All posts by Julien Soudy

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Gunshots and Glitters | My Month Working at BPM Festival 2017

I was reminded on a recent flight in what is now two days I’ll be collecting my motorcycle in Uruguay and attempting to ride it through Brazil, from the Southern border to the Northern coast. It’s easy to forget, that’s why I’m here after all, and it’s the reason I’ve spent the last five months out of the Netherlands. Last year I flew to Uruguay for the sole reason of bringing my motorcycle across the border for 24 hours to renew my permit and now, she sits comfortably in a shed awaiting my arrival.

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In Uruguay last year

In a sense, I had never forgotten, but like so many assignments and paperwork I had somehow pushed it into my “later” pile only to become oh-so-crystal-clear as the date approaches.

I can forgive myself for being distracted. I have been busy. I have been in the United States for 3 months, in Mexico for a month or so working at BPM Festival, and most recently, I have been in Australia on an impromptu trip visiting friends and family.

As the image becomes clearer in my head that in a matter of days I will be thrown into the wild world of adventure riding once again, I was reminded of what I consider to be the greatest post on livedeleven written by our good friend Thomas Kuipers about our oil stained pants on our motorcycle journey from Vancouver to Buenos Aires.

The stray dogs start barking at a truck that rolls in and I wonder if I should join them. Tonight, we sleep outside the same gas station.
Sitting on the ground somewhere in the middle of this industrial park, somewhere just outside of Antofagasta, Chile, the contrast with the Bolivian wilderness couldn’t be any sharper. White snow is exchanged for grey dust. Dirt roads for a four-lane highway. Flamingos for diseased dogs. Nature’s perfect silence for the forever ongoing beeping of backing-up trucks.
But we like it here. We’ve had our fair share of stunning landscapes and challenging terrain, and we feel accomplished. The last three hours were spent in the station’s restaurant making up storylines for Italian soap operas, after which we pitched our tent in the dirt. Don’t forget that the subtitle of our blog reads ‘In the end it’s all just jokes’.

Continued…(read it now, you’ve got the time)

Of course, I shared these memories with Thomas and they remain as true as the day that Thomas wrote it down in his notebook somewhere near some shitty truck stop in Antofogasta. We both agreed that night as with many nights before that; Big, bold trips and crazy ideas should never just stay ideas, action is always better than inaction.

It is in reminding myself of Thomas’ post that I compare my recent trip to Mexico. What, if anything, did I do which might have prompted one of these brilliant “questions” to my head? Fucked if I know. To paraphrase Grandmaster Kuipers we never know the question until we find the answer, it’s all jokes anyway.

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Joooooookes

So how is 3D mapping set up on a bamboo stage?

and how many free drinks can I take from Solomun’s rider until someone shakes their head at me?

How does a gang war start?

Which cartel runs Playa del Carmen?

What are the chances of meeting someone in a hostel and meeting back up as work colleagues years later?

For me? Pretty good for me it seems.

I met Aitor in San Francisco in December 2014.

We met in a hostel in the Tenderloin, we got drunk together and wandered the streets making animal noises, knocking over traffic cones, and generally being rowdy and inappropriate. The lads on tour.

We lost contact of course. For two solid years, we went on our own journeys. Thomas and I finished our motorcycle trip and headed back to the Netherlands, our memory of Aitor coming up occasionally as a funny anecdote we would repeat on occasion when the situation permitted. 

It was in September of 2016 when I heard from Aitor, responding to my facebook post about heading to California.

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We got to talking and after a few weeks of off again on again streams of messages I found out that Aitor was going to head to BPM Festival as I had been planning to, however, he wasn’t going to pay for anything since he had been working on the stage crew for the festival.

You can probably guess where this is going. This was too good to be true, of course, I asked him if he could check if there was a spot for me. He did, and after a short facebook messenger “interview” with Rodrigo I was told to book my flight, which I did. Before I knew it I was standing there in Playa Del Carmen with my trusty backpack waiting to be taken to my new home for the next month.

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A JE TO!

Introducing the Crew

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Along with Aitor, I worked with (clockwise from my position) Jacobo (El Gordo), Miguel, Rodrigo, and Tassinari (Dams Huntsman). Four Mexicans who would turn out to be some of the most fun and hilarious people to work with that I could imagine.

El Gordo falls asleep in weird places a lot. He told me a story once where he was working on a construction site near Mexico City and would strap himself to the scaffolding and fall asleep without worrying about plummeting to his death. When not helping to build stages of BPM Festival he organizes rock festivals around Mexico City.

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Jacobo (El Gordo) and Tassinari / Dams Hunstman

Miguel loves to party, and once the build was over, we would spend many a night being the last men standing of the group raging on the dance floor until sunrise. Equal parts psy-trance,  dark techno, and minimal we shared music together and danced, danced, danced.

Rodrigo is the captain of the ship, the man with the plan. His dog Jazz is from the Czech Republic and doesn’t speak Spanish. Jazz would join us on the builds, sprinting around the site securing the area.

Dams Hunstman will be heading to France soon to join the French Foreign Legion, and served as our runner. He would start our morning techno routine before work, which turned out to be a tradition that would follow until our last days in Playa.

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About A Day’s Work – Make Me A Stage-Builder

I’ve stopped setting my alarm, Rodrigo will wake me up when its time to leave. I won’t take long to be ready anyway, and at least for the last few days, we’ve still had to wait an additional hour until we’re out the door. El Gordo takes the longest to get ready usually, the man is impossible to wake up. Dams will be cooking us scrambled eggs soon, or if we’re lucky, Miguel will be feeling adventurous and cook us up something crazy. Both are fine by me, I just try to eat as much as possible.

It’s scrambled eggs, Gordo has clomped his way down the stairs and we are all eating. Aitor doesn’t eat meat, which can be a problem working on a team of carnivorous Mexicans, but luckily this morning Dams has remembered to cook Aitor a bacon-less version of our meal. Aitor isn’t always so lucky. Rodrigo has finished eating and is showing Miguel a model of the stage on his computer and discussing what we need to do today. I keep up with about 80% of what they’re talking about, but eventually, I tune out and continue eating. I’ll figure it out when I get there.

We arrive at the jungle stage. This is by far the largest and most complicated stage at BPM, set “in the jungle” on a private property on the outskirts of Playa Del Carmen. I took the scooter today, none of the dials work and its way too small for me but I don’t mind, it’s nice to be riding. The last part of the road is quite rocky but I don’t really slow down, the boys are ready to start working. The bike bounces and rattles over the rocks and I cut the engine and glide towards the group and after a quick cigarette break, we’re ready to start working.

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Main Stage early stages

I walk over to Dannboy and Mario, who along with Karley make up “Green Future”, a non-profit organization that holds classes on how to make everyday items out of organic materials. Dannyboy and Karley are also organizing SOL festival towards Veracruz, a three-day techno festival on the beach. They are working with Jeff, the head lighting engineer, on bamboo lamps which will be hung up and placed around the festival in certain clubs.

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Pile o lamps

Dannyboy and I like to make up fake memories about each other dating back to the 1930’s. Mario and I invented our own radio station, Radio Caguama (We have a poorly kept facebook page), where we give live commentary on drinking beer in Spanish and in English. It turns out I need a working buddy to help build the entrance tunnel and Dannyboy volunteers.

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My oldest and dearest friend Dannyboy

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Our beautiful tunnel under construction

Building the tunnel is a pretty simple job, local builders set up a bamboo truss, and our job is to get bamboo and fill in the gaps to make it look like a tunnel. The bamboo is heavy, and the sun is hot yet Dannboy and I power through. He is a fearless climber and often stepped off the crane to climb and tie something or cut something down. We talk and make up more memories about each other into the afternoon.

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On top of the crane, above the stage

It’s lunchtime. I’ve done a bunch of other things since doing the tunnel with Dannyboy and I’m starving. Mr Hunstman has been gone for hours getting us food, god knows what he was doing, but he’s just arrived back. The food is always delicious and is usually made by an old lady in a local shop about 5 minute drive away.

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Dropping our dishes back to our cooking lady, hungry Jazz.

I stuff myself with as much food as possible when I hear snoring over my shoulder. El Gordo has fallen asleep. He sometimes does that during our lunch break, it’s funny, but we all feel like sleeping as well. We take our break with “Los Hippies”, a group of 15 people traveling around Mexico in an RV meant for 7 people. They met the production manager for the festival somewhere and he offered them free tickets for their help, so they came. They are doing mostly decorations, and they are damn good at it. They weave and do woodworks. They work hard, yet in a cyclic motion, with always one or two chilling and smoking a joint, or playing with their dog which is the size of a small horse.

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OUR trusty workhorse

After lunch, we smoke some weed and get back to work. I walk over to the main stage, it looks more impressive every day. I stop for a chat with Rodrigo, who is taking pictures of the construction with his DSLR. We have to zip tie hundreds of bamboo splits all over the stage to make it enclosed and we stand there for a while and discuss that.

A shitty car comes roaring around the corner with a man in a gas mask blasting an unknown pressurized smog all over the worksite. I get a whiff of the smoke in my lungs and begin coughing, as does everyone else in the general area. We step back, let the dust settle and everyone goes back to work. It seems the only non-Mexicans, Aitor and myself, are concerned and confused.  

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Rodrigo explains that that toxic gas was to kill mosquitos, and it was only really effective for about 5-10 minutes. The car makes several laps around the site spraying us with the gas and then tears off to another site.

“You know man, this is Mexico”

On Cartels and Drugs

Work continued like this for a while, not only at the jungle but at Martina Beach Club, and Cannibal Royale, two beach clubs in the center of town. We liked the jungle stage because we were by ourselves, but we liked the beach clubs because we could walk barefoot in the sand and have a nice breeze from the ocean.

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Nightime at Martina Beach Club

Martina would be where we would see them. It was possible to drive right up to the beach and for several days we would see a white sedan pull up with four guys drinking beers in the car and listening to music. I could tell they were watching us because every time I looked over there I made eye contact with someone, it wasn’t always the same person and they weren’t staring us down, but it was enough to make us aware of their presence. That was the whole point, Dams and Gordo explained. They were not there to watch us, but for us to look at them.

It was a bit unsettling, but not scary. I couldn’t imagine what some gangsters could care about our small build crew mounting a stage. Work continued anyway, things like these are surprisingly easy to forget about when you have things to do, like dig a huge hole.

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Sand is heavy

Anyone who has ever been to BPM Festival would be lying if they told you they have never noticed a gang presence in Playa, it’s hard to miss. Blue Parrot is where it is most obvious, but in any club on any night you will see the same people, selling bad pills and worse cocaine for huge amounts of money. They do it openly next to security guards, and in many cases, the dealers are security guards.

I found it hard not to imagine at least some level complacency from the organizers. Phil was an owner of the festival, and if he wasn’t a gangster, he liked to look like one. He drove a sporty range rover with tinted windows and had one or two women with him most of the time. He always wore techno black-on-black-on-black and talked like he was in charge, which he was. He always seemed busy with something, although I was never sure what. I could have guessed that most of the time he was high on cocaine, and I probably would have been right.

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Finishing touches on Martina

All of this was, of course, a topic of discussion among the boys, and we all theorized who was paying who and for what. Was BPM a money laundering operation? Most seemed to think so. Canadian gangsters cutting deals with local cartels for the right to throw a 10 day techno festival sounds like the beginning of a cool movie script which made the whole conversation that much more surreal. It was fun to talk about at that time, but it didn’t really matter, we still had to hammer away, or there would be no party.

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Miguelon going monkey mode

Partying Until The Party Stops.

It was when the party started that this gang-activity went into full swing. This is what they’ve all been waiting for. It becomes impossible to walk the streets without being offered drugs, or sold a tour (in exchange for buying drugs). For the cartels, BPM is like Christmas, with some 70,000 pill-hungry fiends landing directly on their lap. There is no competition, no-one is stupid enough to challenge their power, so Playa Del Carmen becomes an open drug market.

Some degree of care is taken not to shock the families, who go for their morning strolls right outside clubs as steady streams of wide-eyed foreigners exit, some shouting at each other for the next afterparty, some delicately grasping a bottle of water, staring out at the ocean and wondering where the night went.

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Completed Jungle stage and 5000 ravers

Sunglasses? T-Shirts? Massages? Tour? The annoying chorus of tourism shouts in my ear as I walk through the Fifth Avenue, the main hub of all things annoying in Playa. The party has started, that much is clear, and I have been out with the crew already on a few occasions. I’ve managed to make some party friends, and I can usually guess where they’ll be. They like to stay out of the big clubs, where the crowd is pumped on steroids or silicone, and groove to the less known clubs where the crowd more resembles a legitimate techno gathering.

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With Aitor at Cannibal Royale

Parties at the Jungle stage were always the main event for the crew. We had all put in the most amount of work on that stage and it was the by far the most impressive venue at the festival, finally finished in all its glory. We smuggled beers into the venue and when they ran out, dipped into whatever was left backstage. We had earned it, our work was finally on display for everyone to see and enjoy.

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Carl Cox at the Jungle Stage

We had managed to sneak in Anne, a friend of mine from Amsterdam into Diynamic in the Jungle where Solomun played until the AM by getting in early and driving straight backstage. Miguel got a friend in as well and we bounced around through the crowd, the VIP area, and boogied at the secondary Palapa stage on the other end of the terrain.

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 Glitter Obligatory, we adopted SF Glitter queen Tanya at Diynamic and stayed until close

I attended Day Zero in Tulum, about 60 kilometers south of Playa at one of the wildest parties I’ve attended since leaving Amsterdam. I went with Anne and Paul, whom I had met in San Francisco a few months earlier. We met up with other friends from San Francisco and danced, taking breaks to swim in the natural pools on the terrain.

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I returned from Day Zero for the last day of BPM, wrecked from the previous days of dancing but feeling some vague sense of duty of being there with my friends for the ultimate day of the festival we had all worked so hard to build. The party was in the Jungle of course, and we arrived early to sneak in a few friends before the event began.

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Upon arrival on the last night of BPM 

Somewhere around 3 o’clock in the morning, I was at the Palapa stage with four friends from California and the rest of my crew when the music stopped. It didn’t cut out as you would expect from a DJ error or equipment malfunction but was slowly faded out as if the end had already arrived. I looked over to the main stage where Hot Since 82 was playing and there too the music was cut. The scene was simply a disgruntled rabble of some 3500 party-goers swaying about as if awaiting some sort of drop that would never arrive.

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With the Cali crew shortly before hearing the news

Word got around quickly that there had been a shooting although it wasn’t clear at that time what exactly was going on. Security didn’t know and just told us to make our way to the exit. A rumor spread that there had been someone shot out the entrance to the Jungle, another spread of an active shooter inside the venue. I found out through Aitor, who had spoken to the lighting engineer of the real situation. A shooting at the Blue Parrot had occurred, probably drug related, unknown deaths.

It’s worth mentioning how quickly the atmosphere changed from 15 minutes prior. Although I was drunk myself, I was glad at least I was not like most of the crowd, many of whom had just dosed MDMA or even acid before the music cut off and they were about to be taken on a trip much different than they had expected. The energy in the air was one of fear, love, excitement, panic, and confusion as thousands of eager ravers tried to figure out what would happen next. For me, there wasn’t really another option, there was no other venue open, every club in Playa had shuttered their doors after hearing the news.

I got a ride back with Rodrigo out the service entrance when we spotted my friends from California walking among the masses. Many taxi services had of course not been told about the premature closing of the party and the road was filled with thousands who had no other choice but the clog up the road and stumble to wherever they were heading. Rodrigo invited my friends in the car to drop them off at their hotel. Plans were being discussed in the back.

Drinks in the hotel room? I made a last-minute decision to join them. I had to be at Martina club at 9 am to begin taking the stage down and I promised Rodrigo I’d be there in one state or another.

We went to the rooftop of one hotel where there was a swimming pool and drank raided mini-bar supplies. It didn’t feel right to party after what had happened and we spent most of the time just talking about the events and trying to find out what had happened. The streets were dead, BPM facebook page had suggested the shooter was still active and urged everyone to stay inside, so we did. We talked with people who had been at Blue Parrot and heard first-hand accounts of what had happened at the venue. No-one had any idea what was going on.

We moved to the Grand Hyatt and chilled there for a while, and decided to walk to the beach to see the sunrise. I had to be at work in an hour and took a taxi back to the apartment for some attempt at sleep, which was never attained. I stumbled down the stairs to see the headlines.

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Shit was real, but there was still work to do. Digging through rock and sand in the sweltering heat in my sleep deprived state was bad enough but it got a whole lot worse when we moved to Martina Club and Jessie, the production manager, pulled us aside and showed us a picture on his phone.

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It was a sign that had been put up at the entrance to Playa del Carmen the night of the shooting. It read:

“This is a sign that we are already here because you didn’t align. Phillip from BPM, this is the beginning. We are going to cut the heads of the Golfos, Pelones, and Capulines. [Signed] El Fayo Z from the old school” 

This was the BPM organization, of which I was a part, being called out by a drug cartel. Phil had fled the country in the early morning as well as almost all of the office of the BPM organization, of which Jessie was now the most senior member.  Having worked since the beginning at BPM, in one night he saw the entire organization evaporate, and with it any plans for “next year”, which only a 12 hours prior we had been gleefully discussing over beers as the closing party took shape.

“Don’t wear your passes guys, I’m telling my guys they can’t work after dark”

He was scared and rightly so, with the office gone or fleeing he was the last man standing from the upper-level of BPM management and whatever grudge was being held with this new cartel and the organization. His colleagues had fled and left him to clean up the mess. I wouldn’t have blamed him for leaving,  I had thought about it myself as well.

Playa del Carmen changed that day, everyone had left and there was felt like a thick cloud of tension floating above every person, business, and street in the city. The tourists had all but left and what was left were those picking up the pieces, and a cartel hell-bent on making sure there would never be another party in the area. This was an open attack on not only BPM and its organizers, but the entire party business model of the town which this cartel felt had ignored them for too long.

The next day there was a news report of a man shot and killed in broad daylight on the 5th Avenue, and later that day cartel members stormed the state prosecutor’s office in central Cancun and killed another four people.

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A war was breaking out, and we all wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. The work remained, and we continued taking down the Jungle stage the next day. We removed all signs of BPM from our clothing and vehicles and kept at it. If there was a silver lining to be found in the whole situation it was that with the party being cut short, there was an excess amount of drinks available which had simply been abandoned. With no office crew to tell us off, we helped ourselves to cases and cases of beer and Fiji water.

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Bud light, but free beer is free beer

With each passing day, the mood improved. The cycle was becoming complete. From an empty jungle a month prior we were returning everything back to its natural state as much as we could. Security, as always, was outside the venue but the threat seemed less with every day. The shooting a few days prior had started a war, and with the end of BPM, this new cartel seemed to be focusing their attention on Cancun.  We kept a positive energy and blasted our music, getting everything over and done with so we could finally leave Playa del Carmen.

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What was left of the Jungle Stage

It’s a lot faster to take things down than to put them up. We carried and loaded hundreds of bamboo poles onto trucks and sorted through the mess. We roamed around and took everything in. This was the last ever BPM in Mexico and we were all that was left of the organization. We drank beers, and played golf with bottles of Fiji Water.

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Tiger Woods aka Dams Huntsman with his coach Aitor

The day eventually came, and we loaded up the truck to take Rodrigo’s bamboo back to his storage space in Tulum. It was in the late afternoon that day that we called an end to it, and cracked a cold, stolen beer to celebrate.

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It was a big night

We headed to the beach and had a party, as you would expect. The crew stuck together throughout the whole ordeal and suddenly there was a huge weight off our shoulders. We spent that night drinking at Rodrigo’s house and then headed out. Life could resume in whatever direction each of us had planned. For me, that involved heading to Bacalar where I would meet old friends and spend several days with Aitor, I headed back to Tulum to visit Rodrigo before my flight to Australia.

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And that’s where I sit now, back as a somewhat of a tourist in my home country, on a one month-ish stopover to continue my mission through Brazil. I leave in two days after a year away and I ask myself the same question that Thomas wrote down in that truck stop in Antofogasta,

Did I change?…fucked if I know

My experience in Mexico, as with anywhere else, only gave me more questions than answers.

How safe do I think Mexico really is?

What are other parts of Mexico like?

When can I work with the boys again?

When can I see my favorite 60 year old English madman Miguelito again?

I guess these answers will come in due time. For the moment I’ll continue not buying things I need for my trip and sitting on the couch in preparation for the mad dash to stuff my backpack with whatever I can find before I head to the airport.

It’s nice to remember it’s all jokes anyway.

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Business Back in Bacalar

Those thinking that livedeleven.com is purely about motorcycle travel best check themselves before they wreck themselves. Living de leven is about more than getting on a motorized horse and galloping through toll ways, crashing more times than any parent should be made aware of. Yes, the bikes, and our adventure keeps going, in different forms and through different mediums. Connections made on the last journey from Vancouver to Buenos Aires live strong in both of us through an intertwining and shared experiences of events. I have been following -as i hope most of you have as well- the trials and tribulations of my partner in crime Mr Thomas Kuipers.

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The great man in Bolivia

Yes that’s the one. For the moment, he is the one carrying the livedeleven torch proudly having successfully puttered his noble steed down to Ushuia. We are all living through him at the moment blazing through the red-lit eyes of the goats skull welded onto his battered and bruised but not yet dead mighty KLR 650.

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The beast lives

He has sold this bike, may it rest in peace. May the next rider have half the adventures we had with this crazy beast named Joe. As most of you might have guessed by now, I’m not with him at the moment. My black thunderbolt with the dead battery is sitting in the same garage as the red-black dragon ghost of Joe “the Duck” Harvey once sat, in a suburban garage in Montevideo Uruguay in the capable hands of our bike guardian and official friend of livedeleven.com Kevin.

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Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, July 2015

So what am I doing then? I’m not sure if i can even answer that question. As you might of read in Thomas’ recap post, we both flew back from Montevideo to Amsterdam where we both spent time living on couches and caravans and I spent additional time visiting my parents in the south eastern corner of France. From here I went to the United States and I find myself now sitting on a tire found by the side of the road supporting bits of wood arranged in a way one might call a chair, around two kilometers from a town called Bacalar in Mexico. I ask at the moment that you hold your questions about my greater direction in life and similar aspirations for the moment. My story in the United States has only just begun. Rest assured that you, dear reader, will find all the answers you seek in due time, in the form of a featured livedeleven piece or some other purchased eBook which admittedly would only serve to prolong my random, unorganized, and poorly planned world tour.

So why Bacalar? Well for starters, this would be a good time to bone up on your livedelven content (read it, seriously).

A typical “rest day”

You can see here why I chose to come to this particular spot in Mexico after spending time in the United States. In short, I was looking for Miguel. My own Dean Moriarty. A 60 something year old Englishman whose personality is unjust to attempt to describe in one sentence. He is the reason we even stayed in this town in the first place. His thoughts are a rambling concoction of his two decades living in Mexico combined with an innumerable mix of whatever he has lived before which at this time I still have no idea nor hold any aspirations to knowing in the future. The fact of the matter is that Miguel is a guy that you want to meet. That’s all you need to know for the moment.

You might not like him, he might not like you, but no-one has ever met him without knowing who Miguel is. He sits atop a blazing saddle riding the lightning rod of life, nothing matters to him except the amount of stolen cigarettes sitting in the left pocket of his worn track pants and the future prospects of more cigarettes or beer in he near future. In his pocket is probably your lighter, taken with a smile and a wink and you dare not ask for it back lest you feel bad for hassling the poor old Englishman who will undoubtedly lead you in a field of circular logic before you forgot what you were even asking about. He knows what he’s doing, and you might even convince yourself that you know what he’s doing but you don’t. This bird was not meant to be caged, but to fly free and aimlessly before likely dying poor and unknown with nothing but a used and battered overloaded passport left under his head to be used as a pillow.

All of this is a long winded way of saying that I needed to find my Dean in Bacalar, Miguel. I landed in Cancun from San Francisco with no clue where I would find him except for his last known location near Bacalar Mexico. This is not the sort of person who you can contact on Facebook chat or send an email to. My last contact with him occurred when Thomas and I drove towards Belize with Miguel standing shoe-less in the campsite we were working at smoking an joint, no doubt thinking about who would be the replacement travelers who could make shopping runs to Bacalar to buy his cigarettes. I arrived at the botadero to no avail. After walking through 1.5kms of jungle I was informed by Ramiro that Miguel was not here, but rather somewhere on the outskirts of Bacalar doing his thing with some sort explanation too complicated that even myself or Ramiro himself could even be bothered to explain or understand.

I spent new years at the botadero, with nothing better to do and determined to continue my quest to find the lunatic that I had spent so much time with a year ago. He arrived unexpectedly that night with Benji and Gerry, two doctor friends from Chetumal who had come by to spend the New Year with Alejandro, who owns the Botadero San Pastor. Gerry I knew already, he had was a regular last year at the botadero who had cured an eye infection of mine and with whom I had taken a powerful dose of DMT in Alejandro’s straw hut by the lagoon.

I was beside myself with joy as I ran towards Miguel to salute the warrior of blurred colors. I hung around him for the new year in the botadero and soaked up his energy and he wandered around the place oblivious to everything yet taking in everything. At one point I led him to the jungle where he wanted to be alone to experience perfection and he lay down among the sticks where various ants and spiders crawled over him for an unknown amount of time. I walked away and continued talking to the middle aged Swiss cyclists, picking up once again our conversation on the origin of life and the spirit of travel.

Which goes a little something like this

I learned later that he had taken eye drops of liquid LSD with Benji and Gerry and the whole crew had been completely in outer space. It just seemed like normal Miguel to me. I went to bed relatively early, drunk but not much more and in the morning Miguel told me to come and crash at his place which I did several days later. The botadero had changed, Miguel had been thrown out in a confusing power struggle involving Alex (Alejandro) as well as Ivan from Mexico City and a gang of french volunteers, one of which Alex had been having sex with with but now were long gone. None of it reality mattered. I tried my best to understand the situation as Miguel’s mind back flipped and somersaulted around the topic and eventually resigned myself to the fact of things as they were. The botadero with Miguel was no more, but another adventure was just beginning.

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The jungle road to the botadero

When I arrived at Miguel’s house which he had always held since he was working at the botadero yet never talked about I descended into a world that I had been a part of a year ago yet had taken a form of which I had never experienced before. The struggles were still present. I need two packs of cigarettes a day, my pan dulce, my coffee, and my weed every single day, that’s what I need, my parachute. The parachute he referred to was his travelers pouch he wore on occasion through his journeys through the streets of Bacalar where he wandered into every store he could find and would always came out with something.

On one such occasion, I was in an internet cafe while he was sorting out some sort of deal to smuggle cigarettes from the free zone towards Belize and sell them to stores in Bacalar. He was meeting with a buyer out the front and I could see them crouching on the sidewalk. At one point I overheard “El Caballo Loco” as he is known in town, getting mad and wandering off. He came back 10 minutes later and walked into the internet cafe, barefoot as always, and holding a hamburger. He hugged everyone in the cafe and pulled me out so we could sit down and have a meeting. It was a matter of great importance, much more important that whatever I was doing. We sat down out the front of a bank and he ripped the hamburger in half. There was no point in me asking where he got that from or even trying to understand what happened with his smuggling operation. He’d tell me when he felt like it and I probably wouldn’t even understand when he did.

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Sitting in the dirt and being confused since 2012 (photo in Bulgaria)

It is like this that I found myself scrounging through my backpack for loose cigarettes, sitting in the dirt while Miguel anxiously waited his morning fix. Of course, I had the money to pay for pretty much anything that he wanted, but rather I chose to tell him I had no money and to enter the game with him. Ok, here’s the sketchy plan… he would say, which always prefaced a rambling idea that usually involved hitting up some hostels for some free beer and the chance to steal some lighters. We’ve gotta go hit up Marco, that way we can sort out the sink situation, he’s got a part for me that I need to finish the snake…(two months later, the sink situation is not fixed, his “snake” he is decorating the sink with is in the same situation)… he’s said he can let us use his boat to take some girls on a tour of the lagoon if they buy us a six pack then we can make a few hundred pesos on the side for ourselves how does that sound? Sounded like a good idea I guess, although I only half understood what he was trying to say.

As usual, it was hard to tell if even he knew what he was talking about. There was never anything set in stone except the prospect of pan dulce, cigarettes, weed, and maybe the errand beer or two along the way. This mission ended predictably, Miguel made a date with the girls who never showed up. Marco’s boat wasn’t there, neither was anyone in the hostel we knew to steal their boat for a joyride on the lagoon. We wandered the streets towards more friendly territory, Casa Lulu’s where Miguel managed to get both of us drunk for free by convincing the entire hostel that it was my birthday. On the way back we ran into a french couple out the front of the bus station who had arrived late in Bacalar from Cancun and didn’t have a place to stay. They spoke no English but I served my role as Miguel’s French translator by wrangling them off the streets and giving them a free place to stay at Miguel’s house in the simple exchange for paying the taxi ride for the four of us and buying a six pack of beer.

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The casa

I came to realize that nothing had really changed and that our experience in the botadero had been one which had wholly to do with the experience of having Miguel there. I followed him where he went our of sheer curiosity like how traffic inevitably slows down to look at an overturned car by the side of the road. A “Haight Kid” (a term referring to young homeless people who wander around Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco) whom I met hitchhiking back from Willits in Northern California to Oakland had told me that Money is Free and I was starting to realize how right he was. Miguel didn’t need to be told that, and bringing that conversation up with him would only succeed in being labelled as a hippy.

The simple exchange of goods or services for other goods or services was all that was needed. Martina didn’t agree of course. She had been living with Miguel on his property and was outraged that we had invited the french couple to put up the tent on the grass for only a pack of beer and a taxi ride. Her protests fell on deaf ears. Miguel didn’t understand her argument and I didn’t care. I avoided a long walk back to Miguel’s house and earned three beers for the simple cost of having spoken French for a bit and meeting people that I found interesting enough to write about in a blog post two months later.

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Poco a Poco, that’s all you can do

Santiago, the Negro, and Tarzan came over from time to time, sitting on crusty old stumps of wood and smoking joints with Miguel and I at any old time of the day or night. They were Miguel’s old friends, the originals, of which I have no doubt have a deeper and more profound understanding of Miguel that I could ever hope to attain. Santiago is a 72 year old native of Quntana Roo who speaks more Maya than English although has a burning desire to learn he whatever can from everyone he meets. For myself, it was to speak English and I would spend many an hour with the man drawing out sentences in the dirt and getting him to repeat phrases.

He had a part of his foot blown off by a shotgun which had fallen out of a tree a few decades ago which he has remedied by melting bits of rubber onto his shoe to account for the different heights of each leg. One of Miguel’s plans once he has money is to take Santiago to Chetumal to get special shoes made for his friend. The cost would be somewhere around 2,000 pesos, or around $110USD which neither Santiago or Miguel have any chance of having any time soon. It’s a distant project which is unlikely to materialize. Santiago doesn’t care, and even if he had the money wouldn’t be spending it on fancy shoes for himself.

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Artwork at the campo

This is Miguel in Bacalar. He admittedly says he has no clue who anyone is. Don’t ask them what their names are; that way you don’t have to remember them. This being the case, there are a small group of people of which he has taken the time and the effort to remember their names. I guess I’m lucky enough to consider myself one of those people. Those who make the list generally have known him for years and include the likes of Santiago, The Negro, Tarzan, the Gordo and Linda. Most of which are not actually their real names but have been insisted by Miguel such that family members of those people call them by their honorary Miguel-appointed names.

During this time, there was an anxiety that floated around in the air as Miguel spent a large part of the day planning his departure. I had been living with him at the campo for around two weeks and he was planning to see the full moon at the mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala.

This is Tikal

His land situation was confusing at best and I tried my best to understand. On the Yucatan peninsula, foreigners are not permitted to own land that is 50kms from the coast or 100kms from any border. It rules out a large part of the peninsula, places such as Tulum, Chetumal, Playa del Carmen, Cancun, San Cristobal, Palenque, and of course Bacalar. As with most cases in Mexican bureaucracy, there is a way around it. Foreigners are allowed to “start a company” anywhere meaning all you have to do to own land is to say its a company. This is what Miguel has done, but he was running into troubles and growing tired of the whole ordeal. He had come to the conclusion that he needed to move on and was running around frantically trying to sort out deals to get rid of his land so he can make his way further south.

In the mean time, I continued my own sketchy plan by heading to BPM Festival in Playa del Carmen for my second year in a row to get a healthy dose of techno before heading back to Bacalar. I managed to hitch hike from Bacalar to Tulum in one hit and then took a collectivo straight to a liquor store before heading to my hostel to prepare for my most anticipated night of the festival and the only event for which I had bought a ticket in advance, Keinemusik. I went to two other parties there before deciding to head to Tulum to see Maceo Plex play in a cenote on the outskirts of town. I showed up at a hostel and bought a bottle of Mescal and got to work before wandering off down to the road to try and hitch hike to the party which was about 5kms away from town. In drunken confidence, I felt that I could walk that distance if need be but I stuck out my thumb anyway in the hopes of getting a ride.

BPM Festival 2015

It didn’t take too long before someone stopped, although it wasn’t the free loving hippy van I had been hoping for. It was the Tulum Municipal Police arriving in a pick up truck. Great! The cops are going to give me a ride! I thought but I was quite wrong. They came out aggresively and started shouting at me, asking what I have. COCAINE?! ECSTACY!? WHAT DO YOU HAVE! WHAT HAVE YOU TAKEN?! They shouted. I had nothing, and I told them that I was simply drunk, and on my way to a party. They handcuffed my hands behind my back and threw me into the back of their pick up, lying me on my back with my body weight crushing my hands and the cold steel digging into my wrists. They rummaged through my pockets and seemed to get even more angry when they realized I had nothing. They drove me to the police station for additional questioning as I protested, shouting that I just wanted to party. I’m just drunk, I want to party! I shouted to no avail.

We arrived at the police station and they un-cuffed me, and soon the prisoners were leaning through the metal bars to get a look at the scene which was unfolding. They asked for my name and my date of birth, pointless information that I was happy to give up if it meant that they would let me go. I stumbled over to the wall and sarcastically asked them if they wanted to read my height too and a confused rookie walked over and noted how tall I was. I kept on asking them if I could smoke a cigarette but they told me I wasn’t allowed to smoke in the station. The prisoners started yelling at me, asking for me to throw them cigarettes. I managed to sneak a couple to the cells by flicking them while the police weren’t looking but on one occasion I was caught and the officers decided that I probably wasn’t worth the trouble. I was making too much of a scene. I had noticed that while they were rummaging through my pockets they had taken 100 pesos from me as well as my sunglasses. I pointed at the man who took it and told everyone what he had done. They police just laughed. I got progressively more angry and the captain eventually grabbed me on the back of my neck and threw me to the curb. I foolishly threw my only lighter to the ground in frustration and I lost it in the darkness. It was now around 2am. I had wasted two hours, I had no more money, no lighter, and I had been driven around in circles and no longer had any clue where I was. I just wanted to get to the party.

I didn’t know what else to do so I stuck my thumb out. The first car that stopped was a young man who amazingly was heading to cenote dos osos as well to see Maceo Plex. He could take me there, the only catch was that he wanted to stop by his house first to drink a beer and smoke a joint. That seemed fine by me. I arrived at the party finally and managed to meet up with Federico who I had met at Playa. Maceo Plex was still playing and Agents of Time would play well into the morning. I stayed there until around 11am and hitch hiked back to Tulum where I already overstayed my check out time but decided to just fall asleep there until I was kicked out. They never came and I stayed an extra night in Tulum and secretly slipped out of the hostel without paying the extra night. I got a ride back to Bacalar in an 18 wheeler and before I knew it I was back among the Miguel madness.

By the time he left on the 20th of January, nothing was sorted out of course except that he would be heading to Tikal. He picked up his army rucksack which must have weighed close to 40kgs and hopped in the back of Teresa’s truck to be driven to the intersection for Escarcega where he could hitch hike to Palenque and from there cross the border to Guatemala. This is your place now, you can do what you want. I suggest you get some guests, charge them 50 pesos a night, then you got your cigarettes and your pan dulce if you know what I mean! Alright then, Chingaroo was the last scattered phrase he told me before leaving. I was at the campsite with Martina and now there were just two of us.

Within a few days, some friends of Martina came over and about a week later there were seven of us. Kia was from Chile and traveled around by making jewelry and selling it to tourists. Hugo was Martina’s boyfriend and was a painter also from Argentina. I had been sitting in a cafe in Bacalar when a Canadian girl called Cheyenne walked in saying she had recognised me in Playa del Carmen and Tulum, apparently we had a conversation which I had forgotten. I invited her over for 50 pesos a night. Two Mexicans were there as well, Juancho and Jarocho (pronounced HA-RO-CHO), who lived in Bacalar but needed a place to stay.

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Myself and Jarocho at the campo

Here is where I would assume my de-facto role along with Martina of being a sort of a land owner and camp site manager, with all the ups and downs that come along with it. We never intended to make any profit from the site, but merely make enough money to feed ourselves and others. Much like Miguel would do at the botadero, never having any cash on hand but always having something to eat, smoke and drink. I did a lot of writing in this time, heading to the lagoon to work on my book about my time in California and I also hung around with Juancho and Jarocho, sinking cawamas and distilled sugar cane at the camp site.

Daily tasks revolved around the simple things. Working the machete to clear up more land for campers, collecting fire wood, making sure we have water, and general cleaning. I took a particular liking to the machete, clearing jungle in the sun and taking breaks to drink some coffee or to write a bit. Martina mostly stayed to herself and hung around with Hugo, while Kia spent a lot of time towards the lagoon at Casa Lahar, a hostel where she had friends. Cheyenne helped me with the machete and sung songs while we worked. Jarocho had several bits of land where he spent time working and Juancho had his friends in Bacalar where he spent a lot of time during the day.

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All business Jarocho

Like at the botadero, every day was Sunday in the campo and the daily missions took up most of the day, with the remaining time being spent chilling out and taking it easy. Like any place where there are more than one person living together politics took hold after a while as Martina attempted to assert her dominance among the group, which didn’t take kindly to her outbursts. Juancho, Jarocho and I dubbed her mama Martina as her most common outburst revolved around trivial placements of items such as where we should keep the water jug and how to stack the pots and pans. It didn’t really matter, and after arguing with her once I quickly gave up and decided she wasn’t worth it.

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Juancho agreed, he would rather get shitfaced and wreck shit.

One day she brought back a French couple from the cafe in town where she worked who would be staying with us. Their names were Charlie and Steph and they were wholeheartedly on board with our idea of working for your stay. Charlie was energetic and got to work with trying to fix the roof of the ktichen/dining room/living room which would leak badly when there was rain. He found bits of scrap metal and hammered them in place and ran around looking for his next project. Steph was outgoing and eager to learn Spanish, and spent a lot of time with Kia learning how to make crafts.

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Carefree Steph dancing away in the sun

It was beginning to be a big group living at the campo, and surprisingly it all worked out quite nicely. Large group meals were cooked in the fireplace every night and we ate well. I spent a lot of time talking with Hugo, who at first I didn’t like but after a while I grew to consider him a friend. He was an interesting character who would at time walk off from a conversation to sit in a chair and think silently before coming back 20 minutes later and continuing where we had left off with a new idea to contribute. He thought deeply about everything and he taught me to do the same. Thomas hit the mark when he wrote that travel never answers pre-determined questions, but rather, opens the door to answering questions you had never thought of before.

Through Hugo, I was learning that through travel you can also learn the ability to question the known answers, as well as answer the unknown questions. I downloaded for him The War Against Cliche by Martin Amis and we read it together and discussed the book. He would read excerpts and, not being a native English speaker, would ask me what they mean and I found that I wasn’t even quite sure myself. We discussed phrases such as “It is the summit of idleness to deplore the present” going back and forth and repeating it to each other until we came to an understanding. Once the light bulb flashed and we understood the phrase he would gleefully skip over to Martina and explain the concept in Spanish and seemed frustrated at the blank stare she gave at his explanation. He would spent the rest of the day repeating that phrase to himself while painting, and reading more pages with intense concentration.

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I feel well, also I am seated well.

The time came however for Martina and Hugo to leave, along with Kia. Kia was, as most travelers in Bacalar, heading to Palenque and San Cristobal while Martina and Hugo were heading to Tulum where Hugo had his apartment. I got the impression that Martina was finally caving in to pressure from myself and the others who had been largely ignoring her for the last few weeks. As a last act, she charged Charlie and Steph 500 pesos for staying at the camp site which she slid into her pocket and told them not to tell anyone (Charlie told me as soon as it happened). As she left, we decided we would be having a bonfire and a party which we did later that night.

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We opened “The Bar” when Martina left. Every beer must be opened with a machete.

Things have a tendency of simply happening without cause or reason in the campo, which is part of the reason why I enjoyed it so much. One such occasion occurred when Charlie, Steph and I were having a tea at around 10pm and Juancho arrived on his bike roaring drunk. MY FRIEND HAS A BOAT, LETS GO ON A BOAT RIDE!! He exclaimed. I saw no reason not to so we broke out the cana and started loading up some pre-drinks while Juancho spent the next hour on the phone drunkenly confirming his plans. By the time it was more or less organized it was close to midnight and Jarocho graciously offered to drive us to the lagoon to go and collect the boat.

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Discussing further boating operations

Of course, Juancho’s friends never showed up so it looked like we were the ones who would be captain of the boat. We loaded up six cawamas and zoomed off into the lagoon. We took turns driving the boat at full speed, myself foolishly trying the sharpest turns I could in a stupid plan to capsize it which I thought would be funny. We arrived at an abandoned building and walked around before getting back in the boat and gunning it further down the lagoon, twice getting it stuck in shallow water.

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Easy does it now…

We kept driving and drinking and shouting when the motor came to an abrupt stop. We had predictably run out of gas in the middle of the lagoon, around 6kms from where we were meant to return it. Without much choice, Charlie, Juancho and I stripped down and started swimming, pulling the heavy boat around 2kms back to shore where luckily we ended up at the Casa China, where we knew the owner Dario.

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Officer Charlie taking matters into his own hands

An angry German got out of bed and stormed down to the dock telling us to be quiet and I calmed him down before loudly laughing as soon as he went back to his bed. Juancho got on the phone to Dario to see if we could steal some gas from him. He gave the OK and we began to siphon gas from his boat, using empty beer bottles to move the gas from Dario’s boat to ours. During the process, one of the bottles inexplicably broke inside the gas tank but we decided to plow on.

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Gas tank full of broken glass? No worries here mate

Once we left we ran into Juancho’s friends who had come out looking for us since we had been gone for hours. We were once again on the verge of running out of gas and they decided to tow us back to the dock. Stumbling back to the campo, we got back at day break and had a last beer before heading to bed.

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Juancho, myself and Charlie taking the HMS Campo on its maiden voyage. 

At any given moment at the campo, anyone can arrive a point which illustrated with the arrival of four people at some point in late February. Two Italians Davide and Gianluca had met with Miguel where he was staying in Chemuyil and had been sent our way by the man himself. Along the road they had met two Argentinians, Flor and Julia who arrived along with them. I didn’t even bother trying to ask them for money, they seemed like people who would get it and they did. With Steph, Charlie, Juancho, Jarocho, and myself we were once again nine people and without the cloud of Martina looming above us, the campsite ran as smooth as ever. The company was very welcome, however life pleasantly remained the same. Everyone seemed to have something to teach one another, whether it be juggling, crafts, cooking, solving a Rubik’s cube (my skill), language, job opportunities, singing, dance, building or simply thinking.

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Juggling, dancing and general derping about

In this time, contrary to when Kia, Martina, and Hugo were there, we stayed mostly at the campo and chilled out together. Davide and Gianluca were an impressive couple, they had been living in Berlin for the last few years working for a French call center and spoke English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian fluently. Things we did, we did mostly as a group. One night we decided to support our local crew member and go to the local bar where Juancho was playing with his band. We arrived at the Galeon de Piratas, as Juancho was beginning to play with his band, who play a delicious mix of tribal and reggae. Juancho was far too hammered to play his drums and spent most of the concert shouting into the microphone to the small crowd.

At one point, he began to simply play whatever he felt like as his band grew tired of his drunken tomfoolery. The concert had to be stopped for a moment as he began to pass out in the middle of the concert and the band ended up leaving the stage prematurely. Juancho didn’t care, at least not at this point. He was a band member and therefore could get free drinks at the bar so he started lighting up cigarettes inside the venue and stumbling around the place with a beer in each hand. I wish I could say that I wasn’t egging him on, but I was. The whole scene was hilarious. There I was with a big group of friends in my defacto hometown in Bacalar Mexico, enjoying a spectacle for the four walls to see.

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The calm before the storm

A mix of joy and sadness occurred on March the 2nd. It marked the day that Charlie, Steph, Gianluca, Davide, Flor and Julia left together for Palenque, while also being the day that Deborah (whom you will recall from this blog post) was scheduled to arrive in Bacalar. They left early in the morning and we said our goodbyes. Davide and Gianluca would be taking a bus while the rest would be hitch hiking separately from the road to Escarcega towards San Cristobal. We said our goodbyes as I saw them drift off into the distance, onward to new adventures. I met up with Deborah that night and introduced her to the crew, Juancho and Jarocho. We all got along well and broke out the cana to celebrate.

Myself and Deborah AKA Dbag, Debaroo, D-money etc

My time in Bacalar with Deborah marked in some sense the end of the camp life but a taste of my old life of being on the road was creeping into the back of my tongue. Dawning on me was the reality of my black KLR650 waiting for me in Uruguay and all the adventures that await me over there and in Europe. We stayed a night at the botadero, and I introduced her to Ramiro, Gerry, Alejandro, Eric, Cesar, Norbi, Julian and the botadero dog named Oso.

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He runs things around there.

We spent about a week in Bacalar hanging with Juancho and Jarocho before it came time for us to make the trip up to the north to meet up with Miguel in Chemuyil, 20kms to the north of Tulum. He had stopped by in Bacalar to meet up with some old friends from England and we spent a day with him when he gave us the invite to stay with him there. Hitting the road again sounded good to me.

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Hitch hiking the wrong way

We went to the side of the road and stuck our thumbs out and within around 15 minutes we were picked up by a property lawyer who was able to drive us straight to Chemuyil. It seemed like a good time to do some business so I shook his hand and accepted his business card. It’s always useful to have a lawyer’s card when in Mexico I thought.

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Getting property advice and a ride to Chemuyil

We met up with Miguel at Cavelands, which was a high-end campsite owned by his Dutch friend Renzo. Drama was in the air as Miguel explained to us that we would have to be paying for our stay. He had invited a Finnish girl, Tully, and she volunteered for a week with Renzo while Miguel was away in Bacalar. When he arrived back things had turned sour between Renzo and Tully and she was asked to leave. Renzo was a drunk, and not the jovial kind. He woke up with tequila shots and 8 o’clock in the morning to get his day started and continued on the same trajectory until he had insulted everyone he could. That’s at least the story I heard from Miguel. The money was getting to Renzo and he didn’t seem to concerned with housing “poor” campers. With Deborah and I he was decent enough but the tension in the air had us considering if we even wanted to be there.

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Rich person’s tipi and our pathetic little tent, crammed to the back of the site out of view from the upper class.

The plus side was that there was a Dutch couple there who were wildly interesting. The man (although I forgot his name) was the owner of a large motorcycle magazine in France and in Holland and his wife (also forgot her name) had traveled all over Africa and around the world. With Miguel thrown into the picture any sense of weird tension from past events more or less was blown to the wind. The camp site was beautiful, with -as the name would suggest – caves. We spent our time here hanging around with Miguel, Renzo and the Dutch couple as well as making day trips to Turtle Beach (there are no turtles there) and Tulum.

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A cave with hammocks? Yes.

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Still wearing the same clothes in every picture.

As Miguel inevitably left once again towards Palenque, we decided we would head to the beach in Tulum for some camping. Here we wandered around in the sand, swam in the waves, threw bits of seaweed at each other and laughed. It was my holiday away from a holiday. Sadly, too soon the time came from Deborah as well to continue on her own journey back to the United States. I accompanied her further north to Cancun where we stayed the night at a hostel before she had her flight early in the morning.

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The next day, after a rushed but heartfelt goodbye I began to pack up my things once again for the final trip back to Bacalar. I took collectivos to Tulum and stuck out my thumb, not far from where I had been picked up by the police two months before. It took me 8 hours and four rides to get back to the campo where I am currently staying with Jarocho. Juancho at the moment is playing with his band in Cozumel. The campo I know is in as good hands and I can imagine.

I will be hitch hiking in three days to Cancun where I have a flight to Brazil, to Porto Alegre where I will take a bus down to Montevideo to see my motorcycle. I have the parts I need to get her ready to ride, however I lack the funds to travel for any meaningful amount of time. The goal is to get it ready for my next trip, set for next year, to ride the coast of Brazil. I will need to ride my bike out of Uruguay for 24 hours in order to renew my 1 year permit, meaning I’ll likely be heading towards Argentina for a short trip before heading back to Uruguay to park ol Denzel back in the capable hands of Kevin.

I hope to see my friend again…

My time left at the campsite I am spending writing as much as I can and reflecting on what has become a new home here in Mexico. I walk around the campo and see all the little improvements to the site that I have been witness to in my nearly three months of staying in this sleepy little town by the lagoon of the seven colors. Hugo made most of the “chairs” at the camp site, battering them into place with old planks of wood we found lying around. He painted them with palm trees and vibrant colors and each have their own quirks. Davide made the ashtray from an old coconut and twine he had in his backpack. He painted the coconut and made a basket, hanging it from the ceiling. Martina painted most of the kitchen with beautiful white silhouettes, although a drunken Juancho painted over it in a thuggish blue. Our little sayings are plastered around the place, a mix of Miguel-isms such as “Poco Poco” (little by little) as well as sayings that are strictly campo. The paintings of “con calma” on the wooden planks by the fireplace and “si hay, no hay” painted on trees by the clothes line remind me of drunken paint parties had with Juancho and the crew. Charlie’s work on the roof is still holding strong and the Chia trees I planted when I first arrived have begun to sprout new leaves. Towards the bench, by the entrance to the kitchen is a painting by Flor.

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“My mother told me to gather flowers, that I should go to the campo to find love”

I’m not sure what to make of that, but I know I’ll be thinking about the people who have passed through the campo whenever I think about that song that we all sung so loudly together. I’ll be back in a year’s time, to visit the  campo again and to visit my  friends, whomever they may be. In the mean time I guess the only thing to do is to keep on living the leven.

Until next time.

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Bolivian Adventures – Our Biggest Test

Some of you might have come to expect a certain formula from your favourite bloggers over here at Livedeleven.com. Sure we party, get up to some antics, omit some details, drive some beautiful roads, and meet a ton of locals with stories to tell. In some ways this blog post is no different, however as we sit here staring at the ceiling of our hospedaje, bruised and battered I still get the feeling that this chapter is different in someway…somehow.

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We start this story however, in a familiar place. Not because we had ever been to Cusco before, but the thick atmosphere of Loki Hostel (one of many “party” hostels in Cusco) rings ever close to our hearts. As you’ve read from Thomas’ Peruvian Tales, the road to Cusco was rough and partying was a top priority for us.

Here at Loki, you are pretty much separated from the dangerous culture and beauty Cusco has to offer. A bar that runs almost non-stop, nightly games and activities (mostly revolving around drinking) and a cheap-ish restaurant that serves Western and Latin dishes from 6am to 12am.

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The road to Cusco

Here we would meet a bunch of awesome people that luckily enough we would end up running into again later on down the road. Two of which are Joe and Eeva, whom we had befriended at the hostel but bonded mostly at an interesting bar located on top of a t-shirt shop. We decided a bike adventure was in order at this point and we soon found ourselves riding with some passengers around the foothills of Cusco, visiting salt mines, seeing llamas, and having a generally good time.

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At the salt mines, yes we licked the ground

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Shitloads of salt

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The crew

In a way we became a bit “stuck” in Cusco, and the club I most hated (Temple) I ended up going about five times in a row. “No way am I going to Temple tonight” I found myself saying on a nightly basis, before flashing forward two hours and finding myself standing right in the middle of a crowd of fellow gringos spending another night stuck in the trap.

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Delicious

Eventually though, after we “repaired” Thomas’ bike issue of leaking fork oil (by getting a guy to make a part that would fit the part we lost and adding more oil) we made our way onwards and upwards.

From here, Thomas and I broke off briefly. I had heard that a friend of mine was in Pisac, which was quite close to Cusco however in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go so we decided to ride separately for a while, with plans to meet up in La Paz, Bolivia.

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As usual, a crowd gathers…

I rode solo to Pisac, which is a beautiful town about half an hour from Cusco in the “Sacred Valley” After having lunch with Jessica and chilling in a hostel where a one eyed Argentinian man with a mohawk was making a djembe, I decided it was time to leave. I rode a few hundred kilometers to a freezing cold town at an altitude somewhere in the 4500’s where I stayed for the night.

To my surprise, as I rode towards the Bolivian border I saw a familiar face riding in the OPPOSITE direction to Bolivia. My brain almost exploded at this confusion, he was meant to be a full days ride ahead and sitting in our hostel in La Paz smoking a cigarette.

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Get a load of this guy

Turning around I started to chase him down, which proved to be no easy task at the altitude of Lake Titicaca with both of our bikes struggling to make 110km/hr and myself being nothing but a distant spec in his rear view mirror.

After a good 30kms of chasing I caught up, overtook him and signalled to stop. I stopped first, and Thomas unceremoniously crashed his bike next to me in the dirt, leaving it on the ground, jumping off and saying a big hello.

As it turned out, he had been pick pocketed the day before and only had a small amount of cash. He had lost the Peruvian immigration paper needed to cross the border to Bolivia and had fallen short of around 7 soles (2 euros) needed to bribe the immigration officer to let this slide. He was on his way back to civilisation to get to an ATM to get out more money when I ran in to him.

I had money though, so we proceeded to cross the border in to Bolivia and begin the toughest part of our trip so far.

We stayed in Copacabana and went on a boat ride to Isla del Sol (Means “The Isla of Sol” I think) which proved to be a BOATload of fun.

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FUN FUN FUN

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FUN

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FUN FUN FUN

We walked around the isla, saw some sol and moved on to our main destination…La Paz.

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Donkey on the Isla del Sol

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To get to La Paz, we needed to board our bikes on a rickety boat and park on either side of a swaying truck.

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Note how my bike is essentially UNDER the truck

Before I continue, let me state first that we had booked ourselves into The Wild Rover Hostel. There was also one of these in Cusco which we had been to briefly to check out the bar. There was also a Loki in La Paz. These are chain hostels notorious for parties.

Let me stall my impending continuation once again by explaining something else. If this sounds like a lot of gringo-and-not-so-cultural-travely-travelling then you are correct. No we did not go to Machu Picchu, no we did not do any hikes around Cusco. But travelling on a motorcycle you get your fair share of culture and off the beaten track moments so when arriving in a big city, we want to party.

And oh lord did we ever party.

Our first night we managed to find one of the most sought after pack animals in the wild…The Brit.

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A Brit in his natural habitat

Some despise the “Brit Abroad” but here at livedeleven.com we consider them official friends. Rowdy as they may be, I’m not sure if I have ever laughed so hard at their antics. Genuine louts are sometimes hard to come by in this “18-year old just out of high school, backpacking to find yourself” or “just taking a break from work” crowd. With the former traveller, conversations are nice and pleasant but with a lout, anything can come and thats what makes it so awesome.

If you find yourself agreeing with what I am saying here, you might want to hold your nod of approval for a moment. The following is a list of SOME of the ludicrous acts this magical “group of five or so” got up to. All of this taking place in the hostel bar or the dorm room, over the course of two nights (after the second night they were all kicked out…the first people EVER kicked out of Wild Rover apparently).

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Oh but it gets worse

Loud chants of the following drinking song: “There was a great big moose (crowd repeats) and he drank a lot of juice (repeat) and he drank it with glee (repeat) and he spilt it on his knee (crowd repeats and chant starter tips his beer over his knee” This song was sung by the entire group, as well as perhaps most enthusiastically by Thomas and I. Along with this, various other drinking songs, which I have since forgotten as well as English football chants about various clubs of which I have no idea what the names are.

Not so bad? Yeah, ok. Read on.

At one point during one of the songs, one of the brits started shaking the table with much zealous pride. The table had around 12 full and half drunken beers of which most fell off the table or spilt over their owners. This is not a way to make friends, especially if you just continue chanting and beating your chest like a baboon.

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BRITS BRITS BRITS!!!

The same guy, later decided he had enough of the table entirely and decided to carry it on his shoulders around the bar, once again with the table full of beer. Bottles were smashed and many laughs were had.

Throwing up was a thing, one brit being egged on by his friends to down his beer for whatever reason, managing to make it all the way down before throwing it back up in the same glass.

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This picture was enthusiastically shown to everyone at the hostel by one of the brits, very impressive…

Most threw up in the bar, others threw up in the dorm, others deciding the closest bin was the appropriate place.

Oh and they got naked. I won’t go into detail as to the various things they did with their body parts or which friends put what part in which orifice inside a packed hostel but I’ll let your imagination do the rest.

It gets worse, but I think I have said enough.

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Now read back up saying how they are friends, yes FRIENDS of livedeleven.com. This is the craziness we want to see while travelling. This is the Wild Rover, where most of the employees are former clients working off their bar tab and are usually (bar the brits, or perhaps Thomas or myself) the drunkest people in the bar.

We thought Loki was a party hostel. Wild Rover La Paz, makes Loki look like a kindergarden.

But hey, La Paz is the capital of Bolivia and is a MASSIVE city a fact we learned when getting hopelessly lost in the outskirts when arriving on our first night. Luckily we ran into a group of about six fellow adventure riders who lead us there in convoy to the front door. A cool experience to say the least.

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We had heard stories of “Crazy Dave” from our friend Joe-man in Cusco. From New York, Dave had been busted some 18 years ago flying from Bolivia to Miami with 8.5 kilos of cocaine, is currently on parole and can be found outside the San Pedro prison where he served his sentence where he gives tours in exchange for groceries or packets of cigarettes.

Of course we had to go check this out.

Sure enough, Dave was there and greeted us with a big smile. A small black dude, aged around 50 or so and covered in tattoos, he proceeded to walk us around the prison walls and explain to us some of the history of corruption, escapes, and the goings-on behind the prison where the book “Marching Powder” is set.

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A picture of Guatemala, because we have none of La Paz

Cocaine is made inside the prison, and Dave’s job was to stamp on cocoa leaves for about an hour a day in exchange for a gram of coke. He thus developed a habit which is why, now on parole and able to fly back to New York in a year he does not accept cash for his tour but rather groceries which he can’t put up his nose.

He seemed quite wired when giving the tour, but I guess with a name like “Crazy [insert name]” you can get away with that sort of thing.

Here in La Paz we met back up with our friends from Cusco. Chaz and Z. Two English lassies who accompanied us on varying party and sightseeing adventures in and around La Paz. A highlight of which was a visit to the local market along with two other brits, Fiona and Alice where we found ourselves driving back in a taxi, Alice and Chaz in the boot of the car, Thomas and I wearing matching green turtleneck sweaters, and the taxi driver blaring his home-made CD of 80’s synth metal.

Yes, that happened.

We met other riders as well. Not just any riders either, like-minded riders. Chris and Mark rolled up on their beat up bikes (125cc or 150cc if I remember correctly) with their luggage strapped like a Christmas present wrapped at the last minute, Loving a party, we spent a few nights on the drink with them and exchanged riding stories like manly men who know what they are talking about.

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More manly men…in Guatemala

Every night at the ‘Rover we’d tell ourselves we’d leave the next day but that never ended up happening. Well, until it did. We had made good friends with the bar tenders, the local pool sharks, security guards and pretty much everyone except the reception people who were not very pleased we had been sleeping in beds without actually extending our stay…oops.

From La Paz, we decided to do “Death Road”, the so-called “Most Dangerous Road in the World” where apparently 200-300 people die each year. It sounds scary, but when you see some fat dude wearing a “I Survived The Death Road” T-shirt at the Wild Rover your expectations drop quite a bit.

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Still pretty steep

The road its self is best described by Chris when we asked him how the death road was “Death Road? More like Sweet Road!”. It is true that there are sheer cliff faces and many MANY blind corners on a one-lane road, HOWEVER you’d have to be rolling down death road on a wheelchair without any brakes to run any risk of death.

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Easily driveable, and amazing

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The road is not very narrow, it easily fits trucks. For motorcycles, you can easily ride without fear of falling, the only danger being oncoming traffic who don’t always slow down a huge amount and tend to blow a lot of dust in your face. For the most part, Death Road is beautiful. It was so nice actually that we rode it twice, downhill and uphill. We rode back through La Paz to make our way to Uyuni, the start of the Salt Flats.

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The road to Uyuni

Let me take a pause here for a moment to remind anyone still reading from the beginning that I have not forgotten about my “this blog post is different” claim. To hint at a spoiler, it has to do with our Salt Flats adventure…and I don’t use the term “adventure” lightly here.

The ride from La Paz to Uyuni was rough. Very rough. A familiar sight in Western countries, the final 100 kilometer stretch to Uyuni is a huge “in construction” road that no-one has worked on for at least 6 months. For some reason, big patches of the road is sand that at some point reaches around 40cms in depth. Other parts is hard rocks and loose gravel, which gives both the bike and the body a battering.

After several hours of this onslaught, Thomas and I arrived safe and sound to Uyuni, where we proceeded to get in to several petty arguments with the owner of the hospedaje relating to the keeping of ID documents, the charging of money for services that should be free, and the lack of bed supplies in the dormitory. Not to bore you with the details, we were correct. Trust me.

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A trustworthy individual and upstanding citizen

To our very pleasant surprise after storming out of the lodgement in search of a map for the Salt Flats (and surrounding national parks and other pretty things) we ran in to our good friends (and official friends of livedeleven.com) Chaz and Z who were sitting in a tour agency smoking cigarettes and using their plug to charge their phones.

A very big “How do you do, ladies” ensued and we decided the most pertinent course of action was to find a place to have a beer. After some wandering around in the cold we found the “Extreme Fun” bar in which we sat down and downed a beer.

The meeting however was brief with our homegirls needing to take a bus back to La Paz having already finished their Salt Flat tour. We went to bed and rested for what would turn out to be the greatest test for us so far.

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It started simply enough with a realisation that we would never have enough gasoline to make it from Uyuni, across the salt flats, and a further 300 kilometers or so to the border with Chile. Our solution was simple: “Bah, we’ll find gas along the way anyway”. Further facts which made the task harder were that A) There are no signs or even roads to indicate the way, making our map pretty much useless. And B) There would be no civilisation at all.

But that didn’t scare us, not one bit. We are livedeleven.com gosh darn it, if we can create a website with monthly visits in the HUNDREDS then surely we can make it to Chile off road! So off we went.

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The first part of our journey, surprisingly went exactly as planned. We were blown away by the absolute beauty of the Salt Flats and the sheer fun of driving in such wide open spaces. We even found time to get naked and drive our bikes with no hands, standing up. FUN!!!

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Best Picture Ever.

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We could drive as fast as we wanted, unfortunately at altitude we couldn’t do much more than 100.

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Obligatory perspective shot

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Our first stop was to check out Isla Incahuasi, which is a sort of an “island” in the middle of the salt flats. It apparently has some sort of Incan significance, although neither of us ever bothered to find out what that is exactly.

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Don’t know why the Incas would bother to come to some salt flats, but it sure is pretty.

Here our plan was quite simple. The man at the tour place said we could find the Isla by ourselves (which we did) but it would be suicidal to try and find our own way to San Juan, which is the first stopping point and only town within a days ride from anything.

The plan here was to ask a tour guide if we could follow them to San Juan, after some searching we managed to find a group heading there. We had to way at the Isla for a while for them to finish up, but once that was done, we got ready for the cold and followed our new found guide.

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Waiting for departure.

It was freezing cold while we waited, and we asked our guide how fast he usually drove.  He said that he would “take it easy” for us and make it easy for us to follow. He kept a steady pace of 80kms an hour across the Salt Flats which was very pleasant.

Once we cleared the flats however, our lead car seemed to don a red bandana and transform into John Rambo, deciding he would keep the same pace as he did on the flats across rocky and sandy terrain as well. An even 80 k’s an hour.

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Our driver had a fire in his eyes as we left the Isla. We’d get to San Juan or die trying

Not knowing the way, Thomas and I sped up not to lose sight of him. Our bikes were shaking and trembling as they powered through sand and dirt, making horrible noises which sounded like this was doing more harm than good. I managed to crash my bike (no injuries) in the gravel trying to keep up.

We eventually arrived in San Juan, hugged each other thankful to be alive and went to our hospedaje for the night with plans to leave in the morning.

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As we prepared to leave the next day, Thomas noticed he had (once again) lost one of the bolts holding his frame together. That was far from the end of our worries though. When I started my bike, a steady stream of oil started pouring out near my front sprocket. The drive the day before had shaken loose the nut holding it in place and then I had an oil problem.

Once we had tightened my bolt and found a replacement for Thomas’ missing bolt we found out that all of a sudden my motorcycle would not start.

This is not the first time we have had bike troubles, every time we find ourselves saying “Well, there are worse places in the world to be stuck!” which is very easy to say when you have issues in Flores (Guatemala), Bacalar (Mexico), or Medellin (Colombia). However in San Juan, where the population numbers in the 20’s it becomes a lot more annoying.

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The best part of the day…Sunset

Here there are no restaurants. No bars. No internet cafes, and barely any electricity. Our search for a mechanic to take a look at my bike was not going to be easy. I essentially went door to door in this town asking not for a mechanic, but for someone who knows more about motorcycles than I do.

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Bolivian SPAM, the dinner of kings

I was eventually referred on to Maxi, a farmer who is apparently the “Go-To” guy for fixing things. We were held up an additional day because the entire town had a day long meeting for some reason, but eventually we went over to Maxi’s house and we got to work.

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Taking things apart in his backyard.

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I’m not a professional” – Maxi

Maxi turned out to be a very capable mechanic and after a few hours of troubleshooting, including taking off and disassembling my starter as well as the various removal and replacement of other parts it turned out that my battery was to blame. For some reason (possibly the shaky road where we followed Mr Rambo) it had completely died all of a sudden.

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He invited us in for lunch with his family

So now with a dead battery in the middle of nowhere, the problem now became how to make it to civilisation? A push start was successful, but with a 230kg bike and 500 kilometers of off-roading to do we moved on to the jump start solution. This was the first thing we had tried which was why we didn’t think it was a battery problem, however the cables we were using at the time were far from perfect.

With this in mind, the team at livedeleven.com decided to make our own jumper cables. We went to a hardware store and bought some thick length of electrical wire, stripped it with a knife and connected it to my bike from Thomas’. SUCCESS!!! We’d be able to leave the next day.

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buurman en buurman

So with a “fixed” bike we set off from San Juan. Using our strategy of following someone, we found our way across another salt flat and towards the border with Chile, where we headed south. The weather was brutally cold on the bikes and we looked on enviously at those on the Jeep tour in the warmth.

Stalling or crashing my bike was a terrible idea, with our home made jumper cables however I was able to keep my bike going further. Things were going well for about 100kms until, in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road Thomas comes to a halt saying he has a “slight problem”

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Those three things should be held together with a bolt

This problem was that the bolt that held the upper part of his frame together had completely broken in three places, his fuel tank almost coming off his bike in the process. The rough road was taking its toll. I drove off in search of a welder and headed back north, coming back empty handed (of course).

Luckily, Thomas had managed to wave down a rare car who had done some “bush mechanics” in his time. He tied Thomas’ bike together with rubber, estimating we could get another few hundred k’s out of it.

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A Je To!

So after jump starting my handicapped bike, and Thomas holding his fuel tank on with his legs with his frame held in place with rubber we drove another 50kms to a town where apparently there would be someone who could weld.

We managed to find someone, and after yet another backyard job and a bit of sleep, we tried again to make it to our stop for the night, La Laguna Colorada. With no guide to follow, we just went with the tyre tracks, which in some cases would branch in to ten different tracks. We knew the direction though, and continued grinding our way towards the Laguna.

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Steep climbs, rocky roads, and a dead battery.

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Needing yet another jump start after crashing in the sand…again

Thomas was starting to feel sick at this point and the weather was getting freezing. After another long day we would end up finally making it to the Lagoon. We were riding from first light, and stopped around 3:30pm.

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One of the lagoons we passed featuring flamingos

Thomas went to bed immediately and started getting feverish, so I went on a walk around the Lagoon. Here by chance I would run in to Coline, a friend of mine who worked with me in Australia four years ago. We had made no plans to meet up and by pure luck we were in the same middle-of-nowhere town in Bolivia.

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Considered yet another “official friend of livedeleven.com”

The day had been hard on our bikes yet again, Thomas had lost Juan (the goat’s skull on the top of his bike) and I had lost yet another bolt which was holding my panniers together. Thomas tied Juan to the back of his bike, while I strangely found a random bolt which had come off a different part of my bike on my engine, which I then attached to my pannier. I still have no idea where that bolt came from.

The frame of Thomas’ pannier had completely snapped during the day as well, and was a top priority to get fixed in the morning.

That night, I hung around with the tour groups and caught up with Coline, managing to get more than my fair share of free wine from the table while also filling up a tupperware container with their spaghetti.

The first item on the to-do list for the next day was the pannier frame of Thomas. While there were no “welders” in this town, the mother of a deaf boy assured us that her son was up to the task of fixing Thomas’ bike.

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Yet another “home job” for the bikes held together by South American know-how

The kid was around 14 years old, but he worked fast and well. Within about an hour, he had re-attached Juanito as well as fixed the pannier frame. With Thomas feeling better we hit the road again.

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The “town” where we stopped to get Thomas’ bike fixed.

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The road

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No asphalt, not ever.

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Keeping my eyes on the road

To say at this point that it started to get cold would be an understatement of monumental proportions. We climbed over a volcano to over 5,000 meters and it started snowing.

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You’re still beautiful Bolivia

We made our way to some geysers when we were caught in the middle of a snowstorm. Bikes slipping all over the place and without a way to start my bike without cables, we found ourselves being concerned for our safety. At one point, due to the cold both of our engines seized and we had to scramble to get the bikes started again in the blizzard.

With frozen hands it became very difficult to drive or even to see where we were going. With the occasional tour Jeep coming by, we were eventually able to clear the mountain range and get to lower altitude.

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So Gangsta it hurts

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Serious business

Shivering, but alive. We continued on towards the border, the occasional crash or dropped bike being the only hindrance to the juggernaut that is the team of livedeleven.com. We would continue for a further 80 kilometers of dirt and roughness before finally arriving at the end of Bolivia and the beginning of Chile.

Once crossing the border we came across a beautiful sight. The road once we arrived in Chile was paved and thankfully was a steep road downhill and out of altitude. At this point I had completely ran out of gas but managed to coast the bike downhill for about 20 kilometers before siphoning some gas from Thomas.

Currently in San Pedro de Atacama, we are enjoying some beers and reminiscing about the biggest hardship we have come across on the trip so far. We managed to watch Chile win La Copa America in the house of the custom’s agent at the border and are basking in the glory that is civilisation.

It is hard to believe at the moment that we have made it to Chile from our beginning in Vancounver, but as road to Buenos Aires becomes shorter and shorter it is becoming ever apparent that we just might make it.

Stay tuned.

 

 

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Open the door, Ecuador…Everybody do the dinosaur!

Ecuador, from what I can tell from my limited experience of South America is one of the most “European” (American, if you will) countries of the continent. When we arrived from Colombia we were greeting with a free map and a pamphlet informing us that all public hospitals are free, should we decide to fucking wreck ourselves on their beautifully paved roads (we didn’t take advantage of this offer).

Crossing over from Colombia was relatively painless, like getting drunk and running through the streets of Cali, falling over yourself in front of a packed bar, something I did in Cali that Thomas thankfully forgot to mention on his last blog post.

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On the border we would meet a pair of Colombian brothers, going the other way around (like everyone else, except for us). They were riding bikes no more powerful than a 150cc, showing once again that you can do what we are doing on anything you can get your hands on. They gave us some sound advice of the road to come, but nothing could prepare us for the sheer beauty of Ecuador.

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Pleasantly surprised with our night at the border town of San Gabriel at a “hospidaje” where for 3$ we had a bed (yes ONE bed) at a clean “hotel-of-sorts” with WiFi, we moved on to a cool lake spot of which we have both forgotten the name (but certainly not the view, or the drive.

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Thomas being a derp.

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At this point, having not yet decided whether we were going to party in Ecuador or not, we were greeted by a man, as we usually are, in the streets of San Gabriel wondering where we are going.

“Are you guys going to Montanita?” He asked

“Not sure yet, maybe…is it good” We responded

I won’t go in to too much details as to what he said Montanita was like, but needless to say, we were sold. Our previous plan of gunning it though Ecuador was out the window, like a parking ticket for our Canadian bikes registered to our hostel in Vancouver.

New Mission Unlocked: Montanita

But first, we had some riding to do. Not just any riding, Ecuadorian riding. It is difficult to understate how amazing the roads are here for motorcycles. It was a saying before that “There are no straight roads in Guatemala” but for Ecuador, this takes on a whole new meaning. Not only are the roads curvy AND well paved (sorry Guatemala) but the entire landscape is mountainous, and you get to cross the equator, something you don’t do every day.

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The restaurant and the speed bump that separates the Northern and Southern hemispheres. 

Sadly, we nearly missed the damn thing, because for some reason the Ecuadorian government for whatever reason decided to completely underplay the entire reason their country was named and make some shithouse speed bump and a lame stone carving the line which links two worlds.

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We were expecting fireworks or something, all we got was this stupid rock.

After stopping of at Otivalo and checking out the crafts market, we had stocked up on some winter gear (winter IS coming) and heading south, towards Quito. We stopped somewhere north of there, as it started to get dark and looked around for a hotel.

We were disgusted at the prices, most places wanting 10$ per person so we went on the search for something else. Luckily a man suggested we camp at a local sporting field. We were more than happy to take up the offer.

The only obstacle was getting our bikes on to the field, which required driving up a series of steps, which was accomplished with the help of Ecuadorian know-how. A local man, climbed on to the roof of his house and found some planks of wood, and with some difficulty, we hauled our 350kg bikes up the steps and in to safety.

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There were a bunch of school kids there, who were quite interested as to what we were doing driving our bikes on to their football pitch, but with their approval, we ended up staying the night, spending a large part talking to David the manager of the pitch.

We were room mates with a horse, who was roaming the field and eating grass and spend a large part of the night joking (and legitimately concerned) that we would end up trampled to death by said horse. Luckily, nothing of the sort took place.

Getting back down the steps proved difficult as well. As you can see from the pics below.

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Once this was done however, we were back on the open road.

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We didn’t go to Quito. We opted to drive around it on a scenic road which would bypass most of the city (which is HUGE). Here we would see more windy roads, more mountains, and things like a bus carrying some sheep unsecured on the roof.

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What.

The road here was epic, and unfortunately, we were enjoying ourselves too much to stop for too many pictures. One thing I will remember from Ecuador especially is the intense change in temperature, something you can only truly experience (in my opinion) on a motorcycle, or maybe driving a segway. The roads climb and fall in a whirl of curves and straights, and before you know it you go from mountainous peaks to tropical valleys.

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The pic so nice we did it twice.

These sorts of changes you barely see coming, and before you know it you have to stop once again to remove (or put on) another layer of clothing to adapt yourself to the climate. This is not annoying in the slightest, but a true testament to the landscapes of Ecuador.

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Getting close to our goal of Montanita, we decided to go and get stranded on the beach, having not seen the coast since Palomino in Colombia. We drove directly on the beach and got bogged down, needing both of us to get each of the bikes out of the sand as confused onlookers wondered what we were thinking driving on deep sand in the first place. Oh well, jokes.

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The coastal road was awesome, we drove around fast curves feeling the road and the fresh sea breeze in our lungs. We arrived in Montanita early enough to find (the best) hostel with one thing on our mind…partying.

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The calm before the storm

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The storm.

Here we would get in early on the pre-drinks with the “tequila” we had bought in Cali (and surprisingly managed not to drink previously) for only 8,000 Colombian pesos, around 3 dollars for a litre. It is probably best that I do not go in to too much detail as to what happened that night, but suffice to say that in the morning there was no tequila left, we went to a night club, played beer pong, and everyone lost everyone. Gold members may enquire on facebook.

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At this point for whatever reason, Thomas and I are staying at this hostel without actually staying in a bed, for only 4$. Works fine by us. I fell asleep in the couch, and I found Thomas asleep on a different couch the following morning (or, ahem…afternoon).

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Sebastian, the owner of the hostel, was always down to party.

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We woke up, sorted ourselves out, and made plans for the following night. I had heard on Resident Advisor that Andre Crom of OFF Recordings was doing a set at Lost Beach. Of course we had to go. It seemed like an appropriate time to wear a Hawaiian shirt (again).

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The guy in this picture bought me a beer for dancing the hardest.

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At this point it seems like in the interest of full disclosure that I should mention that I had already lost the keys to my motorcycle after parting in Medellin at a club called Calle Nueva. I had made spares, but in under two weeks I had managed to lose them again in the previous night of partying in Montanita. For the price of two beers, I had my panniers sawed open by a dude with a buzz saw and I was (after buying some new locks) back in business. As the great philosopher Dan Hoelscher once said:

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Getting drunk and losing your keys twice in a row…this is what we do…

All this however would never put me off the allure of seeing a big Berlin DJ playing in Ecuador. For this night, I must say, I was “that guy”. Barely talking to anyone, high fives from everyone.

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For lack of a better word, the hostel we stayed at “La Roulette House” is amazing. Huge love and respect for all of those who partied with, and even with the legend who took a dick-pick with our camera when we left it unattended in the common room.

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The Crew.

We were even at one point attacked by a band of cows, who had escaped from their owners and managed to get in to our hostel, they roamed the grounds for a while before getting wrangled again by their owner.

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The cow invasion got the full attention of the hostel.

Unfortunately due to time and money constraints it came time to leave the magical place on Montanita. As previously stated, with unlimited funds we could both easily spend years doing this trip but the time had come to start to make our way to Peru.

We made our way along the coast, driving more super-nice roads before coming to a stop eventually in a place I don’t quite remember the name of (once again). It was a natural reserve (probably still is) and the owner allowed us to camp there for free. Aware of the mosquito problem on the premises he kindly let us sleep in the conference room of the establishment. This soon became the temporary Ecuadorian conference room of livedeleven.com

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We made a bed made of chairs and slept like babies.

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There were so many mosquitoes precautions had to be made. Like wearing full riding gear and smoking a cigarette through ones helmet. 

It was time to get down to business though, after doing some last minute packing while an actual conference was waiting to start outside, we cleaned up our mess and got going.

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We would climb once again from this warm area up higher and higher, seeing more and more beauty of Ecuador. With altitude, we began to notice some problems with our bikes, mostly being sluggish in the higher gears. We eventually fixed this problem by simply revving the bike more. That fixed it more or less. More power, more speed.

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Llamas doing their thing, being llamas. 

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We stopped a fair bit to take in the scenery. 

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Adding to the strange list of places we’ve stayed, we managed to organize a floor sleeping operation at a hotel, which strangely had neither guests nor free beds. We made toasties on the frying pan and lived de leven, as per usual.

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After getting rained on hard, we took anything we could get.

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It rained so much, we duct taped our riding boots to keep them dry (this did not work)

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No expense spared.

We would eventually arrive towards Peru, from which I am currently writing this post. The border crossing should have been an easy affair except being morons we forgot to bring any money and had to drive back in to Ecuador to find an ATM (which was not as easy as you’d think) eventually though, we got through.

So here we are now. In Peru and in the midst of a great drive that has spanned from Montanita to our current position in Huaraz, Peru. The ride is far from over though, with plans to make it to Cusco in about a week before heading towards Bolivia and the Salt Flats. We’ve just crossed the 25,000 kilometer mark, with many more yet to come. Stay tuned for a Peruvian blog post from Thomas.

Until then…

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Van Travel vs Motorcycle Travel

Taking a step back from writing about what we’re up to right now (at the time of writing, in Cali Colombia) in this post I’m going to answer some questions about the different ways to travel around overland. For many a motorcycle trip is a big step and seems dangerous, I would say the majority of people moving from A to B do so in a van and many have asked me how that compares to riding a bike.

Luckily as some may know I have been fortunate to have completed a series of trips around Australia in 2009 and 2010 in a van and a station wagon. In this post I’ll aim to discuss the pros and cons of each.

First, about the van. I traveled in a 1995 Mitsubishi Express (I know, sexy) from Melbourne to Perth then north from Perth to Broome and finally to Darwin. This took place nearly a year after I had completed my first trip from Melbourne to Port Augusta, through the middle via Uluru to Darwin and then back to Melbourne on the East Coast. Both trips I was not solo, traveling at the time with my then-girlfriend Segolene and (on the first trip) a friend of hers as well, Audrey.

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Looking wistfully over the Nullabor probably sometime in 2010.

We had bought the van in Melbourne for $1,800. An old plumbers van which we had “converted” into a camper van. This basically consisted of getting a mattress, putting up some blinds, and buying a gas stove and plates. The “refurbishing” process took less than a day and cost basically nothing.

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The inside of our van, with fully functioning mattress, sheets and even a curtain. 

It should come as no surprise that obviously when compared to a motorcycle, a van is leaps and bounds more comfortable to travel in. If you look at the picture above you can see a jerry can of fuel, something very useful when crossing the Australian desert. We also could carry days worth of food, water, and anything else you could possibly imagine.

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Taking selfies before it was a thing…too hip for 2015.

Obviously, our motorcycles simply can’t do this. I once saw a man in Thailand driving a scooter while carrying a mattress, but for us the effort required is simply too much. At the moment, we carry the bare essentials just whatever we can fit in our practical yet (when compared to a van) desperately undersized pannier boxes.

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We don’t even have the space for a sleeping mat, the ground is just fine for livedeleven.com

With a van, as you would guess from our mattress you can sleep inside your mode of transport which not only saves you time in looking for a campsite but also a significant amount of money as well. You don’t really need to carry a tent if you have the right set up, simply pulling into a somewhat safe-looking spot and crawling to the back to sleep is all you really need.

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Seeing this sign on a motorcycle would make us seriously consider our route, with a van this is no problem.

Of course, at least in Australia this isn’t exactly always legal and you can risk getting fines by parking officers. However if you are smart like we were and register the van in the name of a hostel you can just take these and throw them in the glove compartment, never to be paid.

Continuing on from the practicality of of a van in terms of what you can carry and how you can live, there is also the underrated pleasure of being inside, being able to listen to music, sit back in your chair, talk to someone, smoke cigarettes, and pretty much just chill and watch the world go by. This is not always necessarily a good thing however, something I’ll expand on later.

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On the WA-NT border.

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At Litchfield National Park

People often ask Thomas and I about how cost-effective it is to travel on a motorcycle. For anyone wondering, it isn’t. It isn’t for quite a few ways, but in keeping to the topic of this post I’ll compare it to a van.

Yes it is true that a van consumes quite a lot more petrol than a motorcycle. This can be generally offset by the fact that generally speaking when you travel in a van you are with at least two people and in many cases four or more (in this case you do need a tent). You can split the cost of filling up the tank, as well as carry excess fuel. This means you have more freedom to pick and choose where you fill up, saving money by filling up in cities where it is usually cheaper than remote areas.

You do use less fuel with a motorcycle, but you pay your own way. This cost splitting can be applied to other things, such as repairs as well as the purchase of the vehicle its self.

 

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Two young kids, just days after purchasing our babies back in September.

When we purchased the van for $1,800 ($900 a piece) we ended up selling it for $3,500 in Darwin, the reason being we sold it as a “camper van” because it had a mattress.

It is hard to discount safety as well when considering whether to travel via van or motorcycle. Crashing your van at 60kms an hour will hurt, but the same crash on a motorcycle can be life threatening.

So to summarize, a van:

  • Is more comfortable (out of weather, music, talking, etc)
  • Is more economical (splitting costs, carrying more food water)
  • Is more practical (It also is your house!)
  • Has higher resale value (selling it as a house/mode of transportation)

But given all this, it might come as no surprise to some that if given the choice, I will always choose my motorcycle over the van for long trips. My reasoning is best summarized from a quote from “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”

“You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.”

For me (and I feel this is the same for Thomas as well) this quote resonates exactly how we both feel about motorcycle travel. It is a romantic view of not just getting from point A to B, but literally feeling the entire journey. You get tired, you can get hurt, you get wet, hot and cold but at the end of the day you’ve felt every centimeter of a country when driving through.

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Parking by the road at the Redwoods, on a motorcycle you can feel the humidity change when arriving. 

Yes in the traditional sense of the word, a van is more comfortable however it can also take you out of the essence of what it means to complete a big overland trip. I will always remember being under torrential rain in Seattle and Tabasco, Mexico; The freezing air going to the Grand Canyon cutting into me like a knife, and the scorching temperatures in Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama.

Another understated advantage of a motorcycle is both the sense of community among other motorcycle riders as well as the awe and interest of locals who are more than happy to help with anything you might need.

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Shane, a Harley enthusiast, let us stay at his home in Belize, and rode with us for a moment on the Hummingbird Highway.

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Our homeboy Al.

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Teo, Rob, Thomas and I…The Ferry Xpress biker crew.

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And let’s not forget the infamous “hoon squad”

Less people travel with motorcycles, and that’s exactly why I love it so much. There is no feeling like riding in to a town and having everyone stop and stare, children running after you and waving, large crowds forming where ever we go. You feel like a rock star. Locals will invite you to stay at their place for free, giving you a home cooked meal and real insight into their culture and way of life.

A van, you don’t need to worry about finding a place to stay but this in large part is the whole fun of travel.  Driving to a town that you have no idea what the name is, and ending up on some farm, sinking beers with a local.

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This family spotted our bikes, where we camped in an abandoned lot in Guatemala, they invited us in for breakfast (they didn’t have much but were happy to share what little cereal they had). 

I suppose it is a bit of a romantic view of motorcycle travel, but for those of us who have experienced it, it becomes a bit hard to put in to words. Hopefully the pictures will speak for themselves.

Traveling in a van is an immense amount of fun, something I’ll never forget and I would recommend to anyone. It is a logical, but not entirely necessary “first step” you can take if you’re wanting to start traveling overland. That is not to say that a motorcycle is by any means a “last step” or even the “second step”, it is what I am doing now and for the moment is the most amazing trip I’ve ever undertaken.

But hey, these guys riding unicycles around the world might have something to say about that.

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Maybe next year…