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The Gonzo Motorcyle Diaries - Chapter 2

Date posted: 6/9/2014

The Gonzo Motorcycle Diaries
(Memorable Moto Moments Which May Have Never Happened)


Dateline: October 7, 1967, La Higuera, Bolivia, 18°47′S 64°13′W
 
6,400 ft. above sea level is a strange place to be if you have bad asthma. I sure wouldn't be caught dead there if I had suffered from it. But some do get caught that way.

Trust me, the Bolivian altiplano was no picnic in October. Sun so bright that I was wearing my Mt. Everest dark black-lensed Jublo glacier glasses from my last summit ascent a few years back. Riding my BMW R60, I was now retracing an old Alaska to Tierra del Fuego on a half-assed excuse of a ride south. The bike was light and sporty, just the way I like my women.

I stopped and looked up at the blazing hydrogen ball in the midday heavens above. I won't lie, I was sorta lost.  My head was throbbing like Wotan's hammer was pounding at it non-stop. He wasn’t. It was something else German, the Beemer moto engine between my legs; the Bing carbs gasping for air. I pulled out my map and compass, trying to figure out where the hell I was.

“Someday some smart ass SOB will invent a damned gizmo to make finding your location all magic and easy… Yeah, right, who am I kidding!??!... Never gonna happen! ” mumbling curses to myself. I had already waited a lifetime for one-man rocket belts to happen also. I finally got my bearings, put the map and compass back in my bag, and took off.

With some time on my hands from ‘Nam, I had picked up a small job. I did occasional freelance work for the “good guys” when I needed some off-the-books somolians to pay for my twin vices: motos and mujeres. I’m no doctor but it was an operation with a doctor. A wet operation. 

Sliding my bike around a loose graveled corner, I had to break suddenly for a small group of men crossing the road on foot. They looked scraggly and short, typical of the peasants in this region. The tallest one looked different from the rest and carried an AK 47 on his shoulder. His smaller buddies were packing Russky heat as well, slung across their backs like guitars in a roving Huayño music group. It was obvious that these guys weren't a Bolivian Boy Scout Troop looking for lost Girl Scouts selling cookies in the middle of nowhere.

The tall one approached me. He wore a beret and beard, smiling at me. It was him. The unmistakably recognizable kisser worn on t-shirts around the world from Moscow to Berkeley. His eyes narrowed a bit. He knew that I knew that he knew that I knew who he was. He knew. I knew. We both just knew we both knew. Know what I am talking about? Then you now know what we knew. Knowledge can be a complex and powerful thing.

“Nice moto” he said in broken English.
“You like them?” I returned.
“Quizás. Perhaps. I have ridden them a bit in the past”, he answered.
“What was your ride?” I asked.
“A 1947 Model 18 Norton”, scanning the plain, then turning back to me.
“Nice English bike but leaks a lot of Texas tea”, I offered.
“Quizás. But oil, like many things, you can get if you are committed,” he said equivocally.
 
Turning back while taking my measure, he paused. “I like your poncho, it is very colorful and typically folkloric of the region”.

I looked down at it, not recognizing it or where it came from, seeing it for the first time.  I won't lie. I was clueless where I had picked it up. I felt like a drugged hippie after a love-in at a San Francisco crash pad with torn psychedelic Jimi Hendrix and Quicksilver Messenger Service posters on the walls spinning around me.

“Drank too much trago last night in a pueblito at a dance. Ate too much quwi. Don’t remember anything but waking up next to a campesina with this on… and nothing else. My head is killing me. The quwi wasn't bad but that trago is lethal. That plus lots of trips to the outhouse”, I reported.

“Don't worry, compañero, I am a doctor, you need one of these.”

He pulled two large banded-cigars from his pocket and cut the tips off each with an old rusty pocket knife. I lifted my dark glacier glasses off my eyes and up onto my sun-burned forehead and watched him hand me one of the Cuban Commie tobacco-built ICBMs. Silently and slowly, he scratched a wooden match against its stained box with “¡Patria o Muerte!” blazoned across the background of a faded Cuban flag. 

He slowly lit my Commie Contraband Cubano, studying me more closely,observing the cigar's medicinal effects on his patient. 

"You look better already."

His men were now sitting on nearby rocks in the shade, chewing coca leaves silently. We took a few puffs together to get the cancer rockets launched. I won't lie, I inhaled deeply.
 
With a firm locked-eyeball stare, I thanked him. 

“Cohibas. Excellent. These taste very Cuban”, I noted.
“Quizás. I prefer a pipe. I have asthma”, he shrugged as an ironical faint somewhat sad smile spread across his iconic face.
“Well then, I guess we are burning the enemy’s crops.” I noted.
“Quizás. For you. American, I suppose?” he asked, knowing the answer before ever asking it.
“Red and white corpuscles and blue veins, Doctor.” I replied. “You?”
“Argentina. But I was in New York City not so very long ago. The pastrami sandwich there was good”, his back now turned, looking about.
“Yeah,Argentina... love the place. Hot tangos, hot women and hot steaks”, I responded, fondly remembering that wild night with Sonia and Analisa in BA.
“Quizás. I don’t live there anymore, I travel a bit,” he shrugged again in a noncommittal way.
 
We stood there together a while, saying nothing, smoking like men do, casually blowing a few smoke rings now and then, watching our ashes lengthen and then fall off the end to the ground.  

My headache started to fade. It was time to go.

“Thanks for the smoke, Doc. I have lost my Lucky Strikes. Nice cigar for a change. I gotta get down the road and find some gas.”
“We will meet again compañero”, he said while shaking my hand and placing his other on my shoulder.

Putting my dark glacier goggles back on, I looked him steadily in the eyes. 

“I wouldn't put a big long bet on that if I were you Doc”, I said while mounting up.
“Quizás”, he nodded in fatalistic agreement.
 
I gunned the R60 boxer and drove off into the distance, leaving history in the rear view mirror.
 
- Dharma Wheeler



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