A few weeks ago I got a phone call from Marek Michel, a friend I met at the 2005 Sturgis Rally. Marek, a driver for Stevens Transport, was bound for Independence, Missouri, to make a delivery the next morning. We made arrangements to meet at a truck stop along Interstate 70 in Oak Grove about a half hour from my home. It would mean a short night for me, since he would arrive at about 10 p.m., but I was eager to see him and hear all about his recent long-distance motorcycle ride. When we met in Sturgis, Marek told me of his two previous motorcycle trips through Europe, the Orient, and Australia. At that time, his most recent trip through Central and South America was still in the planning stages.
Marek came to America in 1984 as a political refugee from Poland along with his wife and daughter. He is now divorced, and his daughter is a law student in California. He enjoys the life of a truck driver and the opportunity to see all parts of the country from the cab of his Kenworth. In order to have sufficient time for his long journey, Marek resigned from Stevens, knowing that his job would be waiting for him upon his return from South America.
Marek climbed aboard his Kawasaki KLR650 at Stevens’ Dallas Yard on October 20, 2005, and embarked on a trek that would cover over 23,000 miles and take exactly 4 months. His route took him through 15 countries and as far from home as the southernmost tip of Argentina at Ushuaia, Tierra Del Fuego, not far from Cape Horn. Due to unexpected circumstances, the trip far exceeded Marek’s budget at a cost of around $10,000, almost 180 percent of the combined cost of his two previous expeditions. He must have visited almost every attraction along the way, judging from over 600 photos he left with me on C.D.
Near Oaxaca, Mexico, Marek was amazed by the size of El Arbol del Tule, considered to be the world’s broadest tree. It’s 2,000 years old and has a height of 40 meters and a circumference of 54 meters. In Peru, Marek visited Machu Picchu, near Cusco, high in the Andes Mountains. This beautiful city has an altitude of more than 8,000 feet and was built around 1460 AD by the Incas.
Marek told me that he considered the portion of the trip south through Chile to be the most beautiful part of the entire journey, with amazing lakes, mountains, and forests. He got a bit of a shock as he motored south. Since he was traveling in the Southern Hemisphere, summer weather was expected and experienced for much of the trip. However, south of 40 degrees latitude, the temperature grew steadily colder requiring the heaviest riding apparel Marek could obtain. At times, wind gusts reached more than 70 miles per hour, and the temperateure was below zero degrees Celsius.
Visiting the South Pole was Marek’s goal originally, but he came up a bit short. He did, however, reach the southernmost region of South America, the province of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. Before resuming his trip, Marek enjoyed an extended visit with a Polish family who lived in Ushuaia, the provincial capitol.
On a lonely road in Argentina, disaster struck. Marek was stranded for a while due to the failure of the Kawasaki’s main crankshaft bearing. The bike broke down in an area mainly occupied by llamas and other animals. After a couple of hours passed, someone came along towing a motorcycle on a trailer. They decided to load Marek’s bike on the trailer and have him follow on his rescuer’s motorcycle to San Julian, about 80 kilometers away. There is no really good place to have a breakdown, but rural Argentina has to be one of the worst. The repair bill was $1,500. Although available motorcycle parts there are off-brand and are of very poor quality, prices are exorbitant. Marek reported that a chain lasts only about 3,000 miles and a tire about 5,000.
After this ordeal, the intrepid traveler was more than ready to resume his journey. He saw one of the world’s grandest waterfalls near the confluence of the Iguazu and Parana Rivers in the area where the borders of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil converge. Over a crescent-shaped cliff a series of 275 individual cascades and waterfalls are spread across about 2.5 miles.
With his American passport, Marek was free, for the most part, to travel from country to country. However, in Brasilia, local authorities informed him that a visa would be required. He would have to backtrack 50 kilometers and pay $50 for a visa at the consulate. At that point he informed them that he also had a Polish passport, and he was immediately welcomed with open arms. I guess that says something about the popularity of Americans in Brazil.
Between Belem and Manaus in Brazil, Marek traveled by boat on the Amazon River. He was required to purchase a ticket for himself and one for his motorcycle. This came in handy at dinner time, since Mr. Marek Michel and Mr. Kawasaki both received meals, and Mr. Kawasaki was never hungry. This part of the trip lasted seven nights and six days.
From Manaus to Caracas, Venezuela, the road was paved, but very poorly maintained. Potholes were huge and could easily unseat an unwary motorcyclist. Throughout the trip there had been obstacles such as rough or muddy roads, mechanical problems, cold and windy weather, poor facilities such as restrooms without running water, and communications problems. Marek speaks several languages fluently, but Spanish and Portugese are not among them, so it was difficult at times to communicate. Physically, this was the most demanding of all of his international motyorcycle trips. Despite the challenges, it was a good trip. During parts of the journey, Marek enjoyed traveling with other motorcycle tourists. He made lots of friends along the way, and saw some remarkable sights. Marek arrived home on February 19.
Another adventure Marek anticipates is driving in a 2008 global race from Paris to New York City being organized by Marek’s friend Roman Koperski to commemorate a 1908 race over the same route. In addition to his quest for adventure, Marek is also seeking companionship. He would like to find a lady who is slender and is between thirty to fifty years of age to share his life and travels. He can be reached by phone at 310-948-0219 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Marek informed me that he sold the Kawasaki at the end of the trip, so I asked him if he was through with motorcycle touring. His response was an emphatic, “No way!” He is conducting diligent research to determine the best motorcycle to meet his needs for the next big trip and is considering potential countries to explore. I have a feeling that he will not be satisfied as long as there is any part of this planet that he hasn’t visited. I hope Marek will some day write a book about his travels and get someone to translate it from Polish to English so I can read it.
Story and lead photo by Stripe
Additioal photos provided by Marek Michel