Tortillas To Totems – Prologue

Tortillas To Totems by Sam Manicom

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Have you ever thought about what a ‘culture shock’ actually is? The Oxford English dictionary says, ‘Culture Shock. A disorientation felt by a person subjected to an unfamiliar way of life.’ I understood this, didn’t I? After all, wasn’t this part of the main reason for going travelling on a motorcycle? To experience as many different things and ways of life as possible? To have preconceived ideas challenged?

I was happy with these thoughts, but there was something important that I’d not taken into account. After over six years riding the roads of developing countries in Africa, Asia and South America, the next two years exploring some of the developed world were going to be just as a big a learning curve.

As we’d headed up through Mexico, a complex, beautiful and diverse country, towards the USA, I’d feared that things were going to be too easy. The States and Canada were going to be lands where I knew how things worked. I’d seen enough TV to believe that there were going to be recognisable rules and regulations for everything. Those systems would allow us to ride without thinking too much. I worried that there’d be few of the challenges or the dramas that had kept my ‘guardian angel’ working overtime for so many years. I also worried about the negative pictures of the USA as painted by the more unscrupulous elements of the media.

Birgit Schuenemann and Sam ManicomI was wrong to be so worried, but I didn’t anticipate just how different things were going to be. We thought we spoke the languages and knew what to expect, but we didn’t know the half of it. I hadn’t realised how much Birgit and I had changed over the years in third and second world countries. Nor had we grasped what a time of great global change this was. (You’ll be riding with us through the latter part of the nineties).

The cultures and countries of North America are so varied and so full of surprises that they are just as fascinating, and just as much a challenge to the traveller, as the most rugged countries in the third world. Being on motorcycles was a key factor. The freedom the motorcycles gave us to roam to our hearts’ content through the three nations of this continent was of phenomenal value.

But the bikes also made it far too easy for us to be sidetracked. That’s where the adventures always seemed to begin…