Earthlings Through The Eyes Of A Wandering Biker (RTW Photos!)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by strikingviking, May 11, 2004.

  1. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Thanks for the kind words Emily. That's the theme of my new book coming out in the spring--Governments may not get along, but people do. While touring fifty seven developing countries alone, the only chanting mobs I encountered were everyday people rushing forward to greet me, and often, to invite me home. If you ever want to restore your faith in humanity, take a trip around the world--alone. You'll be astonished at the abundant hospitality and overall kindness of strangers.

    Despite the current economic and political events going awry, I'm convinced that humankind is on the verge of a giant step forward. We'll know for sure by who we Americans choose for our next leader. It appears that as a nation, we are finally waking up and ready to proceed to do the right thing. The unprecedented level of social awakening and generosity of the extremely wealthy confirms the notion that we as humans around the globe really do care about each other and are finally willing to act in concert. Think about it--if not for a few movie stars, few Americans would be aware of the genocide in Darfur. Now is the time to pick your cause and step up to the plate.
    #21
  2. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Silver Linings
    December 31, 2004
    Egyptian/Israeli Border

    As frustrating as it was at the time, the best turn-of-events yet was being denied the Iranian visa. Had it been granted, I wouldn’t have detoured deeper into the Middle East and never met the Arabs. A five-day transit visa meant sprinting across Iran to Pakistan with no time for much else. The tradeoff was a rush across one country for a leisurely tour of four.

    While it’s important to heed danger warnings, traveling without preconceived notions allows a broader perspective. Most use their own judgment balancing the two, yet travelers soon discover that usually, dire warnings are overreactions based on rumor. But, this was not so clear when dealing with the Middle East. Even automatically discounting the evening news, over the years, negative images of Arabs are hard to erase.

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    They’ve always been the villains or fools in the cinema or on TV as chanting crowds of religious fanatics applauding terrorist acts against the West. But is this true? As Fidel Castro manages to rally tens of thousands in a country where only a minority support him, a few fanatical Middle Eastern governments similarly misrepresent their populations. Once meeting them face-to-face on their turf, I realized that Arabs were angry with the US government not Americans. And if US polls are accurate, fifty percent and growing, of American citizens, feel the same.

    It is true that in the Middle East, religion dominates the lives and behavior of devout Muslims, Christians and Jews in a manner shocking to outsiders. But that doesn’t mean they are dangerous or dislike Westerners. Extremists in most religions have demonstrated desire to kill in the name of their God; when it comes to Islam, that’s who the media focuses on. Yet from peasants to professionals, Muslims I encountered were warm and generous people, anxious to learn about others. The peaceful, are the stories of buildings that didn’t burn.

    Jaded by high-pressure touts in tourist sections of Istanbul, at first it was hard to accept Arab hospitality as genuine—it must be a lead into hustles. After awhile it was evident that they want to know names and where visitors are from because they are curious. When encountering them again, they remember what you’ve told them when you first met. Who can resist their greetings? “Welcome, welcome. What is your name? Where do you come from? Would you like some tea?”

    Like Orthodox Jews and Christian fundamentalists, Middle Eastern Muslims abide by religious law. For adult Westerners, such restrictions are unthinkable but it’s normal if raised that way. Similar to strict Christians and Jews, Muslims are forbidden to consume alcohol, yet they don’t want to either. Radios are tuned to Islamic prayers as much as rock and roll in the West while it’s common to wait for shopkeepers to finish praying before dealing with customers. You’ll hear In sh’allah in Damascus, as much as Praise the Lord in Mississippi. They also practice what they preach.

    Men and women decline sex outside marriage and to keep hormones in check, think that women should dress conservatively in public. Muslim women I spoke to believe this as deeply as the men. You never realize how sexy hair is until it’s covered. But Bedouin women have shown how beauty can be revealed through the eyes and can tease as effectively with a veil as a plunging neckline.

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    Growing up in politically-correct California, first glimpses of veiled women were appalling. Although only Iran and Saudi Arabia mandate by law that women wear headscarves in public, it’s a popular tradition throughout the Middle East. For some, it’s a fashion statement. Store-window mannequins display varieties of styles from laced to see-through. When asking a college student in Jordan why she was not wearing a headscarf, she replied “Oh, I might tomorrow, it depends on how I feel like dressing.”

    Every society has its own code of what body parts can legally be exposed in public, with the roots of these decisions based on religion. In the West, women can expose as much breast as they dare, but if in public, a nipple displayed lands them in jail. This type of conservatism can be shocking to South Pacific Islanders visiting Western nations. Men bare their breast but women can’t?

    Religion is everywhere. It’s stamped on US currency, In God We Trust. Some declare America a Christian nation or that America is based on Judeo-Christian values. If changing the Pledge of Allegiance to One nation under Buddha, there would be a revolution. Yet liberalism appears in strange places. Turkey, Israel, Pakistan and India all had female Prime Ministers long before a woman ran and lost for Vice President of the U.S. Trying to make sense of the world is a job for far greater thinkers than me.
    Yet the more we learn about the world, the less we know. Too many complex answers to simple questions. But the most obvious issue persists, if people can get along, why can’t governments? Travelers venturing into developing nations soon discover that it’s those with the least who are quickest to share, while the simplest of all, teach the deepest lessons. Arab hospitality is contagious, but so is Mongolian and Siberian. It feels good being around nice people.

    Secularism expands with prosperity. Two color TVs and a new car makes us forget more important things—how treat one another. Have we become lost along the way? Maybe Jesus had it right--It’s as easy for a rich man to enter Heaven as a camel through the eye of a needle.

    The Middle East is not the land of milk and honey but it is the land of black gold. Engage locals on politics and you’ll hear more than you want. As North Americans would be upset if Islamic nations established a military presence there to stabilize lumber prices, so are Middle Easterners about their resources. Muslim troops in the West propping up dictators would be greeted with bullets. Locals don’t speak freely but most don’t like their Sheiks, Princes, or Shahs and don’t appreciate foreign intervention supporting them.

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    There is often public discussion about a collision of civilizations with Islam and the West but so far, all I’ve experienced is friendship. My original plan was to speed through the Middle East, thinking why bother with people and places where I wasn’t welcome--but all the Arabs have shown is that they want to be friends. Even when talking about their blood enemy, Israel, they said, “Israel government bad, Israel people good.” I’ll soon be relaying that message in Jerusalem.

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    Shalom
    January 3, 2005
    Tel Aviv, Israel
    The charred skeleton of the bombed out Hilton Hotel in Taba, a resort town on the Egyptian side of Sinai, instantly focuses the reality of war, and in particular, terrorism. Last year, to be certain those of all ages could experience his terrorism, Bin Laden’s thugs also blew up a nearby backpackers lodge catering to the young. Islamic extremists are equal opportunity mass murderers. No doubt tight security lies ahead at the Israeli border.

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    European students in Cairo who also had visited Arab countries, spoke bitterly of experiences in the Tel Aviv airport--hours of interrogation at immigration points and arrogant Israeli soldiers at checkpoints throughout the country. I wondered what else to expect from a second generation growing up in bloody conflict never knowing where the next bomb would detonate-- a crowded Tel Aviv nightclub or a Palestinian refugee camp? Whatever the excuse, women and children are crippled and slaughtered daily.

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    Both sexes are drafted into the Israeli army. Every Israeli child knows they will experience some type of death before college, theirs, the enemy, or someone they love. The same for Palestinians, with a good as chance of being cut down by Israeli bullets as going to college. There is no maybe, nearly sixty years of armed conflict with neighbors, two generations of Israelis and Palestinians grow up in bitter bloodshed over issues a thousand years old.

    It was confusing at first because I didn’t realize that the kids dressed in civilian clothes at the border were soldiers. A bald, muscle-bound youngster wearing an earring and two teenage girls wielding automatic weapons request my passport. I fire back an aggressive-defense using the biggest smile I can muster with an outstretched hand—“Howdy my name’s Glen Heggstad and I am out to meet the people of the world. What’s your name?”

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    The first girl takes over, “Please tell me which countries you have been to before Israel.”

    “This trip or the last one?”

    “Let’s start from the beginning.”

    It’s hard not to laugh when being interrogated by a nineteen-year-old girl, who even with an automatic weapon is a solid ten. She eyes me as a suspect as I imagine her without clothes. But she is very serious.

    Assuming they’ll know my life history within seconds of a passport scan, I begin with the ride to South America three years ago and events in Colombia. I’ve learned that it’s best to not mention being a writer because people suddenly act different. There is always a good response handing over a card from my Judo school but during a search, they’ll likely find my mangled copy of Two Wheels Through Terror, a title sure to raise more questions. After citing visited countries, they stop me when mentioning Syria, an Islamic nation the Jewish State is still technically at war with.

    “Syria? Why were you in Syria?”

    “Well, I was in Istanbul and couldn’t get a visa for Iran.”

    Now ever more alert, she asks, “Why would you travel to Iran?”

    “In order to get to Pakistan.”

    Even more astounded she dares ask, “Why did you want to go to Pakistan?”

    “In order to get to Afghanistan…”

    As though this has gone beyond her comprehension and rank, she orders,

    “Please proceed to the white building and enter through the rear door.”

    Inside, the first adult of the day explains that because of a Syrian visit, further questioning is necessary. Fine with me, there is plenty of time until sundown and this could be interesting. They direct me to an office where another eighteen-year-old supermodel in uniform begins with a checklist.

    “What was the purpose of your trip to Syria? Who do you know in Syria? Where did you go in Syria and what were the exact dates of your visit there? Did anyone in Egypt give you a package to deliver in Israel?”

    I told her that I wound up in Syria because of an involuntary diversion and the only person I met there was a very dangerous Bedouin camped in the desert whom I forgot the name of.

    Seeming satisfied with my answers, she continues, “Where do you intend to stay while in Israel?”

    “Actually, I was kind of hoping your house.”

    We laugh and banter until stating that because of my answers, she must deny entry into Israel and send me back to Egypt. This is a problem with an already used single-entry visa. “I need to refer this to my supervisor.”
    Suddenly it’s apparent how suspicious this appears to paranoid border officials who expect a car bomb to blow them up any second. A thorough search will net further problems. A gift from an Iranian friend in California—the plastic case sealing my AAA International Driving License, stamped on the cover, Islamic Republic of Iran, in Farsi and English. If they find this, the fun is over. What if they examine my laptop?

    Moments later, the supermodel returns smiling and hands back my documents. “Enjoy your stay in Israel Glen.” I pitch once more to lure her on the back of my bike. It could be just my imagination but while riding past the final concrete barricades, it seemed like she paused and considered before shaking her head once more.

    Compared to the Sinai, there is not much to see in southern Israel except empty desert and miles of barbed wire fencing with signs posted, Military Area, Do Not Stop, Do Not Photograph. Gun-towers and remote TV cameras underscore the seriousness. Sophisticated microwave antenna line distant hilltops while enormous satellite dishes confirm this a major communications corridor. The weather report is sunny for the Negev Desert but storming north on the road to Tel Aviv.

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    Breaking for dinner at a major bus stop, a roadside cafeteria is crowded with young Israeli soldiers lugging bulky backpacks and M-16 machine guns. The troops are sullen and stone-faced--most are talking in Russian on cell phones or listening to CD players. The room needs a Viking assault to break the ice. “Howdy, how ya’ doin’?” No reply.

    I repeat this to each of them but from two feet away, sitting at the same table, I receive an identical response from a half dozen soldiers. They turn their heads as if no one had spoken, a few sneer. There is no conversation among them and all make it clear from bored gazes that they would rather be somewhere and someone else.

    As youngsters trapped in involuntary military service, it’s impossible for them not to wonder about the freedom of a roaming biker, but they are determined not to acknowledge me by showing interest. As a gathering storm appears overhead, outside in the parking lot, I make a show of adjusting equipment and zipping into foul weather gear. While cycling through a GPS check, they abandon their indifference and crowd to the doorway. Rolling onto a rain-slicked highway, I turn to see young soldier’s forlorn eyes and more faces fogging the windows--I wave goodbye, continuing north for Gaza to see what the Palestinians have to say.
    #22
  3. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Gaza
    January 11, 2005
    Erez Checkpoint
    Gaza City, The West Bank

    When first deciding to tour to Israel, the original plan included only Christmas in Jerusalem and a short ride back to Jordan for air-transit to Pakistan. But after also visiting the Golan Heights, my Israeli friend, Sharon, insisted on expanding my itinerary to include Gaza. The truth is, it didn’t interest me until discovering that it was a closed military zone. For the last four years, without special permits, almost no one was allowed in or out.

    The term Occupied Territory is used so often, the meaning is lost. Besides, the issues were clear; Arabs are dangerous terrorists who should be separated from the rest of humanity. But the more military officials tried to discourage me from visiting, the more important it became. Like in Egypt, I became suspicious when realizing authorities wanted to control what foreigners see.

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    It took five days of telephone interviews to get approved for a special, unescorted entry, without a private vehicle, and alone. After working my way up through the ranks, my last phone call was a direct plea to the General of the regional Israeli Defense Forces whose subordinates had obviously thoroughly researched my name and US records. Somehow, presumably to determine my politics, they had even managed to read my book. Yet once reaching the infamous Erez checkpoint with a green light from Central Command, the crossing still involved two more hours of last minute questioning to begin the half-mile walk through an intimating tunnel of twenty-foot-high cement barricades and slamming security gates.

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    From security personnel watching on closed circuit TVs, inaudible loudspeakers barking scratchy orders to remove my jacket and empty my pockets, led to buzzing steel gates feeding into electronically operated bullpens and rows of human cages.

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    Scanning cameras and abrupt commands from heavily armed and nervous young soldiers, left no doubt, a careless mistake could mean a bullet in the back. And I was an ally.
    Sacrificing moral high ground for security, Israel disregards world opinion. This is little comfort for an imprisoned Palestinian populace fenced in by a foreign army. Even knowing I could leave, halfway through the dehumanizing transfer process, my stomach still churned—one can only imagine what it’s like to live here.

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    At the end of a dreary concrete corridor ripped open in places from car bombs, indifferent Palestinian guards sign me in for the final thousand-foot walk through open space manned by Red Crescent workers. Once cleared, only an idling, beat-up taxi awaited. If it was the army’s intent to spook me by delaying entry until dusk, it worked.

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    This is Election Day in Gaza, and Palestinians are determined to peacefully choose a replacement for Yassar Arafat under the suffocating yoke of a humiliating occupation.

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    It’s a life threatening economic disaster for humans entombed at gunpoint within electrified barbed wire and checkpoints manned by soldiers who don’t hesitate to fire their weapons with deadly accuracy. With radical Palestinians refusing to participate in the election, and a general fear of the unknown, the challenge of an orderly transition of power is immeasurable.

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    In response to militant’s attacks, daily Israeli Army incursions to arrest suspects and bulldoze homes has become a way of life. Revenge. It’s a circle of violence that amounts to last-tags of murder and mayhem. The horror is unfathomable and mostly hidden from the world, even Israelis.
    To a certain extent, I trust Palestinians, but not enough to venture out tonight--US government financing of their tormenters might affect their judgment and all it takes is one hothead to create an international incident.

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    Divisions on both sides run deep. But today, it’s irrelevant who slaughtered the first civilians; everyone is involved now. As Israelis load helicopters with sophisticated heat-seeking missiles, and Palestinians strap explosives on teenagers, each knows the outcome. At the receiving end, women and children are going to die. Yet amidst the killing, life goes on.

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    Central Gaza in the daylight was a typical Arab city—strings of honking taxis backed up in traffic and crowded, fragrant markets scouted by veiled housewives bartering for fruits and vegetables. Busy streets were lined with groups of friendly old men huddled around small plastic tables beckoning strangers to stop for tea. “Hallo, escuse me, ara you Germany man?” If accepting all the offers, it’d take a day to reach the end of the block.

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    Israeli commanders had only issued a twenty-four pass. Unsure how to spend that time, I opt to wander the crowd. A third of the males are unemployed, leaving groups of disgruntled young men idling on crumbling street corners, ripe for recruiting by militant leaders. Futures as gunmen or suicide bombers are more certain than college. These are the kids on TV throwing stones at Israeli tanks--if they survive the hail of gunfire; scars from bullets become badges of honor.

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    Abruptly aware of being forcefully prodded and nudged through a tightly packed throng of shoppers, I suddenly find myself in a garbage-strewn alley facing an informal tribunal. Clearly the local tough-guys, they still remembered to smile. A twenty-something leader offers a strong handshake with a menacing grin. He issues sharp commands to his inquisitive lackeys surrounding me to back away. Pointing to one of two folding chairs he orders, “You sit.”

    Revealing my creeping fear would only insure his upper-hand. I point to the other chair, “We sit.”

    “Verdee goot, verdee goot.” Pounding his chest with a fist he declares, “I mafia king!”

    I resist gulping and reply, “It’s very nice to meet a mafia king.”
    Eyeing my camera he asks, “You telebison man?”

    “No, I am motorsickle man from California.” Looping an index finger in circles, “I go around the world on motorsickle.” Knowing Arabs like being photographed, I ask, “Can we take a picture together?”

    Waving his hand, “No peetchur, beeg problam.”

    It’s understood that these young men likely don’t pose without face-hoods. I also noted none of them had indelibly-inked-stained thumbs that officials used as proof for having voted in the election. As we continue, my discomfort increases with his questions.

    “You Amerdica man. You like Eesralee man or you like Hammas?”

    Merely hearing the name Hammas suggests that my feet are touching the fire. It’s underscored with the pocketknife he’s now unfolding. “This for Eesralee man. You like Hammas knife?”

    Maintaining eye contact while attempting to control a rapidly increasing heart rate, I roll up my right sleeve while raising a tattooed forearm bearing a nine-inch scar. “This is from Mexican machete, a much bigger knife.”

    “Ah haw! You verdee goot, verdee goot Amerdica man.”

    Certain to lose a game of can-you-top-this with militant foot soldiers, I rise, tapping my watch. “Time to go now, Israeli soldiers have my motorsickle, maybe they don’t give it back. Where is the bus to Erez?”

    Slapping the back of one of his obedient young henchmen, he says “My fren take you to verdee goot taxee.”

    Just before entering the No-Man’s-Land strip to Erez, an International Red Cross ambulance monitors the last stretch of dirt road leading to the first Palestinian Authority checkpoint. UN workers block my path, stating that no one is allowed to pass until Israeli commanders give the Okay. There is been another shooting at the border and soldiers are edgy. It could be several hours.

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    Much to my relief, thirty tense-minutes later, cell phones ring and walkie-talkies crackle with permission to pass, but only one at a time. With a camera tucked inside my jacket, I click off as many photos as I dare until again intercepted by bullhorns and scanning closed circuit TV cameras. Shamed for my complicity, it’s like shoving a manhole cover aside to climb from a sewer that I have escaped, with others left behind.

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    #23
  4. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Equipment Evaluation

    To avoid jinxing the ride by speaking too soon, I waited until the twenty thousand kilometer mark to evaluate the equipment. Some is provided by sponsors, the rest bought through mail order. Deciding what to use was based on personal experience or reputation. On a world ride, you don't use products just because they are free, it's critical to be positive when your life can depend on it. Most important is durability, ease of use and function. High-tech gadgets are useless if easily broken or an annoyance to operate.

    World rides are the ultimate test. It's unlikely that equipment would be continually thrashed this hard under normal use. Merely surviving brutal off-road conditions of a Trans-Siberian crossing or Gobi Desert loop is a sufficient test for durability. That alone was a total of 2,200 miles of constant bone jarring abuse that should have demolished everything. During the 6,000 mile Paris to Dakar Race, at the end of grueling days, there are teams of mechanics waiting with truckloads of enough spare parts to rebuild a bike. There's no backup on a solo world ride, you fix what you can, where you can. The following is just opinion, YMMV.
    #24
  5. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    BMW 650 Dakar

    Falling in love with a motorcycle can cloud an owner's judgment, but this bike is only on loan and not mine. The Southern California DAG (Dealers Association Group) heard about what I was attempting and stepped in offering the use of a 2005 650 Dakar. In exchange, they requested a series of slideshow presentations at their dealerships when I return.

    It's a win-win deal because we are all interested in promoting this fast growing segment of the industry, Dual Sport Adventure Traveling. No contracts or promises of what to write, the deal was done on belief and a handshake. They signed over the bike on my word alone, an unheard of gesture in the corporate world. Having a popular website and a book just released helped, but I also believe they're sincerely interested in this project. There's no factory support, just what the warranty covers at authorized BMW repair shops. Other than that, I'm on my own. If the bike blows up in Sumatra, I'll figure it out from there. One thing for certain, if it does, you'll hear about it.

    Although the roads have been mangled, twelve thousand miles is hardly enough to judge a motorcycle's durability but I can attest to its performance so far. The 50hp bulletproof Rotax engine provides more than sufficient power although for off-road I'd suggest a lower first gear. The much touted, newly designed windshield on the 2005 was a disappointing joke and little better than nothing.

    Electronic fuel injection once scared me, now it's mandatory. Short of sabotage, the race proven technology provides exceptional mileage, while precisely managing fuel in the thin atmosphere of high altitudes. It starts quick, hot or cold and is free of the surging reported on 2001 models and earlier. Whatever complications existed previously, they're resolved now.

    Like most motorcycles, the stock suspension won't handle heavy payloads for long so before blowing seals on the road, I upgraded to an Ohlins rear mono shock and Touratech front fork springs. Under load, both provide a noticeable improvement over stock but this model Ohlins performs poorly off-road over fast bumps like washboard or potholes, transferring sharp jolts up my spine. WP was my first choice but unavailable with remote hydraulic preload for Dakars. However, I am amazed the shock didn't break or blow a seal after shearing two sub-frame bolts in the Gobi. It was the equivalent of dropping a bike off the roof a few hundred times a day.

    The stock Metzler Sahara tires were okay but half worn at 2,500 miles of street use in California. Avon Gripsters doubled that. The heavy duty disk brakes upgraded with EBC sintered pads are head and shoulders above competitive dual sports with ABS now a mandatory luxury. How many times do they have to save your life to be worth the extra five hundred bucks?

    It's a fun bike to ride; even loaded it melts through the curves with abundant ground clearance. Slightly heavier than I prefer, if you learn how to ride it, this won't matter. The upgraded 2005 EFI increased low end torque while improving already efficient fuel economy. At 60mph it produced 62mpg, dropping to 50mpg at 85mph, but that's okay, on Third World roads there're few opportunities to ride that fast. Cruising in the 40mph range, mileage climbs to 70mpg. The lowest octane I'm certain to have tested is 87 in California. Unsure of foreign rating scales, I put in the highest available.

    An overheating problem experienced in Japan was caused by my knee blocking the exiting air vent through the Touratech tank. Moving my knee out or scooting back in the seat resolved this. A better solution would be the Touratech peg re-location kit to lower and move them back. Touratech supplies a new seat to fit their tanks but the stock one is softer and stickier.

    For weight reduction and ground clearance, the bike comes without a center stand and I planned to get by without one by tilting the bike over on the side stand for changing tires or oiling the chain. Attempting this loaded down in Japan, the side stand broke. Since it had been extended to contend with the additional ride height of aftermarket suspension, it was not covered under warranty.

    The new 2005 fairing, adjustable clutch lever and 12volt BMW plug are nice touches but I scrapped the fairing for bigger tanks and added an emergency plug. It's the first bike I've seen with effective high and low beams. The cargo rack could be wider but there's a trick BMW rear top case available that bolts on without needing adaptor plates.

    The most significant feature about this bike is how incredibly tough it is. If this ride doesn't break it, nothing will. Deep jagged potholes, unexpected sheer drop-offs over desert washes and hundreds of miles of the worst bone jarring, jack hammering washboard imaginable. With loads pushing the gross vehicle weight limits, all the Gobi Desert can claim is two broken sub frame bolts. Forever amazed at the incredible ruggedness of this machine, while every morning, the Blue Beast stands ready to do it all again.
    #25
  6. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Jesse Aluminum Panniers

    After using these for three years, on two bikes, for a total of eighty thousand hard miles through Third World countries, there's been no structural weakening, corroded hinges or metal fatigue. Where I travel, they are in a constant state of flex, fully loaded, bouncing over speed bumps, potholes and desert washes. They are the most irreplaceable items on my bike.

    Aerodynamically engineered with welded beveled edges, they cut through crosswinds while providing that extra space needed when cornering low or paddling through deep sand. Expanded lids designed to house awkward to reach items open outward making loading gear easier because you can sort it setting it on top. And perfect for stashing sweaters, jackets and gloves needed to use or pack quick. Roadside with an upcoming storm, they're a dream. No fumbling around unpacking and searching for that rain suit---pop the lid and it's there.

    The double handles are keyed alike lockable, secured with a newly designed thick steel tongue. I'm tired at the end of the day and don't like hassling with bolts and knobs removing saddlebags. With Jesses, I unsnap two stainless steel fasteners and lug them off to my room. Nothing is theft-proof; the most we'll get is theft-deterrent. These lockable panniers serve as strong boxes for belongings when leaving the room unattended. Narrower than your handlebars for easy white-lining, they still hold double what the stock BMW cases do.

    On his website, Al Jesse has a picture of a crane picking up a Beemer by his pannier and that's no surprise to me. After going down hard enough in Mongolia to bend the solid steel mounting frame, the bag maintained its structural integrity still providing a tight seal. The frame was hammered back straight and within hours, everything was good as new, further proving their worth to the long distance rider. If there's a weak spot here, I can't find it.
    #26
  7. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Touratech

    The only thing better than German engineering is hardcore riders honing it in under extreme conditions like the Paris to Dakar Race. Synonymous with BMW in Europe, it’s the weapon of choice for dedicated adventurers and professional riders. At the Munich Bike Show, I noticed a piece of Touratech equipment on nearly every motorcycle. Practical, well designed and built to last, this company develops and constructs what motorcycle manufacturers never considered.

    From wider foot pegs for standup riding and simple protective brackets for critical braking components to complete competition off-road racing kits, they cover it all. Touratech knows that quality pays and have become the standard for excellence in aftermarket equipment. Peruse their website, there’s no fluff, just serious equipment for serious riders.

    Because of the 600 mile fuel range, I’m hooked on their twenty liter bolt-on saddle tanks. Tight clearances on the bike demand extra hours for mounting but during that time you’ll marvel at the engineering that went into the design. When using them, you’ll discover the intricate plan of balancing weight distribution with an even front to rear fuel level. The Dakar comes with the fuel tank where it belongs--low, under the seat. Through a system of drain hoses with the Touratech tanks, that weight stays low.

    Forward tanks also offset the additional weight of rear panniers, acting to stabilize the front end. Over washboard roads, the ride was far smoother topped off. When heading for the mountains, I cut forty pounds for the curves by filling five gallons instead of ten. This reduces fuel range to a manageable three hundred miles.

    For long distance riding or convenience, high capacity fuel tanks are addicting. Traveling internationally it’s often hard to find the grade of fuel you need in short hops. With big tanks you can fill whenever you see a station with your grade and not worry. Whether needing extra range everyday or not, it’s nice knowing you have the option.

    Avon Gripsters

    On my South American ride as well as this one, they’ve provided 10,000 hard miles per set. There are endless debates regarding which tires are best in rain, mud or gravel, but unless I have two identical bikes riding the same day, under the exact same conditions on the same road, it’s too hard to tell. I can verify mileage by checking the odometer and the bike slides when I want it to and stops when I want it to. That’s all I need to know.

    Locating 17 inch rear tires is difficult outside Western Countries so I have them shipped to major cities I intend to visit. Being certain how long they last, it’s possible to predict when and where I’ll need replacements. On a long distant ride you’ll encounter a mixture of riding surfaces. For combinations of on and off-road riding, Gripsters rule.



    Adventure Exhaust System

    I wasn’t as interested in performance upgrade as much as eliminating the catalectic converter for situations of no unleaded fuel, like parts of Africa. The stronger midrange pull from the Adventure pipe was just an additional advantage and at last it growls like a motorcycle instead of a sewing machine. Utilizing a Supertrapp exhaust fitted to a stainless steel connecting pipe, the Adventure system is tunable to whatever performance modifications are installed. You can dial in the back pressure or noise, by adding or removing disks.

    Since I don’t have fuel management upgrades, Rodger sent me a system with four disks installed, the closest to stock backpressure. It’s a bolt up project taking two hours curbside using the BMW tool kit. I pulled off the old and hooked up the new on the sidewalk in Mongolia.

    If you prefer the symmetry of dual exhaust, Rodger also sells a matching false muffler with a water resistant removable end cap. It’s a handy stash tube for spare parts or whatever else you might want to hide from nosy pricks with guns. Constructed with heavy gauge stainless steel, it’s strong enough to fire a rocket from--a consideration where I’m heading.
    #27
  8. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,968
    Location:
    Mazatlán
    CeeBailys Windscreen

    Itâ&#8364;&#8482;s a slightly larger version of the inadequate stock windshield. The angle is whatâ&#8364;&#8482;s wrong so riders receive the same buffeting with the wind hitting a man 6â&#8364;&#8482;-3â&#8364; upper-chest. Different brackets allowing a more vertical angle would solve the problem. In Vladivostok, we eliminated the two lower spacers for a small improvement. Made from aircraft quality, scratch resistant plastic, itâ&#8364;&#8482;s better than stock but not by much.


    Airhawk Seat Cushion

    This makes the Striking Viking All Time Best list. Similar to the baffle chambers concept in waterbeds, this rugged neoprene seat cushion uses air pockets to evenly distribute body weight. It can be attached to any motorcycle seat using the four supplied straps that feed through corner loops. The replaceable zippered cushion cover is made from durable nylon with a sticky rubber under-pad holding it firmly in place.

    Its ass-friendly adjustability is handled through a Schrader valve allowing users to dial in the specific feel desired by inflating or deflating. Seat height is unaffected as itâ&#8364;&#8482;s designed to dissipate the riderâ&#8364;&#8482;s weight using air pockets maintaining contact with the seat surface.

    Iâ&#8364;&#8482;ve tried the gel pad cushions that feel comfortably squishy when sitting still but also react like liquid when hitting something hard and fast like a pothole. Itâ&#8364;&#8482;s like doing a belly flop with your butt cheeks.

    I canâ&#8364;&#8482;t figure out why aftermarket seat manufacturers arenâ&#8364;&#8482;t onto this yet. Itâ&#8364;&#8482;s the most comfort enhancing product Iâ&#8364;&#8482;ve ever used and can keep even the biggest sissies in the saddle for hours. With two ruptured vertebrae and plastic stents in my organs, there is no way I would have made it this far without an Airhawk.



    BMW Savanna II Riding Suit

    In selecting which suit to wear daily for the next eighteen months, comfort and fit were as important as durability and function. If itâ&#8364;&#8482;s uncomfortable, I wonâ&#8364;&#8482;t wear it and the reason for wearing it is safety. Iâ&#8364;&#8482;ve fallen off a couple times at low speeds and was glad to have the extra padding. I hope to avoid road testing high speed impacts but judging by the materials used, it would make a significant difference in hospital time. Itâ&#8364;&#8482;s a stylish, mild weather riding suit with enough pockets and adjustments to keep you busy adjusting after every meal and weather change.

    The super-reflective materials on the back and sleeves shine bright with almost with no light and for daytime visibility, I chose red. I experienced a few days at 100 degrees in Palm Springs and after unzipping the six ventilation openings felt okay. Just keep moving when itâ&#8364;&#8482;s hot; in traffic youâ&#8364;&#8482;ll cook. In a perfect world youâ&#8364;&#8482;d bring two suits, one for hot weather and one for cold but thatâ&#8364;&#8482;s far too bulky for precious storage space. A mid-weight suit with layering sweaters and thermals was the most logical.

    I still want to know why the main manufacturers today put waterproof liners on the inside. This is tolerable in temperatures above fifty degrees but below that, the wet fabric works like a cooling pad, chilling the rider. The suit drip dries fast but not fast enough in a tent over night watering dry sleeping bags. The result is climbing into a soggy suit in the morning. After extensive research, this was still the best suit overall to wear in varying temperatures from mountains to deserts.

    PIAA Lights

    Thereâ&#8364;&#8482;s no substitute for good lighting and PIAA delivers with superior lenses housed in heavy gauge aluminum. Complete kits with necessary switches and wiring harnesses are available from Cycle Gadgets. Get the one for your particular bike and everything will clip together following easy to decipher instructions. The Dakar alternator is too small for the big ones so I installed the 535s but biggest and brightest are best when it comes to lighting. For safety, burn them day and night.

    Cycle Gadgets is an online catalogue store with dozens of items that you didnâ&#8364;&#8482;t realize you needed until you saw them. Have your credit card ready, there is plenty to tempt you with.


    Terra Nova Light Bar

    No matter what lighting system you use, the Terra Nova is the light bar of choice. Machined from billet aluminum, these extra thick, lightweight bars are damn near as strong as your frame. Itâ&#8364;&#8482;s not a one size fits all bracket, Brad Vardy designs them specifically for each model listed. They come pre-drilled for a quick bolt up, allowing you to space out your own custom mounting holes with supplied template. Powder coated and precision engineered, theyâ&#8364;&#8482;re a perfect match for perfect machines.
    #28
  9. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,968
    Location:
    Mazatlán
    Magura Handlebars

    At the time I installed mine, pre-machined versions were unavailable and stock ones were a hassle to fit. Touratech now offers the complete kit for heated grips and hand guards. Aluminum bars are stronger but more brittle than steel ones that bend and sometimes straighten after a crash. The question is how hard is the impact? When I went down in Mongolia I surely would have bent my bars to hell and was relieved to have the Maguras which alongside the Acerbis metal strapped hand guards, were unfazed. I’ll be using aluminum bars from now on. Remember, metal reinforced hand guards will save your brake and clutch levers from slides to simple tip-overs.

    Toshiba Laptop

    Although in South America the Sony proved to be indestructible, this time, I decided to try something different. Sony gets the lowest consumer ratings verified by examining them at electronic stores—often keys were missing. Yet I’ve had good luck with them and miss using a Sony laptop that’s compatible with my Sony camera and there are special features you can’t buy in software to load onto another computer.

    This Toshiba has been banged around, dropped, nearly drenched and survived the jack hammering of Siberia. It’s bulletproof. I need lots of ram for editing photos and video on the road so Troy ordered 1028 megabytes and a 40 gig hard drive with a CD/DVD burner. The only thing slowing its lightening speed was downloading McAfee anti-virus software.

    Sony Digital DCS 717

    If I have time for a photo, it’s got to be fast enough for point and shoot. There’re better cameras for those with the time to set up their shots but for quickies this is it. The Sony fires up in a second and a half for those unexpected shots, then auto-focuses instantly. There’s an effective infrared night-shot setting and its got hours of battery time if you don’t use the screen viewer. It’s heavier than I would like but that’s the price for the high-quality Zeiss telephoto lenses. All the pictures on the website are point and shoot so judge for yourself.


    Aerostich Tank Equipment

    Helge Pederson’s inspirational photo canoeing his bike through the Darien Gap sets the mood for this catalogue of unique motorcycling gear. Not only is everything there that you ever dreamed of but there’s a choice of brands. Well experienced in world motorcycle adventure traveling, Andy Goldfine knows what riders need and how to shop for quality. When he’s not satisfied with what the market offers, he makes his own.

    Although I like the map case available on tank bags, to keep the weight low, this time I selected zippered Cordura tank panniers. They’re perfect for holding a few liters of water and filling with groceries for roadside meals. Small side pockets hold notes, pens and other non-valuables. In cold weather, they block icy winds to the legs securely fastened with adjustable elastic cords. For better visibility I chose bright yellow over black.

    Beverage holder

    These unbreakable plastic bottle holders mount directly to any size handlebars with an adjustable screw down clamp. Flexible support arms secure containers sized from 12oz cans to 1.5 liter bottles. They’re on my, mandatory, list.

    Triangle scarves

    When it’s cold out, it’s best to be able to seal your helmet to your jacket. One of several ways to slow heat loss through the neck and head, these fleece lined triangle shaped scarves can be removed easily by Velcro ends behind the collar. Waterproof and washable they come in colors.


    BMW Electric Vest

    This does the job for cold weather riding. Unless the weather is warm, I wear it everyday. Temperatures vary from dawn to dusk and rather than stopping to add gear when riding up mountain passes or as the sun dips behind clouds, I just flip the switch and feel the heat. The trick is to fire it up before you get cold. Built to quality BMW standards, it fits right, long enough to cover your lower back when sitting on a motorcycle with arms outstretched. I’m uncertain about the washing instructions so it’s starting to smell a bit weird.

    Stock BMW Rear Top Case

    Designed for the 1150 GS Adventure, this case was useful enough to have Jimmy make a special aluminum mounting plate for the Dakar. After gluing in foam packing, it was ideal for storing delicate valuables like camera, computer and vital documents. It’s better for security to have only one box to worry about. Keyed alike to the ignition, one twist removes it from the bike and another unlocks the lid. If it’s not easy to use, you won’t.

    Unfortunately, it was too heavy, too high and too far back on the Dakar causing the front end to shimmy. The load had to be reduced and re-positioned. As a one man show, it was not possible to film the scenarios I had in mind for this journey and after considering the issues, I decided the video equipment had to go. I couldn’t justify a twenty pound storage container holding fifteen pounds of gear. The combined weight of the camera, batteries, cartridges, manuals and chargers were just too much so I sent it all back to California from Mongolia. The added storage space from the dummy Adventure Exhaust pipe and jettisoning extra clothing and a few medical supplies made room to move the laptop to a pannier.

    Magellan GPS

    Mine just got stolen but a replacement is on the way. There are two main choices in GPS, Garmin and Magellan and there will always be debate on which is better. The Meridian Color is waterproof with great resolution do to the color screen. To avoid energy costs and to keep it from beating itself to pieces with the extra weight, it’s wired directly to the battery.

    Although technically superior, I shook two Garmins apart in South America so there is a reliability factor to consider. The Magellan Meridian Color lacks the easy to follow routing selection function available on more expensive models but that never shows road conditions or indicates travel time. You can still program waypoints and draw as-the-crow-flies lines to where you want to go.

    In Mongolia, comparing the World Base Maps available on CDs, the Garmin provided far more detail. To be sure this is consistent you would have to do a country by country comparison. The best feature about the Magellan is the way it disconnects with one button from the cradle to take with you when you step away from your bike. I failed to do this for one minute and the Gypsies snagged it. Not their fault—mine for ignoring my own security procedure. A minute is a laughable eternity to a professional thief. The Garmin requires fiddling with a power plug that ultimately breaks and is harder to disconnect so it would have likely got bagged sooner. With so many models available and so easy to steal, I would always buy the cheapest with decent screen resolution, durability and ease of use as deciding factors.
    #29
  10. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,968
    Location:
    Mazatlán
    Jerusalem
    January 12, 2005

    Since it&#8217;s claimed the Holiest city in history, either you&#8217;ll be drawn or repelled by what you see in Jerusalem. This is ground zero for the Arab-Israeli conflict, today&#8217;s biggest obstacle to peace. With biblical justifications, religious extremists risk world war over hallowed ground. True believers are not just dangerous to themselves&#8212;in this case, they are willing to take us all down in a quest for domination over the hottest chunk of real estate on the planet, their pipeline to God.

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    Travelers get into trouble discussing religion so we&#8217;ll just say it confounds me. But my opinions don&#8217;t matter; this is about meeting the people of the world to find out what they think. Seeing the world through my own eyes is insufficient. It&#8217;s better to feel it through the thoughts of those living there. To experience their life, it&#8217;s important to speak, eat and sleep with natives in their environment. Invited home with the locals is the traveler&#8217;s dream, yet if those opportunities don&#8217;t arise, we&#8217;re content with street corner tea breaks or restaurant chat. Words are not the only way; ideas can be exchanged with gestures. At times, we communicate with sign language, facial expressions and drawing diagrams in the dirt. There is never enough time but we reach understandings. A soiled spaceman-riding suit and helmet in hand draws the curious for instant engagement.

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    Wailing Walls, Temple Mounts and rights to worship who, are discussed at length. I spent two entire days wandering East and West Jerusalem talking to whoever would take the time. I learned about Hassidic Jews, Orthodox Jews, Muslim clerics and holy shrines. To respect Jews, at the Wailing Wall, I wore a skullcap; on the other side, for Palestinians, a black and white Kafiah. When asked what I thought, I told them that didn&#8217;t matter. What didn&#8217;t vary was the ending of dialogue. Jews asked whom I supported. &#8220;I support world peace.&#8221;

    &#8220;Very clever Glen.&#8221;

    Throwing up their arms with tears in their eyes, Palestinians asked, &#8220;What can we do?&#8221;

    I had no answer. As an outsider, solutions seem simple yet they are not. But a good start is to focus on what people have in common. What unites us is more important than what makes us different. Like Muslims, married Jewish women must cover their real hair, and instead of Hejabs, they wear wigs. Men of both religions feel that the hair of their women should only be seen by their husbands. Both places of worship had separate entrances and segregated prayer sections for men and women. Jews explained the logic&#8212;it&#8217;s too hard to concentrate on God with the opposite sex nearby. Shaking hands between unmarried men and women when greeting was also forbidden&#8212;&#8220;It feels too good.&#8221;

    Devout Muslims and Jews, both spend long hours in daily prayer and participate in arranged marriages for the primary purpose of reproduction rather than love. Sex outside marriage is forbidden. According to their respective holy books, for countless centuries, everyone&#8217;s expected a savior to appear. Life is for worshipping God. They pray on street corners, in businesses or while walking. When pointing out the myriad of similarities among them, conversations abruptly terminate. It became a struggle to keep silent. The more they spoke of their differences, the more frustrating it became.

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    Without visiting the Middle East, it&#8217;s impossible for Westerners to comprehend the depth and control of religion here. Everyone is convinced that they are right and those on the fringe, wield disproportionate influence on moderates. Liberals are silent.

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    So today I ride from Jerusalem across the desert toward Jordan, more unsettled than when I arrived. Thousands of miles of electrified barbed wire and imposing cement walls separating humans scar the landscape. Even if the complacent don&#8217;t care who dies, the economics are sobering. Everyone is broke. Reflecting on Middle Eastern cities with empty restaurants and hotels manned by forlorn owners, I wonder if they&#8217;ve finally had enough.
    #30
  11. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,968
    Location:
    Mazatlán
    Pakistan!
    <hr style="color: rgb(87, 87, 87);" size="1"> <!-- / icon and title --> <!-- message --> Arriving from Jordan at the Karachi International Airport and clearing Customs.


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    Yes, that's the front of a bus.

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    Driving maneuvers in Pakistan are slightly more aggressive than in the restrictive West...

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    keeping me in an unsteady state of breathless anticipation.

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    Heavily armed Pakistani Highway Police kept a watchful except when inviting me back to their barracks for breakfast and tea.

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    Some very dangerous characters preparing for Ead during Ramadan in Karachi

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    The entire time in Pakistan, I was in a constant state of fear, surrounded by chanting mobs.

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    A very dangerous lot, these Pakistanis.

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    #31
  12. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,968
    Location:
    Mazatlán
    India!
    <hr style="color: rgb(87, 87, 87);" size="1"> <!-- / icon and title --> <!-- message --> The India/Pakistan border

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    Husksters and Holy Men
    February 19, 2005
    Pushkar, India

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    While traveling anywhere in India, there is a photo op on every corner. But the best scenes appear at the worst times. If forgetting a camera, you are certain to encounter a wedding procession with grooms in elaborate costumes astride gold decorated, prancing white horses. Yet with steady access to so much stark fascination, you might debate whether to take the shot, assuming you will see it again tomorrow. You won&#8217;t, and later that night, you&#8217;ll kick yourself for opportunities missed. Even with thousands of digital photographs stored on my laptop, I only capture ten percent. Now, mere memory retains images of camel caravans in downtown Karachi or elephants humping in hotel parking lots.

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    On the route from Jaipur I encounter a typical sight throughout India--
    stonemasons at work assisted by streams of graceful women laborers. Men stand around smoking hand-rolled cigarettes as younger boys help stack rocks on top of their heads. Dressed in traditional elegant saris and smiling through grimace, they accept their plight as second and third generation slaves. With futures determined by caste, if they are paid, it will not be much.

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    There is no second-guessing in Pushkar, these most colorful people of Asia provide endless action for shutterbugs. According to Hindus, Pushkar Lake was formed at the desert&#8217;s edge when Lord Brahma slew a demon with a lotus flower, ever since, it&#8217;s been a site for religious pilgrimage. Sadly, now it&#8217;s a colony of lazy, pseudo-spiritual, wannabes&#8217; that take themselves far too serious. But they are also entertaining. Last night, there was a decent Sixties-style benefit concert for street children, featuring turbaned white-boys from France dressed in genuine local shirts. Groups of &#8220;recently converted&#8221; musicians strummed and banged under the stars using native instruments while aging scraggly hippies tried unsuccessfully to dance to the music.

    I have finally determined why it seemed all the women in Israel were beautiful. They exported the homely to India where the population is infested with foreign, Rastafarian space-cases wandering about in Indian garb with matted dreadlocks and bloodshot eyes. Most are just out of the military recuperating from stress and unpopular politics, so they seldom speak to other foreigners. Curiosity overrides and I ask a weathered young woman. &#8220;So, how come there are so many Israelis here?&#8221;

    &#8220;Hash, man. It&#8217;s a tenth of the price in Tel Aviv and if you bargain, you can live on two dollars a day.&#8221;

    &#8220;What about the spiritual aspects?&#8221;

    &#8220;Oh yeah, that too.&#8221;

    The hundred-acre Lake Pushkar is lined with cement-block-steps into formed pools for bathing pilgrims. Colorfully costumed, scamming pimps on the street above, lure the unsuspecting with handfuls of flower pedals to toss into stagnant, sacred-waters as tributes to Hindu Gods. But spirituality is not free. Holy Men counterparts await lakeside, prepared with rehearsed prayers and demands for rupees afterwards. While those that ignored Lonely Planet guidebook warnings naively fling pedals at sunrise, prayer mumbling priests in dirty robes circle like vultures.

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    After the chanting, whichever way they turn, the hapless face a grinning old man with painted skin and open hands. &#8220;As you like...&#8221;

    &#8220;What?&#8221;

    Humble smiles accompany meek bows with outstretched palms. &#8220;As you like, Rupees.&#8221;

    Twenties and fifties are handed back with sterner requests, &#8220;As you like---more Rupees.&#8221;

    At sunset, I seek secluded steps free of gawkers and hawkers for a moment of meditation. Once settled into a balanced lotus posture, the relentless tapping of tabla drums merging with fluctuating whines of Indian string instruments echoes inward, drawing me deeper. Half expecting a miracle or brief glimpse of nirvana, none occurs. No holy man approaches to slap my forehead reeling me into enlightenment, but I surface in time to stop mischievous monkeys from scampering away with my helmet. Still, the show is endless.

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    Juggling musicians and creative beggars compete at the waters edge, each plying a proven trade. A cunning old man with a bamboo violin and his tiny daughter win. While sawing out off-key tunes of Indian folk songs, his ragged little girl sings at the top of her lungs. Smudged face and twinkling brown eyes persist. No matter which way you turn, she scurries around to face you, belting out verses while staring deep into your eyes. Even the most hardened tightwads buckle, surrendering crinkled bills of rupees.

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    Back on the street, animal dung dumped from cows, pigeons and monkeys is trampled into stinky clouds of clinging dust while beggars and tourists equal in numbers. Some of the more experienced don&#8217;t bother to rise, merely sitting in family circles sipping tea next to plates of cash as indication of your obligation. Retorts of &#8220;Sorry no small-money&#8221; are met with rubber-band-wads of bills waved in the air. &#8220;No problem, I can make change.&#8221;

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    Despite the circus of hucksters, excuses to stay another day come easy. Time on an Indian road is time in hell. If the buses and trucks don&#8217;t get you, a heart attack will. There was a spanking new triple lane freeway stretching down from Jaipur that was even separated by a raised concrete median. Still, every tenth vehicle hurtling through the rush was a bus with blaring horns roaring forward, directly in my lane. The only option was to grab the brakes and head into a field. In Turkey, I stopped frequently to recover from the cold, here I halt to recover my pulse and wait for the shakes to pass.

    But everyone has weak spots, for me it&#8217;s giggling street children skipping circles around my motorcycle anxious for invitations. As the new-found sucker for rides, I am constantly waylaid. If agreeing to a lap of Main Street, soon, three excited youngsters pile on back urging for horn beeps and wheelies. As the word spreads, a crowd grows. I don&#8217;t give them money but a few bucks buys enough oranges to appease my army.

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    Indian pilgrims, also tired of shams and hustles, consume my afternoons with questions of &#8220;which are the places from which you have come.&#8221; Reciting a list of countries, I end with a shout, &#8220;and then, INDIA!&#8221; After applause, I return with queries into their lives and professions.

    Shopkeepers, doctors and factory workers all have stories of family and religion. Delighted a foreigner wants to know of them, soon they shove handfuls of scribbled addresses my way with offers to visit their towns.

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    As a Hindu holy city, in Pushkar, animal protein is forbidden. But someone has taught locals the art of Italian cooking and basic hygiene. Too bad I can only eat a limited amount of pizza and raviolis for breakfast and my supply of smuggled boiled eggs ran out yesterday. Yet, the overcooked flesh of unfortunate chickens tempts me onward. In the morning, I&#8217;ll re-pack freshly river-laundered riding clothes and head southeast to &#8220;determine the direction for which will be the location of my approaching destination.&#8221;

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    #32
  13. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,968
    Location:
    Mazatlán
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    Impressions
    March 14, 2005
    Bodhga, Bihar
    No matter the first impressions of a country, the last ones affect our memories most. Excessive red-tape or bad attitudes at border crossings can set the wrong tone entering, but subsequent experiences, especially interactions with natives, imprint the deepest recollections. Yet there are so many highs and lows in India that even when re-reading my diary, emotions are scrambled. One day the Indian manner of speaking with faces uncomfortably close has me grating to leave, and the next, I&#8217;m overcome with emotion when strangers have selflessly offered me aid.

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    This was my second journey to India. The first was in 1989, when I rented a jeep and drove the cease-fire line with Pakistan along the Indus River into the northern province of Ladakh. There was an ugly situation brewing in Kashmir as the fighting broke out with Muslim Separatists and Indian troops. Bus stations blown up and random acts of terrorism against civilians eventually became routine. Experiencing the senselessness of religious violence was disturbing enough to make me move from Asia back to California. At that time, I had no intention of ever returning and if India didn&#8217;t stand between Pakistan and Nepal, I wouldn&#8217;t be here now.

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    But like other detours so far, everything&#8217;s turned out for the best. Because of delays in the Middle East, at the time of arrival here, there was only a half-month left on a non-extendable visa. But an unusual granting of another four-week-stay increased that to six--hardly enough for a few cities and far too much riding through maddening chaos. But India is so intense, a day is a week and it&#8217;s impossible to be idle for a minute, even when sitting still.

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    It takes years to understand the shock of what travelers witness in India and time is always in the way. Difficult choices of what to see are made based on studying guidebooks and interviews with fellow wanderers. &#8220;Glen, you really need to hit the beaches of Goa and Kerala.&#8221;

    &#8220;What would I do there?&#8221;

    &#8220;Nothing. You just relax and drink beer.&#8221;

    At this stage of my journey, the notion of idling in paradise was enticing, but given time constraints and twelve days to come and go there, that would be misused opportunity. Yet the price for choosing backcountry roads and less-visited villages became a damaged suspension and more nerve-wracking close-calls than I care to consider.

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    Although Bodhga lacked the circus-like hustle of other Indian holy towns, that was mainly because this Mecca for Buddhists is so far out of the way and the tourist season is over. The daily temperature is rising quick and devastating Monsoon storms are only a few weeks away. Even the ever-so-persistent touts were too lazy to annoy the few remaining temple-hopping backpackers. Two weeks ago, every hotel was fully booked. Now, Bodhga, is like the Middle East, empty of travelers.

    As the site where Buddha reached enlightenment, Buddhist countries have built temples and monuments here to honor the sanctified land. Even the sacred Bodhi Tree outside the Mahabodhi temple has grown from four generations of saplings cut from the original. Streams of peaceful pilgrims pay silent homage with meaningful, slow garden walks and offerings of fragrant garlands. With obnoxious vendors walled out, sunrise meditations under the Bodhi&#8217;s canopy were moving experiences that touch one&#8217;s soul.

    Although each famous locale held unique significance, the people of India leave the deepest impressions. When asked by natives why so many foreigners visit their country, I explain, &#8220;It&#8217;s because your peculiar beliefs and ways twist our minds. To free our own thinking, we seek that which is furthest from our own.&#8221; Ideas that confound us also deepen our thoughts. In that regard, India is as far from the West as you can get without leaving the planet.

    Maintaining a sense of humor is the only way to enjoy Indians. Disparities in customs carry scents of fresh bouquets of exotic flowers or are fingernails-across-a-chalkboard clashes of culture. With a rapidly rising middleclass, overnight, there has been a proliferation of new vehicles on already gridlocked roads. Four million motor-scooters alone appeared this year, with few of the drivers licensed or skilled. Anyone, of any age, who can afford a scooter, is allowed to drive one, and carry however many passengers will fit. This accounts for the constant light colliding and numerous near-death experiences.

    But Indian men are always around when you need them, and often when you don&#8217;t. In the most densely populated land on earth, concepts of space or privacy are unknown. When stopped by the side of the road, it never takes long for inquisitive men to approach me offering assistance. Still, far too often, when stopping to rest or merely to pee, an audience accumulates and halfway through my chores they still stand five feet away, staring. Yet the women are more reserved.

    Like Arab females, for whatever their reasons, Indian women are quiet in public. Although seen much more often, they hardly acknowledge a foreigner&#8217;s greeting. Typical of developing nations, India is undoubtedly a man&#8217;s world. As women toil in fields, a frequent sight is jabbering men standing by smoking cigarettes. Occasionally, younger boys will assist in piling heavy loads on top of the heads of grimacing female workers severing as human wheelbarrows. Yet not even their balanced staggering under the burden of brutal labor detracts from their femininity and exquisite stately poise.

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    Whether laboring in agriculture fields or stepping from luxury cars in uptown Delhi, Indian women exude uncommon style. Draped in brilliantly colored saris, the dignity of their compelling composure suggests histories of royalty no matter the reality. In cities and villages, emerging through choking clouds of blackened exhaust fumes, they casually step over cow dung, fluid as fabled princesses. Peeking through transparent veils of silks and chiffons, whatever their caste, they convey mythical elegance through glistening chestnut eyes. From festivals to palaces, even considering the Taj, my most moving impressions of the country were of the remarkable grace of the enduring Indian women.

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    #33
  14. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,968
    Location:
    Mazatlán
    After a friendly adios to India, it was off to Nepal.
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    Giddy with the Gods
    March 16, 2005
    Chittawan Royale Park, Nepal

    Although news of escalating violence in Nepal was distressing, it was not deterring. Since trekking the Himalayas in 1981 before it became trendy, I have had subtle yearnings to return and rekindle fading memories of authentically spiritual people. Witnessing firsthand the sincere humility of the natives in such a sacred landscape provoked a profound internal awakening, stimulating a re-examination of my Western sense of materialism. Over the centuries, many a wandering foreigner has been stunned by the generous nature of Nepali mountain tribes. In those days, money had little meaning as long as everyone had food and their particular religion.

    From ancient prayer wheels to manicured thousand-mile trails lined with hand-chiseled boulders, the experience was far too intense to absorb in one visit. Since learning the wonders of Buddhist culture in the guiding hands of intensely loyal mountain Sherpa, California has never been the same and for the last nine months, it&#8217;s been hard to resist counting the days until returning. As in every country, my itinerary was vague until reaching the border--I didn&#8217;t have a Nepal guidebook until swapping for one with an outbound traveler this morning. Yet as long as monsoon storms are trailing, anywhere in Asia is home.

    Crossing between India and Nepal was the usual Developing Nation congested mess of old, groaning buses and broken down trucks vying for drastically limited road space.

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    But because foreign motorcyclists are in a class of their own, we&#8217;re usually bumped to the front of Customs lines while officials scramble to determine what to do with us. Three hours later, after the last of the reviewing and stamping, I was permitted to enter into an immediate deceleration of hustle with a glide into bliss--better roads and an end to aggressive, suicidal Indian drivers. From the first second across the border, a relieving warmth from the heart and soul of the Nepalese people transmits on contact.

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    Trapped between giants--as Mongolia languishes in poverty between Russia and China, Nepal trembles under pressure from Beijing and Delhi. An ethnic blend of lndo-Aryan and Tibeto-Burmese, Hindus occupy the lowlands and in the mountains, descendants of Tibetan Buddhists subsist as they have for a thousand years. Lack of natural resources or industrial base makes those living in the land where Buddha was born, some of the poorest on earth. Twenty percent of their income is from war-ravaged tourism that is now at an agonizing standstill.

    Halfway to Katmandu lies a cutoff for the Royal Chitwan National Park and a convenient choice to split a nine-hour ride to the capital. After reveling in a day-ride of relative calm, upon a saggy old smelly hostel mattress, I tumble into sleep with dreams of rhino hunting elephant-back and awake to the tantalizing lure of the mighty Himalayas. Formed by colliding tectonic plates sixty million years ago, the windswept, icy peaks are still on the rise, six inches a year. That notion alone had me giddy with anticipation, soaring through mountain curves until sundown. The asphalt is wavy but smooth and alas long empty straight-aways provide welcome expanses for the Blue Beast to stretch its legs. Once overtaking convoys of tanker trucks, a steady spiral upwards from the Indian Plains leads into the forested foothills of Everest. With some of the best scenery in Asia, Nepal is home to ten of the fourteen highest mountains on earth.

    Since it&#8217;s the end of dry season, lowland jungle terrain is parched and golden. Seasonally lush, green rice fields are now multi-acre, patchwork squares flattened into cracked cakes of mud. A mountain fire burns somewhere unchecked, resulting in distant hillsides enshrouded in a brown smoggy haze. Busy battling rebels, the government lacks adequate resources to fight fires, and so they rage. Cement-barrel, Checkpoint-Charlies are manned by young friendly soldiers waving me to pass. The only agreement between warring factions is that foreigners are not intentionally targeted. With murderous revenge, they ambush one another, but leaders on both sides understand, without the flow of tourist dollars, their deteriorating economy collapses further until everyone starves&#8212;which is happening anyway.

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    Even when shaking down trekkers for funding, gun-toting Maoist rebels politely issue receipts so reluctant donors will not be war-taxed twice by another patrol. While Nepali warriors butcher each other, they still smile at tourists and so far, none have been shot. The suffering inflicted by their own has broken the heart of many a visitor. Never a kinder people existed and if anyone&#8217;s ever behaved in the image of God, it&#8217;s the simple folk who dwell within these mountains.

    With tourism accelerating downward, competing businessmen forlornly accept whatever you&#8217;ll pay. Just outside Chitwan, three bucks a night rents thatched huts on the riverbank, including breakfast in the morning. The water level is down but so are the mosquitoes and my ears have almost stopped ringing from the bloodcurdling screams of trumpeting Indian truck horns. In the serenity of the southern Nepali jungle, gone are the cold-sweat awakenings at midnight with images of converging headlights.

    For recharging fading batteries, there are electrical outlets back by the road right next to an impossibly slow Internet terminal. Chunks of just-caught river fish fried in garlic sauce enhance an already glorious sunset while another fifteen bucks schedules a pre-dawn elephant ride and half-day trek to spot crocodiles. Guidebooks warn against walking, as park rhinos are known to charge&#8212;they can trot 30mph and sprint even faster. For now, it remains to be seen if Vikings can take photos climbing backwards up trees.


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    And onto Katmandu

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    For some Hindu poster paint festivals...

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    Where everyone who is out on the street gets nailed.

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    Even though everyone knew Chinese border guards were denying entry of private vehicles, I had to try, if nothing else just for a heartier dose of Himalayan scenery. The super-highway to Tibet.

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    #34
  15. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,968
    Location:
    Mazatlán
    Riding North
    April 9, 2005
    Bangkok, Thailand

    Like stepping into a sauna of steamy tropical flavors, the first thing to sense when the aircraft door unseals is an overpowering gulp of fragrant, waterlogged air. Throughout the city, millions of massive air conditioners pump around the clock, sucking out tons of moisture while altering the atmospheres of contemporary office buildings and multilevel shopping malls. Walking outside trying to inhale is like attempting to breathe underwater.

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    Welcome to Bangkok, capital of Thailand--The City of Angels in the Land of a Thousand Smiles. Silently communicating with practiced facial gestures, depending on preceding events, a smile can mean, hello, goodbye, go to hell or let&#8217;s make love. In ancient traditions of saving face, Thais would rather yield than risk conflict and humiliation. In the West, traffic mishaps result in road rage, at the least, venting with jabbing middle fingers. Here passivity redirects negative energy and confrontation is avoided&#8212;also fundamentals of Asian Martial Arts.

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    Thousands of makeshift alleyway food-stalls conveniently appear wherever humans coagulate. From outside government offices to busy street corners, sweet smelling fresh fruit stands and sizzling mini-barbeques tease the senses for closer inspections. No need to pack a lunch when going to work&#8212;beyond factory entrances, lines of vendors peddling what&#8217;s listed on menus of expensive Thai restaurants, dish out delightful bargain meals from improvised kitchens with rickety curbside tables.

    Piercing scents of fresh cut vegetables and sinus clearing spices permeate thick humid air while skilled street chefs deftly combine secret ingredients to produce flaming flavors soon to explode inside your mouth. Sizzling woks with boiling meats and stir-fried noodles emit clouds of scorching vapors strong enough to burn your eyes. None are idle, and there is always a wait for drooling patrons. Only the best survive; inferior goods or services fade quickly down the smoldering backstreets of a pitiless city.

    Bangkok, capital of Siam is also world capital for the dark side of foreign intrigue and international espionage. From black market weapons brokers to hedonistic pleasure palaces, you can purchase either a shoulder-fired rocket or sexual favors from well-trained, perfectly formed women or men of any age. Hidden down smog-choked alleyways, discreet signs appear advertising to satisfy every need and massage whatever body parts ache for relief.

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    Yet spirituality dominates the culture with ancient beliefs and sacred rites. Reclining Buddha statues and elaborate temples corral the faithful in the most spectacular display of religion on earth.

    Still, it&#8217;s a brutally overcrowded city and a biker&#8217;s frightmare of clogged traffic arteries and stifling heat. Yesterday afternoon, the Blue Beast was serviced and refurbished with fresh tires so by the time Brad arrived we were chomping at the grips to ride north into cooler, less populated regions of tribal highlands. After four hours of confusing departure attempts, the elongated dual lane highway empties as we twist our throttles for a blast into the haze of a fiery sunset.

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    Bangkok bustle evolves into meandering country roads and smiling rice paddy workers strolling home from laboring to live. Herds of hulking water buffalo lounge roadside as ominous reminders to remain alert. Speeding motorcyclists would have better luck colliding with brick walls.
    Spiritual Thais celebrate that which represents life. The weeklong holiday of Song Khran marks beginnings of the Thai New Year with festivals of water wars and painted faces. To wash away sins, mini-trucks packed with giggling teens scoop buckets of water from fifty-gallon drums to fling at one another and those in between. With cameras zipped inside our jackets, we white-line between cars, ducking sprays from refreshing waves and gleeful shouts of pearly-toothed, laughing children.

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    Once again, time is the most significant concern. In nine days, Brad reluctantly returns to the rush of corporate America so we milk the most from every moment. A brief foray into the Kingdom of Siam begins with a soul-gripping blend of colorful celebration on the outskirts of a wanderer&#8217;s paradise into the majesty of tribal life.

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    Everyday, new tribal villagers welcome us in unfamiliar languages as the men from Mars in space-age plastic clothing, while inquisitive youngsters constantly surround us. Graceful, Longneck women eyed us with suspicion, and no matter our effort, couldn&#8217;t be coaxed into a ride. Each year Kayan tribal women add additional solid brass collar-rings below their jawbones in an effort to create a longer neck. But in reality, the metal tubes only push their shoulders down creating that visual effect. Having shouted the praises of Asia for years, my dream is being fulfilled sharing these scenes with Brad. Northern Thailand provides the ultimate contrast in a provocative cultural buffet with spicy aftertastes that lasts a lifetime. Crossing worlds plants the deepest seeds.

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    A thick overcast sky protects us from a blazing tropical sun as we spiral upwards, spinning our tires over dizzying mountain dirt tracks while kicking up layers of powdery orange clay. Hugging the Burmese border as close as we dare, we&#8217;re careful not to drift too far. Refugee tribesmen have directed us over trails not shown on maps but the black triangle on my GPS indicates we&#8217;re nearing the forbidden line. Amidst the chaos of ethnic feuding in the heart of opium country, it&#8217;s unlikely intercepting army patrols or drug warlord mercenaries would accept any explanations.
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    #35
  16. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,968
    Location:
    Mazatlán
    Khmers
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    Onward to Cambodia

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    There are few certainties regarding adventure travel. In developing nations that definitely applies when predicting political stability, riding weather or road conditions. With no pavement leading away from Thailand or Laos, those attempting the Cambodian interior are subject to the careless whims of nature. Even if recently graded, a few days of Monsoon can erode otherwise tolerable dirt track and undermine surfaces, collapsing critical bridges.

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    "And three little piggies went to market..."

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    Winding through the jungle over deteriorated improvised bridges and rice paddy levies, led through impoverished Khmer villages and unsowed fields of caked mud. Warnings to never stray from the road to till their fields became understood at my first meal stop. Three of the five young men at the next table bore artificial legs, presumably from stepping on one of hundreds of thousands of remaining landmines planted during thirty years of harried civil war. But everyone shares in sorrow.

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    Even when challenged by their own misfortune, as a hobbling old beggar woman approached, the legless men dug deep to share a few coins. As Cambodia slowly emerges from the aftermath of genocide followed by famine, the bodies of the people are wounded but not their hopes. A simple gaze into the tormented eyes of docile peasants reveals a forgiving sincerity and a bashful smile from the heart. Like Latin American campesinos it&#8217;s always the kindest who suffer the most.

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    S-21 Prison
    May 30, 2005
    Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    On a world tour primarily through developing nations, travelers encounter enough gut-wrenching catastrophes to haunt their dreams for years. Can we ever get used to it? Or will we eventually yield to the psychological strain from the exasperation of inability to affect what leaves us sleepless? This being a traveler&#8217;s diary, should it exclude the immeasurable suffering we witness by abusive governments, disease and natural disaster?

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    Yet it&#8217;s impossible to separate Cambodia from an appalling past. To meekly sidestep mention of recent genocide is to punish the victims once more. In television news, we hear words like genocide so often the meaning gets lost&#8212;even Mr. Webster uses sterile terminology: &#8220;the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.&#8221; He should have added: the wholesale butchering of innocent men, women and children that generally includes torture for fun. Maoist Khmer Rouge had a special place for inflicting such misery.

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    S-21 Prison was originally a Phnom Penh schoolhouse until 1975 when bloodthirsty conquering Khmer Rouge rebels converted it into a detention facility for interrogation&#8212;a torture center. Whoever survived the wicked horrors of questioning here was later transferred to an extermination camp. Like Nazis and other tyrannical regimes, the Khmer Rouge maintained detailed records and photographs of their victims. To preserve the memory of this twisted nightmare, S¬21 Prison has been converted into a museum of shocking revulsion where the sacrificed can still be heard.

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    In group-meditation, there is a belief in the existence and effect of collective consciousness. Focusing mental energies in monasteries and holy sites is said to intensify the power of prayer. But who is out there listening? Most people believe we dwell within a spirit world of higher beings--Gods and ghosts? There must be something more to this&#8212;is a person without a soul a hollow vessel? Where do we go when our bodies expire?

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    To pass into the afterlife correctly, Cambodians believe that their dead must be cremated before burial; otherwise, for all of eternity they languish in limbo as ghosts. This is a dreadful notion for relatives of those dumped in mass graves during the Khmer Rouge rein of frenzied genocide. Cambodia is a country few can pick out on a map--their holocaust is a mere footnote in history, but the lost souls of two million murdered still communally demand justice.

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    When entering within the first few steps of S-21 Prison Museum, the distinctive power of anguish smothers your spirit. Before entering the first torture chamber, tears will have been flowing down your face while some find it difficult to breathe. No one speaks during the tour--you merely wander through rooms reeling in a daze of nausea. The ghosts of S-21 Prison not only cry out, but you can see their faces. Recovered mug-shots of torture victims are on display so visitors can slowly walk by each one and look them in the eye.

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    The innocent young, the helpless old and the average Cambodian&#8212;you study them as they study you. The softness in their eyes reveals a naïve nature. Suddenly your mind spins in a sickening cauldron of ghastly images&#8212;while photographed were they aware of the grisly future ahead?

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    On their way to dank holding-cells, did they march past gruesome gallows witnessing humans dangling upside down? Could they hear the bloodcurdling screams of those begging to die? What did they feel at that moment? What about when finally steel-bar-shackled together lying side by side on concrete floors awaiting their turn? How long is eternity for them?
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    Mr. Pol Pot&#8217;s Khmer Rouge was an efficient operation; to save bullets, berserk executioners often bludgeoned victims to death. Enormous pits were dug by dazed prisoners who had to know this was their next stop. Mass-graves is another term losing meaning&#8212;until you see one.

    What&#8217;s made this extra tragic is meeting surviving Cambodians first. From the tormented families to the unlucky legless who stepped on one of thousands of landmines buried in their farm fields, gentle Buddhist Cambodians silently bear their sorrow. But, the human spirit triumphs, and still, they are always first to smile.


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    #36
  17. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,968
    Location:
    Mazatlán
    Loong
    July 6, 2005
    Sadao, Thailand

    From the red clay tracks of Laos and Cambodia to a four-lane highway spanning the length of Malaysia, it&#8217;s been a fascinating variation of road to travel. Originally allotting three months for the region, time has passed too quickly for a comfortable farewell. As the predominately-Muslim southern provinces of Thailand plunge deeper into turmoil, government travel warnings increase. After a brutal suppression of a peaceful uprising, blood revenge intensifies with daily assaults and finally, beheadings.

    It&#8217;s been a hundred years since Britain and Thailand divvied up the south, but the inhabitants have not forgotten their identity. What was once northern Muslim Malaysia has become a troubled land of sectarian violence. Gentle Buddhist and peaceful Muslims exist in the crossfire of radicals as a struggle for independence continues.

    Nearing the border, personalities shift as eager smiles and overt friendliness evolve into awkward suspicion. Half the locals don&#8217;t speak Thai and those who do, utter a jagged dialect that even those from Bangkok don&#8217;t understand. My roadside restaurant attempts at contact are met with wary nods and silent stares. A wanderer&#8217;s policy of not leaving until we shake hands stretches the day, but after lengthy broken dialogue, persistence pays. Eventually, chunky-cheeked Southerners crowd around for photos and insist on buying my meals&#8212;a gesture unheard of further north but typical Islamic hospitality. Belief and sincerity are more important than who owns what.

    My last four days on an expired one-month visa evaporate on the travel-poster-paradise island of Phuket, complete with moonlight romance boiling into breathless tropical lust. Bumming about the city bars, I&#8217;ve met the girl of my most recent dreams. Motorcycle rides along clear blue waters lined with sugary sands, stirs an intoxicating brew of instant attraction and mutual enthusiasm. Women of thirty without children are rare in Thailand, yet to ask questions would only encourage lies. Sticking to small-talk, the bumbling humor of a stuttering foreigner cuts direct to the chase and before long, Loong&#8217;s naked body is next to mine. Adventurous sexual encounters for travelers can result in unrealistic optimism that somehow fate will intervene and goodbyes can be postponed. Yet wishing and hoping is only a romantic mirage for a pragmatic wanderer, no matter how lonely. And as the softness of her smile belies the hardship of her life, I never want to let her go.

    Tall and thin, with long black hair dangling to the top of well-fit jeans caught my eye but not as much as watching her give coins to street-beggars. An Asian ranch-girl in a cultural menagerie of desires and taboos captures a Viking heart. Intermixing races and cultures is the ultimate combination of what our parents warned us about. Cautiously aware how foreigners are taken by the childlike playfulness of Thai women, for the last three months, I&#8217;ve avoided what could take me down. Yet such warnings are hard to remember while lost in her innocent laughter and caught in a web of craving. For what seems like forever in a soft lingering embrace, her long silky legs hold me inside as she coos for me stay. When pearly-toothed natives flick on the sensuous charm, we&#8217;re as defenseless as they are the moment we saddle up and leave. If willing to spend the time, the economic might of a single Western workingman could easily sweep aside the tragedies of an entire village&#8212;cognizance of this makes riding off into the sunset that much harder.

    But destiny rules Asia. Whether human imposed or natural disasters, the fate of those we learn to care about is always beyond their control. Commercial impact of the recent Tsunami is mending far faster than the spirits of human survivors, while faith and hope wobble as reliable as the region&#8217;s tectonic plates next shift. Thais celebrate water but their lifelong friend the sea has betrayed them and now worship has turned to terror. Will giant waves of death come for them again?

    A moonlit stroll on an empty paradisiacal beach turned shivering paranoia as Loong trembles at the waters edge. Her warm melodic laughter becomes a speechless frozen body with blank-stare chants to Buddha. Clumsy attempts to console what I don&#8217;t understand adds to the frustration of ineptitude. I might as well have been watching this on TV. Whispering waves to Loong have become the whimpering hisses of lurking spirits sucked out to sea. &#8220;Grua bpee Gaan&#8221; I fear the ghosts Glen.&#8221;
    Later, while packing my gear, she watches me count the last of my Thai currency while calculating hotel bill and immigration fines for an expired visa. Not realizing it&#8217;s only an attempt to avoid another ATM withdrawal, she worries I don&#8217;t have enough money and holds out a handful of wrinkled bills. On top of cooking my meals and washing my clothes, she&#8217;s fired both barrels at once. But another night in the seductive embrace of Loong would surely compel another year and once again, a now or never moment comes and goes.

    Life is extra-unfair for women in developing nations, and it&#8217;s likely been awhile since she was treated as a lady--but an armful of purple orchids from the traveling foreigner gave her big-face in the minds of a watching village. And as I stood there grappling with emotion, her almond eyes shimmering like crystal coffee beans clouded reasons to move on. Struggling for composure, she read from a scribbled note the only English she&#8217;s yet spoken, &#8220;Plees no foget me Gaan.&#8221; And this time, somehow no matter how hard I twist the throttle, it will be awhile before leaving the past behind.
    #37
  18. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,968
    Location:
    Mazatlán
    Looping Borneo
    August 4, 2005
    Tawau, East Malaysia

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    As an endangered species, orangutans managing to elude poachers in the wild are difficult to find. The Sipilok Rehabilitation Center on the far eastern tip of Borneo sits the largest of four sanctuaries in the world where orphans are cared for and taught to survive on their own. Just outside the busy seaport of Sandakan, a small, dedicated staff of mostly volunteers, studies and rehabilitates former captive adults and babies missed by hunters. Monkeys are common everywhere in Asia but human-like features of orangutans put them in a class of their own and they are the most worthwhile sites in East Malaysia.

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    Once past the visitor center, a quarter-kilometer wooden catwalk elevated above the rainforest floor guides travel-packaged adventurers to a double-tiered platform for the silent morning show. Here, puffing vacationers perspiring in spiffy new safari clothes can wait for feeding time and distant glimpses of orangutans in training. In thick humid air, almost to the designated minute, a fat nylon cable stretching a thousand yards back into the jungle begins to jump and sway. One by one, rusty-haired young and old orangutans, reach hand over hand, gripping their way forward in coordinated rhythm to receive morning treats of bananas and sugarcane. Fascinating but touristy, this is still the only way to see them in their natural environment.

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    Later that night, smiling to sleep in a polished hardwood lodge, visions of exploring the upcoming wilderness haunted my dreams. Kalimantan, the Indonesian side of Borneo is reported to be similar to the interior of Sabah yet lacks a consistent coastal route. There are no paved roads to link remote towns and villages, only sloppy tracks and watery paths of shallow jungle rivers. Just to exit East Malaysia requires island-hopping by ferryboat to reach the shores of Kalimantan. That&#8217;s been the task here at the last stop in Tawau, locating a sea-going captain willing to haul me to Nunukan Island to possibly find another boat to Tarakan Island. Because geographic information is scarce, from there, the future remains undecided unless the government has something to offer.

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    Officials in the Indonesian Consulate were cooperative but skeptical, as not even the government liaison officer understood my mission of being the first man to circle the island of Borneo by motorcycle. When explaining my desire to traverse Kalimantan to end up back at my initial starting point in Kuching, he politely advised that it was more practical to ride the asphalt road back from where I just came. Wanting to circle the island by land made no sense, especially alone. Upon further consideration, he added that he was uncertain if Indonesian Customs in Nunukan had ever processed a motor vehicle. Anyway, the only means he was sure of to reach there was by passenger ferries with no accommodations for motorcycles. He was talking himself into doubt.

    When government employees anywhere, lack clear-cut rules, to avoid future conflicts, they usually say, &#8220;No, it can&#8217;t be done.&#8221; Yet in the past when needing approvals, before relating my positions, it always helped to first shake a man&#8217;s hand and look him in the eye&#8212;that made it harder to turn me away, and today was no different. By the end of my two-hour plea, a hesitant Mr. Ali was finally convinced to help, and offers encouragement by scribbling an introduction note on the back of his business card. This will come in handy if getting far enough to use it with reluctant Customs officials in Kalimantan. And there were still peculiar hurdles lurking.

    It&#8217;s wise to be careful where camping and not just because of poisonous snakes or wild animals. Even though Borneo is a giant rainforest, it&#8217;s nearing the driest time of year and scientists warn of a fate more common than disease and snakebites. Deadfall. Thousands of decaying hardwood tree branches, waterlogged and weighted by moisture from squalls, silently plummeting earthbound are the most common killers in the jungle. But unless I&#8217;m completely stuck, I am not planning to drift from the trail.

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    As loggers are busy stripping the forest, there should be dirt roads leading to asphalt and cities. There is no established primary route or maps indicating individual connections, but truckers must move pillaged timber somehow. To alleviate self-doubt I mumble, &#8220;there is always a first time for everything.&#8221; An Internet search yielded only rumors that years ago, two bikers looped the island but started from halfway into Kalimantan&#8212;not from the actual border. Regardless, the journey is proceeding one step at a time, beginning at the wharf coordinating with a sympathetic ferryboat captain. Evaluating the tides indicates that12:30PM renders the ship&#8217;s main deck, dock-level for easier cargo transfer.

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    Loading and offloading on boats or airplanes without damaging the bike is a recurring difficulty where I&#8217;m always holding my breath until my precious cargo is finally strapped down. When slinging five hundred pounds of awkward motorcycle over raised transoms of passenger ferries, weight is a significant factor. But due to critical gas shortages throughout Indonesia, it&#8217;s necessary to fill my ten-gallon tank before loading. There are likely additional obstacles no one has imagined. After studying maps revealing dozens of small rivers interrupting established mud roads, I&#8217;m certain more boating is likely. If the jungle does prove impassable, failure means a thousand mile retreat back to Malaysia. Once beginning, there&#8217;ll be no turning back.

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    #38
  19. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,968
    Location:
    Mazatlán
    Nunukan Island
    August 4, 2005
    Kalimantan, Indonesia

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    As the Russian experience began aboard a Russian ferry in Japan, so did the journey into Indonesia from Malaysia. Packed nearly on top of each other in the sticky heat of an overcrowded ships hold, curious crewman and inquisitive passengers edged closer to share handfuls of dried squid and initiate sign-language interrogation. No one spoke English, yet after drawing a map, they understood where I was headed while remaining unsure why. Using a reliable method for learning basic communication by first memorizing the five Ws, I begin scribbling pocket notes for the simplest of phrases. &#8220;Hello, thank you and please, no onions in my food.&#8221;

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    Loading the motorcycle onto rusted decks of the passenger ferry had been an over-the-plank roll-on under power, yet, by shaking their heads repeating &#8220;Nunukan,&#8221; dubious shipmen hinted that offloading could be another matter. It was, but nothing a dozen anxious helpers couldn&#8217;t handle with a cooperative captain running the hundred-foot-long ship, bow-first, direct against wharf for a team-effort manhandle on to solid ground.

    Once exploring the island, stopping to investigate a roadside gathering of costumed natives results in joyous invitations to join an Islamic wedding procession. Muslims are as liberal as they please in Indonesia--women wore garments from white-laced headscarves to see-through blouses with black brassieres. Far too crowded for up-close ceremony photos, tittering bridesmaids and decked-out relatives were anxious to pose for the foreigner while eating and drinking. Although there was little to offer, the men insisted I sample a small table buffet of smoking hot chili dishes&#8212;as always, it&#8217;s those with the least who share the most.

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    Last week while traveling further east through Sabah, the economic situation had deteriorated as evenly as the infrastructure until a pitiful crumple in Kalimantan. But Indonesians shouting greetings today seem content and friendly enough as it took an hour threading through throngs of beckoning islanders to reach the town&#8217;s lone hotel. Two bucks buys a tidy cubicle with a drooping mattress and coldwater bucket bathroom. But the manager lets me use his office electrical outlet to charge my laptop and the café next door sells bargain seafood dinners.

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    Although the answers varied, when questioning locals in East Malaysia, they were confident a bigger boat sails from Nunukan to Tarakan Island. From there, it&#8217;s land-based travel until completing the loop back to Kuching.

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    That is, except for a variety of unfamiliar rivers and swamps.
    The truth is, there are only two small passenger ferries, both lacking deck space for motorcycles. Anxious to help a wandering foreigner, my new-found friend, Abdul Kahar relates information regarding a twenty-foot wooden fishing boat sailing at dawn to arrive due west on the mainland&#8212;even better for setting a record because it&#8217;s right on the border instead of further away where the previous team began.

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    To my dismay local Kalimantan maps still don&#8217;t show roads connecting villages in remote Dayak tribal regions. Although I still believe it&#8217;s possible to complete the intended loop around Borneo, upon further examination the estimated distance has stretched to a zigzagging three-thousand miles from here. Barring typhoons and other mishaps, I could reach the other border of East Malaysia in three weeks.

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    #39
  20. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,968
    Location:
    Mazatlán
    Here are a few more shots of riding around Borneo. There were many twelve hour days of spinning through so much mud that by nightfall my odometer had barely spun fifty miles.

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    #40