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Motorcycle diaries


An avid biker rides across South America and survives to tell the tale.

I'd just turned 30 and wanted a real adventure so I decided that I would ride my motorcycle across South America. I did not know the language or where I was headed but planned to figure it out on the road. If the Spanish could do it in the 18th century, then so could this Indian in the twenty-first.

I got my bike, a beautiful KTM 640 Adventure, out of the bonded warehouse in Bogota, Colombia and headed out. Simple plan, head south - Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Brazil - and experience the best of South America.

Day two, as I was crossing the Andes, I took the worst fall of my trip. Bike on top of me for 30 minutes, blood oozing through my pants, and confidence a bit shaken up. Not the best start. The next day I made a deal with my bike, I promised I would take her home with me as long as she got me through this adventure.

The police warned me against going deep into the Colombian forests. But like a typical boarding school product who hates being dictated to, I didn't listen. Two days through dirt tracks, and I finally saw them. The FARC (Revolutionary Army of Colombia) were toting AK-47 s and did not look happy. I prayed and rode away as fast as I could. The rest of Colombia was amazing;a lonely desert, dancing cities (Cali Colombia is the salsa capital of the world) cities and beautiful churches built along solid rock canyons.
Next up Ecuador. I had a college buddy in Quito, and spent a week with him. His mother was like mine - she fed me till I dropped - and his dad got enough booze in me to manage the 2, 500-metre altitude.

I rode along the Pacific Ocean, on a lonely, twisty road called the "Routa Del Sol". It literally means "The Route of the Sun" but for me, it was the route of my soul. The blue of the Pacific Ocean, the wind in my face scented with the freshness of salt and adventure, me and my motorcycle and no idea where I was going to end up for the night. That was life for almost four months.
Peru was nothing short of pure magic. I ended up spending a month there. I rode through a mountain pass at 5, 000 metres. It rained, hailed and snowed upon me. I still loved every bit for, to my right was a glacier and around me the Andes.

I saw lots of llamas, who had probably never seen a tourist before, and then two days of no human contact at all. I kept telling myself this was not a holiday for me to check out the sights;but an adventure for the sights to check me out, and to see if I was worthy to cross them.

I decided to take a local barge down the Amazon for five days. Just a hammock, and chickens on the boat to eat, this was as basic as one could get.

Cuzco and then Machu Picchu. It's been 100 years since the first Westerner discovered it but I, unlike millions of other tourists, did not hit the Inca trail. Instead, I just soaked up the atmosphere.

I have been a Che Guevara fan for about 10 years now, and it was a mission to go see the town where he was killed in Bolivia. In Santa Cruz, Bolivia, all my possessions were stolen, including my passport. These things happen, and you just have to keep moving. With a great network of family and friends, I was back on my feet in three weeks. I even made it to the tiny village of La Higuera, about 150 km southwest of Santa Cruz, where the Bolivian army ambushed the exhausted guerrilla fighters and killed Che in 1967.

Pritha, my fiancê, met me in Bolivia and we hit the Salt Flats. The ride was the toughest of the trip since the road was quite terrible. We woke up the next morning and saw what looked like the size of Goa in front of us, just flat and white. No roads, no signs, nothing, just flat salt as far as the eye could see. We spent two days on the salt flats, camping out under some rocks.
It took us five hours to get into Argentina. Once in, we headed for the Dakar rally. Seeing the bikes and cars flying through the desert made me resolve to take part one day.

Next stop: Buenos Aires. Pritha left to go back to India, and I moved on. I was a bit tired and depressed by this point and did not feel like battling the winds of Patagonia but I l still loved the sight of penguins, elephant seals and sea lions.

I had ridden 15, 000 km, consumed 650 litres of petrol and travelled through six countries. At the end of the road in Tierra Del Fuego - the tip of the continent -I saw a bench. I sat down and lit a cigar a friend had given me. All I could think about was another adventure - when would I go around the world on my motorcycle. I planted the Indian flag at the end of the road and took a picture.

Reader's opinion (4)

Kumar KumarNov 15th, 2011 at 17:48 PM

great story!!

Chitra Nov 8th, 2011 at 16:38 PM


Siddharth Nov 5th, 2011 at 12:19 PM

Kudos to you Avinash.

Sanjeev Nov 5th, 2011 at 10:09 AM

My Salut to a brave Indian-Avinash Thadani…

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