I included a FAQ following suggestions and questions asked:
Q: Tell us more about yourself? 🙂
A: My name is Sami Haouili, a Canadian-Lebanese who used to live in Toronto, ON, Canada (from Montreal originally). I am 38 year old and I worked for 13 years as an Electronic Engineer then as a Program Manager for the DTV (Digital TV) group, starting with ATI Tech which subsequently was bought by AMD in 2006. We used to design processors which decode Video and Graphics for TV manufacturers (our clients where: Sony, Sanyo, LG, Visio,…). I love motorcycles and back home, whenever the weather is good, I try to go riding my CBR 600RR with my buddies. I play amateur sports (Volley, Football, Snowboard,..) and I am an avid traveler. I will use every opportunity to visit other countries and even try to ride once there: I rented a motorcycle back in Thailand and in Vietnam. I like to scuba-dive and do so whenever possible on my trips. I am an outdoors-man, I enjoy hikes and camping but would only live in a city; I prefer being in a cosmopolitan, bustling, culturally diverse and rich environment where festivities, cultural/art events, concerts, parties,… abound. I wish I could read more but when I do I have a penchant for French literature, although definitely not exclusive.
Q: How did this trip come about?
A: In July 2009, AMD under heavy debt decided to close or sell all non-PC related groups and mine, DTV (Digital TV group) was one of the victims. Our group was sold to the competition (Broadcom) and soon thereafter around 300 of the 500 engineers and nearly all the management team got laid-off, including “moi”. I decided to just go on a trip to Ecuador to see my best friends Barry & Alisson, relax and enjoy the countries outdoors. Only my ex-girlfriend immediately sensed that this vacation would be a long one and in a matter of a week we separated.
The motorcycle trip was just a dream but in Ecuador it developed into a reality. Single and no kids, my parents, brother and sister all doing well, it was the best time to just go ahead and live it. I asked my sister to sell my car back home and with that money I bought a bike. My original plan was to travel for a few months, up to Santiago de Chile and Mendoza (Arg.) to do a special expedition (you have to read the Blog to find out more;) then head back to reality. But a few days into my trip I knew it would be hard to let go of this adventure and once I knew I would “lose” my plane return ticket to Canada (6 month limit), the last chain that was anchoring my adventure broke and the ultimate freedom feeling bestowed upon me and my voyage. From that moment on, my journey took a life of its own and I was happy to let lead.
Q: Wassup with your Blog name?
A: Back in TO we had a riding group, all super-sport bikes and some of us amateur racers and whenever we used to go on an outing we used to joke: “Let’s get this pony show on the road”. When my trip started materializing in Ecuador, the joke switched to be: “Sami switched from ponies to lamas”. My bike was nicknamed “Llama” (which I like) and “The Llama Show” hit the road.
Q: Do you know how to ride off-roads?
A: Not before I started! I had a 600RR, a sports bike and back home we used to look for twisties and rip through them. Off-road I learned on the way, a trial and error approach if you like. One important note, as my riding buddy Tony (back in TO) used to say: “Always ride at 90% of your capacity; you’d be surprised how many times you will need this extra 10%”. Couldn’t have been truer on this trip. And the few times I fell, I probably broke this rule. I definitely learned from my mistakes and now I am eager to ride off-roads… I still dislike deep sand and deep mud though.
Q: Are you a mechanic?
A: No but I know the basic stuff and back home I used to work on my bike… Down here, some routes can be deserted and you need to manage in the eventuality of a breakdown. If you don’t know much about bikes, no worries, don’t let it stop you! Adapt to your situation: Travel with a buddy or stay on well traveled routes. Always have a cell with you (but be aware, coverage is weak on the roads) and most importantly:
- Do daily checks on the bike.
- Do not skimp on maintenance. Always use the best stuff and repair/maintain well before the due time.
I was lucky I never had a problem but it’s also true you also make your own luck.
Q: Is it dangerous to travel alone, especially with an $$ bike?
A: Absolutely not. I think all of us, and definitely me during the first week of my trip, are more afraid of what our thoughts and imagination creates (a thriller movie played in my head prior to my trip!) vs. what’s really out there. Just relax and enjoy, it’s an amazing ride.
Of course common sense prevails. Be aware of the routes conditions and latest news. But just look at my route (and from many other riders too), I travelled quite a few places, it was all cool. Only in a couple of remote Peruvian and Ecuadorian tropical regions it is advised not to go or if you do so, go in a group. Example: Tingo Maria in Peru (based on police and fellow riders feedback).
Other obvious notes: Try not ride at night, do not to enter a big city at night and when in large cities stick to major avenues,… I didn’t always follow these rules! Sometime I arrived late or got held back, while other times it was a conscious decision. But I also learned it’s really not that bad. Only once was I concerned: took a wrong turn, got lost in Arequipa’s suburb. Sundown, in a really ugly neighbourhood, I just asked a taxi driver to take me to the Plaza de Armas via major avenues and I just followed him. No issues.
Finally, if ever in doubt in a city, keep riding and don’t stop until you feel safer. Trust your senses.
Q: What books & maps did you use?
A: Lonely Planet and Rough Guide. They offer good maps for major cities (at least the center). When entering a city, I always asked for the main plaza and once there I head to a hostel. It’s a lot easier to go in then manage around. Beside, the center has more people and tourists to ask for info, tourist office, police,…
For maps, I bought from amazon.com BORCH country maps. They are absolutely great, only surprises were good ones: a few roads were asphalted when it said they were dirt.
Q: How do people react to you?
A: The bike is an attraction. Everywhere I went and whenever I stopped, people always approached me to chat, to help and to give advices. It definitely breaks barriers and it’s a powerful mean for social interaction. I absolutely love it! You have a great advantage with your bike so use it J. One strong advice: learn the language! It will take you a long way.
Q: How expensive was your trip?
A: The question that I am always asked! In total honesty I never did the finance, I just believe and follow the thinking: when the money runs out so will my trip. Visit less but visit good and enjoy vs. rushing from place to place and skimping out.
But here’s my best estimate based on the total I spent. As you know there are a lot of variable: country, distances (gas), hotels, food, activities/tours,… I stayed in dorms and cheap (but clean!) hostel: I found them friendlier, the atmosphere warmer, I can meet backpackers who share similar interests as I,… not to mention it allowed me to stretch my dollars and my trip. I love to eat in the local markets and I do not drink much alcohol (a social drinker). However, rarely if ever, I passed out on a tour or activity that I wanted to do: Why go on vacation if I cannot live it?
So: Bolivia : ~U$D600/mth; Peru/Ecuador: ~U$D1,100/mth; Arg/Uru/Chl: ~U$D1,600/mth. These are rough estimates and note that Arg < Chl ; Peru < Ecuador; Numbers do include all my bike’s maintenance work, insurance,… but do not include my 4 mountain climbs nor my plane ticket.