Shit got weird today:At about 80 km/h and leaning heavily into a corner on a winding mountain road, a spider made an appearance inside my helmet.How did I know it was a spider? Because it ran across my face.As I said, shit got weird.
— Nicholas Moses
World traveller and international playboy
I wanted to start this post with this quote from my friend Nick because it reminded me of when shit got weird for me recently.
I was happily riding from Pichilemu to Chillán, my third stop in Chile, merrily, merrily on the Chilean N-S highway when a excruciating pain in my right arm made me release the throttle and drop down to zero speed on the hard shoulder. It felt like I had pulled a muscle and been sprinkled with acid and been injected something very thick, all at the same time. I pulled up my sleeve and couldn’t see any trace of any living creature that could have produced it but a swelling was starting to breakout so when I arrived to Chillán, the nice lady managing the rundown guesthouse where I was staying immediately sentenced: Mosquito! And proceded to rub some vinegar on my arm and even gave me the bottle to keep in my room.
The jacket slept on the floor while I slept on the bed and the next day I set off normally, with my pain considerably lessened. That was the day I met Benoit and Steph, thanks to the timely warning of Benoit’s sister, Hélène, and they advised me to take a detour through some dirt tracks to the East. They also treated me to their awesome coffee and crêpes. If you are ever in Los Angeles, Chile, drop by the Café Francés for a taste of France! I took that secondary road and camped for the night near Curacautín. The jacket slept inside the tent with me.
After that nice camp where I made a fire and grilled the awesome sandwich that Benoit and Steph had given me, I started on my way to Villarrica and while I was driving around town looking for the hostel that the Pichilemu hostel manager had recommended, BANG! Excruciating pain, pulled muscle, cut throttle, pull sleeve up. I can’t believe it! A second bite! There must be something up my sleeve, I decided, and rode the rest of the way with my jacket half on-half off. When I got to the hostel I pulled my sleeve inside out, removed the elbow pad and found absolutely nothing. I bet you can see the shit getting weirder. Anyway, the jacket slept two days hanging from the bunk bed.
And off to Antillanca after a rest day in beautiful Villarrica, I stopped at the side of the road when I met two Argentinean riders on their way to Chiloé. We had a nice chat and I told them about the weird things happening to my arm and pulled up my sleeve to show them. As soon as I did, a half-alive yellow jacket bee fell to the ground.
It’s actually a wasp but I don’t care, looks like a bee to me and I started cursing bees, insects in general, probably Chile and whatever came to my mind, pulled up my sleeve again to look at my arm when a second wasp fell to the ground. A SECOND WASP! Can you believe it? I lived for 5 days with one wasp up my sleeve and 3 days with two of them. It’s lucky I’m not allergic. And also lucky they didn’t bite me more than once each!
Many years ago, while I was backpacking in Argentina, somewhere in Northern Patagonia we were restocking our food supplies at a small town supermarket when an old drunkard invited himself to our conversation. He had the discrete elegance that self-respecting old drunkards usually have, he wore a hat and a felt coat. His face was wrinkled by many years in the sun and he talked a lot. Unfortunately, something even the self-respecting variety of drunkards doesn’t have is articulate speech and even though he spoke Spanish, I couldn’t understand most of what he said. One phrase did get through and stuck to the walls of my mind. Whenever I remember the episode, it comes back: “And then the ‘huinca’ came”.
This is the land of the Mapuche. As I cross the Bio-Bio river, I remember that this was the last line of defence between the Chileans and the original Chileans. What else to call them if not that? Before that fort line was built, this was their land, all of it.
The Inca came and conquered, in name. A tax was agreed and a tax collector took residence here but in reality, the Mapuche were always left to their own devices.
Araucanos, the Spanish called them. The Mapuche always lived on both sides of the Andes and they still do. Araucanos is an unfortunate name, it robs them of their true nature. Perhaps that was the aim. Mapuche has ‘mapu’ in it: Earth (or land, or dirt) and “che” simply means people, they are the people of the land and I am but a visitor in their lands. Some say that our Argentinean custom of calling people “che” comes from them (yes, their land extended to what today is the province of Buenos Aires).
As I enter the Araucanía Andina region, an unofficial sign reminds me, in case I’ve forgotten, that I’m entering Mapuche territory and when I start seeing the beauty that surrounds me, I understand why they defended it so fiercely. The mighty Andes on the horizon, plentiful rivers teeming with fish every couple of kilometers, forests and grassland valleys with no end in sight. They lost, as history records, and today the descendants of the Spanish conquerors rule the land.
At the time of that episode, the word huinca didn’t make any sense to me. I had heard it somewhere but it wasn’t Spanish, I had to find out the meaning. Internet wasn’t that developed back then so I just waited and some time later, while perusing a Mapudungun glossary I found it. Huinca(1): White man. Hum… Wait a second, there’s a Huinca(2) definition under it. Huinca(2): cattle thief. Interesting.
So here I am, cattle thief by definition, visiting their land. I hope they won’t think too badly of me and let me through.
EDIT: This paper looks interesting but I haven’t read it.
When I was leaving, a friend posted this song on my page. Whenever I think of the road, it often comes to my mind. Where I lay my head is home. Anywhere I roam.
The road is a harsh mistress I said once talking about long hours on the road but it can also give you a lot of pleasant surprises, not
only in the form of gorgeous landscapes. I entered Laos through the South from Cambodia and even before I got to the border, I ran into two bikers in disguise. At first they looked like locals, riding smallish bikes very heavy loaded but their luggage didn’t look like the things you usually see on the road (video post to come on that). It was Denis and Hanes, Dutch and Estonian who had bought their bikes in Vietnam and had come riding all the way from there. Even though I was faster, we crossed the border together and they came with me to Don Khong where we crossed the river together in some scary barges.
We stayed there 2 days, minding our own business. I reading my book, them checking for a mechanic for Hanes’ bike and after two nights I was on my way. Ahead of my I had the road to Pakse and Savannakhet where I didn’t expect to do any sightseeing. I was on the road to Vientiane where I had agreed to meet with Julien, a French biker I had met in Ulan Baatar, like 4 countries ago. He was luckier than me with his China crossing and actually crossed China from North to South. In truth, I was also feeling a bit pressed for time since now I have a date to fly out of New Zealand to Chile and have to somehow manage to get to Auckland on February 18th to catch my flight with the bike sorted out.
I didn’t feel like straining myself though so I left not too late and rode only to Pakse, a couple of hours away and checked my self into a guesthouse with wi-fi. Since it was pretty early, I wandered around town and had a late lunch of pizza. Not really good but did the job.
After wandering around and fiddling with the internet, I decided to share the info on Vietnamese bikes I had got from the other guys with Antoine, a French guy travelling in the region I had met in Bangkok and then randomly run into in Chiang Mai who was interested in maybe buying one. I fired him an email, only to receive a quick response just before going to sleep saying “you are going to laugh but I was just thinking of you, I’m in Pakse tonight too”. Wait, what? Distance from Bangkok to Pakse: 600 km as the crow flies. Time since I had last seen him: around 3 weeks. Emails exchanged in the meantime: zero. And he was in the same town. See, I give all the details and all but these things barely seem strange anymore. We agreed on having breakfast the next day before I left.
And breakfast we had. Soon after I was on my way to Savannakhet. Another short ride and very nice. Here, checking into a guesthouse was a bit more difficult, most of the guesthouses the Lonely Planet mentions had disappeared and the first one I visited had me running away from it for no particular reason but finally I did find a cozy one with wi-fi and a garden to park the bike inside. Again, it was still day and I went for a long walk around town hunting after lunch. On a small side street not far from the Mekong and not far from my guesthouse, I saw a small group of backpackers. Among them, Timo, a Finn I had also met in Bangkok. I remember also saying to him that I was sure we would meet again because the road is just like that.
The road indeed is just like that. You will meet the same people over and over again without even asking for it. Most of the time not even in the same country. I had met these two guys in Thailand. Antoine had come straight to Laos from there, Timo had been in Vietnam in the meantime, I had been to Cambodia. I put Laos in my list of “that sort of places that are just like that”. That list has so far four countries: Georgia, Uzbekistan, Mongolia and Laos.
The next day I set off for Vientiane and got there. When I was checking myself into the guesthouse, I met with Julien but that meeting was planned. He told me that the next day he was going to work on the bike at Fuark’s bike shop and when we went back to the street to look at my bike and his, we noticed that my rear tyre was completely worn. Looked like I would be taking my bike to Fuark’s too.
The next day was Thai visa day and Buddha Park day. We also did some pictures together with the bikes. We are in Laos. In the background, the Mekong and beyond, Thailand.
To be sure, that wasn’t the end of it. In Vang Vieng, some random guy said bonjour, I had seen him in Vientiane so when I saw him again in Luang Namtha we shook hands and introduced ourselves, lest we meet again and still don’t know each other’s names. They are Michael and Sandrine and they are also travelling around the world, only by plane and bus.