Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Of Argentina, Patagonia, Juan and Eva Peron, Venezuela, Hugo Chavez and the motorcycle diaries

I had breakfast Sunday morning with an applications and systems engineer from Argentina. He is in town on a rescue operation for a company from Mexico City hired by a local food products distributor to install and launch the SAP system company-wide. Well, SAP was installed but the launch was a failure, hence the rescue operation. In any case, during our conversation, the fellow told me that in 1991 he flew from Buenos Aires to Miami, bought a Honda 750 and rode it, alone, all the way back to Buenos Aires. Take a look at a map. That's a long damn haul. Alone. Solo. It took him 2.5 months to complete the journey.

I exclaimed, "Como Che!" He laughed and told me that, no, Che wandered aimlessly around Patagonia while my new friend's trip had a definite starting point and ending point, as well as a definite purpose, which was to see Latin America from the back of a motorcycle. We talked about security a little and he told me that the journey would be far too dangerous to attempt today. First of all, southern Oaxaca state and most of Chiapas state here in Mexico are violent and dangerous with little or no security. You are as likely to get shot by disaffected indians as you are by twitchy fingered Mexican army units and dirty police.

Then, if you can somehow survive this portion of the trip, Guatemala looms in the distance and that little country is just as dangerous with the added risks associated with drug runners and the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang. If you make it through this portion of the maze and still have your life intact and still have enough cash in pocket to continue, the rest of the trip through Central America should be relatively uneventful. However, the worst is yet to come - that being Columbia. Here you face disaffected indigenous peoples, twitchy army patrols and roadblocks, dirty cops, the FARC guerrillas and drug runners (they're about the same thing these days - the FARC and drug running)as well as right-wing paramilitary forces. All of whom would kill you for your shoes, let alone the bike, your wristwatch and your pocket change. Survive southern Mexico, Guatemala and Columbia and the rest of the trip south would be positively boring, I should think. One thing that he said surprised me. I had always thought that the PanAmerican Highway ran all the way through Central and South America. He said that it does not connect Panama with Columbia. In his opinion this is because a highway connecting Columbia with the north would be a drug smugglers dream.

I asked him how, in his opinion, the people of Argentina viewed Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. He said, "Muy mal." (very badly). He told me that most people in Argentina thought that Chavez wanted to be another Juan Peron and Peron's legacy had been discredited by most of Argentinean society. But not all. He said that many older people still remembered that Peron bought them bicycles. Those older people felt that it was the only time in their lives that the Argentinean government had ever done anything for the poor people. Bought them bicycles. And Eva is still a legend to the point that she is simply not mentioned in polite society. Anyway, he said that Chavez's arms purchases were making everyone in South America nervous. His verdict re: Chavez; "Está loco." (He's nuts).

Then he took some time to talk to my boys about the dinosaur bones being unearthed in Argentina and said that, in Patagonia, the shifting sands and earth were uncovering dinosaur skeletons faster than the paleontologists could collect them. My boys, aged 6 and 8 and heavily into dinosaurs, were amazed when he told them that anyone could walk around Patagonia and pick up their own dinosaur bones. The boys want to go there, like, right now.

Great conversation and I am sure that I will talk to this guy again.

Update: See this post at Bad Hair Blog

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