These guys may be responsible for my near and foreseeable death after having convinced Bob, Surly, and I to bike fully-loaded the famous Camino de la Muerte as they did a week earlier. If they would accompany me south—instead of pedaling north from Argentina with a flight home out of Lima, Peru—I’m certain some sort of imprisonment would have been in my future, the overnight innocent kind where the officer slides open the cell gate while spooning sugar into his morning coffee. At the very least, any hope of meditating sunrises over the Altiplano would have been violently pushed down the priority list by nightlife and cheap wine hangovers.
In other words: these guys are fun.
They approached me at an outdoor cafe in Copacabana. My Bolivian map blanketed the glossy log table, an espresso cup was a cold paperweight on the uppermost corner, covering the green part of the map where no roads exist. Bob & Surly were leaned against the curb, playing it cool for the backpacker crowd that strolled up and down the main boulevard of bilingual menus and outside seating. We had arrived hours earlier, did not bother to find a hotel, it was darkish, 8pm, getting cold.
Before I could connect voices to faces: “I gotta tour with a trailer next time.”—something in French—“Yeah, look at how it connects”—enthusiastic French swear words?—“It looks sexy”—approving French-styled nods—“Where did you start?”—laughing, with a French accent—and so on for ten admiring minutes before I realized they too were long-distance bikers. “Take a seat,” I offered pointing to the tree trunk benches. Immediately they huddled around my cold coffee, leaned into my inked-up map as if imagining the very ruts in the roads I would soon pedal, and emitted an energy that is best explained in Spanish as pure buena onda.
Later that night we ended up on the beach with a group of traveling musicians and two French girls they met somewhere along the way, listening to brass jazz and sharing a bottle of wine.
Jon and Antoine are artists (acrylic/watercolor/etc) who make their actual money painting houses during the Canadian summers. Antoine, with the US $1,000 per week earned and saved, bike tours a different region of the world during the winter months. Last year he spent six months traveling Asia. This year he convinced his friend Jon to buy a bike and accompany him through South America.
They’ve been at it several months, but only now were arriving close to the Peruvian border because they were unable to tear themselves from the Argentine lifestyle of good conversation, quality wine, beautiful women, and late—as in leaving the club at sunrise—nights that weren’t the best pre-habits to a long day in the saddle.
We parted ways with the above photo and one of those real, sincere, nice-to-have-met-you handshakes.