Heavy rain in Lanquin made the rough dirt road out impassable for me with a fully laden BMW F650GS. Sections of smooth bedrock with a thin covering of mud were difficult to walk on without slipping never mind riding the bike. After finding out that the forecast was predicting rain every day for a week I decided to tackle the dirt road section in the afternoon when it had dried out somewhat and stay in nearby Coban instead of riding to Antigua in one day.
The Road Out Of Lanquin
I treated myself to breakfast at the Valhalla macadamia nut farm open air restaurant before setting off in the direction of Honduras. Valhalla was the third and final place I stayed in Antigua thanks to the Lent and Easter Festival filling all the available accommodation although living in a bamboo cabin amidst the rows of nut trees was worth the effort of moving. A very tranquil setting after the hustle, bustle and noise of central Antigua in festival time.
Valhalla Restaurant In A Tropical Garden
Arriving at Copan Ruinas I went searching for a phone to call a couple of contacts for camping outside of town. The first, a friend of Lorenzo, the owner of Valhalla macadamia nut farm I had stayed at in Antigua, Guatemala was out and I needed to get my accommodation sorted out quickly. The second contact was a Finca (farm) that advertised various tourist activities including camping but when I found their agent in town they said they didn’t offer camping after all. Fortunately I had passed a hostel during my searching for a phone so I stayed there as second best to camping.
Copan Ruinas Town Park
I thought the Honduran / Nicaraguan border at Las Manos on the Pan Americana Highway would be busy but I was through in an efficient hour, the quickest border crossing yet. The main time saver was not having to find the photocopy office and get documents copied as none were required, wonderful. I had been told I would need to find a guy selling the compulsory vehicle insurance who didn’t have an office and mingled with all the money changers and unofficial ‘helpers’ on the street inside the security barriers however he found me and ‘guided‘ me to the super efficient Honduran immigration and customs. My normal routine at border crossings is to find the first office, then ask the official there and at each subsequent office where the next office I need is until I eventually emerge from the bureaucracy in the new country without engaging the dubious assistance of the unofficial ‘helpers‘. This time I seem to have been adopted by one of the officials which is harder to get rid of and ‘help‘ was completely unnecessary as it wasn‘t difficult to locate each office in turn. He took my documents to complete the insurance certificate, charged $16US and keeping hold of all the documents led me to the Nicaraguan customs who needed to see the insurance certificate before processing the bike. He said I needed to pay $12US to customs which I gave him but don’t know whether this was legitimate or if the insurance guy pocketed the cash, I didn’t see him hand it over and suspect customs is supposed to be free. We then went to Nicaraguan immigration which was swift and genuinely costs C270 ($12US) although I handed over C300 and never got any change. Having completed all the formalities I finally got my insurance certificate, when I examined it later the official price of $12US was on the certificate so he overcharged me $4US and possibly took $12US for Nicaraguan Customs that didn’t need to be paid. He then had the cheek to ask for money for ‘helping’ me, I used my tried and tested routine of pretending I didn’t understand him, shook his hand and thanked him as I got on the bike to head off into Nicaragua.
Pan American Highway
“Nicaragua Invades Costa Rica” the news headline screamed. The last thing I wanted to read as I was researching my next border crossing. The story however wasn’t quite as dramatic as the headline suggested. The Nicaraguan army were on maneuvers close to the border and using a Google map discovered a Costa Rican flag flying inside Nicaragua, they advanced; took down the flag and replaced it with a Nicaraguan one only to find out later that the map was wrong and they had inadvertently invaded Costa Rica and stolen their flag! Google quickly amended the map, the flag was presumably returned and I was reassured to learn that even the professionals get lost sometimes!
Seeking The Shade At The Las Manos Border Wondering If My 'Guide' Will Return With My Documents
Santa Maria de Dota is a small Tico (Costa Rican) village in a valley below the Talamanca Mountain Range fifty miles (80 Km) south of San Jose. I had booked a night in a bed and breakfast hotel in the cloud forest above the village and was to meet the owners in front of the church in the main plaza so that they could lead me to the B&B which they had said was difficult to find. I followed their four wheel drive out of town as we wound our way up the mountainside on rougher and rougher tracks. It started to drizzle as we entered the clouds bit fortunately it wasn’t much further to go.
My Talamanca Mountain Home
Panama twists itself through 90° compared to its neighbours to the north and south so that if your travelling south through Central America you have to travel east in Panama and if your heading north then you have to travel west. Contrary to my expectations the well known shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Panama Canal runs north and south rather than east and west. I found this very confusing after travelling south for so long so decided to avoid looking at a compass and to ignore where the sun rose and set so that my brain could continue heading south when really it was travelling east.
Volcan - Cerro Punto Road
Taking things for granted never works in the long run. I got a three month visa for Panama at the border and asked for three months insurance for the motorbike and as the woman in the insurance office didn’t say anything I assumed that’s what I was given. I then presented the insurance certificate to customs to get the temporary import licence for the motorbike and assumed the bike was valid for three months. In all the previous countries on this trip the bike permit has always been for the same duration as my visa which has a nice symmetry and what is the point of getting a visa and bike permit for different durations? However that is what they do in Panama (and Egypt apparently). From now on I will be doing more research before getting to each border and reading the documents as I get them until I no doubt eventually lapse into taking things for granted again! I was talking to a group of travellers over coffee who mentioned that vehicle permits were only valid for one month. I argued that I had been given three months but on checking later on I discovered I had indeed only been given one months motorcycle permit and that was one month and two days ago. It was the weekend and there was nothing I could do until Monday morning when I presented myself at an insurance office as it opened at 8am. The plan was to pick up another months insurance then not wanting to use the bike without its permit, get the bus to David City which had the nearest customs office to apply for an extension to the bike permit. At the insurance office I was told to return at 4pm to collect the certificate so that was another day gone. Bright and early the next morning I was on the bus to David then took a taxi to the customs office. I wasn’t expecting too many problems other than the usual slow form filling and waiting as the bureaucratic wheels slowly turn, possibly a small fine to pay for the lapsed vehicle permit and a small fee for extending the permit by a month. What I experienced was a farcical morning having to bribe a corrupt customs officer of the Republic of Panama.
Boquete River, Panama
Thirteen bikes and eighteen passengers assembled in various hostels and hotels around Panama City waiting to board the Stahlratte (German for Steel Rat), a converted sailing cargo vessel built in 1903 that was going to carry us to Colombia.
The Stahlratte Coming To Load Bikes At Carti, Panama
The Walled City Of Cartagena
In the early hours of the morning I left Cartagena with Kyle and David, fellow passengers from the Stahlratte, the boat that brought us from Panama to Colombia. They were filming their travels for Chinese TV with Kyle, the Chinese front of camera TV celebrity and David, the cameraman. They were heading to Santa Marta to film a scheme set up to try and persuade farmers to switch from growing the lucrative though illegal coca plant (the raw ingredient of cocaine) to organic, fair trade coffee. I was heading to nearby Minca, a small village in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. David did some filming of Kyle and I eating breakfast at a roadside café, it’s harder than you think eating scrambled egg and talking with potentially billions of Chinese watching you through the camera lens. As we were riding alongside the Caribbean coast we stopped to get some action footage of Kyle and I on our bikes with us riding out of sight from the camera, turning around to ride past the camera then doing the same from the opposite direction. All exciting glamorous stuff!
After extending my Colombian visa and bike permit in Medellin I returned to Guatapé to watch an international triathlon meeting which was a qualifying event for the 2012 London Olympics. The large Guatapé lake had risen two feet (600mm) in the nine days I had been away, a good indication of the amount of rain falling. There were three triathlon competitors staying in my hostel, a Colombian, Edwin in the amateur race on the Saturday and Zimbabwean, Chris Felgate and American, Brian Fliessman competing in the elite race on the Sunday.
Chris From Zimbabwe (And My Hostel) Really Wants To Go To The 2012 London Olympics
Santa graciously granted my Christmas wish for the end of the wet season, at least for a while. I crossed the border from Colombia to Ecuador on the first dry day I had seen in weeks and saw virtually no rain over the Christmas and New Year period. I have ridden on dry dirt roads and walked on dry, mud free footpaths and trails, I had almost forgotten what a mud free existence was like. The occasional rain shower would fall once I reached Quito but at least the ground has time to dry out between the showers.
Christmas In Ecuador
A Chilly 4422 Metres (14,508 Feet) In Chimborazo National Park
An ongoing quest to see snow capped mountains took me on a day ride from Riobamba to Chimborazo National Park in the hope of seeing Volcan Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest mountain at 6,268 metres (20,565 ft). The summit of Chimborazo is the furthest point on the Earth's surface from the centre of the Earth. Some clever chaps worked this out based on the fact that the Earth is not a true sphere but bulges out around the equator making mountain tops on the equator further from the centre of the earth than larger mountains nearer the poles. I rode to a height of 4422 metres (14,508 ft) through a cold biting wind, misty cloud and hail (hailstones on the equator!) but I did get to see the summit although partially concealed in cloud. I also got my first close up sight of either a llama or an alpaca, I know one is bigger than the other but until I see them obligingly standing side by side I don’t know which is which. Forty five minutes later I was back in pleasantly warm Riobamba.
March brought in two personal notable landmarks. Three years ago, back in March 2009 I started this trip in Miami. Since then I have ridden 47,000 miles (75,000 km) around the Americas on my slow meander south (with a detour via Alaska). In addition; I somehow managed to reach the grand old age of sixty. To help me celebrate I met up with some friends of my brother in Cuenca, Ecuador, Australians Brian and Shirley are travelling from Ushuaia to Alaska on their BMW. We had been following each others progress and planning on meeting up wherever our routes crossed. It was good to have their company for a few days before they headed north and hopefully we will meet up again in Australia.
Alternative Hostel Owner Xavier, Myself, Brian And Shirley
I left Huaraz early not knowing if I would make it to Lima in one day, the distance was 257 Miles (411 km), more than I usually do in a day on Latin American roads. It was cold and got colder as the road following the River Santa climbed to 4050 metres (13,160 feet) and Lake Conococha, the source of the river which lay just below the glacial snow line. Once passed the lake the road descended and the temperature gradually crept up until I was able to turn the heated handlebar grips off and finally once back on the desert terrain near the coast, remove my motorcycle jacket. I should have taken some photographs as the mountain scenery was spectacular in the early morning light but I was enjoying riding the bike too much and didn’t want to stop. Back on the Pan Americana the road opened up into a multi-lane near motorway / interstate quality road, the only one in Peru, going into and out of Lima. With only a brief breakfast stop on the way, I was in Lima by mid afternoon.
Breakfast On A Deserted Pacific Beach On The Way To Lima
On the approach into Nazca heading south on the Pan Americana Highway I stopped at a viewing tower. From the top you could see two of the famous Nazca lines, geometric patterns etched into the desert floor. I’m afraid I didn’t find the lines overly impressive. They are made by moving a top layer of dark rocks and pebbles and scratching a shallow trench through to the very pale, sandy coloured sub layer. What is impressive is that these fairly flimsy looking constructions have survived hundreds of years thanks to the stable weather conditions of little wind or rain resulting in virtually zero erosion. The road beside the tower is now fenced but you could clearly see tyre tracks cutting through and destroying part of one of the ancient patterns. I could only see two of the many Nazca lines from the tower and I imagine they look much more impressive looking down at them from a plane.
One Of The Nazca Lines Viewed From The Pan Americana Tower
Six weeks after taking my motorcycle to a Cusco workshop to have a broken piston ring changed I finally got it back. The estimated time to complete the job had been ‘four or five days’ although I never for a moment thought that was achievable; I hadn’t expected it to take six weeks. The phrase ‘Mañana, Mañana’ will always remind me of this time and the continuously moving completion date.
Sacsayhuaman Inca Site Above Cusco. How Do You Make Walls With Blocks This Size Without Machine Tools And Only Stone Handtools?
The border crossing from Peru to Bolivia at Copacabana was the most relaxed and friendly experienced so far on this trip. There was no one else crossing into Bolivia so I got the undivided attention of the staff. The only downside was being charged $5 by the Bolivian policeman who had to check that the paperwork just issued by immigration and customs was in order. I’m 99% certain the payment was unnecessary and illegal but at least the policeman was cheerfully welcoming me into his country as he robbed me.
My Opportunity To Enrich A Bolivian Policeman
I hadn’t done much research into my route from Bolivia to Arica on the Chilean coast due to the lack of WiFi and not meeting any travellers coming in the opposite direction. I knew the route was paved which is why I chose it but beyond that I only had my maps to rely on and maps for this part of the world tend to have various inaccuracies for one reason or another. I was planning on heading north on the Pan Americana Highway from Oruro to Patacamaya then turning west onto highway 108 which becomes highway 11 at the Chilean border. I hoped to stay in one of the villages along highway 108 that were shown on my map ready to tackle the border the following morning.
Nick and I In Oruru On The First Visit (Photo By Fletch)
The previous Andes Pass that I had crossed, the Paso Chungara–Tambo Quemado between Bolivia and Chile had been very cold. I could have worn extra layers if I had realised that the road climbed up to 4660 metres but the lack of internet had prevented me from researching the route. In preparation for the Jama Pass from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Argentina I did plenty of research and was expecting a long, tough cold day. The Jama Pass is higher than Paso Chungara–Tambo Quemado at 4825 metres (15,681 feet) and further south which in the southern hemisphere means colder, something I’m still coming to terms with.
Jama or Sico, Choice Of Two Roads To Argentina
Heading north from Resistencia in Argentina towards Iguazu Falls I was undecided whether to stop in the town of Formosa or continue to the Paraguayan border and then on to the capital city of Asunciòn. As I arrived in Formosa shortly before midday and didn’t see anything compelling enough to make me want to explore further (sorry Formosa) I rode northwards towards the border after a short stop for petrol and a coffee.
Resistencia - Formosa Road, Argentina
I hadn’t specifically included Brazil in my itinerary of South American countries for what I accept is a bizarre reason but it made sense to me. Having, after two years of travelling in Latin America finally gained a precarious grasp of Spanish; I figured that going to Portuguese speaking Brazil would confuse my Spanish rather than assist my Portuguese. However, as it was the easiest way of getting to Uruguay, I did ride through the small south eastern corner of Brazil, which is remarkably large, while Uruguay turned out to be remarkably small.
My First Glimpse Of Brazil On The Opposite Side Of Iguazu Falls Through The Bank Holiday Weekend Crowds
The town of Chui / Chuy lies in no mans land between the Brazilian customs and immigration offices to the north and the Uruguayan border controls to the south. One side of the main street is in Brazil (Chui); while the other side is in Uruguay (Chuy). You can freely cross from one side to the other, pay in shops and restaurants in Brazilian Reales or Uruguayan Pesos, although the banks are less flexible. None of the cash point machines (ATMs) were working in the Uruguayan side of town so I crossed the street to the Brazilian side where I could get cash from the bank machines but only in Brazilian currency. I then had to change the Brazilian Reales at one of the numerous money changing offices back on the Uruguayan side.
Punta del Diablo (Devil's Point) Harbour
A young Argentinean Customs Officer at the Fray Bentos, Uruguay / Argentina border processed my motorbike into Argentina. He was very keen and doing everything by the book but was still unsure how to process a non South American registered vehicle on the computer system. I was almost pleased when he wanted to see my vehicle insurance which I had finally succeeded in buying the day before in Colonia, Uruguay. I had tried without success to buy the compulsory insurance in Chile, Argentina and Paraguay but fortunately had never been asked to produce the certificate at police check points or any of the previous border crossings apart from when entering Paraguay where a bent policeman had an organised scam operating with an unofficial border ‘helper‘. I had almost given up trying to get insurance and didn’t try at all in Brazil because of the language problem. It’s difficult enough trying to buy insurance in Spanish but impossible (for me at any rate) in Portuguese. Being able to produce the certificate at the Argentinean border made the time, effort and expense worth while.
Fray Bentos, Home Of Corned Beef & Meat Pies To The Left. Argentina Straight Ahead
The bike had never run properly since the engine was rebuilt to replace broken piston rings in Cusco, Peru. This rebuild included unnecessarily stripping and reassembling the bottom of the engine and the gearbox. The engine finally refused to go any further while travelling in the Cordilleras de Cordoba. First gear refused to engage then a short while later the engine stopped with what turned out to be coolant leaking into the cylinder. I took it by truck to the BMW dealer in Cordoba to discuss the options. We assumed the engine problem was the cylinder head gasket which wasn’t too big of a job and luckily they had a new one in stock. To investigate the gearbox problem required removing and stripping the complete engine which would cost a lot more than the bike was worth. I opted to replace the head gasket to get the engine working and then I would attempt to ride the bike to Ushuaia at the southern tip of South America without first gear. This was a risky option as owing to the dodgy rebuild in Peru something else could go wrong at any time, but having ridden the bike so far south; I wanted to at least try and complete the last leg of the Americas. As I didn’t know why first gear wouldn’t engage my main concern was that other gears would follow suite leaving the bike with insufficient gears to continue.
Leaving Santa Rosa On The Last F650GS Motorbike Ride (Photo By Nelieta)
I arrived in New Zealand at the end of November all fired up to buy a motorcycle and some camping equipment and then get out into the countryside as quickly as possible. The day after arriving I walked to the only motorcycle dealership I had found in Auckland. There was an older BMW F650GS, an older Kawasaki 250 and a 2011 Honda CBR250R to choose from. I wanted a smaller bike and the Kawasaki riding position was too much of a racing crouch with very narrow handlebars so I chose the Honda. Had I spent a bit more time in Auckland I may have got a better deal or a more suitable bike but I was keen to get out of the city and back on the road. The single cylinder Honda is a good bike but the riding position isn’t perfect for me, I prefer to be more upright. A number of motorcyclists have complimented me on the raucous throaty roar of the aftermarket exhaust. I find it somewhat embarrassing but it’s not worth changing as I will only have the bike for a few months. My current plan is to sell the bike when I leave New Zealand.
The inappropriately named Ninety Mile beach in Northlands near the northern tip of New Zealand is in fact ninety kilometres (fifty six miles) long. Vehicles are permitted and the sand is firm and smooth between the high and low tide lines although it was high tide when I was there; so I can’t vouch for the firmness or smoothness of the beach personally. I wasn’t particularly inclined to get my new (to me) motorbike covered in salt spray or risk an embarrassing off. The older I get the more and more I appreciate the qualities of paved roads! Signs say that hired vehicles are not allowed on the beach which should make it a motorhome (RV) free zone. Traffic is generally very light on New Zealand’s roads but a high proportion of the traffic outside of the cities is made up of hired camper vans known locally as white ants because they crawl out of the holiday parks and travel in single file convoys.
Ninety Mile Beach In The Far North Of New Zealand
I never got to see Wellington as there was torrential rain for the two days I was there prior to catching the ferry to the south island. The campsite, like many in New Zealand had a kitchen and lounge area so there was at least good shelter from the rain.
Ferry Reversing Into Picton Harbour In The South Island
Arthur’s Pass is the main route over New Zealand’s Southern Alps between Christchurch on the east coast and Greymouth in the west. The road rises to an altitude of 920 metres (3000 feet) before dropping into Arthur’s Pass Village then back to sea level on the west coast. I left Christchurch having plotted a route that took in two gravel road detours and with no particular destination in mind for somewhere to stay that night headed for the hills. Accommodation is easily found, for me that means a campsite or occasionally a hostel. The route out of Christchurch was interrupted by a number of diversions around closed roads that were being repaired following the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. The severe structural damage to Christchurch looks like it will take many more years to repair.
I arrived from New Zealand into Melbourne to be greeted at the airport by my brother, Keith who has lived in Australia for more years than either of us cares to remember and my nephew, Reuben who is on his gap year between school and university. Reuben has travelled from his home in the UK via various European organic farms and is working in a gourmet cake kitchen in Melbourne. The free samples he brings home on a Friday makes him my current favourite nephew. It was a pleasurable but hectic change to be living amongst a boisterous young family instead of the peaceful solitude and tranquillity of travelling on my own. The plan was to buy another motorbike to travel around Australia.
Stunt Rider At the Australian Formula One GP
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