What can be more liberating than to go to a foreign country, buy yourself a motorcycle and just start riding, with no idea where it will lead you? That chance of experiencing ultimate freedom was granted to me when I decided to start a journey, that eventually took me across the entire continent of South America, following the west coast from north to south.
A decade prior to this hardships-filled adventure, I already found out what it was like to traverse barren deserts and treacherous icy mountains, when I drove for 10,000 kilometers through rural Asia on a dirt bike, seeing many hidden treasures of the Himalaya range. This time, I had no idea I would almost double that distance, as well as the number of countries visited.
After roaming Central America I ended up in the tropical parts of Colombia, where I purchased a brand new AKT Enduro TTR. It actually took some frustrating weeks to gather all legal papers, as opposed to my previous trip in Asia, where they didn’t allow insurance to foreigners, thus driving around without a license plate! However, this time everything was well arranged.
My planned four weeks in the palm tree infested country turned into four months – there was so much to see and owning a motorcycle gives a privilege of independence. Approaching the Andes Mountains I had to switch my T-shirt for a proper outfit, protecting against cold and frequent downpour. One of the obstacles I faced was a narrow trail that the locals call the ‘Trampoline of death’, on account of the many souls that are lost, accidentally bumping over the edge with absence of guardrail, more or less plummeting towards their grave.
Once arrived in Ecuador, the temperatures are getting less comfortable due to gaining serious altitude on the plateau. The abundance of fresh beverages from cane sugar is consoling, and the first alpacas appear at the scene. Even though the animals are cute-looking, I also enjoy them on my plate in the form of a grilled steak. Not so much for the guinea pig, which is another thing commonly eaten by its inhabitants. Between banana plantains on the coast I blow up my exhaust pipe, but crazy enough I get it fixed the same day at a mechanic.
Aside from the main tourist attractions, such as the ancient Inca pyramids and such, Peru has some astounding plains with high dunes and tiring gravel roads, going dead straight beyond the horizon, as well as lush jungles with serpentine roads, and completely deserted areas. Just in case, I get myself a secondary jerry can, that is much needed later on. Meanwhile I camp in tents, or stay at hostels and hotels, interspersed with getting invited to stay at people’s homes, with enriching encounters.
When Bolivia is on the menu, panoramas are graced with tricolored mountains, showcasing red, green and brown all mingled together. At times decorated with layers of the whitest salt, and even snow. In spite of increasing winds, I don’t think I have ever seen a sky so blue. Small tornados try to pull me off my motorcycle at times, it is necessary to have a firm grip on my handle bars. All the plastic parts are literally devoured when I make my way across the inspiring Salt Flats, with an almost divine outlook. Don’t let the beauty of the crystals deceive you – they are ferocious and in fact responsible for breaking irreplaceable items.
By now, I need to have my chain regularly tightened, meanwhile the first screws start to rattle loose – mind you, that a lot of days are spent driving off-road. Towards the south is a lot of challenging terrain to be covered, for days on end I even defy fate by meandering the official Dakar Rally route. It is a small miracle that I don’t get stranded, battling my way through hazardous deep sand. Remarkably, in the evening I discover my toothpaste frozen.
The rather lengthy country of Chile is characterized by snow-capped volcanoes and geysers, as well as the driest place on Earth. As nice as it is to drive here in summertime, I lingered for too long in the north of the continent, hence I experience Patagonia in the heart of winter, with all that entails. When scattered around you are guanacos (wild llamas) lying frozen to death, you know it is really, really cold. Sharp winds are cutting straight through my outfit. At times I have to pour hot tea over my fingers to defrost, only so I can unzip my pants to pee. Imagine that! Of course, marvelous Chile hosts the infamous Carretera de Austral and it is well known by motorcyclists all over the world. This road, including the mandatory trips across fjords with ferries, is over a 1,000 kilometers long. Before the start I get myself a new thermo under layer, a new chain and some spare parts – a wise decision as they soon turn out not to be superfluous.
Last but certainly not least, the massive desolate wastelands of Argentina. Bleakness, unending flatlands, giant craters and sinkholes, cruising on my black iron horse I get to experience it all. At one point I even have a bundle of wild ostriches running along with me! Approaching a forest I am defeated by a flat rear tire, a rusty nail being the culprit. You can note that I got stranded in the middle of nowhere, my tools necessary to fix it got stolen along the way. Having survived by digesting frozen puddles for a few days I am rescued by three hunters that coincidentally pass in their big pick-up truck.
Continuing south, accompanied by pink flamingos and penguins, I suffer some bad luck when my new chain breaks. Furthermore, it also gets stuck and there is no escaping from having to break it into three separate parts and try to reassemble it. Pressing on, conquering borders and avoiding potholes, I finally make it to Ushuaia, the most southern tip of human civilization. A total of 19,000 kilometers has left my bottom somewhat sore, but it was worth every second. In fact, it was such a life enriching experience, that this year I ironically decided it would probably be a good idea to actually get a license for driving a motorbike.
Follow Jeffrey on all of his adventures @good.to.go.1405 on Instagram and check out his two books: