May 9, 2013 -- If you've ever dreamed about travelling around the world, you will love this video by Alex Chacon, a 25-year-old from El Paso Texas.
Chacon made a 500-day motorbike journey on his own, from Alaska, to the southern tip of Argentina, and filmed much of it by placing GoPro cameras on his helmet and on the side of his bike.
The 10-minute video that sums up the trip, has gone viral on youtube. It has been posted on several websites, including Chacon's own blog, and gives us some awesome views of the Patagonia, the deserts of the American west, snowy Andean mountain passes and muddy Amazonian roads. The shots just make you want to go to these places yourself. But the story behind this video and this trip, is also quite inspiring.
Chacon, a dual citizen of Mexico and the U.S, left his hometown in January of 2011, shortly after he had finished a degree in BioMedical Sciences at the University of Texas. He had little money, and only enough funds to travel for 6 months. But that stretched to almost two years of traveling, as the El Paso native found numerous to ways to get by.
First Chacon learnt to live cheaply, camping out in parking lots and eating canned foods. He used social networks like Couchsurfing to get free accommodation with locals through the journey, and as he made his way down Central America, people who became fans of his "mission," started to help him out, by giving him food, money and free gas. Chacon documented it all in a blog called Expedition South, through which he updated a growing number of online fans about his travels . This exposure eventually helped him to secure small donations from Kawasaki, -which gave him $1,000 for a new bike- and GoPro a camera company.
The view from Alex's helmet cam, as he braves the La Paz to Coroico road in Bolivia.
Now that he has ridden his bike, all they way back to El Paso, Chacon works as a travel consultant for people who are interested in taking similar trips on landrovers and motorbikes around the Americas. Chacon helps his clients with info on which routes to take, and tips on how to negotiate bureaucratic border crossings with their vehicles. We wanted to know more about this life-changing trip, so we called up Chacon at his El Paso home.
Fusion: Some people might think this is strange to go off on your own on a bike, for 500 days. Others will think it is the coolest thing ever. What inspired you to do this?
Alex Chacon: "When I was a little kid in elementary school I'd always look at the world globe an realized how small we were, and the different places there were. So over the years I kept figuring out how I was going to go all around the world, and get to know the world before I got to know myself. I did my very frist roadtrop at 15 when I drove from Mexico to Canada twice. I went from El Paso to California, to Vancouver, back down to Texas, then to Florida, then to Nova Scotia, through Michigan, and I did that in 32 days. It was the most amazing experience in my life, and because it was so profound, and it changed me in so many ways at such a young age, I realized that a much greater journey like [riding across] Latin America was in my blood."
While in Peru, Alex accidentally ran into an airbase testing ground where the Peruvian air force tested live bombs and rockets.
Fusion: So you weren't having an existential crisis or something of that sort?
AC: (laughs) There's a good book about a drummer from Russia, who did a similar motorbike journey after he lost most of his family to diseases and stuff, so he went kind of crazy. But I'm happy to say that I just knew the amazing epic journey that my small trip [in North America] was like and I just knew that if I could share such a huge amazing epic journey through Latin America, what great it would do me and how great it would be for everyone who was following me on the website.
Fusion: How could you afford this trip?
AC: "I first thought I was going to travel from three to six months, and I saved up all the money I could by selling everything I had. I worked for two months [at a physical therapy unit of a local clinic] after graduating college, I sold my car, I sold my clothes, I gave blood, I did everything possible to save the most money cause I didn't think I was going to make it to South America, I really just thought I was going to go from the US to Panama and that's about it."
"But it was amazing because [during the trip] everybody had this feeling of what I needed to accomplish, my goal my dream. Through the journey I got Kawasaki international involved they helped me towards the purchase of a bike. Then I got Go-Pro involved I did videos for them in Costa Rica, and they gave me some cameras. And then people on the road would give me money. And they said this is great what you're doing. "
"I got random people giving me $500 on the street to people letting me sleep in their house, to people inviting me to their weddings, just crazy stuff, people giving me food. It became this super amazing adventure."
Alex makes his way through southern Mexico. In this portion of the trip he traveled with a couple friends that he met in Oaxaca.
Fusion: You went to a lot of remote places. What was the scariest road?
AC: I can't tell you. It's like choosing which of the 23 countries I visited was the most amazing. However, I would say that the most dangerous places I encountered were the remote expanses of the Patagonia, and the Bolivian Altiplano.
In the Patagonia you have ferries that go once or twice a day, so you're sometimes stranded on an island on your own for a day. If something happens to you then, you get no help for 24 hours. The other dangerous places were probably in Honduras, cause when you go to gas stations in Honduras everyone has guns, even in the coffee shops, the stores, so when everyone else has a gun and you don't you feel kind of uncomfortable. So there was a little bit of human, and a little bit of natural danger in each place.
Fusion: What was your favorite place?
AC: Can I give you three?
AC: "The First was witnessing the northern lights in Alaska, then it was the Uyuni Salt Flat, which is the world's largest salt falt [a salt flat is an area covered in salt and other minerals] in Bolivia, during the wet season, cause it becomes the world's largest mirror. The sky is painted on the top and on the floor, and there's no wind so the water doesn't move. Then there's the jungles of Costa Rica, the Peruvian Andes, the end of the world at Tierra del Fuego, the Iguazu Falls, the Amazon in Brazil, just so many places.
The northern lights in Alaska. Alex camped out for 11 days in sub-zero temperatures until he found a spot where he could see this natural phenomenon.
Fusion: It sounds real good. But this was a long trip. Was there any moment that you wanted to stop? Where you felt bored of being out there on your own?
AC: You go through stages in such long travels. The first 2 months you go through the most amazing bliss and rejuvenation and just spiritual awareness, its just the most happy thing you can think of. After two months around the 3rd or 4th month you get lonely. You start missing your family you start doubting yourself and what you're doing and why are you doing this, and you start getting down. During a trip like this you will experience the worst lowest moments of your life, but you will also experience the most amazing liberating and existential moments of your life as well.
Fusion: Now you've become some sort of travel consultant. How did that come about?
AC: "So what happened during the trip is that I would get many emails from people [who saw the blog] who were saying they were thinking about doing the same thing and wanted some pointers. And I would help people for fun and send messages. But eventually my following got so massive that I was getting 10 to 15 emails a day asking me very specific questions about how to travel, the best routes, how to deal with corrupt officers. And I said I don't have time to do this. So I said well, let's make a consulting business, I really would like to help people, so now I help a specific amount of people with the logistics of their journeys.
Alex eases his bike unto a yacht in eastern Panama. There is no road through the dense jungle that divides Panama from Colombia, so travelers must take boats.
Fusion: Who are the people that are interested in doing trips like this one that you did? Who are your clients?
AC: "It's everybody. I have lawyers, I have doctors, I have poor college students who are going on a budget. I have people who have no idea what they're doing, who just want to go on a long motorcycle ride and have no experience, to people who want to do a tour of Mexico, or people who are scared of Mexico and want me to tour with them. I'm actually passing through Mexico in the next few weeks touring a group of college guys who are going to Chiapas on their bikes. It's basically anybody and everybody from 80-year-old men to 20-year-old college students.
Fusion: Do women also go on these trips?
AC: Yeah, I had a woman who just made it from Ontario Canada, all the way to Panama, by herself. Her name is Alexandra.
Fusion: Do you meet lots of bikers, who are doing the same thing when you go on these trips?
AC: "I must've met maybe 40 to 50 bikers, in the year and a half that I was doing this trip. But basically they were just doing the Panamerican [highway] from Mexico to Panama, some others were doing a few months in South America, but hardly anyone was doing more than 4 months or 5 to 6 countries. Most people I met travelling were just backpackers, not bikers, we're still a very small class of traveling people."
A group of biker buddies in the Patagonia took Alex on a dirt-bike trip. They also helped him to fix his bike's busted engine, a task that took about a month to complete.
Fusion: Do you think this was a once in a lifetime trip, or would you do more of these extra long trips?
AC: "I would really like to continue on and see the rest of the world, and be able to bring this to the people and the public who can't do these trips and bring it to them in a very captivating way like I've shown on my blog and my videos. I'd really like to get on TV actually and make a TV show and be able to chart the world in very unique ways like I did with the blog."
An abandonded bridge in Ecuador, leads from the Andean foothills to the Amazon rainforest. Motorcycle travel gave Alex the opportunity to go to places that were off the beaten track.