The Gonzo Motorcycle Diaries

(Memorable Moto Moments Which May Have Never Happened)
                  Dateline: June 13, 1993, La Tuna, Sinaloa, Mexico,  25.6988° N, -107.1486° W
Chapo 2

Hot. Dusty. Northern Mexican desert. Sinaloa. Not the place I would have picked to test out my new BMW Paris Dakar GS which I had just been given as a present. This new machine may revolutionize moto touring if you are into that sort of rich guy thing. Me? I just ride to get around cheaply and have enough simoleons left over for smokes, mala mujeres and more.

God only knows where I was or how I got here.  I know you don’t give a damn, but I came for enlightenment. Escape from my ‘Nam ghosts. Riding the tail of my very own dragon.

I had a date with destiny and she doesn’t like you being late.

But I was late. I had just woken up in a hut, all but naked, only twisted up in a dirty serape and a Mexican cowboy hat tied around my neck. You could smell the smoky mescal. My mouth was dry and smelled like a rotting javalina about to be eaten by vultures. La Tuna? It was the name of the place and I smelled like that too.

I rolled over and tried to sit up to light a smoke. I won’t lie. I inhaled deeply. Then through my throbbing mind, I hazily remembered a woman. It’s always a woman. How could you not love those deep brown eyes. Besides, she seemed to love mariachis more than I do. That’s what they said anyway. I met her the night before at some damn fandango I stumbled into from my months-long peyote walkabout time in the desert.

Marie Santiago Jinojosa Jimenez De La Vega Montona Echevaria Martinez Guzman Alemanza de La Barca. She said to call her Trixie. She could hold her booz and danced like a dream. She had more curves than Laguna Seca. In all the right places and just as dangerous. I think we had promised to get married after she turned me every which way but loose sometime that night.

I had come to Sonora and Sinola to find Don Juan and see if the old Tolec shaman could finally get my head clear with some peyote-guided spirit walks. Yeah, I got demons. Count ‘em.

Two white guys heading south on motos said to check him out. The bigger guy was from the Azores and talked a lot and seemed like an engineer. I recognized his type because they used to service my Huey in ‘Nam. Total Gear Head. The other one with white hair looked like a gringo business suit dressed up in fancy expensive moto stuff but silently kept to himself and polished his expensive gear. He had more flag stickers than the United Nations on his moto bags. LOTS. Several Commie stars on some flags. I only heard him mutter one word the whole time, which I didn’t understand: “farkles”.

“Thanks boys, I will check him out”, and they were gone.

I finally found him at the base of a chalk dusty cave. A wrinkled old man with skin like a rattlesnake and eyes which cut right through you. He grunted at me, and then pointed. I picked up the bowl of dirty brown water with mushrooms floating on it. He gestured at me to drink it. I won’t lie, I drank the whole thing. That soup was several months of psychedelic knowledge which you can’t just get by staring into the sun.

Having seen the Universe, God, the Devil, my birth, my death and your birth and your death and everyone else’s birth and everyone else’s death, I got bored and decided to move on. By then I had lost 60 kilos and my hair had gotten pretty long. All I had was some white cotton pants and some worn out huaraches.

So I stumbled into La Tuna, the fandango and Trixie. She told me I needed to meet her uncle.

That morning a guy showed up and pulled me out of bed and to my feet asking me what I was doing in Dodge. He took me outside to a guy who also asked me what I was doing in Dodge. Then that guy passed me over to another guy who took me into the hills and asked me what I had been doing in Dodge. Then he took me to his buddy who asked me why I had come to Dodge. And then another guy who put me in his Dodge and drove me to a house. By then, I wasn’t in Dodge but riding in one.

After a long bumpy ride, another guy pulled up in another Dodge and got out. He was about 5’8”, had black hair and spooked the other guys. I didn’t dodge his question. I told him why I had been in Dodge. And I told him I liked his Dodge.

He smiled and told me to get in. Told me to call him “Chapo”. I nodded and made sure not to talk about Trixie. It could have gotten me in trouble. And in the end, I got a free moto out of it as a gift. Wadda guy. We still stay in touch.

*            *            *

Dateline: August 14, 1963, Maasai Mara, Kenya, 1.4900° S, 35.1439° E


I love power. I won’t lie. We’re talking about the hottest machine available today. The BMW R60/2. I am talking real raw horsepower. Yup. I am talking massive two-wheeled Boxer power.  I am talking 600cc’s of kick-ass German drive shaft pumping out 30 horses. A man can go see most of the world with that kind of rolling metal, rubber and gas.

The Maasai Mara is vast. The Serengeti is vast.  I am talking vast. Nothing but thousands of reckless, restless, rambunctious, rowdy, rough and rambling wildebeests on migration north, dodging crocs while crossing the Mara River. Giraffes. Zebras. Hyenas. Baboons. Elephants. Cheetahs. Lions. And… me on my moto. Only thing missing was a pack of white French poodles with pink-painted toenails.

All my buddies know I love hot cars, hot coffee and hot women. So I woke up in a mud and branch hut in a small Maasai village with a massive hangover from drinking too much local honey beer with a Maasai women whose head was smoother than a pool table cue ball. Like all Maasai women, she shaved her head bare. A total knock-out stunner. Adhiambo. She said her name meant “born after sunset”. I can roger that big time.

I had only known her for a few hours the night before but I was ready to get hitched for life. Thing is, I had to move on. My R60/2 was getting restless. Me too, for that matter. Besides, I would have made a bad husband. An even poorer hunter. Me? A Maasai warrior? Naw. I would have washed out of their boot camp on Day One. Those guys are hard core.

I flicked open my Zippo, made a mental note to find some more fuel for it, and lit up a smoke. I won’t lie. I inhaled deeply.

After a kick to the starter and another to the stand, I took off. Before I knew it, I was bouncing along a rutted dirt cow path road which rattled, rolled and shaked, giving my bike and me a dusty African road massage for most of the day. Where was I going? You tell me. Why? You tell me.

Taking a fast turn past a set of spreading acacia trees, I ran into a herd of warthogs running across my path. Or maybe it was their path. I slide and dumped my white-painted machine into the dirt. Man, do those things smell. The warthogs I mean. Not the moto.  I had lots of dust-ups like that the rest of the day. That happens when you are open for business.

By sunset, I saw a lone building several clicks away and drove towards it. You don’t want to be out on the savannah at night when those Elizabeth Taylor-clothed leopards come out looking for meat and you’re part of their food chain.

I drove up and beeped. After a moment or two, a tall knockout of a woman, with a shotgun pointed straight at me, came out. She was wearing khaki and then more khaki. The tall boots only helped. We are talking full on safari. We are talking full on woman. We are talking full on everything.

“Who are you?”, she called out in a calm, cool, collected and controlled throaty voice.

She paused and let the gun down, resting it in her arms like a sleeping baby python.

“I am Trouble”, I replied.

“Well, at least you aren’t a Mau Mau rebel. They still lurk around even though we are giving them their independence in December”, she said rolling her eyes condescendingly. I raised and pushed my cracked Jublo glacier mountain climbing goggles up onto my sand-blasted forehead to take her full measure.

“So nice of you Brits to do so. Did you get sick of stealing all their land and arresting them all?”, I returned.

Slightly rude maybe, given her swell killer looks, but I don’t like Brits much. Tell me I don’t give up grudges easily, but they killed my people back in the Revolutionary War. Besides, they are smug snobby bullies with lousy chow and bad teeth.

“Our pleasure. That’s the kind of thing a Yank would say. How’s that Korean War going for you? Gotten around to declaring peace yet? Right then. Care to come in before you become some else’s prey before my own?”

I know double-talk and innuendo when I hear it. She was talking loco and me likee. I also liked the cut of her jib and the way her khaki fit her long legs. When a lady asks, I won’t lie, I don’t need to be asked twice. But she was dressed to kill. Like I just said, I won’t lie.

I climbed across the broad screened porch and went into her safari lodge. She grabbed my hand to shake it, locking her unblinking emerald green eyes on me with a look that would be deadly sighting down a 10 mm Mauser gunsight with her finger on the trigger.

Returning the look,  I then scanned her joint. The walls were completely covered with game heads, some Maasai spears and shields and leather chairs. Spartan. I haven’t seen this much dried stuffed head meat on walls outside the Museum of Natural History in the Big Apple, stateside.

“So where’s your husband?”, I asked.

“You must mean Reg. He is out on safari with some clients. Besides my household staff, Jelani, Jengo, Jumaane, Makena, Marjani, Masamba, Mchumba, Meklit and Mirembe, I am all alone. But I love the solitude when Reg goes hunting”.

“Solitude is way over-rated”, I noted, as I studied her more closely. “Mind if I smoke? Care for one?”, looking for her reaction.

“Brilliant, yes, I want more than one though, Trouble. But I will have only one. I am afraid I am not good at moderation, you see. Indeed, any type of moderation”, once again sighting those killer green eyes on me.

I put two coffin nails in my mouth, lit them and handed her one. I won’t lie, we both inhaled deeply.

“So lady, you got a name?”, I asked.

“Not a Lady really. Edith. Well, rather, Countess Edith Cranston-Philipps-Kensington-Waldorf-Pinkington-Windsor. But don’t stand on ceremony, call me Edey.”

“Alrighty then, Edey. I am looking for a place to camp. Know any places around here without carnivores?”, I asked.

“No. I am afraid you will have to put up for the night here. With Reg gone, there is room. But we only have one mosquito net which must be shared”.

She lowered her eyes with a you-know-what look that would kill a Cape Town buffalo.

“Like a whiskey, Yank?”, she asked.

“Does a Scot wear underwear under his kilt? Hell yes, thank you. Sorry for using my crude Swahili just now”, I replied.

“No offense taken. Perfect. I will join you but I prefer gin and other things in the mix”, she quipped a little too suggestively.

I know all guys say the same thing, but she was into me. I won’t lie. I can always tell. It wasn’t my Beemer ride which impressed her. It never is. They just know. And I can’t help it. 

“You like adventure I see, let me go fetch that whiskey,” she said leaving the room for what seemed a very long time.  Upon her return, she handed me my whiskey. And was dressed very differently. Very differently. Let’s just say she wasn’t wearing khaki anymore.

A gentleman doesn’t share certain things. Ever.

But I am no gentleman.

*            *            *

Dateline: October 7, 1965, Shimla, Hamachai Pradesh, India, 31°6′12″N 77°10′20″E


I love women, I won’t lie. But you know that. This time her name was Fiona. A Brit. India. A Dame. Whatever. But I love a BMW R69 even more. Say what you will, I have my priorities in order.

The Shimla air was thin at 2,200 clicks. But that was nothing. I had just summited The Big E in Nepal. We are talking lots of tall. Lots of snow. Lots of views. So my destination Shimla, the old Indian summer capital for the Limeys when they ran India way-back-when, was like an easy downhill ride for me.

When you ride clear across Nepal you learn fast that there is nothing Royal about an Enfield Bullet. Roads? Right. Rope bridges over gorges and yak-skin covered ferry boats. I had picked that leaky moto up after my climb in Kathmandu. I got a deal. Yeah, right. That’s what he said. Whatever.

It was in Dhangadi that the bad karma caught up with me. An old wrinkled man invited me to stay in his family hut. They fed me some Dal-bhat-tarkari and yak milk and then we sat around their fireplace. That was when the old guy handed me the pipe. I woke up two days later in a stall with a yak. This wasn’t my first rodeo. The Bullet was gone and got reincarnated with some new owner.  Needing another ride, I asked around town and was told “Vardi” was the go-to moto guy.

Vardi was very old. Really old. But who’s asking questions. I wasn’t. We spoke Nepalese. He was no Dalai Lama but I am no monk. I ended up with another but leakier Bullet.

It was late when I rolled into Shimla and kick-standed it at an old English pub. Wacky. Little England in the mountains of India. Brits. Go figure. I went in and ordered a Kingfisher and looked around.

There she sat, alone at a table. Classy and… yeah, did I say alone? Go figure again. But she knew how to cast and I know when to bite. She gestured me imperially to her table. Reeled in without a fight.

“You. You look like a Yank, Yank. The very essence of Yankiness, Yank” she said in a deep husky POSH Brit accent, reaching inside her purse for her Dunhills.

“I am Trouble. And stop Yanking me around” I replied.

“Well played Yank! Dame Fiona Saint Claire-Booth, glad to make your acquaintance, Trouble” she said, extending her white gloved hand.

“My dear Lord Paul has been on Home Leave with the Foreign Office. I am bored tonight,” she sighed, putting a Dunhill to her gorgeous lips while looking me dead in the eyes.

“Light me up Yank; care for one?”

I took the red lipstick-stained unlit coffin nail from her lips, placed it alongside the other one in my mouth which I had slipped from her red and gold pack of classy smokes. I slowly torched them with my battered Zippo, locking eyes and handed hers back to her.

“Mission accomplished, Mrs. Bored Fiona” I said looking at her firmly.

She looked at me again.  I won’t lie, I inhaled deeply. She did too.

“I am looking for a place to stay. Know any hotels here?”, I asked.

She lowered her eyes with a you-know-what look that would melt a glacier.

“How’d you get here, Yank?” she asked not answering me.

“On a moto” I answered smoothy.

“Brilliant. What kind?” she responded a little too knowingly.

“It’s called a Bullet. But I prefer German motos. BMWs. But that’s just me. I prefer hard reliable driveshafts over limp-chained sprockets.”

“Then we have might have something in common” she said in a low knowing voice as she inhaled.

I know all guys say the same thing, but she was into me. I won’t lie. And she was a dame, a real Dame.

“Well, even though my dear little Lord Paulie was almost stranded at Dunkirk in his youth at the beginning of WW 2, he has forgiven the Germans everything. BMWs included.”

I shrugged.

“Way before my time. Sounds like your old man is an old man. The German guys who make them? I could care less. It is just metal, leather and rubber to me. But I judge everything in life on how well it is built and performs.”

I paused looking at her and inhaling deeply again.

“By the way, Yank, we have no hotels in Shimla” she informed me.

The next morning after tea and a full English breakfast, Fiona took me to her husband’s garage.

“This is my dear husband’s newest prized possession. But alas, I fear he doesn’t have the stuff to handle it properly. I have gained the distinct and favorable impression that you do.”

She pulled the sheet off the moto even faster than the bedspread last night.

There it was. A perfectly kept R69. The black lacquer shined in the dark garage. It had been owned by a German killed by an avalanche climbing the Big E. His loss, my gain. I learned all about karma flying Hueys in ‘Nam. But this was the kind I liked the most.

“Take it Trouble. Go see the world.” Fiona said, as she kissed me curtly, blew smoke in my face and walked away forever.

I rode off.  Never argue with karma. Never.

*            *            *
Dateline: 1969, Paris-Dakar Race, Somewhere in the Sub-Saharan Desert


There I was. Rear wheel hub of my R100 GS half-sunk in the desert sand dune I had just roared down at a 70 degree angle. Blazing sun. Royal blue sky. No clouds. Heat reaching 110F. Malcolm Story has passed me several stages ago. My headlight had shattered during the previous stage. Low on gas and water.

“Pilot error. I should never smoke while riding down-hill on sand. This always happens when I do” I said to myself. “And I should never have listened to that blonde in the cafe on the Champs-Élysées. Motorcycles and woman. Bad mix.”

I had been in Paris on a long R&R from my 5th. Air Cav tour in ‘Nam. She had purposely caught my gaze from her table with her cafe au lait. She looked like Bridgette Bardot but spoke much better English. I bit.

“You are American?” she asked.

“No, I’m Trouble.” I answered.

“But you look strong American, follow me.” she said with a flip of her bangs.

I was awakened the next morning when she stuck a lighted Gitane smoke between my lips, staring at me with her long gaze. I won’t lie, I inhaled deeply.

“You like danger American, yes? Race in the Paris-Dakar on a moto to amuse me,” she asked casually.

“How hard could that be?” I snorted. “I fly Hueys into hot LZ’s while guys in black pajamas in rice paddies shoot at me with AK’s. But me? I just grin at them while humming ‘Sugar, Sugar’ by the Archies. That ride-around-the-block has gotta be a cake-walk, Frenchie.”

I inhaled again slowly. “Find me a bike Mademoiselle- à votre service, je n’ai rien à faire en ce moment.”

She stole a drag off my lung dart. “Strong American, if you race for me, I will meet you at the finish line in Dakar. We will be lovers forever.”

But the second-hand Beemer I bought from the tattoo’d Corsican in Marseilles was firmly stuck in the sand. Screwed. I lit up another one. Dark tobacco given to me by the Berber chief way back in the Atlas Mountains.  While coughing and removing a tobacco flake off my lip, I turned my head around aware of someone. The empty desert is like that. It is just never empty. A quarter-of-a-click away I saw the kid. He was squatting by his camel. Nor more than 8 years old, he got up and and approached me with his big furry pet.

“Monsieur…” He pointed at my bike, then his camel and pulled a rope out of his bag. He pantomimed pulling the bike out of the sand with his beast. Then he stopped, gestured again by pointing at himself, “Cigarette?”

I lit up a smoke and handed it to the Little Desert Prince. He palmed his and we both inhaled a few deep pulls, studying the situation. With the butt hanging from his lower lip and puffing like a Brooklyn cab driver, he attached the rope and the camel pulled my ride out of the sand.

I cranked old Sparky up, waved, and went onto the next étape.

When I finally reached Dakar, there was no blonde at the finish line.


*            *            *

Dateline: October 7, 1967, La Higuera, Bolivia, 18°47′S 64°13′W


6,400 ft. above sea level is a strange place to be if you have bad asthma. I sure wouldn’t be caught dead there if I had suffered from it. But some do get caught that way.

Trust me, the Bolivian altiplano was no picnic in October. Sun so bright that I was wearing my Mt. Everest dark black-lensed Jublo glacier goggles from my last summit ascent a few years back. Riding my BMW R60, I was now retracing an old Alaska to Tierra del Fuego ride on a half-assed excuse of a ride south. The bike was light and sporty, just the way I like my women.

I stopped and looked up at the blazing hydrogen ball in the midday heavens above. I won’t lie, I was sorta lost.  My head was throbbing like Wotan’s hammer was pounding at it non-stop. He wasn’t. It was something else German, the Beemer moto engine between my legs; the Bing carbs gasping for air. I pulled out my map and compass, trying to figure out where the hell I was.

“Someday some smart ass SOB will invent a damned gizmo to make finding your location all magic and easy… Yeah, right, who am I kidding!??!… Never gonna happen! ” mumbling curses to myself. I had already waited a lifetime for one-man rocket belts to happen also. I finally got my bearings, put the map and compass back in my bag, and took off.

With some time on my hands from ‘Nam, I had picked up a small job. I did occasional freelance work for the “good guys” when I needed some off-the-books somolians to pay for my twin vices: motos and mujeres. I’m no doctor but it was an operation with a doctor. A wet operation.

Sliding my bike around a loose graveled corner, I had to break suddenly for a small group of men crossing the road on foot. They looked scraggly and short, typical of the peasants in this region. The tallest one looked different from the rest and carried an AK 47 on his shoulder. His smaller buddies were packing Russky heat as well, slung across their backs like guitars in a roving Huayño music group. It was obvious that these guys weren’t a Bolivian Boy Scout Troop looking for lost Girl Scouts selling cookies in the middle of nowhere.

The tall one approached me. He wore a beret and beard, smiling at me. It was him. The unmistakably recognizable kisser worn on t-shirts around the world from Moscow to Berkeley. His eyes narrowed a bit. He knew that I knew that he knew that I knew who he was. He knew. I knew. We both just knew we both knew. Know what I am talking about? Then you now know what we knew. Knowledge can be a complex and powerful thing.

“Nice moto” he said in broken English.
“You like them?” I returned.
“Quizás. Perhaps. I have ridden them a bit in the past” he answered.
“What was your ride?” I asked.
“A 1947 Model 18 Norton”, scanning the plain, then turning back to me.
“Nice English bike but leaks a lot of Texas tea” I offered.
“Quizás. But oil, like many things, you can get if you are committed” he said equivocally.

Turning back while taking my measure, he paused. “I like your poncho, it is very colorful and typically folkloric of the region”.

I looked down at it, not recognizing it or where it came from, seeing it for the first time.  I won’t lie. I was clueless where I had picked it up. I felt like a drugged hippie after a love-in at a San Francisco crash pad with torn psychedelic Jimi Hendrix and Quicksilver Messenger Service posters on the walls spinning around me.

“Drank too much trago last night in a pueblito at a dance. Ate too much quwi. Don’t remember anything but waking up next to a campesina with this on… and nothing else. My head is killing me. The quwi wasn’t bad but that trago is lethal. That plus lots of trips to the outhouse” I reported.

“Don’t worry, compañero, I am a doctor, you need one of these.”

He pulled two large banded-cigars from his pocket and cut the tips off each with an old rusty pocket knife. I lifted my dark glacier glasses off my eyes and up onto my sun-burned forehead and watched him hand me one of the Cuban Commie tobacco-built ICBMs. Silently and slowly, he scratched a wooden match against its stained box with “¡Patria o Muerte!” blazoned across the background of a faded Cuban flag.

He slowly lit my Commie Contraband Cubano, studying me more closely, observing the cigar’s medicinal effects on his patient.

“You look better already.”

His men were now sitting on nearby rocks in the shade, chewing coca leaves silently. We took a few puffs together to get the cancer rockets launched. I won’t lie, I inhaled deeply.

With a firm locked-eyeball stare, I thanked him.

“Cohibas. Excellent. These taste very Cuban” I noted.
“Quizás. I prefer a pipe. I have asthma” he shrugged as an ironical faint somewhat sad smile spread across his iconic face.
“Well then, I guess we are burning the enemy’s crops.” I noted.
“Quizás. For you. American, I suppose?” he asked, knowing the answer before ever asking it.
“Red and white corpuscles and blue veins, Doctor.” I replied. “You?”
“Argentina. But I was in New York City not so very long ago. The pastrami sandwich there was good”, his back now turned, looking about.
“Yeah, Argentina… love the place. Hot tangos, hot women and hot steaks”, I responded, fondly remembering that wild night with Sonia and Analisa in BA.
“Quizás. I don’t live there anymore, I travel a bit,” he shrugged again in a noncommittal way.

We stood there together a while, saying nothing, smoking like men do, casually blowing a few smoke rings now and then, watching our ashes lengthen and then fall off the end to the ground.

My headache started to fade. It was time to go.

“Thanks for the smoke, Doc. I have lost my Lucky Strikes. Nice cigar for a change. I gotta get down the road and find some gas.”
“We will meet again compañero”, he said while shaking my hand and placing his other on my shoulder.

Putting my dark glacier goggles back on, I looked him steadily in the eyes.

“I wouldn’t put a big long bet on that if I were you Doc”, I said while mounting up.
“Quizás”, he nodded in fatalistic agreement.

I gunned the R60 boxer and drove off into the distance, leaving history in the rear view mirror.

*            *            *

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