It seems like a long tine since I wrote - to anybody for that matter. When I left Asuncion I headed east across Paraguay and had a pleasant ride through nice countryside, rolling hills and glorious weather. I planned to visit the Iquazu falls but not to hang around as it's a big tourist area (which I hate). There's a busy duty free town just before the border with Brazil, which I had to go through, and while I was trying to get through the crowds on the bike I heard somebody shout, but ignored it, which is usually best. When I stopped further up the road to ask for directions a very out of breath Swiss came running up. He'd seen me in Asuncion the previous week but couldn't catch me, and it was him who had shouted and had then been running after me. He was travelling on a R80GS, was very pissed off and wanted some one to travel with. He had been living in Paraguay for a number of years, working on and off for a Swiss friend who had a farm there. He also owned a house in Paraguay, had an immaculate R50 plus all the odds and ends. A 59 year old helicopter pilot working all over the world, including gifts given to him by the Shah of Iran when he worked for him in the old days (The Swiss worked for the Shah - not the other way around). He had just returned from a trip to Switzerland and on his return found everything was gone from the house. The police "recovered" the R80GS with a couple of thousand extra miles on it, but wanted money to investigate further. He was convinced the police had everything but decided he was going to get screwed whatever he did. So he bought another helmet, jacket, tent etc., abandoned the house (impossible to sell) and took off. We travelled together for four days, into Uruguay then we got separated in a town centre and I never saw him again. I asked the kids hanging around the plaza - they had seen him and I stayed the night just South of town at some hot springs we'd agreed to visit but there was no sign. Ho- hum. Anyway we'd had a laugh for four days, which seemed to cheer him up a bit.
The Iquazu falls were as spectacular as people had said, but far too commercialised for my taste. I suppose that's to be expected really. They are higher and wider than Niagra and pass about 40% more water. If you've ever seen "The Mission" with Robert de Niro, that was filmed around there using just one small part of the falls. Nice jungle.
So I drifted through Uruguay in a very roundabout way to Montevideo. Very friendly people but the economy is in a very sad state. I met an English speaking man in a bar near where I was staying in Colonia (Opposite Buenos Aires), his father was a penniless immigrant on his way to Buenos Aires by ship in the 1930's. They stopped at Montevideo on the way, and when his father saw the rubbish and what people were throwing away he decided it must be a rich country and decided to stay. He is now a millionaire. The son who is my age was educated in England at the best schools, and sounded strange coming out with "Good Lord" in perfect Queen's English. All adult males in Uruguay look like Groucho Marx. You can travel 200 miles and think you're buying a beer from the same man you bought petrol from that morning. The one I was talking to was fairly lucky although he was having difficulty making the family business pay. Most people are now poorish, and there are lots of what were expensive cars from the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s still in daily use as people cannot afford to replace them.
I contacted Luis in Buenos Aires to see if he was back and whether it would be convenient to turn up, then caught the ferry across to Argentina. Luis lives in one of the fancy suburbs of B.A., and he went to an English speaking private school, as did his friends, so there was no language problem. It's fashionable to speak English and they do it when they are out in public, even if they don't have an English-speaking guest.
There is an enormous bike boom in B.A. since imports were allowed two years ago and I went to the official opening party of B.A.'s first Harley shop, and got shown around the almost completed Triumph shop. They've got people waiting for new Triumphs.
I couldn't live in their security conscious atmosphere. It's very false and they don't trust anybody they don't know. All the houses have 8' security fences and bars over ground floor windows. When they go in or out they lock the gate before unlocking the door or vice versa. However it was pleasant to eat in nice restaurants, have countless barbecues in private houses by the pool (with more meat than I've seen for a while), and to go sailing from a private berth at the end of the garden (when you finish sailing you just leave the yacht and the 'little man' washes it down and puts the sail covers on etc etc.). It was nice to get away.
I was looking for a flight to Arizona, but Mexico City would have done. Most flights however, go either to Europe or Miami. The passenger fare to Miami was about $950 and usually the bike costs about the same. I'll say one thing for going to a good school - Luis had a friend who's father owns a share in a cargo airline, which is the one he uses to import computers from Miami. We had a word and all was arranged. I had to crate the bike, but got a metal frame box, which had been purpose-built for importing a Transalp and was being thrown away by the local Honda shop. The Tenere fitted the wheel troughs perfectly, and with the luggage and screen off and the forks dropped down, it became quite compact. The price is based on volume and came to £675. They fly quite a lot of polo ponies to the U.S. and when that happens an attendant has to go along and stop the ponies getting upset. We eventually convinced them that the bike was sort of like a horse, and that I should go with it to stop it getting upset. My ticket cost a nominal $50 to cover paperwork and food. Saved $1200 there so I've got no complaints. Mind you the plane only had two passenger seats and no windows (except for the driver's), and it wasn't heated to the same extent as passenger aircraft, but for $1200 I can put up with that for 8 1/2 hours.
So back to the land of bullshit and paranoia.
After talking my way through Latin American borders countless times, I had more difficulty getting the bike into the U.S. than any other country. Thinking about it, that was why I deliberately flew to Canada instead of the States in 1990, I landed Saturday morning and got the bike released mid-day Monday and even had to use the carnet to avoid depositing the equivalent of the import duty with the Customs Dept. One customs man even told me that I couldn't bring it in because I'd been using ordinary leaded petrol and therefore the bike no longer met anti-pollution standards. What do they say? With a little knowledge!
First thing was a trip round a few bike shops but all I got was a new rear tyre. I wanted a Goretex enduro jacket, but off road riding doesn't seem to exist much outside California and the western desert areas. I decided to go down the Florida Keys to Key West before going north. The first night when I camped I met a Canadian on a Harley, he was a fairly unusual Harley rider in that he was prepared to speak and even travel with somebody on a Japanese bike. Most Harley riders down here have a real chip on their shoulders, the largest group of "individual" sheep I've ever come across. We went to Key West together and there was nowhere to camp so we shared the cost of a hotel room - Key West is expensive. It's also one of the gay capitals of the U.S. The room was under Roger's surname and when we decided to stay longer and I went to pay, the woman asked what name it was under and I said I didn't know - I'd only met him on the road yesterday. That impressed her. Key West is good fun, most people going there just to "party" as they say over here; and "party" they do. So we did it too. We eventually managed to became sober enough to ride at the same time (4 or 5 days later) and left before we were bankrupt.
That afternoon we passed a campsite with lots of bikes and decided to stay on there, as there seemed to be some kind of rally going on. Everybody had back-patches, which are apparently different to “colours”, but it looks the same to me. They all looked the part but when we read what it said we couldn't take it seriously. Some organisation called the 5th Chapter, who were having a formal "meeting" but said we were welcome to stay and join the barbeque that evening. The back patch consisted of the usual badge containing some picture involving a bike, an animal, the end of the world and all that, but the motto said, "clean and sober". They were all ex drug addicts or alcoholics and were helping each other reform. We declined their invitation to pray with them or to get a nice tattoo from the artist who was there. We shared the barbeque and then went sneaking up the road to a waterside bar with a decent live group, it was like being 16 again, sneaking back to the tents hoping nobody noticed that we'd been drinking. Next day we went on a poker run with a couple of hundred, mostly customised Harleys, and as usual people talked to Roger but pretended I didn't exist. The posters for the run said everybody welcome no matter what you ride, but it seems to be universally understood that blacks and Japanese bikes are not included.
The people I'm staying with in Daytona went on a poker run one Sunday (I'd given them up by then) and the entry form took the form of a "nigger hunting licence". Sounds amusing until you talk to some of these people and realise they mean it. I've seen KKK keyrings and heard nasty stories from people laughing over things they've done to "niggers", who should all be sent back to Africa where they belong. The majority of these people are real pillocks who seem to genuinely believe they're God's gift to the world.
On the way north after having a look at Miami harbour and one or two other famous places, Roger and I hung around Lauderdale until his girlfriend, his 21 year old son and others flew down from Canada for a holiday. I left them to it and headed off. I saw a sign to Kennedy Space Centre - I'd forgotten Canaveral was in Florida - so decided to have a look around the museum etc. I found a motel right on the coast just by chance, dead opposite the Space Centre. Next day was May 7th (1992) which meant nothing to me 'till I went to the centre and it closed early because they were launching the shuttle. The motel was at the closest point the public can get during a launch. I watched it on T.V. and live out of the window simultaneously.
In Key West we'd met a couple from Daytona on a Harley with a fabulous paint job, who'd said to call in when I was passing. I called in 5 weeks ago and I'm still here. They have a custom paint shop, a workshop with every power tool imaginable, both electric and pneumatic, and also the biggest bead blasting cabinet I've ever seen. I was planning to do a few repairs and rebuild the engine somewhere, and this seemed a good place. When I started he said I should help myself to his car or spare bike and treat the place like I lived here. He obviously hadn't grasped the concept that at that particular moment, I did live here. Still do for that matter. The spare bike was a 1000 Kawasaki with a raked front end and a lowered rear, not really my style. I rather took a fancy to the big Cadillac Eldorado with the black windows, air conditioning and electric everything. If you're going to roam around on flat, boring roads from one set of lights to the next, do it in style that's what I say. He hates cars, Tina, his missus only uses it occasionally, so I use it most of the time.
We found a crashed XT600, which had only done 600 miles in a breakers yard in Georgia, and told them to send the engine, so I kept mine together so that I could use it if I wanted to until the other engine arrived. After waiting nearly 3 weeks, phoning every few days, I decided to ride up and see them. 300 miles later I discovered they haven't even got the bike. They put in the highest bid, and when all the legal processes are complete the insurance company will let them have it. Could be a week, could be six months. Also they take off the carbs, side covers, electrics (generator, starter motor etc.) and then they want my old engine back in exchange. I told them where to stuff it.
When I got back to Daytona, after camping on the banks of the river Swannee, as in "Way down upon the..", I pulled my engine down, and ordered the parts from the local shop. Most of the noise was coming from the cam chain, which of all the parts I need is the only one that's not available in the U.S. God knows how long it takes to come from Japan, so a quick call to Fowlers of Bristol got one in the post to Florida. I haven't been wasting my time though. I've been doing little jobs here and there on the bike to the extent that it's almost new. I've rebuilt both wheels (with the old rims), brazed up the weak points on the petrol tank, done some fibreglass repairs, overhauled the rear suspension, changed the steering head bearings, plus all sorts of other things. I also modified the tent, and put all new zips in, spent hours on Tina's sewing machine mending things. You know what it's like when you've got time on your hands and full facilities at your disposal. I'm having trouble stopping Wyatt doing a Union Jack paint job on the bike. I prefer the used look.
I've also been helping Wyatt prepare stuff for paint jobs, and a load of woodwork to help him set up the workshop for a new business he is starting, which will be making customised fibreglass mudguards for Harleys. He's got contacts in all the local bike shops and they do odd favours for each other without involving money, so my silencer is now powder coated, and some of my work has found it's way onto a show bike in a Harley performance shop. I love it when some of the "Harley is God" types come round and see the Yam in the workshop, and me working on their stuff. I actually got told one night in a biker bar in downtown Daytona, that I had no right to be there because I had short hair and obviously wasn't a biker, I was drunk enough to explain that if a biker was what he was, then I definitely didn't want to be one. They're a rather strange crowd and initially Wyatt took me round the bars, introduced me to staff, told them I was a friend and to treat me accordingly. I don't need a nanny.
Wyatt is a character. From what I can gather from Tina and some things he's told me himself, he is the 10th most decorated Vietnam veteran. He has survived two helicopter crashes, and has been shot I think nine times. After the war he became a federal agent going underground to catch real nasties, he likes killing people, but won't keep guns in the house because he can't trust himself if he loses his temper. He has trouble walking because of his injuries, but when there was some sudden thunder yesterday, he leapt off the settee like an athlete. Nerves completely gone. He drinks a case of beer a day (24 cans), always has a can in his hand even when he's driving, but thinks drunk drivers ought to be shot. All in all a fairly average American.
In a bar last night I overheard two "bikers" discussing the best way to fill your own bullets, adding a little mercury and something else so that the police forensic people can't trace them. They didn't mention who they usually use them on. Don't get the wrong idea, there are some nice people over here as well. It's just that at the moment I'm meeting more of the not-so-nice. Somebody came round to Wyatt’s one day selling a cheap Harley, I said I might be interested and they all looked amazed, thinking I'd been converted. When I said I wanted to take it to a Honda Rally and drop it from a crane they weren't too pleased. If I hadn't been standing next to Wyatt (who appreciated the joke) I don't think I would have dared say it. No sense of humour some people (Don't know if you know or not, but the highlight of any good Harley Rally is when they drop a Honda from a crane). That’s all for now folks. I'm planning to be in Oz for Christmas but you never know. Actually I nearly went from Key West at the end of May. There was a 104' triple masted yacht sailing to Tasmania, visiting all sorts of places and looking for crew, and they agreed to take the bike (dismantled). Finally I decided to stay here for the summer.
All the best Steve.