The year 2022: technology has enslaved mankind in the glow of its addictive web. Soon the machines will rise up and terminate us all, as is foretold in T2: Judgement Day.
The only escape is to abandon all Skynet devices, load up a motorcycle with survival gear, and ride into the desert.
I did this tech detox from November through December 2021 and kept my diary from the road, which I have excerpted here for you, my beloved readers.
NOV. 16, 2021 — EJECT MATRIX
I’m in my hostel in Potosi, Bolivia feeling some strange anxiety as I fire up my Macbook for the last time. I message my family and friends to tell them I will be incommunicado. Next I pack my electronics into a backpack and head to DHL to send it back to Wisconsin.
This is no normal trip to DHL. It’s Bolivia and there’s revolutionary protesters blockading the streets in all major intersections. I ride my bike with the woman who owns my hostel on the back, as we plead with the flag-waving protesters, circumvent their blockades and navigate sketchy back alleys for an hour.
The “Potosi DHL” turns out to be a tiny kiosk that sells Barbies and school supplies, with a stack of yellow DHL boxes in the back. The clerk tells me they won’t ship any items with lithium batteries. Clearly she’s an agent of The Matrix trying to prevent me from unplugging.
I tell her I don’t know about any lithium batteries in my electronics. I just plug them into the wall and they magically glow. After some debate, she accepts the package. I immediately feel a weght lifted off my shoulders (and motorcycle) as I ride out of town.
After a few hours of riding down the mountainsides, dark clouds form overhead. I see a good spot for shelter tucked in between some canyons. I ride my bike down and set up camp, getting in my tent just before a thunderstorm comes crashing down.
In the morning the sun is out and I go exploring and find some indiginous ruins with a fortified cave, my first unaided discovery of the trip.
NOV. 19–22: SALAR DE UYUNI
The Uyuni salt desert (Salar) has been my prime destination for Bolivia. But I never did any real research or planning so when I roll into the dusty town of Uyuni, I’m left clueless. Luckily, a 57-yr-old British / Bolivian motorcycle guide named Robin sees me wandering the streets and offers his services.
Now if I had a cell phone or computer I might have gone online to research this and that, but whatever, I’ll trust my life to this mysterious British expat biker for the week, why not? We head to Robin’s shop, which is aptly named “Nomada Experience.” It has a dozen Honda and KTM dirt bikes, riding gear and maps, which we use to plan out a three-day route through the desert and surrounding mountains.
Robin points at the map and tells horror stories about mostly Israeli and German solo bikers who nearly perished in the desert before he rescued them. “If your bike breaks down over here, you’re dead. Run out of petrol here, finished.”
“Okay, you’re hired.”
We ride 250 km through the desert, climb two volcanoes and explore the tomb of a 1,000 yr-old mummy.
After we return from the Salar, Robin powerwashes our bikes, but its too late for the electricals on my Himalayan. The odometer, spedometer, and RPM guages have all been fried in the salt. Now the bike is on tech detox too, I guess.
At least Skynet agents won’t infiltrate my systems.
NOV. 23 — CHANGE OF PLANS
Just as I’m about to ride west to leave Bolivia for Chile, I learn that the border is closed. The Bolivian migration official I talk to seems to relish in telling this Imperial American Biker Scum that instead of riding one day west to Chile, I must instead ride six days southeast to Argetina in order to exit Bolivia.
Now I’m walking down the street cursing under my breath as I head into a coffee shop for a pick-me-up. A Swiss girl is alone in the cafe having lunch — one of the few foreign travelers I’ve seen the whole time in Bolivia. We hit it off, sharing travel stories and she comes back to my hotel afterwards. I briefly break my tech detox to flip on Spanish MTV.
NOV. 24 – DEC. 2: CROSSING BOLIVIAN ANDES
There’s no cushy highways to reach Argentina. It’s weeklong Odyssey over the Bolivian Andes, zigzagging up steep dirt and gravel roads. Luckily there’s barely any other vehicles, save for a few villagers on Chinese motorbikes. So the riding is pleasurable with great views of mountainsides and farmlands.
I later reach Tarija, the Bolivian wine town, where I join a bus tour. The vineyards are beatuful but its the worst wine I’ve ever tasted, like some half-fermented grapes, mixed with sugar and cough syrup.
“Bolivians love it becase it’s sweet,” says Nathaly, who is our nice, local guide. Nathaly doesn’t seem to mind that I savagely insult her wineyards, and accepts my offer for dinner and a bottle of better wine after the tour.
(DISCLAIMER: In Tarija I find an internet cafe and go online to message my family and upload some photos. I’ll add another tech detox day in 2022 for this sin.)
A few days later, I’m finally heading for the Argentina border at Yacuiba. Now the bike GPS (my last, remaining piece of technology apart from my GoPro) conks out. Its getting late so I find a nice farm by the Rio Negro and a Coca leaf-chewing-tomato-farmer lets me camp in a killer spot down by the river, free of charge.
The final day to reach Yacuiba is exhausting with seemingly endless gravel mountain roads and punishing heat. Finally I reach the border, get my required COVID test, stay overnight in a hostel, then cross the next day with all medical and bike documents in hand.
Over the course of three hours at migration, I must show numerous COVID forms, get the bike inspected, put my bags through a scanner, and receive a series of six stamps, each from a different official at a different desk. Hey, I’m just a biker with an American passport, Bolivian plates, and sketchy luggage. Why so many questions?
DEC. 2 – 13: ARGENTINA, AWWW YEAH
Upon crossing into Argentina, I immediately notice that the grass is greener, the food is better, and the girls are prettier. (Sorry Bolivia, but even you know it’s true.)
While Bolivia is a place for raw, third-world adventure. Argentina is a place to enjoy the luxuries of life, like a steak and wine dinner in a nice restaurant for $5, curtosy of the hyperinflated Argentinian peso.
The official exchange rate with the big banks and credit card companies is 100 pesos for 1 U.S. dollar, But if you change dollars in the black market or Western Union, you get the Blue Dollar rate of 200 pesos for 1 USD, instantly doubling your dollars. Sounds like a casino slot machine game and it basically is. Okay let’s roll…
I want to try camping in a national park as I heard they are beautiful in Argentina, so I head to Parque Calilegue. But when I arrive, the ranger tells me its closed due to “La Pandemia.” Of all the things to be closed due to “La Pandemia” camping in nature makes the least sense, so I make it my mission to find the best damn illegal campsite in the Argentinan National Park System.
I hide the bike by a massive, rocky riverbed and set up camp where the rangers won’t find me. After cooking some Argentinian steaks for dinner, I enjoy my meditation and a solo pagan dance ritual under the moonlight. (Am I losing my mind on this trip, or is that a sane thing to do? …. Yes!)
The next day, I arrive in Salta, which is a city of impressive architecture and shopping promenades. I check out an Inca museum with a mummy girl who was found on a snowy mountaintop by explorers in the 90’s and then cryogenically preserved. According to their history, she was drugged and burried alive by the Incas as part of a sacrificial ritual in 1500 AD. Damn!
After a few days in Salta, I head back on the road. Initially I was planning to head to Buenas Aires for the holidays, but my GPS is dead and I kept missing the turn. Now I’m cruising south down the smooth Argentinian highways on the Chilean side. I wish I had some music, as I haven’t had it for nearlty a month, which has been the hardest part of this detox.
On the road I’ve have been trying to sing some AC/DC and Guns ‘N Roses to myself, but it’s going very badly. I can’t remember the lyrics and my singing voice is terrible and sounds even worse in my helmet.
I set up camp in a farm alongside the highway, but everything goes wrong. It starts pouring and all my gear gets soaked. I make pasta in the rain, but can’t eat comfortably in my tent, as its too small to sit upright. The next day I wake up and a bee stings me on my foot. I get back on my bike, but I’m soaked through to my boxers.
I stop on the side of the road by a tied-up horse and unpack all my gear to dry it under the sun. i decide that’s it, I’ve had enough. Put me back into The Matrix, stat.
I head for Cordoba, check into a hotel suite and the next day buy a Samsung tablet and JBL speaker and press play on my first song in a month.