It’s rare that a day goes by when I don’t get asked about my trip. These encounters with (mostly) locals and (occasionally) other travellers usually occur in service stations or restaurants. After all, these places are when I am most likely to be interacting with others with the bike present.
Sometimes they happen in hostals or while camping. Sometimes in completely random places: for example, when I’m stopped by the side of a road enjoying the scenery and a brief break.
The questions are usually the same.
Where are you from?
Where are you going?
Where have you been?
How long will you travel?
You’re riding that motorcycle all the way to the USA? By yourself?
That last one is invariably accompanied by a ‘wow!’, or a grimace and a shake of the head, like the questioner can’t believe such a thing is possible. Or achievable. Or even desirable.
I get that for most people in the countries I have visited so far, this kind of trip isn’t something to which they would aspire. They have jobs to hold down, livings to make, families to feed, bills to pay. Maybe they don’t have the means or the time to embark on such pursuits. Maybe they don’t feel the need.
In many places I’ve been motorcycles are an essential means of daily transport, not a vehicle for leisurely long-range exploration. They carry people, goods and sometimes livestock from one place to another over short distances. They’re usually cheap, small-capacity (100-150cc) models of Chinese or Indian manufacture, and have a hard life.
Sure, some people use them for touring. I saw plenty of it in Ecuador and Colombia, but they’re still mainly short-haul. Maybe a 200km stint to visit the family in another province or a couple ducking away for the weekend. It’s definitely better than the bus.
There are moto travellers in South America, exploring their continent and beyond. I saw them mostly in Chile and Argentina, with a few in Colombia and Ecuador. They were aboard large-capacity tourers like BMW 1250 and 800 GSs and Suzuki V-Stroms. These big bikes are bloody expensive here – they are clearly people with greater means than the average Jose.
So I understand it when locals greet my answers with surprise or disbelief or wonder or amazement. There is a whole bunch of reasons why they wouldn’t or couldn’t do a similar thing. And I’m aware how fortunate I am – in so many respects – to have the opportunity to make this journey.
I cherish the support and encouragement my family and friends continue to offer as I make my way north. I appreciate the good-natured ribbing and shit-slinging from mates who wish they were here. And I treasure the little expressions of worry and concern from those who want me home in one piece.
What I do struggle with, though, is when people from Australia or other affluent places use the terms ‘courageous’ or ‘brave’ in connection with this journey. I don’t think of myself that way.
I am just an average bloke who likes exploring on a motorcycle. What I’m doing here is the fulfilment of a long-held dream, but it never struck me as being daring or audacious. Pretty much anyone could do it, or something similar.
Maybe that’s what happens when you’re so close to it. When an idea becomes THE idea, and when much of your thinking and planning and resources go into making it happen. You don’t see it as so big – more a series of small things that need to be done to achieve an end.
I didn’t even think of it as much of an achievement until recently, when a conversation with someone very dear to me prompted me to view the journey from another perspective.
They said they thought I was determined, and someone who wasn’t afraid to go after what he wants. Hang on a minute, that doesn’t sound like me, I thought.
No, they said, where you are now is proof of that.
But I’m just doing my thing. No big deal.
Au contraire, they said, you’ve dared to walk the path most people only dream of. And it’s a massive accomplishment in so many ways. This trip, they said, will live on with you forever reminding you what you’re capable of.
Well, when you put it like that…
And they were right. Don’t get me wrong – this journey hasn’t become humdrum or routine. I wake up each day eagerly looking forward to what lies ahead. To where I might go and what I might see and experience. I am having an absolute bloody ball.
But I suppose the big picture – what it takes to pack up your bike and yourself and ship everything across the world; to put many familiar aspects of your life on hold in order to open up completely new ones; to tackle novel challenges in strange lands – maybe that’s what had escaped me.
I’ve been so busy just doing my thing, that I didn’t notice it was actually a pretty big thing.
And it’s nice, in quiet moments, to sit back and reflect. Six months on the road, living on two wheels, experiencing people and places that will stay with me forever.
That’s not too shabby.
As I write this, I’m in Panama taking a few days off the bike to enjoy the tropical surrounds of Bocas del Toro.
I flew the bike from Bogotá, Colombia to Panama City a week or so ago and have spent the time since wandering around and mostly camping. Panama is quite a bit more expensive than Colombia, so tenting it is a good way to keep costs down.
Colombia is fantastic. Spent about a month there and absolutely loved the place. It’s incredibly beautiful with an amazing diversity of landscapes, and the people are some of the friendliest I have encountered so far.
What I haven’t done much of is write. Maybe too busy enjoying myself, maybe just not feeling it. Probably the latter. I still struggle to make this thing a habit.
I said at the start this blog wouldn’t be a blow-by-blow travelogue. When I have something to say, like the thoughts above, I’ll put them down.
Some words about Colombia may come, but I can’t promise anything. What I will be doing, though, is trying some journaling each day to keep things flowing and help embed the habit. Hopefully this will lead to some more frequent posting.
In the meantime, enjoy some images of Colombia and thanks for staying with me.