In June 2017, Bikash Palikhey, a 40 year-old architect, decided that he wanted to leave Kathmandu and do something different. He drove a motorcycle from Medellin, Colombia to Buenos Aires, Argentina, living on the road for 15 months, traveling a total of 10,500 kms. He documented his travels on a Facebook page called “My Road Diary.”
Palikhey is back in Kathmandu and working as an architect, and he doesn’t think he will go on another 15 month journey again, but he appreciates all he learnt from life as a nomad for over a year. Excerpts from an interview with him here:
What prompted you to go on this journey?
I had been thinking about taking a long sabbatical and living in different places for a while. Everything I owned fit in my backpack so moving around wasn’t going to be a problem. I had even considered settling down somewhere if I really enjoyed it.
How did you deal with the paperwork and logistics of it all, things like visas, accommodation and food? How did you fund the trip?
I am a naturalized German citizen. I lived in Germany for 10 years and took up the citizenship during my seventh year there. Having a German passport made crossing borders a lot easier. I stayed with friends and relatives in the US, In South America I stayed in hostels, airbnbs and occasionally used rental accommodation. The trip was funded mainly through savings. I supplemented it by working remotely for clients in Germany and the US.
What were some of your favorite places? What did you like most about them?
St. Pete, Florida – I volunteered in an eco-village there. The atmosphere was very laid back and Americans, I find, are generally very friendly. Warm weather, the beach, pool parties and dive bars are some of my fondest memories.
Medellin, Colombia – I liked the city the moment I landed, so much so, that I rented out a room in an apartment and ended up living there for four months. Called the “city of eternal spring,” Medellin has “Dashain” weather all year round. Colombia being close to the equator has no seasons. Medellin in 2017 was very different from the narco decades of the 80s and 90s. The city has undergone a major transformation with major public investments in the urban infrastructure, and it shows. There are some world class parks and very innovative urban design projects. The night life is second to none. Colombians have a lust for life that is only matched by their Brazilian cousins to the east.
Sarayaku, Ecuador – I was lucky enough to spend two weeks with the Kichwa tribe deep in the Amazonian jungles in Ecuador. A German friend of mine who had done some work there introduced me to the leader of one of the clans there. As is the case with many villages in the Amazonas the road stops at a town near the jungle border and then it’s a few hours (on in some cases even days) on a canoe. Sarayaku consists of 60-80 houses along the riverbank. The village was relatively well off with a functioning community center, a water supply project on the pipeline and a politically active population. They even managed to successfully stop a multinational oil corporation from drilling on their lands featured in the documentary “Children of the Jaguar” which they co-produced with Amnesty International.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia – At 3,600m, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. Driving my motorcycle through it was surreal, a vast white salty surface on all sides with silhouettes of distant hills far away.
Cuzco, Peru – Another major stop on my motorcycle trip. The ancient capital of the Incas with its intricate stone masonry and ancient Inca-engineering still fascinates visitors. Sadly stone masonry is not practiced anymore and the locals were surprised when I told them that we still build with stone in Nepal.
Do you speak Spanish? Was communication difficult?
I speak a bit of Spanish. I can make basic conversation. I started taking taking classes even before the trip in Kathmandu.
What were some of the challenges you faced? What were your least favorite bits of the trip?
During my stay in St. Pete, Florida, hurricane Irma passed through. We braced ourselves for the worst, boarding up all the windows and stocking up on food and water, even having a boat on standby. Luckily the hurricane passed by without much damage.
I got stopped once by the Colombian police because they caught me driving on the emergency lane while trying to bypass a traffic jam. I spent a day taking classes and running around the traffic police station. In the end I ended up paying US 220$ for what to me seemed like a minor traffic violation.
Driving through the Altiplano in Peru and Bolivia was tough. At 4,000m the landscape is cold and windy. I had to stop every now and then to rest and warm myself up and stop my fingers from freezing.
How did people react when you said you were from Nepal? Did you meet Nepalis working or living in these countries?
The only place where I met Nepalis was in the US, mainly friends and relatives. I did not come across another Nepali for the whole year that I was in South America.
People were always surprised when I told them I was from Nepal. Most of them had never heard of it so I had to show them on a map. South America is as far away as you can get from Asia so there are very few Asian travelers there.
Did you ride alone or with others? What is interesting about motorbike culture in South America compared to Nepal?
I rode alone. I met a lot of other bikers, most of them from the continent itself, mainly Brazilians and Argentinians. There is very little paperwork involved and crossing borders with a vehicle is easy. Although driving motorbikes is popular in Nepal it is mainly seen as a means of transportation than a hobby itself and most of the models available here are city bikes. Surprisingly Indian brands are making major inroads into the local South American markets. I found Bajaj Pulsars in every country I travelled to in South America.
What were things you learnt from the trip?
My biggest lesson was personal. This was my first time doing long term travel. After a few months on the road I really started to miss work, I missed being creative and designing buildings. I don’t think I’ll ever undertake a 15 month trip again. Three to four months is fine. Other than that I also began to see Nepal and my life back in Kathmandu in a different light. For all it’s flaws there is also a lot of good things that makes this place so special. You realize it from a distance.
All photos by Bikash Palikhey
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