In a word, you’d be hard pressed to call the preface to My South American Adventure much less than preparation-perfect. Ups and downs and lessons to draw my attention toward the realities of life on the open road, and the uncertainty I would have to deal with there. The dominant issue of course was the miraculous obtaining of a Full (unrestricted) New Zealand motorcycle license, way inside of the prescribed period it normally takes to obtain and progress your way from Learner's, to Restricted, to Full motorcycle license. And so the preface is all about how this went down.
If Your Ship Doesn’t Come In Swim Out To It
October 2009, and my initial first suspicion that I had a motorcycle adventure coming my way precipitated in two things; one, obtaining my learner’s motorcycle license, and two, obtaining a 250cc Kawasaki cruiser I named Elle. She was beautiful. An elegant older lady who was always up for it. How could you resist? So being all set to learn the fine art of motorcycle riding I had just one small issue remaining, which was how to trim a 12-month-license-maturation period down to fit inside my departure date for Buenos Aires, set for a few months later in February 2010.
Cut to lengthy nights spent researching options and chasing dead-end online threads about the NZ licensing system. If I didn’t have a license recognised by the countries I’d be riding in overseas then I wouldn't be covered by my travel insurance should I have an accident while riding there. As I was planning on riding a motorcycle around the entire South American continent for the foreseeable future the whole no-license-equals-no-insurance-issue was actually a bit of a showstopper.
But finally a break. As it turns out, if you have a valid international motorcycle license then you can apply through the New Zealand Transit Authority (NZTA) for an exemption to sit your Full-motorcycle test, essentially leapfrogging you completely over the Restricted licensing period directly to the prize. Which is brilliant. And the reason this was so helpful for my case was that I had a Cook Islands Motorcycle License thank you very much from when I was holidaying there earlier that year. So it should have been as simple as filling out the applicable paperwork requesting the exemption and sitting the test and then hey presto pack your bags look out Buenos Aires! It should have been. But not so fast.
The fishhook in the whole scheme was that the NZTA licensing authority also required a written letter from the Cook Island’s Police Department stipulating the details of the motorcycle test I sat. Which seemed reasonable. So I got in touch with the CIPD, that is to say I tried for two weeks to get in touch with them, including phone calls through the NZ High Commission in Rarotonga, faxed messages, all to very little gain. It seems that you have to have sat the official test with the Cook Islands Police in order for them to write you that much needed letter, and I got my C.I. license through the typical backdoor-rarotongan-tourist-route of paying the $10 fee at the scooter hire-place. Eventually I just arrived at a point where it was obvious to me that my only shot was to fly back to Rarotonga, ask to re-sit my license test, this time with the actual Police, not scooter-Bob, and then just hope that I could convince whoever the Licensing Officer was to write me the required paperwork. It was a bit of a long shot. But it was my only shot. And the whole adventure of travel for me has always been about intentionally stepping-out-in-Faith. So I delayed my departure to South America by a couple of weeks, booked a three day round-trip to Rarotonga and braced myself for the coming detour.
The Cook Islands Chronicles
I arrived in Rarotonga and headed straight to the Police Station in the hot-and-sweaty-morning where I met the Licensing Officer on the front desk. A kindly looking lady I think, professional, compassionate. Who informed me straight there was simply no way she was going to write me the letter I needed. None. Some had already tried this backdoor licensing pathway before me you see, like I really was the first, and it appeared we had an incorruptible bastion of the local gendarmerie on our hands. Oh. Ok. "Well, if it’s all the same to you I’ve come all this way I’d like to re-sit my motorcycle test anyway". Go ahead and pay the money and sit it she informs me, I’m still not writing you the goddamn letter. Fine. So I go ahead and sit this 2-minute scooter test involving a stop-sign, a give-way sign and slalom through some cones, and I take a seat inside the Police Station and get myself prepared to wait. How long am I here for again? Three days. Okay well I’ll just sit here patiently for three days and perhaps in time my luck will change. With a little Faith.
Until the Licensing Officer tells me to get the fuck out of her Station. And this is then the point where shits-are-all-trumps and it’s just time for me to just lay-it-all-out on her: “Look lady I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t super important to me, you know, I need this for my dream trip to come true and I am not taking the piss here, I am prepared to wait and be patient, I really do respect your position”. Thanks for all of that she says, now again get the fuck out of my Station. Is my trip round South America on the roaring shanks of a motorcycle finally sunk I think? Maybe, but come back on your last day on the island she says to me in parting, and maybe I’ll have changed my mind. Which is good enough for me.
Three days in Rarotonga. Three days in paradise. Three days to explore the fine line between persistence and obsession. To get in there and explore true acceptance. Because really, at the Zen level, none of this actually matters of course. Letter or no letter, license or no license, and the associated down-stream implications of all of this that I couldn't see right then. The prayer wasn't for one outcome or another, the silent message out to the All was just for the strength to Accept. Whatever.
So it's the final day. I shuffle my way back to the Police Station before the 3pm closing with the feeling that my chances were probably as good as 50/50. I ring the desk bell and out comes my buddy, Mrs. Licensing Officer. Who looks me up and down. And I'm pretty sure I can see the disdain seeping out of her. And she says: "Okay come back in half an hour and I’ll have the letter written for you. See you soon". Holler! I go ride around Avarua for 30 minutes scarcely daring to feel anything or believe anything. Until I get that piece of paper in my hot little hands and ride away from that Police Staion victorious and believing in it, the power of Trust restored.
I got on my 1am departing flight and the feeling was one of gracious Providence. I arrive in Auckland around 04:30am, get on my motorbike, break about all of my learner’s license conditions to ride myself back home in order to pass out to blissful, job-well-done sleep.
But The Job Is Not Quite Done Yet
Having slipped past that gatekeeper I now needed to hope my luck held with the gatekeepers back at the New Zealand licensing people and that the letter from the Cook Islands Police would indeed get me the exemption as advertised online. It was, after all, not much of a motorcycle riding test. So I submitted my application letter and wished it a speedy return on the breeze. And one week goes by. Then two. I took the down-time opportunity to tour around the East Cape by Elle and fell more in Love with my Home, Land, and Sea and got seriously pre-emptively homesick. A good sign I thought. Almost three weeks go by. I make a call to NZTA to chase things up, and, and... yes we have received your application for exemption and Yes an exemption to sit your Full license test has been granted! Wooooooooooo!! Six-shooters firing into the air!! ~Fiesta!!!~
With exemption in hand I booked that Full Motorcycle Test, sit and pass it, pack, sell Elle (I still miss that gracious lady) and my final partying before departure ensues. As luck would have it I win a skydive for having the sexiest skirt on at a backpacker skirt-party while visiting in my home town and skydive out over the town on the gin-clear morning of my departure to my South American adventure. Sometimes. You just get lucky.
“I tore myself away from the safe comfort of certainties through my love for Truth, and Truth rewarded me." Simone de Beauvoir