Conclusion - Afterthoughts and such
I'm hanging over my laptop in my fathers study, pondering
over how to begin this article. How do I even start to make a summary
for the last year? The task suddenly seems overwhelming, because there
are so many things to say, so many thoughts I had in my head when I was
riding but I never put it down on paper. But, what the heck, let me start
Short hair cut and ready for adventure. We're in Maine, USA, at
the very beginning of the trip.
Looking at the big picture, one word comes to mind; Open-mindedness.
If you want to try what we have tried, you'll be much better off if you're
open-minded to your surroundings. Leave the prepossessions and "I
know better" attitude back home and accept that people think and
act different from the well organized society you come from. Because it's
a fact that all, or almost all, motorcyclists who go transcontinental,
come from rich countries with well greased machineries. Among the fifteen
American countries we visited, you'll find everything from extreme wealth
to poverty, from the world's biggest shopping malls to one-horse towns.
But every country and region has its own flavor and its own characteristics.
One common denominator strikes me though; People are kind hearted everywhere.
Why? I think that if you meet strangers with a smile and a polite greeting,
people return it with a welcoming attitude. Because our statistics - I
used to work with statistics, so bear with me - are easy to present; Over
the year and the sixty thousand kilometers we left behind us, not a single
negative experience with people sticks out. I mean, yes, people could
sometimes be impolite, inpatient, overly patient, slow, drunk and so on,
but so can we. Remember when people ask you if travelling by bike through
this continent is safe, tell them not once did anyone try to steal our
bike or anything on it, not once did people try to screw us big time on
money, and the only possessions stolen from us were two used tooth brushes
and a pair of gloves we forgot on a camp ground table. They left us the
Of course bad things can happen, but they do in our home town Porsgrunn
as well, a small industrial town of 35 000 people. If you choose wrong
you can end up in an alley you shouldn't be during dark hours, and, yes,
you can get robbed. It's sometimes funny to hear people tell about other
people's experience in a country far away from home. "San José,
Costa Rica! Watch out for everyone there. My friend's rental car was broken
into during a five minutes separation from it. They stole everything.
So avoid it, that town is full of robbers". I think we tend to draw
our conclusions on grounds that are way to thin, simply because we want
to have opinions on everything. A Dutch woman we met in Honduras said
she hated Mexico. She had an experience so negative in the capital because
of taxi drivers who overcharged, hotel receptionists who didn't give a
rats ass about her, and so on, that she would never ever return to that
miserable country. I don't doubt her experience, but suspect that she
made up her mind while still in Mexico, and therefore faced people with
a negative attitude. You give and you get back. Later she probably told
the same story to friends back home, maybe to people who never had been
over there, and then it's easy to plant a seed of negativity among her
friends. I think this happens again and again, and that's why we try to
be careful in judging a whole country from a short visit.
The Latinos knows how to party, how to smile and enjoy the breaks
in their every day life.
Another funny aspect of people's versions of their own travels, is the
exaggeration we tend to use. "We dove into the first one, a six or
seven meter long pool of water, and to our surprise it was more than a
meter deep." This is taken from our own travelogue, the Peru and
Bolivia chapter, and is totally untrue. When I wrote it, the experience
was fresh in my memory and it felt right to claim we had ridden through
water that deep. Of course we didn't, the water barely came over the front
wheel, so maybe we're talking about 60 cm, a significant difference when
crossing with a bike that has about 86 cm from the ground to the seat.
Or maybe I'm still exaggerating because I stil want that pool to be deep.
And we're not alone. Everyone wants their own adventure to be something
out of the ordinary. Take Helge Pedersen who rode ten years around the
world, or Ted Simon on a four years circumnavigation. From the first book
I remember above all the crossing of the Darien Gap, a hell of an achievement
but only a small part of a very long journey. From the second a prison
visit in Brazil sticks out from an otherwise very peaceful adventure.
I don't mean that these stories shouldn't be told, but I know that when
I talk about these books, the listener will remember the two episodes
and maybe tell them to others. So an image is created from an incident
the author may never have intended should receive the main focus in his
story. Many travelers exaggerate to such an extent that if you're in doubt
you could do something similar, you'll be convinced after the story is
told that you never will. That's why I state here and now; Bente and I
are not thrill seekers. We are regular people who get scared when the
going gets tough. So if we can do this, so can you.
The subjectivity that forms opinions, also works in a positive way, of
course. Most people have nice experiences and fond memories from travelling
in Latin America. Incredible people, fantastic nature, beautiful colonial
cities, vast stretches of unspoiled nature, natural wonders like glaciers,
waterfalls and volcanoes, relaxed lifestyle and, for us westerners, dead
cheap living costs, are some aspects that come to mind. Call it adventure.
But don't call it dangerous just because there are certain areas which
are riskier than others. Just like in Europe, it's up to you how far into
the thrill seeking you want to go.
Why a motorcycle?
Travelling with other bikers. Gerald tries to teach Bente the principles
of motorcycling while on the Carretera Austral..
Practically, it would be much easier and cheaper to back pack through
Latin America. So why do it on a bike? Well, you have to like motorcycles.
If you're a couple travelling together, your spouse too has to like, or
at least not dislike, motorcycles. And if you do, there is something almost
inexplicably fantastic about going overland across a continent on two
wheels. When you have done it, it means you have seen every kilometer,
every meter even, of the road with your eyes wide open and with an alert
head. You have experienced every kind of weather, smelled all the different
smells the world has to offer and from time to time gone through hardship
to reach that particular far away place. And when we met other bikers
along the way, we felt like meeting someone in our family. In Costa Rica
we stood for a long time with Stephan and Chenda by the side of the road.
It was a dangerous place where trucks raced by only inches away, but it
was the only place, and separating before all the necessary information
and war stories were passed over and told, was out of the question. Later
we travelled with Gerald the Toolmaker and Lars and Tini, and felt much
the same; a closeness with them as motorcycle travelers. It has nothing
at all to do with the stereotype hooligan the media sometimes tries to
convince us is a biker.
The bike both increased and reduced our sense of freedom. We never had
to bother about bus or train schedules but stopped wherever we felt like
it. But it also demanded a lot of attention when it broke down mechanically,
and we always had to secure the bike for the night. It was a compromise
easy to make, one I'll make again and again.
What kind of bike
The Tiger proved not to be the best choice for a journey like ours. Too
many things went wrong to put them all away as coincidences, bad maintenance
or bad luck. I still love the bike because of the feeling when riding
it and the looks, but have realized that on a future transcontinental
adventure I will choose differently. This means "old" Rocinante
will have a relaxing life in Norway and Europe, while a Honda Africa Twin
or maybe a BMW will be the means of travel. If it ever happens. And if
Triumph doesn't realize how unlucky we have been with that particular
bike and gives us a brand new one as a replacement under warranty......
For those of you who think about doing this kind of a journey, I'd say
this. If you travel alone, think about weight and off road capabilities
for your bike, to get the most out of the ride. I would have chosen a
one cylinder, 600cc off road bike like the Yamaha XT600, the Suzuki DR650,
or maybe a Honda one or two cylinder XL or Transalp. These bikes may be
boring when crossing North and South Dakota on the Interstates, but they
will be a hell of a lot of fun in the Andean mountains. The bike you choose
is a compromise, but the bigger it is, the less access you'll have to
the treasures. When that is said, Gerald went through the muddy mountains
of Peru on his BMW 1100GS, and we heard about people doing Ruta 40 in
Argentina on Gold Wings.
Not an unusual sight along the South American roads, a Norwegian
bent over his bike with a frustrated face.
The advantages with a smaller engine are not only the ability in bad
terrain, but also the accessibility of spare parts. Tyres, chains, sprockets
and whatnot, are much easier to get and often cheaper. And if anything
breaks down, the chance of getting qualified help is higher because elephant
sized off road bikes are uncommon in Latin America. Sometimes even your
600cc engine will stick out like a monster truck on a bicycle rally. Honda
is the most sold motorcycle brand in the world, hence the chances of finding
parts should generally be higher if you choose that brand.
But if you travel two up, you want to think differently. You can
do it on a 600cc or even smaller. Stephan and Chenda travelled around
the world on a Honda 500, a street bike. But they had to stay away from
the back roads, a limitation that would have bothered me. My choice would
have been, as I mentioned earlier, an Africa Twin or a BMW 800GS or bigger.
It's a pity really, because I would love for Triumph to get a bigger share
in the world tourer market, but as a user I cannot afford to think like
that anymore. Choose a well proven bike, a bike that has been used many
times over many years for the same kind of adventure that you are planning.
It's safer than to choose a "new" brand, and then have to be
the guinea pig yourself.
We did well in this department, we think, but it's funny how different
people we met on this trip, viewed our packing. Some said we travelled
very light, while others said we looked like a freight train. Both opinions
are valid, and if you think about the duration of the trip, you might
agree it would be hard to reduce the volume and weight. We went through
our luggage several times with two sets of critical eyes, and each time
a pile of rubbish and unwanted/unneeded items grew in a corner of our
hotel room. We had about 165 liter of luggage space, and it was rarely
filled to the limit. One thing we got better at, was to think versatility
when buying clothes. We sent home the "Wind Stopper" warm underwear,
because due to the nylon front it could only be used when riding in the
cold. A warm undershirt that also functioned as a regular long sleeve
shirt took its place. The warm liners for our jackets could also be used
as regular jackets. We only carried one pair of pants each, a few pair
of socks and T-shirts, shorts and a medium thick sweater each that could
be used under the liner in case of extreme cold weather. But next time
I will ride with tall hiking boots instead of motorcycle boots. Versatility,
Gerald told us he had spent two years planning his trip, but for many
reasons he only had about two hours to pack before his plane left. The
result was he carried enough tools to supply an average mechanic. We carried
a lot less, and were happy to have him around when things turned bad.
But I'm anyway satisfied with the selection we brought with us. One toolbelt
with four small pockets that rolled into a twenty by ten centimeter packet
contained the tools we needed for most jobs. In addition we made a toolbox
from a pvc-pipe and mounted it in front of the engine. It contained the
heavy tools for taking off the wheels and tyres. With proper rubber end
caps it was completely water tight and the tube helped moving the weight
forward and down, something which is of some importance when riding two
up. Again, versatility is important. A bit set for all kinds of bolts
takes no space at all, and with a roll of steel wire and another of duct
tape, you'll get far. We also carried several different glues, a box of
WD-40, tie wraps and other small handy stuff. We needed it all and then
To digitize or not to digitize
That was one of the big questions before the trip started. I wanted the
quality and functionality of the regular dias film and the SLR camera,
but also the easiness and Internet friendliness of the digital. It didn't
take long to realize I couldn't have both, so it was with a heavy heart
I sold my dear SLR and a bunch of lenses. Why did I and do I regret it?
We really wanted to update this homepage from the road and write the
articles for MC-Avisa. If I had chosen to use my old SLR and skip the
laptop, it would mean a lot more work and money spent to get the articles
and the online travelogue available to the reader. The film would have
to be developed and sent home, where someone received it, scanned it,
and sent us an e-mail with thumbnails for us to choose which pics to use
where. Then I would have to rely on pen and paper for my articles, and
punch them in on Internet cafes along the way. It would have worked, I
mean, that's how people did it in the "old" days, minus the
thumbnail bit. But then I would have to be a lot more disciplined, and
a lot more money would be spent on film development and shipping. And
it wouldn't make much sense to me to carry a SLR and a laptop,
since the laptop's most important function has been to store our digital
So the answer is no, I do not regret my decision. I am very happy I made
that decision actually, since the writing and photography has gone better
than I dreamt it could. There are certain advantages with a digital camera
and there are disadvantages. In the first category, what's important to
me, is the possibility to see the result immediately and make adjustments
in a new photo. For me, a hobby photographer who never spent the required
time learning how light and shadow affects the shutter and aperture, this
changed my view on my hobby forever. Also, you can take as many photos
you want - it's free. Every single photo is free of charge, and with our
6500 photos from this trip, the chances of ending up with a few good ones
are reasonable. If you wonder how the pros in the photography world end
up with such amazing pictures as you see in every issue of for example
National Geographic, this is how they do it: Besides having a lot of natural
talent and many years of dedicated and hard work behind them before they
are accepted in the maybe finest color photo magazine in the world, they
take staggering amounts of frames for each article. I read once that for
one single article, they started out with about 33000 photos. The moral
is that in quantity you find quality, or at least you increase the chances
of getting decent shots.
We thought we had packed light, but that was before we met Dai
from Japan. One year on the road and what you see is what he's got
- plus a small backpack. The photo was taken in Norway after our
return, when Dai came by to visit us on his way to the North Cape
and further through Russia.
The digital camera demands that you carry a charger and rechargeable
batteries, a storage media and a backup media. This is where big money
starts to poor out of your wallet before the trip has even started. We
paid somewhere in the vicinity of 3000 USD for camera, lenses, flash,
laptop and a CD read-write unit. It has paid back in the money we received
for the articles in the motorcycle magazine, but for most travelers it
won't. What are your options then? If you think smaller than us, you can
now get a second or third generation digital camera quite cheap. Both
will give you pictures of high Internet quality. In the storage department,
the world is developing with incredible speed. The latest product I have
seen is a digital wallet the size of a disc man with up to twenty gigabyte
capacity. To get an idea of how much this is, we have three thousand photos
left after deleting the real bad ones, and with the highest resolution
on a two point one megapixel camera, they occupy about two gigabyte of
space. With a digital wallet and the interface cable and software you
need to connect to a PC you can transfer the photos to a CD whenever you
find an Internet cafe that lets you. It's a cheaper and less space demanding
option for people who want to carry a digital camera but not the laptop.
Because if you only carry the camera and a few memory cards, which are
expensive, you cannot trust the Internet cafes to let you transfer them
when you need it. You risk running out of space fast and get stuck with
a useless camera.
In the end, the choice between carrying a standard film or digital camera
depends on what you want to use the pictures for. You'll get a lot more
quality from standard film, but it's expensive for such a long trip. The
standard camera is generally more robust than the digital, and have many
more functions and higher speed. The digital gives you access to the world
through the web, lets you have a more visual control with your pictures,
which are free until you want them on paper. But it's slower and more
fragile. The choice is yours.
Ups and downs
Lets go back to the trip itself. The highlights from the journey are
many, the downsides fewer. Here's the final list:
Best moment - Entering Guatemala from Mexico. The travel feeling
hit the roof here, but also going towards Abancay in the Peruvian mountains,
across rivers and along muddy tracks, and seeing Iguazu falls
Worst moment - The evening after the accident in Ecuador, when
I fought headaches and nausea, and Bente fought to keep me awake and alert
Most expensive hotel - New York, 69 USD per night for a shitty
little room with shared bath on Manhattan. The first hotel on the trip
Cheapest hotel - Alausi, Ecuador, less than six dollars
Highest point on the road - Close to Mount Sajama, Bolivia,
4700 meters over the ocean.
Most difficult road - From Bahia la Concepcion to La Purisma, Baja
California, 65 km of rocks and tense nerves
Funniest road - From Chaluanga to Abancay in the Peruvian mountains,
water splashing everywhere, river crossings and mud fun
Best stay - Ten days in Puerto Quepos, Costa Rica, with luxury
room and a swimming pool to ourselves
Worst stay - Chaluanga, Peru, where the wet fought against the
cold and the urine stench got our attention
Best night - The tear-down-the-hall party with Terry in San Francisco,
a cabin party with Gerald, Lars and Tini on Carretera Austral where we
forced down the local brandy and lied the best we could, among many others
Best nature - Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina, Iguazu waterfalls
in Brazil and Argentina, Grand Canyon in the States
Worst nature - The last day in the Atacama Desert in Chile
Warmest day - Along the Sea of Cortez from Los Mochis towards Copper
Canyon, 40 degrees Celsius and 100% humidity
Coldest day - Tierra del Fuego, going north, just above freezing
point, pouring rain and strong winds, because of a miscalculation that
forced us to spend way more time than we wanted fighting the elements
Prettiest town - Guanajuato, Mexico, colonial city with catacombs
Ugliest town - Midland, Michigan with its missing town center -
although we loved the stay with Kevin
Best archeological site - Macchu Picchu, Peru, Monte Albán,
Mexico and Copán, Honduras
Stupidest feeling - Pushing the bike over after the river crossing
in Peru, changing my own image from adventurer to clown with a twist of
the arm, although the tour of Niagara was a longer lasting feeling
Best feeling - One second before the above bike mishap
Worst bike feeling - Not understanding what was wrong with Rocinante
in France, so close to home but so language handicapped, rivaled by several
moments; oil gushing out over my right leg in Brazil, air filter clogged
on Ruta 40 in Argentina - before we realized it was the air filter, broken
engine mounts in San Diego - and then in Chile
Favorite country - Peru for me, Mexico for Bente
Least favorite country - None really
Most expensive country - USA
Cheapest country - Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia
Best value for money - Brazil, no doubt
Worst border crossing - Nicaragua to Costa Rica, although I was
partly to blame since the receipt they demanded and I claimed I wasn't
given, showed up in our luggage a few days later
Best decision - Deciding to do the trip
Another religious happening in Cusco, Peru. Colorful and lively,
are words that fit most of the Latin American celebrations.
Back home in Norway we have just bought a new house, but are still looking
for work and live in bags, more than a month after we returned. It is
tiring not to have our own home and to be uncertain what the future will
bring, but ask us if we found it worth it and the answer will forever
be a loud YES. In a few months everything will be back to normal again
and when we then look back, this transition period will only be a small
comma in our life. Even though we went far beyond the planned budget,
had one accident and loads of bike problems, the whole trip was nothing
but a big blast of a journey. We have learned a lot more about the world
and its people, built new friendships through planned visits in the States
and Central America an random encounters along the road, and gathered
memories that will be with us for the rest of our lives. There are no
substitutes for an adventure like this, and if you don't do it now, then
maybe you won't get the opportunity to do it later in life. In our experience,
the first time you close the door behind you and leave on a longer journey,
is the most difficult. When you have done it once, it's easier. You learn
that the world survive without you for a period, that career isn't everything
and that a year is only a few pages in your book of life in the long run.
We will probably, no certainly, go travelling again some day. It might
not be for a year or two, but the world is smaller after this trip, and
the rest of it is tempting to do on two wheels. Or we might go back to
South America to experience Bolivia and Brazil in the dry season. Maybe
we'll start riding from home towards Australia. That should be interesting.
Maybe one day I'll get to see fantastic Africa by motorbike. Or maybe
we will say to ourselves we are satisfied and rely on shorter journeys.
At the moment we don't know, but when we do, you will hear from us again.
Thanks to all the people who followed our trip through this homepage,
it has been a real inspiration that has kept us updating the pages and
enjoying every hour of work on it.
Hasta la Vista, baby. We'll be back!
Porsgrunn, Norway, July 16th 2001
Bente Bråthen og Dag Jenssen
She will roll again, but never cross continents. But she did the
job she was set to do, didn't she?
PS. If you plan a similar trip and need information you think we can
supply, don't hesitate to send us a mail.