken soup and beans with the eternal fresh corn tortillas. I also had an egg. The family of the deceased were very kind and hospitable to us. We slept at the house of a cousin of Max on the floor. There were no beds left because of the high number of visitors in town. I slept well.

In the morning we started working, on a blue Toyota pick up. It needed the water pump replaced, but it turned out to have a variety of other problems that we fixed. A man also came and took us along a small path to where a mountain of freshly harvested marijuana lay drying. He was very proud of his crop and wanted us to try it. He offered me several branches as a gift, but didn't smoke himself. Marijuana smokers are not totally excluded from society, but they are not fully included either.

Over the next four days we went to many peoples houses and fixed a variety of mechanical issues using ingenuity that amazed me to fix issues using pieces from other cars and bits of scrap metal. Max is an incredible limited resources mechanic. My fondest memories are listening to old Ranchera music that turned out to be Colombian. Max had just told me about the importance of being able to do things in all mind states when I complained about having difficulty working while high. He said that I had to learn how to be able to do things while stoned, so I smoked yet another joint. The ranchera music of Yolanda del Rio filled the air and I was struck by the beauty and strength in the woman’s voice, so full of emotion, sad, proud, independent. I eventually found and bought some of this music and it's one of my favorites. The beautiful, young, and very good-natured girls at the ranch we were working at brought us cold horchata as we worked. I really enjoyed being in this place. Max wanted me to stay and become a marijuana farmer in order to learn how to survive.

Max lamented his misspent youth, and wished that he had worked harder and not partied away his money when he was young. He had lived in San Bernardino, California as a young man, but had spent all of his money on women, alcohol, cocaine, and of course, marijuana. A large sack of marijuana was how he had finally kicked his cocaine habit. He had good stories about America, like the time he was fined for shooting a migrating Canadian goose out of the sky. He didn’t pay the fine. He had finally been deported when he got his third drunk driving ticket.

After spending these days totally immersed in rural Mexican culture I was a little disappointed to return to the relative bustle of tiny Caleta and to begin speaking English again with Paul. I found that my ability in Spanish benefited greatly from not speaking English, and being around an Anglophone friend caused me to speak much more English. I wanted to return to the immersion that I have grown to love from traveling alone. I didn't say anything because I knew Paul would be going back to Morellia soon to pick up his motorcycle and we were planning to meet up again somewhere in Oaxaca, with myself taking the coastal route, and Paul taking the inland route.

We resumed our aimless bumming around and waited for our time to leave. Eventually Paul left and I waited a little longer for my financial aid check to come. After Paul left was when I was officially inducted into “Los Chicos Malos,” and began smoking more and more. It was difficult, but I knew I had to leave, if only to stop the marijuana consumption which I knew was dulling my mind and my productivity.

I learned a lot about life in Caleta and will always value what the people there taught me and the friendships that I formed with them. Mexican culture is a strange and diverse creature, and I came out understanding and appreciating it much more.

Sweet Solitude and Central America

From Caleta I knew that I had to move fast if I wanted to get to South America. I was a couple months behind schedule, though I didn’t feel any time had been misspent. After wandering alone in the hills for a few days, I was happy to be back on the road, nothing but the deafening pounding of the engine firing, banging, spinning, whirring, and hurling out loud bursts of exhaust, the sound of the air moving around me, my own thoughts, sun. I went first to Guerrero, and I passed through Acapulco, which was a nightmare of civilization compared to the peace and even elatedness of Caleta.

After passing through the city I decided to spend the night in some of the suburbs of Acapulco, where there were some very unholy Semana Santa celebrations going on. I asked a woman on the street if she knew of a place to stay, and she took me to her house. It was populated by several gender and racially ambiguous people. They were very raucous in their humor, and the older woman suggested repeatedly that I sleep with the younger woman. I declined each time. I got very drunk and ended up being served delicious food by very sweet and beautiful women while I drank more with rough looking men with tattoos so inappropriate that I won’t describe them here. At some point marijuana appeared as well, as did cocaine, completing the trinity of latin American drug culture.

I slept in an empty room, and woke up the next morning to find the compound I was sleeping in had turned into a fish market. I got several unfamiliar meat items for breakfast and with difficulty rode out of the market.

I arrived later that day in Zipolite, observing many signs of a hippie and expatriate population. Everything was full because of Semana Santa, mostly with vacationers from Mexico City. I met a man named Piedritas, or “little rocks” on account of his trade, which was carving statues out of small rocks. He mostly carved a mushroom deity which he sold to people by talking about Maria Sabina, a woman who I later learned became famous because of her introduction to the Western world as a Mazatec shamaness.

This man was very drunk, and one of the only sentences he spoke that I understood was “illusion is the honey of existence.” He invited me to stay with him and I accepted. We went to his house while he continued to talk to me in flowing drunken incoherencies. I unloaded all of my things and he passed out. Later, we went to visit a friend of his early in the morning. We drank beer and smoked marijuana, listened to Cuban music and talked. The man we were visiting had a beautiful wife and daughter, and the family seemed to embody an integration of hippie/countercultural lifestyle and traditional Mexican life. All glowed with a unique kind of health and beauty, and the arrangement of their house and garden seemed to reveal the potential for an integration of the ideals of the countercultural revolution of the twentieth century with Mexican life.

I went for a walk along the beach, Mexico’s only official nude beach, and saw many happy urban young people. In Mexico, the word “hippie” usually means someone who smokes marijuana, and there were many here. I busied myself reading, walking, and talking to people until Paul arrived. With the two of us, we went to camp in the courtyard of some Quebecois. One of the Quebecois had a hole in his throat, but instead of speaking with his voice machine, he rasped out his words. We spoke in a combination of French, Spanish, and English that made the whistling sounds coming out of his throat even harder to understand. At some point he managed to play on Paul’s insecurities by heaping verbal abuse on him. Paul’s warbling sense of self worth was further undermined by me reiterating my desire to travel alone, to immerse myself in another culture and step out of my cultural mindset for a while. I also told him that I was tired of some of the ego politics between us and the way he ate, and I began addressing him brusquely. He would have fled, but he lost his key. We made amends while he hotwired his motorcycle, and then we rode off together. I could tell his mental state was not good, but I assumed he would be able to manage.

That night we stopped in a small village in Oaxaca and I went to a restaurant to see if I could buy some beans with the 7 pesos I had left in my pocket. The family there said the restaurant was closed, but then prepared a full meal for us and refused to accept any payment for it.

The next day we separated in Chiapas. Paul was going to go a more mountainous and remote route to the Guatemalan border, and I went to take the coastal route. We agreed to meet in one week in San Carlos, Nicaragua. I was very pleased at the turn towards the third world chaos I am most comfortable in upon crossing the Guatemalan border. I explored further the hassle of importing vehicles into countries- it complicates the border crossing process considerably. I had lived in Guatemala for some years in my earlier childhood, and memories began to come back to me through the fog of my mind.

At the first major town I stopped in, I needed to have some adjustments and repairs made to the motorcycle. The shop I took it to bought me lunch and then refused to accept payment for their services. Guatemalans as a national character are curious, and the indigenous influence is visible in many aspects of their interaction with the world. It is a character that is more incomprehensible to my mind than the Mexican, quieter. The land itself is lush and green, and there always seems to be a volcano or dramatic mountain nearby. The land exudes a unique brand of tangible magic. I stayed at a hotel one night and met a teenage boy who had grown up in both LA and Guatemala, and he mirrored my feelings about these two place. “Here,(Guatemala) I like it better because it feels more…. free.” I understand this sentiment exactly, thought it is hard to explain to someone unfamiliar with it.

Traveling rapidly by land causes one to develop a strange kind of knowledge about a region. You see the geology, flora, fauna, and culture change gradually each day, and in a few short days a very broad but superficial understanding develops of a large area. I went quickly though El Salvador, surprised at how much it had changed since my visit fourteen years earlier. Its currency was the US dollar, something about which every person I spoke to commented that it had made life worse for the poor and better for the rich.

Entering Honduras was moving down a step in terms of economic development- this border rivaled almost any I had seen in Africa in disorganization and inefficiency, but the corruption for me as a tourist was non-existent, or at least entirely state sanctioned. I also hadn’t had a motorcycle in Africa, and the motorcycle was the source of almost all the grief at this border. I met some other American bikers on Harleys on their way to Costa Rica where one of them lived. I started a conversation with him, and learned about his work on an oil platform, his hobby of hunting, heavy drinking, and machining. I decided not to broach the topic of the US fearing him to be in line with the archetype of his hobbies and work, but talking to his daughter, I learned that his aversion to the US government/corporate/industrial complex was just as violent as mine. The beast makes enemies in every subculture!

Honduras felt lively compared to Guatemala. People seemed louder and more outgoing, and some attractive young women whistled at me in the street and giggled, something that I couldn’t imagine the generally very modest Guatemalan women doing, at least the ones I had just been around. In Mexico I had burnt my arm on the hot exhaust pipe of my motorcycle, and as I took a taxi to buy a new chain for my bike, the driver saw the baseball sized blister and insisted I lance it. I tried to argue with him, saying I would let it resolve itself, but he prodded me again and again until I relented. I tore the tissue with my fingers and at least a quarter cup of liquid exploded over the inside of his taxi. I was shocked, but he was un-phased and pulled a towel from somewhere and began cleaning up.

As soon as I got the new chain on I was off to Nicaragua, on schedule for my meet up with Paul. I was excited to be in Nicaragua, a place I had wanted to visit for a long time. I was considering buying land there with some of the excess funds from my student loan check. Someone at the border recommended Matagalpa, so I went there. The land was arid but fertile, and the roads were empty, due to the poverty. Sometimes on riding into towns children would jump up and dance for my arrival. There was a passion and exuberance in some of the people that reminded me of Italy or Greece, but in Latin America. The food took a slight turn for the worse, with my luck guiding me to many items slathered in ketchup and mayonnaise. The main method of transport in Nicaragua was the yellow school buses from my childhood, imported from the US and bought by entrepreneurs who create the public transport network for Nicaragua. These were usually my only companions on the roads.

I spent my night in Matagalpa in a bar, drinking first with illiterate farmers who were very difficult to understand, and then speaking with a physics professor at first in my limited Russian, since he had studied in the Soviet Union. Then we spoke in Spanish and I watched his courtship of a prostitute. I drank more and more and his friend started to tell me about his days as a revolutionary when he refused to accept my last cigarette. He said “Always save the last one for yourself” telling me that that was a tradition during the war, that all the revolutionaries saved their last bullet for themselves so that they could kill themselves rather than be captured. I was interested on his perspective on violent struggle, and I asked him if in retrospect he thought that it had been worth it. He replied that with the benefit of hindsight, no, it had not. He had evident difficulty answering this question.

I woke up after this evening of heavy drinking and smoking with a sore throat that blossomed into a painful cold. I set off riding again along the seemingly sparsely populated eastern shore of lake Managua. After riding all day I stopped to buy some dinner of sardines and bread, my heavy traveling treat. I stopped and had a glass of water with the family who owned the remote store where I bought the sardines. The road was one of the most unpleasant and poorly maintained I had yet seen anywhere, especially for motorcycle riding, due to the many small boulders in it. Imagine spending hours with your body vibrating so strongly that you cease to be able to sense the location and the integrity of your skin and bones. As I took a much needed rest the husband complained to me about the price of cooking oil, a basic necessity. He said it had doubled in the last year and that it was making life much harder for everyone. I later found out that this was due to increased ethanol demand- actually a much bigger factor in third world hunger than the US mainstream media is allowed to report.

In my luggage I carry a small waterproof duffel, a sleeping bag and an inflatable sleeping mat. I planned on just sleeping somewhere alongside the road, but I remembered how any time anyone I meet needs a place to stay I usually at least offer a place, and I thought, why would any one else think differently? So I stopped at a house as the sun set and approached. I saw a family watching a black and white television screen connected to a car battery with a makeshift wire antenna. The film was Jackie Chan in Shanghai Noon dubbed into Spanish, badly. They looked surprised to see an obvious foreigner on a motorcycle ride up, and I explained that I was on my way to San Carlos but I was tired and needed a place to rest for the night. The oldest woman, possessed of a strong, rural beauty like many of the women in the area, simply nodded her agreement and told me that I could sleep in the hammock she was sitting in. Then she gestured to one of the children to give me a chair. I accepted the chair and the child sat down on the ground and continued watching the television.

This was the first time I accepted hospitality in a foreign country and was asked neither my name nor nationality. They asked me how my traveling was going and if I was tired or hungry. I said that I had brought my own food and they nodded. I ate my sardines and we all watched Jackie Chan. When the movie was over, I asked them if the TV was solar powered and they replied yes. Then we all went to sleep. I slept well and was awakened at dawn by what was truly a cacophony of ducks, piglets, turkeys, chickens, puppies, and kittens all making their individual noises and battling amongst themselves, presided over by a sky lit up with the colors of the sunrise. Several of children in school uniforms looked at me curiously as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and packed up my belongings. I said my thanks and left for San Carlos.

I arrived later that morning, one day late for my appointed meet up with Paul. I found a very, very Spartan room near the river, for a little less than a dollar a night. I went to the internet café and sent an email to Paul telling him about my whereabouts. I waited two days and received no word from him, so I assumed he had gotten into something else, so I sent him an email telling him I was going and would check in for word about his location and meet him later.

Leaving Nicaragua and going to Costa Rica was almost as much of a shock as going from the first to the third world. San Carlos is a dismal town compared to others in Nicaragua that I visited, and Costa Rica glowed with wealth by comparison. The roads I rode on to San Jose were all smooth and well maintained, there were many air conditioned buildings and well-stocked supermarkets. It was also much more expensive than Nicaragua. The deepening density of the tropical forest and increase in the number of different kinds of tropical birds I saw continued to mount as I continued southward.

Everyone I met in Costa Rica was very kind and friendly, and the mountainous cloud forests had a definite charm and beauty, but the sleek nature of the infrastructure, very heavy foreign influence, and the high prices made me feel out of place. I hurried to reach Panama, one step closer to my longtime desire to visit Colombia.


Panama immediately made a bad impression on me. I was back to using the US dollar as currency, and rainstorms welcomed me. I stayed at a hostel that seemed like a temple to the esthetic of the American empire where every object was purple and I was made to feel very unwelcome. This is where I began to realize that I actually genuinely believe that the state of Israel should not exist. The next day I picked up a hitchhiker, and was given a seventy five dollar ticket because he didn’t have a helmet. This was the first time the police had taken any notice of my utter disregard for all convention when on the road, and it smelled of US influence to me.

The land and the people retained the incredible richness that I now associate with that part of the world, and arriving in Panama city I was excited to see a distinctly Caribbean mix of cultures. Panama city is what happens when a man made waterway is created that generates massive quantities of wealth. The confluence of many illusory abstractions creates a massive and powerful social reality that begins to shape the physical reality of a place.

Panama is a country that has been in the palm of the United States since before its conception of itself as a nation. The Panamanian independence movement was entirely funded by the United States, who saw the strategic importance of this isthmus, and when they seceded from Colombia that US was the first country to recognize their independence. When Colombia tried to send ships to deal with the insurrection, they found that both coasts were being blockaded by US warships.

Baseball is still one of the major pastimes in Panama, and deep fried food is a bigger part of the culture here than any other country I had visited. The neighborhood I chose to stay in was very lively, and one of the more slum-like parts of the cities, though not out of sight of “the cocaine towers,” massive luxury condo towers that were built to launder massive cocaine profits. The second day there I heard gunshots and saw a man get shot for some reason. The children who were playing in the street ran for cover along with me, and I watched them watching the scene with tranquil curiosity. They got themselves into a safe place, but had obviously witnessed many such scenes before and were accustomed to this atmosphere. I listened to a small transistor radio to programs about latin American politics and I remember someone commenting that “Poverty doesn’t generate violence so much as poverty in close proximity with extreme wealth.”

The part of Panama City I felt most at home in was this slum area. “Ibiza” Menthol cigarettes were very popular, and smoking these I felt immediate decrease in respiratory function and sharp pain in my lungs. I admired the resilience of those who smoked them constantly. I have the image of a gnarled, twisted, broken and battered black man smoking one in the decay of a colonial apartment building, sweeping, the bright light of tropical twilight sun illuminating part of the room he was in. His skin hung on him like ill-fitting clothing, and it occurs to me now, looking at the memory of this vignette, that I could’ve been him.

In Panama my parents had arranged to meet me here to spend a week with me and do some vacationing. This meant moving from one kind of tourism to another, and experiencing the reality of my own wealth. We went for several days to Islas de las Perlas, to a tranquil and postcard-like island getaway for the likes of Jimmy Carter and the exiled Shah of Iran. This was an excellent illustration of the power of wealth to shift your reality and your experience.

Experiencing a week of lavish comfort, fine dining, and hedonistic delight was quite a culture shock in itself, though I enjoyed spending time with my parents. I can conclude from this rapid shift in standard of living that neither the low budget backpacker style of travel nor the more traditional tourist can claim any kind of moral or even esthetic superiority over the other.

When my parents left after their visit I was left with the task of transporting a motorcycle from Panama to Colombia. I had some illusions about crossing the Darien Gap by land, but I had heard some stories that made it sound less appealing, and outright impossible. Later, walking some trails in the Darien region I realized just how impractical and dangerous such an undertaking would be, especially alone and under-equipped. I talked to someone in Panama city who suggested Colon might be a good place to find a boat. Colon has a reputation for being one of the most frightening and dangerous slums in the Americas.

When I arrived there, I found that the reputation was justified, and I found no boats, so I left quickly, having been told by a dock worker that boats often left from Portobelo. On arriving in this town I began to encounter the thievery of sailboat transport between the Panama and Colombia. The industry of transporting backpackers is huge, and there are many sailboat captains who vie for a share in the industry. I don’t want to sully myself by describing the corruption that I saw among the expatriates there, but I had some very bad experiences there. I had some good experiences during the week that I was looking for transport. Once, riding around to pass the time on a jungle trail, I crashed my motorcycle into a deep pit of mud, so the wheels were completely submerged. I didn’t feel like digging it out just then, so I went for a walk, admiring the tropical flowers and birds. I took of my shirt and started singing and dancing, and then stumbled on two teenagers looking guilty and smoking a joint. I asked them if I could smoke some of their joint and they offered it to me. They introduced me to a lot of the Panamanian slang, most of which is derived from American English and pop songs, like the songs of the superstar of the African diaspora, 50 cent.

I met another motorcyclist from Germany who had ridden from Alaska and was going to Argentina. We decided to take a small trip together to the furthest point towards Colombia that we could go by road. When we arrived at the terminus of the dirt road we found a small town. We parked the bikes and walked around a little. We asked a man sitting in front of his house for some coconuts and he gave us some. Then the town’s teacher began to talk to us and offered us a room at his house.

I was interested in trying to do something so I asked our host if we could borrow someone’s canoe and go up the river. We met everyone in the town and I asked a lot about life there. We went up the river which was dense rainforest with plantain plantations here and there. The dugout canoe was very unstable, you have to keep it from capsizing by balancing your weight in the boat, and there were three of us in it. We almost capsized a few times and Leo, the German, asked “Are there any crocodiles in this river?” and the teacher replied simply “Yes.” and said nothing more. There were many brightly colored birds around the river banks and dense and interesting plant life. We rowed until the skin was rubbing off my hands.

I took a swim in the river and the water was smooth and fresh on my skin with a velvety sensation on account of the silt. I swam to the bank opposite the town and then 3 kids on the other side waved at me, dropped their bicycles, and swam over. We lifted up a big log and threw it in the water together, and then spent half an hour having a log-balancing contest, to see who could stay on the log the longest. I won once. Then I left for lunch, which was chicken and rice cooked in coconut. Much of the food on the Caribbean coast seems to include coconut.

In the night we went out and got drunk. 1 of the town’s bars was closed because there had been a fight; unfortunately, this was the bar with a pool table. At the other bar everyone was watching Ultimate Fighting Championship to the sound of very loud Colombian music. Only a few people were talking, most were just staring at the television. We talked a little bit- I shared my conservative views on education with several local parents. We started to get hungry but there were no restaurants in town, so I made a suggestion that would probably seem unacceptable in the European circles, I just said to the teacher that we could go and buy ingredients, then go to his friends house and have his friends wife make us dinner. And so we had an excellent meal, along with more beers, some Cuban and some Colombian music.

The teacher’s friend was Colombian and was racked with emotion with some songs and howled them out, almost weeping. Later he passed out. All this day I had been trying to find a cheap boat to San Blas, the “idyllic” Caribbean island chain off the coast of Panama, hoping to find another boat to Puerto Obaldia, a town on the Colombian border. No luck. I enjoyed talking about hunting, a hobby I have wanted to pursue for several years, with a local guy who told me stories about the huge jaguars and pumas of the old days. We saw a skin of one, very beautiful and soft for a wild animal. We headed back, pretty drunk by now, and went to sleep in the guest room. I was awoken to the sound of Leo moaning irritably and slapping himself as he sobered up around 4 in the morning and became aware of all the mosquitoes biting him. I am a little bit more able to sleep with mosquitoes biting me because of all the practice I had in Africa, but he seemed to slip into a rage. Mercifully, the dawn came and we said our goodbyes to the friendly and hospitable teacher.

A Worthwhile Struggle to reach Colombia

Leaving the village I had an incident with some slick mud, my rear view mirror being the casualty. I had been lied to by the most vile and purely evil human I have ever met, an Austrian woman named Silvia, and robbed of my passage to Colombia on a sailboat, so instead I went to Miramar and asked some Indians if they could take me and my motorcycle to San Blas for fifty dollars. They accepted, though they didn’t speak Spanish very well, and soon I was sitting underneath a tarp in an oversized canoe propelled by a large outboard motor, crashing through waves and over swells. It only took a couple of hours to reach the island.

The island was perhaps three hundred meters large in each direction, surrounded by aquamarine water and a ring of white sand beach. There was no vegetation aside from palm trees. There was a small administrative building with a payphone in front. There was, on the other side of a large grassy field a hotel, and a few huts that people lived in. Nearby was another island where every square foot was occupied by buildings. It’s on overcrowded islands like these that most of the San Blas Indians live.

When I arrived the authorities were astonished to see the first motorcycle that had ever been on the island and tried to extract bribes from me. I negotiated for a few hours, telling them I wanted to sleep on the beach, and finally they extracted six dollars from me. However, once I had given them this money and it became clear no one was going to get any more from me, they seemed to accept me to some degree. They gave me a place to stay in one of the huts and had the island cook prepare food for me for the four days I was trapped on this tiny bit of land.

San Blas is possibly the most powerful magnet for idle minded hedonists in the world. I saw numerous boatloads of First worlders, mostly Europeans come through the island sailing on rivers of alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, and whatever other drugs they might have happened to bring. The San Blas tolerate them but only in order to extract money from them- a very mercenary relationship. I was glad to be living among the San Blas rather than the Europeans, though the San Blas food was definitely not as good. I enjoyed hearing stories about the San Blas life and mythology. One of the leader type figures among them suggested that I come back and learn the language so that I could preserve the San Blas oral traditions in writing, but I’m afraid that these tranquil islands might be too boring for me.

By my fourth day trapped on the island I had gone through about six books, waiting for a boat to come that might take me. I woke up early in the morning to someone entering my hut. I sat up and saw some people I had met earlier, Peter, a predatory German sailboat captain of around 50 years of age and his 17 year old Italian girlfriend. They told me that if I wanted to go to Colombia I could go, but it would be 250 dollars. I agreed.

Paola, Peters girlfriend, was the daughter of an 55 year old Italian high energy physicist turned sailor who had gotten into an argument with his 20 year old girlfriend that had descended into a screaming, catastrophic knife fight that had turned into a dramatic spectacle where suicides were forcibly prevented several times. The captain was named Leonardo, and his girlfriend, a Colombian, Jessica. Jessica had to go back to Colombia right away because she had neglected to get her passport stamped on leaving Colombia, and if Leonardo threw her off the boat he would get in big trouble for transporting an illegal immigrant. He wanted someone to come along with him though because he was afraid she might try to kill him on the way back to Colombia, so he took my motorcycle and I along.

Leonardo was a great character… he blamed the failure of his relationship with Jessica on cultural difference, her fault for being Colombian, but I think rather that it was more his fault for being Italian. He is a devoted Marxist who gave up his career as a high energy physicist teaching at Cambridge, Stanford, Harvard, etc. and doing research for a salary in excess of $10,000 per month to sail. We got along really well, I only resent him because I mentioned that I had on my ipod Tchaikovsky's piano concerto number 1 and he asked me who the performer was and I replied that I didn't know, and he snapped “You don't understand music! Why am I talking about music with you?!?” But he is a pianist and his daughter was a concert pianist too with her first performance in New York at age 8. But she is now 17 and hasn't touched a piano in 4 years, and won't say why. He also said that Keith Jared is better than Mozart, Bach, or any other composer. I don't agree. He also said that Gary Jennings is a better writer than Shakespeare, Dostoevsky etc., and I also don't agree with this.

After a tense journey to Colombia during which I had many interesting conversations with Leonardo, I had to witness more of his dramatic spectacles as he argued with the customs and fretted about losing his boat due to improper following of legal procedure. He tried to unload my motorcycle into a half inflated dinghy, but I refused and paid a larger boat 5 dollars to take it from the harbor to the beach.

The town was Sapzurro, directly on the Colombia-Panama border. I hiked a little in the jungle near Sapzurro, incredibly beautiful, maybe the most beautiful forest I have seen. I bathed alone in a large waterfall, I saw lots of the poison dart frogs that I had previously only seen in the zoo, along with many species of butterflies and birds. The mud on the paths was sometimes as high as my knees. The jungle in this area reminded me quite a lot of equatorial Africa. The food improved dramatically upon entering Colombia. Colombia has an unbelievable percentage of the population made up of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, and they are also friendly and approachable.

I stayed with a Chilean who eventually honed in on my fractional Semitic heritage and connected it to my thriftiness and large nose and became very hostile towards me, telling me how the Jews are the vampires of South America. I was glad to leave here as well, because though it was peaceful and beautiful, it was a small town and I felt a sort of awkwardness from the villagers towards me as a white man. All of the Caribbean coast seems to be predominantly black, while when you move into the mountains a little more you start finding white, mestizo and Indian people. I felt that there was a little lingering racial tension from the slavery debacle.

I loaded the bike onto a small cargo boat and then hiked through the jungle to nearby Capurgana, where I caught a passenger boat to Turbo. By the time I reached Turbo I knew I was in love with Colombia. On the boat to Turbo we had passed another boat and everyone had stood up and cheered as we passed and the other boat tossed some barrels into the water. I had no idea what had happened, except that it was an explosion of joyful exuberance.

In Turbo I found that the streets were choked with motorcycles and more beautiful women, and everyone I talked to went out of there way to be kind and helpful to me, a sort of easy kindness and hospitality. Many of the streets in Turbo were dirt, and packs of children roamed them, playing. There was a heavy African influence and I felt comfortable. The food continued to be fantastic, as well as the music. Once, waiting for my motorcycle to arrive, a man approached me and started a conversation with me about America and his love for my country. Colombia in general seems to mesh very well with the American in me, and I felt very at home there. I drank some beers with this man, whose name was Tony, and agreed to meet up with him later.

We did meet up later, and I gave him seven dollars and he came back with a fist-sized bag of marijuana and about a gram of cocaine. He also had some baking soda. We rented a three dollar hotel room and cooked the cocaine into crack and rolled it into a couple of large marijuana cigarettes. We smoked them on the balcony and shouted down at women as they walked by.

Tony shared with me some of his theories on aliens, and insisted that he was able to identify extraterrestrial qualities in me particularly. He said that he didn’t want to have any more contact with me in this world, but that he wanted to affirm our friendship so that we could be allies when we entered into the spirit world. I thought this was a very beautiful sentiment.

I saw him later the next day and he told me he was very happy that we had spent time together and that when all the women of the neighborhood had seen him walking around with a white man that he had risen in their estimation and had slept with women he normally would not have been able to sleep with. I was reminded of Franz Fanon.

It had been recommended to me to spend time in Medellin, a good city for a young man on account of its international fame as a city full of the world’s most beautiful women. There I would also be able to find some parts I needed for the motorcycle, which was not running terribly well. The guesthouse I was staying at recommended a hostel to me in Medellin, and I left on the motorcycle, having replaced my clutch discs in Turbo.

With every day I spent in Colombia I was more astonished by the place. I was reminded of being in the Alps, if the Alps were tropical. Riding through small, mountain villages filled with rosy cheeked Paisa farmers I felt as if I could be in another century, riding atop ridges and looking down thousands of feet into picturesque river valleys. Every meal was delicious and full of life, every person I met had a smiling tenderness to share, and the sky took on a quality I had only witnessed before in Tajikistan, a transcendent depth to the blueness. I waited once for a rainstorm to end in a small barn and a couple on a moped joined me. We conversed, and for the first time that I had been in a third world country, I didn’t feel a gap between my level of education and those I was conversing with, and I didn’t feel any artificial prestige for being from the US- I just felt as if three people who were all prevented from traveling by rainstorms were chatting pleasantly together. I had interactions like these again and again in Colombia, and I was enchanted by just how genuinely good all the people I met seemed to be.


Arriving in Medellin I was shocked to see a level of economic and social development beyond anything I had expected to see in Colombia. There was a clean and efficient metro, supermarkets at least as well stocked as any I had seen in the U.S. or in Europe, numerous universities, clean, well organized roads and bike lanes, and part of the metro included cable car gondolas which one could ride and see the whole massive, brick city splayed out in all its sprawling glory. The pollution was not so bad, and I proceeded to my hostel, very surprised and excited.

The hostel exceeded all my expectations, clean, spacious, with a pool table, and tastefully decorated. There were some permanent residents there and they instantly treated me as if I were family, inviting me to dine with them, to go out dancing with them, in short, to become part of their social group. I thought this might be a good environment to get some writing done, though I read in the Museo de Antioquia that Faulkner believed the brothel was the ideal environment for a writer, but I felt that I had stayed in enough brothels already and I don’t really like the feel of them so much.

The next day I dropped off my bike at a random mohawked bike mechanic named Johann. He and his stunningly charming and gorgeous wife were very friendly and told me that they could fix my bike, but that it would take a couple weeks. It needed new piston rings and new valve seals. I thought Medellin seemed like a good place to pass some time and I decided I could travel around the area a little.

My plans to travel around the region were thwarted. I had just recovered from my last cold that had been induced by too heavy partying, and I continued my heavy partying. After a very heavy night of drinking beer and aguardiente (burning water, an anise flavored liquor) and smoking a pack or so of Marlboro reds, I woke up in the morning with a sore throat that turned into an even worse cold. I took the opportunity to catch up on my health a little by resting. I went to the cities main plaza, filled with strange, voluminous modernist sculptures and bubbling with Colombian energy and vendors of tropical fruits, as well as walking payphones- people who hire out their cell phones and wear special vests to mark their profession. Another type of vendor are the typists, men who sit with typewriters in the square and write letters for people who can’t write or don’t own a computer or typewriter. I approached one of these and asked him where he bought his typewriter, since I wanted one. He asked me how much I was looking to pay. I told him I had 27,000 pesos in my pockets, about fifteen dollars, and he sold me his typewriter. I began work on a novel that night.

Claudia, the woman who lived at the hostel, was very kind to me. Sometimes when I was immersed in writing she would bring me ice cream or tea. She always spoke very quickly and had a glowing sense of humor. She told me that she had taken yage three times and that once something had clicked and now she had the ability to see people’s auras. She showed me physically where she could see my aura and told me that though it was not very clear or very large it was especially beautiful. She also took care of me when I was sick, making me chicken soup and the like.

As I was recovering Paul caught back up to me after having overcome more mechanical failure and what seemed to be the collapse of a false ego. He brought in tow a nineteen year old Asian motorcyclist named Kevin who had latched onto him. This boy seemed to be totally directionless and had no will of his own. While we were in Medellin he would pass out on the couch in the living room, fully clothed, and when we asked why he would reply that he hadn’t wanted to wake us up by coming into our dorm and getting into bed.

We went periodically to Johann’s motorcycle shop and met his other North American client, a man named Davey who carried with him a heavy cloud of compulsive behavior. His bike was also in the shop because he had crashed it into a drainage ditch and bent the frame. He made his money managing online casinos and had just opened a restaurant at one of Medellin’s upscale malls. This particular mall was larger and more grandiose than any mall I’d ever seen in the US, driving home just how big the wealthy ruling class of Colombia is.

Davey invited us up to his ranch to hang out. Johann had just finished putting my bioke back together, so we decided the trip to the ranch would be a good test drive before we left for our next destination, Putumayo. On the way, we were forced to seek shelter from a fearsome rainstorm. We sat in a gazebo in front of a house, and a woman came out and invited us in. She prepared coffee and biscuits for us, and when the rain stopped she just wanted us to stay. We thanked her for her offer, but went on our way.

We stopped in the town nearest Davey’s property and went to a bar where drugs were for sale and bought some weed. We went up to his house and looked around his property- it was in a beautiful place that allowed views of rolling hills for miles around.

We were wet and cold and we drank some agua panela, served to us by Davey’s caretaker. If I find myself with elevated social position, I accept it without much thought. The first thing I learned traveling was that anyone who espouses the “all humans are equal” sentiment automatically becomes a hypocrite, with the exception of a few holy men. Living this ideal prevents one from living in any society, and there seem to be no moral absolutes anyway.

There was plenty of beer at the house, but after my last cold I had decided to give up drinking for a while. Davey knocked back quite a few, and began exhibiting disturbing neurotic facial tics and pacing after he had had four or five beers. He excused himself and left to get cocaine. He returned a few hours later, drunk and high, and he had a brick of marijuana roughly the size of my skull. He said that the coke dealers had given it to him for free because marijuana is hard to sell due to its abundance.

I slept well that night, my dreams dimmed by the marijuana, and the next day we went to a massive artificial lake and climbed the largest rock in Colombia, near a town called Guarne. It was evident that a network of river valleys had been turned into a series of interconnecting lakes. The inflated value of waterfront property when the waterfront status of the property is dependent on something as fickle and readily destructible as a dam has always intrigued me, and provides a good window to see into capital’s illusion of substance.

Before leaving to Putumayo we were introduced by Claudia to a very healthy, handsome, and elegant looking young man named Jorge. He had hear we were interested in taking yage, la medicina. Jorge took us up to a ranch near Guarne where a shaman lived. He exemplified the healthy new age south American. We took the bus with him to take the medicine and he carried with him a backpack that we later learned contained a jaguar skin and an array of feathers and bones with special spiritual significance. He occasionally smoked smooth and fragrant delicate cigarillos and always had an air of powerful tranquility and clarity around him. He told me he had taken medicine with this shaman about eighty times and could vouch for him.


When we arrived at the farm I felt as if the property had a sort of magical glow around it. In spite of my anxiety about taking the yage, which often causes vomiting and diarrhea, and sometimes terrifying visions, I felt calm and happy. We met the shaman, Luis. He laughed frequently, with his entire body. He shook his head when we met him, and began talking with some sadness about the high death toll from a recent earthquake in China. He also said that this natural disaster was going to pale in comparison to the destruction we would soon be seeing, and that it was good that we came to take yage, because the world would need people who were awake, not asleep, in order to face what was coming.

His house was set up somewhat like a clinic, and he obviously had many regular clients who he treated with the medicine. It was a very modern take on the ancient ritual that had clearly absorbed every aspect of the Western take on medicine that it found useful. We took the medicine, a variety of yage called cielo, or sky, purported to be subtle and heavily connected to the sky in its effects.

I won’t attempt to describe my experience in detail, I will only say that I traveled inside my own body trying unsuccessfully to gather up very quickly moving shadows. I began to perceive a sort of organic grid that covered all matter that oriented itself based on nodes, and though I could not look into the nodes, I could see that each one was a door into a vast array of information, another level of complexity of data. I also was allowed one look, about three seconds long, into the essence of my being, a thing of indescribable complexity and beauty that a language based in three dimensions would never arrive at describing.

Paul’s experience was similar, in that he began to see red dots evenly distributed over everything. We later learned that each of these red dots is an entity, a spirit complex that one can enter and it will answer questions that the traveler might have. Though I did vomit and have diarrhea, it was a tremendous cleansing effect, and I felt better after this ceremony than I had since before adolescence.

After we had regained our wits we ate with Luis’s family and we conversed with them. I don’t say lightly that the people I chatted with at the table were the happiest, most functional people I had ever witnessed. After eating Luis purified us using a wand made from some sort of dried leaves and misted us with a very pleasant smelling spray made from a variety of plants in his garden.

We wanted to go spend some time in the jungle and take yage again, so Luis gave us the phone number of a man named Bolivar. We left for Mocoa, Putumayo the next day.

We passed through many villages and visited some ruins of pre-Colombian civilizations on the way, witnessing artifacts and imagery of a nature I had never before seen. The ancient statues reminded me in a way that would be difficult to describe of the modern Colombian art in its sense of the human form and the softness of objects. With each town we visited in Colombia we were greeted with the same kindness and hospitality. Somewhere along the way we stopped in front of a house that I will always remember as the most idyllic home I have ever seen. The garden, the horses, the rustic beauty of the buildings, the rolling green fields behind it and the sunshine, as well as the puppies playing with one another in front inspired me to make the decision that one day I will own land in Colombia.

In every major city the educational level of the average citizen easily surpassed that of most Americans, with large student populations. In many cities we saw anti-American leftist graffiti. I don’t think the government in Colombia tries to make any secret of their connection to right wing paramilitaries or the source of much of the funding for these groups- there certainly wasn’t anyone we met who didn’t know about these goings on.

In one of the villages we visited, Bordones, near a large waterfall Paul crashed on some mud and badly hurt his knee. We camped near the waterfall because of the difficulty of Paul walking anywhere and a farmer nearby brought us food and his daughters helped us care for the injury. Kevin and I left Paul at the camp and went to a very crude wood house with a dirt floor where a woman cooked us some soup over a wood fire. We played soccer with the woman’s children in the living room, one of the children a young girl who was the possessor of as much charisma as I have ever seen in a single human. After we were exhausted and sweating from the play we listened to some Andina music by a group called Ojos Azules, Andean music distinct from anything I have ever heard before and as we all danced I felt myself truly to be in South America. Kevin told me later that he felt a deep connection to the music, and this was one of the first of many coincidences that I saw between Asiatic culture and indigenous cultures of South America.

I had never had such consistent experiences of transcendent beauty and freedom in any part of the world before, and I remember thinking that it might be some magic of South America. I had only visited Colombia and I asked a German friend of mine who had traveled throughout the whole of the continent if all of south America had this magical quality or if it was just Colombia and he replied after some thought that it was just Colombia.

We went to the hospital in the nearest major town the next day. Paul was able to ride, but barely able to walk. We were at the hospital all day witnessing people in great pain, emotional and physical, and even one man who was possessed and had to be held down by four men. He repeated the phrase “Matamatamatamata” which could be translated as “Killkillkillkill” which was interestingly a phrase that Bolivar the shaman used in invocations.

The knee was X-rayed and was not broken, so we simply wrapped it and continued on our way to Putumayo. We had by now crossed the upper reaches of the Andes and we slowly descended into the Amazon basin. There was a marked difference not only in topography, but also in culture and ecology. At first I was a little put off by the feeling of there having been recent violence here, an atmosphere that I learned to identify in Africa, and the high military presence with its naturally accompanying bars and places of prostitution. I was also taken aback when instead of the delicious fare I had become accustomed to in Colombia we went to a buffet style restaurant where most of the clients were soldiers and I decided to try a dish made from cow stomach and intestines called “Mondongo.” It smelled more like human feces than any other food item I have ever encountered and I found it to be totally inedible. We kept our spirits high, though, when I saw some hippies in the town square and got some marijuana from them. We continued smoking marijuana in spite of Jorge’s warning that it was a very powerful plant spirit and that if not used properly in a ritual context that the plant would smoke you rather than you smoking the plant. This had a ring of truth to it, but this was a gamble we were willing to take in exchange for the lightheartedness the plant helped us achieve.

My reservations about Mocoa and Putumayo dissolved when I met Bolivar, a very sharp looking middle aged man with the same air of peace and easiness that Jorge and Luis had. The shaman also seemed to have a very androgynous quality to them, as if though clearly masculine they somehow transcended gender and the Latino machismo that characterizes most of the men I had met so far on the trip. He invited us to stay at his house and then we found out that he had another house on a large jungle property specifically for yage and we decided to stay there.

The Jungle

I don’t remember exactly how long we stayed here, because time takes on a different quality in jungle solitude. We had a cascade near the house where we could bathe, wash, and collect water for drinking and cooking. The land went further back than we could’ve walked. There was a density and a heaviness to the jungle there that I had never encountered before. We stayed there for days, I was trying to bring myself to a deeper meditative state, and Paul needed time for his leg to heal. Kevin went into town every day to court a hairdresser he had met there.

Bolivar came out and stayed with us once, but we didn’t drink yage. Finally, after some time, we drank the yage a few hours after nightfall. At this point I was fairly sure that I wanted to learn whatever necessary to qualify as someone who in the view of the plant can administer the medicine. After a ritual we drank the medicine, and as my visions began, again very difficult to describe. There was a bit of navigation of what might be called a mechanical insect reality, as well as the now familiar fractal organic machinery, difficult to integrate into my mind with its limited ability to conceive extra-dimensional reality. I also experienced the sensation of seeing a sort of white life force emanating from living objects like trees and people. The visions, which seemed to be no less real than my ordinary perceptions, seemed to communicate non-verbally with me, answering my questions. At one point I told the entities communicating with me that I wanted to learn how to be a shaman who could use the plant as a tool. Instantly I felt a sensation in my chest, as if vines or roots were creeping into the core of my body and splitting apart inside of me, probing every cell of my being. I felt the need to go to the bathroom.

Squatting outside, racked with diarrhea, the sensation of the vines continued probing me until I heard another voice speaking from inside me. It said, in a deep and sinister rumbling, “You could be more powerful than yage.” I was shocked by this and tried to suppress this thought, but as soon as it had passed through my mind the vines retreated in an instant and I began violently vomiting on the ground, almost savoring the intense discomfort and cleaning sensation of the vomiting. After this burst of nausea, I felt a little better, but I felt another bout of diarrhea approaching. I squatted back down on the toilet, and at that instant an insect of a variety I had never seen before, about the size of my thumb fell out of a tree above me and landed on me leg. It seemed to be looking straight into my eyes, and I looked back at the deep pools of its two black eyes. It stayed for a few moments and then leapt away into the darkness.

The only other visions I can describe was seeing projected in front of me a holographic projection of a diseased heart, surrounded by fat and evidently straining. I heard a voice telepathically impart to me that I had three years left to live.

The immediate effect of the yage is not so remarkable as the after-effects. I was able to discern a complete reconfiguration of my synaptic structures on almost every level of my mental functioning. The day after the ritual with Bolivar, Paul and I were refreshed, invigorated, and in as high spirits as we had ever been. Kevin was completely unresponsive. With some difficulty we got him to eat a little, but he seemed for hours as if he had just woken up.

That evening we first encountered an occurrence which continues to baffle me- what seems to be “others” speaking using our voices. We found that as we conversed, asking complex questions to each other, answers startling in their clarity and visionary nature would flow out of our mouths seemingly of their own accord. Sometimes we wouldn’t understand the meaning of what we said, but the listener would understand completely. I would describe the sensation as having a chute through which ideas pour in through the crown of the head and by the momentum they are carried out in the form of speech.

Some of the stories Bolivar told us about yage were extraordinary. It was clear from talking to him that he had witnessed firsthand the entire evolutionary history of life on earth. He also described journeys he had taken to other planets and seemed to have intimate knowledge of the migrations of early humans. He also told us that the creator of our universe had once been a sentient creature like us on another planet.

After a little more time in the jungle we said our goodbyes and gave our thanks to the forest and the river. We said goodbye to Bolivar and left for La Hormiga, a town deeper in Putumayo where the land was reportedly so fertile that manioc roots the size of large trees were sometimes harvested. When we arrived in this town the people were so astonished to see us that a crowd of more than a hundred people arrived. Everyone was taking photographs of us and asking for our autographs and offering us food and friendship.

We were heading to a remote border crossing that everyone outside of Putumayo province had told us was a guerilla zone, and it was indeed less than 8 km from the site of the bombing that had increased regional tension to the brink of war. Two Colombians had recently been burned alive by a mob in Ecuador, and the border was a little tense. I wanted to stay in Colombia, but mechanical problems and other financial complications back home had eaten into my financial aid money and I was soon going to be forced to return. We wanted to attain our objective of the Salar de Uyuni as soon as possible, so we went on to Ecuador.


Ecuador couldn’t help but be disappointing after Colombia. We immediately encountered inept bureaucrats and legal hassles, not so unusual in itself but we had been spoiled by the friendliness of officials in Colombia. The Ecuadorians seemed a little more jaded and a little less sharp, at least the ones who held us for hours at a checkpoint because their commanding officers were busy in a volleyball tournament. They decided that we would have to have an escort go with us to Quito to import the bikes at the international airport.

The first town we arrived in, Rio Agrio, was an absurd oil boomtown. The towns main square had a bizarrely Texan feel of cheap, new wealth to it and had as its central monument, rather than a statue of a revolutionary figure, a model of an oil well. The first person we asked for direction on arriving in the town, as opposed to the universal warmth and helpfulness of Colombia, was obviously strung out on cocaine or crack and asked us for money in exchange for directions, something unthinkable in Colombia.

On the way to Quito my bike developed a problem and my speed decreased. Rather than slowing Kevin and Paul down I told them to go on without me. A few minutes after they went ahead, my wheel exploded from bearing failure, wrapping my drive chain around the axel. I sat in the rain. Several trucks went by but didn’t stop to help me. I couldn’t help but think of the impossibility of this scenario in Colombia. Finally a police car stopped and flagged down a truck and asked him to take me. He agreed, and I rode in the back of the truck. We stopped for lunch at a nice restaurant. The man spoke fluent English, but his chauffeur didn’t. I wanted to speak in Spanish so everyone at the table could understand, but I was bumping into neo-colonial prestige again, and every time I tried to change the conversation to Spanish so the chauffeur could understand the man continued speaking in English.

The owner of the truck owned a company that provided replacement parts for heavy drilling machinery and worked with the oil companies. There is a great deal of oil money in Ecuador, and my understanding is that many native tribes in the Amazon are being wiped out by ruthless oil companies, not to mention many species of wildlife losing their habitats.

In Quito my fortune improved. The mechanic at the bike shop I went to invited me to stay at his house and I met his charming and kind urban family, a family that lived and breathed motocross racing. They served me delicious Ecuadorian food and conversed with me with genuine interest, making me feel very welcome. I later had the opportunity to stay at his boss’s house, in a wealthy gated community in the suburbs, and compare the disparity in standard of living between the boss and employee. His beautiful wife exemplified very well a typical constituent of latin American ruling class, of Croatian and French descent, she spoke French and English very well. Their house and means were far beyond that of my own family, and though their house was huge we stayed in the vacant servant quarters. In spite of this treatment we were treated with kindness and respect and treated to delicious food here as well. The suburb where the boss’s house was reminded me of any suburb in the US, including the same franchises, like KFC and McDonalds. In the poorer part of the city there were still women selling Andean food items in the streets, and the buildings had a more distinctly south American feel to them. World capitals give the traveler a sense of the arms of capitalist globalization creeping into every part of the world, a superficial film that seems to want to suffocate diversity and exchange it for a world where everything can be commodified. I am always aware that the culture that produced me is the ideological foundation for this process.

I met up with Paul and Kevin again and we jumped through all the bureaucratic loops that we needed to legalize the bikes. I cemented a friendship with the mechanic who helped introduce me to the unique Ecuadorian character. I had had Ecuadorian friends before coming to Ecuador, and their character made much more sense to me visiting the country. It is a distinct and quirky little country, and I won’t try to describe what I am talking about too much for fear of generalizing, but if the reader ever visits the country perhaps they will see what I mean.

The Andes in Ecuador were dramatic and scenic, perhaps a little more so than in Colombia. We had some marijuana left over from Colombia, but a Spanish hippie told us that if you are caught with it in Ecuador that you go to prison for several years before you even get a trial, so in a fit of paranoia we smoked an unreasonably large amount in one night, trying to get rid of all of it without wasting any. This turned into a negative experience amplified by the abundance of the American style consumerism we had left the US to escape, and we were anxious to leave this friendly little country and approach our goal.

Ecuador was the first country where we started to come into close contact with the fascinating cultures of the Quechua and Aymara. These people have a very distinct aspect, and often seem at first hostile towards outsiders. I think this behavior is part of how their culture has survived successive invasions.

We rode along the spine of the Andes for some time and then descended into the coastal lowlands along the pacific. The scenery in some of the rocky canyons we passed through was unlike anything I had every seen, changing from arid mountainous desert to lush forested planes in a matter of hours. I got the feeling of being in some strange and wild country, the stuff that accounts of the early colonial era are made of. When we reached the plains leading to the Peruvian border, we entered into endless banana plantations that exuded a definitely unhealthy feel. We also saw the meager shacks and brothels of the laborers who worked these fields. I have no doubt that these depressing plantations feed the West’s endless appetite for bananas. Traveling through this area left me with a resolve not to buy bananas in the US anymore, at least not the sort produced in places like that.


The Peruvian border was easy, though I saw some men get into a scuffle over some counterfeit currency. Counterfeiting is rampant in Latin America, and every bill is checked. I bought several very good twenty-dollar bills for fifty cents each. They wouldn’t have passed in Ecuador, whose currency is the US dollar, but they would have passed in the US, where I’ve noticed most twenties go unchecked.

Peru had a little more of the element of chaos I had been missing in Ecuador, and I felt safer surrounded by the feeling of being slightly unsafe. The food improved in quality a bit, with there being more spice in Peru. We had been repeatedly warned in Ecuador about the problems with thievery in Peru, and indeed, there was some attempted robbery by packs of street urchins immediately upon our arrival. We raised our vigilance and had no further problems after this incident.

Peru had the feeling to me of one of the world’s great travel destinations- I feel that it shares this with other vast and complex destinations like Mexico, India, and China. If Ecuador’s national character can be described as quirky then Peru can be described as crazy. Popular Peruvian film is a good example of this. I saw several films that incorporated shamanic belief systems into bizarre permutations of Western value systems and that included elements of Catholicism as well as extremely graphic depictions of rape, incest, and ritual human sacrifice. It appears that some of the legacy of the Inca has survived. The ceviche in Peru is the best I have ever had.

We took the Pan-American highway all the way down, more than two thousand kilometers, most of which was entirely flat. Never had I seen such a strange landscape- it’s no surprise that it produced such a strange people as the Peruvian. The desolation of Mad Max is common along the road, with many inexplicable things, like endless rows of incomplete, unlived in, thatch shelters among the dunes. Sometimes we would ride for hundreds of kilometers, seeing nothing but smooth sand dunes, beautifully sculpted by the wind and then rounding a hill find ourselves in lush olive groves that reminded me of being in the garden of Eden.

The villages all seemed to be portraits of desolation, and I could hardly understand how the barren land produced enough for the people to survive. Everyone we met spoke a dialect of Spanish very difficult for us to understand, and were psychologically completely unlike anyone I had ever met in my travels, though all were fairly good tempered and friendly towards us. The larger towns were invariably spectacularly dingy sprawls of concrete buildings, all of which seemed to be in some state of incompletion.

Another strange sight we passed was the famous Nazca lines, depicting different animals and spiritual symbols that are only visible from airplanes. I would not be surprised if there is a major extraterrestrial linkage in Peru- I often had the feeling of being on another world while I was in the country. After a seeming eternity riding through the barren coastal lands, we finally curved inland and began climbing the mountains to our destination, Bolivia.

As we climbed high into the Andes my motorcycle started having difficulty running due to the lack of oxygen. We entered some high plains where the only vegetation was a hearty variety of golden wild grass, and the only animals were graceful Alpaca llamas. The people were universally high mountain Indians, almost all wearing their traditional garb and very few speaking Spanish among themselves. Occasionally we saw a bird flying, flapping its wings at twice the pace it would have to at sea level in order to stay aloft.

We soon reached the Bolivian border town on the south shore of Lake Titicaca. An unfortunate side effect of the high altitude was that I no longer had the ability to wheelie my motorcycle. Part of my desire to wheelie stemmed from the large packet of coca leaves we had bought to combat altitude sickness and which Paul and I chewed constantly and in great quantity. It has a very stimulating effect and amplifies sensory awareness and pleasure, with undeniable aphrodisiac qualities. Once a policeman stopped us and tried to extort money from us, telling us it was illegal to chew coca on the road. I told him that I hadn’t known, and had assumed it was legal because just a few hours before I had been hit in the face with a ball of chewed coca while trying to pass a truck. In the end we managed to talk our way out of it and continued to chew coca while riding. I like the effect of the unprocessed leaf vastly more than cocaine, especially due to it not having a suicidal come-down phase.

We hit an obstacle at the border. I had assumed that we would be able to get a 90 day entry stamp for little or no cost at the Bolivian border, but we fell victim to poor relations between our country of citizenship and Bolivia. The president, Evo Morales, specifically enacted legislation at the beginning of 2008 charging Americans 100 USD for a tourist visa to Bolivia, while all other nationalities can enter for free. I read his official statement about a policy of reciprocal visa fees, a policy I was familiar with. I don’t remember if the words “imperialism” and “tyranny” were actually in the statement, but they were certainly implied. We ended up being trapped at the border all day while we sent Kevin to a nearby town to get enough money to pay for our visas. We had no money and I ended up getting all my counterfeit US currency confiscated when I mistakenly showed a border official the bills.


When we finally succeeded at entering Bolivia the next day, I had the impression of having entered the poorest country I had visited since leaving Africa. The corruption was present at the border, but they were sloppy and I easily evaded the bribes. I could tell that they’d had easy pickings in the other tourists who passed.

As we entered La Paz, where I hoped to see a friend of mine who was living as a South America “hippie” or artesano, we mistook the slum El Alto for the downtown area and decided to stay there. El Alto is so named for being very high, and is the poorest part of the city because of its altitude. Because of the thin air, the lower down you go in La Paz, the more expensive the real estate becomes, because the rich don’t want to breathe thin air. The area where we stayed was more or less an endless street market where all variety of things could be bought, from carrot juice and animals to typewriters and magical items. There were some street sorcerers who for a small fee had a variety of methods of divination that they would perform. Bolivia is incredibly cheap, and we often ate delicious four or five course meals of entirely unrecognizable kinds of food for less than one US dollar.

We normally wouldn’t have stayed long in the city due to the expense, but we had to repair the springs on Paul’s KTM. The seals had failed and we had to find new ones to keep the oil from leaking out of the front forks. We couldn’t find any to match since there are no KTM’s in Bolivia, but we eventually managed to improvise a solution. In the meantime, I went down into the city looking for drugs. I met an old woman on the street who sold doses of powdered San Pedro cactus, a mescaline containing cactus, and I bought some. Since taking yage I had had no desire to drink and had completely shifted my drug consumption to marijuana. I had no trouble finding more in La Paz, albeit of extremely poor quality.

We drank some of the San Pedro in tea while still in El Alto and I was astonished by the bright, visionary quality of the cactus. It seemed to rearrange the sounds of the city in my mind into a sublime symphony, and I had the impression that my hotel room was an ice cavern dripping with icicles of supernatural beauty. All the psychedelic drugs we consumed after taking yage seemed to highlight and amplify the medicinal effect of the yage and increase our ability to reach insight through the contact with the other that caused the voices and thoughts of elucidation to flow through us, though our contact with this was not limited to periods of plant based enhancement of our mental faculties.

After this we were energized and anxious to exchange the pollution of the city for the pure air of the high Andean plain. We rode toward our destination, the Salar de Uyuni. On the way we searched for gold, hoping to buy some gold nuggets that we could sell for a profit back in the US, but we had no luck.

We rode for several days on dirt roads through barren country populated only by llamas and occasional small villages. The cold was terrible. We passed many villages that seemed to be entirely deserted. We finally stopped in a small town on the day of a festival. We had a chance to see what happens when the normally reserved Andean people cut loose. It was chaos and we drew quite a bit of attention. A very drunk man offered us his house to leave our motorcycles. He also wanted us to stay there, but his excess of friendliness inspired us to stay in the dormitory of the town inn and restaurant instead out of a desire for peace and rest.

That night there was dancing and music in the square all night. My newfound aversion to alcohol prevented me from joining, but I enjoyed the festive atmosphere.

We ended up spending much more time in that little town than we expected when we found Paul’s radiator fluid had frozen in the night. Normally the coolant is a mixture of water and anti-freeze, but he had had a small leak and had been topping the mixture off with water, and there hadn’t been enough antifreeze to keep it from freezing.

We spent several days at the house of a man who befriended us trying to salvage the motorcycle by making gaskets out of diesel engine gasket maker, but we finally gave up when we realized to much had been damaged by the freeze. He sold it to an officer at a nearby barracks for well under half the value of the motorcycle in good condition. All of this happened in a quaint town within sight of our objective, the Uyuni salt flat. We could see a corner of that wide, white expanse, taunting us with its proximity as we struggled with the motorcycle. Finally, we gave up and went to cross the salt flat with Paul riding on the back of Kevin’s motorcycle.

We passed through many ancient abandoned towns on the way to the salt flat, lending our expedition an air of eeriness. The sensation of entering the long anticipated white void was tremendous- never had I encountered such a nothing. The world’s largest salt flat, also at 13,000 feet elevation. There is a powerful silence and emptiness that hangs over the place. I couldn’t help but feel as if we were in another place. We arrived at the salt flat at nightfall and we went as quickly as we could to a place called the island, a bastion of capitalism in the void. As the sun set the cold became so bitter that I felt in genuine danger of frostbite. It took hours for us to warm up at a foreign owned franchise restaurant on the island called “Mongo’s” in front of a fire.

The island is in the middle of the salt flat and is a strange chunk of land with numerous cacti growing on it with a small population of Bolivians who survive entirely on tourist revenue from the many visitors that come to visit this oddity. We spent the night here and I had a strange dream encounter. I dreamt that I was in charge of a convoy in Africa delivering urgent food and medical aid to a conflict zone. I was trying to get the convoy across a border, but there was a cruel and mean spirited border guard, an ugliness that I remember from some of the most cruel and brutal soldiers in Africa, and he was gleefully and sadistically refusing to let the convoy through. I was pleading and negotiating and begging, and finally I grew so angry that I snatched his pistol from his belt, cocked it, and shot him through the head. From that moment the instant of me shooting him played over and over again in agonizing clarity and I could feel every detail of that moment as it replayed. After more than fifty replays, the moment continued to replay, but the man spoke to me with the bullet hole in his head, grinning maliciously and telling me that I had just done exactly what he wanted.

At this moment I woke up with fright and felt a presence in the room. I felt something tugging on my perception, and I was pulled from my body. I was still aware of my presence in my body, but the sensation of lying in a bed was very faint. I found myself in a room that seemed to be above the room I was sleeping in but outside of space. I was standing, staring at what appeared to be an arcade machine rapidly cycling images. I felt a gaze on the back of my head and I turned around and saw a man, but instead of a face there was a swirling mass of shadow material. The swirling shadow looked at me and somehow communicated a kind of intensity, as if there was some animosity between us but also as if there was an uneasy respect and a truce. I blinked and the room disappeared, and I was back fully in my body, wide awake.

I had trouble getting back to sleep, and could not sleep until the haze of pre-dawn appeared.

In the morning we set out to spend the day on the most remote and central part of the salt flat we could. We rode toward the middle of it until all of the surrounding mountains nearly disappeared like flickering mirage floating above the endless white expanse. We finally decided on a spot and dismounted and began cooking up some more of the San Pedro tea.

As the cactus began to settle into my body, I couldn’t help but feel a little put of by the experience of the previous night. I felt a strange sadness and tiredness, and with full knowledge of my power to control my own state of mind, I resolved to walk alone in a straight line until I was happier than I’d ever been before.

I walked in the emptiness, each footstep shattering dozens of tiny salt crystals that bounced, making tiny tinkling noises as they bounced in the complete silence. The noise of my own thoughts was oppressive in the silence of the salt flat. It seemed interesting to me that this place, so far away from our sea level, had once been the bottom of an ocean. I walked for several miles until I came upon one of the circular irregularities in the even flow of the salt- these are eyes that form when the salt flat reforms itself, about ten feet in width. They are the parts that harden last. Kevin found one with a dead bird preserved in it by the salt, who knows for how many years.

I stooped down to examine this large circle, and I found that it was made up of larger crystals than the rest of the salt flat. Some of these crystals were larger than a centimeter in diameter. All of them began in cubes that when achieving cube shape broke off into expanding squares, creating an upward, square, pyramidal, cone. Turned upside down they looked like exact replicas of the Mayan temple Chichen Itza. The entire whirlpool was made out of these, thousands stacked on top of one another. Dozens crunched underneath my feet as I walked across the whirlpool.

I lay on the circle, because it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. I felt a vibrating sensation begin to course through my entire body, as if I had been plugged into some energy source and was having my body converted into electrical potential of steadily increasing frequency. This vibration increased until I felt sure that my limbs were going to explode into molten energy, and at that moment I felt what I can only describe as a pillar or a cannon of pre-time and space matter shot through my chest. I could still sense the vibration in all my body, but there was no sensation at all in my chest, as if a hole the size of a dinner plate had been shot through me. I looked down and saw that my chest was still there, but it felt like it had dropped out of our universe and been replace with a river seething protoplasm. Abruptly this sensation ended, and I did, in fact, feel happier than I had ever been before, and I was left with a rapid fire stream of representations of molecular and crystalline structures, and a lingering sensation that minerals had profound effects on the affairs of man.

I walked back and talked with Paul. He had received the schematic for a temple, but first he would have to construct the room in which he would be able to draw the plans for the temple. We took turns riding Kevin’s motorcycle naked, and I managed a small wheelie fully in the nude. We all had the sense at this moment that this was the end of the trip to South America. Naturally, these events transitioned into even more interesting events, but the subsequent happenings are another story.

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