Around The World On Beat-up Honda

October 05, 1994|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Sun Staff Writer

For a man who has survived corrupt police, jungle guerrillas, a Third World hospital and a major accident this year, Mariano di Donato is feeling pretty good.

Without fanfare, the 26-year-old Argentine has made Baltimore a major stopover in his one-man effort to circumnavigate the globe by motorcycle. Held together with tape and string, his battered Honda Transalp reveals the perils of his 15,000-mile-and-counting odyssey.

"There are many reasons to do this," Mr. di Donato says, speaking through a translator. "The major reason is that it's something I needed to do to be happy."

Mr. di Donato is the owner of a small plastics manufacturing plant in Chivilcoy, a city of 70,000 people 100 miles west of Buenos Aires. His business was successful, and he took up motorcycling as a hobby.

Two years ago, he announced to his parents that he wanted to see the world by motorcycle. He had no political or social cause to promote. His trip was motivated more by a youthful interest in adventure.

"We were eating lunch when I told them I was going to go around the world," Mr. di Donato says. "They just ignored me and kept on talking."

His family soon learned that he was serious. In May, he closed his plant and left his hometown on his $7,000 motorcycle. His supplies included a stool, a set of cookware and a portable toilet, cumbersome provisions that were later discarded.

His route has taken him through 13 countries. In the United States, he has driven from Texas to Florida to Maryland.

He is the consummate good-natured innocent abroad, relying mostly on the kindness of strangers to provide housing and food. One sponsor supplied motor oil in exchange for decorating his bike with the company's logo.

"How could someone take advantage of me?" Mr. di Donato asks. "I don't believe there are any really evil people out there. If they want something of mine, they can have it -- as long as it's not my motorcycle."

He showed up unexpectedly in Baltimore's City Hall two weeks ago with a gift for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, a book documenting the history of Mr. di Donato's native Chivilcoy, a city designed 140 years ago from a map of Baltimore streets.

Haydee Rodriguez, the mayor's liaison to Baltimore's Hispanic community, arranged lodging with the Catholic Marianist community in Roland Park and has acted as his translator.

It has not always been so easy. An accident in Peru 2 1/2 months ago left Mr. di Donato with a separated shoulder. A drunken taxi driver made a U-turn in his path and the collision sent both him and his bike cartwheeling.

He refused medical treatment -- the hospital reused needles and the doctors wanted to operate. He said he left as the local police were angling for a bribe and eventually got proper treatment in Ecuador.

In Colombia, guerrillas overran his route, and Mr. di Donato was diverted to a tense army encampment. Against orders, he left after two weeks, taking a clandestine detour by fishing boat.

"In every country, there is always something unique," he says. "The best moments are tied with the worst. They involved solving problems that seemed unsolvable."

The motorcycle is worse for the wear. The speedometer no longer works. The turn signals are held in place by string. Other parts are bandaged with duct tape.

For now, Mr. di Donato wants to repair his bike and learn English. The rest of the journey -- to Canada, then Asia, Europe, Africa, and perhaps Australia -- will have to wait until after a flight to Argentina next week. His brother's wedding and a family Christmas have lured him home. He plans to return to Baltimore in January so he can continue his trip next year.

"I tell people along the way what I told you -- I wanted to see something different," he explains. "It's important to do what you enjoy."

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