Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Brit Speaks - Joshua's Ride by Vicky Wade

Below is written by a brit that Joshua picked up by the name of Vicky Wake...

Joshua and Vicky both went down the World's Most Dangerous Road in Bolivia...

Hey - this is the Brit here, i joined this epic adventure in La Paz, Bolivia on the 19th of August. This is my commentary on the following week or so of motor-cross bike riding (rear seat for my part.)

So we set off from La Paz, Josh having reassured me that he had an excellent sense of direction - we immediately headed to 'Zona Sur,' which was entirely the opposite direction to where we needed to be going to exit the city - luckily Josh isn't shy of asking directions and we promptly headed up to the north of the city and left through 'El Alto.' The first day started well, good roads, excellent views of the mountains and no more getting lost, it wasn't too cold and the bike at that point was reasonably comfortable. This all deteriorated as the day progressed - everything bar the views which were great the whole ride through. So we stopped for lunch at Oruro and changed the oil (documented by film) and investigated the possibility of taking the train down to the south. We arrived at the train station where i proceeded to fall off the bike landing flat on my back, this was both painful and and embarrassing, i think i masked this well by laughing insanely for at least five minutes. Josh laughed heartily and didn't help me up, shock horror! We opted for the road as the train was going to a bit more expensive (and they say that the British are tight with money?!) The roads from here on were pure crap - deep sand, uneven, unmarked and at times almost in-passable! Despite all this we had great views and managed to get some good pics, eating dirt all the way. We arrived at a small village in the dark - we weren't sure where we were, for my part i didn't care i just needed to get off the back and sleep. The place was okay - kind of clean with toilets and hot food, actually a relative oasis in comparison to the thought of camping out in the open for the night. My body had ceased to move in a natural way at this point - my hips felt as if they may never recover - as if i had been riding a horse for the last 6 hours! Josh looked equally as beat, dirty and every year of his age!!

The following morning started reasonably early at 7 ish. We set off with a full flask of mate de coca and headed towards the Salt Flats on yet another fantastically crap dirt road! This didn't last too long and we soon cruised onto the relative smoothness of the Salt Flats , which Josh insisted on referring to as ice. Just how cold this stretch of the trip was i cannot describe in words, i did almost want to cry (but i didn't for fear that the tears would freeze!!) So this wide expanse of retina burning salt was being harvested for sale, used to build hotels on the flats and drawing tourists from all corners of the globe. It was quite a sight - as far as the landscape was flat there was salt covering the ground, ceasing to exist only where the mountains rose up out of nowhere to interrupt the serene whiteness. We encountered an island in the middle of this wide expanse, it's main inhabitants cacti, tourists and restaurants. It was an amazing and most welcome sight to me at this point - very randomly and ingeniously placed. We stopped here for some time and had lunch - well i made an attempt at eating - i had lost my appetite as the journey had started and it had not yet recovered - excellent diet plan i think!

So after meeting and chatting with random people and some Italians (if i recall correctly) about the joys of motorcycle trips (i left the majority of this chatting to Josh - he's far more qualified for this kind of conversation than I am) we set off again for the Chilean border. Whilst we had taken the break i decided to apply my scarf to my neck and sore throat, since that day my scarf has only left my neck for the purposes of cleaning my body - I have most definitely appreciated and bonded with my scarf within the last week - i will never disrespect or take my scarf for granted again. So we found the road/track for the border at which point Lechuga decided to give us little a scare and just stop. I think this may have been due to the fact that Joshua had plugged all of his electrically heated clothing into the battery and zapped all of Lechuga's precious energy!! I found the fact that his clothing could do this to the bike and that she had stopped in the middle of nowhere a touch alarming and so laid on the floor for a while. After recharging our batteries and being passed by some selfish arse tourists in a jeep (who didn't stop) we pushed Lechuga down the track engaging all our remaining muscles (which for my part was about 6 i think!) We finally reached the border crossing just as the sun was going down. It was in the middle of nowhere and there was very little going on - as soon as the formalities had been done we found accommodation and settled down for the night.

The next morning was much better and as soon as we set off I was feeling considerably better having regained the use of my body overnight. We passed through some mountains and skirted another salt lake after which we encountered a beautiful lake of pink and turquoise blues inhabited by pink flamingos and against a backdrop of smooth mountain peaks and bright blue skies. This could well have been the highlight for me so far, the scene was tranquil, peaceful and infused with the soft colours of nature - untouched by human hands as far as I could see. We continued on the track which steadily got worse and deteriorated into deep sand which at one point almost put us in a heap on the road side. It was of course my sheer strength that kept us upright - Josh may have helped a little :0! We reached the city of Calama by 2pm and stopped for lunch, an oil change and I almost adopted a small white dog (all he needed was a bit of love and a good bath.) But common sense overcame me and we left for the Chilean coast on good roads but with much side wind. We reached Antofogasta in the dark just after 7pm, this was going to be one of the trends of the trip for us - we would without fail arrive into every destination in relative darkness. Antofogasta was nice as far as first impressions went and the sea front was cute with many palm trees - we foolishly attempted to get a room in the Raddisson which was clearly out of our budget even if they had have admitted two dusty scruffy waifs like us into their very flash hotel. We found a place to stay which was nearer the centre and it had hot water in no short supply which was heaven.

So the next morning started with a nice breakfast and then a ride along the sea front to take lots of photos. We set off on an inland road in the direction of Santiago - it was both windy and cold and we went very fast it seemed. We stopped for a quick lunch at a small sea side town and then continued again. This day of biking was largely boring - most of it was through a desert but when we reached the coast it was a nice change to see the waves of the South Pacific breaking against the jagged rocks of the Chilean coast. We stopped for the night in a small town inland of the coast and stayed in hostel on the town square. Emailing took first priority followed by pizza and half a bottle of wine for Josh, which had a terrible affect on his personality. He suggested that we order a dessert and then proceeded to steal every piece I had on my fork, I was amazed by his gentlemanly and mature manners. This man never ceases to surprise me. This was followed by him playing hide and seek in the square on our way back to the hostel.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Broken, Broken Promises

I know that the goal for Chile was no hospitals but it seems that I very quickly failed at keeping my promise of avoiding doctors. Seems that since Costa Rica I’d developed what I thought was quite a benign rash – something along the lines of eczema – which turned out to be something quite different (or not since to this day it still hasn’t been definitively diagnosed). It could have come from swimming in a ‘seemingly’ pristine pool created by a waterfall in Costa Rica or just the drinking water. Or it could be the remnants or a parallel bug from my bout with Dengue Fever but whatever it was it wasn’t going away anytime soon.

While Tara was in the hospital in San Jose, CR I had one of the doctor’s look at it since it seemed to be spreading and he diagnosed it as a yeast infection and gave me a cream (one of many ‘creams’ that are promised to do the trick). It seems to abate and Tara was recovering from her surgery and had decided she wanted to go home forthwith so I continued on to Santiago, Chile in order to meet up with Joshua for the last leg of the trip into Ushuaia. It seems that Josh neglected to specify which Monday he’d be pulling through Santiago and so I waited a week for him. Finally he pulled in which a Brit on the back of the bike and they relayed their woeful stories of the freezing cold rain and road in some sort of Scared Straight program against me getting on the motorcycle with Josh to head into even colder climes.


Santiago from San Cristobal Mountain


While I waited for them I made sure to take advantage of Santiago (a gorgeous city), Valparaiso (how come port cities always paint their homes garishly different tropical colors?), and the Concha Y Toro vineyard and estate (well, one of them since they own something like 250 sub-brands including Casillero del Diablo and Don Melchor which recently received 94 points from Wine Spectator) and I also took it upon myself to go to a Dermatologist in the hopes of actually identifying the jungle rot and prescribing something for it.


Valparaiso, Chile and it’s Colorful Hilltop Homes.




The Devil Guarding C y T’s Finest Wines…


I took a walk over to the Universidad Catolica de Chile hospital and went looking for someone possibly versed in tropical infectious diseases since this is what I was convinced it was by this point (it’s not getting any better from the ‘cream.’) Nope. But I saw a dermatologist by the name of Dr. Marco Pereira Moya who immediately knew what it was. It was a bacterial infection and he had me throw the cream I had been using in the garbage right then. Siete dias con eso y se quito.’ Seven days with this cream and it’s gone. Great. I can rest easy.


Bobbycakes and I in Valparaiso.


Fine Chillean Wine Drunk Rowan Style.


Waiting at Andes Hostel in Santiago for Joshua.

Josh and Vicki spend the weekend recuperating from their trek (café con piernas helped) before Vicki heads back to Peru and thereafter those fabled isles of empire while Joshua and I stay to began the task of repacking the bike with all our worldly belongings.


The Chillean Motorcycle Carabineri let me take their Bike for Ride.

Come Monday morning we’re ready to set out even though the infection/rash has become exponentially worse, so much so that it has become very difficult to walk. But with the four layers of clothing needed to actually stay warm whilst riding the bike I decide to brave it. I have sworn off hospitals for the remainder of the trip while Josh swears off booze and women since he has a problem (kidding, he swears off motorcycle mechanics shops since he’s averaged more than two per country).

And we’re off. Well, kindof. Seems that we need a certain type of oil first so we go to three different lube places before getting the right kind. Then we’re off. Our goal is to make it down to the Isla de Chiloé. Of course we only make it less than halfway (three hours of Josh driving and two with me at the handlebars) before Joshua notices that the bike is acting up (engine is cutting out while we’re riding as if it’s out of gas but it isn’t) which has in turn but undue pressure on the chain and sprocket which sends us directly to a Taller Mechanico de Motocicletas. The chain was so dangerously worn that he needed not only a brand new chain but also new front a rear sprockets in a country that doesn’t really have a Kawasaki presence thus a minimum of a two day wait. Off to a hotel with all of our bags. And since this infection has gotten worse I take it upon myself the next morning to see another doctor. At this point I can’t even walk; I resemble a ninety year old man slowly and painfully walking up and down the streets of Chillán searching for the elusive dermatologist due to a plethora of faulty directions (you get used to it). Dr. Miguel Torres Ramirez takes a look at was has become a very disgusting wound of a rash and is pretty much freaked out – but also certain that it’s possibly a bacteria infection and puts me on an antibiotic and has a lab due a culture of the sample but the results will take 48 hours. I wait for two days of pain in the hotel room bleeding continuously with no sign of it getting any better and then revisit with the doctor who now has the results; negative for a bacterial infection. But Dr. Torres doesn’t take no for an answer and decides to do another culture. This means another 48 hours of no idea of what this is and absolutely no alleviation but rather deterioration of the infection. I decide to seek a second opinion; Dr. Raul de Mendoza Vera is a less of a quack but is similarly stymied. He opines that it looks to him more like some sort of tropical disease and that practically no one in Chile is going to be able to diagnose it and certainly not in the small town of Chillán and he suggests I hoof it back to Santiago to the Universidad Católica Hospital.

And so the next day away I go (oh, Josh has already left two days previously since he’s on a bit of a schedule and needs to make it thousands of kilometers to Tierra del Fuego in a little over a week) gingerly walking to the bus station and going back to where I started.


Josh Leaving Me All Alone in Chillan


Share My Hurt and My Pain.

Of course at the Universidad Católica the next day they say, ‘Nope, we don’t have any specialists like that.’ What to do?

Book a flight to Panama that night at take off the next day to seek out someone who perhaps knows what this tropical infection is, perhaps someone who actually lives in the tropics. Dr. Alfredo Cantón Martínez (Infections Specialist) of the Hospital Nacional takes a look and is at a loss; he has never seen anything quite like it, doesn’t know what it is, and suggests hospitalization as well as the same culture I’ve had done twice now as well as a biopsy. I think that since this infections specialist in the tropical country of Panama doesn’t know what it is than the chances of it being diagnosed here are just as slim. Let’s go back to Key West since I’m already halfway home and let Dr. Whiteside, a tropical infectious disease specialist, take a crack at it. And if I need hospitalization I’d rather be at home (and I’d rather have insurance but that’s another point).


Not Actually in Old Town Anymore but we won’t Hold That Against Them…


Whiteside and his internist prescribing something.

So with the dueling doctors of Whiteside and Covington in Key West chugging along on the diagnosis train I’ve been on a barrage of anti-biotics, anti-fungals, anti-viruses, and anti-parasitics over the past few days sans hospitalization and, although there has been no certain diagnosis, seem to be healing finally (let’s just say that it got pretty gross there for a while).

Medicine Table

[ Here is a fun list of all the medications I’ve been on or currently am on: Mebendazole 2 tablets by mouth three times daily ($100), Levaquin 1 tablet per day($236), Lortab 2-3 times as needed ($16), Doxycycl Hyc ($20), Ketoconazole ($11), Clindamicina, Flucloxacilina, Valacyclovir, Trofodermin, Bactroban, Lotrimin, Cipro, Cutamil, Neoyod, and my favorite; Supracalm. ]

So, as I lay in my sickbed Joshua has finally finished the trip that we started together (and that I wanted to finish with him) at Tierra del Fuego where today he went swimming in Antarctic waters just to finalize things. He made it 30,000 kilometers without a flat, which he was gleefully celebrating, when 300 kilometers before Ushuaia he had a spoke go through his tire and left him stranded in freezing cold Patagonia for half a day and night.


Tierra del Fuego the au natural Rowan way.


But the journey is not over. Glen Heggsted of Striking Viking fame gave us some words of wisdom in Mazatlán, ‘Only pussies go one way, you have to go down and come back up to make it legit.’ So it looks like once I recover I’ll head down to Ushuaia and pick up the remnants of the bike (post flat tire, oil-guzzling, and rear tire needing) to start up the eastern coast of South America. Hell, I might even rig a raft around the bike and run a propeller for the ride up the Amazon!