Bit the bullet, bought the flight tickets.
September 8th 2010 is the day we fly out to Toronto to start our 3 Americas trip .
Now we just need to get the panniers made for Jean's bike, buy lots of stuff to live off, sort out paper work so we can get through borders, starting with Canada. We have bought one way tickets, we expect to be be questioned at immigration. Better practice our smiles.
For those that don't know us, its not our 1st bike trip across the pond, we were there for 3 months, back in 2007
More stuff we have done at my main home page at YTC1
I don't expect to make many blog entries, just as and when the urge takes me. So, I suggest if anyone is following us at all they should use the "subscribe" settings on the page (Sign Me Up) on the top right, and you should get notified when we do write anything,
Also, I hate the way blogs usually start with the latest 1st, so expect to see this as a more linear trail of events.
I'm sure people will work out how to jump to the latest from the index on the right.
Trip progress can be monitored here
View Two Pegs to Patagonia in a larger map
Not a major change, (but an expensive one) decided that my XJR was not the right bike for the trip. uses lots of fuel, tyres expensive and if I "ding" a wheel (alloy) I'm stuffed. Getting a replacement will be expensive, at least with spoked wheels I should be able to get local repairs done.
I dallied with the idea of an XT660Z (Tenere), had a ride of a mates and really liked it. Then after some sensible conversations with Jean, we decided that a bike she could ride was a better idea.
So I went and bought another Aprilia Pegaso, same as Jean's. Except grey, on "56" plate and pre-unloved (not the worlds best body work). This way we only need to carry 1 set of spares.
Sweet eh ?
I'll get the panniers put on this bike instead, so Jean does not have the extra weight or width to deal with.
Now I just need to add some "touring" bits and will be on a role.
My old XJ900F reached a milestone today, 100,000 miles.
She is a 1994 "J" reg, I've had her since 1997 with 11,500 miles.
She has never let me down.
And then she rolled over.... just like new again.
I can now put her back in the garage and get the XJR out to play on again.
Spent a few hours with Vern (Project VND) trying to work out how, where and what size panniers to stick on the bike. There was a lot of hmmming and arhhhing. Much measuring, re-measuring, head scratching and discussion.
Finally a decision was made, he will need to make a cut out around the exhausts and there will be relatively flat tops with hooking points.
What I could not decide on was 9 inch or 10 inch wide, so both sizes will be cut with the intention now of fitting 9 inch ones to Jean's bike and then if I don't like 10 inch, trim them down for me. As this now means panniers for both bikes, another change to plan, we will not take top boxes due to the extra storage space we now have.
While riding my Pegaso last month I heard a vibration, so I crawled over the bike and noticed the radiator was loose. On closer inspection the 2 top rivets were missing. I popped into Pitstop and Paul had a look, then started to fix it by widening the hole and adding a pop rivet. The 1st one went in OK, the 2nd punctured the rad :-(
When we looked more we realised the radiator was slightly bent (from previous owners drop). After checking a new one was 300ukp ! I went to see a local radiator repair shop, only to be told it was knackered.
After a bit of ringing around we sourced a new one for 160ukp. so I was a touch happier. The bike was still off the road for another 2 weeks though.
While waiting for the repairs, I was researching the Pegaso forum for possible faults, and could see the most likely trip stopper would be the fuel pump. On all the websites a new one was listed as 750ukp ! I queried it with a dealer and he discovered it was a mistake, they are only 207ukp, so that was added to the spares to be carried. I've stopped looking at possible faults now, as too much knowledge is an *expensive* thing.
I'm not panicking, honest. But with the bikes due To ship out on the 1st September it would be nice if everything was in place
We are waiting on 2 major items at the moment
1) The panniers
We seem to have got into limbo with the surgery pracice nurse and the doctor over getting our prescription for the Malerone, and if we order online it we need to post off the prescriptions to get the pills. It is over £100 cheaper to order online though.
And of course we want to pack the pills in the bike panniers.
Vern has been making good progress, and mine are welded up, Jean's hopefully soon, so they can go and be anodised.
So, my bike
And Jean's bike
Apart from these two minor issues, we are on track.
It just seems that every time I tick something off my check list, another 2 items get added.
Finally, after what seems like an age, we have the panniers fitted to the bikes.
The tightly fitted garage, 4 bikes are squeezed in here, you can just see the XJ900 buried at the back.
This month has been a nightmare of organisation, originally I had a great plan where these last 2 weeks would have been a case of relax, throw the bikes on a plane, and then we run away.
But with the delays in getting the panniers made it all crossed over with the final bike servicing, so I seem to have spent the month commuting either to Project VND near Chester on one bike, taking the other to Pitstop near Leigh and combining 30+ mile push bike rides in between.
Pitstop have been their usual accommodating selves, even allowing me do the tyre changes as practice during the services. The amount I "leak" when doing physical tasks amused them no end. They also modded the bikes to have a radiator grill guard.
Finally the panniers were ready, and shipped of to be anodised, at this factory .
But fate was with us, Vern had previously returned to collect the panniers (prior to anodising) to complete the fittings.
We have decided to miss that part of the process and take them as is.
So, 1 bike all set up, including cheesy grin.
Now, finally we can pack all those piles of things we have had lying around the house for weeks :-)
After a frantic few days of packing, repacking, buying extra items to aid packing (once we had the panniers we had a better idea of how we wanted to fit things, we delivered the bikes to James Cargo for air freighting to Toronto.
As we pootled down the M56 it occured to me that this was actually our shake down run, it was the 1st time we had both been out with the full kit load. We resisted the temptation to pitch the tent and repack as a final experiment.
It has been 3 years since I was at James Cargo, but one of the staff recognised me and even remembered the fun and games we had with FlyGLobaspan back in 2007.
I had to remove one of my panniers to allow the bike to fit in the crate, Jean's being 1 inch less didn't need it.
We were going to walk to Manchester Airport to catch the train, but the aforementioned JC employee kindly gave us a lift as it was 3 miles away.
A couple of hours later (we still had a 2 mile walk from the St Helens Junction to home) we came back, looked in the garage and it seemed empty... with only 2 bikes in it :-)
We just have the small matter of our son's wedding this weekend and then we hit the (long) road next Wednesday.
Touched down just before 17:00 local time (22:00 GMT), pretty uneventful flight, smooth, on time (heck we actually had a plane !) and food as well.
Customs form had a entry for "cargo not traveling with you", so we had to tick that. Which obviously led to questions, a lot of form marking at the 1st custom post and then then being asked to carry on.
Then we were diverted to another immigration area, where we were asked some more detailed questions about the trip. We must have done ok, as the nice man did not ask to see any proof of flights out of South America, in fact he said we were cool and his heroes for undertaking such a trip. Obviously not many people start from Toronto :-)
And he stamped us a visa for 6 months in Canada.
Then at the 3rd custom checkpoint they were concerned we had forgotten to collect our bags ....
We wandered off to find the cargo terminal and see about collecting the bikes,but the company we were looking for was not at the address given. So we asked at Lufthansa and the nice clerk
contacted the relevant company and confirmed the bikes were in, but that they were the other side of the airport.
Stuff it, we will have to get a cab and collect them tomorrow.
Checked into hotel, and trashed room.
After being hit with $25 taxi fare to go less than a mile (as the crow flies) because no one would let us walk across the runways, these were the words we were met with on Thursday morning when we did find them.
Yes, nearly £1000.
I'm still not sure what had gone wrong, but the bikes had been put into storage, at a cost of $596/day, they had been there since Monday. We got James Cargo on the case while we went to sort out customs clearance and it has been 95% resolved, I am still awaiting a refund from JC.
It took about 3 hours to do the clearance and unpacking, then we headed East, to a beautiful. well sited campsite on a sandbank near the town of Picton.
Where we have only just left as the people and area were so welcoming.We even visited the town fair before leaving today.
Cleaned up in a Motel tonight, and will drop into the US tomorrow, we will head over towards Maine before turning back towards Woodstock and heading south.
Since crossing into the US, we have been wandering around the North East (New England) states, in fact we headed East and North into Maine before dropping south.
The border crossing at Cornwall was very un-stressful, we were asked the expected questions about status and financial situation then stamped through for 6 months, I think the B2 Visas helped. I resisted any jokes with Officer Geiger over his name in case a sense of humour failure ensued.
I see Jean has already posted a picture of where we stayed in Vermont, it was fairly wet so we wussed out and did not use the tent for a few days.
We thought we had taken a wrong turning somewhere.
There were a lot of trees though.
After turning South, we came across a town called Conway, so had to stop, it just seemed right.
Once we had checked in, other bikers started to turn up and it began to resemble a mini rally,
They were all Canadian, and appeared from all directions. We spent the evening yakking with Sue (60+), who rides a Triumph and Pete and Rochelle (who were in a car and used to have a bike, but kept giving us beer).
It days when impromptu gatherings like this happen that we really love about such trips.
Currently much further south, down near Gettysburg, 1st *really* wet day. It felt tropical.
On th waterproof front the score is
Hein Gericke 1 - 0 Dainesse
I am sure Jean will be along to show her wet bum in due course.
After our soaking in Pennsylvania the weather has picked up as we have dropped south, after a stop over near Washington with an ex Sun colleague, Christin Tran, we headed on down to Colonial Willamsburg.
I've written about the area last time we here in 2007, so I won't go into detail again, other than saying it is the home of the 1st permanent colony in the US (forget that Plymouth Rock crap).
Why "Yee Hah!" ? Well, we are now in the Confederate South and joined the locals doing what locals do.
Hal and Barbara took us shooting, Jean was well into it with a 6 barrel revolver, I was shooting a .40 which has a kick and a loud bang.
I was quite proud of some of my shooting/grouping, even if it was always to the left..
Barbara and Jean went for the Annie Oakley look.
We have hung out for a few days, chilling, drinking beer, gardening.... yes, me , gardening, they had a large garden to clear of weeds and a typical American contraption called a "Weed Whacker", a fully motorised plant and bush killer. Essentially a strimmer on steroids. Fun Fun Fun :-)
The rest of the time I have been looking over the bikes and fettling, but nothing to fix yet.
Those Wright brothers were damn clever people.
We have just spent a couple of days camping on the beach at Kitty Hawk (North Carolina). The Atlantic swell was "awesome" thanks to the recent hurricanes.
We really like the way the Americans do National Historical sites and had a very informative Park Ranger talk. I never realised that they were bicycle makers by trade and not only did they develop and build their own engine, but all the calculations they produced for wing design are still used today.
The camp site was in the sand dunes, which were filled with sand burrs, nasty spiky things that stick to clothes. shoes and painfully the skin. Drastic measures were needed to get clothes on and off.
Apart from that and the mosquitoes it was a great site reached by riding through swamps and over bridges.
All they way down the east we have been stopped and asked about the trip, people seem genuinely interested as we are sure not many people use this route. We get directed to bike meets and festivals, and today we were invited to a Church based motorbike club while cooling off with an iced tea.
Many people ask us for blog details, I should have got some cards made, we have even had diner owners asking us to send postcards when we get to TDF.
The weather since the drenching in Penn has been nothing short of outstanding, with the temp up at 28-34C and deep blue skies, I am glad I have brought my summer light weight riding gear. But don't worry it looks like the weather will break soon and drop to 20C, and maybe a soaking or two.
And not the weather kind.
With our drift south we noticed a lot of motorbikes, all going the same way, So we did the natural thing and followed them.
We ended up at Panama City Beach, Florida, bike week.
Sun, sea, sand, beer, bikes. music. I keep needing reminding that it is October as I sip a beer in the evening dressed in Tshirt and shorts in about 22C.
Its not as big as Sturgis, where we went in 2007, but bikes are in the 10-20,000 range and the whole town ihas been taken over.
I'm sitting in the tent, after seeing a free concert (aging rock band Molly Hatchet) in a local supermarket car park.
The weekend has been one long bike fest, we joined in the riding up and down the beach front, even if we are not on Harleys nor do we have LED lights all over the bikes.
I'm not sure they fitted in to well.
Our route here from Charlotte,NC, where we rested up and waited for the storms to pass with Jason, Jessica and the kids, while I got re-acquainted with American Football (go Greenbay!), took us back into the Appalachians where we rode some outstanding roads before staying at a motorcycle only camp site. We then dropped down into Atlanta for a burger with Thomas (met through Horizons Unlimited) and stayed with him at Stone Mountain. It was the following day, while drifting through Jimmy Carter country we first heard there would be bike stuff going on here.
Now I just need to fix the 1st technical issue, why does my main fuse blow when I switch on full beam. Answers on a postcard to the usual address please :-) (Guess who decided the multi-meter was too big to pack :-( )
They call the ... yadda yadda yadda, been there seen that.
I drove my chevy to the levy ..... etc etc etc, actually camped by it.
So, after the hectic bike weekend we drifted on down to "N'Awleanz", to see swamps and have a nose around. Neither of us had appreciated or realised how big the lake to the north was until we crossed it, one bridge is 24 miles long and they are doubling the width of another to aid hurried escapes from the area. We stopped at the local KOA (Kampgrounds Of America) 10 miles on the west of the city and booked onto the next days free bus ride into the city.
The bus driver was a hoot, he gave us a round about tour in with full tour guide knowledge pointing out all the main places (like some house called the Rising Sun), where movies where located and all the best cemeteries. We were then dropped in the French Quarter, where, as we had dropped into tourist mode, we went for a trip on the Mississippi on a steam boat.
That night we had a lot of excitement on site when a (big) camper van/RV went on fire. I dashed out of the tent to see if I could help, but others were already on the case. The woman was running in circles screaming that her dogs were sill inside, and could someone get them out.
Now, call me thick, but they are dogs, not people, no way was I going in, I let some dumb bugger do that. By the time the fire trucks arrived it was all under control, the fridge had gone up.
And our fun did not end there, as we wanted to do a swamp tour we decided to hang around for a day while finding one, so I set to looking at my small electrical issue that had arose last weekend (blowing fuses when using high beam). As I was now armed with extra 15Amp fuses I stripped the front off, got the tank raised and used (then broke) my new $3.50 multimeter and could not find anything wrong. So I put it all together and tested it. And the main 20Amp fuse blew instead which meant I had made the problem worse as now the ignition died as well as the lights.
Jean made me give up and call an auto electrician, so now we will be here a little longer.
We finished the day with a free concert back in the city (we like free stuff) and a night ride (on Jean's trusty bike) through some of the well off and well hallo-ween decorated areas.
The man who said he would look at my bike, did, it was one look, followed by "What sort of bike is that ? I thought it would be a Harley, I'm not going to start looking at that."
He then sent us to the Harley dealer, saying they worked on all sorts of bikes. The Harley dealer took one look at the bike and said, "Its a metric, we don't work on metrics".
Now, Jean and I were stood there thinking the same thing, "does electricity work in different units in the US?"
At least he directed us off to a Yamaha dealer, who would have worked on it but his "technician" was in Vegas. But at least he rang around some places and found us an Aprilia dealer in Baton Rouge (60 miles away) who said "come on over".
We quickly de-camped, packed the bikes and headed on back out over the swamps, via the place where the final scene from Easy Rider was filmed.
After doing some pre-work while waiting for the mechanic to fit me in we got down to tracing the fault. By 1700 today is what my bike looked like.
Lets see what tomorrow brings :-)
Note, even the panniers have been stripped off.
After hours of testing, the rear reg plate light was seen to be shorting, so that has been removed. Unfortunately there was still as secondary fault, which is intermittent and linked to the petrol tank being on or off. By 19:30 we had to call it a day.
We loaded all the camping gear onto Jean's bike, and the dealer gave me a loan bike. As he walked me out to it he apologised for it being an automatic, so I assumed it would be a scooter.
How wrong I was.
I've never ridden an 850 automatic before.
We are back on the road. Final diagnosis was a fault in the electronic dash, so the high beam switch has been taken out of the equation and a hardwire by pass put in.
If this bike gets home, it will be fun getting it through an MOT.
To finish off an expensive day, I had a haircut.
We headed out for Texas over swamp and marshes, where they have adapted houses for the tropical storms and hurricanes.
It was once such hurricane that has leveled the State Park we were going to camp in, and are now sat in a hotel in the middle of one of the biggest oil refinery and ports we have ever seen.
Some days you just get it wrong.
From bleak oil terminals, to verdant (and warm) country side.
You would not see British crops left out in the field so late in the year.
Following our long 300 mile day into Texas, and not stopping in Abbeville which was having its annual party, we did the only sensible thing we could. We ran back to Louisiana, a very short 75 mile, 1 diner, ride to the State Park near Lake Charles. A proper camp site in a swamp
With deer, squirrels, raccoons, alligators and.unfortunately mosquitoes. My back was like a pin cushion.
We also crossed paths for the 3rd time with "cycling man" (Scott) who is cycling from the east coast in Georgia to the West coast at LA. We first met him at New Orleans, then disturbed his sleep at Baton Rouge by arriving late and riding the bikes behind his tent.
Crossing into Texas further North, and it looks like a whole new place. Quiet roads, trees, green fields, thunder and lightening, unknown "critters" sniffing around the tent at night.
Its only Thursday and we have already had our weekend, last night in Austin we rode down "music street", had our bikes looked after outside a biker bar (which does the best micro brewed IPA I have tasted in a long while). We had a Texan BBQ and then free live entertainment, a great mix of C&W/Blues.
Then today, after a belting ride through "Hill Country", we arrived in San Antonio and our CouchSurfing host, Pamela, took us in to the middle of nowhere and presented us with Texas Pride BBQ as it was Bikers Night (sorry, Nite) where our bikes once again stood out and interest was shown, even by the back patch boys.
Boy, what a BBQ, it beat last nights hands down, they just pile it on by the 1/2lb. More live music (rock this time), and chats with the other bikers who all seemed to have comments and anecdotes about Mexico, some good and some bad.
Mexico beckons, but from what people have told us we need to see more of Texas first.
Point to note about food here, Breakfast Burritos are the future.
As opposed to this delight from Louisiana.
As so many T shirts shout out in San Antonio.
And, they are right, its something like 2000 miles across.
We have all seen the film, heard the stories , so I wanted to see the real thing.
This is the only remaining building from the events in 1836 that led to the formation of the Republic of Texas.
I'm not sure which wall it was that Ozzy was arrested for "dis-respecting" this national monument, but he could have used the restrooms round the back.
We arrived in time to get a full history talk of the events leading up to the siege and victory by the Mexican army and then had a look around the John Wayne Alamo museum, yes, a museum dedicated to the film of the battle. Only in America.
Pamala was good enough to suggest I do a mini service on the bikes while they were in her garage, even though we could have done another 1000 miles before an oil change was due we decided it was better than a supermarket car park. So after fussing over which oil to use as I could not get the recommended one, I then had to use 6, 1 Quart(0.95 of a litre) bottles because no where I looked did motorcycle oil in anything larger. Decanting the oil back from the pan without making a mess was an interesting task.
I also had to use the 1st of our spares, Jean's gear change was loose and not tightening up properly, so the 99p bargain off Ebay was called into play.
Hitting the road again, we headed up into what we think is Texas' best kept secret, Hill Country. It is in an area between Austin, San Antonio and Del Rio with Frederickburg in the centre. The scenery becomes all green rolling hills, with small roads that have sharp bends and hairpins. I'd say better quality than Wales, also less crowded, and no Welsh :-). There are plenty of high quality campsites with hot tubs (and cabins for those who don't like deer and raccoons running through their tents),.
That is the other plus point, it is mid October, and still warm enough to swim at 21:00.
We decided it was time to read ahead on Mexico, and then remembered that originally (back in 2008) we had been planning to drop in on the gulf coast and go straight to the Yucatan Peninsula, so did not have any information on North Mexico. While out trying to find a well stocked book shop in the sticks, It looks like we took another wrong turn.
Either that, or Easter Island and Stone Henge have moved.
We left the hills behind, and the Gas Stations. Although we were on I10, we managed to hit an 80 mile stretch with nothing, and I mean nothing. Until we came to a rest stop where there was WIFI, but no gas (sorry, petrol). We never got as far as getting connected because we started talking to a man BBQing. Who then assured us there would be some fuel about 15 miles down he road (I'd already been on reserve for about 10). As he was cooking meat before it defrosted he did couple of small steaks for us.
It was an early lunch, but it would have been rude not to.
We dropped off I10, due South, towards a small town called Alpine. We were on a plateau, with mountains appearing ahead. Proper stuff, just like the movies.
The Hill Country was good, but this is better, the bends are more sweeping and faster, which is better for the Pegaso, also each bend opens up onto a new view. Yes, a desert with mountains. We both like it.
We have been resting in Alpine with another CouchSurfer, Wes, it never ceases to amaze me where we can find a CS, while we sorted out he route ahead. I've had a chance to check the bikes over, we have repacked and restocked.
But its not all work, we had a ride up into the mountains, swam in a spring fed pool (constant all year round temp of 22-23C) and been to see the Marfa Lights .
We had not heard of them either, and went up last night to have a gander. Great ride through the gorge as the sun set and then dropped onto the plain again. And amazingly, after standing around in the desert in the dark with a bunch of weirdo freaks, we did see some that were due South and SSE where there is nothing, absolutely nothing. Happy Days.
We even had a good local store.
I am writing this, sat on a veranda, drinking beer as the sun sets over Highway 90, watching the world go by.
We are heading to Big Bend National Park tomorrow, and then on to Presidio to cross into Mexico. We re not sure when we will next have Internet access, mobile phones have been useless for a week, so I may be quiet for a while.
It has many faces
They all wear stetsons, and all have guns (in their cars)
Its big :-)
Its beautiful :-)
Not met an unfriendly person.
We have left a trail of jealousy, "Boy, I've always dreamed of dong that" was a common statement
The east and south can be as good as the West.
If I had to plumb for a favorite state on this trip, it would be Louisiana. And not just because it is the only state that has the toilet flush on the "right" of the cistern, I applaud the French influence. With thanks to Scott (Cycling Man) for pointing this out.
Miles done - 5250ish
Oil Change - 1
Gear Lever used - 1
Chain adjustment - 1 (yes 1 in over 5k miles)
Bikes Washed - 0
Money spent - yes
Fuses used - about 10
Big Bend NP
At least we were heading south, even if it was away from the border. Although, while there we camped by the Rio Grande, which is the border.
USA to the right, Mexico to the left.
Back in 2002, the local “soft” borders were closed, Mexicans still try and cross to sell souvenirs, if caught they risk a large fine.
The park is as low as 2000 feet, and raises to 7000 feet in the middle, temperatures can be in the 35-40 range on the camp site at the bottom, to a cool 24 at the top.
The ride is from desert to lush green trees and pines. We went for a hike into the Chiso Mountains, we reversed what we do in Wales, we walked down to the view, a waterfall drop off.... when there is water, and then back up to the top.
It is a vast, open, wide space, with big rocks and big sky.
The camp store owner commented to me "It look like it will be a fine day today", I said "isn't it always?". He paused, thought for a moment and replied with a smile "Well, it does get a bit warmer in the summer, and a little windy in the winter, but we like it"
A warm up for what lies ahead, I hope.
It also has bears, mountain lions, tarantulas and rattle snakes.
We missed seeing a bear by 10 mins, a rattle snake by 5 mins and a tarantula by the width of my bike tyre. Coyotes would howl at night, and wander through the camp site in the morning.
The whole place felt like we were in a movie set for the weekend.
All Pictures from Big Bend are now here , far too many to put in a blog.
An American ghost town.
Abandoned in 1946, now a hang out for people escaping main stream Texas.
We have delayed our crossing to Mexico by a day, we just felt it would be neat to hang out in a ghost town, sipping beer with the locals, watching the view.
While sat on the porch, a passing biker thanked the Vietnam Vet we were speaking to, for “everything he did for us all”, the Vet responded with “I didn't do it for you, I did it for a career! Where else could I have worked for 30 years, retired at 47 with full pension and medical benefits”.
The place attracts a motley mix of artists, adventurers, drop outs and lost souls, under it all is a thriving community, hidden unless you stop and look.
It is hot, it is dry, it is dusty, it is off the grid.
The local bar/restaurant, La Kiva, which resembled the cantina from Star Wars, also does the best steak in Texas, OK, it is the only T-bone I have eaten in Texas.
Maybe we will get to Mexico tomorrow.
After all the tales of hassle at the borders, armed patrols on the roads and watching for bandits as we travelled through the USA, it was a very uneventful crossing.
We bimbled up to the border around 8:30, had the sense to stop despite being waved through, park the bikes, walk over to the USA customs and hand in our white visa cards. I can see why so many people fail to as the USA guards are not interested in south bound traffic at all.
We then got pulled over for a search at the Mexican side, which gave us a chance to ask where to obtain the tourist and vehicle visas. The Mexican official was very nice, spoke slowly in Spanish for us and then walked us to where we had to have papers copied and paid for. In all it took about an hour.
Fortunately all fees are done in dollars, as we had no Pesos until we found an ATM, and headed into he mountains.
Pretty aren't they.
We were stopped once in the mountains, 25 miles in, for a documentation check, this is where people usually find they have failed to pay a fee and have to go back. Then after another 20 miles it was a military road block. Manned by what looked t be 17 year old boys. They were more interested in the fact Jean was riding a bike and after a brief look in the panniers had her pose for photographs.
Our next encounter with a local was outside Chihuahua, we were trying to make sure we did not go into the centre. A car stopped, and the man asked us if we needed help ( he spoke excellent English) , we explained where we wanted to go. As he tried to explain, he realised how hard it would be for us because the road signs are so bad and decided he would lead us, before getting into his car he even recommended the hotel we are now in, in the centre of Cuauhtemoc. He then led us on to the ring road and made sure we were headed the right way before waving good bye.
I think we will like Mexico.
Some notes on driving in Mexico.
Petrol :- The oil and petrol business is state owned, there is one brand of fuel, Pemex. The price is the same every where in the country, even on the toll roads. Octane is variable, they all have “87” which the the equivalent of our old 2 star and then there is “91” which is the same as the UK unleaded and sometimes “92” or “93”.
Topes :- The speed bumps from hell. There are two types. Most are similar to ours, but not as smooth or small. They are sometimes sign posted and sometimes not, when you hit one at 50-60 miles an hour on a main highway you learn to slow down more near villages. The other type are lines of small metal lumps, semi-spheres, that will send the wheels every where if not taken slowly, best taken by lining up the wheels and going over a single one.
Creel is the main backpacking stop off point for the Barrancas de Cobre, Copper Canyon, Mexico's equivalent of the Grand Canyon, just bigger and with more trees.
The town has 2 passenger trains a day, one West bound and one East, which are met by the hotel and hostel owners touting for business. At least twice a day a goods train will pass through, slow down and stop. To our amusement heads appeared from the goods wagons and people jumped on and off.
The rest of the time people just walk and sit on the tracks.
When we arrived at the hostel an “Adventure Trip” company owner was there and gave us some of his time explaining the roads and the canyon places to visit. Especially the road to the canyon floor at Batopilas, with no tarmac, tight turns, sheer sides and a 2000 metre loss of altitude. We decided to attempt a trial look at the road and decide if we could get down it.
After 50 miles of good tarmac, canyon views, and fir trees the road just disappeared into compact stone and road works.
Gravel was being piled up making steering hard, especially truck avoidance. Jean sensibly turned us back after about 8 miles of it.
At least we got to ride the good bit again.
After Creel we headed out to Hidalgo De Parral, at our third fuel stop in 100 miles (destroyer tactics) we met three Americans on bikes, Jim, Gavin and Tony, that we had briefly met the day before. As we were headed he same way we hooked up to ride together.
The road to Parral from Creel is currently my favourite road of the trip, our first Altiplano, more canyon views than you can shake a stick at, and no traffic, until a military check point where we were amused that they spent more time furtelling in Jean's panniers than ours.
Because we were all ultimately heading for Mexico City and getting on well we decided to stick together for a few days.
The following sequence of events had a lot to do with the heat, attempting a 350 mile day, riding with strangers and dehydration. The previous nights beer and tequila probably also had a bearing on it.
We had taken some back roads to avoid a city, and I use the term road in a loose sense, there may well have been some tarmac between the holes. As we passed through an intersection in a small town the traffic lights seemed to be ignored by the locals, Jim went on green and I thought he was going to a Pemex, except he saw the lights go red again and stopped, he has ABS, I don't. I instinctively used the front brake, locked it, the road was dusty, and slid into his right pannier. It was a slow bump but enough to make me lose my balance and I had to let the bike go down to my right.
There was a crowd of locals staring at us even before I did this, I should have done a bow.
The only damage to my bike was a crack in the front mud guard, the solid panniers stopped it hitting the floor. Jim looked at his pannier and suggested I do a better job of polishing it next time.
I think you can guess what happened next.
Half an hour later, leaving another town we started to pick up speed. Then Jim hit the brakes to avoid another sudden topas, once again I locked the front, the bike slid and I recovered but was still going 10 or 15 mph as I tried to dive right. I felt a moment of relief as my front missed Jim, but then my pannier hit his. Everyone thought I was going down properly this time as the bike weaved everywhere and I struggled to stay up and miss a truck which was parked in front of the topas warning sign. I stopped and just sat there bemused for a minute.
This time I had smashed Jim's bike hard, and bent some brackets taking off his pannier, mine was dinted a bit. Later I asked him if I had polished it properly this time.
For some reason, no one wanted to ride in front of me after that.
We stopped in Parras, in the Mexican wine district (yes you can get Mexican wine), at a budget breaking resort, all sharing a large cottage. It was literally an oasis in a desert.
We had now passed into what looked to be a more wealthy region, there was still poverty but it was not as dirty or as uncared for as early regions. This part of Mexico is where the original Spanish colonists had populated.
Then it was back along semi tarmaced roads and more desert with Joshua trees, later we went through what can only be described as a huge Joshua tree forest, covering an entire valley floor.
Our target was Real De Catorce, a ghost town in the mountains. The final 14 miles of road are cobbles, winding up into it. As we approached I did not want to let Jean have any second thoughts so I just turned in and went for it.
I think my teeth rattled, the bike certainly did. Tony and I quickly got to 40 mph and left Jean and the others behind, so waited for a bit. Jean came flying round the corner and as she passed us all I heard was “I'm not stopping”. I gave chase.
After jumping the queue to enter the tunnel into the town we found our selves in a square, and realised we had no contact numbers with the other three. We made our way to the hotel that Jim and I had discussed, opposite the cemetery and hoped Jim would find it as well. While waiting I bargained with the owner, Eduardo, over prices, if the three had been with us I would have got an entire house for 100 GBP.
Eventually they found us and we spent Halloween out side the walls of a ghost town cemetery and walking round the town square lit up with candles, where the locals had decorations and family shrines with “offerings” for the Dia Del Morte.
The ride out of the town was interesting as well, extremely steep cobbled roads, that I had to do twice as Jean was not confident. As it was I nearly put her bike into a wall. Only Jim made it down unaided as the rest of us had someone balancing the rear.
We are currently in the town of Ixmiquilpan staying with Jim's in laws, which is a nice break after some wild(ish) camping next to the convergence of two rivers last night.
I've not crashed into Jim for three days now.
Or Mexico D.F (District Federal) as it is known, or just Mexico. It does not seem right following signs for Mexico while in Mexico.
The Mexican motorway service areas are a little different from ours, a line of restaurants appear with ladies waving brightly coloured flags to attract our attention.
We had some nice Chorizo Verde tacos, everything in it was green, including the taco.
Jean does not think I should mention we had green poo the next day.
The next morning we had a shock, it was cold. So cold that I had frost on the bike, it was our second reminder that it is winter as the previous night we had gone shopping and had been assaulted with Xmas tunes.
The temperature swings from hot (25C) to cold (4C) because we are now around 10,000 feet high. Are we really in the Tropics ?
As the city is a nightmare to navigate, it has 22 million people and 3 separate weather forecasts, our host Garry met us at our hotel and led us all in.
The first part of the trip was a bit like the M25 but after we left Jim, Gavin and Tony to be met by their host the roads and drivers got a little bit more "interesting". We were not sure of the rules, if any actually exist, so just did what Garry did and hoped for the best.
After a week with our "Tres Amigios Viajes" we finally parted, they wanted to carry on south with us but they need to turn north and start heading back. Hopefully they will take up our invite to visit us in the UK next year.
Garry works in an English Language school, and every November the 5th he does a roast beef dinner for the teachers and students, we emptied one of my panniers and put the entire meal in that, including gravy, and Jean went pillion as we followed Garry back into the city at a reasonable speed. Between the "topes", the pot holes and traffic I did not dare take my eyes off Garry to see where we were going.
We finished they day by riding back in the dark at 22:00. All I had to follow this time was his tail light.
Today we sat and watched some traffic from the middle of a "roundabout", both sides were used.
Whatever the unwritten rules are, they work as no one hits anyone else.
Just north of the city, is the excavated city of Teotihuacan, which also has two Pyramids that you can walk up, they have been restoring them. We spent a day there with Garry and Iyvonne, wandering around streets and rooms that had been excavated.
The plaque at the bottom explained that they now believed it was a temple for the water god, I doubt they will rename it.
As we left spotted a motorbike with Eire registration plates and pulled over for a chat. Pat (yes, and Irish man called Pat) has been on the road since July, he has been to Alaska, and was heading to Panama to catch a boat to Columbia on Nov 27th, so this would be his only cultural visit.
I've had to do a lot of work on the bike this weekend, mine is obviously the sick one, the list comprises of.
* Full beam not working (Baton Rouge fix)
* Horn not working (no power to it)
* Rear light/brake light intermittent
* Petrol fill catch release not working. (I've disabled the lock now)
* Wires to coil causing intermittent stalls.
I had to take the panniers off to check the rear lights, only fault found was a bent bolt for the pannier frame.
I'll start taking bets now as to how far my bike gets..
Garry led us out of the city, dropping south to avoid the ring road and a scenic detour to view the volcanoes, then as he had to go to work he pointed us in the direction we needed to go and with a wave merged with the traffic and faded into the distance.
For the 1st time in two weeks we were on our own again.
Our general direction was towards the Yucatan Peninsula.
On the way we had the worlds worst traffic jam, caused by someone selling lottery tickets at a tope, aided by a statue of Jesus.
We saw a church built on top of the worlds widest pyramid, so an early example of a "victory" church.
We stayed in a town (Orizaba) that boasted an Iron Palace designed by Gustaf Eiffel. And could not resist staying at the Grand Hotel de France.
The guide books had said to avoid Orizaba, but we found it to be genuinely nice. People could tell we were not local and would stop us and ask questions, they were really happy to have tourists.
Once we had dropped out of the mountains, and smog, we both found walking and climbing stairs much easier, then the scenery became very "tropical" with palm and banana trees every where.
We have also stayed in our 1st "Love" motel, at the end of a long hot day we pulled int the first decent looking Motel on the highway, I asked for a night rate, the receptionist was amused that we wanted a whole night, directed us to our room and then we opened the garage door.
But it was the wrong door. Oops, think we disturbed someone.
It would appear that you are meant to only drive in to one that is open, close the doors and get out unseen. There are no keys to collect or drop off. You can order food and drinks and have them delivered via a rotating hatch. The entire rental can be done without being identified.
The room, bathroom and shower were immaculate, and they even provide condoms.
Just 250 Pesos/night or £14.
More about driving in Mexico
Road signs - These are variable, they will sometimes tell you the name of where you are heading then list another city completely (which may or may not be named on our map). Often they expect you to know you should have made a turn, and reward you with a fresh sign to let you know you guessed correctly.
Use of indicators - They are used for everything except letting others know your intentions.
If moving slow, hazards on.
If preparing to stop or maybe turn, hazards on.
Approaching topes, hazards on.
To let someone know that it is safe to over take, indicate left.
(Remember we re driving on the right, and over take on the left)
Topes - I finally got around to taking a picture of the evil raised metal ones.
8 weeks of being dry, and then we finally got tropical weather.
As we entered Chetumal, on the Mexico / Belize border, looking for a Couchsurfer's house, the clouds let rip, big style. Within minutes the roads were flooded and we were ankle deep in water (that is, ankle deep while on the bikes). It went dark, and the rain so "thick" we could hardly see,
We quickly found shelter in a tyre fitting bay.
We just pulled in, got off the bikes, smiled at the staff and stood there dripping.
Eventually, the rain went off a bit and we started talking to the staff. OK, we attempted to talk to the staff - once again their accent was totally different and they would not speak slowly. After much sign language we managed to get some directions to the couchsurfer's address and a place that might do tyres for the bikes.
One of the workers even led us to the tyre shop on his moped, through the flooded streets.
These Mexicans "ROCK".
It was so wet, the camera stayed away, so here is a photo of our stay in Campeche on the Gulf Coast instead.
Unfortunately it would take at least a week to get the tyres we want in Chetumal, so we decided to pre-order them from a shop in Guatemala City.
The CouchSurf was a bit unusual.
Our host was not in, he had gone to Belize and not told his house mate we were coming. She let us in anyway and gave us a very welcome hot cup of mint tea.
The house had just been partially flooded, our room was a bare concrete floor that we shared with some wild lizards, there was no hot water and before going to bed I saw a 3 inch cockroach by the bathroom sink.
I know how to show Jean a good time on our wedding anniversary.
We got up early, packed and headed into Belize. During the 2 hour border crossing, the language changed from Spanish to English and Creol. The friendly Belize custom officers all sounded like Bob Marley, and one was singing.
It started to rain again.
We rode in to Corozal, a whole 5 miles over the border, and had a massive Chinese meal with Niel and Miin, who we had met at the border.
Meanwhile a beggar cleaned Jean's bike, for the grand sum of 21 pesos she had in left over change.
The rain was getting heavier, so we stopped at the most secure looking hotel in town. Warm, dry, hot water and not a cockroach in sight.
It may be wet, but it is warm. This feeling is something we'll have to get used to now we're properly in the tropics......like wearing a warm, wet nappy.
The only bad thing about Belize so far is they also have Topes ....
Nowhere is far away in Belize and there are only 3 main roads. In theory, you cannot get lost, so they don't feel plentiful sign posts are worth the money.
And if you do make a wrong turn, concerned locals wave you down and tell you to go back. It's possible to drive through the country on one tank of petrol, without stopping or seeing any thing. However, this would be a shame.
We spent a couple of days at Dangriga, on the Caribbean coast, after riding through more heavy rain and opted for a guest house on the beach.
I don't think we could get any closer.
The town was pretty lively as the locals celebrated Garifundi Settlement weekend with music in the streets, interspersed with some heavy rain. Not that this spoilt the celebration. Everyone just stepped under the nearest overhang and carried on, then stepped back out again when the rain went off. All very friendly, all very Caribbean. The streets were filled with Rastas, and the shops with Chinese. Hardly a Latin American face was in sight, a very strange mix.
The upside of lots of rain is that it is a very green and fertile county. The road to Dangriga is through jungle, where I had to have a swim.
Utilising some hijacked Internet we were able to contact Jean's cousin Peter who works "high up" in the Belize Ministry of Health.
By the time we got to Belmopan, the capital, we were warm, the sort of warm that makes people want to keep their distance. Jean managed to stop me from parking in the Prime Minister's spot and we eventually found our way to Pete's office where, despite our disheveled state, he greeted us with a hug and then introduced us to the Minister for Health.
Pete has nearly finished building a house in amongst the embassy area, in a prominent position. This is a view from his roof terrace.
Shortly after I took the above photograph, including a grey flat topped building, the security patrol from the USA Embassy came past and questioned Jean who was outside "faffing" with the bikes, co-incidence ?
Belize has a way of slowing you down, it certainly seems to have done that to us, and we hung out at Pete's for a few days doing very little.
Sorry, who am I talking to again ?
On our last night, Pete took us over to the British High Commission (Belize is a commonwealth country and does not get a British Embassy) for drinks.
The building is spitting distance from the US Embassy and security is low key in comparison. However it had a well maintained tennis court, swimming pool, and nicely landscaped gardens instead.
Pete kept introducing us to people, and titles of deputy this, deputy that etc slipped by. After talking to a couple of Americans for a while I had to turn to Pete and ask who they were, "oh, thats Vinai, he's the US Ambassador". Apparently they don't have a bar in the US embassy.
We managed to cover topics from motorbikes, health service and "freedom fries". I owned up to crashing into an American, twice, and seemed to be forgiven.
In all, a very surreal evening, Jean especially enjoyed drinking Pink Gin at the HC.
Now, I have just realised I am only 1 handshake away from Mr Obama !
They both finally got upset with all the torrential rain, first of all both our left hand panniers filled with water. We think this my have something to do with us both damaging the sealing foam on that side.
Also after sitting in the rain for 2 nights neither wanted to start when we left Dangriga, WD40 and patience did the trick. We will have to resort to using our rain poncho as a tarpaulin in future.
Then, while checking my bike over yesterday we spotted the left rear foot rest was hanging loose as both bolts had fallen out. I've replaced them and will be keeping an eye on them.
Meeting people on the road is one of the cool things that happens, it can change the day, dissolve any possible plans and lead you off on paths that you would never normally take.
First we met Evan, a Canadian doing the trip on his own. He spotted the bikes, we started talking and decided to ride to Tikal the next morning together.
Tikal is another "must do" backpacker pyramid touristy site.
As we changed out of our bike gear in the car park, two more bikers pulled in, Mike and Alex from Alaska, they had the same model bikes as Evan, so we started talking and now we were five. After touring the site we met up for beer in the evening back in Flores and Mike suggested we all head off to a remote hostel he had heard about, but is never advertised.
It sounded like a plan.
It has probably led to the most exciting, exhilarating, white knuckle inducing days riding I have had so far. The off the beaten track roads in Mexico we used with Jim, Tony and Gavin were just a warm up.
Back to riding in a group again, with no one really sure really sure of which way the road we wanted was as Guatemala probably has the worst road signing we have come across yet (and helpful locals who seem to give you any directions they can think of rather than admitting they do not know the way). It took us over half an hour to find the road. And what a good road, great surface, fast bends and well signposted "Tumulus" (the Guatemalan Topes). Then the road ran out and we had to take a ferry. Or what looked more like a flat platform, with a thatched cabin and a motor.
The road conditions kept changing, some times we had brand new fresh tarmac, others times it was loose gravel for miles in the middle of road works, and then it just stopped being a road. It was marked on all the maps as Highway 5. But it was little more than a dirt track.
A dirt track that wound its way up int the mountains with large boulders, tight climbing hairpin bends (with boulders) and trucks filled to overflowing with people being transported to and from the many isolated hamlets.
This went on for over 30 miles, it was slow progress and we knew the sun would set just after 17:00, we had no choice but to carry on hoping the rain that was threatening stayed off. If it had started to rain we had agreed we would just stop and pitch the tents as no one wanted to ride the rocks in the wet.
We were all elated when we found the turn off for the hostel, at the same place the real road started again. However we had another 5 miles of dirt track to negotiate, which didn't pass without incident.
Earlier in the day, Jean had told me that she felt it would be best if she had a slow spill on her bike on a dirt road to get it over and done with. They say you should be careful what you wish for.
Mike and I had hung back to try keep an eye on Jean, and then she wasn't there. We waited, we waited a bit longer, so I turned round and went back up the hill. I found her being helped to pull the bike upright by some passing locals. I tried park my bike, managed to get the side stand down. got the road camber wrong and dropped it, so they had to help me as well.
Jean was OK and smiling, she had not negotiated the bend properly as a car came round and had taken a comedy roll off the road and down the hill. Which fortunately was covered in soft grass and bushes, not one of the big drop offs.
Looks like I need to get the gaffa tape out on the indicator. I can straighten the brake lever, but she will have to live with the dented pannier. However the dented confidence may take a bit longer to resolve.
The trip was worth it.
A "thatched" Rancho that has a bar, restaurant and dorms, nestled on a hill top near the village of Lanquin with lush green mountains surrounding it.
We arrived (finally) just minutes before the bus came in (it left Flores at 0900 to our 11:00 so I think we had a better time). Jean and I nabbed the last private room.
A room with a view.
The place is idyllic, the people (owners, bar staff and guests) laid back and friendly.
I partied into the night, and now its chill out time.
That was an experience, we have just finished 5 days of Spanish "immersion" lessons. Five hours a day of one on one tutorials, and around 2-3 hours of home work a night.
At the same time we have been staying with a local family to get the full experience.
We chose Quetzaltenango (Or Xela, pronounced Shayla, by the locals) because it was ;-
a) At a high altitude (7600 feet), so no Malaria issues which meant we could come off the medication for a week
b) It was not "touristy", we were not getting dragged into every restaurant or shop as we passed like we were at Antigua and Atitlan.
c) The school was highly recommended.
d) It is not a main back packer stop off, so not a drunken party town and not many locals speak English which makes shopping and food ordering much more fun and worthwhile.
We could have gone to a school in Lago de Atitlan with this view
But, being us, we chose this one in Xela.
I've really enjoyed my week and have managed to move my Spanish on a bit. I'm impressed with some of the people we met in the school who have been there a month or more, their Spanish is now excellent. It really is the best way of learning a language.
We finished the week by helping out with the schools English class, free for locals, and taking Salsa Lessons. Yes, me , Salsa lessons. Lets just say, Jean could do with a new partner for dancing, one who has a left and a right foot. The one move we could manage was the "spin out, spin back" and will be happy to demonstrate it on our return.
Due to the altitude of Xela we are getting temperature swings like we had in Mexico City, high 20s during the day to below zero overnight. Last night hit -4, and Jean chose it for a spot of Moctezuma's revenge. Which would not have been so bad, except the toilet is across a courtyard next to where I took this picture and our room is over by my motorbike.
She was not a happy bunny this morning.
Anyone watching our progress on the map at http://www.ytc1.co.uk may will have noted it has been slowing down somewhat, we seem to have come to a stop in Guatemala, and we have been off the bikes more than on ( not just in the way Jean was off at Lanquin). So far we have only visited 5 countries, in over 3 months, and we have at least another 11 to see before we head for Spain. But Guatemala just does not seem to be a place to hurry away from, we have met many other travelers who have been here for over a month, and others that keep returning.
Next stop is Guatemala City for new tyres and an oil change, if I can get Jean out of bed tomorrow.
The water is loverly, Surf's up !
We had a choice between Volcanoes or Beach. We both felt it was time to visit a beach.
It has taken us over three months to reach the Pacific, and it happened to be our 100th day on the road, so a birthday of sorts.
The beach is in the small coastal village of El Tunco in El Salvador, and had been recommended to us by both the motorbike dealer and the hostel owner in Guatemala City. It is laid back, has a brown volcanic sandy beach and is a surfers hangout.
As it was out of season the breakers were only 6 feet high (on average), they are a constant 12 feet in season.
When you are standing facing the beach with the water up to your neck one second and then only up to your waist the next, you know it is time to take a breath before being knocked over.
My previous experience of the Pacific in LA and San Fransisco is that it can be a touch on the cold side. Here it is warm, even in the morning and after sunset. Running in is a pleasure, no sudden shocks at around waist height.
After what seems like many months of mountains (except it was only a month ago we were in the Caribbean) seeing the Pacific was exhilarating, especially as it coincided with a well tarmaced, bendy but fast coast road on fresh run in tyres.
Our plan for Costa Rica was to head straight through in the "Inter Americana" highway that cuts through the capital, San Jose, and then into the mountains.
We stopped over night just across the border ( a four hour crossing from Nicaragua) in Liberia and had an early start at 08:00.
Initially the road was good, but then as it hit the first mountain range the number of trucks and tailbacks increased, and our speed dropped as it was overtake, overtake, overtake.
We didn't get into the outskirts of San Jose until just before midday, and were negotiating the lack of signs when we spotted a gas station so pulled in to top up and get oriented with the myriad of roads and junctions.
The attendant would not fill the bike until I got off, but would not explain any reason until I repeatedly asked him "Por que?". Apparently it is a law in Costa Rica to avoid spill problems and drive offs, but we had not been asked to dismount anywhere else.
As I got off, the woman from the car in front that he had just filled asked him for some directions, in Spanish, and he ignored her repeatedly. He then refused to fill both bikes on the same pump reading so he had to take down the total and add it up later manually.
As it was a hot day I was getting a bit ratty, and having realised the woman was not native due to her accent I let rip with a rant in English, which seemed to amuse her. As things happen we got talking and she asked us where we were headed etc.
When she (Tanya) heard our plans for our route she was most insistent that the coast road was a better option, our maps showed it as being incomplete and not passable, but she assured us it was now paved the entire way back to the Inter Americana and that her husband, Lee, would be glad to lead us to the unlisted toll road to the coast. They were spending Christmas in Costa Rica with some friends.
We have learned not to look gift horses in the mouth, so decided it was a plan.
Tanya was right about us not being able to find the toll road, it was completely unsigned.
When we got to the coast road they pulled in to see some crocodiles, as we chatted and prepared to say goodbye she invited us to stay with them over night in their holiday home, which was only 2 hours from the border.
Jean and I quickly realised it would have been rude not to accept the offer, especially when we saw a picture of the view from the infinity pool.
It was still another three hours down the coast, including a detour to see some Iguanas at a resort hotel.
Due to the delays it was getting dark as we turned off the highway and onto unpaved tracks into the hills, the 5km ride up to the house was another test of our off road skills as it wound up steep rises and we avoided deep ruts left over from the heavy rain water washing down the hill. At one point I got a deep, long puddle wrong and thought I was about to go over but managed touch my feet down and stop the tip, my pants got a bit muddy.
Doing the road in the dark mean it was more a case of feeling the surface through the steering and we were both pleased with ourselves when we finally arrived.
it was straight into the pool, beer and then food.
The house was in fact two houses, part the way up a cliff, edged by jungle with unhindered views to the Pacific .
After an early night, it was an early rise as the jungle noises wake you up around 05:30, so we went outside into the early dawn and watched some monkeys swing past, followed by a fascinating couple of hours seeing all manner of exotic birds flying by.
Finally the morning ended with a yoga session on the balcony, with the calming seascape as a backdrop, certainly more pleasurable than the last time I did yoga, at the St Helens YMCA.
We left around 11:00 to witness the track in the daylight, and to be passed by a moped ridden by a local woman with 2 passengers.
It was a wonderful experience, from the moment we met Tanya and her family, to the moment we left and returned to the paved road.
A short ride to the Panamanian border, which despite being so quiet on Xmas Eve still took us two hours to cross. We were headed to the house of an ex-pat, Norman, who had contacted us many many many months ago and has been kind enough to host us over Xmas with his girlfriend Emelia.
When we arrived the first creature to greet us was a monkey called Bubba who has no mother and does not know it is a monkey. A real handful.
He has taken a shine to Jean
He just poos on me.
After a quick meal we then had to go out with Norman, Emelia and friend Billy to join in the custom of decorating some trucks, which the local children then pile in, and driving in a noisy cavalcade through villages throwing sweets at the rest of the local children
We had not expected to find a house kitted out like Santa's grotto in Central America.
After the expense of Costa Rica, finding out beer, in a bar, is only 50 cents a bottle was a pleasant surprise.
(Note they use the US dollar as currency in Panama)
The countries we flashed through
Ok, a quick summery so as not to bore people.
This was the border crossing I had dreaded, there have been so many stories of corrupt officials, and dodgy "helpers" that hassled in crowds I wondered if we would even get across in a day.
This was one of those occasions were one of us looked out for the other.
In El Salvador we were "met" by some really pushy helpers at the gas station 3k from the border.
I kept telling them we didn't need their help, but they were persistent and followed us to the border in their truck.
When we got to the border we were surrounded by more and in a moment of weakness I selected the original one and followed him (my intention was just to give him $5 to keep the others at bay).
Jean thought he was dodgy and refused to follow so I had to back pedal the bike and tell the helper to forget it.
He started to ask me who wore the trousers, I said it was Jean.
He and his friends followed us around for an hour, wasting their own time as we dealt with all the paper work ourselves (after all we had done the same process since Mexico on our own). Our simple Spanish is now good enough to humour the officials, especially when the helpers started to tell us what forms the customs woman would give us, I told them in Spanish that "She has a mouth of her own".
The best moment was when a group of them followed us into a small cramped photocopy shop and pointed at the photocopier saying "photocopier... photocopier", Jean snapped, and giving up on the polite ''No gracias senors" which had no effect over the previous hour, finally turned round and told them to F*&K Off :-)
They then started to argue amongst them selves and Jean heard them calling us rubbish and other names in Spanish, so I rounded on them and let them know (in Spanish) we understood what they were saying, that finally got rid of them.
In all it only took us 2 hours to cross ( slightly over average).
We are glad we did not use them as we have met a few people since who have been totally tipped off.
It only costs $35 to get a bike into Honduras, we met 1 guy who had been fleeced for $140, and 2 who had paid them $100 each.
Now when we see any I just say "No" loudly and ride through them :-)
We watched a parade of "cowboys" making their horses dance to the disco music in the streets of Estelli.
We changed plans and went to Granada because a police man told us to. Well worth it.
We visited a volcano and were able to ride right up nest to the active rim.
The worst border crossing yet. Over four hours, the Nicaraguan side starts with a 4km line of trucks to be passed, then you have to cross from the right to the left to enter the "compound" where the passport offices and the customs offices are scattered around, unsigned, with various officials that need to sign and stamp paper work.
There was one sign on the customs building though, I know borders can move but this was ridiculous, last time I looked Guatemala was the other side of Honduras.
Once we had cleared Nicaragua we had a long queue to enter Costa Rica as 4 bus loads had beaten us to it. We passed the time chatting to Dan and Mike, another 2 bikers on the same route who rode with us into Liberia for the night.
We parted in the morning as we were going to take the mountain road and them the coast. During our detour mentioned at the start of this blog entry, we met them again later at the resort complex.
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
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
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:
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.
An eclectic mix, its not Spanish, or English or Caribbean, its starting to look like Taiwan. With lots of palm trees.
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.
Low cost beach bum heaven.
Peaceful until the Honduras border and the unbelievably persistent "helpers" hassle you.
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.
Best surfaced roads in Central America, and stunning scenery to pass the time as well.
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.
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.
Boy, was that an ugly one.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
But not as bad a Guatemala, there they have Tourist police called Police Municipal Tourista.
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.
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.
Until we at arrived at this.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And yes, the water does go down the plug hole in the opposite direction.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The jungle ended at Ecuador and started in Peru, a very fine line was drawn.
We seem to be re-planning the trip almost on a daily basis now.
Having taken our time coming through Central America (because we were enjoying it and we were avoiding the prolonged rainy season in Costa RIca, Panama and Colombia), we are now concerned about the rainy season we will hit in Bolivia. As many of the roads are unpaved, this may well mean having to not go to the Salar De Uyuni as the salt flats will be wet and the roads there un-passable (for us).
We may be considered strange as it seems from blogs we read that, unlike a lot of people who do this trip, we like deserts, and Peru is all desert on the West of the Andes, right up to the sea.
We left the Panamerican highway to get up into the high Andes for a few days from where we could try and plan our onward route.
After booking into a Hostel in Huaraz (Jo's Place) we met an American couple, Marshal and Megan, doing the trip on two bikes. They gave us some ideas for dirt road experiments in the area.
Then we had some beer, which is always useful at altitude.
The route we chose was over 50Kms (30 miles) of heavily potholed road, then 30Kms (20 miles) of 'affirmed', i.e. dirt, road winding up towards the highest peak in Peru, which looks good when not shrouded in cloud.
The dirt road climbed 1000 metres to just under 4000 metres, hair-pinning its way past villages until it reached a gorge that was the entrance to a National Park.
The gorge was lined with waterfalls, contained two lagoons, and a glacier could be seen. As we reached the second lagoon I noticed it was gone 13:00, it had taken us over 4 hours to get this far and there was another 8Kms of very steep twisting road ahead to get to the pass at the top, another 1000 metres higher.
Rain was also threatening, and neither of us fancied the dirt road down in the wet, so reluctantly I turned round as Jean gritted her teeth in readiness for the steep side drop offs, and we headed down. Very slowly.
The return along the potholed road seemed harder than earlier in the day, I was hitting far more than in the morning. Fortunately none of the really large ones, some were over a foot deep and the width of the road. Often we had to swerve to the opposite carriage way, not just avoiding on coming vehicles, but also the nutty minibus drivers who try and over take in the craziest places.
The minibus drivers are learning Anglo Saxon English now. They also need to realise that metal panniers can cause them damage. And that we have more power than them, so I can hold them on the opposite carriage way when they try and over take on blind bends, it keeps me amused.
In all the 160Km round trip took us 7.5 hours.
We both realised that trying to continue South over the mountains, on similar roads ahead, was not an option for us or the bikes. So we have had to re-plan our route to Bolivia utilising the Panamerican and the paved roads into the Andes.
Bolivia will now be done on a day by day basis, and if we have to back track to Peru to get to Chile, we will.
We were both shattered after the ride, so opted to stop a third night in Huaraz, which was no great hardship considering the view from our room at the top of the hostel, you can just see the highest peak in Peru peeking out from the clouds.
Time for a mini rant.
The straws for coke bottles are too short, again !
Our headlong dash out of the mountains towards Nasca to see the "Worlds Highest Sand Dune" and the Nasca Lines (un-explained detailed drawings in the desert, a bit like crop circles, but bigger and older) was interrupted by something neither of us had expected.
A sea of sand dunes, with an oasis.
Poorly signposted just a few kilometres west off the Panmerican Highway from Ica. This led to us taking a wrong turning, ending up off the tarmac with a detour on unpaved and sandy roads into a shanty town in the desert, before we corrected ourselves, with the aid of locals waving at us to tell us the correct turning.
As we entered the oasis, Huacachina, there was a Tourist Police post, so we stopped to ask for advice on hostels. The young officer jumped on his bike and lead us through the admittedly small number of streets and showed us initially the noisy loud disco one, before we settled for one with a basic wood hut room next to the lagoon. The location was improved by the bar, with food and pool.
As it was "National Pisco Sour Day", we felt it would be rude not to join in, and settled down by the bar.
Occasionally we come across somewhere so nice we have to drop any plans for a one night stop so we can enjoy it, and in this case we also went into "Tourist mode". for only the second time on the trip, and booked onto a dune buggy and sand boarding trip.
I even managed to stand up on one of the smaller dunes, I may just try snow boarding after all.
The dunes are big, seriously big, and dotted with ant like people sand boarding and dune buggies.... buggying.
We climbed the dunes on the evening we arrived, as we crested them, all we could see were more, stretching into the horizon. We turned around, and across the plains shrouded in mist were the Andes.
Thoughts while riding
Sometimes the mind drifts while riding long stretches with few vehicles, and recently mine drifted to the trip and how long we have saved up for it. At first I thought about the three years following the USA trip in 2007.
But then I realised it had really been 27 years, I'd wanted to do a "proper" trip for as long as I can remember, so therefore the saving started the day I started work.
I think about other stuff as well, but it is not usually profound, normally it entails wondering where the next fuel stop will be, will we find somewhere to stay (or is tonight the night we sleep in the desert), what will we eat and most importantly, will the straws with the coke fit the bottle properly?
Jean had two wishes for this trip, other than the penguin thing.
* To meet an Andean woman wearing a "bowler hat"
* To have a conversation in Spanish with her.
To get to Bolivia we had to head back into the mountains and leave the desert behind for a few weeks. We had been warned that rain was expected higher up and within an hour of turning east rain clouds formed. A timely change into wet weather gear was accomplished on a flat open plain.
As it was to be a long day, over 600 kilometers, I had made the rare effort of booking ahead into a hostal, "La Casa De los Penguinos", in Arequipa. We were both grateful I had done this as the rain continued all the way up the curvy mountain roads to the city, which was experiencing more rain in two weeks than it had for four years.
The road from Arequipa to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca took us up over 4500 metres, wound past canyons and some high plains with lakes and flamingos. We even spotted two condors gliding over a gorge.
One of the effects of gaining altitude rapidly is the body starts to expel water and "comfort breaks" become more necessary. At the highest point of 4528 metres, while taking a photo, I had to have a wee (well it would have been rude not to).
With height gain came temperature loss and we were both happy when we came down to the shores of Lake Titicaca and a marginal increase in warmth.
Neither of us really wanted to stay at Puno, but the sensible thing would have been to at least see what was available. But being us we took the heavy load bypass and headed on the road towards Bolivia. It soon became aparent that there were not many hotels or hostals, other than ridiculously expensive ones or one down a wet dirt road which Jean did not want to negotiate. This did lead to a small contretemps and a bit of huffyness but we agreed to head back to Puno.
As I tore along the road I noticed a Hospedaje (guest house) on the shores of the lake, not even in a town or village. We decided to turn round and check if there were any rooms.
Not only did they have rooms, but they also had covered parking for the bikes and hot water, for only 20 Soles per night (about 4.50GBP).
The owner's son, Andres ('call me Andy'), greeted us and explained that the local village (just over the fields) was having its annual fiesta for the feast of "La Virgin De Candeleria", would we like to go and join in?
Am I allowed to say "It would be rude not to" twice in one entry ?
We unpacked, changed and piled into Andy's truck.
The village was populated by Aymara indigenous people. Andy is a Metzitso (mixed race), he grew up in the village and managed to gain an education eventually enabling him to find employment in a high position in the Peruvian Customs in Lima. He set up the guest house which his mother, a full blooded Aymaran, runs. Andy spends all his holidays working on the guest house.
The village football field had been taken over for the fiesta. A large tree had been planted specially in the middle and filled with balloons and baskets full of sweets and goodies. Two full drum and brass bands played while people danced around the tree.
As soon as we arrived we were handed beer and shown that should make an offering to "Pachamama". This entailed spilling some beer on the earth before partaking.
People kept coming over to ask where we were from and say hello, then have photographs taken with us.
We were decorated with ribbons, given a twirly pompom each and drawn in to the dancing, there did seem to be some particularly fancy foot work but we just shuffled along, and turned when whistle was blown.
While people danced, occasionally a man would pick up an axe and chop at the tree, this went on until the tree came down and all the children dived on it to get the goodies. Apparently the person who fells the tree has to organise the next years fiesta and pay for the tree and the stock of goodies, good job I didn't have a go with the axe.
The dancng then continued around stacks of beer crates.
One old gent took a shine to Jean and would not let her stop dancng, all the time singing "Peru Peru, Salut Peru"
The event wound down when a torrential downpour and lightening storm started, so we went back to the guest house to drink some more and talk. We were joined by Dieter, a German who had been staying there for 2 weeks off and on, so it was a very multi lingual conversation.
While I spoke to Andy and Dieter, Jean spoke with Andy's Aymaran auntie in broken Spanish (as it was not the first language for either of them), and so Jean fulfilled her two wishes.
Eventually the altitude and beer caught up with us and we went to bed, with a bucket of water for the bathroom as the water pump had failed. We had to stop Andy going and digging the pump up, as we were happy and didn't care.
The next morning we had breakfast overlooking the lake from the rooftop room before packing and leaving for Bolivia.
Uyuni, the worlds largest salt flat.
We had written it off the route, due to its possible inaccessibility during the wet season (dirt roads only), but Jean decided she would brave it.
So, we selected the straightest and flattest route, and hoped for no rain.
The tarmac turned to hard pack, the hard pack turned to muddy sand. And in the distance we saw rain.
At times the road disappeared due to being washed out and we had to re-orientate ourselves or ask other passing vehicles (they criss cross every where out here) for the correct track.
Along the route we passed many small teams smoothing out the ruts, one team stopped us to ask if we had a pump to blow up the tyre on their wheel barrow. Time was our enemy but it would have been wrong to not help, they were intrigued when I connected the electric pump to the bike. And they all ran shy when the camera appeared, so no photo.
The mud and sand was ok, until we hit the wet stuff, our tyres are more on road than off road and the going got tricky.
I had just ridden along side Jean and complimented her on a good skid recovery, when my front end took a life of its own and to Jean in her mirror it looked like I was enacting the scene from "The Great Escape" as Steve McQueen tried to leap to freedom over a fence (but I had a wall of sand). Like Mr McQueen I handled the first obstacle, but lost it in a ditch.
It was a soft, slow tumble, so nothing serious. Nice slide tracks though.
Jean must have got a bit cocky, as a few minutes later it was my turn to help her pick the bike up.
We pressed on, slower now, and finally made it to Uyuni just after 18:00, 160 kms (100 miles) of dirt later.
I am proud of all my girls - Jean (especially) and the bikes which are still in 1 piece after their good shake out.
As we are in the wet season, the salt flat is in fact a lake, so we did not take the bikes on to it but chose a day tour in a 4 by 4 instead.
It is a surreal place, the horizon does not seem to exist. The sky and mountains (and the hoards of tourists) were all reflected in the water.
It is somewhere we will have to revisit in the dry season, one day, but first we need to plot our escape from here.
From Uyuni we wanted to head to Chile, the most direct route was 500 kilometres of dirt, with at least one stretch of 400 kilometres with no fuel.
So, to be fair to the bikes and ourselves we decided to head back to Oruro via Potosi which had much more tarmac, and then head into Chile at its most northerly border with Bolivia. A detour of about 1500 kilometres.
The road to Potosi still had stretches of dirt, however this was made enjoyable by some fantastic canyons and gorges. One section, soon to be bypassed and cut off for ever was idyllic.
After Potosi, which unusually had no road blocks, the road surface and vistas improved, I was having a bonus "Big Sky" day in the Andes.
As we approached in Oruro, despite a ten hour riding day, we were relaxed, until we saw the long line of trucks, buses and cars.
We filtered past them, but they started to fill both sides of the road, and as we approached the front some buses were attempting to turn around and it was getting a little dangerous stuck between them and the trucks.
It soon became apparent that we had encountered a classic Bolivian road block. When they want to protest about something (usually transport or tax related) they seal off all roads in and out of a city (there are usually only a maximum of 4, so not a big task).
Suddenly there were some load bangs and people started running away form the blockade shouting "Gas gas".
The military had launched tear gas in an attempt to disperse people.
We then tried to follow the local car drivers over some dirt track back roads, but a deep river with an already sinking car blocked that route.
The gas cleared and people started to get off buses and walk around the blockade.
We contemplated going back down the road about an hour to the last town we had seen an hotel in, but talking to some locals they reckoned we would be able to cross the blockade with the walkers.
So we rode along behind people on the dirt track around the blockade, and as other locals were concerned for us getting caught between the army and protesters they directed us to use the foot path following disused railway line, which eventually brought us out at the main barrier. Here the people just smiled at us, said hello, and encouraged us to pass through.
Once in the city, all was normal, but it was late and Jean had damaged her side stand cut out sensor crossing the rails, we decided to stop for two nights so that I could attempt to repair it.
Chile would have to wait.
Every one says that the best beef is in Argentina, I'll judge that when I get there. I have had a few steaks here, and they have been of the highest quality. Better than the USA. Melt in your mouth. Succulent.
The people know how to have fun, on our first visit to Oruro it was a city wide fiesta, on the second they were getting ready for another. If they had kept it going all week, I don't think anyone would have be bothered to have a protest.
The Bolivians have found a solution to the coke bottle/straw length issue. It is simple, sell coke in smaller bottles. The normal size here is 190ml.
Effects of altitude
Apart from the headache at first, the loss of appetite and the excess fluid loss, it appears that I also get wind. I have been a fart machine these last 2 weeks.
I don't think I will ever manage to breath properly at altitude.
Drinking Cocoa has helped, but only in the morning as it seems to induce weird dreams.
At least it feels like some one has.
Before crossing from Bolivia to Chile we filled up, but not before the attendant made sure we understood that as foreigners we would be charged double the fuel price, 60p/litre, we assumed it was the equivalent price to Chile to stop people coming over and sucking the tanks dry.
It had been 170 kms since the last gas station, and as it turned out would be 230kms to the next one.
Shortly after crossing we met a Chilean biker, Rodriguez, riding the same model bike as us, much to all our delight.
After an over night stop in a small village still high in the mountains we descended to the warmth of the coast, filled the bikes and no longer felt smug over fuel prices.
From 30p/litre to 92p/litre over night.
The Atacama desert loomed large, up over plateaus and down into canyons. Gas stations did not feature.
Finally, after 251kms, with at least 60kms to the next city, my fuel light came on and we had to use the spare fuel cans we had carried unused for so long.
We always knew our tank range would be an issue, I manage around 240-270kms on main and Jean about 30-40kms more, and we bought a fuel can in Mexico.
We never needed to fill it in Mexico, you could not cross the road there without seeing a Pemex.
When we got to Guatemala we filled it. It remained unused until Panama when we needed to empty it before putting the bikes on the plane.
In Ecuador expecting Peru to be short of gas stations, we bought a second can and filled that.
But it seems the poorer the country, the more (and cheaper) gas stations are. I found I could look at the map and guess where the gas stations would be.
But in Chile, there seems to be a random factor involved. Not always at major intersections, or on the edge of towns. Which would not matter if distances where not so great.
Thankfully we found a website that locates them for us.
So, the Atacama desert, it's big, very big, it starts near the northern border and just keeps going. Some bits are flat and featureless, but others are full of colour, due to the mineral rich rocks, whites mix with reds browns and green or layers of black volcanic strata.
And just in case you get mesmerised, the intensely strong gusts of wind are always there to wake you up.
So far we have ridden it for five days and camped in it for three nights at San Pedro.
Up on another Salar, fringed by snow capped mountains and volcanoes.
Good job we like deserts, looks like a lot more to go.
Chile is also currently at the top of the award list for "Stating the Bleeding Obvious"
For many years now my email has carried a signature at the end.
"The internet is a huge and diverse community and not every one is friendly"
After our great experiences with people we have met on this trip via various internet resources: Christine in Virginia, Thomas in Atlanta, Pam and also Wes in Texas, Garry in Mexico, and Norm in Panama, who have all hosted us......
I now really think it is time I finally changed it.
Recently, while using a Chilean motorbike forum, asking questions about where to get tyres and other things we needed for the bikes, I made contact with Juan.
He was a mine of knowledge about where to obtain tyres and what price to expect. He also contacted the Aprilia dealer in Santiago and confirmed they had the part we needed for Jean's bike after her little incident with a railway line.
And when we needed information on the roads in Bolivia, he presented us with the most accurate.
We communicated often, but quickly gave up trying to use my poor Spanish.
We eventually managed to meet up in La Serena when our paths crossed. At Juan's suggestion I telephoned his father (also confusingly called Juan) to see if he would let us stay at his while in Santiago, this was no problem, "just come on over, do you like to eat cow ?".
After spending a day getting new tyres and oil changes we found our way to Juan's (senior) where we treated to home made empanadas and a large piece of roast cow.
Juan loves to meet people, help them out, and enjoys cooking after a long day at the operating table (he is an anaesthetist at the local cardiac hospital).
As we had managed to get all our spares in one day, and I used the next for general maintenance, we intended on staying just the two nights. But due to excessive wine and pisco consumption neither of us were in a fit state to ride.
This was fortunate as the delay meant we had time to sort out our forward planning using Juan's (Senior) knowledge of the country. He also talked us into using the ferry to get to Puerto Natales (by Tierra Del Fuego), as we were thinking time was getting too short to ride all the way south before winter weather sets in.
He has even, hopefully, solved Jean's sea sickness problems.
So, we are now no longer following the Lonely Planet Guide, just Juan's Guide.
This led us to do our first real hike in over six months, a 17 mile trek alongside a volcano, through a monkey puzzle tree forest.
And pointed us at good places to camp, so keeping our costs down.
Not sure about the pigs at the last campsite though.
The further south we get, the more European it gets, from the centre road markings being white and not yellow to the Scandinavian houses. And then anther volcano appears to remind us where we are.
Everyone here seems to be German, Austrian or Swiss.
Both bikes have now passed 50,000km (over 31,000 miles), which means so far we have done more than 18,000 miles.
Rear tyres are now (finally) off road ones.
Both bikes continue to purr along.
While shopping for parts in Santiago we went to the Avienda 10 de Julio, chock full of motorbike shops and then car shops. I know of two people who would love to walk down it, and am sure one already will have done.
When looking ahead to this part of the trip we thought the only choices were
1) Ruta 40 - mainly dirt road and high (very high) winds, tracking the east slopes of the Andes.
2) Ruta 7 - the Carretera Austral, 1200kms of dirt on the very scenic west slopes of the Andes, with ferry crossings, followed by Ruta 40.
3) Cross to Argentina by the Chilean lakes, go to the Atlantic coast and take ruta 3 south, then the same road back north.
Option 1 and 2 and been ruled out a long time ago.
Option 4, did not even exist. Until Santiago.
A cruise. And surprisingly I've not been bored.
Unfortunately, the experiment with the expensive anti-sickness drugs failed for Jean, however I would say she was not as bad as normal.
While waiting for the next ferry to Puerto Natales, which only leaves once a week, we had a diversion via a small ferry to the island of Chiloe, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. This was a bit better than the wooden ferry in Bolivia, it even had WiFi, but my bike didn't like the 1st lurch as we left port and decided to lean against the bulk head.
As one wheel was still on the ground I left it alone, and helped Jean hold hers upright.
It rained on Chiloe, a lot, so we sat around in our hostal with sweeping sea views, talking to other travelers, drinking coffee, eating cake and watching the rain sweep across the bay. The rain fairy has left us now and the clouds are in the ascendancy. It's nearly autumn here, I suppose summer had to end at some point.
We were awoken on the Friday morning with concerned texts from friends because of the tsunami warning for all Pacific coast countries after the massive earthquake had struck Japan. So sensibly we left the island and the coast, and went to a lake next to an active volcano.
It is "Hobson's choice" when in the "ring of fire".
Our ferry to Puerto Natales, near Tierra Del Fuego, was a four day crossing between the coastal islands and fjords of southern Chile with a short 12 hour section in the Pacific.
Boarding was a long drawn out affair, we arrived at 09:30 to be told we had an 8 hour delay due to the tsunami. Once the ship started loading we got to view all the cars and cargo being loaded, then the other passengers via the cargo lift and finally us.
It felt like we were part of a Thunderbirds epsiode as the lift slowly raised us and the bikes to the upper decks.
On the 2nd night we had to leave the shelter of the islands and enter the Pacific for twelve hours, Jean took her pills and assumed her usual position at sea lying on a bench. Later I found her curled up dozing on the cabin floor because "It was nearer the bathroom".
On board the crew entertained us with lectures of what to look out for: whales, seals, dolphins and penguins. Yes, at last, penguins.
We have now seen a large number of penguins swimming past the boat. But apparently this did not constitute the "seeing penguins in the wild" which would trigger a return home as it appears we have to be ''stood next to them" and "they have to walk up to us".
The captain decided we had all been good passengers, so he detoured and took the ship right next to a glacier as a treat.
I enjoyed being able to shout "ICEBERG!'' as some small ones floated past.
The ship is more freight than cruise ship, but carries a few passengers. Of all the vehicles on board only 4 belonged to passengers, the rest were driven on by dock hands.
One of the ship's tasks is to supply the town of Puerto Eden, isolated on an island. There are no roads in or out.
As we approached and dropped anchor, a small flotilla of boats came out and clustered around the back of the ship. The rear doors were opened and an exchange of goods and passengers followed.
The cruise between islands and channels was one long scenic session as we watched the Andes slowly get lower until finally we turned and passed the end of the range we had been following for so long.
As we approached Puerto Natales the channels got thinner, and everyone on board watched carefully as we neared the narrowest. Especially as the larger ship in the line had been damaged 3 weeks earlier when they managed to hit an island.
We got through unscathed.
Something we don't have a lot of, except I have more than I started with.
In Charlotte, USA, my friend Jason gave me two T-shirts.
In El Salvador, Jean made me buy a cotton shirt, to wear in mosquito zones.
Before getting on the ferry I bought a nice pair of woolly socks.
Then to make matters worse, I unpacked a bag I had carried all the way round believing it had warm clothes in it. On opening it I found 2 T-shirts, 1 sleeping bag inner, my (thankfully) warm winter hat and another hoodie. Jean is quite jealous of my copious wardrobe.
It's been over six months, somewhere around 19,000 miles with more highs than lows.
We set out with a target of Patagonia, and even though technically we have been in the region since the Chilean "Lake District" just north of Puerto Montt, we didn't feel we had truly arrived until we got to Torres Del Paine National Park.
We managed to get the two Pegasos here as well.
We spent two nights in the park camping and walking. What we did not do was one of the prescribed routes that most people who visit take, they are known as the "W" and the "Circuit" taking 4 and 8 days respectively, while carrying tents and food. We really are getting soft in our older age.
The road in and out of the park is "ripio", hard packed gravel that is a step up from sand and soil.
This is good "ripio"
Unfortunately a single road can be like the above, or often they may be repairing sections of it, which means they pile a lot of soil up on the surface. And when you add rain it becomes what Jean now refers to as "Sh*tio".
As we slipped and slithered across it we were both glad that we now had "off road" tyres on the rear. On a few occasions I had to resist the urge to congratulate Jean on " a good recovery" so as not to tempt fate again.
A broken Peg
The ripio has taken its toll, it may look smooth but it is corrugated with many bumps and pot holes. As we returned to Puerto Natales Jean mentioned that it felt different on the speed bumps, so I looked at her bike and noticed the rear shock was not at the right angle.
We may now have a small delay to the trip while we get the required part delivered to a man who can fix this for us. Fortunately for Jean we are near lots of penguin colonies, so this is not a hardship (for her!).
We have been very lucky on this trip, except for the actual breakdown.
A rapid search on the internet located Gonzalo at Motoescar in Punta Arenas who agreed to look at Jean's shock absorber if we could get it to him (240k away).
He then rang back to say he had a friend in Puerto Natales, with a truck, who was going to Punta Arenas the next morning.
Bright and early on Sunday morning we had to use a lot of muscle and ingenuity to load Jean's bike on, especially as it did not fit and the rear sat on the tail board.
All strapped down, we followed Nicklaus, Gonzalo's friend, and his truck to Punta Arenas. There we had the luxury of using a proper ramp to unload the bike into the garage, before dumping some gear and going our separate ways. Us to find a hostel, and Nicklaus to go watch some dirt bike racing.
When we returned to the garage the next day to meet Gonzalo and find out the verdict, prepared for the worst, he was happy to let us know it was not as bad as we first feared and he could repair it.
Talking to Gonzalo, we began to realise we were in the home of a Chilean motorbike suspension expert. More good luck.
After he had disassembled the shock, he did have one question for me. "Why did they fit such a cheap shock absorber on this bike?".
And our luck was still holding out as the repair would only be about £100, it would have cost over £500 to get a new one shipped out to us, with a 10-14 day delay.
Being stranded for a few days meant we could research into penguiness opportunities for Jean, and we had two. One involved a boat, and one didn't. There was a small reserve on the other side of the peninsula that still had 'end of season' penguins reachable by bus.
So Jean has now seen penguins in the wild. I have the photograph, and as soon as we have the bike we can start the journey north back to Europe.
More importantly we can head back to warmer weather. It's starting to get frosty down here.
The end of the road
From the shores of Punta Arenas, Tierra Del Fuego can be seen. It is usual for people who do a similar trip to us to go there and ultimately Ushuia for 'the end of the road' and to visit the 'most southerly city in the world'.
But neither of us really had the urge to go there, after all it is not the mainland (so 'the road' has already ended), and it is now definitely on the tourist route. Also there is another city/town (Puerto Williams) on a Chilean island that is further south which many regard as the most southerly city. Sometimes it is easier not to go with the hype.
Instead we took the time to go to the end of the paved road on the mainland South American continent.
We felt it was fitting that the one bike to make the trip was the "pre-unloved" last minute purchase that had, up to now, given the most trouble. At one stage I didn't think it was going to make out of Mexico.
Then the final 10kms of 'ripio' to a rebuilt outpost, Fort Bulnes, and the 'End of the continent' sign.
For energetic souls, there is a hike to Cabo Forward to stand at the tip of the American continent. Or a boat. But we were happy to stop on the beach and watch ships sail up the Straits of Magellan.
I think I did, once, but I got away with it.
Yes, we are now in the home of beef and claimants to British sovereign territory.
Jean's bike is finally fixed, last adjustments made at 10.00 this morning and then we high tailed it out of Chile. 9 days in Punta Arenas was enough for us. There are just so many times you can walk up and down the same promenade.
With out the aid of Gonzalos at Motoescar we would have been there much longer. His final fix was to get a friend to fabricate a new seal.
Yes, we did sing *that* song as we crossed the border. Our final land border, and the speediest, all done in in about 30 minutes.
A few days of north, with heavy winds are ahead of us.
After four days of progress north seeing nothing but flat pampas stretching from one horizon to the next, we finally reached the Welsh region of Patagonia at Trelew and decided to have a two night stop.
This meant that we had a chance to visit the largest penguin colony outside of Antarctica. Much to Jean's joy, although we are in the last 2 weeks of the fledgling season before they all migrate north to the sea off Brazil, there were still penguins to be seen.
Lots of penguins.
At the entrance as I was paying I heard Jean shout "look... penguins! "
I turned but all I could see were small bushes.
Both Jean and the park ranger stood next to me said "there, there, there , there ......."
The landscape was dotted with them.
Unlike our previous colony visit while in Punta Arenas where we saw 50 to 100 penguins, here there were tens of thousands.
The ranger made sure we understood that we had to stay on the path, keep a metre from the penguins and not to touch them, someone should have told the penguins all that.
They lolled about n the path, they walked across it and one pecked at me as we tried to cross a bridge that had been built to protect their walkway.
With all the wildlife we have seen on this trip living in their natural environments we both doubt that seeing creatures in a zoo will ever be the same again.
As we left the park we bumped into Cindy and Gert who we had last seen in Puerto Natales after spending 4 days with them on our boat trip to Puerto Natales.
A few minutes later on the dirt road out of the park we encountered Beto and Tracy who are also doing a long bike trip, who we last saw 2 months ago at Huacachina and the sand dunes in Peru.
Despite all taking very different routes, in different time frames, it never cease to amaze me how we keep meeting the same people.
Jean's big day out then continued with a side trip to a Welsh tea shop for a slap up "all you can eat" afternoon tea.
I think it is fair to say that she was a very happy bunny by the evening.
As I've already mentioned this part of Argentina is a flat and windy landscape, the wind was (and still is) blowing from the west causing us to ride with the bikes at an angle, much as if we are constantly turning left. At the end of each day we have stiff necks due to angle we have held our bodies.
At one point in the middle of nowhere I decided to stop and take some pictures so I could convey the emptiness.
While fumbling to get the camera out I dropped a glove, which immediately blew away. I quickly realised that I could not get off the bike as the wind was so strong it was starting to blow it over.
No matter how I tried to position the bike, it was never going to stand on its own. So there was only one thing for it - "lets go off road!". I had to ride across the pampas and stop next to the glove, stamp on it, and then show Jean just how flexible I was as I bent to pick it up while holding the bike upright.
It did mean I was in a good spot to get a picture of Jean though.
But still not out.
After all the bad roads we have crossed :- The gravel, the mud, the sand and the ripio.
A roundabout on tarmac in Argentina is the scene of my worst spill so far.
Its not as if I was going fast, around 35mph (60km/h for any Canadians still reading).
We were going straight on, I entered the roundabout , looked to my right to see if any vehicles were approaching from the next exit and then .......
.... sky, road , roundabout, bike, spin.
The back end just broke away, the bike went down on its left, I completed at least one 360 degree spin (Jean thinks it may have been two) and then pushed myself away and span on my back like a turtle with the bike close behind.
I think Jean was relieved to see me sit up, I was relieved to see that Jean had not followed me.
The first two cars that followed just steered round me and carried on, the third stopped to help us pick the bike up.
Once again I am grateful to the panniers supplied by Vern at Project VND , because they prevented my leg from being caught under the bike as it slid and spun, and enabled me to slide clear.
I've sprained my ankle, my shoulders feel sore and have crashed tested the Kevlar in my jeans and the padding in my jacket. I can report that all works fine.
The bike has even more scratches and dints in the left pannier, the indicator needed more gaffa tape and the bars have bent. Also my nice muffs that keep the rain off are no longer on the left.
A few straps that hold on kit have been torn, but we had extras.
We can only assume I hit a patch of oil, oh well 21500 miles (34000 kms) gone, just another 187 miles (300kms) to manage before we catch a flight to Europe.
On the road all kit is useful, however some kit is more useful than others.
By far the most useful and utilised is gaffa/duct tape for its ability to stick anything back together again.
However we carried and collected a few other items that have been invaluable to us.
The Washing Machine
Clothes were mostly washed by jumping up and down on them in the shower while applying Dove soap, but sometimes a more thorough wash was required and there was not always a handy launderette in some remote places.
The solution (as suggested by pannier man, Verne) was to utilise one of our waterproof packing bags.
Here, we see Jean loading our towels in, we would then fill it with water and add detergent. Next the bag would be sealed and strapped to a bike for the day. The water would then be heated by the sun and the bike motion agitated the clothes.
At the end of a days riding we simply drained the bag, rinsed the clothes and dried them. This method is highly recommended for jeans and shirts.
The coffee maker (sock)
We came across this useful item in Panama with the help of our friend Norman.
All you need to do is add ground coffee to the sock and pour on water, perfect filtered coffee each morning. And then it folds flat.
The washing line
Well, we have to dry things out.
The Bike Stand
Unfortunately we don't have a photo of this highly useful, multi purpose item in action as it has now been left in a book exchange.
We had aftermarket main stands fitted to our bikes so we could work on the rear wheels and chains more easily. However they didn't raise the bikes high enough to free the back wheel. So the Lonely Planet Guide to South America was just the right thickness (opened at the 'Columbia' page) to place under the stand and increase its height.
Thats two continents down, at least one to go. No more bikes have fallen over recently.
It has been a quiet week, especially with me limping everywhere.
We spent most of the week sleeping and socialising in the garage at Dakar Motors, who have a workshop with a 'hostel' attached.
Basic, but functional, and shared with other bikers and travelers.
We managed to fill one night, along with about 40,000 others, at an Iron Maiden stadium concert.
The next few days were taken up with arranging to fly the bikes to Madrid and running around drawing large sums of money from all our bank accounts as the freight companies would only deal in cash.
This of course set alarm bells off at the bank and our cards got blocked.
We last saw the bikes on Monday, rumour has it we may get to see them this weekend in Madrid.
We made the effort to put some weight back on by eating steak, a lot of it. And I can finally say that the best steak of the trip has been here, a whole side shared between four of us.
We counteracted this with some new transport in case our bikes fail to reappear.
The Americas by numbers
Distance = 21571 miles/ 34800 kms
Countries visited = 16
Punctures = Zero / zilch / none / nada
Oil Changes = 4 per bike
Chains changed = None
Tyres = 2 rear / 1 front (Both bikes)
Extra tools bought/acquired = 1 large spanner, 1 electrical wire stripper/cutter, 1 electric tyre pump
Breakdowns due to electrical problems = 3 (Bruce)
Broken suspension = 1 (Jean), rear shock
Dropping/Crashing Bike = 5 (Bruce) , 3 Jean
Injuries, Bruce = 1, sprained ankle from most recent crash on roundabout.
Injuries, Jean = 1, dog bit leg in Bolivia.
Hospital treatment = 1 (Jean) in Peru, persistent intestinal infection.
Items of new clothing bought / acquired = 4 (Jean), 5 (Bruce)
Items of clothing thrown away = 4 (Jean), 4 (Bruce)
Most bulky yet rarely used item = Coleman petrol stove.
Penguins seen = 1000's
We managed to leave Buenos Aires without any (more) mishaps, and arrived in Madrid at 05:30. As it was dark we could see straight away the moon was back the right way up, and waning in the correct direction. The bikes flew to London before joining us by Sunday.
In Argentina drivers would look at us as they failed to hit us, back in Europe they are looking at their mobiles.
We aren't going directly home, but faffing about in Spain and France before bimbling back through the UK and have just spent a few days riding north of Madrid with Mike and Moira who came out with Aidan and Angela to meet us.
Yesterday I gloated about the bike chain life, today we had them changed. By a Spanish motocross champion at a KTM dealer. Apparently they were rotten.
We are now in Alicante and will make (slow) progress north from here, I doubt I will make any/many more blog entries now we are back on home turf.
A few days ago we still had to put used toilet paper in a bin, now we can put it down the pan again.
When we crossed from Spain into France two things became immediately apparent.
The first was that we had finally entered a country where the road signs made logical sense (to us) with the same towns consistently listed, in the same order, and fair warning of a junction appearing. Spain had been little different from the Central and South American system of randomly changing what towns are signposted, with the added attraction of telling you you had just missed your turn off.
Not since the USA, with the exception of some parts of Chile, had navigating been so easy.
Our second experience was that we suddenly had fresh communication problems. During the last 7 months we had become used to listening to Spanish and forming a response, initially I had mixed some French into it but had grown out of the habit. Now it was back to square one.
I found I could understand what was being said to me in French, but forming a response was slow and laboured or resulted in gibberish as I mixed the two languages together. It seems we have become wired to hearing a foreign voice and immediately responding in Spanish, so "si" not "oui", or "dos" not "deux".
When asking for things I would prepare the sentence, get it out and be understood but fall back into gibberish when more was needed.
As the week progressed we improved, even managing a slow stilted conversation explaining our trip to a nice French woman who was fed us yoghurts and home made plum jam in a lay-by. Even in France we meet nice people at the side of the road.
Our long meander home has taken us down to Alicante then up the Mediterranean coast past Cadaques (North of Barcelona) where we went all arty, visited Dali's house, and excelled our culinary skills cooking Lemon Chicken on the camp stove.
up the West side of France, through the Lot region,
then alongside the Dordogne and past Limoges before heading towards Brittany and now the Roscoff to Plymouth ferry (6 hours across the Bay of Biscay, not known for its smooth sea state) as we retested Jean's new anti sea sickness tablets.
However, she still assumed her usual ship position.
But increasing the dose and getting the timing right worked.
Our final approach to the ferry gave us one final road block caused by an accident.
They could teach the Mexicans a thing or two about how to clear a road quickly.
After 8 months, finally back in the UK, but still not home or even sure when we will get there.
We've spent the last week drifting across the country visiting friends and relatives , from Plymouth to Surrey and then Sheffield, before turning west across the Pennines with one last stop at Rawtenstall where I was presented with a solution to the coke bottle/straw issue.
Our last day involved a few detours, first we visited Vern ( Project VND ) near Chester, who had made the panniers that proved so tough and resilient. Then we thought it a good idea to visit Jean's mum for tea and scones before heading back across the Mersey and up to see Tony at Pitstop .
Pitstop have serviced our bikes for many years, helped us prep the Pegasos for this one, and even helped with technical issues while on the road as well.
Then it was a quick surprise visit to my mum, and finally home.
Final mileage 24536 (39257kms).
Best statistic is punctures = 0.
While at Mike and Moira's we were kidnapped and dragged back across the country to a bike rally near Peterborough (which we had ridden past the previous Monday). Our appearance at home was only to drop Jean's bike off, as the shock has gone again, then repack and use the one bike.
For years we have been visiting bike rallies up and down the country and failing to get any long distance awards, usually being beaten by people from Cornwall or people on holiday.
For once I believe I was unassailable, I listed my mileage as 24735.
The visiting Belgium bike club were a bit disappointed not to win it.
As Jean was pillion for this portion of the trip she was unable to claim the female long distance rider award.
I turned the blog into a book
Sorry about the price, but that is due to the high colour content. If I had given it an ISBN for a "proper" outing it would have doubled the price.
"A fantastic, informative and inspirational DVD."
"It's brilliant - thank you very much!"
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