Monday, July 20, 2015

Sometimes, Timing is Everything

We rode out of the small fishing village of Camarones before the sun rose and the anxiety and tension that had kept us awake for most of the night eased out of our shoulders. Soon we were eagerly making our way into Riohacha to stock up on supplies before heading into the wilds of the Guajira Peninsula.

The Guajira is largely inhabited by the Wayuu people and we had heard there was little in the way of comforts such as formalized lodging, restaurants or gas stations. SOUNDS GREAT!!! It is also the Northernmost point of South America and holds claim to one of the most beautiful coastlines of the continent.

So, off we went.

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By 10am, it was blisteringly hot. As we turned off of the highway and onto what we thought was the direct road to the tip of the peninsula, we hoped the formidable winds in this area would at least serve to cool us down.

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No such luck.

But, we did manage to see some pink birds we convinced ourselves were flamingos for all of 10 seconds before Roel went for a closer look, and determined they were spoonbills. Oh well.

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And then the road ended. Not like, then the road went from tarmac to dirt.

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No, the road just plain ended and tire tracks in the sand seemed to go off in all directions. We waited until someone came by and we asked the direction to Punta Gallinas, and then headed off in that direction following a track that all but disappeared at times.

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Just outside of an industrial looking town, we stopped to help a stranded couple. The chain on their motorbike had gotten so loose it had come off of the rear sprocket. It was amazing that it functioned at all given how rusted it was, but Roel helped the guy get the chain back on the sprocket and even oiled it up for him. Just before we went our separate ways, a 4x4 with 4 police pulled up and asked us if everything was OK. Not like, if the couple with bike troubles was OK, but if we were being hassled or robbed. It kind of startled us, but upon our assurance that everything was OK, they took off.

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We rode through town, and were followed by dozens of eyes. I was dying to take photos of women in what I would describe as MuMus, hanging out of their mud huts as we rode past, but it didn’t feel appropriate to do so, and so we carried on. We picked our way through several tracks, made a few u-turns and asked several more people for directions, or at least a direction to go. And we eventually made it back onto some tarmac.

We weren’t riding for long when we stopped to help another stranded couple. The guy thought his spark plug was the issue. It was nicely rigged with an odd wiring system, so that assessment made sense, but even after Roel gave the guy a new spark plug, there was no firing. After a few minutes of suggestive arguing, Roel finally opened the guys gas tank (which he swore was not empty), dumped one of our spare liters of fuel in and: VOILA!!

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The guy said nothing while his overjoyed wife thanked us jubilantly.

Being stuck on the side of the road in the heat of day was not her cup of tea.

We stopped in the small city of Uribia to get a drink and rest. The heat was getting the best of us and we knew it wasn’t safe to ride any longer given our dehydration.

While relaxing in the shade, Roel noticed a flat tire on a tuk-tuk sitting in front of the shop… so… off he went to help the guy fix his tire and then he blew it up with his pump. We were becoming quite popular in town by the time we headed for the peninsula. We had about 3 hours of daylight left and we were determined to have a swim in the ocean before we crawled into the tent, so we made a run for it.

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About 2 miles out of town the good tarmac disintegrated into terrible gravel, corrugations and general nastiness. We continued at about 60-70kph (40mph) to minimize the vibration, until we saw a group on bikes with a flat tire and three bleating goats that had been headed to slaughter.

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Of course we were going to help, but it was the full heat of the day. I’ll admit, I groaned internally for a moment before we began working one of our patches onto this guy’s tire.

And then, whatever you want to call it, but let’s go with the hand of fate, in this instance: You could say she slapped me OR gave me a helping hand.
But I'll go with helping hand, given the what the alternative would have been...

A loud hissing had all of us looking around and eventually every set of eyes settled on my front tire which was rapidly going flat.

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Roel and I just started laughing. The Wayuu men must have thought we were crazy, but eventually they laughed, too, and then we went back to working on their tire.

What are the odds? Of all the perfectly timed events in my life, this has to be one of the most awe striking. Had all of these little stops, and u-turns and observed and missed photo-ops not taken place, I would have been going 60-70kph (40mph) over a corrugated, nasty road in the middle of nowhere when my front tire suddenly deflated. Who knows what that would have looked like. But I thanked my guardian angels and whatever the “powers-that-be” are, that I didn’t have to find out.

Our patches didn’t work, so the guys eventually just took care of the gash in their tube as they usually do…. make a tourniquet, fill it back up and call it a day. We were at least able to help them out with our pump.

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And remarkably, after we pulled my tire off of the Transalp, they all gathered around to help me replace my tube, rather than take off with their goats. While I was working on my tire, Roel got some water out of his Gobi case and brought it to the poor bleating goats who were left hog-tied in the shade.

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I walked over to snap a photo because for me it was a really difficult moment that really epitomizes what you are forced to learn while traveling:

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We all do things differently. And we may not agree with how these men were treating these animals. But at the end of the day, this is life on the Guajira.

The poor animals stopped bleating as Roel held the pan of water for each of them in succession, and they didn’t begin bleating again. It was like Roel’s act of compassion gave them peace. Or at least that’s what I would like to think. I’m sure they were slaughtered within hours.

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We got back on the road and after about another 60 miles of awful gravel and corrugations and several u-turns, we made it to Pilon de Azucar.

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My new happy place. And the point on the earth I will site whenever anyone asks whether I would prefer to sleep in a Four Star Hotel or under 4 gazillion stars in a tent.

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4 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing such poignant experiences. You've been an inspiration to me since I began following your blog in January. I myself set out from Seattle, WA on 5 April. At 64 this has been the most wonderful blessing next to being a father.
    Currently I am waiting for a coil in David Panama. Hope to board the Stahlratte on 6 August.
    Much fortune to you all throughout the remainder of your journey.
    Mike Matthews

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  2. My bike is a klr650 Kawasaki, and my blog is :

    ReplyDelete