Argentinian Afrikaners, Bad Advice and Beautiful People

Camping illegally, free, and with no amenities, has its charms. One of them is watching Megan edit photos on a tiny stool under a lone streetlight, whilst pilfering electricity from its base. It never gets old.

We had really enjoyed our time in Puerto Piramides with Raoul and Kristal, they are great people and had become good friends, we had relaxed, laughed and celebrated, all in a beautiful setting, but it was time to get the hell out of dodge and get the show on the road again. On leaving, we decided to take the shorter tar route back to Puerto Madrin, where we would spend a night before moving on to Comodoro Rivadavia. We had also recommended to our Belgian friends to take the dirt road back to Puerto Madrin, a longer coastal road where we had managed to enjoy spectacular whale spotting on our way into the peninsula.

 

On arriving at the campsite in Puerto Madrin, we realised that our recommendation had resulted in Raoul coming off the bike along the dirt over a small rise, he had bruised / cracked a rib, hurt his elbow and had put a dent in the left pannier of his brand new 1200GS, along with a fair share of scratches. Apart from all of the physical damage to body and bike, an experience like this can be shattering for someone who is new to dirt, falling off the bike and hurting oneself can seriously ruin one’s confidence if not dealt with properly. We were mortified, and felt responsible for the ordeal. What was even worse was that the couple were now strongly considering calling off their trip, which was being done to celebrate a significant wedding anniversary, and going back to Belgium. The thought that we might have been responsible for all this was a horrible realisation.

Adventure, motorcycle, travel, friends, meeting, belgium, Argentina, South America

Kristel and Raoul, our two friends, and fellow riders from Belgium

Leatt, advebnture, motorcycle, travel, people, meeting, belgian, South America, Argentina

Us with Kristel in Puerto Madrin

 

Raoul and Kristal remained strong, and decided to finish the trip, although on a different route, missing out Ushuaia, which was to be their final destination. We were glad to hear that they had decided to continue the journey, but later heard that this came at a horrible cost. Kristal suffered a horrible accident in Brazil, smashing up her beautiful BMW along with her wrist. They are OK now, and managed to get back to Belgium safely along with the bikes.

 

It was difficult to try and convince ourselves that we had not been the cause of all of this, but through it all, we had learnt a very valuable lesson. What advice should one give and what advice should one take? It is actually a very common topic, and a very controversial one amongst motorcycle travellers, with no easy solution. We have heard numerous tales of travellers recommending routes that resulted in a bad outcome and others that have advised against certain routes, only to be met with disdain when the other bikers take it as a slight against their ability, scoffing at them when they manage to complete the route. If the advise is heeded and the road avoided, regret and anger can also be seen down the road when contradicting advise comes from a different biker: “What!? That route was easy! You definitely should have done it, it was beautiful. You would have been fine!”

 

Thermas el sauce, Great american trek, chile

Take this road for example: How do you see it and how would you recommend and describe it to other bikers? Without doubt there would be a range of far-flung answers to this question, depending on your personal preference and experience. What is fun for some isn’t for others, and vice versa

We are now very hesitant when giving advise on routes, our recommendations come with disclaimers longer than Apple licensing agreement, and only after getting a good idea as to a riders experience, and the type of road they enjoy. Everyone is different, some like the tar, some like the dirt, and some just like sitting behind a keyboard and telling everyone else what to do.

 

And I’m off my soap-box…soapbox

 

The road to Comodoro Rivadavia was boring as hell. Flat, windy, dry and cold. Every 75km or so you are confronted with a sign warning you of a steep ascent or descent sort of like this:

27018183-warning-road-sign-up-to-hill

What follows is the mildest change you could imagine. Maybe 3 degrees. We still think they just erect them to give you something to think about and prevent you from falling asleep and veering off the road and into the endless pampas that surround you. I’m not even sure that would wake you up. There aren’t any trees to hit for a good 300km in every direction.

 

pampas, patagonia, argentina, motorcycle, adventure, travel, south america, view, horizon, plains,

Yup… not much in the way of trees, or inclines for that matter

The reason we so badly wanted to visit Comodoro Rivadavia is because of their history, or rather our history there. Over one hundred years ago the Afrikaners in South Africa responded to the English presence by starting what has become known as “Die Groot Trek” or “The Great Trek” (where our trip got it’s name). They migrated all the way from the Cape to the Transvaal in the North, so they could be free of English rule. It was done via Ox wagon into the great unknown. It took many years, and countless hardships were endured. It was truly a testament to the human spirit and more specifically, to the strength, resourcefulness and pride our Afrikaans ancestors. What does this have to do with Comodoro Rivadavia you say? Well some of the boers hated English rule so much that they decided the Transvaal wasn’t far enough, so they climbed on a boat and headed to Argentina to start over.

Early boers in Argentina

Farming sheep was in Argentina

An early Boer family that settled in Chubut, Argentina

An early Boer family that settled in Chubut, Argentina

 

The “Colectividad Sudafricana en Argenina” are still proudly Afrikaans, the language remains, along with our customs, recipes, stories and the love of South Africa. Afrikaans and South African pride lives on in people who have never even set foot on its soil.

 

South African heritage has been celebrated ever since, and is still being celebrated to this day

South African heritage has been celebrated ever since, and is still being celebrated to this day

Martin Blackie was the head of Colectividad Sudafricana en Argenina, and the spokesperson for the Afrikaans community in Argentina. He is a second generation of Argentinian Afrikaners, his parents came over from South Africa themselves. We tried so hard to find him. We used the free wifi from petrol stations to search the internet, and read all the articles we could get our hands on. Eventually we found out he was in the smaller, neighbouring town of Rada Tilly, we were getting closer. We then started with the locals, referring us from person to person to people who knew more and more about Martin. We eventually heard he had a bakery and went searching for it. After a whole day of playing detective we found the bakery,and although it was closed, the neighbour managed to call Martin and tell him that there were two young Afrikaners who had come to see him.

 

Rada Tilly, Argentina, South America, Adventure, motorcycle, travel, sea, view, patagonia, Chubut

The sleepy seaside town of Rada Tilly

A white car rolls up, with a South African Flag on the boot. An elderly man, that can only be Martin steps out of the car, takes one look at me and proclaims “Nou dit is ‘n regte Afrikaner gesig!” (Now that is a real Afrikaner face!), yup, that’s him alright.

 

Martin is a great guy, and helped us out constantly throughout our stay. Martin organised us a cheap campsite, brought us freshly baked bread, took us on a tour of the area and had us over for a fantastic dinner of homemade empanadas and flan. The best was hearing the amazing stories of those early Afrikaners and all that they went through to make life work in the harsh environment they found themselves in. All very inspiring stuff, enough to make any modern day adventurer feel like a bit of a softie.

Martin Blackie and his wife, who welcomed us into their home

Martin Blackie and his wife, who welcomed us into their home

While staying in Rada Tilly, we had another encounter with a wonderful group of people. Through pure chance we met the teachers and pupils of Dean Funes, an all-boys catholic school in Comodoro Rivadavia, while they were having a field trip to our campsite. Having gone to an all-boys catholic school myself, I found it easy to relate. Not only were they kind enough to invite us to share their “choripan”, the Argentinian equivalent of our “boerie rolls”, but they left all the excess for us too, enough to help me recover from playing touch rugby with boys half my age.

Comodor rivadavia, Argentina, Patagonia, rugby, touch,

Playing some touch rugby

The next day we were invited to visit the school, go on a tour of their amazing grounds and facilities, and give the kids a little talk about what we were doing, who we were doing it for, and to throw in some inspiration. We were also surprised with a generous donation towards MSF from the boys and teachers, along with heartfelt prayers and words of encouragement.

school, comodoro rivadavia, argentina, bmw

The bikes and the boys at the campsite

Dean Funes, school, comodoro rivadavia, fundraising, talk, presentation

Sitting in on a class at Dean Funes

Adventure, motorcycle, travel, charity, doctors without borders, msf, tb, tuburculosis

Our donation from Dean Funes for MSF’s TB program

The amazing hospitality didn’t even end there. Maria and Fabian, two of the teachers at Colegio Salesiano Dean Funes, took Meg and I out for a mouth-watering steak dinner, with a visit to a well-known ice-cream parlour in Comodoro Rivadavia for desert.

South African, monument, argentina, comodoro rivadavia, chubut, Colectividad Sudafricana, boers, afrikaners, great trek

Monument for the South African Boers in Comodoro Rivadavia

Us with Maria and Fabian after a great night out in Comodoro Rivadavia

Us with Maria and Fabian after a great night out in Comodoro Rivadavia

Yup... The Snymans were there too!

Yup… The Snymans were there too!

Meg and I were completely overwhelmed by the warm welcomes, friendliness, and hospitality we experienced in Rada Tilly and Comodoro Rivadavia. We met some genuinely good people that would put anyone’s faith back into humanity. If there is any reason to travel, this is it, the friendships and bonds that you will make with people along the way. A warm and sincere thank you from us to all that offered us their friendship, Rada Tilly will always be one of our favourite stops on this journey, a small town with a MASSIVE heart.

Surviving Tuberculosis above the breadline

Who gets Tuberculosis, right? Certainly not people living in the modern world, definitely not anyone who has a  good education, organic food on the table and lives in a nice house? Definitely not me?

I was diagnosed with Pulmonary Tuberculosis in September 2013, much to the shock of myself and my colleagues, at the time I was working as a medical doctor in one of the largest hospitals in South Africa, the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital(CMJAH). On a particularly busy Friday night, I accidentally stuck a needle from a patient carrying almost every infectious disease common in SA, including Hepatitis B, Syphillis and HIV, into my own finger. This resulted in me having to undergo a huge number of blood tests and a course of Anti-retroviral medication. At the time, I was coughing significantly and feeling a little unwell, but I had put it down to a bout of Bronchitis,  so I decided I should do my annual Chest X-ray too. Most doctors in South Africa are not told this, but they are allowed one free CXR every year if working in public sector. When the radiographer put the x-ray up I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it was my own. There was a gaping hole in my right upper lung!

Tuberculosis, x-ray, cavity

The Cavity in my lung seen on the left of this image

For those not medically inclined, Tuberculosis(TB) is a very old disease that has killed many people throughout our history, and although it is now rare in well developed countries, it is definitely not only an ancient disease. According to the CDC one third of the world’s population is currently infected with TB, and in 2013 1.5 million people died from TB. TB is a bacterium that is spread through droplets in the air, and usually attacks the lungs resulting in pulmonary TB. It is not easy to catch if you are strong and healthy, only 1% of people in contact will develop the disease, however these numbers change significantly in children, the elderly, or in people with poorly functioning immune systems, such as those with HIV. The irony of the situation, is that TB does less damage to the lungs in someone with a weak immune system, while in people with strong immune systems, the aggressive immune reaction rapidly destroys the delicate lung tissue, which never heals. I was not elderly, HIV positive, or living in poverty, so how come I got it? Was it the frequent 30 hour night shifts or maybe the overwhelming exposure we have to the disease as South African doctors?

tuberculosis incidence, south africa, MSF

Most doctors that I know walk around the hospitals as if they are immune to TB, and I suppose on a level they also feel that it is a disease of the impoverished and the resultant overcrowding. In my first two years of medicine in Cape Town, I was provided with TB masks every day, to wear whenever I felt I might need it. I wore them regularly. In 2013 I was transferred to CMJAH in Johannesburg, and although I still worked in medical casualty, masks were no longer available to me. They, as I was told, were reserved for the Multi Drug Resistant-TB ward (all these patients are also initially diagnosed in  the same medical casualty) and for the patients: who were all sitting in chairs, coughing freely into the stale air of the waiting room. The 24 hours it usually takes to make the diagnosis of TB in this Quaternary level hospital, apparently does not count as a risk period for infection. I joined my colleagues in making-do without a mask, and “stole” one whenever I got the chance.

TB mask N95

This is the N95 mask -the correct mask to wear against TB

surgical face mask

This is a surgical mask – it will not prevent TB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After my diagnosis I first waited for the susceptibility screen, where they check the TB’s resistance to existent drugs, which would make it either Multi-drug resistant (MDR) or the dreaded Extreme drug resistant (XDR). After an anxious wait I found out I was “lucky” enough to have a strain of TB that susceptible to treatment, and I started the TB regimen as I had prescribed for my patients so many times before. The regimen includes two months of four tablets a day (the intensive phase), and four months of two tablets daily (the continuation phase). This is the treatment regime for “standard” TB – a six month course. I developed a rash early in the treatment, but that disappeared after two weeks. The tablets also discolour all your bodily fluids into a reddish colour, including your urine and tears, but overall I started feeling a lot better and my energy returned. I took a month off work, partially due to being infectious, and partially from the psychological shock, but I was religious about taking the tablets, even though each tablet was well over 1cm in diameter.

At the end of 6 months, I was 12 kg heavier and only missed 2 doses of my tablets. I was ready to stop the treatment, but too afraid! My tests came back clear, but the damage done to my lung can never be repaired. I will always have a scarred cavity in my right lung. I am so grateful that I was cured of TB, and during the 6 months came to find out just how many of my colleagues have had TB and even worse, MDR-TB. In MDR-TB the treatment lasts 18 months or more, with very severe side effects. I have even heard of doctors that have died as a result of TB. Why does no-one know about these cases, including most of the medical personnel?

Johannesburg hospital, tuberculosis

CMJAH main corridor

I aim to create greater awareness about TB and MDR-TB, as well as the fact that no big pharmaceutical companies focus on TB treatment as there is “no money to be made in saving the less fortunate”. Also to raise awareness amongst my colleagues, who may still believe they cannot get TB, and are willing to  blindly accept working in a hospital without any ventilation or access to basic safety equipment. I have left public service as a result of the government’s failure to protect their staff, after fighting endlessly with the Infection Control at CMJAH.

One of the reasons we are raising money for Doctors Without Borders, is because they are fighting a very long, very difficult battle to get big drug companies to lower the prices of the better drugs, so the countries that need them can afford them, as well as change laws for the import and regulation of these drugs (see here). Also to increase research into better drugs for a disease we should have eradicated a long time ago. All donations to MSF through our website will be donated directly to MSF MDR-TB program. Please support this important cause, it is a problem that is bigger than anyone realises! To donate click here

10597895-doctors-without-borders-mdecins-sans-frontires-msf-thumb-988x315-67928 – Megs

Our promo video for the documentary is out!

Hey people! Thanks to some awesome work by rundontwalk productions and BreakDLaw our promo for our documentary is now out. Filmed using awesome equipment from Canon South Africa, GoPro, and Music Connection.

 

 

« Older posts

© 2014 Great American Trek

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑