Honestly, I had no real interest in the town. I wanted to get to Salto but I also didn’t want to spend ages riding from Rivera. Stopping along the way was preferable, and Tacuarembo was convenient. Well, that was one reason. The other is I got to know a pair of (secret) porn stars here in South America, and Tacuarembo was their home town. Curiosity got the better of me. I had to see it.
Tacuarembo is not a pretty town. Or a lively town. Or an exciting town. Well, I suppose parts of it are pretty, like the fountains above, but nothing outstanding or spectacular.
But then I heard about Balneareo Ipora. It’s maybe 8km away and you will know when you arrive. You don’t need a sign. Because it is absolutely beautiful. There’s a massive lake in the middle of the woods with a track around the edge for cars. Follow the track and you eventually get to a hill that overlooks everything and it is a truly gorgeous sight. I found it hard to imagine that earlier in the day I was in a dreary looking town and suddenly I’m in such a stunning location. And there was a dirt bike track just over the hill so I spent some time that afternoon enjoying bikes and bikers, not that I could use my monstrously heavy bike on a dirt bike track but still, it felt good being in a familiar environment.
I still know nothing more about the porn stars though.
Salto was a bit of an oddity for me. It came very highly recommended by others in Uruguay so I expected it to be akin to Rivera. But it was … different. It’s made up of this odd mix of old an new. There’s a portion of the town that’s really nice, around the main plaza. Then there’s the view of Rio Uruguay that serves as the border with Argentina and riding or walking along the river is very scenic at spots. Centro is pretty upbeat too. But those areas aside, it felt as though Salto was mostly forgotten. All the residential areas seemed worse for wear, and what should have been stunning parks were strewn with litter.
It felt like living in two different cities. Take a walk outside my apartment and I was in the nicer part of a ramshackle little town. But walk 10 blocks and suddenly I was in a very active CBD with a touristy river looking all pretty just down the road. But head two streets back into a residential area and it’s the ramshackle little town again.
I did go for a ride to the outskirts of the town. There was a poorly maintained dirt road not too far away and I followed it to the river where I met up with some fisherman who wanted to talk bike. Argentina was right across the river and though Uruguay had been good to me, I wanted to leave. It was time. I’d had enough of the small, flat, farming country and needed to see bigger, better sights.
I needed to head out of the country via Fray Bentos. Mercedes was a town not too far away, so that would be my final stop in Uruguay.
I had difficulty finding reasonably priced accommodation at Melo on AirBnB. I travel, but still work. An internet connection is critical wherever I stay. No internet, no work. No work, no money. No money, no traveling.
After scouting AirBnB for a while, I came across Itaka farm run by Robert. The price was right. It was about 30km from town but I didn’t mind that too much since Robert offered to cook, and it looked just fantastic. And as it turned out, Robert is an amazing cook!
As hosts go, Robert was fantastic. He’s very well traveled, mostly to Spain and France, but he’s now settled in Uruguay. He built the entire farm himself, all styled based on his travels.
He has cows. His dogs are some of the happiest I’ve seen, and he has one sheep that grew up with his dogs and acts like one; always trying to sneak into the house, or jump up to play with visitors.
The farm is in a valley between two hills. The setting is gorgeous and if you’re looking to disconnect from the world, Itaka is the place to go.
Unfortunately I wasn’t looking to disconnect which is where I ran into a problem. The internet connection technically exists, but is so poor it’s effectively useless. And as luck would have it, I urgently needed to finish a piece of work on Monday morning, which is how I ended up sitting with a laptop by the side of the road with a motorbike and backpack, cows in front of me, horses behind, getting very strange looks from passers by. Still, everything was completed so no harm done, and it was an experience to remember.
I had heard that Rivera was one of the more lively Uruguayan towns, largely because it shares a border with Santana Do Livramento in Brazil. I headed there next.
The accommodation was surprisingly cheap. As it turned out, I was staying in Santana Do Livramento (SdL) in Brazil, not Uruguay. But that wasn’t a problem since Rivera and SdL effectively act as one town. There’s an imaginary line running through the city that separates the countries, but visitors are free to move between towns as they please, without the need for passports or border checks.
In the middle picture above, I’m standing with one foot in Brazil and the other in Uruguay.
The idea of two towns acting as one leads to some interesting consequences. You can buy a pie on the Brazilian side of the border really cheaply, then cross the road to the Uruguayan side and pay twice as much for the same thing.
What’s was glaringly obvious however, is the quality of life. Everything on the Uruguayan side of the border is well maintained, smart to look at, clean. Switch to the Brazilian side and it feels like entering a very run down neighbourhood. Things simply did not look as good. Everything was a bit of a mess. The streets were not as clean, the buildings were in various states of disrepair, and initially I suspected I made a very poor choice of accommodation since judging by looks alone, I thought I was in a very dangerous neighbourhood. But I was assured the area was safe and that’s just how things looked in SdL. That seemed to be the case since nobody looked fearful, it was common to see people walking around alone at night, all signs of relative safety.
It was an interesting experience, crossing countries on a whim, seeing the differences in language, culture, and living conditions, especially when many of these differences manifested in the space of two or three city blocks. Rivera and SdL are both very lively places by Uruguay standards. I understand why people like it so much. And yes it’s tacky, but I stood with my feet in different countries!
The plan is to travel around South America. Montevideo, Uruguay, was my first stop, primarily so my bike (later named Rodriguez), would have a safe landing. Uruguay has a reputation for low corruption and safety. But those details are covered here.
Punta Del Este
Punta Del Este was next on the list. I spent two weeks there in the off season. It felt like living in a ghost town. Most shops were closed, some even boarded up. Traffic lights on the main road were turned off. I stayed about two blocks from the harbour that was filled with luxury yachts, almost none of which were used. Empty luxury hotels towered over the empty empty beachfront. Yet the locals insist the town is a thriving hub of activity from November to around March. I’ll take their word for it.
The town is superbly maintained. It has all the trappings that attract tourists. Fine dining, entertainment, shopping, are found everywhere. The beach spans the length of the town and though empty when I visited, I imagine it is immensely popular in warmer weather.
Winter, unfortunately is not the ideal time of year for a town like Punta Del Este. The combination of the cold, rain, and heavy winds make for a miserable off-season climate.
Maldonado is one town over, about a 15 minute drive. It is neither as stylish or luxurious as Punta Del Este, and is where the workers of Punta Del Este live. I took a ride through the town and despite it being not as fancy, it felt less fake. It felt like a town where people lived, not just a town people visited.
Punta Del Diablo
I headed to Punta Del Diablo for three nights. The town is small and quaint, and almost every house is unique, which gave it an authentic feel.
The town is pretty small, with the beach close by. Much like Punta Del Este, the town is very quiet in the off season, but is apparently a hive of activity otherwise. The town is perfect for relaxing and taking a break from regular life. I rented a mini house that made very clever use of space, including using a ladder that doubles as a staircase to access the bedroom upstairs.
The nearest fuel stop is 15km from the town and Chuy, to the east, borders Brazil. It’s very convenient for a bit of cheap and/or duty free shopping. About 8km from the town is Laguna Negra, a stunning and huge lake. You either need your own vehicle to get to it, or you’re in for a very long walk, but spending an afternoon there is highly recommended.
After 3 nights in Punta Del Diablo I was off to a Melo, but that’s for the next post …
I arrived in Montevideo on 14 March 2019. It was the first stop in what I hoped would be the start of a motorcycle trip around South America. Montevideo, Uruguay, was apparently one of the best places to ship a vehicle in South America. Corruption is low, and others who have shipped vehicles here have generally had positive experiences. My vehicle was still aboard a cargo ship so I had a few weeks to explore, bike free.
I rented an AirBnB in Parque Rodo. It was a great area. There’s an interesting mix of people, mostly young due to the Architecture University being just two blocks away. The entire area is bustling with university students, workers, school kids, and a variety of people zipping around on scooters, motorbikes, bicycles, skateboards, even roller blades. I thought the roller blade fad died about 20 years ago, but live and learn.
The whole area has a very hipster vibe and a few things became immediately obvious about Montevideo
People love dogs. The entire city is very pooch friendly and well behaved, very happy dogs are the norm
Nobody cleans up after their dogs. There’s dog crap everywhere. Walking the street at night is like navigating a mine field. As a general rule, never lean against a tree or light pole, ever.
The entire area is covered in graffiti, mostly not the good kind. That gives the outward impression of a run down neighbourhood, but that’s far from the truth. I initially thought it very ugly, but soon started seeing it as part of the neighbourhood’s, and later the city’s personality
Montevideo is the most equal city I’ve ever lived in. I’m assuming this extends to the rest of Uruguay as well.
The country provides free health care to all citizens, along with free education at public institutions, including university. As a South African, this was amazing.
There are a number of interesting differences however that make Montevideo unique. Some examples:
In general, people don’t have fancy things. Sure some people have luxury cars and nicer clothes, but big name brands aren’t popular here. Most cars are “middle class” cars, in South African terms. Nobody wears fancy jewelry. My neighbour Susan, who has considerable experience dealing with fine jewelry, pointed out one day that she didn’t see a single decent jewelry shop in all the time she visited. Nobody wears ridiculously priced clothing.
Shopping malls are few and far between, and they aren’t on the same scale as the malls you find in first world countries
It’s not always easy distinguishing the wealthy from middle class or poor people. That’s an effect of equality. I made a friend who’s a very successful radiologist. She doesn’t have a car of her own and borrows her mother’s when necessary. My AirBnB host is an architect but doesn’t wear a smart suit like you would expect of that profession in South Africa; he dresses like a day labourer. Despite having his own vehicle, he uses a bus when traveling across the country.
Everyone appears to be well educated. In South Africa, you can often tell the well educated from the poorly educated. Not so here.
Material possessions seem to be less important. People don’t seem overly eager to get into unnecessary debt
In general, people appear to be happier with their quality of life. They have less than people in other, better(?) developed countries, but they have enough, and they seem to appreciate the simple things in life. They also take their relaxation VERY seriously. Easter, for instance, is celebrated for an entire week.
But more generally, here’s some everyday tips on Montevideo
Safety – I found it funny that everywhere I went, people insisted that other parts of the city were very dangerous. In Ciudad Vieja they insist Parque Rodo is terrible, especially at night. In Parque Rodo, they warn you about Ciudad Vieja. That’s where all the robbers live. Personally, I found it safe everywhere I went. People always lock their motorbikes and bicycles, but I never noticed a single person fearful of violent crime. I was out walking passed midnight on several occasions and passed people walking alone on the street. At no time did I feel even slightly unsafe.
Transport – Buses, taxis, Uber, electric scooters, and bicycles are the preferred ways of getting around. There is no rail or subway system used in the city. Buses are everywhere and a single trip costs a little under 40 pesos. I never took a taxi, nor did I rent a bicycle. Uber is available, but the quality of the service varies a lot. In popular areas Ubers are plentiful, but the wait time varies from 2 to 15 minutes. Once you get out of town, for instance to the fort at Cerro, Uber becomes a problem. Drivers don’t typically service that area so you’re only likely to get an Uber if someone from town is being dropped off. Electric scooters are everywhere. I used the Grin scooters. Simply download the app, scan a barcode, and away you go. Transport is definitely not a problem. This is helped by the fact that Montevideo is really small. If you have your own vehicle, the fuel price is extremely high; around 57 pesos per litre (around R28 per litre)
Food – This was tricky for me. I’m Muslim and Uruguay doesn’t do halal food, so I was limited to vegetarian and vegan food, and fish. There are a number of places to visit, but finding them aren’t always easy. I suggest getting the Happy Cow app, which shows restaurants in the area with vegetarian and vegan offerings. However if you’re a meat eater, Uruguay apparently does the best steaks. Sadly, I haven’t tried one. Food is expensive. By South African standards, food costs twice as much as I would pay at home. And it’s relatively healthy, but largely tasteless. Or perhaps saying it’s an acquired taste is more forgiving. They never seem to use any spices. Regardless, the cost makes going out regularly prohibitive, and most people cook at home. The positive here is most people I’ve met are pretty good cooks. For reference, a vegetarian pizza typically costs around 320 to 400 pesos (around R160 to R200). A 2.5L bottle of soda/cool drink is around 110 pesos (R55). A sit down meal at a moderately priced restaurant (one main course and a cool drink, no starters or dessert) will easily set you back 500 pesos (R250); halve that for a tuna mini sub and drink at Subway. Sushi is ridiculously priced, typically around 320 pesos (R160) per plate though oddly, sashimi was really cheap relatively speaking.
Other expenses – Pretty much everything in Uruguay is expensive since most items are imported with something like a 70% import duty. Very few items, such as fabrics, are manufactured locally and are available at reasonable prices. But in general, expect to pay a lot for almost everything. Again, this is from a South African’s perspective. Susan, my neighbour/buddy was from San Francisco and generally didn’t mind prices all that much. It is also worth noting that she was on holiday while I am traveling; the difference being she has a lot more money to spend on whatever she wants, while I still tried to remain within my monthly budget.
The Simple Life
I always thought I was cut out for the simple life. Not right now of course, but I always saw myself as someone who would be content with living in a small town some day.
Montevideo changed all that. Holy crap was I bored. Which really says more about me than the city, but I very quickly ran out of things to do. There are numerous tourist attractions that you can easily find on Google, so I won’t rehash that information here, but they mostly fall into the categories of art, food, and sightseeing.
Make no mistake, I loved being in Montevideo. But two weeks is sufficient to see everything you’d like as a tourist. If you’re in a hurry, you could squeeze everything into a week; Montevideo really isn’t very big. My problem, which has nothing to do with the city whatsoever, is that I was there as a tourist for seven weeks. It was supposed to be four weeks, and if all went according to plan I would have had my bike for two of those weeks, but that’s not how things worked out.
Life in Montevideo, apart from your vocation, consists of
Visiting the park or beach
Hanging out at the Rambla (the very long road along the beach)
Visiting Ciudad Vieja
The parks and beaches are great. Everything is well maintained, there are often little events taking place like free classical music concerts, and it’s all very scenic. Sculptures and statues are common. Every evening friends and families gather and just hang out, sometimes playing games, often just sitting and chatting.
The Rambla is a long road that runs along the beach and is one of the prime activity spots in Montevideo. People go for walks, runs, and cycle for kilometers on end.
There are little exercise parks every few hundred metres that are always busy. Open areas like roller skate rinks are common. Soccer is huge, beach volleyball less so. You often find people fishing, even at night. There’s no shortage of people young and old trying to stay fit, going for a walk, enjoying the sunset, or just hanging out on the Rambla. Things become very busy on public holidays.
Ciudad Vieja, which translates to the Old City, is the touristy part of Montevideo. And very obviously so. It feels similar to every tourist trap you’ll find in every tourist city.
The single biggest attraction is Plaza Independencia which showcases a massive statue of General Artigas, the hero of Uruguay. The tourist trap starts immediately behind the statue, with street vendors and fancy stores selling a wide variety of generic stuff you probably don’t need. It’s definitely worth visiting, but the novelty wears off fast. Once you get off the main road, especially towards the end, the city has a distinctly old and rustic feel, and you’ll understand why Ciudad Vieja is a fitting name.
A little gem in the middle of Ciudad Vieja is the 11:11 cafe. Susan and I discovered it accidentally. There was just a little board on the street, but the actual restaurant was about three floors up a narrow stair case that would make a perfect ambush spot for organ thieves. Still, the climb was worth the risk. The food was great. You could sit at a table or lie on the couch, or relax on the floor and play with the cat. And there were an odd assortment of miscellaneous items for sale ranging from board games to possibly second hand clothes. The pot brownies were pretty good. The lemonade is extreme. They don’t use sugar, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger …
Visit Montevideo, but don’t stay too long. Appreciate all it has to offer. Enjoy the simple life while being part of a big city. If possible, avoid fancy hotels and restaurants and live with the locals. Experience a different version of modern life. It’s not less or worse than life in other countries, just different.
I officially started my South America bike trip around two weeks ago. I’ve been in Uruguay for over two months now, but after far too much waiting my bike arrived at the end of April, and the official trip is now underway.
I’m riding a 2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R. After much research on the perfect bike for the trip, one thing was clear. A KTM of just about any kind was a terrible idea. Yet here I am.
What Didn’t Happen
The 1090 was definitely not my first choice. It was this.
The Yamaha Tenere 700. This was perfect. A tried and tested engine. Lightweight. Dirt oriented. It was more comfortable than an enduro machine but was touted as far more dirt oriented than the Super 10. I had a Super 10. One sad day, I crashed it badly enough that it flipped over twice and bent the frame. Yet I was still able to ride it 250km home. I was sold on Yamaha’s reliability.
The problem is Yamaha still hasn’t released the damn thing. The bike may be available in South Africa later in 2019. Maybe. Even if it was, I considered the risk of purchasing a first generation bike in its first year of release too high. Despite all the testing on Yamaha’s part, once the product is released into the market people will almost certainly find new faults. Maybe enough to initiate a recall. I didn’t want those problems in a foreign country.
Naturally my other bike of choice was this
Unlike Yamaha, KTM announced the 790 and actually released it. They are in short supply in South Africa, but they are at dealers now. Still, the problem was getting a first generation bike in its first year of production. So that dream died.
Criteria For A RTW Bike
Conventional wisdom is best here. Get a simple, reliable, lightweight, preferably single cylinder bike like a DR650, KLR650, or similar. In no way am I arguing with that. It’s just not what I wanted. Here’s my thinking:
The bike must be at least a twin. Why? Because after riding a single for 10 hours, all I want is for the vibration to stop. I had a KLR650. I think the most I did was around 750km in one day. It was not fun. I ended the day with a migraine. So if I’m going to be using the bike indefinitely as my primary means of transport, I wanted to be riding something more pleasant.
Ground clearance and suspension needed to be excellent. This still left many choices but eliminated options like the VStrom.
Weight is a big concern. There were no good choices here. Big adventure bikes are heavy. The lightweight options like the KTM 690, DR650, etc are all singles. If you’re going for a twin, the best you can do is select the least objectionable option.
Simplicity. Here as well there were no great options. Pretty much every bike has complex electrical systems these days.
Age. An old Africa Twin is simpler than a new Africa Twin and has sufficient power. Similarly a KTM950 is simpler than a 1090. At some point, obtaining parts for older bikes becomes problematic. My thinking was a relatively new bike is less likely to give problems than an older bike so firstly, it’s unlikely I would need to replace parts as often and secondly, if I did need to replace parts, they should be easier to order.
It needs to be fun. Why would I pick a bike I don’t like?
After much homework online, as well as observing problems typically experienced by guys I knew locally, my offering were:
These bikes are masterfully engineered. My biggest concern was price. The cost of the initial motorcycle was high, but so was your value for money so that didn’t bother me too much. My real concern was maintenance costs down the road and of all the popular brands, BMW was routinely the most expensive to fix and maintain, even more so than KTM. Additionally, BMW parts were far too expensive for my liking. This is all based on what I read online. Of course your mileage may vary.
If I went the BMW route, I would have chosen the F800. Relatively lightweight, 18-21 wheels, simpler than the 1200, more dirt oriented, and an engine with no personality. The power delivery was so damn linear. That’s great technically, but it really lacked the fun factor.
Too many people I know have experienced odd problems with their bikes that were generally easily fixed, but that often required they take the bike into a dealer to fix. The problems varied and included things like parts coming loose, and the engine not turning over because of problems with the ignition system.
I’ve never ridden one, but from what I hear the Tiger 800 is an excellent bike, and those who own them swear by them. Often, they swear by them from their couches because the bike isn’t working well on the day but they also swear it will be fixed by tomorrow. So I’d be happy to own a Triumph, just closer to home.
I had a Super 10. The bike was amazing. I was also hugely impressed by Yamaha’s reliability and their customer service, at least at the dealership I used, was superb.
I just didn’t want another Super 10. I really wanted to 700, but they really screwed up on delivery of that bike. Had they released it a year prior, I would have been their first customer for the 2019 model.
I did test rides both on and offroad of the Africa Twin manual and DCT bikes. The DCT was a shock. It is so damn good! Honda dealerships around Cape Town arranged for a weekend away where the bikes could be tested and about 50 people attended I think. Everybody was curious about the DCT, but nobody took it seriously. By the end of the weekend, I doubt anyone would have minded riding the DCT version of the bike. Hats off to Honda.
Offroad, the bike felt amazing. The riding position, power delivery, handling, suspension, all felt brilliant. At very low speeds, I suddenly became very aware that I was riding a heavy bike. My perception may have been skewed since at the time, my bike of choice was a Yamaha WR450F modified to run as a lightweight ADV bike. Offroad, it would easily run circles around any big adventure bike, but that’s also hardly a fair comparison. Regardless, the Africa Twin was the best big adventure bike I had ridden offroad up to that point. I planned on buying one.
Then I rode the bike on tar and what a disappointment. I hated the 21 inch front wheel. I could feel it when I changed lanes. The impressive power delivery from dirt riding felt lackluster on the freeway. In traffic, the front nosedived if I hit the brakes too hard. None of these were problems, just disappointments. The bike I loved in the dirt simply wasn’t fun on tar. I didn’t buy one.
Suzuki and Kawasaki
The VStrom looks fugly, the newer models less so. While I’m sure the bike is very capable offroad, everything about it suggests it was made more as a daily city run around bike, with some touring and light offroading capabilities. It’s just not what I wanted.
I would love if Kawasaki released a more dirt oriented version of the Versys. From the homework I did, the Versys has the potential to be a great ADV bike, but for now it’s more of an on road tourer capable of riding some easy service roads. Again, not what I wanted.
They have a reputation for making the best offroad bikes. They have a reputation for being expensive. They do not have a reputation for reliability.
Still, it was part of my homework so I took both the 1290 Super Adventure R and 1090 Adventure R for a test ride. The 790 was my bike of choice but it had not even been officially released yet.
The 1290 was ok. It was big. The engine had lots of power, but in a very boring way. It felt like it had more power for the sake of having more, rather than for any real purpose. The LED screen looked amazing, but who focuses on the screen when you’re riding? So the novelty quickly wore off. By quickly I mean within 10 minutes. And they did something odd with the fuel tank. Standing felt weird.
The 1090 was something else. It felt more nimble. It had more than enough power. Lots of people complain about the outdated user interface but it didn’t bother me at all. The suspension felt great. Sitting and riding felt great. Standing and riding felt great. It felt like a big dirt bike. No other big ADV bike I’d ridden before felt like a dirt bike. It certainly didn’t look like a dirt bike, and there was no confusing it for a dirt bike when considering the weight. But for me, it just felt right. It was as if the engineers from KTM found a test rider my height (1.89m) and designed the bike based on his feedback. It was the best ADV bike I had ever ridden.
And The Winner Is …
The KTM 1090. Duh. I said so right at the top of this article. There are tons of reasons purchasing one was a bad idea. It’s only marginally cheaper than the BMW to maintain. Dealerships are much harder to come by, especially as you go further south in South America. The bikes are complicated to work on, relatively speaking. KTM does not have a great track record when it comes to reliability though I must say, the 2017 KTM 1090 Adventure R seems to have very few problems overall. And it’s a pain to lift once it falls down, even more difficult than the Super 10 which was over 30kg heavier.
But it’s my only bike. And it puts a smile on my face like no other big ADV bike ever did. So screw it, I’m crossing my fingers and making the unpopular choice. Because I love riding that bike!
I always thought that someday I would travel. It was never a plan, just the idea of seeing the world, trying new things, breaking away from regular life.
But there was always a reason not to. I had a demanding job. Where would I go? Who would join me? What would I do? How would I pay for it? Going on a two week vacation to touristy places isn’t my thing. So the idea of travel remained just that, an idea.
I’ve been riding motorbikes for around 12 years now. Back in 2013 I traded in my totally awesome 2006 Kawasaki Ninja ZX10R for a slow and clunky KLR650 with the idea that if I had something more practical, maybe I would ride more.
Riding the KLR introduced me to the world of adventure riding. Suddenly I had riding buddies. Dirt roads were fun. We were traveling hundreds of kilometers a day exploring mountain passes and service roads. Falling down became part of the adventure. Soon after I upgraded to a Yamaha Super 10 and the adventure continued. I was traveling.
Not far. Not even out of the country. But strapping tools and luggage to the back of my bike and heading out, often alone and off the beaten track felt right. I didn’t stay in fancy hotels. I didn’t visit touristy places. I loved riding out in the middle of nowhere, with no one around. I loved the solitude, the scenery, everything.
In 2017 I decided to visit Chile. It’s one of those places I always wanted to see so I bought a plane ticket and for 10 days, I rented a car and headed off in a different direction every day, never knowing in advance where I was going, where I would sleep, what I would find, or when I would stop. Every morning I would pick a direction and drive off without a plan. It was awesome. And for 10 days my biggest regret was that I was in a car, not on a bike. I was on vacation and a car was both more practical and much MUCH cheaper to rent. The trip was excellent and when I left, I decided I would return with a bike someday. I just wasn’t sure yet how to make that happen.
So the idea of a long motorcycle trip was my next big goal. I wanted to see Patagonia. I had seen relatively little of Chile, but that short trip left enough of an impression that I knew I wanted to see more. Of course there were complications. Like money. Like my work. Like how do I see a continent on a two week vacation? And, as someone from South Africa, how would I even get my motorcycle to a different continent? Of course it could be done, but nobody I knew at the time had done anything like that. These were all things other people did. The idea was there, but how to get started?
By 2018 I’d done almost nothing towards my bike trip. The truth is the problem was just too big. There were too many unknowns. One of the biggest was would I even enjoy traveling for so long? I mean, it’s great thinking about traveling the world, but actually doing it means leaving home for a really REALLY long time. I’d never done that before. What if I went to all the effort and all the expense and realized that it’s just not for me?
So in early 2018, with a whopping one week of planning, I decided to head off to South East Asia. This trip was a test. I wasn’t going on holiday, I was going to travel. That meant I needed to work to ensure I still had an income. This limited where I could live to places with WiFi. I wouldn’t travel around much. I would be in the capital city only of four countries, in a stable environment that would allow me to continue my life from South Africa, just in a different location. I would need to travel (relatively) light because you can’t fit large suitcases on a motorcycle and that was the final, albeit distant goal. My expenses while traveling would need to be similar to my expenses back home. Every day I would get up, do whatever work was required of me, and once completed I would be free to explore my new city. The trip would be for four and a half months and cover Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and England. I hadn’t visited my sister in forever so I figured since I was traveling, I may as well stop by England.
The test was a huge success. I absolutely loved it. There was always something new to see, to do, to learn. It didn’t matter that I was alone. It didn’t matter that I hated the heat. The monotony of daily life disappeared. I knew this is what I wanted to do. I returned home towards the end of August. My final flight from Dubai to Cape Town was awful. The flight itself was fine, but all I could think of was that it was over. That evening I would be back in my boring flat, living my boring life, being bored. Suddenly a motorcycle trip around South America wasn’t an insurmountable problem. It was just the next challenge.
I took a week off everything travel related after getting home. I was tired and I needed a bit of a break. On 1 September 2018, I started working towards a South America trip by motorbike. The plan was simple. Get rid of everything, buy a motorbike, go to South America, and see what happens. That was considerably more difficult than I expected.
Over the next few months I sold, donated, and threw away almost everything I didn’t need which, as it turned out was almost everything I had. I sold all my vehicles (2 dirt bikes, a bakkie (pick up truck), and bike trailer), and replaced it with a KTM 1090 Adventure R (a dubious choice for a South America Trip, but what a spectacular machine!!). I notified my landlady that I would not be renewing my lease. I got a new passport, driver’s license, credit cards, and generally spent far too much of my life dealing with admin related tasks. I notified my clients that I would be leaving the country again, but that work would continue as normal, just with a few timezone adjustments. And that even though I was not emigrating, I was not booking a return ticket.
My bike was dropped off for shipping on 24 January 2019, from Cape Town to Montevideo, Uruguay, via Rotterdam. I arrived in Montevideo on 14 March, with no place of my own to return to in South Africa. Sure I can crash with friends or family, but there’s something about not having a place of your own to return to that drives home the idea that your old life is over. Something different has started. Yes it’s very new. Who knows how long it will last? Who knows how successful I’ll be? But none of that really matters right now. It’s like ending one chapter of my life and starting another.
After many delays. And problems at customs. And having to extend my accommodation twice with a host who thankfully was exceptionally understanding, I received my motorbike on 30 April 2019 in Montevideo. I connected the battery and it started without any problems. It was as if a weight was lifted off my shoulders.
I left Montevideo a week later. I’m in Punta Del Este now. In the next three weeks I plan on visiting a few more cities and heading off to Argentina. This time last year I was in Kuala Lumpur, without the slightest notion of how much my life would change. A year prior in 2017, I had a vague idea of a motorcycle trip I’d like to do around South America. And back in 2016, these were all just things that would happen someday …