TransAm07
April 23, 2007 GMT
Rons Travel Blog

Well - I talked about a blog long enough - it is time it actually happened!

I chose using Horizons Unlimited http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/index.shtml as a site for the blog as it is very appropriate - a site full of interesting stories about motorcyclists travelling the world.

I had gone to a couple of Horizons Unlimited functions, and met a few people who are active members - all very contageous when you are planning a motorcycle adventure.

The whole TransAm 07 idea started when the project I was working on had a stumble - Koniambo stumbled in Sep 06 - I had been working on it for over 3 years - and saw 4 years to go - so as fate would have it, a stumble provided an opportunity.

I was aware of the TransAm expeditions some time ago - and eagerly followed Kevin & Julia Sanders adventures through their Globebusters website. When Koniambo stumbled, I contacted Kevin - he managed to get me a slot - and the plan was underway.

I will keep this first entry short - just a trial to get the blog working. The next one will be more about the TransAm plan, the new bike (and the 2 still in Aus), South Africa and the countdown - less than 100 days to go!

Posted by Ron Markiewicz at 01:49 PM GMT
August 01, 2007 GMT
Alaska

Well - it has started!!!

I left Joburg on 19th July, and finally Brisbane on 25th July - after a great rousing farewell at Jeff & Susan's in Joburg and the Story Bridge Hotel in Brisbane - thanks all who managed to come along, I had a ball & hope you did too.

I guess these few photos say it all.
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I really appreciated the thoughts & will try to comply!

This one captures the feeling - thanks Bern:
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I will wear the tee shirt often (ps one of my riding colleagues used to work for Fcuk!) - small world.

I have now spent about a week in Alaska - bottom to top & back again. This a HUGE and magnificent part of the world. Enjoy the ramblings & images.

A few days in Anchorage to get organised, meet the group I will spend the next 5 months with, and see some of Alaska around this area.

One day going south to Portage along the coast of the inlet & my first glacier. A real taste of things to come.

The group numbers about 18 at present - 11 will go all the way - some doing the North America leg. Suprisingly, I am not the only Australian - 2 others and a New Zealander. The rest are from the UK, and it has been a pleasure to be re-introduced to that wonderful dry pommy sense of humour. It will be fun with lots of cutting jibes & a great willingness to laugh at oneself!

On Saturday, one of our group (Dave - a North American indian, a doctor, and a "native healer") honoured us all with a sweat lodge ceremony at his house in the hills. The ceremony is about expressing your feelings & praying. It is performed in a sweat lodge:
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with about 8 people at a time, some rocks heated on a fire, steam, some herbal burning (to free your thoughts) - in the dark - with a circle of people each expressing their thoughts / prayers in a number of rounds. Boy was it HOT!!!!

Dave sang some chants / songs handed down by his forefathers & we were priveledged to be invited to join in. It was an honour to participate.

Sunday morning - all keen to go:
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I am glad there is someone here with more gear than me - he is nicknamed the Astronaut (more likely - Go Go Gadget!)
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We left Anchorage as a group - everyone excited about our journey - heading north to Fairbanks. A coffee break at a wonderful log cabin type place:
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Just north of Fairbanks we visited a display introducing us to the Alaska pipeline (1200kms long - from Prudhoe Bay on the arctic cost to Valdez on the southern coast) - the lifeblood of oil for the US - about 1/3 of all US oil consumption comes through this pipeline. It was built during the oil crisis of the 70's, and is a real engineering marvel. The road we would travel for the next 5 days was built to allow this pipeling to be constructed and operated.
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This has been such a critical installation for the US, it has only been the last 10 years where travellers can move along it for most of its length, or in fact visit Prudhoe Bay itself - the massive oil field on the Arctic Coast.

The pipeline itself, and the road winds through the most brilliant mountain range - the Brookes Range for several hundred kilometers - giving us an exhilerating motorcycling experience.
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It was good to get on the dirt - and with some rain & roadworks - get DIRTY!
The start of the famous Dalton Highway - the dirt road to the top:
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My pace quickened with the sheer joy of the ride - but I managed to contain the exuberance & keep the shiny side up. Lots of work on the road during the short summer season (about 2 - 3 months) - and we often had to stop & be piloted through the more intense work:
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I loved this sign at some patches - it really meant something!
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At a high point on the road (Atigan pass) - I found an arrow from the only type of hunting allowed in this area - bow hunting. It now is mounted on the bike as a real souvenier:
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The views from Atigan Pass are breathtaking:
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Thats Dave on the right and Jeff - from NZ.

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Some more teases of the scenery - we enjoyed for several days along the pipeline route:
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We stayed at a typical construction camp at Coldfoot, and then at Deadhorse (the town at Prudhoe Bay - there are no houses there!).

We did the mandatory swim in the Beaudord Sea - to join the Polar Bear Club. A new definition of "Lion Cold" - ask Craig & Roche!

We were told our group of about 15 who did the swim (including the 2 women in outr group), was the largest naked group to have done it - fantastic - what a first!

Across what is called the Northern Slope (the Tunra to the coast) - my roomy Mark found an interesting remain - as we had stopped to boil the billy:
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A Caribou skeleton - maybe from a bear, or from the hunters.

Some real micro beauty in Alaska as well:
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oddly nicknamed - Alaskan cotton.

Even the grasslands are beautiful:
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There has been lots of wildlife - moose, caribou, even a bear and a wolf - lots of birdlife - even had a large seagull (2m wingspan) cruise along the road just above my head for about 3kms (I slowed down to about 30kph) - I think he enjoyed the company.

I am really enjoying the history of Alaska - real frontier stuff - the log buildings have really hit a chord:

a barn
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a tack room (now a museum):
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notice the sod roof

and a great house - quite famous:
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build at the delta of the Chenna river - we had breakfast at Rikka's roadhouse - just next door.

One enterprising fellow near here was selling prebuilt log houses:
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It is free standing - I guess you pull it down & reassemble like a jig saw puzzle on your mountain hideaway site!

Well that's it for now - just crossed into Canada - the Yukon - vast, wooded, lakes, mountains - ho hum - will just have to cope!

keep sending emails - I really appreciate them.

Posted by Ron Markiewicz at 09:37 PM GMT
August 18, 2007 GMT
Canada

We have just left Canada & re-enetered the US - in Montana.

Journeyed through the Yukon, British Columbia (BC) and Alberta.

Rode the Alcan Highway, the Stewart-Cassiar, the Icefields Parkway.

Was overwhelmed by the Cassiar Mountains, and The Canadian Rockies.

Embraced countless vistas of glaciers (the Bear and Salmon Glaciers in particular).

My favourite photo:
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Enjoyed the wonderful towns of Stewart, Hyder, Jasper, Banff.

Recharged the spirit along the lake sides.

Met some real characters - people and animals, and caught up with great friends!

All in all - wow!!!

The Yukon is vast, heavilly wooded, and blissfully under populated. Raging white water rivers, streams loaded with trout, and a new majestic view over every crest.

I always try to find an isolated place each day - stop, boil the billy and take in the whole thing slowly.

My billy boiling set up:
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Sometimes I really luck in with vistas like this:
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This whole lake was hidden from view along the road by the huge trees - I found the spot & the lake by doing my usual exploring of side tracks along the way.

We had a few wet days - made it even more interesting, but even then, the views were enhanced with the heavy clouds:
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This is peak vacation time in the north - with lots of motor homes everywhere.
The size of some of these is incredible - people tow a car behind the motorhome!

The most outstanding example I saw was this:
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I hope this guy owns a trucking company - imagine buying a Volvo prime mover - just to pull your (huge) van (and the 4 wheel drive behind that!)

Watson Lake is a small town on the Alcan - with not a great deal happening. Seems about 50 years ago - some fellow posted a sign from his home town there because he was feeling a little lonely. Others followed, and now the "sign forest" is flourishing & is the draw card for the town:
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Jeff & Susan told me they had posted their sign here when they travelled through a few years ago - I went in search - but oddly enough lucked out - only 60,000 signs guys!!!

Did find an Aussie sign though:
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We stayed at a great lodge at Bell II - a heli skiing lodge - there are no ski lifts - just 2 helicopters that take you to any number of great peaks in the area. Boy, I have to come back to this place in the winter. The lodge is a collection of buildings using log cabin construction - and really swank:
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The view from where I am standing:
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The gym, sauna, jakuzi are in these buildings (with the sod rooves):
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These log cabins have really hit a chord with me:
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I find them so appealing, and would love to have a go at building one (hmmm!!!)

As this is the salmon spawning time, we were lucky to see many bears fishing & gorging themselves:
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The grizzlies saunter up and down the stream, and grab one of the thousands of salmon, seemingly without any real effort. After a few fish this one came to the river bank and had a sweet desert of berries:

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Looks like I am really close doesn't it. I was - but thankfully on an elevated timber viewing platform - and I am told that bears can't climb!!

I did come across one on the road - my riding buddy said "What great photo Ron - just wait there while I get the camera". Only problem was - the bear was now happily strolling towards me. The smile masks some serious arse pucker:
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I was ready to hit the starter button & skedaddle - luckily he went into the bush just after this photo - as close an encounter as I ever want.

We stayed a couple of nights in a little old gold town called Stewart at the end of a a fjord. The town is very quaint (1890's style), and our digs were brilliant - restored timber buildings - using recycled material & great local artifacts ardorning the walls. At the jetty at Stewart - where timber is loaded onto ocean going ships:
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Stewart seems to be going through a tasteful rebirth, with a few existing operating mines near by and new gold mines in development.

My business (Hatch) has been doing some of the feasibility study work for them - out of our Vancouver office. Keep up the good work guys - fantastic sites & awesome country.

Some interesting buildings in this area:

A fixer upper as a weekender?
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How about a caravan that is really set up to stay:
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I think this one is a little too far gone:
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There are some really cosy cottages that appeal:
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In this area we were able to get some really close views of Bear and Salmon glaciers:

Bear Glacier:
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Salmon Glacier (up a long dirt road that supports some gold mines) - the road snakes up the mountain across from the glacier:
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We fooled around a little & took some really hammy shots:
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Mark - my riding buddy for the day - playing mountain man:
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Just had to have a rest -after the strenuous ride up the mountain:
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Stopped for a break & drank from a small waterfall of melting snow:
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Dave (our Indian doctor who I mentioned in my last entry) - was going to leave us soon - going back to Dutch Harbour on a long ferry ride. So a shot of Dave before he left:
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It was great to meet you Dave & I enjoyed out chats.

On the way down the mountain, the late summer has left some beautiful snow formations - nature's sculptures, as the sun, wind and water have their way:
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The scale of these is deceptive - mountain man Mark came to the rescue - just so you can appreciate the scale of the sculpture:
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This lush patch caught my eye coming down the mountain:
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the vivid greens jump out at you.

I caught up with a good friend - Roger - who has just move to Vancouver. He rode with us for a few days & we had a ball:
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At Lake Louise:
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At the famous Banff Springs hotel:
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We also caught up with Kent - a colleague from Koniambo time - who now lives in Calgary. We rode together down the Icefields Parkway (undoubtedly the best mountain road & scenery anywhere!!!) & into Calgary. Kent has a beautiful new Indian motorcycle & really looks the part:
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The 3 of us having a fantastic day's ride:
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Roger & I went into Calgary & visited a good friend from Hatch; Jean- Claude. It was great to spend the afternoon with him & his family. I know he reads this blog - so Jean - Claude, we are with you!

Along the way - interesting people cross your path every day, usually for a pleasant chat about the journeys we are on, often in opposite directions & so we can share our recent experiences & in so doing influence our journeys. This lady was fascinating to say the least:
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Monica is Norweigan - she lives in the artic & runs dog sleds for a job. She bought this bike in Los Angeles & was travelling to Alaska on her own. A pleasure meeting you Monica!

And just to finish on a different, but frequent note (at least for me) - I have repaired a punctured tyre 3 times this week, and had to replace my rear brake pads - from all that spirited mountain riding - so here I sit in a motel car park working on the bike. Thankfully I had some spare brake pads with me - just in case!!!!
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Posted by Ron Markiewicz at 11:46 PM GMT
August 31, 2007 GMT
The US

Our route down through the US has been very carefully crafted to:
•Appeal to motorcyclists (a perpetual smile lurks under the helmet)
•Avoid big cities (before Tuscon – the biggest town we have stayed in was about 10,000 people)
•Get to the heart of the great national parks that live down the Rocky Mountains in Montana and Wyoming
•See the desert & canyon country of Utah & Arizona
•Wear out tyres – rapidly!

I passed the 10,000kms mark for the trip so far in the Grand Canyon – for the Aussies – that’s equivalent to Sydney to Perth and back – not bad for 4 weeks on the road.

Montana, Wyoming, Utah, a hint of Colorado, and Arizona were the chosen states, and the National Parks visited included: Glacier, Yellowstone, ????, Grand Canyon.

My fascination for log houses has been growing – Montana has to be the epicentre of the craft – most farm houses, barns, churches, and municipal buildings are constructed this way. While ambling down a windy road one beautiful sunny morning (well – not really ambling) – out of the corner of my eye I saw a most outstanding site – a very large log house being built – at the builder’s yard.

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Hit the picks with some suddenness – which caught my passenger for the day by surprise (young Evan – whose Honda suffered a terminal disorder near Jasper in Alberta – so he has been riding pillion most days) – well Evan woke up in a rush as our helmets clapped, and his posterior slid forward on the seat – with the inevitable and testing pillion splay!

After Evan recovered, we U turned & spent an hour exploring the builder’s craft.

A few shots of the largest construction of a log house I had seen (Evan is the scale marker) – no sealant between the logs – each is fitted to the lower with precision.
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Wondered how the logs got to be so straight – as they were obviously not machine shaped – I saw on the site the area where obviously a craftsman used an adze to trim each log – and from the sea of shavings on the ground – it consumed someone’s time most days.
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Simple tools: Band saw (petrol engine driven & a simple rack did any log splitting or thicknessing
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The rest is chainsaw, drill & chisel, and simple handling tools.
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Assemble with a small crane, decide where the doors and windows go – crank up the chainsaw – and presto a window opening appears. Match mark the lot – pull it down – onto an ordinary truck – up to the site in the hills & re-assemble the jigsaw.

Well Lloyd and Joe, I envy your chosen craft and lifestyle – for once I felt I have missed an opportunity to do something that really has clicked with me – well maybe not missed??? – I have been thinking of the property at Rainbow Beach more and more – how can I scratch this itch that has started???

Further through the majestic mountains, lakes and forests of Montana – a house on an island in a lake – must be tough living there – don’t you think????
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Unfortunately there have been forest fires in Montana / Alberta – causing huge areas to be burnt out – we had seen the haze for a few days, and the day we went to Glacier National Park, the haze was thick – so we missed most of the views – but still the Road to the Sun was an exhilarating experience.

Evan & I climbed eagerly and stopped at Logan Pass for the daily billy tea ritual – only to find at least 1,000 tourists (most with lily white legs in baggy shorts and branded with name tags in busses, or cocooned in hideously monstrous RV’s), but also a gaggle of Harleys & Goldwings all desperately seeking their mountain inspirational experience in isolation. Grossly over loved was my conclusion!

Amazing how 50 of Americana’s Harley riders in one place can look like a cloning experiment gone horribly wrong – enough black leather to support a tannery, frilled chaps, red bandanas, cut off tee shirts, the infamous winged tattoos, and the inevitable scowl (and that’s just the ‘old lady’ pillions) - all riding in close formation around the mountains at about 10kph - max wharp speed without sparks flying around the precipitous corners & starting more forest fires). Oh well – I am sure they are enjoying doin’ their thang!

Yellowstone was a little wet getting there – but the ride in, the afternoon at Old Faithful cruising the geysers, and staying at the 100 year old Old Faithful Inn was a high point (literally) – as the Inn is (yes that’s right) a log cabin construction – with the Foyer over 25m high - with an internal crow’s nest no less.
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It seems the architect was allowed to scratch his childhood tree-house itch to the max – and has produced a unique building and an experience I will treasure always -even seeing Lisa stealthily sneak up to the crow’s nest late at night (locked up because it is said to be unsafe after a 1980’s earthquake) silently scaling the locked gate - giggling uncontrollably with a wave from the top, and slipping down ½ a flight on the way down – trying ever so hard not to get caught.
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Unfortunately when Old Faithful performed (pretty much on schedule) – I had forgotten my camera – so here is Old Faithful in recharge mode – waiting for the tourist hordes to gather for her next inevitable burp!
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Again – something majestic being grossly over loved. As one lady put it at breakfast the next morning – 300 million Americans with only 2 weeks vacation a year – all cramming the sights in! She couldn’t comprehend our 5 month expedition, and concluded we were all vagrants!

We rode out the park the long way round & finally caught a panorama of a sizeable herd of bison.
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Such a rare sight – bison numbers are slowly growing again, having been re-introduced to many park areas. The thousands of bison slaughtered in the 19th century were hunted for pleasure (even from moving train windows), and to deprive the Indians of their food source – so they would be forced onto the reservations (Bill Cody’s claim to fame). I sometimes wonder about the human race!

Then some fantastic mountain riding – the highest pass in North America – Beartooth Pass (3,393m according to my very flash Highgear watch)
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went up and turned around and came back down – just so we could also ride the Chief Joseph Parkway, finally arriving in Cody – cowboy central. I know Justin is following the good roads in Mapsource - so Beartooth Pass is on US Highway 212 just inside Montana with the Wyoming border - and Chief Joseph is Wyoming state highway 296.

I tried to capture the sense of height at Beartooth Pass - but impossible with the camera - the outlook was breathtaking:
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This is dinosaur country – remnants and fossils abound & you can almost feel their presence. This is also oil country – modern day dinosaurs populate the arid plains – bobbing to feed rhythmically.
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In 1 day we traveled through some great, green mountains – to Douglas Pass, and then into the land of deserts and canyons.

At Douglas Pass I found some side roads that went higher & followed the ridges back towards Vernal for several kms – I wondered why the dirt road was so good – it was presumably a hunting road – as there were no houses. Then I saw this!!
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– with ominous signs promising the most horrific consequences should anyone trespass – so I found some more minor dirt roads that continued along the ridges.

My aloneness at this time added to the pleasure, as I had it all to myself – the thousands of baggy arsed lily whites were safely ensconsed in their gargantuan RV’s safe at some bitumened byway – while I was again boiling the billy with a view to die for – and I felt like I owned it!
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Afetr coming down the other side, first contact with the famous Colorado River was somewhat by chance. In what seemed a generic desert scape – I saw a few houses and this:
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there’s that itch again!!

It did leave me with a puzzle – why here? Then around the next bend – I saw the Colorado river, and realized the log house had a view from a cliff of this epic river. This river would play a role in our travels for quite a while.

The Dewey Bridge was an early (and beautiful – in my engineering biased opinion) development that opened up this area – 6 loaded ox wagons at one time! Too good an opportunity to miss & try some creative photography, and some mischief – as I found the bike just fitted between the rocks protecting each end of the bridge (shhh! – don’t tell anyone).
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Then the real desert and canyons abounded – several days of gob smacking sights, and desert heat (up to 40C in the Valley of the Gods).
Moab is a center of adventure tourism on the Colorado & a great little town – even if the Utah licensing laws are a little odd (eg – some restaurants can’t serve both wine and beer – one or the other!), and most bars are “private membership” – purchased for upto 7 people for $4 – go figure??

A day off the bike in Moab, and I chose to enjoy one of my other interests – kayaking on a fast flowing river with a few minor white water sections. But the best thrill was seeing the canyons from the river itself. John (a Geologist working in the North Sea oil fields) joined me for the day. John (father of Greg –also on our expedition) is a hive of knowledge and passion for the landforms – I enjoyed the day with John – he enjoyed the new experience & mastered the craft quickly. Thanks for a great day John. Oh – and guess what – we had the river to ourselves for the whole time we were on it – brilliant!
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A few more pictures trying to capture the majesty of this Navajo Nation area – a dismal failure I am sorry to say – no substitute for journeying though it, seeing, feeling, and yes – sharing it with our small group of like minded travelers in this case.
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Our expedition leader Kev – obviously enjoying it after a several journeys through this land.

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A 400m drop down this road to the canyon floor – see the bikes at the bend? (I was near the top).
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Have you seen this shot before? (near Monument Valley)
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Well the last day before Tuscon was a doozy - left Jacob's Lake Inn (about 2,500m elevation near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon) just before dawn and 8C temp - wind roads through the birch / fir trees - then down from the plateau to the floor of the canyon country - immediately the temp rose - it continued to rise throughout the 750km day to 43C - yep - bloody hot & dry - our longest day so far. Arrived at the BMW dealer to leave the bikes for their service & a few days R & R in Tuscon. Good to get to an air conditioned hotel. So - finishing the blog & doing domestics before Steve & Lisa's wedding tomorrow - looking forward to a great bash!

Then off to Mexico Saturday - our next adventure, and my next entry - cheers for now & hope you enjoyed the ramblings

Posted by Ron Markiewicz at 07:57 PM GMT
September 15, 2007 GMT
The Wedding

What a fitting way to bring the end of Stage 1 of our expedition to a close – than the wedding in the group.

Steve & Lisa decided that the expedition and Tuscon in particular would be a great time to get married.

They planned it well, and a fantastic event it was. A new member of the group (Pastor Ron) who joined us in Tucson officiated. It was an afternoon wedding in the gazebo at our hotel, followed by a wedding breakfast in the function room, some organized fun – some gambling tables (roulette, blackjack & craps) were set up – with the croupiers coaching us as we played for sheep stations (monopoly money), an ice sculpture that doubled as a drink server (the louge) – with buried tube to chill the drink on the way. Inevitably it all got very merry, and most people ended up in the pool late at night in varying stages of dress – from fully formal to fully buff!

Kevin (our group leader) played the father of the bride
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Pastor Ron did a great job in a simple & meaningful blessing.
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The couple
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Photographing the photographers!
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Throwig the bridal bouquet! Unfortunately one of our group was WAAAY to keen to catch it – young Matt – he really is on the prowl for a good woman!
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Lisa was not impressed!!! (jokingly).
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The group was resplendent in formal attire (provided by Lisa & Steve – many thanks)
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The ice sculpture (with luge tube)
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Luge in use:
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The rest of the evening was somewhat of a blurr!!!

A day to recover, and the next day was the end of Stage 1 of our expedition. Those leaving us had to deliver their bikes to the freight agent in Phoenix (about 100kms away) – so they hired Harleys for a couple of days to come back to Tucson for the wedding and to say our farewells.

Leaving us were:
Dave (The Astronaut – because of the amount of bling he brought & then accumulated more) Dave at Mexican Hat in Arizona – just before we got to Tuscon – Dave look out for falling rocks!!!
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Shared the odd cup of tea with Dave on the side of the road - at some stunning scenery – been great fun Dave.

Richard (a quiet one – who soaked up every moment & was a thorough gentleman)
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Remember Richard – stand UP, look UP, Gas UP!!! (Ron’s secrets for successful dirt riding!)

Evan – we shared my bike for a few days as Evan’s Honda had expired. Evan had the trip of a lifetime & helped everyone.
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Linley – (a fellow Aussie)- rode the HP2 with style – never hurried and always smiling (she supported the local economy in most towns, with enthusiastic shopping – followed by a trip to the post office!)
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John (and the fruit of his loins – Greg). The trip was John’s graduation gift to Greg – having just finished his degree. Greg was having so much fun – he decided to continue to Argentina with us!
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(doing the famous Harley salute – we say all over the US as we passed traveling Harleys)

Joining the group in Tucson – Pastor Ron(from the US) and Eric (a British actor of some note) – but we will have plenty of opportunity to chronicle our adventurous encounters in later entries.

Cheers
Ron & the Black Mamba

Posted by Ron Markiewicz at 06:07 PM GMT
September 22, 2007 GMT
Mexico

Mexico has been a real blast – chaotic, historic, surprising, friendly, and often beautiful – the riding has varied from rainy days in clouds at 2,500m, (we went even higher later - to 3,200m) to wonderful windy mountain roads near Copper Canyon (bigger than Grand Canyon), to steamy coastal strip near the Caribbean, to traffic snarled towns where stony faced aggression is the riding technique to choose, and a very few freeways.

The food is consistent - HOT! (pecante) - but I love it!

All in all great riding in a country I knew little about, but have enjoyed so much - “I will return”!!!

My Spanish started poorly, and left me feeling quite inadequate – but as the days and weeks go by, it improves quickly, and I feel much more confident on the street or in the restaurants. After 3 months – I expect I will be very comfortable.

Zacatecas
We stayed in a classic Mexican town that seemed to be totally devoid of any tourist influence. We arrived to Mariachi music in the sqaure – our very swank hotel was right next to the town square – so we could open our window & watch the musicians & later drummers entertain the assembling procession crowd – it was actually the start of a procession – that wound its way round the cobbled streets, and up the hill to the church – lots of fire crackers as well – a great welcome to the town.

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Later – we wondered the crooked streets amazed at the shops of local clothing – particularly the obscenely pointed cowboy boots and matching belts. They can never be accused of subtlety.

The cathedral at night is the prominent sight.
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Our very swank hotel - in the morning before we left:
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San Miguel
We stayed here a couple of nights – a very quaint old Spanish hotel, and a really buzzing little town.

Matt & Rod hamming it up at the hotel - an abundance of ceramic tile architectural features:
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This is where I shouted the group to a tequilla evening – the best tequila we could buy, at a quaint little bar, and then waves of Ola’s!!!!! when “lip, sip, suck”, went round the bar several times. Then a great dinner – to vibrant local music.
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Followed by more tequilla's at the bar!

A late night!! At about 2.00am I remember calling a few people – sorry! Chris, this is the view I described – upto the plaza, where the Mariachi’s were still serenading evening walkers.
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Needless to say – a slow day the next day – exploring the back streets of town – seemed to have a grand church at every corner – this was the grandest.
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Amazing the social penetration the church has in these places – an overwhelming (overbearing?) presence in fact!

Lots of hot days riding in the low lands – along the Mexican Caribbean coast – HOT!!! and muggy – we had a good old thunderstorm one afternoon – no one bothered to put their rain gear on – just enjoyed the big fat rain drops & cooling down – remember those good old 4pm thunderstorms??? Seems such a long time ago. Got to the hotel thoroughly wet but refreshed – Greg didn’t wait to change – straight into the pool!
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All that padding makes for good flotation!
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Agua Acul
Some waterfalls that flood down the river – really a series of cascades – quite impressive:
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Palenque
A town next to some extensive Mayan ruins. The ruins sat covered by jungle for over 1000 years – the Spaniards missed them entirely - even now only 10% has been restored - the jungle still protects the rest. The Mayan era in this location was about 250AD to 900AD. The peak period was about 600AD when the most famous King – PacalDSC01025.JPG built his tomb,
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the palace
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and his wife’s tomb (complete with sacrifice altar)– virgins were the normal sacrifice, but so were the losers of a type of football / volleyball (heads, shoulders, elbows & foot) game – pretty serious game!!!
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The Mayans were vegetarian, not a war based culture, and had quite well developed architectural skills – the Mayan arch is evident everywhere.
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The town was serviced by aqua ducts, and working sewerage.
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The palace even included steam rooms, - Lisa in the steam room
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The steam room was used to meditate - helped with just a little piute, mescal or mushrooms!!!

TOPES
I am sure I have discovered the Mexican national sport – it is called “TOPES”.

It has:
• Adrenalin pumping action
• Testing of man & machine
• Often attracts spectators who cheer
• Requires skill and dexterity
• Has losers

It doesn’t, though, seem to have:
• Rules or rule makers
• Winners
• Referees
• A playing field of any specific definition

TOPES are ridges across the road, usually about 200mm high, and I believe initially intended to slow traffic down as you enter villages on regional roads. They are very successful at doing this, and in some instances are well placed, well marked (with upto 300m warning), in a state of good repair, and ONLY where they are needed. The problem is – rarely are they all (or even any) of these things.

There also seems to have been a transformation of the intent, to where virtually anyone who wants traffic to be slowed down, goes and harvests some bitumen (usually) from some underdeveloped pot hole, heats it up a bit, lays it outside of his home / banana stall / drink stall, quasi security checkpoint, and then sits back to watch the fun.

Also people congregate at TOPES to sell you junk, collect donations for local charities, or canvas you for the next political election.

In all of this, the sport comes in when you – see the TOPES too late, are traveling too fast, trying to overtake the truck moving at snail’s pace. A well designed TOPES is best traversed in 2nd gear at low revs.

We have traversed THOUSANDS of TOPES, and I now call myself a relative expert player at the game – but still get it wrong on occasion – and get punished with a BANG of the suspension, and an elevating heart rate.

I only hope the sport of TOPES doesn’t become international, and stays in Mexico (just as Aussie Rules footie in Australia – don’t you think?).

Well, that’s about it from Mexico – into Guatemala next – then Honduras, Nicaragua etc.

The bike is going great – done about 28,000kms on it in 6 months – no problems and such a great bike to eat up the distance on the long days, squirt through the twisties with great enthusiasm, and bump along the back roads & dirt tracks – loaded with about 50kg of luggage all up – and blissfully serenaded by my iPOD with 8,000 tracks – I never get bored!!! Have to go & work on the tan today – so adios mi amigos, catch you all soon.

Cheers

Ron & The Black Mamba

Posted by Ron Markiewicz at 05:00 AM GMT
October 15, 2007 GMT
Central America

CENTRAL AMERICA

Well – some of it anyway.

That’s really Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama for us.

Seems like a lot to see in just over 3 weeks – but we have been moving slowly – short riding days – and lots of time to enjoy the beaches, mountains, lakes and volcanoes – and the great old towns as well. Towns like Copan Ruinas, Altitlan, Chichicostingango, Granada, and of course Panama City.

These countries are all pretty small and very diverse for such common histories.

We started the process of several absolutely chaotic border crossings – with perhaps the most chaotic & quite bizarre one – from Mexico to Guatemala. For some reason, the main road through (which just happens to coincide with a large indigenous market) was closed – we were redirected down a dirt side track & through the walking tracks in the midst of the market & up a very steep & rough track – back to the border post - with churning people, carts, kids, dogs everywhere – what a buzz for our chaotic entry to Guatemala.
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Proceedings went smoothly (though VERRRYYYY slowwllly) at the border – the process is similar at all borders:

1.
Get to the border – usually recognized by a huge parked train of trucks, thousands of people, a few non descript buildings – and little if any signs– then find the right building (somewhat by chance – or in our case – usually Kevin has a good memory from his previous border crossings – but not always).
Find a park for 15 bikes and the van – ensure you leave at least 1 person at the parked bikes to avoid the light finger brigade - find the right window (usually one only) and hand over the Passport – immigration exit from the leaving country – usually pretty simple.

2.
Customs – leaving country – find another non descript window, and hand over the bike details – they are checked against the entry document – sometimes the bike is checked – then a clearance stamp on the passport – not so simple – and usually 1 person does it for our 15 bikes – each individually (maybe an hour or 2).

3.
Move site to entering country – maybe next door – maybe a couple of kms away (and maybe a rope across the road – or if it warrants it a boom gate) – find a park – run away from all the hawkers & money changing peddlers & “official” helpers – start the immigration process again – Passport & stamp – simple.

4.
Find non descript customs window & hand over all bike documents again (at least once – sometimes in 2 places) – bike permit issued, sticker on the bike (sometimes) – wait for all the group to do same – and move on!!!!

Phew – if we are lucky – it takes 3 hrs – if we are not lucky – it has taken 7 hrs to cross a border – we are told of many instances when it can take days!!!. Kev is pretty savvy with the process & we use “helpers” when it all gets too hard. The one common factor at all crossings – you pay – and pay – and pay. Who knows how much of it shows up on the records.

Once into Guatemala, twisty mountain roads, belshing overloaded trucks (the one common deniminator everywhere) - and our first very pleasant stop - Lake Atlitlan – staying at an old Coffee Plantation transformed into a magnificent hotel & Guatemala Independence Day.

A few hints of the hotel, the views, and the magnificent gardens:
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Roomy Mark and Mike outside our room:
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The hotel had birds - these macaws were let out to stroll around - I found myself being pursued by them arround the garden - they bite!
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Jeff got into the act & they were after him as well:
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Independence day - procession in local village:
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Then a great riding day to the north - into the mountains where the indigenous indians have a great market town called Chichicastingango. They trade there - as they have done for centuries. Spent hours wondering the markets - getting lost & just people watching (had to buy 2 Che Guavera tee shirts though - one for Sam - happy birthday son!)
the great fruit & vege section of the market:
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Eric - taking photos in the bustle:
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Ladies selling wonderfully colourful cloths & rugs:
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Back to the wonderful hacienda style hotel - for local musicians welcoming us:
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Mountains & dirt riding – anther border crossing!
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and into Honduras.

A newly discovered (by travellers) town called Copan Ruinas - near Mayan ruins - a German couple ran the hostel - and I enjoyed a great massage to pipe music & breezes across the mountains. The ruins were different to Palenque, and had a great example of the "football pitch" game played by royalty - where death to the losers was common. Some examples of the ruins:
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The football pitch - the angled side structures have the goals & are used to bounce the ball off the sides:
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The player changing rooms above the pitch
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The magnificent history stairway - that recorded several hunderd years of Mayan history - under preservation & repair:
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The jungle has won the war for over a 1,00 years & restitution is slow:
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An ornate sacrifice altar:
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My guide for the day - Antonio - 70 years old & as he says - "famouns - in the Guiness Book of Records" for his knowledge & language skills - even remembers guiding Bob Hawke through the ruins in 1980 - said he drank alot!
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After the time with Antonio (even going into the 6kms of tunnels below the the later structures - that archeologists have dug to explore the older ruins upto 30m below the surface) - I wandered the Mayan city for hours - often in blissful solitude - to imagine the society that created all this. An inspiring day!

Into Nicaragua next -not yet really on the tourist map - but quite beautiful. The poice ar shockers though - we were warned! They stopeed a small group of us 3 times in 1 day - supposedly checking documents & "enforcing the traffic rules" - but really trying a shakedown - we were ready & played the game & had some great sport playing dumb. One insistant group of 3 ended up costing me 3 kangaroo pins - they were chuffed & we rode away with smiles!

Masaya Volcano - we were allowed at the caldera complete with plumes of sulphur fumes (would not be allowed in most places - but hey! - this is Nicaragua) - a guard advised "keep your vehicles parked ready for a quick get away - in case she blows - and stay only 10 minutes - or you may become ill from the sulphur fumes!!"
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Matt - still smiling - not quite poisoned yet!
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Then to Granada - a 500 year old town - in rebirth mode after years of conflict. We stayed at a grand old hotel on the plaza:
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Sunday evening - pleople wandering the plaza & streets - music from the church & a great meal in a classic old hotel that has been beautiflly renovated.

We also got a boat onto lake Nicaragua - huge & some exclusive island homes for sale:
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After a few local rums - we were diving off the boat (impressive back flips) - and watching the sun go down - I must admit, I felt like a 12 year old having pure fun!!

Into Costa Rica - probably the most tourist oriented country in Central America - lots of beach resorts & wealthy Americans buying up (holiday or retirement homes) - condo construction everywhere.

Stayed at the beach at Paya Hermosa on the Caribbean coast - a great swim, a run along the beach, watch the sun go down over the water - and then 2 lobsters for dinner!!

The mountains & rainforest are very like north Qld - stayed at an eco lodge & explored the jungle. Along the way - La Paz waterfall:
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You could get behind the waterfall:
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Note the old bridge - collapsed:
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Back to the Caribbean coast - near the border - ready for another hectic crossing (the secret is to get there early) - stayed at a coastal lodge called: "Suizo Loco Lodge" - run by a crazy Swiss guy - who has settled in Costa Rica & built a craxy lodge:
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A walk along the beach
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and great night - started at a seafood restaurant - where I plundered a bottle of wine & some rum liquers - by enthralling all with my "get the cork out of an empty wine bottle" trick - only to repeat the performance back at the lodge - again the reward being a variety of schnapps, rum, wine and (hmmm!) some local Costa Rican herbal delights! The small group left at the end of the evening (including the loco Suizo) had such tales to tell the next day!

The next day was border day - this also involved crossing the 2 infamous "banan bridges" - timber decked bridges - high above the river - with rotted timbers, huge gaps, little guarding protection - and for a few of us - huge hangovers!
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Successfully on the other side:
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Most rode across with confidence & had no hassles - some faultered & needed help - a few fell!

Into Panama - and an introduction to local politics - a roadblock by a local village - demanding the committed funds for school supplies:
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We spoke with the school teacher - 450 kids - 2 classromms - no books - have to use their hands to learn Spanish & English (after their indigenous language) - good luck to them - we all applauded their cause!

Panama City – half way! Yahoo!
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A few days in Panama - sort the bikes to fly them to Ecuador, see the canal & celebrate with a dinner of local cuisine & dancing:
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The Panama canal:
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the lock system:
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and finally a few celebrations to mark the half way point:

Rod (our van driver & the jounalist cronicling the expedition on the Globebusters web site) - leaving us to rejoin his new wife in Melbourne (they were married just before the trip started) - a few well chosen gifts for Rod - in character with the local culture - to thank him for his support and outlook:
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and finally the award for the most outrageous silliness so far - went to Prof - the honour of wearing the silly hat (he had to wear it on the plane to Ecuador!)
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That's all for now - next entry will be Ecuador & Peru in a few weeks


Cheers

Ron & The Black Mamba

Posted by Ron Markiewicz at 05:25 PM GMT
November 19, 2007 GMT
Ecuador & part of Peru

Sorry for the long break in entries. I fritzed the screen on my computer & had to rely on finding a monitor to plug into for quite a while. Thanks to the great IT guys in our Santiago office (Chile), I now have a new computer.

We went to the BMW Dealer in Panama & serviced our own bikes before we left (no real market for BMW motorcycles in Panama - he sells 10 a year), but the people there were fantastic - gave us the run of the workshop, tools, and parts - even gave us a grand lunch. New tyres for all (road tyres now - for the Andes), and we were ready to role.

From the oppressive heat of Panama City to Quito (at 2,800m) and quite cool.

A short flight & we go to our quaint hostel (we were the only occupants) in the old area of Quito, in the restaurant, club, travelleres part of town.

We certainly took advantage of the great restaurants and clubs as we waited for the bikes to clear customs.

After a few hassles, we went to the warehouse & rode 13 bikes from the bond area. This attracted a huge crowd of workers - about 200 - it must be a rare sight.

A little sight seeing near Quito - the "Mitle del Mondo Monument" for the equator & the obligoratory pose:
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The next day we were off - and into the Andes!!!!

I had been excited about this for so long. I have to tell you - IT WAS FANTASTIC!

I will try to show you some of the scenery - but believe me - photographs nowhere near capture the majesty & breathtaking vistas. 2 days of this before we got to the Peru boarder:
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Often riding above the clouds.

Stopped for lunch on the second day at a small local cafe - had to try the local fare - Cuy (guinea pig):

Not real sure:
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but I had a go - I was served a 1/2 Cuy - the top half:
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Yup - that's the head in the middle - complete with brains & teeth!

I made my way through some of it - but I have to say - never again! But hey - you have to try.

A memorable night at a hot springs hotel - high in the mountains - great night.

The view out front of the hotel - our bikes always take pride of place at the front door:
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Woken the next morning to squealing pig! One was being butchered in the village next to the hotel - we then saw several pigs being hung & prepared for a festival as we rode through villages during the day. A big party in each village that night! - celebrating Independence Day for Ecuador. >"Not a good day to be a pig" - was a phrase coined by my roomy Mark.

The border crossing into Peru:
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After all the hassles in Central America - we chose a remote border - relatively new - no hassles at all - Hola Peru!

A brief stay on the coast as a great "surfie" town called Huanchacco Bay - this is a tourist town with a mix of surf (said to have the longest break in the world - 2.5kms long - I can imagine it being so on a "big day") and the old fishing tradition of using reed boats - or net fishing just outside the surf breaks - so the small boats have to negotiate the surf!
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launching into the surf (photos taken very early in the morning):
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a constant battle with the pelicans who steal the catch while the firsherman isn't watching:
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returning to shore:
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followed by net repairs & tourist photos!

I watched these guys for hours - what a simple (and hard) life - but they have been doing this for centuries!

Then back into the Andes and a great day of dirt riding in the Canyon del Passo - Tough riding, but a great day - I will let the photos give you the gist (I must say - they don't do it justice):
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29 tunnels! like these:
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After the canyon, we had a great ride in the mountains, then down on beautiful sealed roads, views of the coastline, and a new record elevation – 4,100m.

A small group of about 5 of us skipped down the mountains together – riding quite in sync –thoroughly enjoying the curves and the team feel. Down at the coast we stopped at an old pre-Mayan fort called Chimu.

The group at the fort
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Mike and Dick returning from the main entrance
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Our intrepid band ascending the outer wall
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Then down the Pan American Highway for the first time in Peru – oddly now mostly desert, sand dunes, and lots of trucks. We had to go through Lima central (a new bypass road is under construction) –absolute traffic mayhem. Rules, traffic lights and lane markers are all for some other parallel universe, because they don´t mean anything in Lima.
Actually it is quite fun sport once you are used to it – particularly for a dozen or so large & loud bikes – the Limarites aren´t used to the sight – so you can take their hesitation as a sign of weakness, and blast into gaps left open by their momentary lapse – you win! That’s the game as it is played, and after about 2 hours of dense city traffic, we were all pretty good at the game. Thankfully though, we then got out of Lima, and back to the coastal desert.

We could not stop at our planned town of Paracas, as there had been earthquakes a few weeks ago – and the hotel no longer had a roof! The legacy of the earthquake was obvious everywhere – many buildings in ruins, and most people had already started reconstruction. As mud bricks are the preferred building material, construction material is merely wetting the pile of rubble, and starting the mud brick process again!

So, we pushed on for a long day´s ride to Nazka – the famous area where Eric Van Donikan based his book - ¨The Chariots of the Gods¨. After a great afternoon of desert scenery, interspersed with the Andes, we were all in awe when we came down the last mountain cutting to see the vast plains where the figures are.

Just before dusk we stopped at this viewing tower to see a few figures in the rocky desert.
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The theories still abound about their origins, but they are remarkable regardless of how they have been formed.

It is always difficult to capture the grandeur of vistas, especially the desert scenes – but I keep trying – a similar shot to one I took in Monument valley in Arizona
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A small group, armed with wine and nibbles trek to a viewing hill in the desert, and take a quiet moment to catch the sunset over the Nazca desert.
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The next day, we were desperate to get access to coverage of the final of the World Cup Rugby – I was disappointed the bloody Poms beat Australia in the quarter final, so I even was prepared to support South Africa in the final. Needless to say this wrangled the Poms in the group, and we engaged in lively banter and obtuse bets before the final started.

Peru is not a big rugby fan – so no Television coverage – we had to settle for internet radio with ¨chat coverage¨ and a web site where expats were inputting ¨live¨ notes as the game progressed. We had about 10 people huddled around a single antiquated monitor in our hotel. I even recruited Jess to SMS me score updates from London. A very frustrating experience – but the outcome was good for South Africa – and in my view – good for rugby.

One of my winning bets was a bike wash by young Greg:
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Thanks Greg – the Black Mamba has never looked so good!

Then a great day – up in a small plane
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to spend an hour getting the best view possible of the Nazca lines and the figures in the desert – hopefully you can see some of them here.

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A few stomach churning turns (particularly after the night before – celebrating the rugby!).

Left Nazca and back up into the Andes - 2 days of scrubbing side walls of tyres, up and down mountains, our first experience of the Alti Plano (the high plains at over 4,000m), snow, and (for me) a sighting of a Condor, meeting Vicuna, Al Pacas and Llamas for the first time. A new altitude record of 4,570m, was the cream to 2 days of riding bliss before we reached Cusco – to be our home for 5 days.

Riding in the Andes
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Vicuna (like a deer)
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The ritual daily morning tea break ( I now entertain guests who like to share the billy tea)
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I always try to stop for a break at a view point
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Llama
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Cold & high
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AlPaca herd
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In the clouds (above the clouds)
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As this entry is now very late, and it is quite long in itself, I will post it, and then do a separate one for Cusco, Machu Pichu and a few other interesting episodes in Peru.

Cheers for now & enjoy the ramblings - as I am certainly enjoying the journey & telling the tale!

Posted by Ron Markiewicz at 11:12 PM GMT
January 17, 2008 GMT
Southern Peru, Chile & Argentina

Mountains, lakes, culturally rich old towns & cities, well formed dirt roads (sometimes) or windy mountain bitumen, and a great bunch of people to travel with - yet more ho hum!!

Through southern Peru - as diverse as the northen section has been - then the Atacama desert of Northern Chile to Santiago - for a well earned rest and some repair - in dire need!

Patagonia - the highlight of the trip for me.

Leaving Nasca in the relatively low desert - we passed the world´s highest sand dune (supposedly) at over 250m high.
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Needless to say, getting close on the big pig was difficult – got as close as I dared without having to dig the bike out – resisted the opportunity to sand board down the dune – local entrepreneurs were taking people up in giant dune buggies – but what a rip off!
The day´s ride from Nazca to Abancay along Ruta 26A was voted as the best day´s ride of the expedition by the guys who did this in 2005.
Wow! What a day – desert riding, up into the Andes, several passes over 4,000m, a new record elevation of 4,600m, canyons, wind, Condors, Vicuna, Llama, Al Pacas, Alti Plano grazing country (over 4,000m), and corners to die for (Greg counted at one stage – average 8 corners a minute – for hours!)

I will try to let a few images capture the feel! I have to say though – this was a riding day – not a stop and catch a snap day! What a buzz!!! The essence of motorcycling.
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A great day to be alive, and lucky enough to be doing what you love doing, in a place that is inspirational!

The next day, more mountains, endless switchbacks, and rich Alti Plano grazing country, then finally coming into Cusco (elevation 3,400m),
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the old Inca capital of Peru – before the Spanish vanquished the local culture – still great animosity today by indigenous people for what the Spanish did – not only in Peru, but everywhere we have been from Mexico down.
5 days in Cusco, because it is a wonderful city, full of beautiful old buildings, markets, antiquities, and great restaurants, pubs and as we were lucky enough to experience – festivals. Also the base to travel up the Valley of the Incas to interesting villages of Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and the incredible Machu Pichu.

We stayed in yet another quaint hotel on one of the plazas in the middle of town – wondered the streets & markets till the feet could take no more, then sat in the plazas, drank coffee or pisco sours and watched the world go by. By evening it was time to sample the pleasures of some great bars – The Norton Rats (yes a motorcycle bar – with real character) and a more local bar the Iguana where the late night Peruvian music really stirred the blood – the musicians obviously so talented & so into what they were doing – it was infectous.

One day, a few of us rode an interesting loop through the Valley of the Incas towards Machu Pichu (and the Inca Trail).

Some Inca ruins just outside of Cusco – called Sagsaywaman (pronounced sexy woman).
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As expected, the skill of the Inca stone masons was awesome!

We planned the ride to visit a small village of Pisaq on market day & I was very pleased to support local artisans as their craftwork is a pleasure to appreciate. My nephew Jason & Megan were about to get married (about bloody time guys!) so I bought them a beautiful hand woven rug from my new best friend, and couldn´t resist some Peruvian musical wind instruments that I was sure Jess & Sam (2 of my kids who play wind instruments) would have fun mastering.

Then along the fertile Valley of the Incas up to a picturesque village called Ollantaytambo. As we entered the plaza in the centre of the village, there were celebrations underway – we had stumbled into the town´s birthday, where children were entertaining a very appreciative crowd with their cultural dancing.
After exploring the near by Inca fortress ruins, I wondered around the plaza several times, and took up a place on the sidewalk at a café at the side of the plaza & watched spellbound for hours. The magnificent Inca ruins in the background, and Andes peaks all around.
The kids (from about 4 to about 17) were all dressed to the 9´s in brilliant costumes, taking it so seriously, as it was obvious they had practiced endless hours to get the Peruvian beat dancing just right, but they were having a ball and the crowd was applauding & hooting with such exuberance, the kids enjoyed it even more.

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Life looks to be pretty tough for much of this part of the world, mud huts, dirt streets, donkey carts, and fairly subsistence living – but each child was proudly dressed in brilliant national (or more likely regional) costume, and danced with such enthusiasm that all you could feel was such admiration for them and their families.

Can you imagine kids at 16 to 17 years old in Aus (or the UK or Joburg) dressing in cultural costumes like these and really getting into the performance as these guys obviously did?

It is experiences like this (unplanned – yet so exhilarating) that makes adventure travel so right.

Sitting at the café (the owner was an English lady who uses the income from the café to support charity work in the area) I could not resist - this lady captures the local look so well!
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The old people are small, wizened, and very hardy (carry huge loads on their backs) – supported in cloth tied across their forehead.

A teaser of the mountain tracks that abound in this area.
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The next day, an early start on the train out of Cusco, again up the Valley of the Incas, and to Aguas Callientas, which is the village at the base of the mountain that Machu Pichu is built on. A 4 hour luxury train trip from Cusco that gave us plenty of time to take in the views.
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Interestingly Machu Pichu was built by the Incas in the 1400´s, and as the Spanish invaders came close, was abandoned, and the elite (for whom it was built) hid in the jungle. The Spaniards never discovered Machu Pichu. The jungle reclaimed it (it took only a few decades), and it was finally rediscovered early 1900´s (debate rages about the discovery – local Incas or American Anthropoligist???) It was built for about 600 people only, and was a centre of astronomy, maths and architecture. Currently about 40% restored. Truly the acclaimed 8th wonder of the world!
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The road up from Aguas Callientas:
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A mistake – we did not allow enough time at Machu Pichu – trying to travel from Cusco there & back by train in 1 day (it was an 18 hr traveling day).
A better suggestion for those contemplating a visit:
Stay at Ollantaytambo at least 1 day (1 hour by road from Cusco), walk the last day of the potentially 4 day trek along the Inca Trail over the mountains (coming into Machu Pichu over the mountain crest at dawn where the sun beam goes through the rock eye and strikes the temple at Machu Pichu at least 5kms away), spend a full day (best early in the morning) at Machu Pichu, stay at Aguas Callientas (literally - hot water springs – so relax & enjoy the springs), then take the picturesque viewing train back to Cusco the next day (5 hour trip). You will never forget this journey!

Machu Pichu is becoming so popular, and the Peruvians (Inca descendents in particular) are keen for people to see it – that it is way too busy for most of the day (up to 4,000 visitors during peak holiday season!!!!). So – go early, spend a few hours with a good guide to learn about the place (ours was a proud young Inca fellow who was brilliant), climb the track to the separate ruins at Wanna Pichu mountain, then find your favourite corner & just sit & take it in for a few hours.

It was difficult leaving Cusco after such a great few days – but Lake Titicaca was beckoning.

Another beautiful riding day in the Andes before arriving at Puno, the major town on the edge of the lake (the highest navigable lake in the world – 3,800m).
An impromptu walk around town, and down to the lake´s edge (Sunday afternoon) rewarded Jason & I by capturing what was obviously a dance parade competition at the wharf.
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These guys looked so weird in the hoola hoop costumes – but they were all having fun.
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Then, as we wondered back into town, the sound of hypnotic pan pipe music drew us to a little plaza in a very non tourist part of town. As we sat in their midst and watched – it became clear, we were the only 2 gringos in the plaza – no big deal, in fact a privilege, as we were obviously witnessing a very local celebration – as several dancing troupes performed & marched the streets to that wonderful Peruvian beat.
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Groups of up to 150 – 200 teenage kids danced & played their up beat music through the streets till late into the night. The girls danced & twirled up front, the boys all played a huge range of pan pipes and sang as they marched in formation behind the girls.

Boy these Peruvians love to dance, play music, and generally celebrate all around the streets. Fantastic! A joy to experience – we even joined in (later in the evening – after some lubrication) behind some dancing troops – with a few guys trying desperately (but failing) to come to grips with the pan pipes!

On Lake Titicaca the Uros tribe has lived on floating islands (reed islands) since using this to escape the Spanish attention several hundred years ago. They only do it now for tourists, but this has spawned a return to the cultural ways of the past, and there are now 35 islands, including schools.

We hired a boat, and out we went, visiting a few islands, learning how they are made & maintained & how the lifestyle goes¨
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really quite comfortable – traditional cooking set up - I this - good camping set up!
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even have their own Cuy (guinea pig) hutches for growing their own protein, even though the lake is pretty bountiful with fish.
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The inevitable trinket sales
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and a float on a traditional reed boat
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I had a go at rowing
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Kev (our expedition leader) was awarded the ¨hamburgesar hat¨ at our last weekly ¨pratt of the week¨ ceremony – usually on a Friday evening while having the usual drinks – he was awarded it for a small off he had leaving Nazca, showing off at the hotel & slipping on some painted concrete – no damage or injury – just to the ego! The rule is – you must wear the hat at all official expedition events – so the trip to the Uros islands was a must.

The local ladies fancied the hat & tried bartering with Kev for it.
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Just outside Puno (on the way to Grand Canyon del Colca) is Sillustani, an antquities site where Inca funeral towers were built for high ranking people. They overlook a beautiful lake and mountains.

Different styles of funeral towers, and some in need of repair (some being restored).
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Greg just had to find out how the dead people lived!
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After Sillustani it was to be right up into the mountains again, to stay at a remote reserve called Chivay, to ride the rugged Canyon del Colca and visit the Condors at Mirador Cruz del Condor.

3 of us decided to take a small detour along some dirt roads. A beautiful morning, great scenery, fast dirt roads – and the usual morning stop for a billy tea.

After the tea stop, I felt like a bit of a blast on the dirt – as we had been on tar roads for quite a while, and Mark was being responsible and leading the dirt ride at a ¨sensible¨ pace. I suggested Matt and Mark ride ahead while I packed up the billy, and said I would catch up. I enjoyed the spirited ride, but missed a turn in a village & ended up heading in the wrong direction. By the time I back tracked, asked for directions in my rudimentary Spanish, and headed out of town at a brisk pace – I had lost a reasonable amount of time & was thinking about where Matt & Mark were rather than the deep concrete drain across the dirt road ahead (the only concrete drain anywhere in Peru – across a road – no signs!).

By the time I saw the 1.5m deep concrete lined drain, it was WAYYYY too late, 5th gear accelerating on the boil, so a quick decision – brake, slide or jump it??

Instinct took over, decided to try to brake & lay it down as trying to jump the drain on the big pig was not going to be pretty. Braked, tipped it over, started sliding on the side of the bike (right cylinder head ploughing the road) – no great drama till I hit the drain, I slid across, the bike caught an edge and started to somersault. Time went very slowly as I slid along the dirt road watching the bike somersault along above me – thinking – this is going to get ugly!!

About 20m past the drain, I stopped sliding, got up to see the bike in a ditch, 1 pannier twisted like a pretzel, and various hits to the bike. I was fine – no injuries (except to pride), and started to sort the bike – pick up pieces & assess the damage.

Nothing looked fatal on the bike – tried to start it – no go, fuel leaking from an injector hose & broken throttle position switch!!!

Mark & Matt found me about 20 minutes later – I was already zip tying & trimming the fuel line – hoping I could get it going. After an hour of trying – no luck, and then it rained!!! Matt & I stayed with the bike & made a shelter
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Mark rode to the nearest town (hopefully with mobile phone reception) to whistle up the back up van.

3 hours later – no Mark, no van, and the bike still won´t go. When Mark finally got back, it was late - don´t believe all the hype about satellite phones – we had 2 , and 3 mobiles in the expedition group – nothing!

So with the help of a nearby farmer & his pickup, we got the bike to a little village, and finally could phone Kev at the hotel at Chivay – way up in the mountains (at 4,800m) along a rough road – and now dark!! No chance of the van getting back tonight.

We were on our own – stayed in a hostal in the village, and managed to arrange a lift on a truck the next day heading to Arequipa, our planned destination for the next 2 days.

A difficult time – but Matt and Mark were great, and we made the most of the primitive conditions in the village.We attracted quite a crowd in the village the next morning, as we used a large front end loader to lift the bike into the back of the truck. The people in the village were great – everyone was helpful and we appreciated it.

I rode in the truck & had an interesting chat with the driver and his offsider all the way – amazing how far a little Spanish can go!

We tried again at Arequipa to fix the bike (quite a great deal of expertise in the group between Kev, his staff, some guys in the group, and a phone call to the BMW mechanic in the UK) – replaced the throttle positioner (had a spare in the van), tweeked injectors etc - but still no go, and an annoying engine management system fault light on the dash – the bloody computer was not going to co-operate. Patched a few bent bits, including panel beating the pretzel pannier back into usable form (the bike now has real overlander character!)

So, 5 days with the bike and me in the van – till we could get to Santiago Chile and the BMW dealer. (ended up being a bent fuel injector, and the computer needed resetting)

Luckily for me, the huge days of Andes riding was to abate for a while, as we quickly navigated the Atacama desert along the Pan American highway – doing fairly long days along fairly tedious countryside. Some noted exceptions in the Desierto de la Clemesi, and south of Iquique, but generally just fang it south on the Pan Am – Ruta 1.
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So a few days in the van with Nick (the van driver since Panama) was not too bad – particularly as Nick is 65 – a BMW off road riding instructor, rides faster in the dirt than any of us, and has been a mechanic for several rallies – including the Dakar (was John Deacon´s mechanic) – a cranky Welshman (say some), with a wicked sense of humour, and really a heart of gold – helps anyone who needs it.

I have drilled Nick about the Dakar – he is a hive of information & is willing to receive calls as I need to – when I go to the 2009 Dakar – to support Craig Tarlington – who plans to ride it! (PS – hope the cancellation of the 2008 Dakar doesn´t jeopardize this plan).

Hatch (my business) has an office in Antofagasta on the coast in the Atacama desert. This office mainly supports Escondida – the biggest copper mine in the world. I have been there many years ago, and asked if the group might like to visit the largest copper mine in the world? A unanimous – yes please. So I got onto our MD in Santiago – he was great, and put me onto the BHP PR guy. All was planned!

The day before the planned visit I got a call from BHP – concerned about the safety of 15 motorcycles riding up the 200km road to the mine, early on a Monday morning, potentially in foggy conditions – both for the riders safety and other traffic on the road – as they are unfamiliar with motorcycles. BHP offered to pick us up in a bus in Antofagasta, drive for 3 hrs, show us round the mine, give us a great lunch, and drive us back to Antofagasta. What great hosts! Unfortunately our itinerary would not allow us another night in Antofagasta, so we had to cancel the visit – a real pity as the scale of the place and the incredible technology used there would have blown many people away – that are not familiar with current mining operations – let alone the biggest copper mine in the world. Again, many thanks to BHP for the offer.

Just south of Antofagasta is the famous – hand in the desert sculpture – a great photo op, and a stirring symbol in the stark desert back drop.
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Into Santiago, and a welcome break –nice hotel just around the corner from Hatch´s office – so I spent a day in there chatting and sorting a new computer (including Spanish keyboard) – thanks guys.

Caught up with Paul Barbaro ( a friend of over 20 years) who has lived in Chile for about 12 years – had a great meal with his family and enjoyed the old times chat!

Got the bike serviced & repaired and was lucky enough to get a new seat as it was shredded in the prang. Whilst in Santiago – went to the Touratech agent (also a workshop) and splurged on a few protection type after market goodies to mitigate the risk of similar hold ups in the future – and just had to have a Xenon spot light to replace a fritzed fog light. You can certainly see me coming now – I run ALL lights ALL the time (low beam, high beam, fog light, Xenon spot light) – night and day!! You need all the visibility you can get with these crazy Peruvian drivers.

The guys that run the Touratech business invited us to a BBQ (at Ricky´s place). Ricky runs South Moto Adventures, an off road training school and adventure tour business. He lives on acreage in a wine growing area, with snow capped Andes as his back yard – and as he says – his office. What a job!
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Ricky, Kev and Juan (Ricky´s partner)
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Lisa with one of Ricky´s 12 dogs! (Lisa is always a sucker for animals on the trip)
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Nick kicking back
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Thanks Ricky for the great hospitality – enjoyed it incredibly – except for getting voted to wear the hamburgesar hat at the BBQ – for sending my laundry bag in to the laundry at the hostal at Vicuna (the home of Pisco sour!), with my travel wallet (passport, airline tickets, cash in 3 currencies, and spare credit cards) cleverly hidden in the dirty laundry. The gracious staff at the laundry returned the travel wallet untouched. So, I had to wear the hat for a while (you will NEVER see a photo of that!!!) – even though I wore it with pride, and even to a dinner at a restaurant in Santiago!

South of Santiago, the country changes drastically, some really fine wine growing and general farming country. After a few quick days on the Pan Am (one of which I christened my 100mph day, as I decided to ride the whole day at 100mph+), we were in Patagonia. Changed the tyres to new knobbies in Osorno (yahoo!) and off to the mountains again (this time - mostly dirt)

Wild, austere, dramatic, picture perfect, remote, and variable are the best adjectives I can think of.

I have to say – Patagonia has been the highlight of the trip for me, and we had a month of it to enjoy, with a significant amount on routes known as the Caratera Austral and the famous Ruta 40 which runs from Bolivia in the North towards Tierre del Fuego in the south. It is rugged, often to the extreme, unforgiving to the unwary, yet unbelievably rewarding to those open to the challenge.

We stayed in some remarkable ski and adventure tourist towns:
San Martin de Los Andes (a great little ski town by a lake)
San Carlos de Bariloche (the jumping off point for the Huapi National park)
Los Antiquos (another town by a huge lake)
El Calafate (o Lago Argentino & with glaciers galore)

Patagonia is shared between Chile and Argentina - we crossed the border 8 times - got pretty slick with the paperwork too!

Rather than chronicle locations and events along Caratera Austral / Ruta 40, I will share some of my favourite images, with only brief annotation.

Up into the snow in the Puyehue National Park. These photos were in a no mans land between the border checkposts (20kms).
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Beautiful wild flowers abound
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Lakes a plenty
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The only sad commentary for this part of the adventure is for Mark (my roomy), who had the most innocuous accident in some of the most exhilarating country we had been in – he broke his leg, and ended his adventure.
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Mark has been fantastic to travel with, and I now call him a great friend. His disappointment in ending his adventure 2 weeks before reaching Ushuaia is shared. It was a very difficult goodbye as Mark was headed back to Santiago to fly home, as we were heading into glacier country.

Mountain vistas at every turn - interspersed with flat dirt roads with the ever present wind!
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Yet another billy tea stop
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We stayed on an Estancia Angostura (a ranch) - the dusk view
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Near the end of Ruta 40 - near El Calafate and glacier country.
The Moreno Glacier (see the ship in the water - gives it scale - the face of the glacier was over 100m high!) - viewed from a hill in the ??? National Park
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Stunning ice formations at the face
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a closer view
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a closer view still
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The brilliant Tres Pasos hostal we stayed at in the Torres Del Paine National Park
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birthday celebrations
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Matt proudly showing off one of his gifts - new underwear for his bike (he calls her Jess! - the cheek)
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The Torres Del Paine National Park
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To give an idea of the constant wind in Patagonia. there was no wind when this photo was taken!!!!
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On the ferry - Straits of Magellan - crossing to Tierre Del Fuego (the Land of Fire)
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Arriving to Ushuaia - the southern most town in the world - made it!
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The Southern most point you can get to by road! in Lapataia National Park
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The obligatory (several) photo opportunities
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and then a toaste of champaigne, lots of hugs, and a few tears.

Ushuaia was fun for a few days, then a somewhat anticlimax ride up the east coast of Argentina to Buenos Aires - the country is relatively flat & ALWAYS bloody windy.

Some respite on the way:

some historic (and I think beautiful) wrecks
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A brilliant day at a remote penguin colony (soem great dirt riding):
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thousands of Magellan penguins sun bathing, frolicking, and marching. I sat on the rocks at the beach spell bound for hours.

A day away from Buenos Aires - the mischief was in full swing. Young Greg´s bike ¨parked¨ in the garage of a resort
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Then as a group - into Buenos Aires, and to our final destination
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A very emotional arrival at the hotel - more hugs and tears.

Buenos Aires is a vibrant city, with a mix of new and old, and the intoxicating and envigorating Tango ever present. A great night at a Tango show, a brilliant final group dinner with the ¨best Argentinian steaks¨by the river, and we were packing upto go.

Some emotional thankyou´s, and promises to stay in touch - and I was the first to head to the airport for the flight home.

What more can I say - the expedition was over, I had spent 19 weeks having the most incredible experience, loving EVERY day.

The next adventure awaits (see my next blog).

Cheers & thanks for taking the time to share my journey.

Posted by Ron Markiewicz at 02:11 AM GMT
 
 

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