July 01, 2002 GMT
8. Manaus to Caracas, Mirrored ceilings and 12-Guage "friends"

The nasty shock I got returning from French Guiana was that my bike pants and jacket had started "growing" in my touratech boxes the 4 days I was away...

...It looked better than a Petri dish experiment from science class...

My rotting pants

My science project...

I blitzed it from Manaus to Caracas ( 2,600km's) in 4 days, as I needed to catch up some time to meet the objective of reaching Alaska before it turns brass monkey. This didn't do any justice to Venezuela, and I know a return visit someday is a must.

The only photo's I managed on the way were one of the obligigatory chain oiling ritual, a bit of a hassle without a centre stand, and a sign in Brasil's Gran Sabana reserve advising no photography...., understandably that had to be taken.

Oh praise to thee my humble bike...

The chain oiling process, spray a bit, move the bike forward, spray a bit, move the bike forward.....

No Photo's.... what ?

Never say this to a man with a camera...

Further on in Venezuela I stopped at a place called Piedra de Santa Maria, where there is also one of those shrines for road accident victims. This one was lined with poignant pictures and drivers licenses of the less fortunate, and many motorists make a point of stopping, saying thier prayers and lighting a candle before returning to the road.


Makes you think.....

Coming through Barcelona I saw a guy on a German registered R100GS, but unfortunately the unfriendly sod didnīt even bother to stop. I was keen to get some information on how to get my bike to Panama, and obviously it wasn't going to come from him !

I drove on to Caracas tha same evening, and found a hotel that seemed to be near the center. ( I later learned that El Centro was a further 25 minutes down the Autopista). The hotel turned out to be one of those 'Park and Shag' numbers, with discrete parking, mirrors on every flat surface possible, and piped porn on the TV. The next day I relocated to Hotel Broadway, which charged by the day and not by the hour...

During a city wander near the Plaza Bolivar I came across what looked like a political rally, but then I noticed the swarms of Military Police, Army, and plainclothed men wearing those CIA type sunglasses surrounding the Museum. Eventually curiosity got the better of me and I asked this officer if there was someone important around. He looked at me with this 'you ignorant gringo tourist' expression in his eyes and said : "El Presidente". The next thing I knew Chavez himself emerged from the Bolivar Musuem to the applause of the mob, and off he went in his cavalcade of black SUV's.

Talking to various locals, Chavez seems to have the support of lower classes, while the middle class is fairly slim. Half of the Ministers are on the take, and the country seems to be sliding towards a big crisis. While I was there the local currency was doing it's own slide too.

The owner of the Hotel Broadway turned out to be a biker himself, with a Ducati Monster and Honda 1800 parked in the hotel garage. He put me in touch with two local Africa Twin Owners, Pablo Santa Catalina and Juan Carlos Burguillos, really nice guys who I'm sure would help any rider coming through Caracas.

The Africa Twins

The Africa Twins

Juan Jose carries a Glock 9mm pistol loaded with hollowpoint rounds to protect his pride and joy, and he has in fact used it pursuing would be riders who tried screw-driving his ignition barrel. Pablo pointed out that although many car and expensive bike owners carry weapons, there is normally little chance to use them, as the first sign of trouble is ususally a gun barrel pressing against the side of your head.

Where have I pointed that thing ?

Juan, me, and his Glock pointing at the family jewels...

Guns seemed to be everywhere in Venezuela, like in Upata when I asked if my bike would be secure behind the hotel, the nightwatchman said he and his friend 12 Guage would look after things. 12 Guage was in fact a very short sawn off shotgun which looked more like a pistol...

After two days scouting around the airport I settled on flying the bike to Panama using a customs agent reccomended by the Copa Cargo Airlines representative. The cost was a staggering 800 USD, which although painfully expensive saves a lot of time and hassle associated with shipping. ( Ecuador to Panama is 600 USD for example ).Originally I had a price of 580 USD, but that soon turned into 800 USD as the weight by dimension had a higher value. ( Even removing the wheels and handlebars would not have helped)


Last seen in Caracas...

Even the agency had to slip folding curreny in the palms of various officials during the process to enter the customs area, which they told me was to ensure the safety of the bike until it departed.

In the end, we both made it Panama in one piece....

Posted by Jeremy Andrews at 12:43 AM GMT

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