Back and Forth
Things Lost in Translation
An e-mail home:
Hi Mum. All is well. Bike got fixed. Crossed the border with the guys. Organised to meet Nate back in Mancora though. Will leave the bike in Ecuador then bus back to Peru for our catch up. More later. Love C.
After a few days decompressing after the accident in Mancora, I get a one hour ride back to the mechanic’s to check on Aroha’s progress clinging to the rear pillion of Paul’s bike, an absolutely nerve-racking experience white-knuckled the whole way, trying not to fall off the back with every jerky gear change. And the great news is that Aroha is actually ready to ride away, particularly good news as I won’t have to endure another lift on the back of Paul’s goddamn bike. There’re still plenty of pieces missing from the crash and no windshield and I feel like I am wheeling her out of hospital in order to ride home gently for the recovery. We get back to the beach and it’s clear there’s healing yet to be done for both of us.
Our mate Fernando rides up from Lima and we head up the Pan-American highway as a 4-ship for border crossing number three into Ecuador and I get through fine, but all the while silently Jedi-willing the customs Officer to not ask any questions about my paperwork.
The first destination in Ecuador is Cuenca, one of the most European looking cities I’ve seen outside of Europe with its stunning colonial architecture, beautiful cathedrals and squares - a real treat. Ecuador, you’ve hit early runs on the board with this stunner. And we even find a great hotel where the kindly owner lady allows us to ride straight through the lobby and dining room to park all 4 bikes out in the lobby next to the pool table.
Right. Fix-up Aroha time. I mission across town in taxis here and there following the usual trail of breadcrumbs when looking for very specific bike parts in a foreign city; sorry we don’t stock for that model - go here, sorry we don’t stock those parts - go here, until eventually I get to a motocross store where the owner speaks good English and he’s straight onto the phone ringing around town trying to help me out. Next thing you know he’s grabbing his bike-keys let’s go I know a place, I’ll give you a ride on the back of my Yamaha Roadster. After my shady experience on the back of Doc Paul's bike I'm thinking, hmmmmm I’m not so sure in my ‘saftey’ cotton shirt and ‘safety’ sunglasses. But I’m grateful for the guy's help, so I'm like, okay guy but go easy alright I've only just had an accident. Should have listened to my intuition. Next thing we are absolutely TEARING our way through the streets of Cuenca on this roadster with zero design consideration for pillion passengers, all the way up the gearbox and all the way back down the gearbox with the taste of pure fear in my mouth and cold sweat everywhere. It's the most frightened I've ever been, and I've spent 7 months in Afghanistan.
After a few bike stores that turn out fruitless there’s just one more place to check out at the guy’s own mechanic but it’s kind of far. Shit. What do I do here? Do you look a gift-horse in the mouth when he’s taking time out of his day to ride you around town on his bike....? But what if that gift-horse is a reckless bucking bronco that could scrape you all over the pavement at 120 km/hr? Okay, okay fuck-it lets go to this one last place. Just a few moments later I am desperate for this to stop and making solemn promises that I will never, ever, ride pillion like this again. I honestly don't know how other people do it.
Finally we make it to the mechanics and success! A real motorcycle-yard full of every type of bike being worked on including my very model and I arrange to drop Aroha off later in the day for the necessary patch-up work. With great-outcome-in-hand my guy offers me a lift back to my hotel but I laughingly-high-five-him saying thanks heaps bro but I’m catching a taxi back home and keeping that promise I just made to my creator or whoever just delivered me from a nightmare. Two days later I have all the bits and pieces I need for Aroha installed including a windshield sourced from another type of bike and she’s purring away like nothing ever happened.
And this is the part of the journey where me and the guys have to part company. Having been looking forward to my own space again but having loved being part of this crew the morning they load and head north without me, the first time I've been alone in over a month plus, it's so bittersweet. There are final man-hugs and long last looks as they ride off through the morning commuter traffic and around the stop-sign. And then gone.
And that's when the homesickness kicks in. Out of nowhere, apparently, or maybe it’s when that protective insulating chrysalis riding posse falls away and you dry back out those solo wings. It’s a desperate beauty, raw and transcending. I miss my family and I miss my friends back home and so I sit in a solitary-cafe-corner-and-write. Homesickness brings all your spiritual and emotional planets into alignment eclipsing the ego momentarily, stealing the light of day so you have to find your way by feel reaching out sensitively with fingertips. You make promises to yourself you won’t keep to stay in touch with people better, wanting so intensely to keep hold of this beautiful tragic clarity, to treat everyone better because of it and to go back out into the world a better person.
There & Back
I'm arranging to catch up with a friend of mine who's flying into Lima and busing up into Ecuador to teach English at an orphanage there. Emails bouncing between us eventually result in arranging to meet back at the beach in Mancora, Peru. Which is totally fine by me, I loved it there, but I’m not tempting the customs-paperwork-gods by exiting Ecuador/entering Peru again and a few days later running the reverse-gauntlet so I think I'll just find a place to leave Aroha on this side of the Ecuador border, save all the customs fuss, and short-bus-ride the rest.
But I bail south out of Cuenca and instantly stress over finding a place to store the bike. How the hell do you find somewhere safe enough? I pull into one town on the route to the border but turn right around and back-track-out again as I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up the nearer I get to the town centre. This happens in two more extremely-ratty-looking-towns even closer to the border. I ask at one hotel about bike-storage for a week and the owner lady looks at me like the suspect-smuggling-gringo that I feel like I am so I hop back on and ride off in a squeal of stress and how-the-hell-is-this-one-going-to-work-out. With trust, like it always does.
Now I am literally IN the border, the town that straddles Ecuador and Peru and okay here’s a hotel sign, I pull-in and start right on chit-chatting to the owner instantly. Who is totally cool about the plan to leave the bike and all my riding gear for a very small fee and it seems safe-as and convenient-as. I pack-a-bag and bounce my way through customs, again stressing that on their computers will be the note in BOLD associated with my passport number saying "This gringo entered/exited the country last time with a motorbike; All customs officials are to stop him immediately and question him thoroughly in Spanish why he is no-longer with his bike and how this relates to his motorcycle-ownership-papers". Ridiculous. Surprisingly, this doesn’t happen. And before you know it I crash my bag on the floor of the hotel back in Mancora and it's great to be back at this place, grab a burger and a beer and drift off with a smile on my face at how things will insist on working out despite your incessant, trivial, little worrying over them. A lesson I fear I am doomed to repeat.