San Pedro de Atacama, 28 December 2015 - After a 4 day stay in La Serena on the Pacific coast of Chile, exploring Chile’s second oldest city and the beautiful Valle de Equil nearby, I took the Ruta 5 and aimed in the direction of San Pedro de Atacama, some 1300km to the northeast of the country. The early morning ride from La Serena, started slow because of road works restriction but the winding road quickly led me from the Pacific into the high plateau desert of northern Chile. I began climbing the mountains in a region that one could easily mistaken it for a place on Mars - red mountains and sand dunes but dry air with temperature of around 45°. On long stretches of the highway one side was closed and traffics were directed on the opposite side but with poor signage, indication and inadequate markings.
The heat and the quick ascending to a high altitude of 2700m made me feel uncomfortable but worse, was the constant fear of a head-on collision with an oncoming vehicle on one of the many blind bends of the highway. With lack of signage it was confusing for motorists and dangerous. It was Christmas week and there I was riding a very long distance in such an undesirable conditions. Christmas and the New Year period is when accident statistics shoot up because of drunken motorists. Though for some drivers here in South America every day is Christmas from what I’ve noticed so far. I continued my way carefully and it didn’t take long to witness what I feared most - two vehicles crashed head-on on a blind bend. The seen was awful.
People with blood on their faces laying on the road and others are panicking and the traffic came to a halt. A man rushed to me as I approached closelly and asked me to continue to the next village and raise the alarm as mobile phones don’t have coverage in that remote area. I suddenly became the one who could quickly help and the instinct to save lives took over my careful driving approach. I sped off at the highest speed my motorbike is cable of and reached the village 15km away in few minutes and alerted the Police, who weren’t happy seeing me approaching at high speed but said nothing given the circumstances. I continued with my journey hoping that none of those involved in the accident is seriously hurt.
The good economy that some South American countries enjoyed for the last few years meant more fast vehicles on the roads and newly paved highways but little education or knowledge of the Highway Code and how to handle fast cars. The result is more serious accidents and unnecessary loss of lives. Now that the road works and restriction were behind I was riding on straight motorway with extra speed to kill the time and distance but an oncoming car on the wrong side of the motorway reminded me with the danger ahead. Despite me waving and flashing the headlights the car kept moving at an alarming speed. I took a dangerous manoeuvre to the edge of the road to avoid a collision and to my shock the vehicles continued despite being on the wrong side of the motorway.
By late afternoon I’ve covered 500km and about 800km distance is still remaining to reach my prefered destination at San Pedro de Atacama. With such a conditions and timing it was time for a good rest. I headed for the coastal village of Chañaral for the night for a much needed rest. The next day I continued the journey from Chañaral further north through the desert. After riding 400km to the east the road brought me back to the coast near Antofagasta. The city is mainly industrial surrounded by desert and the ocean. I looked for a place for a rest but shops were closed and a strong wind was spoiling the atmosphere with sand and dust. I decide to skip the break and keep going. The route was mainly empty of animals and trees but plenty of sand dunes and reddish mountains. At times I saw small tornadoes towering over the desert and moving around the desert. The journey was long and hard but I managed despite the heat and large screws in my lower back. The thoughts of arriving to a place that is still open where I could enjoy a Christmas dinner, even if alone, gave me the momentum needed. By 6pm the scenery became interesting as I could see snow capped mountains, volcanos and salt flats in the distance. An hour later I arrived to the increasingly touristy but charming desert village of San Pedro de Atacama. Tourists walked the main Caracoles Street and the market was still open.
The posada I checked into is recommended to me by Stewart and Will, 2 British riders crossing the continent from north to south, that I met in Chañaral. There were Brazilians guests at the posada and the manager Ricardo is already preparing a Christmas BBQ for the guests. At last I managed to arrive to my destination and in time for a good Christmas dinner with others.
Santiago, 20 December 2015 - Young, sweet and adorable yet they suffer pain that they cannot understand or comprehend. The children with cancer whom I visited on Friday at the Fundación Nuestros Hijos in Santiago, made me ever more determined to continue with my Solo on Moto project and help children with cancer. After a warm welcome by Paloma, Christian and other staff members who gave me a tour of the foundation it was time to meet the children whom for I dedicated my time and energy for the last 3 years.
Children suffering from cancer and their mothers at the Fundación Nuestros Hijos, Santiago
Accompanied by their mothers the children came out to meet me at a dining area of the building where “Mare”, my motorcycle, exceptionally parked close so that they can sit on it and take pictures as requested when they knew about my visit. I helped them in turn into the saddle, some tried my helmet on while I answered their questions about the motorcycle and the trip. “Muy grande (so big)” said Javier as his set on “Mare” barely reaching one handle bar as at the age of about 5 his arms could only do little. Martin, an adorable 8 months old angel, was observing with excitement. He wasn’t so much into the motorcycle nor the sheepskin on the saddle. Instead, He extended his arms towards me so I can lift him up. Like the other children, Martin too lost his hair because of the treatment she receives but he didn’t loose his smile. While the boys were busy taking turns in the saddle and wonder about the control buttons, Martin preferred the higher position in my arms and kept looking at me as I talked. The first time he heard a bad Spanish, I suppose. The visits to help and meet children with cancer is what I enjoy most about the Solo on Moto project. The opportunity to help directly and try to put a smile on the faces of children whom life is so unfair to them. I was so glad to meet the children at the Fundación Nuestros Hijos and share their excitement during my short visit. Though at times, I found it difficult to hide my emotion and sadness.
I did my bit and if you too would like to help the Fundación Nuestros Hijos to keep them doing the excellent job in caring and looking after children with cancer in Chile, please visit their website here: www.fnh.cl
Patagonia, Chile, 02 December 2015 - While most of last week the strong Patagonian winds made my ride in the remote region between Argentina and Chile difficult, unpleasant and dangerous I've now reached the city of Coyhaique in the Chilean Austral and finally am riding on paved roads and with no winds.
Yesterday’s ride lasted 15 hours during which I've seen a world wonder but also “faced the music”. From Cochrane to Coyhaique on the Carretera Austral of Patagonia in southern Chile the road is long, dusty and full of romantic and beautiful sceneries. I was constantly stopping at the start to do the hard work by taking pictures and videos (1). As usual, my journey began at sunrise, so to capture the beautiful nature at a low sunlight and to see the animals energetically roaming the lands in search for greener grass. This is perhaps why I sometimes don’t encounter a human being forhours long. Only the other animals. How wonderful that is. While winds make it hard for me when blowing dusts and violently shook the cameras while taking picture and filming, wasps and bees are the new annoyance, I’ve discovered. As soon as I stop and prepare the cameras they quickly come from nowhere and force me to work with the helmet on and shut and keep wearing my motorcycle dusty cloves - so inconvenient, unpractical and hot.
But the main difficulties I encountered during half of my journey was because of road works on parts of the Ruta 7. The road condition is bad enough already. Narrow, muddy or dusty at times and full of dangerous turns. Not ideal as whereas clear visible distance ahead is necessary for road users it is imperative for motorcyclists. I rode with my eyes fixed on the road in front to avoid rocks, deep gravel, animals and above all a quick descend 1000m down via a cliff. There were a few near miss moments. Road conditions and unfamiliarity of what’s ahead slowed me down while other drivers of vehicles, especially busses and lorries, have no issue with that and were often the cause of troubles for me. They drive at a speed with their big tyres lifting great amount of dust and gravels up in the air blocking my view and leaving me breathless at times. I overtook vehicles in front of me whenever I could but not much I could do about oncoming vehicles.
They enjoy the luxury of having windows to close and keep the dust at bay and also have the safety and balance of at least 4 wheels. I don't. At about 140 kilometres south of the city of Coyhaique I arrived to a point where the road is closed because of road works and the use of explosives. It was about 14:30 and the road was to reopen at 18:00. I had no choice but to wait standing next to my motorbike in the sun on a dusty road and listening to the loud engine noise of busses and lorries behind me which were kept running to enjoy the air conditions I suppose. I patiently observed the worker to see him turning the wooden sign from red STOP to green GO. At 18:00 pünktlich, the road reopened and I sped ahead only to slow down to a walking paste a moment later because of fresh rocks and mud on the road. I came to a halt again when the wheels sunk in the mud. I reluctantly gave ground and waived for the vehicles behind me to pass. This was helpful as big wheels of the lorries and busses will compress the mud and make it easier for me to ride on. I kept moving then picked up speed as the road conditions improved only to find myself catching up again with the vehicles that I “kindly” let them to overtake me earlier. The big tyres of those lorries that helped by compressing the mud for me earlier are now in front of me lifting dust up in the air like a volcano. This time I was virtually blind. I stopped and wished for the strong winds to reappear and clear the air for me. But like talking to the wind.
(1) I document the Solo on Moto trips with photos and videos for a documentary film and a book of which profit will be used to help children with cancer. I spent a great hours each time I do so often in remote areas and in difficult environments. I use few cameras and microphones and sometimes these are left recoding unattended on the side of the roads or on top of a hill while I ride away. A typical minute of videos takes about an hour of self filming using various cameras, microphones. and equipments. I do it all alone.
Patagonia - 29 May 2015 - After riding more than 3000 km in 6 days racing with time to reach the end of the civilised world south before the harsh winter hit hard, I ended up stuck in a small town waiting for the reopening of a border crossing that was closed 4 days ago indefinitely, by striking Chilean staff. Since I started the long ride from the north of Argentina south on the legendary Ruta 40 that runs along the Andes, I’ve thought of the possibility of being stuck somewhere as a result of a volcano eruption or snow storm but not because of a strike in this part of the world. The timing of my trip in Patagonia is not ideal for motorcycle travel but it’s when nature shows its best. Colourful trees, lakes surrounded by mountains with slight snow covering their picks and most importantly fewer tourists. But winter came early this year and snow had fallen generousely few weeks earlier than usual. Although this region is one of the most beautiful in the world with stunning scenery and nature it has proven difficult at times for me riding my motorcycle alone in this remote part of the world. The latest stretch of 1100 km that I rode from Esquel was the most uncomfortable ride yet.
Winter in Patagonia
I left the town on a mid morning when daylight appeared and the the first 100 km stretch was great. The wind was on my back and the scenery was spectacular. Snow topped mountain picks in the distance always in sight, animals roaming the vast open space and a shy sun rays penetrating through thin layers of cloud. As I stopped for picture taking I couldn’t help but feeling a bit like a celebrity. Almost everyone tooted their vehicle’s horn or waved encouragement as they passed me. The fun stopped when the tail wind hit me sideways as the road bent west towards the Andes. I was on a long straight road crossing a high flat plain close to Chile. By now the shy sun had disappeared altogether above the thick cloud and suddenly, I found myself in a different climate altogether. I felt cold despite wearing warm clothes and weather proof gear, not being able at times to move my fingers. I kept going at a high speed until I saw a car in front driving on the left side of the road. It turned out that the driver was avoiding black-ice patches on the right side of the road. I slowed down and focused ahead. By 1pm the sun has reappeared and the temperature was back just above freezing but the wind didn’t seem to be abating no matter what direction I took. I pressed ahead for a good 400 km leaning against the formidable force of the wind while I struggled to remain upright. It was uncomfortably noisy despite the good earplugs I wear and my neck muscles worked harder to keep my head straight.
At times I was forced to a complete halt with fierce crosswinds threatened to blow me and the bike off to the ground. I kept my spirits high until I reached Perito Moreno, a small town lies down a valley where I stayed for the night protected from the full force of the wind. After a sleepless night from sore throat and coughs I prepared the motorcycle and left the town on a dimmed daylight at 11 am aiming south only to return minutes later because of black ice and thick fog. I made another attempt at noon this time riding about 5 km out of town but the conditions were the same. I returned to the town and waited for another 2 hours then set off again with the same conditions but this time kept riding cautiously often stopping to dry my helmet visor and exercise to keep warm with passing drivers waving if all OK. I then noticed a lorry driver who was changing a tyre on the side of the road. I stopped to ask him how to get to the 9300 years old Cueva de las Manos. He directed me and then said: “expect worse weather and road conditions further south” after he knew of my final destination in Ushuaia. I thanked him ignoring his concerned look and half-smothered grin. Every now and then, I feel glad to arrive in a place having made it through difficult conditions like riding on the unpaved stretches of roads, rain, cold and discomfort from long hours sitting on my saddle riding for hundreds of kilometres of wilderness often without encountering a species except sometimes for the birds of prey feeding on dead animals in the middle of the road. The biggest daily challenge for me is not only to keep the motorcycle upright and stay safe but also not to miss out on taking photos and record videos of the amazing scenery out there. This is so important for my Solo on Moto project which is about documenting my journey in a form of films and books to help children with cancer and raise awareness.
Every time I notice something worth documenting I stop to take pictures and record videos. I’m talking here about having the full-on set up like tripods, microphones, 4 cameras in different spots etc…, and this is usually done where I’m exposed to weather elements which requires DIY (the use of rocks and leaves for weights and cover) for the prevention of loosing equipments or the stopping of wind buffeting sound. Every time I stop for such a job I loose about an hour of daytime travel which sometimes translate to a 150 km riding in the dark before I reach a place to spend the night. Solo on Moto around the world by motorcycle is a daring adventure that I embarked on 2 years ago, riding through often dangerous roads in unfamiliar territories in some of the world’s most remote and harsh regions. It is very challenging indeed especially to ride alone without support of any kind. The thoughts of what on earth am I doing here and why am waisting valuable time away of my loved ones, spending my hard earned money and taking huge risks keep coming to my mind now and then but every time I stop to see children with cancer to give my modest support I get recharged and become ever determined to continue despite the odds.
The reward is enormous in terms of life experience, cultural education and knowledge let alone the beautiful and interesting places I get to see and experience closely. As I write this note, an Austrian couple staying at the same hotel told me that the border crossings are still closed as their attempt to Cross into Chile earlier in the day failed. I hope the strike action will be called off soon as in few days time I’ll be done in the Argentinean side of Patagonia and will need to cross into Chile to continue my journey. One must always hope for the best.
Porto, 06 December 2013 - In the left side, no. The right side, no. The inner side, no. The upper and rear ones, no. Visa? No! English? No. The queue behind is getting longer. Peep, paap, toot - every motorist behind me is sounding the horns of their cars and more cars are joining the queue. I'm in the front at a toll station, on a busy motorway near Porto, Portugal, searchingmy pockets to find 1 more euro to pay the €21 toll charge. I have €20 but the cashier on the window keeps saying €1 more. No international credit cards accepted nor British pounds. I'm stuck. Earlier, I used €50 to pay for petrol and with €1 short the cashier in front of me doesn't even accept my offer of £5 (€7) instead and let me free. 10 minutes passed and I've being riding in the cold for 3 morning hours coming from Lisbon.
Back when I was in Morocco, I was in a similar situation. There, I didn't have Moroccan dirhams on arrival to the country and toll charges paid in advance before I got a chance to withdraw cash, but luckily, a Moroccan biker was following me and paid my part, about €2, and I later filled his petrol tank using my credit card. Here in Northern Portugal the poor old cashier doesn't come up with a solution and let me free to finish the remaining 15 km to reach my Porto and have breakfast. You don't accept cards, foreign money and I only have €20 in cash, what can we do now, I asked? He spoke to a supervisor via an intercom and 10 minutes later I was issued with a receipt to pay the charge within a week, after he checked and took note of my documents and phone number.
As soon as I arrived in Porto I started looking for a bank to pay the toll charge before I even checked into my hotel. Instead, for the next 3 hours, I went from place to another to find a bank that I could pay for the toll charge. In Brazil, if you ask a people for direction they don't know, they will still direct you, often the wrong way, as they feel bad for not helping. Now, I know where this bad habit some Brazilians have came from. Yes, each one in Porto I asked about where to pay for the toll charge, sent me to the wrong place. Not one person at the banks, post office, police nor petrol stations staff said I don't know. They all told me "there where you can pay it". All were wrong.
For €1 I suffered so much stress and waist of time. I sped around the streets of Porto risking being issued with speed fines, shouted at slow drivers while rushing to get in time to the places where I was sent to and pay the bill so I could finaly rest and eat. Eventually I arrived at the Via Verde station some 3 km from the centre on Av. Fernão de Magalhães. They are the company who operate the motorways toll. The place was full and there was a long queue indoors. I took a ticket from the machine, number C 35, and waited. It's 4pm and being in Southern Europe the staff were in no rush to work faster. By now I'm no longer the calmest person in town. After months whisking the roads in 3 continents like a free bird, I was not in calm mood or able to keep cool giving the circumstances. When the buzzer sounded and my ticket number came up on the screen I went to the till where a bearded assistant was sitting and talking on his mobile phone. My motorbike outside was parked on the pavement for a good 40 minutes now and that meant I could get a fine. The sun is about to set. My feet were tapping the floor like a flamenco dancer, so to keep calm and let off steam. I overhear the conversation of the cashier that keep going - so boring. All what I'm thinking now is to put the €21 bill on the cashier's desk and leave but he hang up and said: "what can I do for you?" in Portuguese. I show him the bill and before I pass the money to him he said: "who told you to come here?" after reading the hand written note by the post office staff who sent me here to Via Verde. "It's not here" he added and continued to say: "you need to go to"… by now I loudly interrupted him and said can't I pay this bill here? No, he said and before he continued to speak I tore the bill into pieces, threw it on the floor and stormed out of the place, thinking how stupid I was to try to do the right thing waisting my time and taking unnecessary risks and stressing myself. After all I was leaving Portugal the next day and if I don't pay the bill I shall perhaps receive a note in few months time in London, if ever, with perhaps a better option to make the payment.
Surely their ought to be an easier way to pay toll charges in a country that is visited by so many foreign cars. What's wrong with accepting credit cards or paying by mobile phone like other countries for example? Why a bill could not be paid at any bank, post office or even online in cases similar to mine?
Seville, 25 May 2014 - Thanks to my ever loyal and reliable motorcycle I was able to switch cities and countries at ease whenever I feel like. When I left Porto for Lisbon few days ago I was not aware of Europe’s biggest match of the year, the UEFA Champions League Final was scheduled to take place in the city bringing along tens of thousands of fans who made hotel rooms in Lisbon’s and the surrounding region sell out leaving me with few options but to move on. Yesterday, the centre of Lisbon saw traffic restrictions and road diversions because of the event and fans filled the streets and squares making driving in parts of the city a nightmare affair. Using my motorcycle it was easier for me to get out of it all and in few hours time arriving in Seville having switched cities and countries hundreds of kilometres apart.
Travelling by motorcycle is a joyful experience other means of transport cannot match. Compared to being fasten in a steel box widely known as a car, on motorcycle one would pass through many places in shorter time, with greater freedom while fully engaged with the surroundings. You breath fresh air and smell the bread baking, tree blossoms and the rotten roadkills as you ride along. The smell of nature reach your nose unfiltered through fabrics or rubbers as you woulden in a car. Riding a motorcycle when travelling free you from lots of hustles and stress like when finding a parking spot or queuing in slow moving traffic. You negotiate your way to the front of the queue at ease. While riding a motorcycle your body will feel the thousand tiny impacts of raindrops, the occasional impact of flies and absorb the buffeting of the wind. You are no longer fastened in a seat disconnected from nature. Your view is unrestricted by steel frames and glass when on a motorcycle and you get to see the true picture of your surroundings as a whole versus a framed one through the windows of a car. Without mentioning the “green" word and how to save our planet, running a motorcycle is also less expensive then a car.
When a car negotiates a turn, occupants struggle to maintain their seated position or keeping fellow passengers from unintentionally invading their space. When a motorcycle leans into a corner riders enjoy a feeling like being on a swing set. While riding a motorcycle on the open space you are alone, undistracted and surrounded by nature. This make your brain free to concentrate fully solving problems in the background and bringing your ideas forward. Your memory also get to work better. How many times have you driven car to familiar place and arrived only to realise you don’t remember large part of the way? When driving a car you wouldn’t be as alert and engaged and drivers often feel like being on autopilot. Freedom, fun and a clear mind and conscience. These are all powerful reasons for riding a motorcycle and it always feel good after a ride.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Saint Augustine
London, 31 October 2013 - I think everyone should travel more, like those who now travel a lot to study the ordinary people wherever they go, rather than the people they meet on business or those with whom they share a holiday. One would get a different outlook on how the world works and how problems build up. I suspect that greater understanding would help solve many problems. After leaving Reuters in 2003, I decided to take a year off and travel around the world. Originally it was just a wild idea because I wanted to see so much of the world, and didn't see it happening at the way I was travelling before. My original plan was to travel around the world by visiting Brazil, India, China and Hawaii. I bought a ticket with stops in 9 countries but after becoming more familiar with travel destinations, I ended up going to 18 countries in a 3 months single trip. I was able to meet many interesting people and visited many great sites including the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Great Barrier Reefs in Australia, Iguaçu Falls in Brazil, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, The Glaciers in Patagonia - Argentina and many more... I also participated in big events like the Rio Carnivals and climbed mountains and volcanoes and witnessed anti government protests in Istanbul and the recently the eruption of Europe's most active volcano, Etna - something I never thought I would ever do.
I caught the travel bug and still planning to travel more as and when I have the time but this time I thought I should do something for the good causes and currently I'm doing the Solo on Moto journey that is taking me halfway around the world on motorcycle to help children with cancer that most of you know about. Through my interest in foreign affairs and cultures, I am drawn to travel, to exploring, and to experiencing the reality of other people's lives around the planet. I was continuing what has always been a fascinating interest to me. I want to know more about this world that we live in. This has never been an ultimate quest or challenge, nor do I lead boring life. For years I wanted to do do some travels which will give me a chance to evaluate places to live and work in the future. I realise I'm exposing myself to new ideas and cultures that will broaden my outlook and understanding of the world, and allow me to learn more about ourselves us human. I also know that I will not be the same when I return back home. Every day I can see and feel this is all leading to things I cannot possibly imagine for my future.
While travelling I take photos and video that are good to share with you here on Facebook and on my website. My home is full of wonderful artefacts and souvenirs from the many places I visited and my address book is full of contacts from around the world but above all my memory is full of good stories and experiences. These days, I don't do much sightseeing or visit museums, cathedrals or galleries. . . Instead, I like to get on the street and see what makes a country tick. I have covered over 120 countries so far and will continue to explore more of our wonderful planet.