January 03, 2011 GMT
Empty Nest

We feel naked.

After kicking our heels for a week, the bikes have been handed to the air freight company in Panama, along with $1800USD.

Now we just need to get our flight to Colombia in the morning, and play the 'get the bikes out of storage' game.

The Cargo company did worry us a bit though

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Note the "This Way Up" arrows on the "fragile" cargo he has just dropped. For the 2nd time.

The hotel we have stayed in has been like a bikers magnet

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In all we have seen 9 people pass through, some flying North, some South and some taking a slow boat to Colombia.

So, Central America. Observations:

Mexico
Normally accepted as part of North America, not really Central (until past Mexico City).

A beautiful country with really nice people, but why so much rubbish ? Someone needs to organise a national clean up.

Belize
An eclectic mix, its not Spanish, or English or Caribbean, its starting to look like Taiwan. With lots of palm trees.

Guatemala
Green, mountainous, kind hearted. But why do they have to start celebrating birthdays at 05:30 with fireworks, every morning ?

Also the first place we had to ride the bikes with no insurance, no believes in it, we couldn't find anywhere to buy it. As they do not have any, they know you will not have any and will try to make sure they do not hit you. Except for the chicken buses.

El Salvador
Low cost beach bum heaven.

Peaceful until the Honduras border and the unbelievably persistent "helpers" hassle you.

Honduras
Much maligned, a lot of people we have met had to deal with corrupt officials and pay bribes at the borders or police checkpoints.

Our experience was the opposite, every one was helpful and assisted us, it may have had something to do with the Tourist Agency doing a survey as you exited the country that week.

Nicaragua
Best surfaced roads in Central America, and stunning scenery to pass the time as well.

Costa Rica
Here, it started to no longer feel like Central America, the USA had come to it, and prices had rocketed. Pristine jungle and lots of exotic birds.

Panama
The USA influence to the max, the Dollar is the official currency, and the country feels like it is split in two. Once we got near to Panama City, the Americanisation of the country was complete.

It has a canal, and some boats are designed to just fit it.

uglyboat.jpg

Boy, was that an ugly one.

Driving
Since Mexico, hazard warning lights have become a new game.

Cars will switch them on to show they are going slow, err.... we can see that.

They will use them to let you know they are about to make a maneuverer, like maybe a left or right turn. And then perform the turn without any other indication. Or they will just stop in the road.

Or they may be letting you know they are about to reverse the wrong way up a one way street, while texting. If you don't realise it, that is your problem.

And then there are the warning triangles, more commonly know as leaves and branches. If you see some branches in the middle of the road, you can then be sure you will see some rocks, followed by a car or truck broken down around the bend.

I think the branches are to warn you about the rocks, which are to warn you about the truck.

Coke and straws
Buying coke (the cola variety) these last few months has been great, because it comes in the good old fashioned chilled glass bottles..

With straws. But the straws are too short for the bottle, and you end up spending much of your drinking time fishing it out. Someone, somewhere is missing a great marketing opportunity.

As a 2nd part to that mini-rant, as soon as I realised it was annoying me they went back to cans again, so I could not get a picture.

Numbers
For those that are interested

Miles - 11400
Days - 118
Tyres - 1 set after 9753 miles
Oil - 2 changes
Filters - 1
Bolts replaced - 3
Gaffa Tape - lots
Clothes - I (Bruce) now have more than I started with. The reverse of what usually happens

Posted by Bruce Porter at 10:20 PM GMT
January 06, 2011 GMT
El viejo y lo nuevo

Cuidad de Panama, from the 'old town'.

oldandnew.jpg

A city of big contrasts, where tin roofed shacks of the poor prop up the modern tower blocks of the rich, and the old rubs up against the new.

Posted by Jean Porter at 01:51 AM GMT
Bogged down in Bogota

The Airport abbreviated name says it all.

BOG, well it appeals to my sense of humour.

Its not a bad airport, we just had some fun and games after landing. At first things went smoothly, we had no problems with customs, the tourist information lady was easy to understand and directed us to the cargo depot.

After a bit of going backwards and forwards between people they finally told us that the bikes were still in Panama.

Not a lot we could do, other than go to the hostal we had booked into, the Cranky Croc.

crankycroc.jpg

The taxi driver tried to rip us off, but I stood my ground.

At the hostal we started to look into insurance as it was something to do and take my mind off feeling stranded without my steed. The receptionist , Laura, took the mantel and started ringing every where (including the Ministry of Transport to confirm it was required). Eventually she found somewhere we could get 3 months temporary cover from, but first we needed the bikes to be cleared by customs.

The next morning we started ringing around at 08:00 to see if the bikes were in Bogota, it was not until 09:30 that I managed to get confirmation and we quickly jumped into a taxi with 2 guys also on the way to airport.

The taxi had very little space, one bag in the boot, one bag on the front seat and four of us in the back.

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Jean on my knee, one in the middle and one crushed out of sight.

After 1.5 hours negotiating customs, the time was mainly spent by Manuel (the friendly customs officer) patiently filling in forms, we were re-united with the bikes

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As time was pressing we decided not to refit the windshields we had had to remove for the shipping and also opted to take the chance of riding uninsured to the hostal (the police can impound uninsured vehicles). From there it was a quick taxi ride to get the insurance. And we were able to get 1 month for 30,000 pesos ($15USD/£10GBP).

We were shattered, so hit the beer.

Back to BOG, can you imagine British police wearing vests like this

mebog.jpg

But not as bad a Guatemala, there they have Tourist police called Police Municipal Tourista.

Colombia Pictures will be added here.

January 07, 2011 GMT
La pared de graffiti

Bogota, Columbia. 2 of numerous photos I took today. Well, you have to when you're in a new continent!

1. Graffitti wall near our hostal.

boggrafiti.jpg

2. View from mountain to east of Bogota. Look! Its the foothills of the Andes (foothills being at 9000ft.............)

andesbruce.jpg>

Posted by Jean Porter at 12:49 AM GMT
January 11, 2011 GMT
Bogged down Part II

Progress in Colombia continues at a snails pace.

We headed North for San Gil and then Santa Marta, on the Carribean coast, as everyone at our Bogota hostel said it was a good route to take to get to Cartagena.

What no one mentioned was the number of cars, buses and trucks crawling up and down the winding mountain roads to get north. We took 8 hours to do 330kms (210miles), and when we arrived at the hostel in San Gil we discovered the road north was 'temporarily' closed beyond the next major city (Bucaramanga) due to land slides.

We decided to stay in San Gil an extra night to see if would open, which meant we could play in the local waterfalls.

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Over night we saw pictures of the appalling damage to the road we originally wanted to take, and decided to give up the idea of getting to Cartagena, heading south to Medellin instead. We had another morning of heavy traffic over the mountains until we turned west, and it all diminished. At the next toll booth we got the answer, the road to Medellin was also closed. This explained the heavy traffic on the road we had been using, as the city of Bucaramanga, which is on the main route to Venezuela, was cut off from the north and west.

We questioned the police at the toll booth and they told us that it was passable by motorbikes only.

We didn't think the road looked too bad.

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Until we at arrived at this.

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Just as it started to rain.

These people were walking the 3 kms over the mud to get to buses and taxis to continue their trips.

A group of locals gathered round and started to tell us how bad it was and that we should go back, I got people to confirm that the only real route to Medellin was to return to Bogota.

Jean was looking at the steep rutted muddiness of the 1st slope and indicated to me that there was no way she was going to do it. After questioning the locals some more, trying to find out how far it was until passable tarmac again all I could get was "not far" but that I would 'need help'.

There was no way I wanted to spend another 2 days getting back to Bogota mixing it up with the trucks and mad drivers, and after all I could see people going past me on Honda CG125s, albeit being pushed by their pillions.

So, I decided to go for it and ride both bikes across the worst bits.

We employed 4 helpers with a supply of ropes and I set off down the 1st slope, where we had to wait while some new surface was laid down for me.

ruta66_3.jpg

Once past the digger, it was up a 45% slope and onto the flat, it had been tiring keeping the bike under control, but not too bad, so I stopped and went back with my new expensive friends to get Jean's bike and repeated the process.

It was only once I had got Jean's bike with mine that I realised I had more of the same to do around the next corner.

I should have known how bad it was going to be when I saw the bridge.

ruta66_4.jpg

As I looked around the scene of devastation I could see that a whole section of mountain side had slipped, multiple times, and would probably do so again if the rain became heavier.

Thankfully it went off.

As far as I was concerned we had reached a point of no turning back, so I pressed on, the surface getting worse and the slopes more extreme, all the time dodging people on foot. While I was doing this, Jean was helping push the bikes and stomping around through the thick, sticky mud looking for planks and chunks of tarmac to try to create a passable route through the deep ruts.

After each section I would have to walk back to collect the next bike and I could feel my strength leaving me. Between the heat, the altitude and lack of food ( It was mid afternoon and we had not eaten since 0800).

Without my helpers I would have dropped the bikes many times, as it happens I only dropped mine once. Either the bike would over heat, or I would, and we would have to wait while I recovered, at times I felt physically sick and just wanted to lay down and go to sleep.

Each time I took the second bike through a section, it would be worse, more water, more mud, deeper troughs.

ruta66_5.jpg

The final slope with the final bike was a delight to see, it was also the steepest and slippiest as the underlying clay was exposed, and wet.

The road workers were just adding fresh soil as I approached, which at first seemed good, but when I hit it the bike just sank into the loose packed earth, in spite of the efforts of my helpers. Fortunately, at this point, Jean had managed to stagger up the hill again, threw her full weight in with the other four, and I just about got moving again, much to my joy (Jean would like it to be noted that she is now over 2 stone lighter than at the start of the trip!).

I just slumped over the bike until Jean could force some Gatorade down me.

I was soaked in sweat, made worse by the fact I was wearing my wet weather gear, but strangely very happy. I had just taken nearly 3 hours to cover 1 km of mud and clay. Twice. I may not have gone to the Darien Gap, but I had conquered the Bucaramanga Gap.

It was another 40kms before we found a gas station with water to rinse the bikes off, and that is when I realised the smell of burning plastic that I thought was my belly pan touching the engine was in fact a stone jammed in the mud guard pressing against the front tyre, gouging a groove out.

We pressed on and found a hotel before dark, ate whatever was on offer and went to sleep.

We have had our Colombian adventure, we can head to Ecuador now.

Posted by Bruce Porter at 01:09 AM GMT
January 17, 2011 GMT
Las señales de tráfico

Probably the most common road sign in Columbia.

headon.jpg

With all the mad overtaking going on, its not a matter of 'if' but 'when'. Although Peru is worse, apparently.........

Posted by Jean Porter at 02:41 AM GMT
El jardín de Edén

Salento, a little village on top of a hill, in the heart of Columbia's coffee growing area.

salento1.jpg

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Posted by Jean Porter at 02:54 AM GMT
January 20, 2011 GMT
Line crossed

Its seems to have been a long time coming, the nearer we got, the slower we traveled. At times we even managed to venture further away.

But today, we finally crossed the equator.

equator.jpg

As we approached the last few miles I, rather childishly, had my hiking GPS in the tank bag and was able to watch the "minutes" and "seconds" tick down as we got nearer.

Typically we were not the only ones on motorbikes there, two Texans had arrived just before us.

After crossing the line, it felt like it was down hill all the way to Quito, except it was more uphill. In Quito we managed to locate Freedom Bike Rental , the owner Court had contacted me after reading the story of our trip in the Leigh Journal online edition.

I am not sure which was more surreal, Court finding the story about us or the Leigh Journal being online.

With the help of Court and his colleague Sylvain we managed to get our oil changes done that afternoon and were back on the road after only one night in the city.

The ride from Cali in Colombia into Ecuador (and now Quito) has been one of the most spectacular in recent weeks (and the best this year so far). The roads have improved in quality and are more mountainous with views at every bend.

Especially enjoyable was the way the clouds crawled over the mountain tops.

happyandes.jpg

PS

And yes, the water does go down the plug hole in the opposite direction.

Ecuador Pictures will be added here.

Posted by Bruce Porter at 02:04 AM GMT
January 27, 2011 GMT
Many climates, in one day

From near the Amazon basin to the sea, all in one day.

We had stopped for a couple of days at a nice Spa town called Banos, which sits in the shadow of Tungurahua, which last erupted in May 2010.

The town is about 60km from the start of the Amazon basin, but as the hostel offered sauna treatments and thermal baths we opted to stay and play in the water.

thermalbanos.jpg

We left the town, which is at around 6000 feet and which has a very ambient climate, and headed West towards the Pacific.

Yes we have stalled our Southern motion again.

The route took us over two Andean mountain ranges, and with a small detour up another Volcano we reached a height of 14435 feet, which we believe is the second highest Andean crossing, but is actually the highest road above the Earths core due to the Earth not actually being properly spherical.

At that height, it was mainly tundra, not that the grazing animals cared.

hightundra.jpg

Anyway, it was cold, foggy, and we were not really dressed for it.

So, we headed down, we dropped out of the clouds into lush jungle, and then a cloud forest. It was very cloudy, very foresty and very wet which meant a change into waterproofs.

We had a couple of police stops, one which turned into a comedy as all the officers wanted to be photographed with Jean and despite me walking around trying to hand my documents over they ignored me completely.

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Dropping further, it became hotter and drier so the riding gear needing changing again, then every where became more swampy, the town we had been heading for was built on stilts and looked really rough, so we decided to head for the largest city in Ecuador, Guayaquil, believing that there would be hotels on the way.

Nothing. Not even a Love Motel.

Most cities normally have hotels on the main roads at the outskirts, but here, nothing, we asked people and they tried t send us to the beach 80 miles away, so we had to play the airport card and headed towards that. Not a cheap night, but a comfy one.

Happy happy, happy talk

It was time to start humming tunes from South Pacific.

After a good ride North West, yes, I know, not South. We arrived at the Eco Resort of Alandaluz and got the tent out for the first time since Mexico.

surfcamp.jpg

Beach and surf to one side of us, jungle to the other.

The beach is about 4 miles long, we walked it and played in the surf, but we both forgot how close to the equator we were and got sunburn.

We have now swum in the North Atlantic, North Pacific and South Pacific, just one more to go.

We also had our first clear night, without light pollution since Central America, and gazed a long time at all the new constellations.

Since then we have turned south properly, not easy in Ecuador as they don't believe in sensible direction signs, and sometimes none at all. If it was not for truck drivers we would still probably be going round in circles at Guayaquil.

Nearing Peru, the road signs improved and even told us where the border was, which we found easily, crossing a new bridge. Unfortunately it was the Peruvian border, we had failed to get stamped out of Ecuador. The guards directed us back to the last Ecuadorian town where a very unassuming building was the immigration office.

Once stamped out we needed to make sure the bikes exited, but that had to be done at another unsigned building a further 4kms back into Ecuador, which technically we were not in any more.

Finally it was back across the new bridge, past the unopened new customs buildings and into Peru.

We found another nice beach, with even higher surf, but this time we have a desert behind us.

perubeach.jpg

The jungle ended at Ecuador and started in Peru, a very fine line was drawn.

Peru Pictures will be added here.

Posted by Bruce Porter at 06:41 PM GMT
 
 

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