November 25, 2009 GMT
Farewell to Savas

Having travelled over 2500 miles with Savas and Gullu it was time to say farewell as I walked back across the border into Mexico with my bike helmet in hand. We had learnt quite a bit from each other, I've introduced him to wild camping and off-roading, and also the concept of the "kitty" (shared money) and what a woman means when she says she is going to "powder her nose". From him I have learnt several words in Turkish, a better appreciation of Mexico and met many of his good friends in Puerto Vallarta who had helped him out so much after his accident earlier this year. I was also pleased to witness the reverse cultural effect of religious awakenings. In common with the majority of travellers who head East, in the past I have been rudely awoken many times in the early hours of the morning by the often shrill and always loud call to prayer from the muezzin at the nearby mosque. I learnt early on to avoid hostels and hotels that were within sight of the minarets of a mosque. In Mexico, I was amused to hear Savas (who comes from Turkey, a muslim country) complain about hostels being too close to the catholic churches, and their bells waking him up. I felt a sneaking sense of getting my own back.

Posted by tiffanycoates at 09:59 PM GMT
November 24, 2009 GMT
Border Duplicity

Due to a message I received from my shipping agent, we had to suddenly get a move on and dash for the border out of Mexico. This involved two days of hard riding through mountains and across the hot plains, being blown sideways by the katabatic winds and having a chance encounter with Jorge, a Colobian bike traveller on a Suzuki V-Strom., we fitted in time for a social chat over cold drinks in a shady cafe. Not so the Scottish GS rider who just rode staright past us with merely a wave of his hand, I was ashamed to admit that it was a British registered biker who had displayed such unsocial behaviour.

We were lucky, though we cut it fine in the border crossing itself, arriving at 3.45pm to discover that customs were going to close at 4.00pm. This meant I had no time to lose as i set off to find my way to the correct office and present my documents to be stamped out. Having checked things through they asked for a photocopy of my passport and directed me to the nearest photocopy machine at "la tienda amarilla sobre la colina" - the yellow shop on top of the hill. I rushed off up the hill sweating in the heat and humidity, knowing I had very little time. As they photocopied my passport, those present in the shop joined in with a chorus of "Hurry up", it seems that everyone knows (except us) that the border shuts at 4.00pm as I raced back down the hill clutching the precious copy, I was in luck and the customs officer was prepraed to be a bit flexible.

Having doublechecked the documents, he handed back the infamous $400 which I promptly handed over to Savas and we rode onto the Guatemalan side of the border crossing.

The initial stage was the fumigating of the bike by a guy with a backpack sprayer, which I think contained only water but they said it was compulsory and we would not be allowed to enter without this procedure taking place, and naturally we had to pay for the privelege. Immigration were fine, and although on this journey I may have thought at some borders that I looked dodgy using two passports, that was nothing compared to Savas, yes, he has two passports but his are actually stapled together which looks very suspicious. They didn't blink as they stamped him through, they also required a "payment", I could see this was purely and simply a bit of corruption because when I asked about a receipt it was not forthcoming, however as we still had to get the bike through customs, now was not the time to stand up to border bribery and for once I kept quiet.

Over to Customs, where Savas went in as the bike's legal owner, I should explain here that the bike is American registered and the Yanks have a strange system where there are two documents connected with each vehicle, the title and the registration document. When a vehicle is sold onto a new owner, only the title is handed in to have the name changed whilst there and then a new registration document is issued in the new owner's name, the previous owner also keeps hold of his or her registration document. Have I lost you yet??

The odd thing being that it is possible to cross borders with just the registration document, the title is not needed. Our method of getting the bike put into Savas's name was for him to present at Guatemalan Customs with his registration document, whilst we had crossed Mexico with my reg document. This seemed to go well until Customs demanded to see the permission we had obtained for clearing Mexican customs.

Damn, this was obviously all in my name, and could mess up the whole plan of me taking Savas's bike through Mexico for him. Savas played dumb about the documents they requested but they were insistent, so as he got out the Mexican permission, I discreetly slipped on my decoy wedding ring as everyone knows in Latin America a wife is not allowed her own property, it must also be the property of her husband and so we readied ourselves to try and argue along those lines. Savas looked a bit concerned at me trying to pass myself off as his wife, I think he has someone quite different in mind as a potential spouse.

Meanwhile I was also formulating Plan B in my head, because if we failed to get Gullu put in Savas's name here we would have to cross Guatemala together and make a dash for the next country - lawless El Salvador, and pretend to lose our documents on the border between the two sets of customs offices. I reckoned we could reach that border in two days, still allowing me enough time to get back up to LA.

By the way any members of the Aduana Guatemalteco (Guatemalan Customs) who may be reading this blog please ignore all referneces to switching documents etc.

A nail-biting 20 minutes later and we were relieved to see that they had ignored the fact that Gullu was in my name for Mexico and had put everything into Savas's name. What a relief as I was starting to think I might have to trail along with him all the way through the banana republics of Central America.

We set off for the nearest bar and drank cold Gallo beers to celebrate our successful (if a little illegal) arrival in Guatemala.

Posted by tiffanycoates at 09:55 PM GMT
November 21, 2009 GMT
The Princess and the Pea

We have been travelling across Mexico at quite a pace since leaving PV and all is not well. The bike's name may well be Gullu/Rosie but it's not as rosy as my backside.

As originally suspected when I did my initial bike inspection in LA two and a half weeks ago, the only reservation I had was about the seat. Compared to my BMW it is fairly narrow and firm. This has led to problems on some of the longer rides we've done, where my bony backside (the Get Chubby in California Campaign {see LA blog}didn't have long enough to make much of an impact in that department) has led to not just a numb backside but pains shooting down both legs and pain in my spine. We've been trying a variety of seat softening counter-measures involving cushions, towels and sleeping bag. None of which were up to the task, the only effective option has been to use a semi-inflated thermarest and fold it a few times. Perfect, the princess can ride in comfort once more albeit from a loftier perch as I now tower over Savas as he rides.

Posted by tiffanycoates at 09:43 PM GMT
November 20, 2009 GMT
Travelling as a Duo

After a great five days in Puerto Vallarta, we left this morning, waved off by Janet (who has agreed to ride again with me next year - she is now 70!), Bruce and the latest Travels with Thelma fans- Lana and Gary.

We have loaded the extra stuff onto Gullu, I was having a bit of a nose at the stuff that Savas hadīpicked up from his friend's apartment- including a Turkish flute. The bike is more loaded up now and we look quite funny clambering over the various stuff onto the back of it.

I have to rush as he has fallen asleep in the internet cafe waiting for me to complete my emails (shipping agent hassles and woes) as well as updating here.

I think he has done his homework and been reading my blogs as he did say, as we unloaded the bike this evening, that I wasn't to carry too many bags as I must not get tired!

Posted by tiffanycoates at 04:22 PM GMT
November 19, 2009 GMT
Heading to Acapulco

We have now managed to travel 1300 miles without falling out (or off). He has learnt quickly that :

Tiffany tired is not good

Tiffany hungry is not good

and Tiffany tired AND hungry must be avoided at all costs.

We've got to Puerto Vallarta, where he has a shared apartment and I am staying with my old friends Janet and Bruce Cohn for a couple of days. Janet already features on my rogues' gallery and I am working on her to get her to join me for part of the West Coast to East Coast journey next year.

Meanwhile the margaritas are taking effect, It's getting late and I need to sleep, the rest of the journey details will have to be shared tomorrow. Including the riding through the cacti in the dark.

Posted by tiffanycoates at 07:20 PM GMT
November 18, 2009 GMT
Mongolian Mayhem Became Mexican Mayhem

The plan was that I spend the two to three weeks whilst waiting for Thelma's ship to reach LA, visiting friends in the west of the States. However, having recovered from jet lag and Korean poisoning I met some of Erdem's friends including Savas from Istanbul and heard his travel story- h's trying to reach Tierra del Fuego by motorcycle from California. He set off southwards a few months ago and got hit by a pick-up truck in Mexico. He broke his leg and dislocated bones in his foot and so was out of action for quite a while. His bike wasn't so lucky and has had to be written off.

He had made friends in Mexico whilst recovering and they sorted out the paperwork for his motorbike. He then returned to LA, bought another second-hand motorcycle and set off once more, only to be turned back at the border as the Mexican Customs officials informed him his other bike was not accounted for and he could not pass the border with any vehicle until the paperwork was cleared. He's been told this process may now take several months.

He is stuck in America trying to sort it out and also looking into shipping past Mexico which is going to cost a lot of money and also take a quite a bit of time.

Once I'd heard all this, I said the answer is simple, I ride the bike across Mexico for him. Once he had got over his surprise at the offer, he said yes and within hours we were on the road together, heading to the Tijuana border crossing. Pausing only in San Diego to transfer the official ownership of the bike into my name at the DMV (DVLA).

The Mexican Customs procedure was a bit nerve-racking as we weren't sure if they would accept just the temporary ownership documents, Savas wished me luck as I headed in on my own. I presented my documents and after a few questions and a very long wait they passed me a form to complete, took $400 as a refundable deposit/bond for duty and asked for a name to go with the deposit.

When I asked whose name, they replied without smiling

"If you die, who shall we give the $400 to?"

I'm not sure if they have a lot of tourists meeting their maker in Mexico (though the roads do have a reputation for some very wild driving), but it was a bit unsettling to be discussing my imminent death with Maria from Customs.

When I walked back out to the bike with the documents in my hand to take the bike across Mexico, Savas high-fived me and we took off down the road before they could change their minds.

So this is how I happen to now be riding Gullu (Rosie) the Kawasaki KLR 650cc bike across Mexico to Guatemala. I'm on the wrong bike going in the wrong direction.

Savas is with me as well and we are sharing the riding though I suspect he was a bit white-knuckled to begin with as I don't think he takes naturally to being a pillion passenger and he has never been on the back of a bike ridden by a women before. I'd had a practice ride at the DMV carpark whilst we were waiting there and I don't think I inspired much confidence in him with comments from me such as :

"Now where do I put this key?"


"Oooooh this is a bit high" whilst struggling to get my foot on the ground and then had a tussle for a few minutes as I couldn't get the side-stand up either.

Several days later and I've got used to the height though the side-stand is still a bit of an issue, as it's too long for the bike - says the woman who rides with a ridiculously short side-stand.

In five days we have covered over a 1300 miles and I've introduced Savas to camping rough and riding off-road with two up on the bike. Hmmm, perhaps I should have enquired as to his off-roading experience, capability and confidence before I directed him from the tarmac down a sandy track then up a gravel covered hill, not to mention dodging the cacti and the cow carcass on the slopes.

Posted by tiffanycoates at 08:12 AM GMT
November 13, 2009 GMT
Baja: Bikini and Balaclava

I've travelled through extremes of temperatures on this journey but none more so than the other day in Baja California, Mexico. Although I had packed light for the trip down from LA, I had included my cashmere stuff from Mongolia and how glad I was. Crossing the Central Desert of Baja I think we must have been at a bit of altitude as it felt quite cold. I gradually added to the clothing I was wearing until I had six layers under my bike jacket (in Siberia it was seven) and I had my thermal balaclava on. And yet mid-afternoon, we reached the sea of Cortez and it was hot, so hot in fact that almost all of the layers were removed and I ended up down to my bikini to cool down by having a swim in the sea.

Posted by tiffanycoates at 03:14 PM GMT
November 03, 2009 GMT
Leaving Japan

I took Thelma to the shipper's warehouse, this involved a ride through Tokyo's finest traffic jams. Lane filtering alongside the scooter boys and generally being first away at the lights meant I got through in just one and a half hours. I was pleased to find that the warehouse was expecting me - in fact they had a picture of me in A4 on the desk and held it up to show me- I was relieved to see it was one of the more flattering ones. I had a minor "discussion" with the shippers about removing my front wheel. And for once I lost the argument, unfortunately this means the wheel stays on.

Now for those of you who are wondering why on earth I would want to remove the wheel (perhaps fondly imagining me carrying it on the flight with my hand luggage so that I could at least have a part of Thelma alongside me on the 747?), the reality being economics. I am being charged by the cubic metre for the shipping costs- so the smaller I can make Thelma the less I have to pay. A sort of breathe in and hold it while you get measured activity. With a motorbike it means:

Lowering the height by:

Removing the windscreen- though in Thelma's case it rather unfortunately came away in three pieces in my hands due to the rough and ready treatment and falls in Mongolia and Siberia, the look of horror on the Japanese warehouseman's face was worth it!

Taking the top box off

Making the bike narrower by:

Removing the handlebars and strapping them onto the bike whilst being careful not to disturb the brake fluid line which could be nasty.

Reducing the length of the bike by:

Removing the front wheel and standing it alongside the bike within the crate.

The veto on the wheel removal is frustrating and I'm waiting to see how much extra it will cost me.

I then filled the top box with the extras that will not fit in my flight luggage and hauled it to the Post Office on Kawai's trolley to send it off -a heavy 16 Kg that will hopefully catch up with me in America.

Everything else I crammed into my tankbag and small back pack, I said goodbye to Kawai who has been such a great host and who has uncomplainingly eaten the weird and wonderful english-style vegetarian concoctions I have been cooking up in his makeshift studio kitchen. In fact it seems the meals have been what he has focussed on with his blog- he assures me he has only said favourable things about the food but he also knows I can't read Japanese so he might well have written anything.

For those who can read it, or want to see how the meals look

Before I took Thelma to the warehouse, we had a photo shoot, though the photographer seemed to focus a lot on the bits that are wrong with Thelma- the scars, dents and missing bits that are all evidence of her chequered history and which the Japanese bike riders with their immaculately turned out bikes find inconceivable. The photos were followed by an interview over cups of tea about Thelma, me and our travels. I'll let you know where and when that interview appears.

So now I am in the strange position of wearing bike gear and no bike to ride - all dressed up and no place to go.

Posted by tiffanycoates at 09:03 PM GMT

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