Ileana Bagnamanay LaTorre and Efrain Martinez are on the road. Helmets strapped under chins, they are riding La Guerrera, a motorcycle born from a blue Suzuki V-Strom 1000 named Morcega and a bright yellow sidecar called Morceguinho. The two have been fused together to accommodate the couple as they journey 30,000 miles over the next two years, from Charleston to the Western United States, past the border into Mexico, then Central America, then circling the entirety of South America. The MotoNomadas, as the pair have dubbed themselves, will stop at local centers to help children along the way.
When the couple talked to the City Paper in mid-October, they were in the process of getting rid of the last of their Charleston possessions, like furniture and clothing. It was difficult for them to decide just what to bring. LaTorre and Martinez need to be prepared for all types of weather conditions, carry tools for any roadside repairs, and bring a computer to blog their experiences at motonomadas.com. But they only have so much space to work with.
Admittedly, LaTorre and Martinez didn't initially intend for their trip to be a philanthropic one. "When we started planning the trip, we didn't start planning the trip to help kids," Martinez explains. "We started planning the trip as an adventure trip, almost. Then halfway through the planning, we started seeing that there are a lot of things we can do while we are in different places, and we started looking for a cause to help."
The pair participate in online motorcycle forums, and they started finding information about riding for a cause. They decided they wanted to help street kids in Latin America. They'll visit community centers, giving workshops on environmental education, exercise, and photography. And they'll show off their bike.
When they started out, Martinez wrote letters to big corporations looking for sponsorships: Coca Cola and AT&T. For the most part, they received rejection letters or, more likely, heard nothing at all. They had to get creative to raise enough money to fund the trip. They eventually found sponsorships from sidecar companies C Stanley Motorsports and Side Effects. LaTorre and Martinez collected more than 400 fans through Facebook. They sold goods from Colombia, where Martinez is from, and posters they had made with a map of their route at Lowcountry markets. They hosted a Zumbathon, a marathon of the exercise program, on James Island and a Cinco De Mayo party at Social. Combine all that with internet donations and they have managed to raise $11,000. And you can still add to that at their website.
The most important thing that LaTorre and Martinez want people to understand is that none of this money will be spent on themselves. Ninety percent of donations will go to the kids, while the rest will go to administrative costs, like keeping up the website.
The couple will personally handle all of their own expenses. They've budgeted spending $90 a day on themselves for things like food, gasoline, and minor maintenance. They don't plan to stay in expensive hotels or visit costly attractions. Ninety dollars a day for two years — that means they've saved more than $65,000 for the trip.
"It's not really hard if you cut expenses of extra things that you don't really need," Martinez says of saving up the money, which they've been doing for two years. "We didn't tell anyone until we were one year on the planning, so people didn't understand why we didn't want to go out that often," he adds. "We didn't give gifts."
They stopped buying new clothing. They would only go to a restaurant maybe once a month, and they'd keep it inexpensive by ordering water. And they only went out if it was free or if there was a happy hour. "It just takes discipline," LaTorre says. "You just need to be really disciplined on what you spend the money on."
They even kept their marriage, which occurred a year into the planning process, to themselves, since they didn't want to spend money on a wedding. They're looking at the trip as a wedding present and honeymoon.
La Torre and Martinez also took on part-time jobs, in addition to their full-time ones. Ileana worked for the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, but she also spent two months cleaning houses. Efrain worked two jobs at MUSC, where he was already a research specialist, and also did fire performances at local events. "Sometimes it's hard, but when you think what it's for, it's worth it, and you just get the strength to do it," Efrain says.
In the end, they'll have a two-year-long, reward, with memories and experiences across most of the Western Hemisphere.
There are a few specific sightseeing stops that they want to make, like at the Grand Canyon and the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. They also have arrangements set up with specific community centers, including three in Mexico, one in Guatemala, and a few in Nicaragua.
There's no doubt the two are excited. But at the same time, it must be difficult to literally ride off into the unknown.
"I have security here. I have a job. I used to have a house. I used to have everything. I didn't have a need for anything. My life was kind of perfect," Martinez says. He's also looking down the road to life after the trip and the challenge of starting over. "But at the same time, I think it's going to be another adventure, because we can find a new job and a new place and probably a new town to live in."
Readying for the trip, LaToree adds that it's hard for her to leave the friends she has made in Charleston after living here for five years. "You feel kind of insecure because you're leaving everything that makes you feel secure, like your friends, your home, your bed, your job," she says. Still, LaToree gets to travel and she gets to help kids, utilizing her master's degree in environmental science. "When I start thinking about that, then I realize it's not going to be hard at all."
For more on MotoNomadas, and to donate to the cause, visit motonomadas.com.