The sign on the closed wire gate said ‘Hovercraft Maintenance Base’ or words to that effect. I sat on my borrowed Triumph Sprint and tried very hard to get my head around that. Suffering some kind of flu-like illness which was messing with said head quite severely, I had left London to make my way to France and had transferred responsibility for getting me to the ferry port to my autonomic systems.
What these had done, I eventually realized, was take me to what had been the hovercraft port I used when I lived in England a dozen or more years earlier. It was an impressive effort; ignoring any signs that indicated the change, my lizard brain had taken me over the city streets, motorways and back roads that it remembered way down at the bottom of my skull, to end up in this remote corner of Kent. I got directions to Dover from the highly amused gate guard.
Say what you like, I do have the ability to spread cheer, or at least derisive laughter, among many folk.
I have been fortunate with illness during my travels. Not that I haven’t been sick. There was the time down on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey when I scraped my ankle on some limestone and developed blood poisoning which had me shaking more than Bill Haley for a couple of days. Some pills provided by a doctor who just happened to be on the tour – I have no idea what they were – had me back on deck, albeit feeling as if I’d been wrung out and hung out.
Or the time in Kashmir where, unknown to me, our houseboat chef washed the dishes in the lake only a few feet away from the drain of the onboard toilet. You’re thinking gastro-intestinal disturbance? I’ll give you a gastro-intestinal disturbance. Which of course then added to everyone else’s gastro.
I got sunstroke in Thailand. How do you get sunstroke when you’re wearing a full-face helmet? You expose your neck to the sun by wearing only a skimpy T-shirt. Your cerebrospinal fluid can be heated there just as easily as it can on top of your head (that’s the ‘spinal’ part). I ended up with a violent headache and an irresistible urge to vomit whenever I raised my head more than, oh, a millimetre off my flat pillow. Lots of fluids, take these aspirins and just lie there in darkness until you feel better was the verdict of the doctor called by my Bangkok hotel.
But just as my autonomic reflexes had taken me from London to that repair base, the same ability kept me going for an entire week in South America. I flew into the town where my tour was starting, a day early to have a chance to acclimatize a little. Little did I know how that would go! Checked into the hotel, ate in the dining room just to make sure that I didn’t pick up a bug.
Picked up a bug, of course, and was already unwell when the tour started.
We rode to nearly 5000 metres and I added altitude sickness to my tribulations. I couldn’t eat – a full dinner was, literally, a handful of boiled rice while breakfast was most of a slice of toast. Riding with stomach cramps is an interesting exercise in choosing whether to pay attention to your intestines or the ride. I was on a BMW F 700 GS, bless its Berliner soul, and the bike looked after me, although at one point it so bad that I was hallucinating. Not a good time to be riding any motorcycle.
One of the reasons I bought the current iteration of that model was simple gratitude. It has been good value, too. It took me 4000km plus in a week recently through the Flinders Ranges and I enjoyed every kilometre.
When I rolled into one overnight stop on that South American trip, mine host behind the registration desk reached down and came up with – no, not Cousin Twelve Gauge but an oxygen bottle. ‘Here,” he said, “you will want this.” When it got to the point where I was simply too weak to ride, I finally consulted a doctor (I kept thinking ‘this has got to get better by itself,’ but it didn’t) who gave me an injection of some kind and prescribed some pills. Two days later I was good as Incan gold and enjoyed the last few days of riding on the tour.
This is a neat story because it has so many morals. You know, be careful what you eat, take gastric pills, acclimatize carefully, take altitude sickness pills, ride the right kind of bike, and above all get yourself to a doctor instead of trying to tough it out. But you know what I remember most? How beautiful Peru is, and how wonderful the people are.