Looking back, looking forward ....
With the benefit of hindsight, many things in life, no doubt, would have been approached in different ways. So, too, some parts of this trip. It was just unfortunate that I was not able to leave when I had planned, and follow the original itinerary. This had me flying in to London, in late May, catching the ferry across to the 100th Anniversary Isle of Man TT races, then heading directly to Moscow for a few days, then east, right across Russia with a dip down into Mongolia for a few weeks. Reaching Vladivostok, I'd planned to cross (probably from Seoul) to the US, go to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska [the first of the extremes], turn south and reach Ushuaia [as the second extreme] for a Christmas Antarctic trip, stopping off somewhere along the way to do a Spanish school for a few weeks. A leisurely six and a half months, compared to the frantic rush that it became- less than six weeks to get from the US to Ushuaia.
I've learned a few things along the way: good road maps are essential! Steps must be taken to get hold of some - before I reach the country, preferably. It wasn't all that much of a problem going south, really, except when I got off the PanAm Hwy and went bush, particularly in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. But they do help with indicating distances between fuel stops etc! Running out of fuel is not a fun thing to do in the middle of nowhere, believe me.
Accidents happen, even to the best of us. I was shocked and saddened to read just a few days ago that Jean-Luc (KTM950), whom I'd met at the Nicaragua/Costa Rican border, had had a silly little slow-speed tipover when trying to avoid a road-hog bus in the rain on a narrow, dirt, mountain road in Peru. The bike slid in the mud and toppled swiftly, trapping his ankle between the bike and a rock. Result, a broken ankle, on which he rode for 3 hours to get down off the mountain and into a small town to seek treatment. After much soul searching amidst thanks [for his brilliant blog and magnificent photos] and wellwishing and encouragement from the ADVrider.com readers, and with his wife's blessing, he reversed his original decision to cancel the remainder of his trip south, so now he'll go back to the States for a few weeks while his ankle heals, then fly back and continue to Ushuaia..
Reading Jean-Luc's blog on ADVrider [ http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=260655&page=50 ] I happened to notice, on the maps showing his GPS tracks, that I'd deviated from the PanAm unknowingly, in Ecuador, near Loja. It had been suggested weeks before that I should cross the border at Macara, as it was easier, rather than the crossing near the coast. With no map, I'd not realised that I would be leaving the PanAm, for little better than a goat track for about 80-90km. As I was riding towards the crossing at Macara, there was very little traffic, far less than would normally be expected on the PanAm, and I was a little curious about this, but kept going, as the few signposts were still indicating Macara ahead. It was extremely remote, a high windswept plateau; soaring mountain ranges; narrow bitumen road winding through and around the mountains; sparse signs of cultivation and habitation; few opportunities to get fuel in desolate tiny villages, huddling against the cliffs. The whole area had been subjected to recent heavy rains, apparently, as there were innumerable landslides, often still untended, with debris and rubble stretching almost right across the roadway. On at least two occasions, there was very little of the road remaining at all, it having slid away and gone crashing and tumbling down the steep mountainside as the road foundations collapsed, leaving just a yawning, gaping hole where the road should have been. Negotiating rubble across the breadth of the slides on the remaining quarter of the narrow roadway was fairly interesting, hugging the mountainside and hoping the remaining road didn't slip away as I was crossing it.
But it was a beautiful, almost spiritual, remoteness, one that I would not have missed for anything, map or no map. Due to the poor condition of the road, it was necessary to ride slowly and carefully, not knowing what was around the next bend, even though it did slow me down considerably, causing me to have serious doubts of reaching Ushuaia in time. Better to arrive alive, than go over the edge in a rush, methinks.
An unfortunate consequence of the rushed trip south is the lack of good photos. If only I could print images from my memory! So many scenes are imprinted on my mind, forever, but it is so difficult to describe to other people the utter beauty that I've seen. On the return journey, stopping for photos will be of prime importance, not speed. But even then, the camera doesn't capture all the eye sees, the enormity of the sweeping panoramas, nor the smells and sounds associated with the views. My best effort will have to suffice, I'm afraid.
Using my Chile and Argentina maps (yes, I do actually have some!) the plan for the return journey should be through and along a lot of the Andes, wandering over the foothills and around between the lakes in the southern National Parks of both countries. Nothing etched in stone, just total flexibility to do what I want and see what I want, particularly the glorious countryside, rather than the cities. Don't get me wrong - I'll visit Buenos Aires, possibly Rio - who knows?
I know already that I won't have enough time to see everything I want to see. I have committments in the US next summer. A return trip to South America somewhere down the track is a definite possibility. Did I say a "4 year trip"? Hmmmm, let's not put an end date on it, for now! "Now in Dream mode": Perhaps I could fly from London to BA, rather than home to Oz, at the end of the current plan? We'll see. Anything could happen between now and then. Let's take it one day at a time.