Culture Shock Can Ruin Your International Motorcycle Adventure Trip!

Post Op Rider Report #10
Gabe’s Great Pan Am Mission:

Some readers asked why I am stuck in Peru giving it so much ink in my blog. I must state that a lot of shit happened in Peru, and it was the country that I most traveled. Second, this is where Kelsey decided to go on his own and leave the run to get to the states fast. Lastly, I get to show off on how I rode through rivers, crazy dirt roads, and survived high altitudes. Peru is the Latin American country with the craziest personality. A lot of people cannot overcome the culture clash let alone the raw Peruvian culture. You can be the best rider in the world able to ride 2-3 days with no sleep, but if you can’t handle Peru how can you successfully adventure ride Internationally? ADV Rider has a great article on Culture shock written (https://advrider.com/dealing-with-culture-shock-abroad/), by EGLĖ / @EVERGREENE who’s tag is Digital nomad, adventure rider, writer. Note to self:cool ass title…..steal it for yourself LOL!

OK, looks like I am delving into a whole subject matter that deals with Peru and more-over the culture shock. I might even delve into “How to Pick an Adventure Riding Partner!” I never know where I go when I sit down with my HP laptop. I do know that Culture Shock is real and changes people because I have seen it too many times especially my two short lived riding partners of 2015 & 2019 that were visibly affected by the raw Latin American way of life.” These were guys that rode and completed the Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge, and other competitive motorcycle rallies. These guys have iron butts and ride harder than most riders I know. When you leave the United States on an international moto adventure trip: your riding skills will help, but you may need much more than that.

Culture Shock Affects Us All

Research on Wikipedia shows culture shock as follows: “Culture shock is an experience a person may have when one moves to a cultural environment which is different from one’s own; it is also the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new country, a move between social environments, or simply transition to another type of life. One of the most common causes of culture shock involves individuals in a foreign environment. Culture shock can be described as consisting of at least one of four distinct phases: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment, and adaptation.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_shock).

“Common problems include: information overload, language barrier, generation gap, technology gap, skill interdependence, formulation dependency, homesickness (cultural), boredom (job dependency), response ability (cultural skill set). There is no true way to entirely prevent culture shock, as individuals in any society are personally affected by cultural contrasts differently.”

 

Now that we have the expert’s definition let me lay down the layman’s explanation. You come to a country with preconceived ideas of how to do things, and of course, your way is the only right way, right? Your ideas come from your parents upbringing or lack there of including life’s experiences and level of education or training. You take that whole ball of wax and now you’re in another country to to figure things out. For a while you start to believe that your host country is MAC OS and your IBM OS (incompatible). One of my biggest beefs with culture clash was Café Con Leche the way my abuelita used to show me.

Gabe’s Opinionated Analysis on Culture Shock

Now I am the picky guy that gets culture shock at Starbucks because café Con Leche “no es cappuccino” or mocha-coca-chupa-loca café either. No foam just add a full Cuban Coffee (Espresso) to warm milk (not hot or cold) and let me add the Splenda por favor.

I was at a nice gas station in the Patagonia where the ladies behind the counter had this big “Miami Calle Ocho” expresso machine with four coffee spickets. Most coffee windows in South Florida have one, but in Argentina these ladies had the Mercedes Benz of espresso machines. I wanted to get on the road, but I wanted coffee for the caffeine and to swallow my diabetic medicine. I waited 20 minutes as the girl stared at the machine, fumbled around, asked questions to other girls that had no idea, and who finally pushed so many water buttons that the espresso coffee filled up a 16 once cup making it taste more like American brew than the liquid cocaine I was raised to consume. We are talking Argentina here not the mountains of China.

 

Cultural Shock Applied!

Kelsey was outside fidgeting and whining why “I” was taking so long. He did not understand why I needed coffee because all he needed was a cup of 20/50 motor oil in morning to wash down his breakfast bowl of nuts & bolts to get on the road. Hey, I needed my coffee that morning what can I say? I was watching this girl the whole time judging her as an idiot wanting to jump over the counter to do the damn thing myself. I was working myself into an un-needed froth when I don’t even want the foam on top of my coffees. In the end I just swallowed it, literally I did with my anti-sugar-medication throwing the rest out in the garbage.

Now I can let this bother me and work up in my head affecting my decisions and how I confront the rest of the host country the rest of the day. If I accepted it as a poor girl new to her job…..not wanting to lose her hard to get job at a nice place……did the best she could for me at the time she was there. If I walked away with that then the pressure cooker is not going to pressure up to explode in the next five cultural shock experiences that will lead to overload causing me to have a cultural breakdown. Breakdowns happens and it can ruin your motorcycle adventure.

Another Example: Kelsey vs. Latin America

When I first talked to Kelsey, he wanted to ride all South America including, but not limited to Chile, Bolivia, Peru, and more. He had his plans and I let him run with the Veteran’s Motorcycle Charity Run as long as he followed my plan and route. He agreed and went with it up and until he got smacked side of his head with Latin American culture shock. We rode down to Ushuaia, to El Fin Del Mundo, and then back to Santiago, Chile where I had to briefly fly to Hartford, Connecticut (USA), to bury my Father who went up to meet our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Upon coming back the ole boy had cabin fever wanting to “Ride.”

I didn’t blame Kelsey, and I would have had the fever to if our roles were reversed. I was less than 24-hours burying my father still in the mourning process suffering dad’s loss of life. Kelsey decided to go ahead and if we meet up then we meet up and if not no problems. He left and had no problems while in Chile. I mean, I showed him how to cross borders and the process so what can go wrong?

 

Some Countries Just Easier Than Others

Now some countries make their experiences easier on you than other countries. Chile is often called the European country of South America for a reason. Chile and Argentina are culturally rich in a western style society making it a “soft” country related to culture clash. Depending on where your from Peru can be considered a Medium to hard country. One may be deceived to think that the rest of South America is going to be this easy if they never been. It’s not the same traveling to Australia for 15-days compared to traveling the desert of Mongolia. Now pay attention because I am about to bring the point home.

Kelsey rode from the creature comforts of Santiago, Chile being taken care of by a good buddy of mine named Marco Price. Kelsey had been staying with Marco at his abode for free. Marco was basically a friend /slash/ tour guide in a sense that he hooked Kelsey up knowing the city better. Kelsey finally rode up northern Chile having no problems until he hit Peru. His first mistake was not buying mandatory vehicle insurance for the bike upon entering Peru.

Around 7 PM he stopped and looked for a safe hotel with secure parking for his older Harley Road Glide. He stopped in a coastal city only to find that the hotel casino Booking.com highly rated was a hole in the wall with unsecured street parking. When he was standing around scratching his head the locals gathered around because they never saw a Harley-Davidson except on pirated DVDs of American movies. Kelsey perceived that “all Peruvians around him” wanted to steal his bike and his $$$$.

He panicked into what turned out to be an Iron Butt Bun Burner 1,500 riding non-stop until he got to the American Outpost for tourist: Fort Hilton. By that I mean he rode close 27-hours to the Lima, Hilton. Every time he stopped to find a hotel, he was swarmed by locals gawking at his Harley. Kelsey was not liking this at all believing he was going to be robbed.

Kelsey was not use to Peruvians so he leaned to his past experiences that may have included Hollywood made action movies. He later told me he cancelled his plans for riding the rest of South America wanting to Iron Butt it back the United States. Especially when the police at a road stop wanted to confiscate his Harley for not buying motorcycle insurance at the border. We were both stopped at a toll booth on a major highway north of Lima about 2 hours.

I quickly put my lawyering skills into action and started defending him in fluent Spanish to the police that had some sting operation at the toll booth. The sting was big with there being like 40-police officers and vehicles to match. When I told Kelsey what the police officer was saying his eyes turned into two white hard-boiled eggs saying, “What?” I stayed for 15-minutes convincing the police officer to let him go to fix the situation. The officer in the end was laughing with me and the mean guy was snickering, so my job was successfully completed.

We eventually went to the Mapfre Insurance company to get insurance and as I waited outside I was approached by so many curious people I took fotos with them. In the U.S. you have procedural rights safe keeping your liberties, property, and dignity intact. Another type of cultural shock is when you get caught up into a legal system contrary to that where you were raised. I guess knowing the local language helps to ease the degree of culture shock.

 

Operation: Fort Hilton

The internet is a great tool for the adventure rider with so many research tools to read up on the countries you are going to travel. With a little bit of reading Kelsey could have understood that most Peruvians don’t believe in personal space like Americans do. They will get right up into your shit instinctively. I have found Peruvians sitting on my motorcycle after exiting a building. You know I ran their asses off with my rude Cuban American Spanglish. American value their privacy, but you may have to check that gun at the door upon entering certain countries. If I did not speak Fluent Spanish I may have handled the situation WAY different 🙂

Some Peruvians will in less than 2-minutes start asking super personal questions that really is none of their business. Most of all they can seem at time to be intense and threatening if you let your imagination run wild. In my opinion, the information and cultural overload jammed Kelsey’s reasoning that resulted in the bad decision to ride tired in a foreign country, and on bad dangerous roads at nights believing his motorcycle was going to be stolen. Had he taken a deep breath, rode his bike to a location where he would not be the main attraction, but still within cellular roaming data range, Kelsey could have Googled a location for a more secure hotel instead of riding to the American Outpost: Fort Hilton.

 

Now as a Hilton Honors member I am not a hater, but I think if you hide out in luxury hotels too often on your motorcycle adventure trip your robbing yourself of a costly adventure and miss out on the new people you will meet.

There will be times you NEED that Hilton hotel to culturally decompress and pamper yourself with that super fast WiFi. In the end, Kelsey soured on Latin America calling it a shit hole, cut his trip short cancelling Bolivia and other Peruvian adventurous roads, and just to get back to the familiar in the United States as quickly as his bike and road conditions would take him. I think he missed out on a ton of positive adventurous experiences of a lifetime all due to Culture shock. International adventure riding is not for everyone, but it IS for everyone. The way to limit the saturation of culture shock is good planning and understanding.

Plan your Ride then – Ride Your Plan

As the above subtitle states, you first plan your ride, and then you ride your plan with minimal changes as the situation arises. Finding those routes and hotels along the way helps limit the stress. Finding apps such as iOverlander or Horizons Unlimited will ease the symptoms of cultural shock. Study the border crossing experience of others. Blogs and Vlogs help the rider expect the experience making it more bearable. For example, in Peru they eat Cuy, which is basically a gerbil on a BBQ stick. I stopped at a restaurant on my terms to try it out. The place had Cuy in a stew form over rice with some sides.

This was the first time I tried it. Imagine though I am hungry in the sparsely populated mountains of Peru, you roll up to eat, and all you see are 20 rats on a stick turning over-fire like a Rotisserie Chicken at a Winn Dixie deli counter? I think I would have gone to sleep hungry…maybe I did, but I won’t tell. Educating yourself through research won’t cure all cultural shock, but you can contain the effects by knowing what your walking into, having a humble attitude, and like EGLĖ / @EVERGREENE suggests: employ “empathy NOT judgment.”

Here are some good websites that share helpful information on overcoming culture shock.

How to Overcome Culture Shock in a Foreign Country

7 TIPS TO TAKE THE SHOCK OUT OF CULTURE SHOCK

How to Overcome Culture Shock (Holt Blog)

  • Keep an open mind; do not automatically perceive something that is different as “wrong” or negative.
  • Guard against assuming or interpreting behavior from your own cultural perspective, or filter. For example, I used to wonder why everyone was so “superficially” friendly, until I learnt that Americans often use the phrase “How are you?” to mean “hello,” or “I am acknowledging your presence as I pass you in the hall.” 
  • Spending a lot of time communicating with friends back home can exacerbate homesickness and delay the acculturation process. Instead, I urge you to get out of your comfort zone and make friends. Get to know your classmates by attending as many social events as you can – this helps with adjusting to a new environment, especially in the beginning. 
  • Nurture new hobbies to build your network with people. For example, I never thought I’d visit museums, but on my visits I have unexpectedly connected with people in unlikely places.
  • When you come across things you do not like, write them down and then ask yourself: can I change them? If not, then you can find a way of living with them. 
  • Above all, maintain your sense of humor! I have learnt that when I make a cultural gaffe or don’t know what to do in a social situation, and I laugh at myself, others laugh with me – not at me. This had led to some great exchanges on our experiences overcoming cultural challenges.
    (CITE: https://www.hult.edu/blog/how-to-overcome-culture-shock)

Conclusion on Culture Shock

Finally, don’t let me start on my rant of Oatmeal breakfast in Central America that is more like watered down soup than the thick oatmeal I dream of when traveling overseas. Also, I guess lying for profits is not a Peruvian copyright since I deal with that everywhere I go domestically or internationally. Just like when I stop at a hotel and I ask if there is hot water and WiFi with a yes in the positive nod. Then you get to the room and there is no hot water, and yet there IS WiFi signal, but NO internet is flowing to the signal. You ask for your $$$$$$$ back and some say no with a smile, “sorry, I cant do that.

In situations like this be happy that you found a secure parking spot for your bike because in the end its better to chill in the cold shower than to chill in the local Peruvian police station reporting a stolen motorcycle. Its all how you frame it in your mind and execute it in the cultural situation.

Cultural shock is a worldwide travelers’ symptom that can be controlled through exercise and research! The more you travel the better you get at confronting it and dealing with it. Worst case scenario you can always ride from American outpost to American outpost. I want to credit Kelsey because he plowed through eventually finishing his ride by finishing in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. I finished my run two days behind him in Prudhoe Bay. At least in the end if something happened, he knew I was behind him and he could count on me pulling up from behind with the support……like the U.S. Calvary!  🙂

I apologize, I didn’t finish blogging about how I rode through rivers, crazy dirt roads, and survived high altitudes. I have a lot of raw footage to plow through before I start uploading it. I should be done blogging on Peru in the next article. I guess the next installment of the Pan Am 2.0 trip will be on that!