Tuesday, December 19, 2006

¨You Wish to Depart Hostile Alien Environment?¨ ¨Yes.¨ ¨Compliance.¨

Santiago, Chile
I thought it impossible to find a place with more mullets than Argentina. Then again, I had never been to Chile. Here the mullet has assumed forms with which I was previously familiar - my favorite being the ¨Fractional Mullet¨ that I saw in the central plaza this morning. Not finding the traditional mullet adequately laughable, one fine lad today sheared off two thirds of his Kentucky Waterfall to leave but a small wispy portion wavering from his rear right quarterpanel. I bet he´s an ace with the ladies.
I have little to write about this last week. Aside from some hiking up in the Valley of the Moon, nearly all my time was spent touring wineries. The Valley of the Moon was like being on the moon, or so they say. While on a guided tour through one part of the park, the khaki-clad guide quipped that ¨Your Neil Armstrong might have actually been walking here, hey?¨. He had probably told this pseudo-joke 500 times, and he took note of the ¨I got it¨ nods from the other visitors - mostly Japanese and Germans. I was the only American, and since I didn´t laugh he approached me and nudged me in the belly, ¨You know, your astronaut...who walked on the moon?¨ Hee. Hee.
In contrast to Napa Valley, only a handful of wineries in the gorgeous valleys around Mendoza charge a tasting fee. And since the harvest season here is not until March, I was often the only person at each vineyard. The majority wanted prior reservations, but the security guard at each winery´s respective gate found the pleadings of a stammering foreign moron sitting on an extremely dirty motorcycle sufficient for entry. Ohhhh, and the wine flowed...like wine.
The flagship of the Argentinian wine industry is the Malbec grape, and it is a tasty varietal indeed. My teeth were stained purple all week. And despite the fact that it was clearly a bad idea, I started to buy a few bottles. I scarcely had room on the bike for anything else. So why did I buy 60 bottles of wine? Because it was delicious and because it was cheap. 48 bottles are now on a boat bound for the States, 10 I somehow lashed to the motorcycle, and two I drank the night before I left with Antonio, the night clerk at my ratty hotel, and his friend Armando with the broken foot.
The drive to Chile was without the greatest border crossing of my life, as it winds and whirls through the Andes at dizzying heights. Had the wind not nearly blown me over on several occasions and thrown sand into my eyes (the visor on my helmet was lashed off my helmet by a monstrous gust provided by a semi that zipped by in the other direction), it would have been even more enjoyable. Near the road´s apex it passed just south of Aconcagua, which at 22,831 feet did not seem real. Then it was an incredibly long tunnel through a mountain and into Chile.
Chile is all business when it comes to customs. It took about two hours to complete the border formalities. Thankfully I asked if there would be a problem if I left the motorcycle in Santiago for a few weeks while I went home for the holidays. ¨Yes, it is a problem!¨
I needed to find someone to ¨take responsibility for the motorcycle¨ while I was out of the country. This invariably involved lots of stamps and ate up the better part of an afternoon. My savior was a man known as ¨The Bear¨, a friend of my brother-in-law who worked in the embassy here in Chile for two years. The Bear now has my bike and stinky sandals at his apartment, and I won´t be surprised to find the sandals outside with the motorcycle when I return on account of the foul stench.
Other than that, I´m just waiting for my plane. I´ve got two cheap Chinese suitcases (one of them pink) full of motorcycle parts, clothes, and wine that I want to get rid of. I haven´t seen my family, my friends, or my girlfriend since July, so this will be a welcome break.
Merry Christmas and Yuletide Cheer to you all.
- Tom
Bonus quote: ¨Stansfield?¨ ¨At your service.¨ ¨This is from...Mathilda.¨

Sunday, December 10, 2006

¨I Remember Grey Carpet. I Want to Go Home.¨

San Augustin de Valle Fértil, Argentina
9-5 grind got you down? Own a horse? Possess the rudimentary carpentry skills necessary to build a rickety cart? Could you lure your horse onto a plane or boat bound for South America? Well then, book that ticket and become your own boss!
Every night in Montevideo, Uruguay, not long after people put out the trash for their neighborhood´s morning collection, one can hear the clickety clack of hooves on pavement. It´s strange to see a horse trot down the main streets of a large city - stranger still to see that horse towing a trailer made of miscellaneous scraps of wood and with either old bicycle tires or wooden wheels attached to a slipshod axle. But every city block has a midnight rider. Apparently there are people who pay good money for bags of paper and pieces of cardboard. And so has spawned one of the more creative and unusual capitalist ventures I have ever seen.
The garbage diggers usually work in family teams, so that means the Mom and Dad bring their little kids along for the hunt, and everybody helps to sift through garbage containing every sort of conceivable refuse (including some fairly ripe bags from the restaurants). And not a scrap is left behind. The city residents, apparently not high on separating their trash for recycling, need not worry that their paper will end up in the dump. According to a bunch of people I asked about it, the paper gig is good for a few hundred dollars a month. The sifters can work when they please, and need only trot in from their shanty towns on the city´s perimeter for a few hours each night to earn their daily bread, exiting the city with their loot piled impossibly high on their creaky carts.
The garbage diggers were just one of the little surprises from Uruguay. I had no idea what to expect from the country. By all accounts from the Argentinians I asked about Uruguay, it was ¨like a province of Argentina¨. Compared to Argentina´s population of 38 million, Uruguay has only around three - about half of whom live in the capital city. Aside from that it´s mostly a bunch of small towns spread across the country: cattle ranches throughout the interior and little fishing villages up the eastern coast all the way up to its border with Brazil.
When I wrote last, I was in the border city of Fray Bentos. The only reason I went there was that one of my guidebooks described it as ¨macabre¨. What it says about me that I am attracted to a ¨macabre¨ town I do not know. But I will say that it turned out to be one of my favorite and the most bizarre places of the trip.
Fray Bentos´ claim to fame is meat - or, more specifically, meat extract. A couple of Germans arrived in the late 1800´s with some new scientific ideas that they thought would change the face of agriculture forever. Why they chose distant Uruguay for their little experiment can probably be attributed to four things: tons of cattle, cheap land, even cheaper labor, and zero government regulation of any kind.
In any event, they set up a factory there that became the world´s largest meatpacking plant and played a major role in feeding troops from both sides in both World Wars. The chemistry conceived by the Krauts and perfected in Uruguay facilitated the development of the Spam that you most likely have in your lunchbox at this very moment.
Fray Bentos was the first city in South America to have electricity. That´s how important the meat plant was. But a salmonella outbreak in the 1960´s stole the company´s thunder, and changing tastes (ie people no longer digging meat extract in a can) throughout the world eventually knocked out the company´s legs.
The nice thing is that when they decided to call it quits, they pretty much just left everything as it was at that moment and the workers got the hell out. Thus, it became macabre. I was the only person at the plant the day I went, and I was able to convince a woman to unlock some doors and show me around the place. It was so cool. It looked like a Hollywood set for some sort of horror film. Enormous flywheels and odd generators and whatnot. Cobwebs everywhere. A room with broken windows and a giant pile of a few thousand meat hooks, some dirty, some clean. Weird catwalks where diseased cattle were separated from the good stock and waltzed into an adjoining chamber for ¨treatment¨. A jar filled with formaldehyde preserving a pair of severed, congenitally joined sheep heads. An office full of antiquated equipment, switchboards, and papers still sitting on the desks. If I ever come into some serious cash, I´m going to fly my buddies down there and rent the place out for a macabre paintball game.
From Fray Bentos, I shimmied down to Montevideo. I don´t know why, but I really liked the place, and I ended up staying there for a few days. I think it kind of reminded me of Milwaukee or Chicago. Whereas Beunos Aires tries so hard to be the cool New York of South America, Montevideo seemed pretty content with itself, and it was a nice respite from the pervasive pretense of the Argentinian capital city. It had a nice stretch of coast, a laid back citizenry, a well preserved historic barrio, and an old meat market turned honeycomb of family-run grills called the Mercado del Puerto. It was at one of those grills that I bellied up to the counter and ate all kinds of meaty delights, steering clear of only one item on the big menu hanging over the grill that listed its English translation as ¨guts¨.
From Montevideo I headed west to Colonia del Sacramento, one of the only completely preserved examples of Spanish colonial architecture on the continent. It seemed to be more of a couples´ getaway for Argentinians from across the bay, so I fell into the role of the creepy guy eating by himself amongst couples dining by candelight at a little table where some guy serenaded everyone with a Spanish guitar. In an effort to escape the hordes of handholders, I went to a museum a little ways out of the city that the girl at the tourism office described as ¨interesting¨, pointing out that it had ¨pencils and marmelade¨. And it did. The guy who started it had an indescribably ridiculous collection of 17,000 keychains, 10,000 pencils, an adjoining marmelade store, and most likely a severe case of OCD.
Argentina and Uruguay are at odds over some paper factory Uruguay wants to build on their shared river border, so Argentina periodically shuts down the bridges between the two neighbors. What that does to stop the construction of a paper factory I´m not sure, but it keeps guys like me guessing as to whether they´ll be able to leave the country when they want to. The sure thing was to put the bike on a two-hour ferry to Buenos Aires, so that´s what I did.
In Buenos Aires I met up with my brother-in-law, Tommy, 25, who is travelling by himself from Chile to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Good beer was found, good steak was eaten, good times were had, and I bought another painting - the long wooden frame of which is now lashed clumsily to my motorcycle.
After Tommy left for Uruguay, I drove widthwise across the continent, something that took long enough and was so painfully boring that its short description will keep this E-mail from getting ridiculously lengthy. Suffice it to say that it was like driving back and forth on a rural Nebraskan road for days. Cattle. Crops. Cattle. Crops. More cattle. If I could have rigged up a safe way to aim the bike straight so I could kick my legs up and read a book, I would have done it.
Along the way I met a guy who sold metal pipes and ended up at a BBQ with his friends. One of them was a 59 year-old mechanic that wanted to show me the town later, so we hit the casino and local bars until late in the night. The guy that sold the pipes had a Harley Sportster, and he was the first Latino I have met on this trip that knew where Milwaukee was. He said it was his dream to go to the Harley factory, but he doesn´t have the cash.
Finally, I ended up in Mendoza province, which welcomed me with a sign declaring itself to be the ¨Land of Sun and Good Wine¨ and with a full police inspection of my motorcycle including the traditional request for my fire extinguisher. Mendoza is to Argentina what Napa Valley is to the States, though here the valley sits in the shadow of some Andean peaks that crest 23,000 feet. It´s pretty impressive. Just outside of town I tried to downshift and snapped off my shifter, which was sweet. So I had to roll through city working the clutch with what the Pointer Sisters would describe as a slow hand and an easy touch. Third gear is not the gear that traditionally comes to mind when you´re looking for a smooth start from a dead stop with a heavily loaded bike, but I eventually found a mechanic who made me a new shifter from scrap metal for free. It looks absurd (like a cross between a six iron and a spoon), but it works.
I stayed in Mendoza for a couple of days and toured some wineries. At one of the hostels I met an Indonesian guy from Oregon who rode his old Suzuki down here, and a Texan who rode a bicycle here from Ecuador (and who was almost killed by a strung out shaman in Peru). And I got hardly any sleep last night in a youth hostel because some Belgian guy on the top bunk next to mine was snoring like crazy all night. I nudged him with increasing degrees of malice throughout the night, but he was not to be stirred. He didn´t even even stop when I grabbed somebody´s wet bath towel that was hanging nearby and draped it over his face. Pulling out his pillow so that he hit his head on the wooden frame brought peace for five minutes, but in the end the Belgian was steadfast and I found myself outmatched.
All in all it has been a fine run, and I never got around to writing an update for quite some time with all that was going on, so I apologize if you made it through this rambling tale.
Tomorrow I head off to a national park called the Valley of the Moon about fifty miles from here to do a little hiking. I am hoping that it is somehow connected to the Canyon of the Crescent Moon, in which case one of you might just be getting the ¨cup of a carpenter¨ for Christmas.
- Tom
Good luck on the trivia.

Monday, December 4, 2006


Click to view -

Manifest - 12/4/06

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Link to South America trip pictures

I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving weekend. I finally managed to motivate and get some of the trip photos online, at least the ones up until our extended stay in Bolivia. So if you're bored hit the link here, go to 'View Pictures' and then select 'View as a slideshow' in the column to the right, which is the best way to see them.
- Nate

Sunday, November 26, 2006

¨Here lies Sub-Zero. Now...plain zero!!!¨

Fray Bentos, Uruguay
Greetings, comrades. This E-mail comes to you from the tender arms of Uruguay, which I entered today via a strange road built on top of a hydroelectric dam connecting Uruguay to Argentina. The ¨International Hydroelectric Dam¨ was announced with much pomp in the forms of signs celebrating its construction, signs which presented themselves with a frequency in line with those announcing the speed limit. The latter were largely unnecessary, as the spirit of international cooperation drawn upon in the building of the dam resulted in a sort of faux cobblestone finish on the road, the vibration from which nearly rattled the fillings from my teeth.
Those of you who were following the progress of the Destiny are likely confounded by my present coordinates, thinking that I should be nearer to the southern tip of the continent than I am. Aye, you are correct. The Kentucky Gentleman shares your sentiments, and he was likely displeased when I turned his yokes sharply to starboard and egged him on a northerly course. ¨North, Miss Tessmacher¨, I whispered. For I fell victim to the irresistable siren song of Iguaza Falls, and I was helpless against its charms.
The Iguazu Falls are one of the greatest natural wonders in the world. Snuggled comfortably at the crux of the borders of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, Iguazu draws its name from the indigenous Guarani language ¨y¨, meaning ¨big¨, and ¨guasu¨, which means ¨water¨ (most of you probably speak Guarani, so I apologize for belaboring the obvious). The Guarani weren´t kidding. Upon visiting the falls during her husband´s presidency, Eleanor Roosevelt was rumored to have remarked, ¨Poor Niagara...¨, as the Iguazu Falls are some four times larger than the Niagara Falls.
Alas, I underestimated the distance to Iguazu when I looked at a map, thinking I could make it there in a couple of days. Rather, the trip north turned into a 1200 mile ordeal across roads of varying quality, through a series of intense thunderstorms that seemed to follow me for several hundred miles, and into a heatwave that crested 100 degrees for a few days. It was a trajectory marked by insect-infested rooms (commemorated this evening by the discovery this evening of a dead cockroach in my rain-soaked boot whose death the insect coroner could attribute to drowning, being crushing by my giant Slavic foot, or asphixiation by the stench of a sock I´ve been wearing for ten days), tours of tea plantations and amethyst mines, and a few random encounters - one of which reached its weary end with me sleeping in a trailer full of itinerant construction workers (but not before being taught how to operate a backhoe at 1AM by a kindly Argentinian named Armando and an Irish/Argentinian named John and then being taken to a brothel named Manollo´s that was full of disgusting women and disguised as a restaurant) and one which landed me at a family BBQ. At the latter, I was mistaken as a friend of the family, and only late in the meal was it revealed that I had only known the hostess´s husband´s sister´s husband since the day before (and had met him while operating the backhoe). Regardless, the conversation was good, the meat savory, and the king-size bed at the house comfortable. Indeed, the tradition of Argentinians being generous to a fault has continued - from Rafa (who showed me the best that the country has to offer and always tried to pay for everything) to complete strangers that have showed me every sort of hospitality.
Aside from the Falls, my time in the far north afforded me the opportunity to visit Che Guevarra´s childhood home (the museum´s proprietor refusing to acknowledge my assertions that Señor Gueverra had advocated a nuclear war against the US (he did)...and who wore a sweet beret), tour an incredible set of ruins left behind from the Jesuit missions before the Spanish gave them the boot so they could annihilate a few more natives, and wind up on a tea plantation with the wrong crowd.
In terms of the tea plantation, it played out as follows. I saw a sign on the side of the road saying something or other about a tea factory. At the bottom of the sign, it said: ¨We´ve been waiting for you.¨ As you wish, fancy tea people. And the Kentucky Gentleman turned off into a flower-lined drive to a rather nice estate.
Security at the plantation was more befitting a nuclear arms installation, and the cadre of meaty guards asked all sorts of questions, save for the largest of the group, who merely stood silently about three feet away from me with a solid grasp on his combat shotgun.
One of the questions in the later stages of the interrogation was ¨Are you here for the meeting?¨ I was unsure as to what that meant, so naturally I answered ¨yes¨. Copies of my passport and license now on file, the gate was at last opened, and I sped into the grounds. After parking in front of the main building, I was approached by a man named Walter. Walter - like all the employees of the plantation - was dressed in company monogrammed garb. We´ve all seen company polo shirts and jackets in our day, but I must say that I´ve never seen company jeans...much less company jeans where the company logo is emblazened on the buttcheek. Very professional. Very classy.
Walter welcomed me to the plantation and ushered me over to a group of seven or so people dressed in cripsly tailored suits. I was introduced and asked where I worked, to which I simply replied, ¨Chicago¨. It was honestly close to 100 degrees, so I couldn´t imagine wearing a suit (or maybe I could - after standing up in a Serbian wedding this past summer in non-air conditioned church wearing a three-piece tux). But my head start on these people in the stink department was robust. And clearly I did not fit in, which confuses me more and more every time I think about why they let me hang around so long.
I was dressed in a raggedy grey V-neck shirt I inherited from Neubz when he left, a dusty pair of motorcycle pants with a little blood on the shins from a dead animal I accidentally ran over the day before (disgusting, I know), and as mentioned, I reeked.
My Spanish has gotten a lot better over the course of the trip, but when the conversation turned to growing techniques, current trends in the global tea market, and new developments in agricultural chemistry, I was clearly at a loss. Since I understood very little of what was being said and simply said ¨Si¨ to every question directed at me and laughed, the conversation could well have played out thus:
Man in sweet brown suit: ¨So, looking at global sales trends, it seems that Ceylon tea is experiencing quite a renaissance in your country - particularly in the Northeast. To what do you attribute this phenomenon?¨
Me: ¨Yes, of course.¨ (Having understood nothing, I smile and laugh a little while shaking my head in acknowledgement)
(Awkward silence in the group. People look nervously at one another.)
After about 15 minutes of this, I think somebody realized the mistake, an S.O.S. was placed discreetly by Walter into his walkie-talkie, and two guys in company jeans came to lead me away.
I was taken to what I believe to have been the tourist center, and seated in a small ampitheater with what appeared to be the rest of the riff-raff looking for free samples to watch a company propaganda film. The man sitting next to me was probably about 350 pounds with a ZZ-top style beard and dressed in denim overalls (no monogram). I could picture him choking back a 12 lb pot roast for lunch and perhaps chasing it with a few bratwurst, but could not imagine him sipping daintily on a cup of tea. We were equally out of place as we watched the majestic film, which borrowed its soundtrack heavily from the musical ¨Riverdance¨ and the early '90s film ¨Howards End¨. This I leaned over to tell to the man in overalls, but either Big John Stud did not care or he was simply not familiar with Sir Hopkins´ work.
Perhaps because they felt awkward about putting me in the wrong group at first, I was treated to copious amounts of free tea and something called yerba mate, which is for whatever reason always consumed via a silver straw. They did not give me a silver straw.
And from there I have made it to Uruguay. The police in Argentina have searched the contents of my bike at least eight times at random checkpoints along the way, ostensibly searching for drugs, though I think it is because they are bored. They are corrupt, but lack the audacity and know that - unlike in Central America - extortion by traffic police is not sanctioned/encouraged by the state.
That´s not to say they haven´t tried. I was fined 100 dollars (which was then raised to 150 dollars when I asked for the paper ticket) for passing a broken down semi on a curve (the alternative being...), but they are not apparently willing to risk asking for the money on the spot; they just allude to it. So they said they would send the ticket to my Embassy in Buenos Aires which would ¨get me in a lot of trouble¨. Surprise, surprise. It never happened.
Another creative tactic has been to ask me for my fire extinguisher. As I scarcely had room to pack four pairs of underwear, I obviously have no room for a fire extinguisher. And since about one out of every five hundred people in Latin America on a motorcycle even wears a helmet, I´m guessing they don´t have fire extinguishers either. The first two times I was stopped for this, I refused to pay. The third time, I responded with an equally asinine question: ¨Do you own a bakery?¨ He did not.
I do not have adequate time to reach the southern tip before Christmas, so I will be heading west to Mendoza, the heart of South American wine country settled near the base of the highest peak in both the western and southern hemispheres. If the Kentucky Gentleman can crest the mountain pass, I will finish up in Santiago, Chile, from where I fly home for Christmas and return to in January for the final push south. I´m grabbing a tent (and perhaps a fire extinguisher?) when I go home, and I think I may start growing a mountain man mustache.
- Tom
PS: From now on I will put a movie quote as the title of each E-mail. Anyone that can get three correct in succession without cheating by using the Internet will get a postcard signed by a local celebrity. This title does not count, as it is a gimme.
If you cheat I will lace your postcard with the lethal poison, Black Velvet.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Click to see -

Manifest - 11/15/06

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Hoodwinked By A Fake Plopper

Leprechauns, Hornswagglers, and Fizzywinks!
Greetings from Buenos Aires, Argentina, a city which (according to the cabbies) has the widest city street in the world - 14 lanes. Ah, but the city´s charms go far past the width of it streets, and thus I have been here for over a week.
When I last wrote, I was in wine growing region in the northwest part of the country. From there I rendezvoused with my friend Rafa in Tucuman and we set our compass south for his hometown of La Cumbre, then Cordoba, and finally Buenos Aires.
Tucuman was a rather bland city with little to offer any sort of traveller, though I did have a chance to eat ungodly amounts of meat and familiarize myself with Argentinian cafe culture. The latter consists of stopping for a tiny espresso about three to four times per day. Not being a coffee drinker, the caffeine intake zipped me up like Gary Busse on speed. But the thing I enjoyed most was watching the old men watching the young ladies.
Whereas in the US all men apparently get a small package in the mail on their 70th birthday containing:
1.) A pair of black, knee-high socks be worn only with pleated shorts.
2.) A license to rip gas in elevators.
3.) The title to a 1982 Buick LeSabre.
the Argentinian men come of age at around 65, at which point they are entitled to abandon tact and subtlety in blatant appreciation of the female form in a public setting. The cafe, then, is their playground. I spent a lot of time hanging out with friends of Rafa´s dad (who I found out later was arrested in the 80´s for taking over an airport in a failed coup and tying a Colonel of the Armed Forces to a chair in the control tower with a telephone cord after hitting him in the face with the butt of a rifle...somehow Rafa did not know all the details...that would not be the case if my old man was into shenanigans like that), so that meant trying to find a chair at a sidewalk cafe and introduce it into the perfect half-circle that they would form around one portion of a table so as to have strategic visual access to the most heavily traversed sidewalk. These were well-dressed older men with cool names like Sergio, Gabriel, and Guillermo, though they said little else after I sat down, as the games were underway. When an attractive young woman would enter the horizon, all small talk would end, the elbow nudge would be shared, all men would attain missile lock, and they would shamelessly follow the woman with their eyes until she disappeared from sight, at which point conversation would clumsily resume.
Truth be told, they are still more tactful than most other younger Argentinian men at bars, though that is only when alcohol is involved. In that case, a group of guys openly cheers or claps for each girl that goes by that they like. Sweet style.
But as I said, Tucuman wasn´t much of a tourist paradise, so Rafa and I left as soon as his shady responsibilities moonlighting as a bidder for governmental powdered milk contracts had concluded. From Tucuman we drove to the small, Door County-esque town of La Cumbre, where Rafa grew up. Time there consisted of exploring the small mountains and rivers in the vicinity, hanging out with Rafa´s friends (nearly all of whom live the sweet life in their late 20´s or early 30´s by living with their parents and somehow not working), and celebrating Halloween. Since La Cumbre was for a time a British colony, that holiday remained after the Brits left.
I had no costume, so Rafa´s girlfriend gave me a bag of clothes and told me that she thought they would fit. I went to go put them on and was less than delighted to find a halter top, some sort of burgundy vest that didn´t go past my rib cage, a mini skirt, and a gold wig. We hit a number of clubs before hitting ´´the real party´´ held at a club located in a residential area named Toby´s (and enigmatically owned by one of Rafa´s very entertaining friends who had no job and lived with his parents), which people strangely started to fill as soon as the clock struck 4:30 AM. Not accustomed to the hours of the nightlife and a party that was still rolling at 7 when I left, I started kicking back a number of Speed Unlimited (like a poor man´s Red Bull) and Vodkas. The 80´s rock ballads being strummed up by Lucho (30, unemployed, lives with his parents, very funny, dressed as Flavor Flav) and the tight crowds did not mix well with my out of place doh-see-doh meneuvers, so I headed home as it was getting light outside. In the morning I woke up in my golden wig to learn that that the Speed Unlimited had somehow numbed half of one my fingers. This is making typing somewhat difficult right now.
Oh, I forgot to write about Rafa´s girlfriend. Shortly after arriving in La Cumbre, we went to pick her up. Her name was Desiree, and I must admit that she was very good looking, though that confession will sound strange in a minute. She lived with her parents, but this was obviously par for the course. So we stepped in and her Mom and Dad peppered me with all kinds of strange questions. Later, while she and I were talking alone, we had the following awkward exchange:
Desiree: ¨Wow. So you´re really travelling for a long time. How old are you?¨
Me: 27. (glad she asked because I can never tell how old Latin people are but feel stupid asking since it sounds like such a Spanish textbook type of question) How old are you?
Desiree: 16
Me: (Thinking I didn´t hear right) What?
Desiree: 16
(Awkward silence...doing the math...right...so Rafa is 29...she...is 16...and that means...right...)
Me: Oh...how´s high school?
Rafa assured me later that it was ¨normal¨ in Argentina and that her parents were ¨cool with it¨. Hmmm. Indeed. Long live the true Ponce de Leon.
From La Cumbre we passed through Cordoba and wound up in Buenos Aires, which immediately blew me away due its size. Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world in terms of landmass, yet it only has 38 million inhabitants. Nearly 13 million of those live in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires has been the priciest city of the trip so far, and most of the money I have shelled out has been on food and drink. For the first time on the trip, I truly look forward to every meal. In fact, I had the best steak of my life at a manly restaurant with the Sally name of Cabin of the Lillies.
A friend of Rafa´s came in from DC, so over the course of a few days we did some salsa dancing, played Bingo in a huge casino with a bunch of enthusiastic locals, toured the city, and a bunch of other details that I won´t belabor right now. Sadly, the two most entertaining things to write about are also the most unfortunate for me. First, I was robbed. And, second, I flirted with the possibility of serious personal injury.
The robbery took place in the morning at a small park in one of the three medians that separate the lanes in the 14-lane avenue I referenced earlier. I was reading the paper, enjoying some breakfast, when I suddenly realized that a bird had just pooped in my yogurt and on my leg. I figured this to be revenge for not sharing my donut with the crowd of birds gathered around my feet. At right around this time, a man in his 50´s walked by and motioned to the birds in the tree directly above me. I stood up to survey the breadth of the poop, at which point the man directed me to a cement post a short distance away where he claimed there was water. Near the post a woman in her thirties noticed my leg and offered some of her Kleenex while addressing me in an apologetic tone. I was not in the mood to have people wiping poop off my leg, so I brushed them away. It was on the way back to the hotel that I realized that my camera was not in my pocket.
I also had had a video camera and some cash on me, so they didn´t fleece me completely But I was pretty irritated, and I had evil thoughts of breaking all of that woman´s fingers one by one. Strangely, the more I thought about it, the less upset I got. It´s one thing to be robbed, but to be bamboozled by a three-person (including the deuce squirter in the grassy knoll) squad in an elaborate artificial poop ploy is quite another. I admired their audacity and originality, and, as an aside, I believe that the fake poop recipe involved a spicy mustard.
The brush with personal injury took place at a sort of communications center (mixture of telephone booths for international calls and computers for Internet access) two days later. The place was packed, and the only remaining computer was near the entrance at a small desk.
Sitting down in a chair is a fairly routine practice, but on this day everything went horribly wrong. As I attempted to squeeze into the spot and my left butt cheek touched down on the aged swiveling office chair, something buckled and the chair zipped away with me positioned loosely along its periphery. What stopped it was the 8´ x 8´ storefront window...but it didn´t stop me. It was LOUD, and when I opened my eyes my hands were on the outside sidewalk holding my body up (along with a leg draped over the chair). I was a little scared to turn around for fear of seeing a denim-clad Patrick Swayze looking at me pitifully as he would utter, ¨Oh, Carl...¨. But despite my arms and shoulder being covered in shards of glass, I had not a scratch.
Also strange was the reaction of the other customers and the management. I would like to think that if something like that happened in the US, people would stop what they were doing, women may scream, and those in the immediate vicinity would rush to my aid. Not here. Everyone was so perversely cavalier that you´d think someone fell through that window everyday and my little piece of drama was old hat. ¨What´s that, honey? I didn´t hear you. Oh, the sound? Yeah, some foreign guy fell for the old rickety chair scheme and went through the front window. Sure. So, when´s dinner?¨
As for the girl that worked there, she asked me if I was cut, and nothing else was said until I went to pay for using the Internet. ¨1 peso (33 cents)¨. I said I was sorry about the window, but she had already gone back to reading her magazine.
I am actually no longer in Buenos Aires, as I have been writing this on and off for a few days. Instead, I am in the small town of Azul, south of Buenos Aires on the way to the southern tip. Yesterday I finally got my Ted Danson-bald rear tire replaced, and the shop doubled as a sort of sanctuary/rest stop for motorcycle travellers from all over the world. Last night I did my part to polish off five bottles of wine with two older guys from Cyprus as they jammed out on a guitar called a buziki they brought with them and sang some unusual tunes in their native tongue. The sleeping area was already booked up when I got there, so I ended up sleeping in a garage amidst about 25 motorcycles. And thank God for the wine, as it was a little brisk and the owner dug up a somewhat unusual Argentinian military cot from the ´20s for me to sleep on.
The march to the south continues...
- Tom

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Max Dugan Returns

Cafayate, Argentina 10-26
It has been a long, long time since my words rang clear from the belfry. But glory of glories, the Destiny has been preserved, and Nate is recovering nicely in the USA.
I think that the last time an update went out was from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, right around the time that a suspicious Bolivian with the very unBolivian name of Jean Denis Middagh Kauffman decided to take out Neubz with a white Toyota Helix pickup. Oh, how times have changed.
A lot of people called Bolivia to offer moral support to the Neubz; heck, a few people even braved the ridiculously high seas of international postage to whisk south a few items to help our beloved cripple wile away the days. Whoever sent the 500 page book titled ¨Civil War: Army vs Navy - A History of the Great American Football Rivalry¨, know this: that is either the funniest or the most random thing I have ever seen sent across the world...depending upon your motive. To people like this we give our thanks.
The weeks spent in Santa Cruz were excruciatingly boring. That, of course, is from my point of view. I could get up and walk around; at the very least I could sleep on my side. Neubz, on the other hand, took keeping it real to a heretofore unattained level. After a breakneck pace and heaps of crazy times on the way down, both of us found ourselves sedentarily watching more television over the course of two and a half weeks than we had watched during the last two and a half years. The WB Network was Neubz´s rock and his shepherd, and I can´t count a day that I didn´t walk in to his room and have the following conversation:
Me: What are you watching?
Neubz: ¨The Gilmore Girls¨.
Me: Sweet.
It didn´t hurt that ¨The Gilmore Girls¨ was on three times a day, but it didn´t stop Neubz from taking in all three...plus ¨ER¨...plus ¨Supernatural¨...plus ¨OC¨...plus ¨Everwood¨...plus at least one Steven Seagal flick per day (which invariably co-starred DMX). In spite of his consumption of TV, The Neubz wanted so much excruciating physical therapy that one therapist didn´t cut the mustard anymore and a second was recruited.
In the beginning the dainty ladies couldn´t hoist his beastly German limb aloft for the exercises, so I had to grasp his stinky foot or the undercarriage of his knee during repetitions. But the leg amazingly got stronger after just a few days, and my services in that department were no longer necessary. This was a true relief, as The Neubz did not wear pants for the better part of three weeks, and his wispy hospital gown treated both the therapists and me to inappropriate amounts of giblets au naturale.
A lot of people asked what we we actually did during our time in Santa Cruz, and most would be disappointed to here how little actually transpired. Most of the time was spent watching pirated movies that I would purchase for a dollar in the streets, reading books, swimming in the poorly maintained pool at my hotel with 85 year-old women sitting around its rim, walking around talking to street vendors, visiting the US Consulate, and making food runs when the hospital meals ran sour (and they often did). Other than that I just hung out with The Neubz a lot and worked out the many kinks with the payment for his medical services and visa complications. And of course there was the twist of irony in representing Lawyer Neubz in court...and avoiding The Colonel...but I´ll get to that in a second.
After flying to Santa Cruz in the Beachcraft Bonanza with Neubz, I had him transferred from Hospital San Juan de Dios to a legitimate hospital (ie not 12 beds to a room with no fan where the doctor says: ¨So we don´t have much along the lines of medicine here. Are you the one that will be running to the pharmacies to fill his prescriptions for blood thinners and antibiotics?¨ Once he was on his way to an upscale Wetsern-style clinic, I had to hop a tasty 10-hour night bus back to San Ignacio de Velasco to resolve the legal quagmire left in the wake of the accident. Having worked for a pharmaceutical company, I was not short on sleeping pills, but the road was as crappy on a hot bus as it was on a motorcycle, and I slept not a wink.
But at last I arrived, and the next two days were spent giving statements to the police, strategizing with an attorney, and then serving as Neubz´s legal representation in court. Only this was not what you imagine a courtroom to be. It was me, the other driver, and the ¨Fiscal¨, or Public Prosecutor (sort of a Judge Dredd-type position: judge, jury, and executioner), who was professionally dressed in...not a wig and black robe...but an LA Lakers T-shirt and highwaters jeans. ¨All right, you guys talk. I´ll be right back.¨ And then he put down his M&Ms and stepped outside for a smoke.
I felt like I was in marriage counseling, except that the person in the chair next to me was a 45 year-old man with a bad mustache and stained teeth. His breathing was erratic and he was sweating profusely. We talked for two hours, though it couldn´t have been more obvious that the accident was his fault. Ah, but the Bolivian justice system is a mysterious thing. If Neubz and I were to press too hard, some money could be passed along to some police and legal officials and magically statements would be altered, accident photos would disappear, and - just like that - the accident would be our fault. The most important thing was obviously for Neubz to be able to leave the country when he wanted without being detained at the border, so I´m sure he slept soundly knowing that a Polish goon with suspect Spanish skills was serving as his legal counsel.
All things considered, things ended fairly well. The prosecutor decided that the other driver´s insurance would pay $3000 (the maximum) to Neubz to help with his medical bills, and the brisk wheels of justice would dole out a verdict in a mere six months. Never ye mind that the insurance company never paid a cent, but Neubz was able to leave Bolivia unmolested, and fortunately we had taken out travel insurance before we left. I believe that somewhere in the policy it said that when the insured party pays a $75 premium and the insurance company pays $14K (and counting), that qualifies in insurance jargon as the insurer ¨singing the blues¨.
As I referenced earlier, a solid portion of our time in Santa Cruz was spent avoiding The Colonel. While I was in San Ignacio preparing to represent Neubz, I wined and dined a number of employees at the Public Prosecutor´s office. This practice earned me an earful from the other driver´s attorney, but I didn´t view the legal system in Bolivia as being particularly virtuous, so I didn´t take his insults to heart.
One of the guys I took out to lunch was a man named Hugo. He was bald but had a majestic mustache, and he recommended that I contact a friend of his in the US Armed Forces that was currently residing in Santa Cruz. To keep myself from having my throat cut while I sleep, I will continue to refer to this man simply as The Colonel.
Within about ten minutes of me placing the call, The Colonel materialized in Neubz´s hospital room. He was around 45 years old, stood about 5'8¨, was of a medium build, and had a lazy eye that kept you on edge because you never knew where he was looking. He wasted no time intimidating the staff and assuring them that there would be repercussions if Neubz was harmed or stolen from. These threats, though they undoubtedly spooked out the nurses, did nothing to stop the sixty or so (no exaggeration) visits to the room every day by various members of the medical personnel. I´m sure that this absolute lack of privacy was sweet ambrosia to The Neubz, who could never sleep past 6AM and was routinely interrupted while trying to pee into a jug.
I arrived back in Santa Cruz after traversing the same choice roads that had taken us 10 hours from the city, and I had the good fortune of having my chain snap in half in the middle of a jungle stretch so rich in insects that I shouted out all sorts of rabid profanity into the 100 degree sky. I now have all the heavy tools and spare parts that were once shared between the two bikes in my metal boxes, so it was a true treat trying desperately to deadlift the beastly bike for 25 minutes from its side after I fixed the chain.
But I rolled into the hospital that night a sweaty mess to find a fairly content Neubz lounging in his bed, watching the WB, and throwing back a plate of food half populated by beets. Still in the habit of cheap accomodations, I found a place about ten blocks away for $4.50 where I could park my motorcycle in the carpeted lobby in front of the television that everyone was watching. Wondering why the area in front of my door smelled so strongly of perfume, I saw the door next to mine open and an attractive young girl in a shiny blue leotard and tall platform shoes emerge. My guess? She was heading off to work, and you don´t dress like that if you´re a computer programmer. My room itself did not smell like perfume, and this I ascribed to the floaters I discovered in the toilet. Neubz´s parents kindly insisted in the following days that I move to a better hotel, so I moved three more times before settling on the Hotel Asturia, a nice place just about two blocks from Neubz´s hospital - and a short block from the home of The Colonel.
My eyes met The Colonel´s the next morning in Neubz´s room...or at least one of them at a time. Neubz and I were both appreciative of his help and attention. He even brought food to supplement the often unpalatable hospital menu, though Neubz would later confess that the empañadas he dropped off tasted like sand, and he would routinely hide them in the drawer of his nightstand so The Colonel would think that he ate them.
The Colonel had served in both Iraq campaigns, Afghanistan, Mogadishu, Israel, Southeast Asia, Northern Africa, and Central America. Afghanistan he described as ¨a good place to let off steam¨. He probably did missions in other parts of the world that I am not remembering. But one thing was clear: he was intense. His wartime mentality was not something he could turn off at will, so our conversations somehow always centered around war and killing. I have no experience in either department, so as you can imagine, times spent at the bar were a true delight.
(After talking about war for three hours in a bar...I tried to change the subject to anything from his favorite foods to what happened to Chevy Chase)
The Colonel: ¨My first kill was with a knife. It was dark, and the enemy had stormed the trench - ¨
Me: ¨Boy, this Guinness is pretty tasty. What do you think of the beer down here?¨
The Colonel: ¨There was no room for guns, so it came down to who wanted it most. It was pretty grisly, and I remember that I couldn´t wash the blood off my hands for days.¨
Me: ¨How about that?¨
Approximately 50% of his sentences started with ¨If the shit hits the fan...¨, so you can probably guess that we didn´t spend a lot of time discussing Edgar Allen Poe or advances in technology. His eyes glowed when he talked about the possibility of civil war in Bolivia, and as he drank more beer, he assured me with more and more frequency, ¨Trust me. You don´t want to see a war here. Because the next time you see me I´m going to be in uniform, and things are going to get bad.¨ I couldn´t help but wonder if they had based Schwartzenegger´s character, John Matrix, in the film ¨Commando¨ off this guy.
In the event of a war, he comforted me a couple of days later:
The Colonel: ¨I´m not going to stand by and leave your buddy in the hospital. He´ll be on a night convoy out of the country. He´ll be safe, I promise you that. There are ways through the jungle. There are ways.¨
(Then pointing to Neubz´s second-story hospital window)
The Colonel: ¨Go ahead. Look out that window. What do you see?¨
Me: ¨Well, there´s a Spanish tile roof, and a bunch of palm - ¨
The Colonel: ¨I see an escape route. I´d have to blow a hole through the wall, sure. But that can be arranged. My question for you is this: Are you willing to do what it takes?¨
Me: ¨What it takes?¨
The Colonel: ¨I´d like you to stop by the house tomorrow. It would be best for you to familiarize yourself with some weaponry, the RPG (Rocket-Propelled Grenade Launcher). You´re going to need to defend the perimeter.¨
At that moment, I wrote him off as batshit insane. Neubz, it turns out, had done this days earlier. And from that point forward, I had to take alternate routes to avoid passing near his house, where through the open door to the garage, I´d sometimes see him sitting at a picnic table in his boxers, smoking. Or was he doing what he told me he was sent here to do, ¨gather intel¨? I don´t know, but my favorite restaurant in the city (¨Le Michaelangelo¨) was about 50 feet from his house, and I risked it every night by going there for dinner. It´s crazy what you´ll chance for delicious Italian food served by a man in an all-white suit that looks like a chubbier version of Ricardo Montalban.
Neubz made good progress in physical therapy, and his therapists always told me that he pushed himself too much. But he was hungry to get out of that bed, and the effort paid dividends. The last night before he left, he slithered into a wheelchair and I took him down the street to the Italian restaurant for a last supper. This meant going against traffic since the sidewalks were in poor shape and did not have ramps for wheelchairs, but dine we did, and at last I wasn´t the most sloppily dressed guy in the restaurant. That award went to the 3-weeks-without-shaving-but-still-no-visible-mustache Neubz, who was wearing a pair of shorts and an old school pajama top that looked like it had been heisted from the set of ¨Peter Pan¨.
On the morning of the 17th, we took a taxi to the airport, and Neubz ambled onto a plane back to the US. He had shelled out top dollar for a a first-class ticket, and he told me the ride was about as good as it could have been considering the circumstances. And just like that, I was in Bolivia Han Solo...
I had been itching to get out of Santa Cruz for a while, so I was less than pleased to discover my chain had some issues and needed to be replaced before I could leave. I´d say that if you haven´t sought out a part for a large Japanese motorcycle in a poor Latin American country that you haven´t lived, but I think that the experience can be sufficiently summarized in three words: ¨Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!¨ It took all day.
So the next day, I loaded up and headed south. In light of the accident, I changed the route to head into Argentina instead of east into Brazil in hopes that I would thus avoid the desolate, dirt roads that had given us problems in the past. The road was in good shape, and I made haste, making it to Argentina in just two days.
The border crossing was taxing as usual, and it turns out that my customs form for the bike was expired by five days. The guy working the booth suggested that I find a lawyer. And so began about three and a half hours of sob stories, threats to call the American Embassy, gifts of chocolate, and a photo session of the accident. Somehow they crumbled, papers were stamped, and Argentina was mine.
Crossing into Argentina was like leaving Latin America and entering Europe. Almost immediately the changes became evident. The architecture, people, and roads were more European. Some people were as white as me, and for the first time in a long time, I saw guys that were taller than me. In short, I didn´t stick out as bad anymore.
The country is more expensive, but everything feels a lot less like the 3rd world. The beef has lived up to its reputation as the best in the world, and a number of Argentinians have told me that ¨a meal without meat is not a meal at all¨. Good, too, is the wine, and I have been quite cosy with the bottle this week.
French cars are king here, so I suddenly found myself in a sea of Renaults, Peugeots, and Citroens. This is a contrast to Bolivia, where nearly everyone drove a small Toyota (or piled en masse into the beds of old pickups), and especially in relation to Peru, where there was a mix of Toyotas and an inexplicable assortment of monstrous 1970´s US sedans. Ford Galaxies, Chevy Novas, and Dodge Chargers roamed the streets. I don´t know how they footed the bill when gas was $5/gallon and those behemoths probably bring home a crisp 8 mpg, but if the ¨Dukes of Hazzard¨ franchise is per chance resurrected, more than one Peruvian will cash in on Hollywood´s decision.
Of particular popularity here is the Renault Express, a sort of barebones, small delivery pickup truck with a permanent cap over the bed. It almost brought a tear to my eye to see it, as that was the same car I bought in Barcelona four years ago that I drove/slept in across Europe all the way to Russia for six months with my friend Jon Rebholz (whose feet smelled worse that Neubz´s) and Andy Binder, the latter of whom slept in a hammock that dangled about 8 inches from my face at night. A shrewd businessman even then, we sold/traded the Renault to an engineer in Estonia for six warm beers. This time around, Neubz and I have expertly pawned away two motorcycles. The first was a lemon motorcycle off of EBay (before getting our current bikes) that we bought for $800 and turned around and sold for $50 to my friend, Nick LeRoy, for a tidy profit of... . The second was Neubz´s bike, which I am currently negotiating the sale of to a Bolivian cabbie via E-mail for $200. Like I say, shrewd business sense.
All in all, I have been in Argentina for six days. I spent one day travelling, three days in Tucumán with my friend Rafa, and two days in wine country, which is where I am now. In actuality, I never knew Rafa until this week. As it turns out, he worked for the same marketing company that I worked for in Chicago a few years back driving the same Hershey Kissmobile around the US.
He lived in Alaska for eight years, so his English is perfect, and he has introduced me to the Argentinian club culture. I hate clubs, but the women are so attractive here that gawking kinds of takes away some of the sting inflicted by the awful electronic music and maddening bass beats. Everybody stays out until at least five every night. At first I thought they were superhuman, but then I learned that people take a nap for a few hours before they go out, and unlike the US, people don´t really booze it up big time when they go out. People have a drink or two, but nobody that I saw pushed the envelope.
I am a horrible dancer, and it doesn´t help that the only clothes I have are a bunch of polyester or nylon outdoorsy shirts and pants. That, and the fact that the only footwear I have besides my dusty boots is a pair of hiking sandals that hold stench like a fart in a mason jar. But I don´t feel too bad since all the Argentinian guys wear tight pants, have shirts buttoned down to the sternum, and - most importantly - LOVE the Euromullet.
Rafa had to do some work this week, so I took off and currently am in the wine growing region in the northwest part of the country. I have toured enough wineries (and goat cheese farms) and tasted enough wine to keep me sated until I get to the better wineries in the south on the border with Chile. Unlike Napa or Sonoma Valley, there is no charge for tasting here, and top-notch bottles at the wineries range from $2-8. Unwisely I purchased three bottles and stashed them in what little room exists in the ammo cans on the bikes. Nevertheless, it feels good to know that if I need to lighten the load that I can drink the cargo, which is more than I can say for the torque wrench or air filter cleaner.
From here I am heading back to Tucumán to meet up with Rafa before heading south to Cordoba (where Che Guevara spent a good portion of his childhood) to whoop it up with what will probably be one of the few groups of people celebrating Halloween in South America. My costume: an Argentinian...so I am on the prowl for hair extensions and tight jeans. After that we´ll be heading to Buenos Aires and then I will be flailing south by myself to do a lot of hiking and hopefully find a boat to Antarctica.
- Tom
PS: Neubz is back in the US. I don´t know his cell phone number off hand, but the number for the house is 414-427-6461. Give the young lad a call. He´s on the mend, but still can´t walk and ¨The Gilmore Girls¨ is only on once a day back in the States. He needs to pass the other 23 hours somehow.

Monday, October 2, 2006

The End of the Road For Neubz

The following is transcribed from the pen of Neubz...
Hello, all.
As some of you may have heard, Tom and I have hit a little hitch in our travels. Although generally this is not the type of material that I feel is appropriate for casual Internet dissemination, I plan on recounting the story in its entirety here, primarily so that I can let this episode begin to fade into the past and not be forced to reface these memories every few days when I see you all in person.
That being said, the short story is this: I´ve been in a bad motorcycle crash in Bolivia. My left leg is badly broken and I´ve had three surgeries thus far to put it back together. I am laid up in a hospital in the city of Santa Cruz and it looks like I will be stuck here until I can bend my leg in such a way that will allow it to be fit onto a commercial airliner.
For those of you that want the full gory story, read on. But you´ve been warned...
Last week found Tom and I continuing to head east across Bolivia. We were finally descending out of the Andes for good, and the last stretch of mountainous roads were made all the more hazardous by stretches of pavement washed out by mountain rockslides. While I was crossing one such stretch, my bike an extraordinarily large bump in the pavement. Cruising at around 45 mph, suddenly my fuel tank was stuck up in my chest and my seat fell away behind me. I stood up on the foot pegs and let the bike coast to a stop. What happened was that two of the crucial bolts that holds the subframe of the bike together had sheared off from the constant jarring of the heavy load. Tom and I had even anticipated this, and before the trip had replaced the stock bolts with hardened ones. It was clearly not successful.
What followed was actually an amusing story. We spent several hours trying to flag down a truck to transport the bike, and when darkness came we were forced to negotiate lodging in the little indigenous village near our spot. When a powerful thunderstorm hit that night, Tom and I found ourselves both crammed into a three-foot wide couch (no exaggeration) hiding from the waves of rain that were blowing in where there should have been walls. The next day we managed to put the bike together with our spare parts, and upon reaching the city of Santa Cruz, we hired some machinists to drill out the existing 8mm holes and thread them for some hefty 10mm bolts. And onward we went.
We soon found ourselves in the Bolivian boondocks, heading east to Brazila along some semi-paved and then eventually dirt roads. The weather was hot again now that we were out of the mountains and into the thick, and the bugs were out in force. There was plenty of dirt in the air, and this day I was riding behind Tom, and my face showed it.
After crossing through the town of San Ignacio, we headed out into what seemed to be a particularly remote stretch. There were few cars anywhere. At one point we saw and SUV heading toward us in the oncoming lane, kicking up clouds of red dust. We both moved to the right side of the lane and Tom roared past. I followed about 100 yards or so behind going around 40-45. As I was passing SUV #1, I looked up ahead through the dust and saw not more than 20 feet ahead of me another SUV heading towards me in my lane. My only thought: Oh, no.
Suddenly I had the sensation of flying through the air: feet above head, head above feet, and then repeats itself all over again. I finally fell to the Earth on my left side, my helmet and Kevlar armored jacket easily took the brunt of the fall. I wiggled my head, my hands, and my feet. Thank God they all responded. I rolled myself over with my left arm. Although sore, it was working with me. My left leg, well that´s another story.
I saw the wheels of Tom´s bike roll past my view. He got off, shouted a few choice words at the other driver, and came over to check me out. I told him I thought my left leg was broken, and that he was going to have to cut my motorcycle pants off to examine the situation. Motorcycle pants are not made to cut easily but when he finally knifed his way through them, Tom informed me that I had a compound fracture in my lower leg - the broken bone was protruding through the skin. I asked him to clean the wound, and as he went to work with the iodine I was rewarded with the most intense shot of pain I have ever experienced.
About 1/2 hour after the crash, a medic arrived from a neighboring town. He found me laying with a sun cap over my face trying to hide from both the sun and the merciless swarms of bugs. He tourniquetted the leg with a rubber cord and gave me a much appreciated jab of morphine. An ambulance arrived from San Ignacio about 1 1/2 hours after the accident. I had to drag my broken leg onto their stretcher, and enjoyed an hour-long tour of every pothole on the way to the hospital.
The hospital at San Ignacio is not exactly an ¨ER¨-style emergency treatment facility. As I was wheeled in I was sweating profusely and gasping for breath. Someone finally stuck an oxygen source in my nose. The wound continued to bleed. They wanted to take extensive X-rays, so they wheeled me to appropraite room. I had to climb from the gurney to the table, a horribly painful experience when dragging a shattered leg behind you. Once on the table, I looked down at the floor and saw a pool of my own blood. The gurney had the same decoration. The downfall of the X-ray machine was that it did not move. They wanted to take head to toe X-rays, and for each one I had to slide myself down the table. This was made easier by the pool of blead and sweat that was beginning to collect on the table. Just when I thought I was done, the X-ray tech would wrench my leg into a previously untried angle, and the pain would set new records.
I was wheeled back into a different room. My hands were ghostly white and wrinkled from all the sweat. They took my blood pressure - 80 over 60. ¨I think I need blood.¨ ¨There is no blood.¨ My God, am I going to bleed to death here? Finally they tell me that they have to operate, that I have a severed artery in my leg. They wheel me to the OR and have me climb onto the table. There is no general anesthesia. ¨Here, sit up.¨ I feel a needle begin to probe for my spinal cord, but all the remaining blood rushes out of my head and I pass out...
I feel a slap and come to a few seconds later. Where am I? Who are all these people in masks? Then it comes rushing back to me: Ah, I´m back in this hell. They tell me to lay down. I do as instructed and pass out again.
I come to and my leg is wrapped in a soft cast. Surgery #1 stopped much of the bleeding. However, I am informed that it could get worse at any time. Tom drives to the dirt airfield to find a plane. It´s either an 10-hour drive or a one-hour flight to Santa Cruz. Tom finds what he later tells me is a 1978 Beachcraft Bonanza with a bearded pilot named Juan Pablo. Tom, a young doctor, and I pile into the rickety craft along with the pilot. Even fitting the four of us is a stretch. Soon I am being wheeled into a big hospital in Santa Cruz. For the past day I´d been wondering why my rear has been hurting so much. I guess that it is because I have been strapped to a wooden board for much of the past couple days. However, after consulting with the surgeon he found, Tom comes in to deliver the good news. In addition to the three breaks in my lower leg, my hip is severely broken as well. We schedule two surgeries over the next two days: #2 will repair the lower leg and #3 the hip. My leg will be a hodgepodge of pins, plates, and screws.
It is now two days since the surgeries have been completed. I haven´t moved from the bed, nor am I planning on it anytime soon. The surgeon characterized the damage to my hip as ¨massive trauma¨. My parents and I are looking at ways to get me home and have my leg looked at by a specialist in the US. This may involve trying to get a first-class seat or something where I don´t have to completely bend my leg. We´re not sure and that´s at least a couple of weeks off. Aside from that, I have international travel insurance which will pick up the medical costs, and Tom and I have been the recipient of numerous visits from a Colonel in the U.S. Special Forces who has assured our safety if the Bolivian political situation continues to deteriorate towards civil war.
As for me, I am in good spirits, although bored and anxious to get home and learn to walk again. It is easy to reach me by phone in the hospital, so if anyone wants to call I would greatly appreciate hearing a voice or two from home. A great thanks to those of you that have called already. It has meant a lot to me.
Tom has the number here and has said that he will list it. Just ask for the gringo in room 212. They know. This will be the last update from me, so don´t take any further silence from me as an indication that I have died. I also do not have Internet access from my bed, so the only way to reach me is by phone or through Tom. Also, my parents´ E-mail address is jpneubs@gmail.com. Thanks to those who have followed along and I´ll see you soon.
- Nate
Note from the scribe...
Hello, readers. Alas, we have come to an unfortunate end here in South America. We made it over 11,000 miles over roads of continually deteriorating quality. In all of our preparations, we never concocted a contingency plan for a short guy with a mustache that thought it would be a good idea to pass another truck on a narrow, dusty dirt road when he couldn´t see well enough to do so. It has been a hellish week, and there was a point at which I thought I might lose the Neubz...the point at which there was an impossible amount of blood in X-ray rooms, ambulance floors, my hands and clothes, and the only the blood available in a jungle town to replace it and lift his sagging blood pressure was my own slow-roasted Polish blend. But the Neubz is a truly tough and resillient cat. I don´t think that I can think of anyone that would have faced a terrible situation like this as calmly as he did, and I respect him greatly for it. Even with a bone jutting through his flesh as he lay on a dusty road with no one else in sight, he was cool-headed, logical, and resourceful.
I don´t think that I´ll ever forget the sound that he made when I cleaned his wound with iodine, but if he could somehow recreate it in a recording studio, I think that the makers of A-1 Bold BBQ sauce would be very interested in it for a commercial of some kind. It went a little something like this: ¨Hoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!! Don´t do THAT again!¨
Many of you have asked if there is something you can do to help. I don´t think anyone will be hopping on a plane to deliver a singing telegram, but I do have a few suggestions:
1.) Give him a call. He lays in a room coffin-style watching Telemundo and the Spanish version of ¨Mortal Kombat¨ most of the time. Any words of encouragement would be helpful. The telephone number (assuming that you are calling from the US) is 001-591-3-336-2211, 591 being the country code for Bolivia and 3 being the area code for Santa Cruz. The person that answers will speak Spanish, but all you have to do is keep saying Neuberger and gringo. They´ll figure it out. And he is in room 212, or dos see-yen-to dough-say.
It may well be expensive to call normally from the US. I recommend pooling together with other people for a calling card. Nobel.com is the website I have always used for calling other countries. You´ll get the access number and code via E-mail so you can share with others. For 20 bucks you get over 4 hours to Bolivia. They also have one for 10 and possibly for five. Let me know if you have questions.
2.) Send him a piece of mail...even a poster of Siegfried and Roy for his blank walls. His address is:
Centro Medico Foianini
Señor Nathan Neuberger
Cuarto 212
Calle Chuquisaca 737
Santa Cruz, Bolivia 5872
3.) I will be printing out posts on the Steerage Class Forum section of the www.themanifestdestiny.org website, so you can put your well wishes there and I will deliver them to the hospital.
As for me, I am staying at a hotel about three blocks from the hospital and playing food delivery man. I´ll be here until Neubz is safe and on a plane, and then will be continuing solo towards the southern tip of the continent on the one remaining motorcycle, Aqua Sips. I will not be going to Brazil or Paraguay so as to avoid some of the dirt roads. Updates will resume in my saddened Neubz-less adventure at that time.
Thank you all for any moral support you can lend to my gimpy comrade while he is down and out.
- Tom