Motorcycle Diaries, Again: An Epic South American Adventure

Motorcycle Diaries, Again: An Epic South American Adventure
Rohith Subramanian and Sukesh Viswanath signal for help at a highway in Lima, Peru,

Rohith Subramanian and Sukesh Viswanath filmed South America as they rode through Colombia, Peru and Ecuador—discovering the realities and documenting the beautiful narratives of the region in the process

Prannay Pathak
August 30 , 2020
12 Min Read

Motorcyclist Rohith Subramanian doesn't want to ride in Antarctica. All of 26, he may have taken his bike across 50-odd countries in the past five years, but ask him what's next, and Rohith will tell you it is not Antarctica. He may have been born to motorcycle, but he isn’t keen on increasing the carbon footprint on Earth’s southernmost desert of ice that is most adventurers’ holy grail.

But wait a minute—he’s been to the final frontier where one arrives before leaving for the inhabitable White Continent. In December 2019, Subramanian, completing a year of his ambitious motorcycle ride through South America, reached Ushuaia, the city at the end of the world, and named like that too. If your anxiety levels are already shooting up from having not been able to travel for months now, relax. Subramanian and his pal, filmmaker Sukesh Viswanath, filmed their epic motorcycle diary for six months for everyone to see.

Named Lost and Found in the Americas, the soon-to-be-released documentary captures Viswanath and Subramaniam’s discoveries in the Andean countries of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, as they went about collecting stories and sweeping the captivating landscapes that they rode through.

The duo rides by the side of a forest in Colombia
The duo saw that travel is having your notions challenged right from the moment they landed in Medellin, Colombia, in December 2018. “We had seen Narcos and we said wow this guy (Pablo Escobar) is such a cool guy. To us, he was almost like Batman, in the way Batman is cool. But once I landed in South America, it changed. We were talking to someone and we told them that the only knowledge we had of Colombia was that of Escobar. That was like telling a German that the only thing I know about Germany is Hitler. Or telling a Jew that the only thing I know about you guys is that there are a lot of you in Auschwitz.”

“The guy told us that his uncle was shot because of Escobar. There were families all over with at least one member who had died because of Escobar. That hit us hard. We realised how we were being absolute dumbf**ks. The reality is always different,” Rohith recalls.

Read: Notes from Around the World: South America Series

 
 
 
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Annnnd the mapping the route begins! We really like to do this the old school way of getting a phsyical map, few books and a local friend who has traveled extensively around the country and decide on where we want to go. When we sat down and strated plotting the points we realised how both of us want to take the off the grid trails. We are almost skipping all the big cities along the way. For me personally the trip begins here, this very moment when we sit down with a map and a bunch of books to see which are all the routes we want to cover in this country! I am excited about the coffee trail, the beach trails, the desert, the snow capped mountains, the country roads and everything that this country has to offer us. It's going to be one madmax road trip and I cannot wait to begin! The bikes should be ready in 4 days and we should take off in less than a week. We are excited. Are you? @sukesh_viswanath therika vidalama? Hahaha! .

A post shared by Rohith Subramanian (@misfitmagellan) on Jan 11, 2019 at 6:30am PST


Rohith was gifted a copy of Che Guevara’s cult memoir The Motorcycle Diaries on his tenth birthday, an event that triggered the peripatetic gene in him. During a college break, he worked at an auto repair-cum-bike-rental shop in Leh, winning over his employer, who handed him his own motorcycle with a full tank and 4,000 rupees to boot. And he flew. But as he took the first hairpin bend out of Leh on his way to Nubra Valley, he fell. “That was the most beautiful fall of my life. And I said to myself that if there was something that I wanted to and fall, or fail, it was this,” Rohith recalls his origin story, jubilation evident in his voice.

Read: A Chat with Adventurer Lois Pryce

Jaded with the monotony of life, Rohith, as a 21-year-old, gave up his share of investment in his crowdfunding start-up to just ride. Before long, brand associations and an eight-month tour of Europe happened. As he shot for a commercial, Rohith met his Alberto Granado Jiménez—Sukesh Viswanath, who was also on the verge of quitting his job. The two hit it off right away, and their camaraderie and shared vibe soon translated into an epic journey.

While a lot of us may have only heard of the much-exoticised and romanticised Latin America in the books of Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Roberto Bolaño and Bruce Chatwin, this duo rode right into the heart of the stories and lives in the interiors of the countries they travelled to.

They then also went on to carry out their share of research into the ugly trend of narco-tourism where guided trips to Escobar’s haciendas and 'was-heres' are known to be organised. There were the usual exceptions too—like a woman in Medellin who pictured Escobar as having shifted his shape and turned into Osama bin Laden.

 
 
 
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Can playing a game of chess make you forget all the pain in life? Meet Enrique Herrera a 68 year old gentleman from Bogota. A shoemaker who was leading a normal life untill one day 8 years ago on his way back home a bunch of robbers tried to mug him. He tried to defend himself and the robber stabbed a knife on his back near the spine and he couldn't walk after that. He was in excruciating pain and lost all hopes in life. What would you do if you were him? Lose all hope on humanity and life? Here is Enrique who started playing chess to forget his pain. He says the pain is in the mind and it's important to fool your mind. He stays by himself and can't go to work anymore. All he does everyday is wake up, dress up and show up to a most crowded street in the city centre every morning! Come rain, Come Strom and play chess with other distinguished gentleman. When we asked about his dream, he said he has one dream and one dream only, that is when he dies his tombstone should be made as a chess board. We spoke about life, sacrifice and the game of chess influencing him. Ironically his favourite piece on the board is a Knight. Enrique is a man who chose to battle his pain by playing a game of chess he is focusing on one move at a time and that is the beautiful story we documented today. @sukesh_viswanath said and I quote "Some people wear the most beautiful story on their face and move around" and I couldn't agree more. This man has a beautiful story and I CANNOT wait to show more about him in our documentary in a few months. When asked for a game of chess he agreed to play but he was due to attend a funeral of a friend. When I asked won't he be late for the funeral he said well, "the man is dead he won't mind if I am late" and shares the most beautiful laugh! I'll let you guess who won the game! ;) ;P Thanks a lot @julganer for translating this. This wouldn't have been possible without you. :) #traveldudes #motorcycling #indianOnAMotorcycle #travelingthroughtheworld #NewTomorrow #Globetrotter #oneworldoneride #humansofNewYork #humansofbogota #globetrottinglife #chessiesofinstagram #adventureseeker #adventurelife #exploretocreate

A post shared by Rohith Subramanian (@misfitmagellan) on Dec 19, 2018 at 9:30pm PST

Then, walking the streets of Bogota, they saw people playing chess in the streets, including the very special Enrique Herrera. “Over a game of chess with an old man in a wheelchair, we found out that eight years ago, the man had been stabbed on his spine by a mugger who stole his wallet. Ever since, the gentleman had been confined to a wheelchair. But one day he stumbled upon the beautiful game of chess which made him forget the pain. He has been playing at the same spot for years come rain or shine. His philosophy in life is based on the game of chess,” he says.

Read: Easy, Rider: A Guide to First-Time Motorcycle Travel  

The documentary also captures the ongoing tussle between the mural artists and the administration in Bogota, which famous for its world-famous graffiti district. They met a Spanish baker who left Madrid a decade ago with a box of yeast given to him by his grandmother. The fact that this gent works just two days a week, spending the rest of his time gazing at the sun come up and go down, is expectedly calming at a time like this.

 
 
 
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The clouds cleared, the snow fell, the mighty volcano became visible. Life got 10x more interesting. The time where we live when our passion becomes profession is a beautiful feeling. Ecuador has been a mad run let's see what's in store in Peru! @sukesh_viswanath

A post shared by Rohith Subramanian (@misfitmagellan) on Mar 30, 2019 at 7:30am PDT

For those wondering where Rohith does want to ride now, if not Antarctica—we prised it out of him with much effort for you: “It is one of those places that should never be ridden in… I instead want to do the Road of Bones (the Kolyma Highway) in Russia. It’s something that Sukesh and I have been thinking about. The temperature in the last town that we would hit goes down to -47 degrees in the winter… and we’ll do it in the winter. It was our plan for this December, but maybe next year, we’ll be there, doing it,” he signs off.


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