MILES AHEAD WAS FEATURED ON
PREVIEW: THIS IS HOW CHAPTER 1 BEGINS
“You want to ship your motorcycle to Buenos Aires? Forget that. It will take ages before the Argentinian customs even think about releasing it and it will cost you a fortune, and not all of it above board.”
“What about Montevideo?”
“Same story. And the same applies to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.”
Peet at the shipping company in Rotterdam could not have been clearer. Chile is the only destination in the entire region where he would be happy sending my motorcycle. Organising the paperwork for a destination in Chile is simplicity itself.
A taxi carried me from Santiago airport through the morning rush hour to a glass-encased skyscraper in the city centre. To the head office of the Chilean shipping line that had removed my motorcycle from the sea container, and whose sole remaining task was to stamp the papers so it could be released by customs. According to the ladies at the shipping company, one of the necessary documents was missing. All the imploring looks and pleading in the world were not enough. The implacable faces said it all: the rules are the rules. My fuse, already shortened by the perils of the journey, grew ever shorter.
…and after the usual setbacks…
Just two days previously, I had locked the door of my apartment in Amsterdam behind me, and already my nerves had been frayed to breaking point at the very first stopover, in Philadelphia. Not a single trace could be found of my backpack containing my bike clothing, six months’ worth of contact lenses and the camera cables. And just because they couldn’t find my details on their broken down computer, I was taken off to one side and given a full dressing down by the customs service. At the gate more problems loomed as I had too many items of hand luggage; that particular crisis was fortunately averted by a cheerful purser. The grey, deserted airport at Miami found me eating tacos from a plastic plate; far too salty, far too fatty and far too expensive. And when I arrived this morning at the crack of dawn, the final spark of hope that my backpack may have arrived overnight was remorselessly extinguished.
…onwards to New York.
Luckily I was able to reach Peet in the Netherlands on my mobile. In English, he managed to explain to the ladies from the shipping company that my papers were in fact in perfect order. Armed with the necessary stamps I grabbed a bus to Valparaíso, on the coast, to search for the warehouse and my almost forty year-old Moto Guzzi, the workhorse set to carry me to New York over the course of the next six months, crisscross through the Americas, to seek out businesses working to create a better world. All in their own way, and in their own sector. All for profit. And all with social impact. And all starting with Sabores del Mundo in Buenos Aires, the city where I used to live, ten years ago.
Step one: find the warehouse…
My luggage was finally delivered to me in Valparaíso, the next morning. Increasingly excited, I walked from the hostel to the customs office, where the stack of papers clutched in my hands continued to grow. A bus took me into the far outskirts of the city. At what could barely be described as a bus stop, the driver vaguely waved towards an uncertain destination, somewhere on the left. That, he suggested, was where I needed to be. I walked the next few kilometres along the verge of a sandy track, a flow of trucks in both directions my constant companion. By this time it was midday, more than thirty degrees in the shade and without a single breath of wind. Sand and dust flew in all directions. In one hand were the bag containing the paperwork and a camera, in the other my helmet and leather jacket. In jeans and motorcycle shoes, I was sweating profusely. Unsure whether I was walking in the right direction — my GPS also seemed to have lost its way — as I mounted one final rise, the huge flags emerged in the distance, bearing the logo of the transport company.
…to pick up my forty year-old Moto Guzzi…
As I sat waiting at the warehouse reception desk, with growing impatience, men in hi-vis vests walked in and out — all of them seemingly jumping the queue ahead of me. Every fifteen minutes I would traipse up to the reception desk to check that I had not been forgotten. All of a sudden, a woman (according to her name tag Gloria) tapped me on the shoulder. “Señor Wohlgemuth Kitslaar?” Wrapped in my own reflective jacket and with protective covers over my shoes, I followed her for what seemed miles until suddenly there was the motorcycle I had left with Peet in Rotterdam, a few weeks previously. My beloved Guzzi, here in Chile. Aided by a pair of Gloria’s hefty colleagues, the bike was removed from its crate. Fingers crossed that the battery had not run down after all that time at sea. Relief. She started first time. The warehouse was filled with the thunderous roar of her engine. This is a bike with soul.
…that was still not mine for the taking.
By this time, Gloria had completed the paperwork. Just one more stop off at the accounts department. Accounts? Hadn’t Peet told me to expect no collection charges? A bill for four hundred euros, payable only in cash. What’s this all about? With much arm waving and foot stamping, in fluent Spanish, I gave vent to my frustration. The young man behind the counter mumbled something about it not being any of his business, and passed me on to his boss. “Would you be happier with an eighty percent reduction in the price?” My suspicions were confirmed: the whole thing had clearly been was made up, on the spot. Day one and already facing corruption. But what the heck. What’s eighty euros? I wanted to get out of there. As I pulled away, I opened the throttle for the first time on Latin American soil. New York, here I come. The first leg of a journey to discover businesses working to make a better world had begun.