Old Men Can’t Wait by Simon Gandolfi
“Old Men Can’t Wait” tells of his 2007 return to pick up the bike and ride it back to New York where his (non-blood) daughter resides with, he expects, her new child.
Simon is a pretty stand out character and a stand up guy, I’ve met him twice and corresponded with him when our interests have coincided and I enjoy his outlook, his brashness and his honesty. He is a writer who travels by motorbike sometimes, rather than a biker who writes and that makes a big difference to not just the technical issues of writing (grammar, structure etc) but to what he chooses to write about. In my mind he is a true modern day equivalent to Ted Simon – he of Jupiter’s Travels fame although I can imagine Simon guffawing at the notion of being tagged as ‘modern day’.
His books tell more about the countries and his experiences in them than most bike adventures I’ve read – take Nick Saunders’s excellent books as the polar opposite in speed and style – and the pace of the books is pretty 125-esque. Being fluent in Spanish (although the South American versions do cause some issues) helps break the ice with the locals but perhaps it is his humility and lack of ego which makes people open up to him. Or perhaps it is just because he goes out of his way to talk to people. You will hear more about the people he meets, old and new friends and their tales, their lives and experiences than you will about how to pack a bike, how to ride across dangerous mountain passes or the logistics of his trip. It is indeed a travel book.
This adventure gets off to a shaky start with our creaking hero being run over by a truck – a truck carrying trucks no-less – so he dines out more than once on the idea of being run over by multiple wagons! Leg broken he has to do some recuperating in the tender care of his good friend Graciela in Tierra Del Fuego.
Once fit(ish) he remounts his repaired steed and sets off northbound, not retracing his steps but taking alternative routes to those of his southbound trip. He passes through Chile, Buenos Aires, Uruguay, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala before Mexico and finally into the US. The US rightly takes less of the book because it is (or imagined to be perhaps) more of a known quantity.
This trip, and hence this book, has a different tone to it than the preceding instalment. Simon’s opening disaster did I think remind him a little of his mortality (if he needed reminding) and so there is perhaps more introspection, more missing of home. I think I can sum it up by saying there wasn’t the gung-ho attitude of the southbound trip and that makes for a different view of the world he rides through.
The trip took place in his 75th year (2006-2007) and he often reflects that it’ll be his last trip through these parts so every parting with friends (most made on the southbound trip) feels to him like it’ll be the last time he sees these people. There is a real humility to Simon, a man who has dodged gunships in Afghanistan and escaped ambushes in Ogaden, and naturally an inordinate amount of stubbornness – witness the riding with crutches for the majority of the trip.
Old Men Can’t Wait also has plenty of upbeat and warm moments, some comedy and some of those moments where you think “glad it isn’t just me then” (when he leaves first his credit card then his newly bolstered bill-fold in successive stops) to make this book a very enjoyable read.
Aside from the altered overall feeling of the trip there is a huge changing of one’s perception about South America. Yes, the first book did some attitude changing but this one reaffirms that his experiences weren’t a one-off. Almost without exception Simon finds himself helped when in need, entertained and sustained by the kindness and generosity of sometimes perfect strangers. He certainly leaves himself open to troubles by seeking back street hotels, visiting towns (and indeed countries) well off the beaten track but even (or perhaps especially) then he finds people ready to go a little further to talk to him or aid him if he needs it.
So the Hollywood image of South America with drug-gangs rampaging, corruption and danger at every turn are proved to be not only untruths but frankly insulting to the warm and genuine people.
For example; in this country we have been at war with Argentina and they’ve generally had bad press about the rulers and the economy, not to mention THAT musical. Yet Simon talks of a wonderfully honest and warm people, of amazing beef and stunning countryside. I want to visit.
In fact, I’d happily accompany this oddball traveller extraordinaire on a return trip. Well, provided I can have at least a 250! I have the Church’s shoes now, so what are we waiting for Simon?
As a small warning, especially to some small-minded lady who complained on Amazon about his last book, it does contain a fair amount of Simon’s personal opinions on politics especially. How can it not as he travels through countries so devastated by political incompetence and greed?
If you don’t want opinion buy a bloody map and use Google Earth. Anyone with more than an infant school’s education will easily be able to see his opinions as just that and ignore them if desired.
Go buy it and its predecessor, plonk yourself down on a deck chair and have yourself a thoroughly entertaining and revealing read. 9/10
Old Men Can't Wait is available now from Amazon and other leading bookshops. After speaking to him recently he tells me that there is a book on the way documenting his subsequent travels to India, and that "hopefully the second edition (of Old Men Can't Wait) will be out in a couple of months - meanwhile I have the last few score of the first edition here should anyone want a signed copy: www.simongandolfi.com. Next appearance: the NOVA Music Festival in Sussex - probably with Charlie Boorman which could be interesting."
Pictures of the real Simon Gandolfi courtesy of JC Brandon which were not taken on this adventure but sometime in 2010.