The next day we were up early after a great night’s sleep in our air conditioned room, we gobbled up our free breakfast, and headed out to the Volcan Masaya, at last , a volcano that you could ride straight to the top of. No 4 hour hikes for this city slicker!
We rode up to the top , walked around the circumference of the crater and peered over the edge into the abyss, and then walked along the ridge of two extinct craters and looked out over the lake below. We walked and talked about what to do next , decided to head to the volcanic island of Omatepe, and rode back down the mountain and south towards Omatepe.
The sun was shining as we rode on the highway south, and we made good time. We pulled into a little town for a quick stop, a bottle of coke and some lunch. At the entrance to town, a truck was unloading some horses, and all the way into town were cowboys prepping their horses. We arrived at the town square, which was positively buzzing. We sat down at a Soda, a typical Costa Rican restaurant, and got talking with the family that ran it. It seemed our luck was in , we had turned up on the Fiesta de Caballos.
We waited around for half an hour as the horses arrived in the town en masse. The riders were young and old, men and women of all types. There were rich looking Spanish colonials on beautiful white thoroughbreds, drunk old men , holding each other up on their horses, young boys racing up and down the street. The party got rowdier and rowdier, and more and more guys were falling off their horses, completely drunk.
The Horses arriving in town, a bunch of guys holding their drunken mates on their horses...
The mobile Disco
Firecrackers were being set off, brass bands played carnival style in the back of pick up trucks rolling slowly down the cobbled streets, we considered staying the night , putting off our visit to Omatepe for a day, and really getting involved in the party, but as the afternoon wore on, we decided we had seen enough pissed horsemen for one day , so we headed out , and rode the remaining 60 kms to the ferry to Omatepe.
We arrived, bought our tickets, and rode down to wait for the boat.
Seeing the ferry approach, my heart skipped a beat. The ferry was listing terribly, and the upper deck was packed with travelers leaving the island, and trucks returning to the mainland.
I was not looking forward to the trip. I rode onto the deck as instructed, and with the deckhands , tied the bike to the railings and the doorframe of the pickup parked next to me.
With the bike secure as it could be, and the alarm turned off, I went and joined Jacquie upstairs on the deck for the hour long crossing. It was a beautiful time to cross the lake, the sun was setting and the water was fairly still, a cool breeze kept the heat at bay, and Jacquie and I relaxed and talked with fellow travelers on the deck.
Every time the boat lurched, my heart skipped a beat...
Sunset from the Ferry, with Omatepe in the distance
We arrived at Omatepe , rode off the boat , and headed out in search of a hostel. We decided to ride to the next town, as the port town was not too appealing, but after riding 40 minutes in the dark, avoiding rogue cows and horses in the middle of the road, and not being able to find the town we were looking for, we turned back and got a room in on of the hostels in town. We had a chilled evening of Pizza, Flor De Cana, and went to bed rested, and ready for a ride around the island in the morning.
Garth settled in the bar for the night
We set off to cross the island, and try to reach our friends who were staying in a farm at the top of one of the volcanic mountains. We crossed the island, were directed back to the turnoff that we had missed, and after a Pina in agua ( fresh pineapple juice blended with water) , continued along the dirt road that wound along side the beach and upwards to the volcano.
We reached the beach after about 40 minutes of bumping and grinding along for 11kms, and decided not to go any further. We strolled along the beach, then rode back to the dock, got back on the ferry, and made our way to our next stop , San Juan del Sur.
Guillermo and our new Harley friends had all recommended this beach town to us, and Jacquie and I were looking forward to it. It was also to be our last stop before entering Costa Rica.
We arrived in San Juan way before the busses, but still had a hard time finding a room, we bumped into a Honduran guy that Jacquie had got talking to on the boat who now lived in San Juan, and he took us all around the town, showing us our lodging options, we finally settled on the same place that he was staying in, a small family house being run as a sort of guest house. Mumma, her family, and the dog welcomed us intop their home. Walking around San Juan that evening, we really started to like the place .
The Family we stayed with in San Juan
We ate BBQ burgers outside a funky bar, and then walked along the beach and had cocktails in one of the beach bars. Everyone was really friendly and the town had a laid back , easy going feel to it.
Fishing boats were anchored in the bay, and a huge statue of Jesus looked out to see from the top of the hill above the beach.
We bumped into a few people we had met on the way down, and made a plan to take the bus up to Maderas beach together the next day.
We got on the “bus” which was one of those All Terrain trucks, and trundled off to the beach. As directed by those in the know, we walked 10 minutes along the beach until we came to Matilda’s hostel, a little gem of a place, and the only building on the huge, beautiful beach.
Maderas was probably the best beach we had come across since Tulum, and although the accommodation at Matlida’s was basic, the setting was divine. There was the beautiful beach in front of the hostel, and another one, even more gorgeous two minutes walk away, behind the hostel. On top of that, more of our friends that we had made in Belize and Guatemala were there too, armed with a Piñata for my belated birthday.
We all had a great night of rum drinking and Piñata smashing, and somehow I got talked into taking my first surf lesson with the girls, so , bright and early ( about midday actually) I headed back down the beach to where we had been dropped off the day before for my surf lesson, and to my surprise, and all those around me, I was up on the board on my first attempt, sweet!
I exhausted myself within an hour or so and went and collapsed on the beach for a while before walking back to our spot at Matilda’s. One more night in this beach paradise, and we were back in San Juan Del Sur for one more night before heading on to Costa Rica.
From San Juan, we had a short ride to the border, and when we got there, we were glad we had left early, there were hundreds of people at the border, waiting to cross. It looked like we would be here for some time.
We parked up and tried to work out where to go first. As usual, a gaggle of “helpers” appeared to guide us through the process, but once again, we fought them off as politely as possible.
Outside one of the immigration buildings I spotted a KLR with US plates and at the window, talking to the clerk, I met John.
Like us, John was on his way to Costa Rica, and he asked us if he could ride with us to Playa Coco, our first stop. We told him we would love to have him along, and after a couple of hours of running from building to building with our papers and passports, we were in Costa Rica and heading to the coast. The clouds were gathering while we were going through the process at the border, and half an hour into Costa Rica, the heavens opened. We pulled off the road and into a little town in search of shelter, and stopped in a Pizzeria for our first meal in Costa Rica.
welcome to Costa Rica!
We ate the steaming Pizza, dried off, and went to survey the sky. It didn’t look like the rain was going to stop anytime soon, so we pulled on our waterproofs, and continued on our way to Coco.
We immediately disliked Coco. Saltboxes were dotted along the beach, and the town was dirty and characterless. The beach was a disappointment too, so we spent one night there before heading further down the Nicoya peninsula to Samara.
Samara is one of the last few remaining Tico towns. A small surf town, with a beautiful bay, a football field and a splattering of guesthouses and small hotels along the beach. This was about as far as you could get from the reckless tourist invasion of Coco, and we liked it immediately.
We found a couple of rooms in a hotel on the beach and went out to explore. It really didn’t take long. Samara was a very small place, but we all liked it. None of us could quite put our finger on it, but it certainly had something.
The beach was lovely, the people friendly , there was a little market , a couple of shops and enough restaurants , bars and cafes to keep us occupied.
We were walking through the town when I noticed a new bar was being built in the centre. I spotted the owner and we started chatting, I told him I could help him get the place up and running, after all I had opened many bars in London, as well as owning two of my own before I came out on the trip. We chatted and arranged for me come back in a couple of weeks, after Jacquie had left, to work at the bar.
It had been my plan from day one to stop and work in Costa Rica, and Jacquie would go back home and work too. Costa Rica was our half way point, and I was hoping that I would get some hefty tips from the American tourists who were dotted around the town.
A day later, we left Samara and pointed the bikes towards our next destination, Mal Pais, where an old school friend of mine lived, and I had promised her a visit.
We had a tough ride on unmade, unpaved and washed away roads, and finally pulled into Santa Theresa after my first river crossing, tired, muddy, and of course, hungry!
My first river crossing, Costa Rica
One day, there will be a road here!
We met up with my friend, Ruth, whom I hadn’t seen for some 20 years, and she helped us find a nice place to stay. That night, we attempted a BBQ on the beach, but the damp wood and damper air forced us back to one of Ruth’s friends’ apartment to finish off dinner after several aborted attempts to light a fire.
We hung out in Mal Pais for a couple of days, but the combination of bad weather, constant power cuts, and a lack of anything to do helped us in our decision to move on to the capital, San Jose. John wanted to stay and improve his surfing, so we said our goodbyes, and after a party in the main bar where I DJ’d once more, we made our way back out of Mal Pais and on to San Jose.
Mal Pais Beach
DJ Dan , rocking the house once more for a free dinner!
I had been invited by the Costa Rica Harley Owners Group to go on a ride with them on the Sunday, and I had also contacted an Italian guy now living in San Jose who rented out apartments. He had said that he would put us up for a couple of nights, so we rode to his place, spent a couple of nights there, and then went to meet the Harley posse at the dealership, only a couple of minutes away from his house.
Ready to roll, CR HOG Chapter at the dealership.
And a hearty Breakfast
We turned up at the dealers and were surprised by how many bikes had shown up for the ride, there must have been at least 40 bikes there, and more were turning up all the time.
There was a breakfast laid on for all the riders, and after a quick pre-ride briefing, in which Jacquie and I were introduced to the rest of the riders, we all headed off in a deafening rumble.
We rode out of the city and up into the mountains, we rode through the clouds and out the other side, we stopped off at a little mountain town that was celebrating its ”Saint’s Day” before looping back round and finished the day off in a cool biker bar just outside of San Jose.
We returned to our new Italian mate Paulo’s house for one last night, and in the morning we were back on the road and heading south once more to Puerto Viejo, on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, in search of some drier weather.
We had a long ride, stuck behind what seemed like hundreds of trucks that were all crawling along the windy road. It turned out that one of the trucks had spilled its load, and the tailback went on for miles, even skipping down the middle of the road, we were help up by at least an hour, but 5 hours after leaving San Jose, we pulled into Puerto Viejo.
This was not our first Caribbean town, but it still surprised us at how different the two sides were. The Caribbean side all along central America had its very own identity. The aroma of Jerk chicken and marijuana filled the air. Black skinned Rastas cycled along the path next to the beach, and every bar was playing Bob Marley tunes. The town was a fair deal bigger than Coco and Samara, but still had a lovely easy going atmosphere. Again we bumped into some fellow travelers that we had met before, and we spent our first night at the bar at Rocking J’s with two American brothers we had met at Matilda’s.
Unfortunately the weather didn’t change, it was wetter than ever. In a beach town where everything is pretty much dependent on chilling on the beach, there ain’t much to do when it rains all day. We prayed for the sun to come out, but to no avail. We stayed one extra day just in case the weather broke, but it didn’t, so we headed back up to San Jose to hang out until it was time for Jacquie to fly home.
We really enjoyed San Jose. It felt good to be somewhere with a bit of life after so many sleepy, off-season beach towns. I hated the hostel we stayed in, but after being turned away from our first five choices, we would have taken anything with a bed and a roof!
We used the hostel as our base to explore the city; I went shopping for some essentials. The combat trousers I had been using as my riding pants had all but fallen apart, and we both needed new books and odds and sods.
Jacquie and I had one last dinner together in the city, and at 4 in the morning, I waved her off as she rode off in the bus to the airport. I was on my own again.
And so it came to pass…that after a few days riding round Costa Rica alone and a weekend in Jaco for the world surfing championships, I returned to Samara to work at Arriba, the bar I had spotted in construction on my previous visit.
I tracked down Glenn, the owner in an attempt to sort out my lodgings. He had said there would be a room for me in their beach house, but as things turned out, there was still plenty of work to do on the bar, and so that room was still taken by the builder who was living there while he was working on the bar. Instead I was put in touch with Stella, a friend of Glenn’s who worked at the Massage School as an instructor. We got on well, and what started as a few days turned into a few weeks, as the builder’s work continued, and I never got my room at the beach house.
The opening of the bar was delayed by a week, and I was getting really itchy feet. It was low season, so there weren’t many people around, there were no travelers about, and I had no one to play with. On several occasions I almost packed up the bike and left. After being on the move for so long, it was really hard not going anywhere.
I kept myself busy writing the cocktail menus, opening and closing procedures, and helping Glenn and his brother Alan prepare for the opening.
Finally the bar was ready to open. Well, almost ready, but we opened anyway.
It felt great to be back behind the wood. The bar was an instant hit, the cocktails were flowing, the music, supplied by yours truly, was pumping, and the Samarans; locals, tourists and ex-pats, were lapping it up.
Glenn took great pleasure in walking around to the other bars in town and coming back to report that they were all empty, whilst we were busting at the seams.
The team, comprising the effusively gay cook, the German surfer-girl waitress, and myself had a party behind the bar, and the customers, loved it. We were dancing around behind the bar, pouring flaming cocktails whilst standing on the bar, and generally running amuck. Word spread quickly in this tight community of the new bar in town, the new bartender from England and the amazing cocktails, and believe it or not, meatballs! The reputation of the bar spread and its popularity grew. I would see many of the same people and got better acquainted with the regulars, my life in Samara was becoming fun.
You get a really unique perspective of a place when you are behind the bar of the local hot spot. I made acquaintances with the majority of the ex pat community and got to observe the locals at play. Its funny how bar scenes play out the same all around the world. There is always the “early doors drinker” who is waiting at the door for when the bar opens, there are always the young overly made up girls waiting at the bar counter for some unwitting guy to buy them drinks, and there is always a decent contingent of guys looking to pick up the fillies, the bar flies, the wannabes, the trendies, the posers and the alcoholics. There are the tippers and the non-tippers, the courteous and the rude, the good, the bad and the ugly.
This place was no different. I got to know the regulars very quickly, and their drinking habits. The retiree who would finish off a bottle of Chardonnay before hitting the daiquiris, the divorcee who would drink Mojitos until she had to be carried back to her apartment, the graphic designer, who, thanks to the world wide web could work as easily from his beachfront condo as from his small city centre flat and could drink tequila like it was water all had something in common. None of them fitted into society in the developed world, and they all had their weird little quirks.
Not to say that these weren’t god people, on the whole they were, but every one of them had something about them that was just a little off.
The ex pats were made up of a jangle of Americans, Canadians, Brits, Germans and Italians. Then there were the business owners, who were a fair deal saner than their retired counterparts, but who still had their foibles.
One of the contributing factors in the case of Samara, in my opinion, was the prevalence of cheap, high quality cocaine. Without doubt there were a fair few people living in Samara, throughout Costa Rica, and indeed all over the world who were running away. Running from the stress of city life, from ex husbands and ex wives, from drug or alcohol problems, from debt. They were all running, some knew it, and some didn’t but they were running al the same. The only thing is, you can’t run from your problems, the follow you, and in Samara, as anywhere else on the planet, there was no escape. The prevalence of cheap cocaine, cheap alcohol and an almost anarchic society, where the Police could be paid off, and nobody asked too many questions didn’t really help anybody.
The ex pats of samara could all renew their identities, erase their past and start a new life in a place where no one knew of their previous existence.
My life in Samara ticked over nicely. I knew I was only here for the short haul, and I tried to make the most of my time. I went surfing regularly, was a frequent visitor to the wooden gym on the beach, and sat home on rainy days catching up on correspondence and my journal.
I made friends with some of the locals and a few of the more reliable ex pats, and within a couple of weeks, I was accepted as a new member of the community.
The problem living in such a small town is that everyone knows what you have been doing. I would go to the beach and hear stories about what I had done the night before. When I told Glenn that I would be leaving at the end of the week, the news came back to me that very same day. People were asking me if I could put in a good word for them at the bar, others were begging me to stay. I was, I had been told many times, the only person in the town who could make a decent cocktail!
As the time of my departure drew near, I eased myself into my usual state of panic. Where was I going to stay in San Jose, how would I navigate the city without Jacquie sat behind me reading the map and issuing instructions, which route would I take to get to Panama, how should I cross the Darien Gap, and where was I going to get a new rear tyre.
I only came to realize as the end drew near how much I was growing to love my little surfer town. Sure there were annoyances, the prevalence of mosquitoes, which seemed to have a taste for my feet. The distinct lack of any sort of decent coffee shop where I could use the internet, drink a coffee and enjoy a tasty snack all at the same time, and a poor salary at work, not augmented by tips from Americans as this was the low season, and there were few tourists around.
On the plus side, however, I had made some good friends with the teachers and students of the Massage School and the TEFL School, I had a steady income and an enjoyable job, and I was living on the beach in a gorgeous little town.
I was also constantly missing the company of fellow travelers, especially those on motorbikes like myself. Most of my previous traveling friends were way ahead of me now , in Colombia, Chile and other parts of South America. I missed the social aspect of moving from hostel to hostel, and I felt quite alone when I though of the future prospect of riding through the rest of Costa Rica and Panama alone.
So the day before I was due to leave, my options changed. I learned that the boat I originally wanted to get on was no longer an option, due to the road to the boat getting washed away by the rains, my other option was to race down to Panama city and try to get on an earlier boat, but that would mean that I couldn’t get my much needed rear tyre until Bogotá, which was really a little too far for my bald tyre in the rainy season.
I had originally planned to stop in San Jose to get my tyre replaced before heading to Panama, but my intended day of travel was Costa Rica’s independence day, so all the shops would be closed, and many roads would be closed, and getting into San Jose would be a nightmare. I had been putting this day off for a week or so already, and now, just when I thought I was really ready for the off, I had to rethink everything. God, this was turning out to be one of those decisions that was getting harder and harder.
I had been in Samara now for 6 weeks, and had only just started being accepted by the Costa Rican men, who were at first quite standoffish. I had developed relationships with a few of the students at the various schools, and the workers in other bars and restaurants. I had got to the stage were I was accepted as a full member of the Samara community, and my life was pleasant. I had contacts for all that I needed, cheap surfboard hire, and free drinks!!
But Colombia was still nagging me. I could wait until Jacquie was ready to fly, earn a bit more money, and chill here for a bit longer, or I could push on, and have my own little adventure. Right at this moment, what I needed most was a magic 8-ball to give me the answers!
After much deliberation, I decided it was really time to leave and go see the next place down the road; I was on a journey, after all.
I told Glenn that I would be definitely finishing work at the end of the week, and started getting mentally used to the idea of leaving Samara at the beginning of the following week.
I had a quiet departure from Samara, leaving early in the morning and making my way up to San Jose for the last time. I needed to get a new tyre at Tak’s shop before heading out of Costa Rica and into Panama.
A friend of mine from Samara had told me that I could stay with her brother when I was in San Jose, so, after a beautiful ride up to San Jose, I headed straight to Tak’s.
I had met Tak through Paulo, the Italian who had put us up in San Jose on our first visit, and he was a great guy. We had also visited Tak’s place, “Motor Psycho” after the ride out with the Costa Rican HOG Chapter.
Tak was a Canadian bike builder, who had moved to Costa Rica some 15 years previously. Now he had a Biker bar/restaurant with a chop shop in the back where he built his custom bikes. We got on well when I first met Tak, and I was really looking forward to hanging out with him some more.
I pulled into Motor Psycho’s lot around 3 pm, Tak turned up a little while later, and we sat at the bar, sank a couple of beers and shot the proverbial shit. Before we knew it, it was 5.30pm; we were too late to go to the garage to take the old tyre off and put on the new one, so,we decided to fit the tyre the next morning, even though Tak didn’t generally do mornings!
I headed off to my friend’s brother’s house for the evening, and was greeted at the gate. Geraldo and his wife Isabella took me into their home and made me feel extremely welcome. They had to go to a function for Independence day, and they invited me along. After a quick freshen up, we got in their car and drove to a huge Marquee where there was a Mexican expo and a joint Independence day celebration. I ate some delicious Mexican food, which I had really been missing, and watched the traditional Mexican dancers on stage, before heading back home for a much needed rest.
The next day I went back to Tak’s for our 10am meeting. The security guard let me in , and when I told him I was meeting Tak at 10, he laughed.
“He never gets here before lunchtime” he said, I assured him that we had a meeting, and sure enough, at 11am, Tak showed up with the girl he had spent the night with.
It was a strange sight. Here was this heavily tattooed biker, complete with shaved head and 4 inch long goatee, strolling into his biker bar with a well-dressed, beautiful girl who, he later told me, was a Criminal Judge!
We set about taking the rear wheel off, pulling off the rusted on mufflers, taking off the panniers, knocking out the axel and undoing the belt. We drove the truck to the garage and changed the tyres over, and then set about putting the wheel back.
A few members of the Club came in and out while we working on the wheel, and we stopped and talked and smoked for a while before getting back to the business at hand.
I was really enjoying the whole wrenching process, being in a workshop surrounded by custom projects, and hanging round with other bikers. A litre or two of sweat later, the wheel was back on and the bike put back together, we went to push the bike out of the shop, but it would not budge. On closer inspection we found out why. I had out the axel spacer in the wrong place, we looked at each other, and my face went even redder than it had been.
Tak, just after I told him that I had put the spacer on the axel wrong...oops
Me looking unhappy at the prospect of having to take them muffles off again!
I apologized profusely, but Tak, taking it all in good humor, just told me not to worry, and we started the whole process again. We took off the mufflers and pannier bags once more, extracted the axel, put the spacer where it should have been, and put the bike back together once more.
I had planned to leave San Jose at around 11.30, due to my error, and Tak’s delayed arrival, it was now nearer 1.30.
I thanked Tak for all his help, apologized again for my mistake, and headed out towards the coastal road to the Panamanian border.
The sky was already grey when I left San Jose, and within half an hour the rain started to fall. As I approached the coast, then sun came out once more, and I pulled over to take off my waterproofs at Jaco.
Jaco, just before the rain came
I had a quick coffee and a quiche at a bakery and then set off along the coast to see how close to the border I could get before dark.
Another half an hour along the road and the sky suddenly blackened. I stopped just in time to put my waterproofs back on just before the deluge, and rode the rest of the day in the pouring rain, cursing myself for not having any sort of visor for my helmet as the rain stung my cheeks.
I rode on for another two hours, then another half an hour on a dirt road that made my Harley slip and slide precariously along at 10mph, in the rain, and the dark. I was almost blind, my lights were still all out of alignment, and lit up the branches of the overhanging trees, but not the road. Add to that the rain and my poor night vision, I really had to find a place to stop. I checked the map, and pointed my bike towards Palomar Norte, a small town 60 miles from the border. I booked into the first hostel with a free room, walked into town for a burger, fries and chocolate, and went back to the hotel and slept for 10 hours.
I got up and out of the hotel bright and early, and was on the road to the border by 7am.
Half an hour later I remembered I had forgotten my sweatshirt, so , back I went to the hotel, picked up the sweatshirt, and started off again.
The weather had cleared and I had another lovely ride to the border. The crossing at Panama was the same as everywhere else, Passport etc for me, export the bike form Costa Rica, then ride 100 metres to Panama, immigration for me, and back to customs to import the bike. Two hours of queuing at half a dozen different windows, and I was on my way again.
As soon as I crossed into Panama, I was greeted by a fresh smooth two land highway, and I motored along at a good pace for over 100 miles before stopping for gas. The scenery was delightful, and I pulled over several times for photos. I had over 400 kms to cover before I reached Panama City, I contemplated stopping for an overnighter before I reached Panama City, but decided that I would rather get there for the weekend and have Friday night in the city, so I pushed on.
I reached the Bridge of the Americas just after dark, and had a great view of the city lights and the docks as I crossed the bridge.
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