Some people can’t travel alone. They have to have at least one other person with them so they can even begin to consider making any plans. Well, that’s not me. Ray Charles played piano, Hannibal Lector ate people, my gig is meeting people. Traveling with another person or group has its advantages (unknown to me), but in reality it kills a good trip. When you travel with others, you automatically have a company, so you’re less likely to initiate any interaction with others. Traveling alone doesn’t mean being alone. In contrary it affords you the time and interest to meet other people. And they are always a lot more interesting than the ones you take with you.
When we were at Salto Cristal with Robert’s family, we met a French guy on a bicycle touring South America. Robert naturally invited him to his house so the family number grew by one more. The weather turned unusually wet and it rained day after day until the ground couldn’t take it anymore. Dirt roads turned into mud pits, and prevented me from venturing south, and my visit with Action Against Hunger. (I cover the full story from there in the next blog.) So we stayed and watched the rain pouring down.
We finally packed up at the first break, and got on the road. On the way I visited a small town called Campo 9, and stayed with a couple of Peace Corps volunteers. In all my travels south of the borders, I always managed to find English speaking locals and travelers, but never any American. Now in the middle of nowhere, I sat with two American girls, Lyna and Julia, sharing stories, and laughing our asses off. Things got more interesting when I was informed that local supermarket stocked a few American condiments for the gringos in the area, and that included Ranch. Not Hidden Valley Ranch, but I wasn’t complaining.
It’s a cliché to make fun of Americans when they ask for Ranch at foreign restaurants, but now I know why they do it. Having chicken wings and ranch is like flying the American flag; it’s patriotic. So we dashed for the supermarket, and started our festivity. Pink Floyd played “Wish You Were Here” on the radio, chicken wings sizzled in the pan, and Budweiser lubricated the conversations. Only the Super Bowl was missing, and the occasional passerby cows reminded us that we weren’t on American soil.
I stayed with Lyna for two nights, and headed for the border of Brazil. One of Robert’s friends, Edson, came out to meet me and took me to his house in Ciudad del Este. Just when you think people can’t get any nicer, another guy shows up, and blows you away. Although Edson doesn’t speak much English, we got along great right off the bat. His family welcomed me with utmost hospitality and I felt at home right away.
Ciudad del Este is an interesting place. It’s a border town that sits between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, and according to US state department, it’s a place no American should dare to go. In reality, I like it. It’s a gigantic market with people from all over the world. Everyone is selling something, from cruise missiles to tampons; you can find something to your liking here. I had no use for armaments, but I needed new tires. Edson kindly took me to the market, and we found some 60/40 dual sport tires for the Bolivian Chaco. The Chaco region of Paraguay is mostly paved, but Bolivia has no paved roads except around big cities. My current tires are only good for highway use, and they have been bothering me to no end every time I go on muddy roads and sandy areas. Since I’m planning to cross the whole section of Amazon Rainforest inland, I need some serious preparation to see me through. Very few people have done this route so there’s practically no information available on the road conditions, and availability of gas. The only guy I know who successfully crossed the Amazon on motorcycle is Emilio Scotto, an Argentine rider who rode around the world on his Honda Gold Wing for 10 years. Although he didn’t cross the whole section, his account is terrifying nevertheless. The tires we bought are only for the “bad roads” in Bolivia, starting from northern Bolivia, I’ll switch to full knobies before going off the map.
When traveling, you have to keep your mind and schedule open. You will meet people who change your life, you go places that you never want to leave, and most importantly you find harmony and peace within yourself. That’s all traveling is; enjoying the little things as they come your way.