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Posts Tagged ‘ Nick Sauer ’

December 24th, 2010 - Crossing the Equator

Ecuador is one of the smaller countries in South America, but it was an interesting point in my journey. The equator passes through Ecuador and that means that by reaching the equator, I traveled from the furthest north in Yukon to the center of the earth. Crossing into Ecuador was by far our easiest border crossing in the whole trip as the guy we met in Pasto, Sebastian Moreno, a former Colombian Formula 3 race car driver, accompanied us to make our lives easier.

As we suspected, Ecuador was still in a political chaos from the president kidnapping incident of the week before. This time the president dismantled the police force so it doesn’t happen again. Instead of the regular police, he appointed Special Forces and the military to be in charge of security of the country. These guys were armed to the teeth and were the most formidable looking police force I’ve ever seen outside of the United States. But they turned out to be as menacing as puppies and a lot of fun.

They took it upon themselves to protect and serve us as we drove towards the capital city of Quito, and they never failed to entertain us. Right at the border I made some friends with some of them (distributing American cigarettes never hurts) and in return they took me shoe shopping, opening the way in the busy streets with M-16s. At one point, they pulled over in the countryside and loaded their guns for us to shoot at some plastic bottles while they stopped the traffic for the festivity. As Claudio puts it “It’s always good to make friends with the guys holding big guns.”

Upon reaching Quito, we settled into our hotel with the plan being to leave in 2 days for Peru, but the craziest thing happened (beside another flat in the crappy Pirelli MT66 rear tire.) The RGE team had a press event at the university the next day, but they had partied all night and were still a little tipsy in the morning. The normal presentation involved going really fast and braking hard to demonstrate the amazing braking power of the SRzero electric car, but this time, Nick Sauer, the RGE guy who was driving the car for the demonstration, forgot to brake a little earlier and the SRzero crashed into the wall in front of the TV cameras and the few hundred spectators, just missing Clemens and Claudio. A cheer went up from the crowd, and with that we got stuck in Quito for 5 more days while the guys fixed up the car.

I always thought that Ecuador was a tropical place and since it was on the equator, it was warm. Man, was I wrong. It was mountainous and snow-covered peaks loomed everywhere you looked. It was quite cold, and it rained on and off. I took the time to change the oil on the bike, flushing the brake system with new brake fluid and complete some other due maintenance. Ecuador also turned out to be a really long country as Claudio and I had the longest riding day of the trip trying to get to the border. We left at 6:30 am with only a few hours of sleep and reached the border town at 11 pm, after 17 hours of riding through banana plantations, deserts, mountains and tropical patches.

As we got closer to the Peruvian border, the once nice and clean countryside turned into pile of garbage. There wasn’t a pit stop that we didn’t mention what a shithole it was. If the garbage and the foul smell wasn’t enough, we met our most vicious predators: dogs.

These dogs hunted in packs and somehow they evolved to know that speed bumps are the best place to hunt for innocent motorcyclists. They hung around the giant speed bumps, and as we slowed down to go over the small hill, they attacked us from every side. Claudio and I kept our legs up, and I rolled on the throttle as they lunged at us with bared teeth.

Into Peru

I was really looking forward to seeing Peru, especially western Peru and the magnificent Andes, but as it turned out, our route was going nowhere near the Cordillera. Instead, we hugged the Pacific Coast on the Pan-American Highway and went nonstop through the country. But that didn’t mean that we didn’t like Peru.

In fact, the very first night we got to Peru, Claudio and I stopped for a cup of coffee as the rest of the team were behind at least an hour (the GS850 was unstoppable on the perfect Peruvian highways at sea level and clocking 100 to 110 mph was not uncommon) so we walked in a restaurant to kill some time.

The first thing I saw was a charcoal grill the size of small swimming pool with a giant pig roasting away above the embers. Claudio suggested that we eat there so we walked in to the back where a band was playing. I literally stepped one foot in the room, and I was handed a beer from a semi-drunk guy at the next table. Long story short, we downed 6 bottles of beer (the beer in South America comes in two sizes, the small bottle which is a normal 12oz and the big one is a 40oz like Old English) courtesy of our two new Peruvian friends and settled down for a long conversation which none of us could understand. They spoke only Spanish, and between Claudio and me, we spoke six languages, but none even came close to Spanish.

One thing that they did manage to get across was that we are all brothers no matter where we come from, and they welcomed us to Peru. They were both bikers, and I suppose a loaded motorcycle was enough to bring out the hospitality. We had an amazing welcome to Peru, thanks to our new friends and Crystal, the fine Peruvian social lubricant.

Western Peru is dry. In fact we didn’t see a drop of rain the whole time we were there. Since the climate is so dry, nothing really grows on the coast, and the food staples are chicken and fish. Fish come out of the ocean and the chicken farms are set right on the beaches. In fact, chicken must be the national bird of Peru as it’s served everywhere and is the specialty of the country. One night Claudio, Cynthia and I went out to town for dinner, and we honestly couldn’t find any restaurant that served anything else besides chicken. There are thousands of chicken farms right on the beach as you travel down the coast highway and with every breeze, chicken shit smell filled up the air.

We visited a very poor town and got to hang out with some volunteers and the children that they were working with. After lunch (chicken, of course!) we set out for the town of Huacachina in the Ica region of southwestern Peru, which boasts an actual oasis. The landscape changed from coastal sands to full-fledged desert and it looked much like Sahara. Sand dunes piled up to 1000 feet, and every gust of wind shoved a little more sand into my helmet. The oasis was a fascinating place straight out of Lawrence of Arabia with an emerald green lake surrounded by palm trees sheltered by sand dunes as high as mountains. Cynthia, Claudio and Paul ventured up the biggest dune to take pictures and film while I slept like a baby, glad not to be in the 100 degree heat outside.

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August 12th, 2010 - Monclova to San Luis Potosi, Mexico

We set the alarm clock to get out of Monclova early in the morning but my body wasn’t cooperating. Cynthia finally managed to drag me out of bed around 10 am, and when I called the guys, it turned out that a shock absorber on the SRzero electric car has broken off and so the team wasn’t leaving until around 2:00 p.m. from Mario’s Inn just outside of Saltillo. We packed up and set off down the road to find the team. Thankfully the weather was milder today but still hot, and the dry deserts of México were giving way to more tropical landscape. 200km later, we found the electric car and RGE guys waiting for us at the hotel. The RGE team is comprised of Claudio Von Planta (documentary filmmaker), Jonathan Richards (cameraman/editor) and the five engineering students from imperial college of London: Toby Schulz, Andy Hadland, Alex Schey, Clemens Lorf, and Nick Sauer. Two guys usually sit in the SRzero, Cynthia and Claudio would take turns riding with me, and the rest would follow in an E-350 Ford Van for support and to haul the rest of the gear and tools. You can see more about the RGE project at

We rode over 3200km from Northern Montana to middle of México to catch up with them and we succeeded at last. Introductions were made all around amidst video cameras filming our arrival, and then we loaded some of our gear into the van to make room for Claudio on back of the bike so he can start filming.

I could call myself an experienced motorcyclists after thousands of miles of riding in virtually any weather and road condition, but I was still quite apprehensive of the task ahead of me: riding an 800 pound motorcycle with 300+lbs of human cargo on it down the not-too motorcycle friendly roads of Latin America. Riding two-up is challenging at best but manageable as long as your pillion is not moving too much and follows the rhythm of the ride.

Riding with Claudio would automatically cancel out all the cardinal rules of riding as he planned to film the SRzero from the bike with a handheld video camera (5lb professional camera) mounted on a tripod. He would be hanging down from the side and back with no prior warning and my job was to ride close to the subject and maintain a steady speed while he filmed. No easy task by any means.

Without further ado, Claudio and I got set up on the bike and the whole convoy headed out for the 467 kilometer long journey to San Luis Potosi in the heart of México.

As I anticipated, riding two up and filming was hard work. I soon realized that I have to counterbalance every move and be ready for anything. It was scary at first seeing Claudio hanging down from the side on the curves but I learned not to look down and keep my eyes on the road. A couple of hours of practicing different methods finally put my mind at ease and the weird configuration soon became a natural rhythm.

The routine practice is that we pass the car and Claudio turns back as I slow down and let the car overtake us. Then I ride as close as possible and let him take the close-up shots on either side. Finally, we set off and leave the car behind to find a high section of the road or a bridge to take some tri-pod shots. Once we get all these shots, we look for interesting landscapes, people, dead animals…

Getting to know Claudio von Planta himself was worth the trip alone. At age 48 Claudio is arguably the most talented and respected adventure (for lack of better words) videographer and documentary filmmaker of our time. Educated in Zurich on Political Science, he has spent over 20 years pursuing his passion, investigative journalism and filming. From the mountains of Afghanistan to tropical rainforests of New Guinea, he has a story with footage to back it up.

He has spent most of his professional life in conflicts zones around the world, bringing hard-to-beat footage to major TV stations including the first ever televised interview with Osama Bin Laden, and producing many award-winning documentaries on global issues such as Rape Trade and Aids. He speaks German, French and English fluently, and other languages such as Brazilian Portuguese. The ever-popular TV series of Long Way Round and Long Way Down are excellent works, but to judge Claudio’s talent and determination based on these two series alone is an underestimation.

It took us all day to cover the miles and before we knew it, I had the firsthand experience of driving in México after dark. The highways are generally good, but what’s on the highways is the main concern. There are thousands of stray dogs everywhere with nothing better to do than to chase motorcycles. The locals tie up their livestock to the side of the road to graze on the green grass, and it’s not unusual for the cows and donkeys to be crossing the road unattended. Due to these circumstances, driving at night is not advisable, but we had no choice and had to make our destination at San Luis Potosi.

After getting lost a few times in the SLP city center, we finally reunited with the rest of the crew at the hotel. There was a bit of a problem getting the electric car into the parking garage as it didn’t have enough clearance for the grade of the entryway ramp. Despite multiple attempts at makeshift adjustments the car was not able to go down the steep ramp of the garage. Finally they found another parking garage to park in where they could charge the car overnight and we settled in for the night. Next: Journey to Mexico City, the second largest city in the world (at night of course)!

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