December 10, 2008 GMT
How far can we get!

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Picking up our road Glide in Tampa

As I lay in bed on, Sunday morning, nursing my burnt lip, aching bones and blackened eyes, the realisation of the sheer immensity of what we had taken on hit me like a ton of bricks.
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ready for the off

We were back at Steph’s house, on the Golf Course in Venice, Florida, after our dry run down to the Keys and back. Two things had become apparent to us on this run; firstly, that we were spending far far too much, our $100/day budget was being demolished on a regular basis, we were spending more than twice that on most days, but quite often even more than that!
The second worry was that we were severely overloaded and highly un-organised in our packing. Each evening we were trying to leave as much stuff on the bike so as to avoid having to re-pack each morning, but after having to search for clean underwear, getting the wash bags out, then delving deeper for one of my spare lighters after loosing yet another one somewhere on the road, then retrieving the computer, cables and plugs, all the luggage would be strewn across the floor of out temporary accommodations, ready to be re-packed in a hurry once again the next morning.
Two other factors were really not aiding us on this journey. The exchange rate was one of the ultimate evils. During our “planning” stage, the rate was a little over $2 to £1, now we were on an all time low of $1.4 to £1, meaning everything was about 35% more expensive, and because of the time of year we had chosen, the days were short. Sunset was at 5.30pm, we were rarely out the hotel/motel/holiday inn before 11, add in a a lunch stop along the way and a couple of gas fills, and we were on the road for about 3 hours a day.
Nevertheless, we had already covered over 1,000 miles, even though we were now back where we started! And that’s not counting the up and down through Florida we had done during our search for the bike which would be our companion through the Americas, which saw us covering the Northern half of Florida several times.
We had stayed in 5* resorts in Orlando, budget hotels, Motels, Holiday Inns, flea pits and even a stationary motor home in Key Largo, which, although looking extremely cool , and in an idyllic location right on the shore, gave us our most sleepless nights due to the world’s loudest bin men emptying the skips from the neighbouring restaurant at 5am fro half an hour, followed by the grounds man using what sounded like a Harley powered leaf blower at 8am before the sun came bursting through our net curtains at around 9.

Miami had been our most expensive stop, with Jacquie falling for the charms of an talented Israeli jeans salesman in South beach and succumbing to a couple of new pairs of leopard skin- pocketed jeans, and us both being stung for an expensive and internally unappealing art deco hotel (The Parisienne), before finding a much more “rock star” style hotel slightly further away from South Beach called the Circa 39, built, surprisingly enough, circa 1939 by the Hudson property company.
We took a fantastic airboat tour through the Everglades, and had a couple of close encounters with marsh-mellow friendly alligators on our way down to Miami,. After our brief but expensive sojourn in South Beach, we headed south for Key West, stopping off at “Where is Robert” famed for its delicious milkshakes, before continuing over the many bridges that led down to Key West.
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The sun shone brightly and the ride, with water on either side of us over 7 Mile Bridge, past the Honda National Park and beyond was glorious, up until the final approach to Key West where the traffic slowed to a painful 35mph, and we got stuck behind a UPS van as the sun went down and the view tipped away into darkness, with nothing but the rear doors and the red lights of the UPS van to lead us into the Southernmost landmass of continental USA.
We arrived in Key West utterly exhausted, wanting nothing but to lie in a hot bath and soak away the long ride of the day. We pulled up to the guest house that we had booked from Venice, and sat and listened to the owner about all the wonderfully quirky goings on that Key West is known for, from the re-enactment of the “war” when the mayor of Key West declared Key West an independent state from the rest of America, before surrendering the very next day and then demanding millions of dollars of aid from the US government, to the annual Key West “drag races” where the man would dress as women and race over obstacle courses to the bed races and more, before recommending almost every bar, restaurant and club on the island….we finally got sent off to our cottage, the beautiful, pink “Olivia by Duval” where we took a depressingly weak shower before walking along Duval, watching a “Sexy Bull-Riding” competition in a Western Bar , chatting to an extremely over made up Drag Queen performing in Cabaret in 801, and then heading off (early)to bed.
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The following day we sampled the beaches of Key West before heading off to do the local (ie extremely Touristy) thing of watching the sunset at Mallory Square.Mallory Pk.jpg This was very much like Covent Garden by the sea, with jugglers juggling, painters painting, and buskers busking, while the tourists watched the sunset-needless to say with 5 minutes before the sun set , the clouds appeared an provided us with a rather dismal , and crowded , sunset.
We walked back up Duval, tried to find (without success) a reasonably priced eatery, and then headed back to our quaint, but rather chilly cottage for another early night.
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our cottage in Key West

Posted by Dan Shell at 07:13 AM GMT
Leaving Key West

Leaving Key West, we motored back along US1, stopping fro a delicious fish sandwich at Porky’s by the sea at Key Largo, we rode along at a slow pace, enjoying our thin roadway with blue water on either side until we came across the John Pennicamp national park, where Jacquie had found a place for us to snorkel on continental USA’s largest reef. We boarded our boat with a dozen others and headed out to the reef.snorkel dan.jpg After a 40-minute trip on the boat, we arrived at the reef, donned our masks and newly acquired snorkels and jumped off the boat, but after only a few minutes in the water, Jacquie started having some problems. With nothing to see immediately on leaving the boat, she had nothing to distract her from the coldness of the water and the whole breathing through a snorkel issue. We went back to the boat and then tried again after a brief respite, but it was too late. I was sent out on my own to enjoy the reef and the fish solo. I saw a couple of large Barracuda and an assortment of other beautiful fish in and around the reef, but the experience was dulled without Jacquie’s hand to hold.
We returned to the shore just as the sun was setting and headed off to our next night time stopover.

Sunset Cove was a lovely little Motel/resort that we had passed on the way down to Key West. The resort was made up of bungalows and beach cottages, an old airstream trailer and a motor home. We jumped at the chance of spending a night in the motor home, which was great, with the exception of the aforementioned bin men doing their thing at 5am!
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Making up for our rude awakening, we were treated to a 6 year old episode of Eastenders’ as we went through the tedious routine of trying to fit our entire luggage back on the bike, which at this stage was still accompanied by my related tantrum. Fortunately this process became easier as we settled into a routine, sorted our bags out a bit better, and, more to the point Jacquie took charge.
We had another little hiccup on leaving the Sunset Cove, in search of the “Conch House” where we were told we could get the best breakfast south of Miami. We took ages packing the bike, then got a bit lost-which is quite hard to do where there is only one road – and when we finally found the right entrance, we had missed breakfast-by 5 minutes. We settled for a coffee and toast and headed back up to Miami.

Posted by Dan Shell at 03:45 PM GMT
December 15, 2008 GMT
The Last days of Florida

After a great ride along the dead straight, and, as it turned out, very aptly named “Alligator Alley”, we arrived back in Venice to rest, recoup and re-organise after our trial run while we waited for the insurance papers and the new GPS system to arrive.

This was now November and it was Thanksgiving, Jacquie and I were both looking forward to a night in together, maybe a little cuddle up on the sofa in front of the telly, and cooking ourselves (or rather Jacquie cooking me) a lovely Turkey dinner. We were both thrown a little when we got an invitation to a Thanksgiving meal being held at one of Steph’s friends’ houses, and we surprised ourselves even more by agreeing to go!
The next day was great fun going through borrowed clothes to find ourselves suitable attire for such an occasion. Jacquie ended up looking remarkably like Krystle Carrington, whilst I pulled off a very convincing “preppy” look with white Chinos, a blue shirt and boating sandals!Lady Dan Jpeg.jpg
The average age at the dinner was well into the upper 80s, the Pianist, who was the only other male present in a room full of widows was an extremely sprightly 93 year old who played the piano beautifully, later accompanied by Steph and a few of the other ladies as the wine flowed freely.3 thanksgiving.jpg
We excused ourselves a little after 8pm to go back to the house to pack for our departure the next day, and eventually were allowed to leave after several stern warnings about security in Mexico and thieves in Honduras.

We were finally ready to head off on the real start of the trip, well , almost, wwe would still be on roads that we had travelled before, but at least we were off in the right direction now. We were to head back to Tampa, across to Orlando, and then the plan was to ride up to Daytona to spend the night, before riding up A1A to St Augustine ti see Giz and spend a couple of days at the beach house there. But, as usual, things didn’t quite go to plan.

As we got to the East side of Orlando , about 2 hours behind schedule, we stopped for a Wendy’s and a map check. A closer look at the map revealed that we would be better retracing our steps for 10 miles or so, heading in to Titusville, so that we would be able to have a run along A1A the next day all the way along to St Augustine, so off we went, arriving in Titusville just after dark.

The great thing about arriving somewhere in the dark is that you never know what you are going to see when day breaks. Titusville held a great surprise for us.
On drawing back the curtains of our room in the Riverside Inn, we saw we really were right on the riverside, and on the other side of the water were the Nasa Shuttle launch pads.

We debated on weather or not to book in for another night in Titusville, and just have a day riding the A1A and hanging out on Cocoa Beach,coco beach bike.jpg
but ended up deciding against it. Once again, I was wrong, Jacquie was right, and after a day of riding along stretches of A1A, having a wee kip on the beach at Cocoa and a spot of lunch, we ended up back at the Riverside!
One of the major factors was bumping into Doug.
Doug and his wife, Julie, owned a saddle shop on the road to Daytona, which we dropped into on our way north. They were a great couple, and we got talking, firstly about how to make Jacquie’s seat more comfortable, and ending in world economics. …like you do!
Anyway, Doug convinced us to wait around to see the shuttle land the next day, which was mainly why we ended up back at the Riverside. Once again, things didn’t quite go to plan that day either. The weather rolled in, the landing was postponed, and we decided to head for St Augustine, but just as we were finishing our breakfast, the storm, predicted for 4pm, arrived. daytonarain.jpg
We put on our waterproofs for the first time and with some trepidation, started off.The rain gathered intensity as we headed north, the weather station channel on the bike’s radio bleeped in continually, with alarming frequency, to report on Tornado warnings, some to the east of us, the more worrying ones to the north, where we were headed.
As we approached Doug and Julie’s shop, the rain became so hard we could hardly see the road, and we decided to pull in.wet rain.jpg

We dried off a little in the shop, drank some coffee, chatted, shopped, and killed time until the weather seemed to ease , and we took our cue to make a break for it and try our luck once more.
The rain stayed with us all the way to Daytona, be it less forceful as the morning deluge, and when we got to Daytona , we pulled into the first hotel we found and checked in.

Our 7th floor room afforded a great view of Daytona beach, with a moody grey sky and crashing waves, it was a far cry from the not so distant memory of my last visit here, when I had ridden along the beach in swim trunks and flip flops, and indeed had ridden all round Florida in shorts and a T shirt in beautiful 80degree heat , but that was March, and this was December, and my what a difference!
We went out after making a makeshift clothes line and hanging our wet clothes above the heater to dry. Not having much in the way of back up clothing, Jacquie wore my combats, about 10inches too big for her in every direction, and I put my damp jeans back on, as we went out in Daytona to search for “biker heaven”. But it was closed…or on holiday, or just not there. The town was all but deserted. We rode around for a while, went up to look at the outside of the Daytona speedway, and then went to the Starlite diner, another cool chrome 50s diner for some good old fashioned American comfort food, meatloaf!

The next day we awoke to sunlight streaming through the faded curtains, rested and dried off, we dismantled our ingenious clothesline, and after a quick dip in the freezing cold pool(I didn’t tell Jacquie that there was a heated one on the other side of the hotel) we headed off, finally riding up the A1A in sunshine.
We had a great ride up the coast road, the ocean to our right and beach houses scattered along the road on our left, and best of all, warm air and sunshine. I relished riding without my jacket, neck warmer, fleece and gloves, not to mention how happy we both were just to be dry!
garthnshuttle.jpg I insisted on taking Jacquie to see the Kennedy space centre, and after a quick look around,we rode all the way up the coast to St Augustine, America’s oldest settlement, and stopped for a walk round the Anastasia lighthouse, before heading on to Jacksonville.
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We stopped for a quick rest and a bite at another funky chrome old school diner, before continuing on to Tallahassee, the state’s capital.
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Tallahassee was, to all intents and purposes, quite a disappointment. I had been led to believe that we were to be met with grand old houses and parades, a formidable historic district, and other delights of the state’s capital. This was, alas not entirely the case. True, the former Capitol building was most pleasant, but there was hardly any sign of life around the town, and try as we might, we couldn’t find anything…. interesting. We took 3 elevators to the observatory on the 22nd floor of the new capitol building, to look at, well, trees mainly.
After spending too much time in the city-in my opinion, 5 minutes would have been too long, so we saddled up and headed to Wakulla and the Wakulla Springs State Park.

Wakulla was another of Jacquie’s finds after researching in her guidebook whilst I had the unenviable task of flicking through the innumerable amount of rubbish TV channels to find something to watch, usually falling asleep in the process.
The Springs were used as the set for two Tarzan movies as well as “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”. We were also hopeful that we may come across the ever elusive Floridian Manatee, which had so far evaded us. A gorgeous ride south of Tallahassee for some 30 minutes or so, took us along winding roads and through lush forests until we reached the State Parks. We were greeted by a very welcoming Park Ranger, who informed us that the Manatees were indeed out in the Springs and could easily be spotted from the swimming area.
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We rode up to the lodge, parked up, and headed down to the Boat House to embark on a boat tour of the Springs. Sure enough, right there by the pier, were a dozen or so Manatees, rolling around up close to us in the water. There were 3 mothers, with their young suckling, and what I guess were a few males lolling around nearby. Jacquie was pleased as punch, and it was a great sight to see.
The boat ride was another great moment. We spotted several Alligators, various species of bird (lost on me but keeping Jacquie’s interest up), and were shown the original Tarzan tree, were Johnny Weissmuller hollered his Ah-ah-ah-ah-ahhh. There were many more manatee sightings, and in the clear waters of the springs, these creatures really looked so cute. Once back ashore, we went into the lodge, begged a couple of towels, and after changing in the Pool House, we braved the Spring waters, which supposedly maintained a 67 degree average year round, even though it felt a whole lot colder. It was even more chilly when we got out the water, after remembering all the alligators we had seen a few minutes ago just along the bank, into the 50 degree temperature of the early evening.
We ran back to the pool house, changed and got back on the bike to find our moterl for the night before it got really cold.
A half hour or so up the road, our trusty (usually) GPS took us to the Panacea Motel, which would serve our purpose, and looked like it would be in our price range - by its sheer bedraggled-ness- we would have paid anything they asked us though, to get out of the cold, which had now dropped to high 30s.
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We showered and warmed up, then headed out to the only eatery for miles, which fortunately proved to be a great little steamed shrimp joint, before walking back under a sky of a thousand stars back to the Panacea Motel for some rest.
The next day we woke bright and early, well at about 10, and headed back the road we had come the night before to re-visit a sight we had seen in the dusk the previous night. Parked on a patch of land by the roadside, in a perfect crescent were 15 or 20 rusted old relics from the 40’s and 50,s. Fords, Cadillacs, Desotos and Buicks, still looking amazing in their decay were parked, and seemingly abandoned, to me it was like an art installation.
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I jumped off the bike and set about clambering all over the cars, opening doors, taking pictures, and generally frolicking about, while Jacquie looked on quite bemused.
It was only later that day, about 40miles down the road in charming Carrabelle, that we were told by a local that the “crazy ol’ coot” that owns the cars quite regularly calls the cops on people who “trespass” on his property…seems we had a lucky break!
Our ride from Car Art Show, as I called it, down and around the coast was a beaut. We had warm sunshine, a real rarity so far, and a one-lane road running along the side of the Gulf of Mexico. We passed a couple of small towns, and decided it was time for a brunch stop. Just at that moment, I looked around for a place and lo and behold, just off the road, in the town of Carrabelle, I spotted the Carrabelle Junction Café.
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A great place to take a quick break

This place, and as it turned out, the whole town, was a little gem.
The Café was owned by Ron, a native Floridian who had spent most his adult lifer in San Francisco, before coming back to Florida to open this Café.
The place was full of 50s memorabilia, had old diner style booths, and a menu to die for. We got chatting, and after brunch walked around the town to visit the World’s smallest Police station. On returning to the bike, a big, white-bearded gent stopped and started talking bikes with us. As it turned out, he too was a biker, from up Georgia way, and was a Minister.
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At his request, we joined hands while he uttered a little prayer and blessed us, and Garth-our bike, for the trip ahead.
Once again, we headed off, on our way out of Florida.
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Mexico City beach
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Gainsville


There were a couple more stops, before the county line, our first of the trip, in Mexico Beach and Gainsville, before we finally made it to our next state, Alabama.
We only had a tiny part of Alabama to cross at its southern most strip, and all we really saw of the state was the USS Alabama, the aviation museum next to it, and the sub. We scrambled about the Battleship, took pictures with the big guns, went below decks on the sub, and then headed off again to find refuge from the cold front and the night.
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Posted by Dan Shell at 06:13 AM GMT
December 16, 2008 GMT
on to New Orleans

We had really wanted to get to New Orleans that night, but what with our unexpected and elongated trip to the USS Alabama,little gun.jpg and a good 100 or more miles before New Orleans, we decided instead to cut an early break, and rode down to Biloxi to find a place to stop for the night. Biloxi, was, for want of a better word, bollocks.
Nothing but Casinos, Casinos, a few motels, and more Casinos!
We checked in to the cheapest place we could find, I popped across the street for a take out from the Waffle House, and we after being beaten by the winds and the cold, promptly fell asleep.

New Orleans.
Once again, Jacquie had been planning. She had found us a great boutique hotel, ever so slightly above our budget, but in the infamous French Quarter, and a short walk away from the hustle and bustle of Bourbon St.lamonthe.jpg
New Orleans delivered on all fronts, Bourbon street was jumping from noon til 5 in the morning, not that we ever stayed out that long. The French quarter was full of character and characters. character drss.jpgOn every corner there were street musicians and buskers of all shapes and varieties.blues jam.jpgRoyal Street, one block south of Bourbon contained a series of art galleries, all housed in beautiful buildings. The Steamboat Natchez paddled up and down on the Mississippi river.natchez.jpg It was just as we expected it.
The mounted policemen we saw on horseback in Bourbon St were more like tourist attractions than crime stoppers, and spent their night smiling and joking with the crowds, having pictures taken and generally exuding a god vibe among the revellers.
We enjoyed a couple of café au laits and Beignets at the Café du Monde, du monde.jpglike all good tourists in New Orleans should, Jacquie had her palms read, we visited a couple of live music bars,jazz band.jpg and heard some great blues and jazz, snug.jpgalthough the best of it was either on the street, or just round the back of our hotel, in the much less commercialised and more civilised DBA and Snug Harbour. We took a streetcar up St Charles to have brunch at the Camellia Grill, which also delivered on all fronts, great burgers, singing staff, and a real party atmosphere.
It was all topped off by catching a New Orleans Jazz Wedding parading down the street, and a concert of Gospel singers in the cathedral at Jackson Square.
Come Monday morning it was time to drag ourselves, unwilling as we were, out of New Orleans, westward bound out of Mississippi and into Texas!

Posted by Dan Shell at 02:21 AM GMT
Texas

TEXAS
Texas is big! One of the first things we saw after crossing the state line was a road sign, bearing the news, “El Paso 857miles”texas.jpg
Texas was not what we were expecting. I had in my mind many pictures of what I thought I would see in Texas, Oil pumps in fields, tumbleweed, ghost towns, prairie fields and Cacti, what we had instead to welcome us into America’s largest state was a whole lotta rain. It was warm, in fact at almost 80 degrees , it was the warmest day we had had for a long time, which made conditions inside my rain suit almost sauna-like! During our 337 mile ride, we experienced rain, heavy rain, light rain, drizzle and “biblical” downpours, at one point we simply had to pull off the road and let it pass. Fortunately, aided by the ridiculously strong winds that accompanied these sections of heavy rain, the weather usually moved quickly. By the time we had got into Whataburger, soaked the whole floor- prompting the staff to surround us with bright yellow “WET FLOOR” signs-and downed a coke, a coffee and a couple of mighty tasty burgers, the road was once again rideable.
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The staff and customers of this fine establishment took great amusement at our predicament, and even more at our accents, and after giving us a pair of free cookies, we were once again on our way down the I 10 to Austin.

We stayed ahead of the heavy rain the rest of the way into Austin.grey sky.jpg I kept my waterproofs on, as well as my home-made custom waterproof footwear, in the shape of a pair of plastic bags tied over my trainers as we rode on under threatening skies, but stayed dry apart from the sweat inside my rain suit. There were a couple more unplanned stops on the way to Texas’ capital. One at a classic car showroom, full of old Stingrays, Cadillacs and Thunderbirds and others, and the other at a the opposite end of the scale, a Hot Rod builders garage, backing on to a junkyard full of rusty old relics.rusty car.jpg
We made it into Austin just as the sun was setting and the temperature dropped rapidly from mid 70’s to mid 40’s. I followed the GPS instructions right o the door of Wholefoods, a special treat I had planned for Jacquie to give her a burger break. It was justifiable as Austin was the birthplace of the Wholefoods chain, and this was the world flagship store. We got our food and went and sat down next to a couple of guys, and once again, within minutes, we were chatting away, swapping stories, and after a couple of beers, the two guys were on their respective computer and telephone, trying to find us a cheap motel.
A few hours later, we were on our way to the Super 8 , in freezing rain, with an open face helmet. Not a good combination. The temperature had dropped to 30 degrees, and the sleet on my cold face felt like I was being pinched-hard!
Fortunately we only had a couple of miles to go, and as we looked out the window of our budget accommodation, the sleet turned into snow,snowseat.jpg then that turned into torrential rain. This kind of put our plans for the rest of the evening in the Live Music Capital of the World on hold.

Posted by Dan Shell at 02:57 AM GMT
December 25, 2008 GMT
Cowhead Christmas

Christmas was drawing near, so we decided to spend it here in Big Bend with our new friends. We hung around the ranch, rode around on the bike, took Chris’ Cadillac out for a little spin, and spent time with Voni and Paul. We left the ranch for a couple of days just before Christmas for a ride out to Marfa and some of the surrounding towns, and had a look around Fort Davis, and even went for a swim in the natural pools of Balmorea, before returning to the Ranch in time for the Christmas eve party at Voni and Paul’s.
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The Natural Pools at Balmorea, in the middle of the desert
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The road to Marfa

guitars@xmas.jpg The party was great fun, many of Paul and Voni’s mates were also bikers, and they were all really interested in our trip. I made a Christmas Punch, Chris and the Sheriff played their guitars and sang, and in true Christmas tradition, we all ate and drank too much.

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Christmas morning, Jacquie and I were woken with breakfast in bed, served by Chris and Sonny. It was ridiculously chilly, our Honeymoon shed constantly whistled with the cold air rushing in from all sides, and the little heater was totally overpowered by the forces of nature.
Nevertheless, the sun shone, and after the coffee clicked in a cleared our fuzzy heads, Jacquie and I set up some empty beer bottles and practised our shooting with Chris’ cowboy guns.
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Chris had seen I had a video camera and had asked me if we could make our own mini movie, just for kicks, on the ranch. We decided we would make a little Cowboy Shootout, and Chris went rummaging through his stuff to see if he could get us in a suitable outfit.
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We played dress up for a bit, and finally, after the wardrobe was properly raided, Jacquie and I emerged Cowboy’d up to the max. We spent the afternoon running around, guns popping, as Jacquie and Chris took turns in directing and filming the action.
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We all had such a laugh making Chris’ movie, and finished the day off with a cowboy bath, before heading out on the bike for a little run around the park in the sunset, bumping into our friend Ara, with his dog, Spirit, out for a ride in their BMW sidecar combo.
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The following day, on Boxing Day, we had a visit from the Sheriff.
“I hear you done been shooting guns on this here ranch, and I gotta tell ya, if you gonna shoot in Big Bend, you darn well better come shoot with me, you folks come round my house this afternoon, and we’ll have ourselves a shoot ‘em up, sound good to ya bowy?” said the Sheriff.
With an offer like that, how could we decline? An hour or so later, we were at the Sheriff’s house, looking through some of hi sguns that he kept in a big safe in his garage. He really did have quite a collection, from small bore pistols right through to AR15 assault rifles.
We were invited to “grab a load o’ guns” and help load them in to the Sheriff’s truck, and then we drove round the back of his house and down to his “range”.
Paul and Voni had arrived and when we unloaded some of the guns off the back of the truck, and after a few words of warning from the Sheriff and a few simple instructions, we were blasting away with Glocks, Magnums and rifles.
pikagun.jpgsheriffsgun.jpgGetAttachment-16.jpg We demolished a few plastic bottles and destroyed a couple of targets before heading back up to Ara’s for an early evening stew and to watch the sunset from his patch.
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The next few days we spent really exploring the park, which was just magnificent, huge canyons, mountains and rivers, no cars or buildings, it was fantastic. But we had to move on. We easily could have stayed longer in Big Bend with the wonderful people we had met there, but, we still had a lot of country to see, and not much time in which to see it, so , 4 days after Christmas, we headed through Terlingua, and out of Big Bend.
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We rode through some more spectacular scenery, and stopped by the banks of a river for a stroll. We were walking back to the bike when we saw our old mate Ara, riding along the road with Spirit.
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Ara pulled over and we had a chat, it seemed Ara was heading the same direction as us, so we rode along together to the Mexican bakery at Presidio, where we stopped for some fine cakes fuelling up before we left Ara and headed off on our way westwards once more.

Posted by Dan Shell at 07:26 AM GMT
January 03, 2009 GMT
Austin

Once again we set about finding ingenious ways of drying our damp clothes in our motel room, got down to uploading our photos and carrying on our ritual of going through the photos of the day, deleting, straightening and fixing, separating the good from the bad, looking through the map, to see how far we had come, and how far we had to go, and checking the weather forecast before collapsing on the bed in preparation for the day ahead.

The day that followed was as grey as the day that came before, so we got togged up with our thermals under our jeans, a few layers, and off we went, back to Wholefoods, for a hearty breakfast. By the time we left there, it was still chilly, but the sun was breaking through. At Jacquie’s request, and much to my chagrin, we set off on a “brisk walk” to the downtown area and beyond, in search of Allen’s Boots, the World’s biggest boot store, one of the many “World’s Biggest’s” we would encounter in Texas.
We walked and walked, passed the Capitol building, down Congress, over the river, up South Congress, until we finally came across some signs of life, or at least, shops. We dived into the first thrift store we found, and started searching through T-shirts. I was coming out of the changing room with a dozen or so $1 T’s when I heard an English accent. Further investigation of this familiar accent led us to the guitar wielding Johnny UK, an ex Londoner who had moved to LA in the 70s and never gone home. We got to talking, and he insisted on playing us a song once we had finished shopping, Sure enough, he was waiting for us outside, and as he played for us, we were both reminded of our good ol’ pirate mate at home, Nick. Both old rockers, anti establishment, rough round the edges, but perfect gentlemen. johnny uk.jpg
The lyrics to his songs were so apt for our situation, they could have been written for us. We listened intently as he sang, it was more like listening to a gritty story, being told just for us-and they really hit home. Songs about living your life for yourself, and not for the corporations, treating each other well-stuff like that. It was great.
After a few tunes, we headed further up the street, passed the Austin Motel, whose slogan was “so close, yet so far out”.austen motel.jpg Nice- it pretty much summed up this cool little town-and on to Allen’s boots. Jacquie was in heaven, but unfortunately, her favourires were just a little too expensive, with a price tag of $1000! Talk about expensive taste!
The next two pair of favourites weren’t available in her size, so she put it down to Karma, and left the shop empty handed.
We caught a bus back to our end of town, headed back to our Motel, and got ready for our night out in The Music Capital of the World. After a flick through the local rag, we decided on the Broken Spoke Honky Tonk. brokenspoke dancers.jpgAn added bonus of this authentic venue was the 1-hour dance lesson in between bands. We were both looking forward to learning how to Line Dance, and thought it would be a right giggle. When we turned up, the band was in full swing, we ordered our cowboy nosh, and enquired about the dance lesson, but instead of the expected Line dancing, we were informed “only Europeans do that”. We decided to pass on the Waltz/Two Step class, and got chatting to Marley-the Man at the Bar- while we waited for the next band. Marley turned out to be another one of those diamond characters that we kept meeting on our trip. Extremely open, interested and interesting. We ended up chatting for hours with our new mate, until the time came to get back on the bike and head into town. 6th st.jpg
I couldn’t resist a quick glimpse of 6th Street, with its numerous bar and live music venues, but after putting our heads into the doors of a couple of very loud, and almost empty venues, we decided it was time to hit the sack. The next day we would head for San Antonio.

Posted by Dan Shell at 06:07 AM GMT
San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO
San Antonio, also known as the gateway to the West, was to be out last city for a while. We had decided that this was where we would have our last shopping spree before hitting the desert and Big Bend. We had also made contact through the Horizons Unlimited website with a fellow biker, Andy, who had ridden to Ushuaia a couple of years prior. I was excited at the prospect of our first rendez vous through the website, and to hearing about aspects of the trip that we had only read about from a first hander.
We reached San Antonio as the sun was setting behind the Golden Arches of the ever present McDonald’s and pulled into a hotel car park to steal some internet signal and get our bearings, before heading out to Andy’s place on the outskirts of San Antonio, in Kirby.
Andy was expecting us, well, he was actually expecting us two days prior, but, as usual, we were running a little late!
We sat in his lounge, and immediately started swapping road stories, as bikers do. Andy was great. He quelled many of our fears almost immediately, with his no nonsense approach to road tripping. Nothing was too dangerous, too troublesome, or too difficult. In comparison to the horror stories we had heard from those who hadn’t actually been there, our trip now seemed a lot less stress free than we had been led to believe, but we would see.
Andy made us feel very welcome in his home, after taking us out for a Thai meal, we nestled in his spare room, ready to be up at 6am, yes, 6am, to meet up with some of his biker mates for a pre-work Friday breakfast.
The following morning, we rose, dressed and got on the bike to ride in the predawn dark, and freezing cold, to meet the gang.
We arrived on our Harley, following Andy on his KLR, and, feeling slightly out of place, parked up next to a collection of off-road bikes. offroaderz.jpg
The conversation with the guys flowed freely, and we all got along straight away. We talked bikes, roads, routes and weather, ate a hearty breakfast, and one by one, the bikers set off for their work day, while we stayed, drank more coffee, and planned our day.
First on the agenda was a trip to Alamo Harley for Garth’ s 10,000-mile service. We rode up to the dealers, dropped the bike at the service entrance, and hung around for the work to be completed. 2 hours and $350 later, we were ready to roll into town.
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We headed straight for the Alamo, a sight I was keen to see, before taking the street car to the Market Square, then a walk to the river for a totally cheesy , and rather unnecessary river tour; ”to the left is such and such hotel, to the right is blah di blah Hotel” and so on, then it was time to race over to the Tower of the Americas to look over the city as the sun set and the moon rose.
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The San Antonio River Walk
Alas, we missed the sunset, in fact Jacquie missed the lot, as on reaching the top of the tower, at some 700 feet, she remembered about her vertigo, and couldn’t even peek out the window. The full, low moon over San Antonio was just beautiful, and after a run around the outside of the tower, snapping away on the camera, we headed back down, where I managed to persuade the manager to re-reimburse half of the $21 fee, due to the missus’ vertigo.

We strolled back into town, warmed ourselves with a hot chocolate from Starbucks (sorry) before heading back for our last night at Andy’s.
Sunday was time to leave, Andy gave us some roads we had to ride, and sent us out to Bandera, and cowboy country.

Posted by Dan Shell at 06:21 AM GMT
BANDERA

We were ecstatic about finally travelling off the interstate, and as we rode further west away from San Antonio, the road became less and less congested, and more and more twisty. At last!
We rode on for some 45 minutes or so before we turned left at a junction and were presented with Bandera.bandera mainst.jpgbandera957.jpg

We simply had to stop here. We hadn’t expected this. Bandera was like a real “Western” town. We parked up and headed straight for the Bandera Saloon. We got some menus and sat down at a table, and then in walked our first proper cowboy. His thick greying moustache was an inch or more wider than his face on each side, and he was the epitome of a good ole cowboy in every sense. We exchanges “ Howdy’s” and he came over and started chatting with us, where we were from, where we were going…the usual. He had a very gentle and warm way about him, and we both liked him instantly. After a few minutes, he said, “Well, you folks will just have to come stay with me tonight, it ain’t much, but it’s a roof over your heads if you want it”.
We jumped at the chance. Walking John, as he was known in the town, shared a fantastic old house with his gal, Janet, a few minutes walk form the Saloon. This too, was as cowboy as you could get, and beautiful, complete with Wagon wheel chairs on the porch, and a couple of dogs lolling about in the shade.johnscrib.jpgwalking john.jpg

He sent us off on a ride that we just had to see, and told us to just come on back when we were done.
We complied, went on our ride along some fantastic farm roads, past grazing Buffalo and over rolling hills, before turning up at his porch a couple of hours later.johnsfire.jpg
John started a fire for us in the living room, in front of the blow up bed Janet had prepared for us, and we all went and sat on the porch and listened as John got out his guitar and sung us some songs he had written. This was all too good to be true. John told us part of his story-how he had arrived in the town, meeting Janet, and how he had once enjoyed all the trappings of a city lawyer, before falling fowl of the law himself and roaming until he had made Bandera his home. We spent a wonderful evening with John and Janet, and that night at their house was our first real “moment” of the trip so far.
After the songs and some chit chat, we all strolled down to the Bandera Saloon for some good ol' Country music, and a wee dance. A couple of beers, and some good Tex mex cuisine, and we were ready to get our heads down.johndancing.jpg We slept well in front of the fire. At one point John came in to quell the flames that were filling the room with smoke- unbeknown to us- and opened a window to let in some air. As Jacquie put it, it felt like our Grandad came in to check we were alright.
The next day, John and Janet left early for church, leaving us to our own devices in the house. We walked into town for breakfast at the OST, the Old Spanish Trail. We were halfway through our cowboy breakfast when the familiar rumblings of a herd of Harleys led me to look out the window. A dozen or so Harleys were parking up on the street opposite us. I made my excuses to Jacquie, grabbed the camera and headed out to greet them.
As I had hoped, we were soon invited to ride with the “Calientes” a Harley Chapter from San Antonio, up into the hill county.
After our hearty breakfast, we saddled up and rode off along the 337 to a few secret hideaways, well known the bikers of the region, but well hidden off the tourist trail.calientes.jpg
Our first stop, after riding up and down twisting mountain roads, up tight hill climbs, and down long, easy slopes, was Dave’s Place.daves.jpg
Built into and on the edge of a canyon, overlooking Toad creek, this place was sublime.daves view.jpg

Dave built the bar, then added a few rooms for overnighters, then a pool room, an aviary, and so on.
Dave was a weather beaten old cowboy, who loved to tell us tales of his time in the Movies, his adventures on the cattle runs in his youth, and how he built the place with his bare hands, and a little help from his friends and neighbours.
After strolling along the banks of the river at the foot of the cliff where Dave had built his bar/restaurant/hotel/aviary/retreat, and getting to know our riding buddies a little better, we got back on our bikes again, and in a cloud of dust , headed back to the main road and off to the next stop. An hour or so of more riding up and down, and round and round these fantastic Hill Country roads, we arrived at our next stop along the way, Koyote Ranch.tipee.jpg
The Tepee at the entrance was our first surprise at the “Ranch”, but this was far eclipsed by what awaited in the urinal, urinal.jpgwhich was fully stocked with ice and beer , I guess those were for the bikers who were real thirsty and real poor. Again we sat and chatted and got to know our hosts a little better, shared stories and jokes, refreshed our thirst and then once more saddled up and hit the road for what was promised to be some of the best roads in Texas, the “three sisters”, comprising the 335,336 and 337 roads.
We headed back down the mountain and started the loop just outside Medina, but a few miles into the loop, George, who was leading the ride, spotted an upturned car just off the road. We pulled over a half mile up the road, as what we had just seen kicked in, and we doubled back to check if anyone was still in the vehicle. And there was.
A mother and her two children had been travelling in the car. The Mum, who was in the front but had managed to move over to the passenger side of the car, and her kids, who were both hanging upside down in their child seats, were all conscious, but also bloody and shaken. George and I set about trying to open the front door, while Dan and Gibb, another two of our riding group, started to cut away at the straps holding the kids in place. It was an horrific experience .The sight of blood is nothing new for me, after 20 years working in bars I had seen my share of it, but seeing these two young children, with blood coming form their heads, mouths and legs, was enough to shake me up good and proper. George had called for help and within minutes more rescuers were on hand. There were enough people on hand now, so I backed off and went back to tell Jacquie and the others what had happened. A little while later we heard, and then saw the medical choppers coming down to take the injured to hospital. George, Dan and Gibb rejoined us a little while later, they had been held up when the police blocked the road for the helicopters to land and take off again. Gibb, probably the biggest guy in our group, was visibly shaken; I went over to him, gave him a big man hug and offered him a cigarette.
“I don’t smoke really, but I think I’ll take one now” he said, extending his quivering hand.
“You did well, mate,” I said, “good job”.
None of us were really in the mood for much riding after that, so we all headed back into Bandera, where the we had a group photo at a gas station before saying our farewells, exchanging e-mails, and going our separate ways.calientechapter.jpg

It was approaching the end of the day, so Jacquie and I decided that we would stay another night in Bandera, and head off on our scenic loop that had so far eluded us along the 335 and 336. We couldn’t think of anywhere we would like to get stuck in than here, so it was no hardship, until we woke the next morning.
The temperature had plummeted to a spine chilling 30 degrees overnight. A 50-degree drop in a little over 12 hours.
Looks like we were stuck again. Neither of us could see much point in going on a scenic ride when the visibility was down to 100 yards, and it was freezing cold.
We decided to have a catch up do, write our diaries, e-mail friends, do some laundry, all the stuff we had been putting off. We had been having too much fun to keep on top of it all, and now was a good time to catch up. We spent most of the day doing our chores; we did some shopping in town and posted our Christmas presents back home from the local Post Office, and had a pretty productive day, and in the midst of it all, we bumped into an intriguing Yorkshireman. Walking into to a shop in the town, we saw “Good morning” to a couple coming out. The “Mornin!” reply came with such a recognisable, and out of place accent, that Jacquie and I both performed a double take.
“You ain’t from round these parts are ya mate?” I said,
“No, Yorkshire me, how’s about you”. Once again, the chat started, as it turned out, our new compatriot, Ian Coates, had been riding his motorbike around the world for some 8 years .His fleece jacket was covered in patches from all over, Guatemala, Argentina, New Zealand, Fiji, Chile, Peru-all the places we were aiming for and more. We all went inside the shop and started gassing about his trip. He was a truly inspiring fellow who didn’t seem to be fazed at all about being out on his own in the wildernesses of far flung places. iancoates.jpg
He’d thrown rocks at Crocs, laughed at gun toting rebels, and outwitted the corrupt South American police. Again e-mail addresses were swapped, and we split off,
We went to bed fairly early and sat up and watched o movie on the TV in our room. That was a mistake-only in America would they the cut the movie down so they can fit in more ads! We must have spent as much time watching the same ad for “Extenz” the pill that makes you larger AND perform better, than we did watching Will Smith and Martin Lawrence Blow $**t up, the dubbing was another annoyance.

Posted by Dan Shell at 07:11 AM GMT
January 24, 2009 GMT
To Big Bend

The following day was no better. 33 degrees, foggy and really quite depressing, but nonetheless, it was time to go, we needed to get on the road and put down some miles. We decided that there would be no point in riding the roads that everyone had raved about as we wouldn’t be able to appreciate it in the cold and with very low visibility.
We headed out into the cold, grey day, in the vain hope that the weather would warm up at some point, which of course it didn’t. After only 120 miles or so we pulled into the resort town of Leakey to find shelter and a room for the night.
Leakey, a summer holiday destination, appeared dismal and dull in the grey. Our first contact in the town was equally dreary. The woman who ran the two-wheels-only motel was a miserable as the weather when we asked if her rates were negotiable, as we were the only tourists in the town that day.
We finally settled into the lodge across the street, and set about our routine of downloading photos, writing the diaries and generally killing time.
Unfortunately, the morning was even drearier than the day before, and wet to boot, oh what joy!leaky road.jpg
Once again, we set out into the unknown, dressed to combat the cold and wet. We could barely move in our thermals, sweaters, jackets and waterproofs, so we sat, uncomfortably hot and stuffy, on the bike for some 3 hours until we arrived at Brackettville, and the Alamo village film set.
We blagged our way in for free and rode down the bumpy unpaved road down to the village,alamo1.jpg alamo2.jpgwhere we were met by John, the Sheriff/Barkeep with a welcoming smile. Business had been slow. The holidays hadn’t yet started; the weather was miserable, and we were the only visitors to stop by for a while. We walked into the Saloon together, and were given Hollywood guns, cowboy hats and other props to set about the serious business of being tourists and taking photos.saloon@alamo.jpg I swapped places with John, replacing him as the bartender and showed him a few of my bartending tricks, while he showed me some of his gun fighting tricks. We had a walk around the deserted set before heading off to get to Del Rio before the sunset.
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Our Motel, Del Rio
Del Rio was all you would expect from a border town. Big, busy, dirty and devoid of all character. The only saving graces were an extremely cheap movie theatre and an even cheaper motel. We settled into the room, unloaded the bike, and headed off to the cinema. During the film, we managed to completely forget where we were. Both of us were kind of expecting to get out of the cinema and into Jackie’s BMW back in Tunbridge Wells. Funny, that.

The next day started off the same as the previous one, grey and gloomy. Once again we slipped, slided and slithered into our riding gear and made off West, again, this time towards Big Bend. Our grey day gradually improved, and after lunch the sun came out for real. It never ceases to amaze me how much a little sunshine can make such a huge difference to the dynamic of the trip. It lifts our spirits, and even if it’s colder, it feels warmer if the sun is shining.
We rode over one of the oldest bridges in north America with stunning views over the Pecos river, pecos and garth.jpgstopped off in Langtry, where the “hanging Judge” Roy Bean held court sessions in his saloon. He named his saloon after the love of his life, English actress Lilly Langtry;http://www.desertusa.com/mag98/aug/papr/du_roybean.html
As we rode into Alpine, the town on the North end of the Big Bend region, the sun was dropping behind the mountains, we made a quick pass of the town, checked out the motels before picking one that was not the cheapest, but also not the dingiest, and settled down for some well earned rest and recuperation.
We hit up our new internet friends, Paul and Voni, who lived in Big Bend and replied to our e-mail on Horizons Unlimited, a bike traveller’s website, and had helped us with finding a place to stay in Big Bend while we were there, and arranged to meet up with them the next day on our way into the park.

Posted by Dan Shell at 11:02 PM GMT
January 25, 2009 GMT
Arrival @ Cowhead Ranch

The directions gave us some clue as to how sparsely populated and undeveloped Big Bend was.road to big bend.jpg Paul told us to clock 52.5 miles south of the railroad at Alpine, and look for a house on the left, and sure enough after 52.5 miles, and after passing maybe three buildings, we came across the Adobe, standing alone. We pulled into the driveway, and Voni cam out dressed head to toe in red, which we later came to realise was her signature colour.
Paul and Voni were really “good people”. We sat with them in the kitchen after a quick tour of their great house, sipping iced tea, and watching the sun set behind the mountains at the end of their back garden, talking bikes, roads and journeys, before we left for our accommodation for the night, at the Cowhead Ranch, just a short ride down the road, owned by their friend, Cowboy Chris.
We had heard a fair amount about Chris and the ranch, and had been on his website, but nothing could prepare us for what we were about to encounter.
As we entered the ranch, we had a pack of small dogs and a goat came running over to us, barking and braying in welcome.wendle.jpg
Chris arrived on the scene as we were getting off the bike, and showed us around the place, which we had all to ourselves, another bonus of travelling in the off-season. We had the choice of 4 separate-how should I put this-shacks, to take up residence, 2 were bunk houses, one was a small hut with 2 single beds, and one was just large enough for a double bed and a little dresser. cowhead site.jpg
We picked the double bed,”Cow Palace” offloaded our gear, and took the bike out for a quick shifty of Terlingua, the nearest “town”.
Terlingua, was a fairly small place, comprising a bank, a filling station/grocery store/restaurant, a bar and Kosmic Kathy’s,kosmic kathy.jpg a bright pink affair made up of an old school bus-in pink,, a pink van and a Betty Boop trailer, and a scattering of odd tables and chairs for diners.
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After a delectable bowl of homemade Chilli, there was just enough time for a short ride down to the Terlingua Ghost town, home to a community of artists and a fab restaurant called The Starlight Once an open-air theatre,starlight.jpg the Starlight was now a busy bar and restaurant, and the main focus of Terlingua Ghost town. Then it was back to the ranch to get ready for our first night out.
Once again we were greeted by a raggedy collection of animals when we pulled into the ranch, dogs, goats and chickens all came running out, dangerously close to the bike. We had a walk around our new temporary home; Jacquie got acquainted with the horses while I played with the collection of guns and Cowboy hats. gunsnhats.jpgBefore long our new pals Paul and Voni came round to pick us up and take us to La Kiva, a funky bar in Terlingua where there was an art show launch party.lakiva.jpg
La Kiva was a cool place. A “Grotto” bar, in a cave with Adobe walls, carved wooden chairs and a huge selection of world beers.
We had a few drinks, wondered around the exhibition, before heading outside to watch the fire dancers, which was a great show, especially made interesting when one of the girl’s dresses caught fire!firedancer.jpg
This was also the first night we met Ara and Spirit.
Ara is a French Armenian ,ex uber-Chef, was now living in his RV off the road in Big Bend, and travelling around on his BMW and sidecar combo-which is where his pit-bull, Spirit sat. Ara had been riding around the States until he came across Big Bend, and decided to put down some roots for a while. Every now and then, when the mood takes him, he packs up his bike and he and his dog would head off out into the wilds, camping where they fancied. He had taken up photography and had some amazing pictures, as well as running his own website, blog; http://theoasisofmysoul.com and online shop with his photos, camping recipes and other cool stuff to help him fund his desert lifestyle.
The nest day we were woken by the cockerel and the smell of bacon. Chris was in the “Social Club “ preparing our cowboy breakfast of bacon, biscuits and eggs, in preparation for our day of horse riding and shooting.cowboy cookin.jpg
We helped Chris saddle up the horses,walkinpony.jpg donned our cowboy hats ready2ride.jpgand headed off into the surrounding desert, for a wee walk around the land behind the ranch.saddledup.jpgoutwardbound.jpg
My horse, Domino, was intent on stopping at every opportunity to eat some grass, but somehow we managed to keep up with Chris and Jacquie, both far more accomplished on horseback than I.
A couple of hours later we were back at the ranch,getting dressed for the bike a quick ride to Lajitas, another ex ghost town that had been bought up by a Billionaire who had tried to turn the place into a luxury resort for the rich and famous. Unfortunately for him, the rich and famous seemed to have other plans, and the place never took off. It lost all its charm in the remodelling, and ended up looking more like “Frontierland, Disney” than an old cowboy town. latijhas.jpg

Now Lajitas was under new ownership and management and was edging its way back into the Big Bend community. On our visit, the place was still as devoid of people as it had been during its heyday of Ghost down-ness. The boardwalk was far too well kept for our liking, and after a brief walk around, we carried on along the road to Presidio, around the mountains, and took in some of the amazing scenery.prosidio road.jpg
That night at the Ranch, Chris and his daughter, Sunny, set a huge campfire, and we sat around I, ate our dinner and swapped tales, stories and jokes.fire.jpg
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Posted by Dan Shell at 05:20 PM GMT
February 12, 2009 GMT
to the Nativity

The next day we were picked up again by Voni and Paul, driven over to Ara’s camp, and treated to some of Ara’s amazing “Campfire stew”, before we all headed off to the “Swimming Hole

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Ara's dining room in Big Bend
The next day we were picked up again by Voni and Paul, driven over to Ara’s camp, and treated to some of Ara’s amazing “Campfire stew”, before we all headed off to the “Swimming Hole” one of Big Bend’s hidden secrets. We bounced along in Paul’s 4x4 for a good few off road miles, before we found the track that led down to the creek and the swimming hole. We all hiked around the place, snapping pics of each other and the “hole”, collected a few rocks for Ara’s garden, then headed back once more in time to change for the Alpine Nativity.
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As we were in the car on the way to Alpine, the conversation turned to ID, seeing as we were just about to pass the Border Patrol checkpoint. We joked that we could get deported if we were pulled over, as neither Jacquie nor I had our passports with us. Sure enough, we were pulled over at the checkpoint, and yes, we were both then asked for ID. Oh. Woops.
We had to write down our names and address as the German border patrolman went to check we weren’t terrorists. A line of cars started to build up behind us, and finally the guard re-emerged, and after issuing us with a stern warning , let us up to Alpine , to see our Nativity.
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The Nativity was an experience.The live animals in the cast, donkeys, camels and children, did a good job. It was a freezing cold, clear night, the sky was bight with stars, and the coffee and hot chocolate struggled to keep the audience warmed up.
The Nativity was charming, but at the end of the night we were ready to jump back into the 4x4 and turn the heating on.

Posted by Dan Shell at 05:17 AM GMT
Baja, Mexico

TO MEXICO
A couple of days before we we due to head south for the final break for the border, I went on the internet to check once more what papers we would need to enter into Mexico with the bike. I found no more info than I already knew, but I did come across a post from a couple of Aussie’s who were looking for a riding partner to ride through Mexico with.
I talked it over with Jacquie and we decided it would be cool to have some company, even if it was just for crossing the border.
We sent a reply to the Aussie’s post and waited. A couple of days passed and nothing, we were ready to cross the border solo, and had decided to cross on the 1st of Feb, which would give us 2 days grace if everything was not in order. Our US visas ran out on the 3rd.The Friday before that, we received a reply from the Aussie’s. We spoke on skype and e.mailed each other, and agreed to all meet up in San Diego to cross over together.
I immediately liked Dan , who reminded me hugely of an old mate back home, and Jacquie and Stacey gelled too, excellent.
We rode off together, hit Tijuana a few miles down the road, and before you knew it, we were in Mexico. 1.jpgStraight through the border, no worries. We rode down to our first stop, the fishing town of Ensenada, where we found a cheap motel, and went out for a stroll. I was dying to try my first authentic fish taco-Taco di Pescado, and I wasn’t disappointed. Coming in at just under $1, the street Tacos were delicious.eat taco.jpg We went out that night and got slightly buzzed on Margaritas and beer while we watched the superbowl on TV.
The next day , bright and early we set off together for the small town of San Felipe, on the other side of the Peninsula, and again, checked into a cheap hotel before heading out to explore the town, and dining on Tacos and Tecate beer. We sat in our room that night and looked st maps, and decided that the next day we would try the little dirt road from San Felipe to Porto Cintas.That was a mistake.
We got an early start again, knowing that if this dirt road was too much for my fat hog, we would have to double back and start again from Ensenada, which we did have to do. We followed the road until the hard top ran out, end of road.jpg
our Aussie mates, Dan and Stacey, went on a little to see how the road was on their dirt bike, and almost immediately they got stuck! This was not a good sign. I went on the back of the other Dan’s KLR and concurred that we wouldn’t have much chance on the Harley, so , round we turned , and off we went, back to Ensenada. Even though we were going back on ourselves, this was a superb ride, no traffic at all, good road surface, lots of twists and turns, and gorgeous, lush green scenery.
After another night in Ensenada, and more beer and fish Tacos, we were really ready to get off again and head south, this time , the point on the map we were looking for was called Bahia de Los Angeles. My GPS didn’t believe that it even existed, but it was on our map, so we went for it. We were rewarded with another great ride, on which we hit our 10,000mile mark, followed by a small, pretty town on the shores of a bay clustered with islands.
Another quick ride through the town provided us with some more cheap digs which we settled into before once more heading out looking for a busy taco stand.
We decided it was time for some rest from the bikes, and s we were in such a cute place, right on the beach, this would be a great stop for some r&r, beach time, volleyball, maybe a swim and some Kayaking. We switched hotels when we were offered a $165/night “presidential” suite for $45 , but by the time we had packed and unpacked, moved hotel and signed in, it was nearly 2pm, so, we may as well stay another night, we thought, and have a full day on the beach the next day. This would have been great, had the weather not changed. We sat in our “suite” -which was a great room , except for the lack of hot water, the unflushable toilet, no heating and 1 English Language TV channel-and played round after round of cards, with the boys utterly thrashing the girls once more..
The next day was still wet, but we were all ready to get out of Los Angeles, so we put all our wet weather gear on, and headed out. The sky got greyer and greyer, darker and darker as we rode on, until the clouds burst and the rain fell down on us, fortunately, we only had 30 minutes or so of rain before the sky began to clear again. We negotiated a couple flooded roads, the water up to my ankles on one, and stopped at Guerrero Negro, which is a well known spot for Whale watching, and we were right at the peak of the season.
Our guide book had told us to “book early” and not to turn up expecting to get any room in any hotel….well, things looked like they had maybe taken a turn for the worse recently. All the hotels were practically empty, and we got a room for 300pesos, about $28. Then the rain came down again. At that point I had had enough. I parked the bike, covered it with the bike cover and went to bed!
Jacquie and other Dan went off on his bike to see about whale watching tours for the following morning, and scout about. They got back after an hour or so with the info on the tours. The news wasn’t good. Rain was forecast for the next day, all the boats were small, open boats, and the whales apparently didn’t like the rain. There was nothing to do but pop out for a cheeky taco and some beers, and see what the weather did. True to form, the early rise to catch the whales was wasted, as the morning was wet, dull and grey. We went back to sleep for another hour or so before heading out for a hearty breakfast burrito and some warming coffee. We hit the road around midday, caught a few sprinkles, but missed the real rain. The ride to the next town, San Ignacio, another Whale watching destination, was flat, straight and uninspiring, which made our arrival into the town even more of a surprise. In the middle of a desert landscape, San Ignacio was a small oasis town, surrounded by tall, swinging palm trees.san ig .jpg
We rode past two bright green lakes our way to the old town centre, which surrounded a colonial style, laurel shaded square, presided over by a beautiful 18th century mission. We promptly, perhaps too promptly, agreed a price of 300pesos ($16) for two rooms, right in front of the Plaza and then went out looking for the usual Taco stall, bottle shop, and , as last night, a whale watching tour. The first two, as always , were easy, the whale watching was quickly turning into a proper mission. The lake was 75km down a dirt road, and we were told, by several sources
, that our Harley wouldn’t be able to make it due to the sand, the ruts and the general lack of recognisable road, so we had to find a van to take us. This would normally be straightforward, as there was always lots of people looking to go whale watching, however, in the recession, tourism was down, and there were not enough people to justify the tour operator putting on a bus. We went to a bunch of tour operators and hotels, but no luck. The problem was that the 12 seater buses charged the tour operators $120 , so for 12 people, that was an easy $10, but for just the 2 of us, it was way too much money.
As always, things worked themselves out, and sure enough, the next dat at 7am, we were up ,ready and waiting for our bus with a stray American biker who had broken his leg a few day earlier.
Stacy and Aussie Dan took their KLR down the dirt track, following us in the 4 wheel drive van. The trip to the lagoon was a 2hour run over quite possibly the bumpiest road ever, spattered with the occasional sand trap, rocks, boulders and deep potholes.
We arrived at the lagoon shaken but not stirred, and were welcomed by Maggie to the whale watching camp.

We were whisked off into a small boat, and were soon blasting over the waves, banging our arses on the hard benches, and off into the big blue to find us some whales. Sure enough, the operators motto-“Whales guaranteed to see” was bang on the money.10minutes out to sea our skipper slowed down and we saw, in the not to distant water, the spray of the grey whales. We got nearer and soon were rewarded with a huge whale popping his head about 8ft out of the water; Spy hopping. It was an awesome sight. For two more hours we were treated to dozens of close encounters. The whales would come right up to the boat, we saw huge splashes as some jumped half way out of the water, then crashed back down again. They were everywhere. Sadly, our time was up, and we headed back to the shore, and jumped on the bus back to sleepy San Ignacio for some more tacos and a game of cards with the Aussies.Once again, we were on the move. We stopped off on route at the old mining town of Santa Rosalia, where we had a gorgeous fruit smoothie and a walk around the very pretty streets, then onwards towards Mulege, then next town on the only main road through the peninsula. We had a quick ride through Mulege and decided to push on to Loretto. We road took us past the Bay of Conception,conception.jpg
a beautiful bay, only spoilt by the RVs crammed along the shoreline. This part of the road was the best riding we had encountered since entering Mexico. Winding roads along the bay, cutting into the hills and mountains, twisting and turning, in gorgeous sunshine.twisty.jpg

It was a beautiful ride, and we were all sad to leave the bay behind. Our next stop, Loretto, was a bit of a disappointment. There was evidence of this once being a popular stop with the Gringos, but the sports bars and Pizzerias were all but empty. The town had a beautiful old church, but not much else to offer. We found ourselves a cheap American style motel, and settled down to rest for the next leg to La Paz.
Another bright and sunny morning greeted us and we set off early for the La Paz run. The Baja scenery dulled down a tad as we hit the desert areas, dead straight roads, with the odd tope (evil speed bumps) to keep our speed down. There were no towns or villages to stop at, just the MX1, our old friend, taking us south.
I was getting bored, and so, when we saw a sign for San Carlos, a smallish looking village on the map, next to the water of Magdalena Bay, we decided to take a detour. We rode 45 minutes west until we came across the town. The roads were sand, which meant that Jacquie had to get off the bike while I rode at 3mph with my feet off the floorboards, dangling an inch above ground in case I needed stabilising! sandcarlos.jpgWe found the centre, a tree lined plaza with a playground behind it, had our usual “ shall we stay or shall we go” discussion, and after a minute or two, split up and went hunting for a cheap room.
Digs sorted, we went out into the town for some dinner and a beer or two. Come nightfall, the plaza turned into a mini cruising arena. Dilapidated pick ups and saloons drove round and round, stereos blasting out everything from Ricky Martin to Flo Rider, latin music, American Hip Hop, even some good old rock, came blaring out of the open windows of the cars, most had a neon light or two either underneath, lighting up the sand roads under the cars in an alien blue colour, or dotted around the body of the car.
There was an under age disco in the civic centre, and the young teenagers were out in force, hanging around the bandstand, swinging on the swings, and chatting with each other. It was the most life we had seen so far anywhere in Baja!
With not much to stay up for, being about 20 years older than everyone that was out, we headed back to our motel, had another game of cards, and hit the sack.

Posted by Dan Shell at 05:40 AM GMT
March 07, 2009 GMT
La Paz

La Paz was only a couple of hours ride from San Carlos, so we had a lazy lie in , followed by a leisurely breakfast before hitting the road. La Paz, the main city of Baja, came into view after an uneventful journey along the MX1. First we hit the topes, then the traffic lights, the first we had seen in Mexico, then the traffic strted to pile up. We negotiated our way through the cars, trucks and busses and headed down towards the sea. With a little help from our GPS, we found the Pension California, recommended to us by just about everyone who had been to La Paz, sorted out a room, and went out to explore.
La Paz was thankfully devoid of Americanisation, and although a big town, almost a city , even, had a relaxed and friendly vibe. We made friends with a few travellers in the Pension, and that night, a group of about 8 of us headed into town for the Luche Libre.
This was without doubt the best experience so far in Mexico. I had spotted the sign for the Mexican wrestling on the way into town and we all thought it would be fun, however we had no idea exactly how much fun it would be. We got to the arena early and got ourselves ringside seats, hot dogs, beers and doughnuts. An hour or so after the wrestling was supposed to start , the first of the fighters came out to the ring, the crowd, mainly families and young kids, went wild!
The fights got better and better, most of the action outside of the ring. There were one on one bouts, double and even triple tag teams. The outfits, the moves, and the showmanship got better as we got drunker, and at one point, we narrowly avoided being landed on my a big fat Mexican throwing himself off the ropes onto a downed opponent who was standing dazed in front of us after being thrown out of the ring by his nemesis. We were all in tears of laughter as the wrestlers chased each other round the outside of the ring, being heckled by the crowds, whacking each other with steel chairs, and shouting abuse at the crowds and at their opponents.
None of us had an idea who had won, but for 100pesos ( about £5 or $7) we had a superb and unforgettable night out.
We spent a couple of days in the Pension California, during which time we rode out to a couple of beaches and chilled out, gorged ourselves on cheap tacos, and smoked, heavily!

Posted by Dan Shell at 05:54 AM GMT
Stranded in Paradise

I think Aussie Dan got itchy feet first, but after a few days we were ready to move on.
I had a friend in Todos Santos, and artist community about an hour from La Paz on the west coast of the Peninsula, and we made a beeline for there. The town was a really quaint old place, dating back to the 18th century. The were galleries, coffee shops, and restaurants a lovely square, an old Theatre, and the Hotel California, one of many of the Hotel California’s that claim, rightly or wrongly, to be the namesake of the Eagles song of the same name.
We met up with my mate Adrian at one of the town’s coffee shops, and he led us 10km out of town to Pescadero, and the Pescadero surf camp, where we rented a Casita for three days, which turned into a week, then two weeks, then 17 days!
Our extended stay was in part due to the beautiful Pacific beaches that surrounded us, which definitely had a hold over us, but also, we had for the first time, bike trouble!
I went down first when the Harley developed an oil leak. I ignored it a t first, but it bugged me, so, begrudgingly, I rode down to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico’s Benidorm, and took the bike into the Harley Dealer for a once over.
The mechanic asked me to leave the bike with him for an hour. An hour later, he asked me for 2 hours. When I went back at 4pmn, the bike was in bits! The mechanic told me he couldn’t find the oil leak, and would have to look again tomorrow. Thankfully, the owner of the Harley shop was an exceedingly helpful American, and he agreed to lend me a bike to get me home on while the mechanic, whose name was Jesus, worked on my bike.
I rode the loaner home, and told the Aussies the bad news. We were stuck!
Then, more trouble, the Aussies, on their way back from a day doing the time share scam in Cabo San Lucas, broke down. Their KLR had run completely dry, not a drop of oil in the tank, about 2 km outside of Cabo.
So the four of us found ourselves stranded in paradise, could have been worse!

Posted by Dan Shell at 05:57 AM GMT
March 24, 2009 GMT
To Cabo Pulmo

We took the loan bike for a spin to La Paz to catch the last night of Carnival, Mardi Gras, and were greeted by some familiar faces back at the Pension California when we checked back in for the night. We unloaded the bike once more, parked the bike up inside the inner courtyard of the Pension, and headed out to the Malencon to catch the Carnival Parade. It seemed as if the whole town and then some were out that night, and the Promenade along the sea front was heaving with people out t o celebrate in true Mexican style. There were vendors everywhere selling everything form huge bottles of beer to candyfloss, trinkets, eggs filled with confetti-which were used to throw at people that you fancied-tacos, sweets and whistles. We watched the floats pass by, danced with the locals watched some of the bands, and at around 1am headed back to the Pension.
The next day, we road back to Pescadero to the camp.
We kicked our heels for a while round the surf camp, our mate Adrian came round a few times to visit and drive us into Todos Santos or down to Cerritos surf beach. A couple of days later and my bike was ready to be picked up, and it was time for us to say our tentative goodbyes to the Aussies and the camp residents and head off. We rode out through the overly Americanised and quite garish Cabo San Lucas, past the more typically Mexican San Juan de Cabo, and then North as far as Santiago, a little Mexican pueblo, where we found a quaint hotel and settled in. We walked around the town, which took no more than 10 minutes, and returned to the seemingly only place to eat, a Tacos stand in the back garden of a neighbour of the hotel. The music was pumping out of a boom box and smoke was pouring out to the road, the smell drawing us in as we began salivating at the prospect of some tasty Carne Asada. We were not disappointed!
Early the next morning, after a most uneventful evening, we were back on the road again, this time, we were heading for Cabo Pulmo, a national park on the East Cape, which, unfortunately for us, was only accessible via a dirt road. We bumped and bounced for what seemed like an eternity over sandy washboard tracks; in reality it was only about 20 miles, but it felt like a lot more!

Posted by Dan Shell at 02:08 AM GMT
Cabo Pulmo

We arrived in Cabo Pulmo, and our spirits were instantly raised. The town was one road, which ran along the shore, with a dive shop, a bakery, a restaurant or two and a handful of small hotels. It was lovely and unspoilt. We had a quick scout round the hotels – all of which were out of our budget – and began thinking we would not be able to spend the night, when our new friend, Memo, saved the day.
We had been talking to Memo at the Dive shop about hiring snorkelling gear, and when we told him we couldn’t afford any of the Hotels, he offered us his tent, complete with blankets and pillows, for a minimal fee. Brilliant!
We booked ourselves on a boat trip with him for the afternoon to go whale watching, snorkelling and swimming with sea lions, grabbed a bite to eat, and met him on the shore to head out onto the open sea. The trip was fantastic. We had beautiful weather and great visibility under the water, I got up close and personal to a few sea lions, had a lovely swim over some shallow corals, seeing beautiful fish dart by beneath me, and even were rewarded with sightings of a half dozen humpback whales right up close to the boat. As a special treat, Memo took us to his favourite place to swim with a shoal of Tuna-like fish. This unnerved me slightly, we got off the boat, swam a few metres, and there they were, thousands of these silver fish, swimming all around us, and as I looked down, there was a tunnel of them stretching as far as I could see.
I took a deep breath through my snorkel, turned, and swam back to the boat. I had really felt like an intruder!
Back on land, we pitched Memo’s tent up on the beach, went and bought some supplies from the shop-which was really the living room of a local resident crammed with tinned food, biscuits and sodas-and with nothing else to do, went to bed.
Our sleep that night was fitful at best, but with morning came the sunrise from over the sea, directly in front of us. We sat up in the door of our tent, and watched as the sky grew lighter and the sun became stronger and fiercer.
The tent packed up and returned to Memo, we were off again, back along the bumpy dirt track towards La Paz and the ferry that would take us to the mainland.

Posted by Dan Shell at 02:38 AM GMT
Mazatlan

Unhappy as I was about a 14-hour ferry crossing, the time went quickly and we arrived at Mazatlan around 8 in the morning. We rode off the ferry and after a quick reconnoitre of the locale, rode up to the Hotel Mexico, one of Andrea’s recommendations, where we checked in, changed clothes, parked the bike, and were out. The sheer Mexican-ness of Mazatlan, compared to Baja, revitalised us, and we both felt our fatigue slip away the more we discovered about this gorgeous old town. We stumbled across the Cathedral, and the main Plaza in front of it, as is the custom in most Spanish colonial towns, the Café’s lining the Plazuela tempted us in for coffee and fruit salad, and then the lack of sleep caught up with us and we walked back to the Hotel Mexico for a nap.
Mazatlan is a lively, vibrant city. The market was a hive of activity, and the people were friendly and welcoming. The city itself was a maze of streets, anda joy to get lost in. We would walk around aimlessly, following the sounds of the local brass “Bandas” until we would find their source, usually in the form of a sort of Mexican working men’s club. The bars would have kitchens but no menus. Patrons would buy their seafood from the local fishermen or the “Camaronadores” and bring it to these establishments for them to cook it, in any way you wanted it.
We were always made very welcome in these places, even though we felt extremely out of place, especially as Jacquie was nearly always the only girl in the place apart from the busty waitresses.
In the week or so that we were there-our stay was extended due to both of us having a bit of a problem with our stomachs-we must have covered almost every inch of the town, from its 32km stretch of seafront and beaches, from the lighthouse (the second highest in the world) to the drag strip.
Jacquie realised her dream of horse riding along a sandy beach, whilst I finally got the Tattoo I had been talking about for some 15 years.

Posted by Dan Shell at 02:52 AM GMT
The Road of 3,000 curves and Devil's Spine

We really had to tear ourselves away from Mazatlan, our first proper Mexican town, but what lay ahead eased the pain of our departure.
We decided that our next destination would be Durango, the Mexican cowboy capital. One of the deciding factors in this choice was the road that would take us there.
Who could resist roads called “The Road of 3.000 Curves”, swiftly followed by “Il Espina del Diablo”- The Devil’s Spine.
Our first stop was a small town called Concordia. Set around a majestic Cathedral and leafy plaza, the town was a little gem, we afforded ourselves a quick walk around the centre before saddling up and setting off. The road definitely lived up to its name. Within minutes of leaving Concordia, we were leaning the bike left and right, winding up and up to the hills overlooking the coast. The higher we rose, the more fantastic the vistas became. We were unable to resist the urge to stop and take photos of the view, knowing full well that the pictures we were taking could in no way give any justice to what our eyes beheld. And still we climbed, riding up to the clouds, which enshrouded the steep cliff tops. And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we reached the Devil’s Spine. On a plateau at 2,500 metres, with drop offs on either side, overlooking mountains, cliff faces, deep gorges and valleys. Way below us were the odd glistening of metal, the remains of cars, trucks and busses that had misjudged corners and met their fate at the bottom of the drop.

Occasionally trucks would come round corners in the opposite direction to us, completely on the wrong side of the road, forcing us to brake hard or to ride the very edge of our lane.
We made it in one piece to the straights running along the plateau in Durango state, where we rode past huge Ranchos, through the largest Military road block yet, and into the mining town of El Salto.
The change in temperature was drastic. We had dropped from 90degress at sea level to just above 60. We found a cheap hotel, and the receptionist lit the gas fire for us in the room. We really needed that. When the sun went down the temperature dropped again to 55 degrees. We hadn’t been that cold since the States.
Hunger forced us out of our snug room and into the town. El Salto was a gritty old mining town, and as we walked we noticed that the locals here also partook of the Mexican tradition of “Cruising”. The streets around the square were jammed up with people just riding around in their cars, quite often there would be 7 or 8 people crammed into a saloon car, or 4 in the front of a pick up truck, stereos blasting Latino tunes. I asked the ladies cooking our Hamerguesas where they were all going, and they said; “nowhere, just around”. We had seen the same in La Paz, and I am sure we would come across this Mexican phenomenon again.
Satiated with our tasty burger, we sauntered back to out hotel, our 4th floor room overlooking the town, which itself seemed cut into the side of a mountain.

Posted by Dan Shell at 02:54 AM GMT
July 01, 2009 GMT
Durango to Guadalajara

Our next stop was Durango, another beautiful Cathedral and Plaza, another bustling market, but without the vivacity of Mazatlan.durango.jpg I was eager to move on, as was Jacquie, so we stayed one night before hitting the road once more for Zacatecas.
Zacatecas is a gorgeous colonial town, a Basque minor found silver in the 16th century and the town grew. The Basque settlers made their mark with French buildings side by side with Spanish Cathedrals. Finding our hotel was a task and a half. Manoeuvring the Harley down the steep, narrow winding streets, with my GPS trying to send us the wrong way down one-way streets. We went round and round the same street until finally a local led us to it in his car.
A major difference here was the large numbers of fairer skinned European looking locals, as well as the Creperies, cafes, and bakeries side by side with Taco stands and Gordita shops.zacatecas.jpg We took the cable car up to La Bufa, at the entrance to the old mine-which now is home to a nightclub deep underground. The cable car took us over the myriad of rooftops and was high enough to make our knees weak. cazatecas.jpg
Getting out at the top after the ride on the cable car we were greeted by the sight of three enormous statue of Zapata and his revolutionary comrades on horse back , and a photographer willing to wrap an ammunition belt over your shoulders and take polaroids of you behind a tripod mounted machine gun, which we declined.
The views over the city were sublime, a hodge podge of rooftops and alleyways, interdispersed with grand Cathedrals and museums.
We returned on foot to our hostel and sat on the rooftop balcony chatting with the other residents, a couple of German guys, just back from Real de Catorce, and pair if French girls down from Monterrey, a Canadian couple recovering from excessive Mosquito bites in San Blas, and another couple of French guys on the hunt for marijuana, all swapping tales of where we had been and where we were going.
We spent another couple of days wondering the street, checking out the markets, and trying local dishes before getting back on the bike and heading south to Guadalajara.
We took a side trip on the way down to La Quemada, an archeolgical side on the road south.
La Quemada was our first experience of one of the many pre Hispanic ruins the are found all over México, and it was magnificent. quaemada.jpg
We had the site practically to ourselves, and took the opportunity to climb and clamber all over the ancient city. climbin.jpgUp pyramids, across the playing fields, along alleyways. It took my breath away. I left Jacquie halfway up and continued alone to the highest point, following tracks and trails that were centuries old. The heat was intense, but the scenery was spectacular and I pushed onwards and upwards until there was nowhere to go but back down.lookout.jpg
The experience was one I will never forget, and I wished I could have stayed longer, but once again , the road was calling, we still had hundreds of miles to do that day so we descended to the base, mounted our iron steed, and rode off in the direction of our rest stop at Aguas Calientes.qguas.jpg
We weren’t expecting much from Aguas Calientes, other that a room for the night and a place to rest , but once again the colonial city, in its usual format of Catherdrals, Plazas and Avenues was a joy.
Again , there was music playing everywhere, a buzzing vibrancy filled the streets and we had to walk around the town on the evening of our arrival and once more on the morning of our departure, to get a feel for the city if nothing more. The leafy plaza was cool and shaded, and the Cathedral was a work of art, the more we travelled through Mexico , the more of the equisite edifices we came across, it seemed that even the smallest hamlets had a magnificent Church or Cathedral at its core. The Spanish missions were nothing if not diligent.
Jacquie had read about the town of San Juan de Los Lagos, and deemed it worthy of a final stop on route to Guadalajara, so the next morning we pointed the bike south east and rode off. San Juan de Loa Lagos is one of the most important towns to religious Catholics, and many make pilgrimages there each year, usually walking there, even from as far away from Zacatecas-a six day walk.nuva cafedral.jpg
On arrival, the devoted then make their way down the 100 foot aisle on their knees to show their …well to be honest, I am not sure what they are showing. We watched this spectacle, as young and old alike made their way down the aisle, some in tears, some beaming, some moving quickly, and some taking a very, very long time. Outside the Cathedral, another beautiful structure, hoards of street vendors were selling religious artefacts, ranging from pendants and bracelets, to life-size Jesuses on donkeys to the pilgrims and visitors to the town in a most irreligious way.donkey.jpgguitar.jpg We avoided the vendors and returned to the bike, anxious to be on our way once more.

Posted by Dan Shell at 02:36 AM GMT
Guadalajara

Our arrival in Guadalajara was a difficult one in many ways. Our timing was terrible. It was 7pm, the setting sun was still blisteringly hot, especially combined with the heat from the city and the immobile post work traffic. Our riding gear was sticking to our sweating skin, and once again, our trusty GPS was trying to constantly send us the wrong way down one-way streets.
Half of the historic centre, the location of our planned hotel, was being dug up in preparation for the upcoming Latin American Games, and I had steam coming out of my ears in frustration, only adding to the heat!
Finally, I rode around a no entry barrier, down a dug up road, and found the hotel we had been looking for for the past hour, only to find that we could not reach the garage or park anywhere in the immediate vicinity due to the road works. I talked the receptionist into letting me check my e-mails, and hallelujah, there it was, an e.mail from a friend of a friend inviting us to stay at their house in Guadalajara. We put our damp jackets back on, and at 9pm arrived at our friend’s, friend’s house!
The next 10 days in Guadalajara were a blur of missed dates. `We missed two free Manu Chow concerts but made it to the Free Music Festival and caught a wicked Reggae band in one of the city Squares.fieta.jpg
We had a long drive down to San Pancho down by Puerto Vallarta,san p.jpg and an even longer trip back, mainly thanks to a flat tyre and an even flatter spare in our friend’s car. We went on a small distillery tour of on of the quality Tequila makers, Partida, partida.jpgtequiladonkly.jpgdonj.jpg,were treated to a Botana from Tequila's most celebrated bartender, Don Javier
had a day at Chapala lake to the south of Guadalajara,chapalakids.jpg P1150933.jpghapalaeve.jpgbefore finally heading out for Guanajuato.

Posted by Dan Shell at 02:55 AM GMT
Guanajuato

GUANJUATO had been bigged up by some many people were had very high expectations, not always a good thing.
This time, however, we weren’t disappointed. Guanajuato is an old colonial town, important because of its rich silver mines, the town prospered, and the buildings, plazas, churches and setting are all gorgeous. Being up in the mountains the climate was much cooler and the town was a joy to walk around. gaunahuato.jpgguana.jpgP1160057.jpg

We both enrolled in a language course to improve our poor Spanish and were overjoyed when we learnt our mate from London who we saw in Baja was coming ti stay at the same hostel as us with his girlfriend for the upcoming Semana Santa festival. This is basically the lead up to Easter, and the Mexicans celebrate for a week with parades, re-enactments, and music. Guanajuato also has the tradition of Dia de la Flores, when everyone buys flowers for the women, and the streets overflow with flowers everywhere.flower truck.jpgflowrestreet.jpgeggs.jpg

Guanajuato felt like it was busting at the seams with the amount of people coming to the festival, the colours on the streets were intense and the smell form street vendors carts filled the air.
We spent a great couple of days wandering the streets with our Baja buddies, went for a cultural evening with the symphony orchestra, saw the Mummies in the Museo de la Momiasmu my.jpgdance.jpg, sampled the cuisine and wine of the region before heading off in our separate directions.
We took a slight detour to Christo Rey, a gigantic statue of Jesus on the top of a mountain, which also marks the geographical centre of Mexico, followed by another of our favourite dirt road excursions to Valencia. hesus.jpg

Posted by Dan Shell at 03:15 AM GMT
San Miguel

From Valencia we hopped over to San Miguel de Allende, another beautiful colonial town in the same format of Churches, Plazas, Bandstands, which was beginning to become a bit to familiar. We cousin’s stepson lived here, and my cousin and his wife were all going to be at the house.san mig.jpghorse.jpgballon.jpg
We all met up at the house, and spent a relaxing couple of days in San Mig, walking around, seeing the sights and having fun with my cousins before a detour Eastwards to San Luis Potosi and the Jungle.

Posted by Dan Shell at 03:21 AM GMT
Marco's

I had made contact with a fellow biker on Horizons Unlimited, the website we had been using while planning the trip, and he had invited us to go stay with him. We rocked up at his house and were shown around his house, which had been built around his garage where he kept his collection of Harleys. mrk1.jpgMarco, our host, turned out to be the president of the local Harley owners club, but couldn’t ride with us as he had recently had an accident, in his car, which prevented him from riding. He plotted a route for us into the jungle, and after showing us the city and taking us to one of the Semana Santa processions, took us out for dinner and gave us a bed for the night. caln2.jpg
The next morning we headed out East, off to the jungle proper. We rode out over the hills and as soon as we descended down to valley of Cuidad Valles, we were hit by the intense heat and humidity. The temp gauge on the bike jumped from its usual mark around 85 degrees to over 100, for the first time on the trip, and then it rose some more! My head was melting in my helmet and both of us were overheating when we came across the first waterfalls. Needless to say we took a detour, parked up the bike and jumped straight into the water for a cool down. The falls we really busy what with this being the last day of the Semana Santa holiday, but nonetheless still great fun.fallz.jpgfallz2.jpg

We reluctantly dried off and jumped back on the bike to head to our hotel in the super hot Cuidad Valles, which would be our se for the next couple of days.
Valles was an extremely uninspiring town, and I couldn’t wait to leave, so we spent the one night before heading deeper into the jungle to explore Xilithla and Aquisimon.

Posted by Dan Shell at 03:31 AM GMT
July 02, 2009 GMT
Cuidad Valles & Xilithla

Valles was an extremely uninspiring town, and I couldn’t wait to leave, so we spent the one night before heading deeper into the jungle to explore Xilithla and Aquisimon.
Xilithla was the site of Edward James’ Castillo. An expressionist set of buildings in the jungle, originally built as a monkey sanctuary. Edward James was an Orchid collector and enthusiast, and he was so upset that many of the flowers on his site died that he decided to make statues of them in concrete so they would never die.
A walk round the site was enough to almost dehydrate us , so after a few hours exploring the jungle,culminating with a terrifying hike up to a tree house with an amazing view of the surrounding countyside. We headed back to Aquisimon to find a room.We suffered in the heat, our walking pace reduced to a meander, moving from shade to shade avoiding the sun. statu.jpgstau2.jpgtreehouse.jpgview2.jpg

We rose early on our second morning to see to Sotano di Golondrinas- the Cave of Swallows. We got in a pick up to take us up the mountain at 5am so we could watch the swallows leaving the cave, and after a bumpy 90 minute ride up the mountain, we hiked another 20 minutes back down to find the cave.
We arrived just before sunrise, perched on the edge of the cave. If you were brave like Jacquie you could have a rope round your waist and a local would lower you over the edge for a better look, I on the other hand was happy on the edge.
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We waited and waited some more until finally the birds started leaving the cave. Unfortunately this was one of those times where the trip had been built up so much, and so many people told us how amazing it was that we were disappointed.
Sure it was a good day, but the best Mexico has to offer-no way!
We followed the cave trip with a walk through some natural caves and we were lead in and out of these huge caves by a local guide who loved showing us his secret nooks and crannies- ooh err!
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We got back to our place around 2 am and both went straight to bed exhausted. We slept most the afternoon and couldn’t leave the air-conditioned semi comfort of our room for more than an hour at a time after that.
We ventured out for some food and as we sat down I heard the familiar rumbling of a Harley. A couple of minutes later a pair of Harleys rode into the square. I rushed over to greet them and realized these were the same guys I had spotted and chatted to a week or so earlier in San Miguel De Allende. Pedro, Hector, and Hector’s 12-year-old grandson Pedro
I showed them where I was staying and we arranged to meet for dinner.
We sat around in the square drinking sodas and eating Tacos with our new Harley buddies, and hatched a plan to ride together the next day to the waterfalls at Tamul.

Posted by Dan Shell at 04:20 AM GMT
Harleys to the Falls

The road started off promising, then got better as we reached a beautiful swathe of fresh new blacktop. This ran out after about 3 miles and we switched to gravel, then dirt, then a lunar landscape. The 3 Harleys trundled along slowly along these roads for a good hour at a meagre 10 mph until we reached Tamul, less than a mile from the waterfalls. But it was one mile more than I didn’t want to do on the Harley. I parked at the top and Jacquie and I changed to our swimmers and walked to the river.pedro et al.jpgnear river.jpg
From there it was a 2 hour canoe ride, with the five of us paddling-some more than others.
We stopped off along the way at a cave where we could swing on a Tarzan rope and jump into the clear waters of the cave, before heading further upstream to reach the falls. A short hike from where the boat let us off led up to the falls and made for a spectacular view point.I hiked up to the base of the falls, and swan in the pools beneath before rejoining the group and the canoe.
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We made our way back elated and refreshed, and after a shared meal together we went our separate ways.

Posted by Dan Shell at 04:38 AM GMT
Back in San Luis Potosi

We had to go back to San Luis Potosi (the City) to have a service on the bike, our 20,000 miles was here already, and our friends recommended us a mechanic who used to work on Harleys, and as there were no dealerships around unless we headed straight to Mexico city, it was the best option.
After an exhausting 25 mile dirt road, we were once again on the blacktop, and we motored on. We had to stop over one night, and experienced our first Sex Hotel, where rooms are charged by the hour. We negotiated an all night rate, and parked the bike. There are several great things about these places. There is always covered parking, usually in a lock up garage, this is to protect the privacy of the fornicators, but is also very useful if you want a good place to park the bike, the rooms are cleaned very regularly also there is free porn… another bonus to some travellers!
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Our Sex Hotel
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Ruben at work

We found Ruben easily enough, working on a powerboat in his yard, and he greeted us in true Latino style. Rum was poured, beers ordered and Ruben produced hundreds of Harley Magazines. He took us out to lunch , and more beers, and it was late in the day before work commenced, slightly altering our plans to get out of San Luis that night and stay somewhere smaller than this big city.
After Ruben nearly dropped the bike on me ( he said he did it on purpose but I don’t believe him!), massacred my oil filter and drained all my engine oil, he gleefully told me that he didn’t have any oil or a filter. I thought we were stuck, but we got in his Jeep, drove around to a couple of shops and a couple of garages, and by 8om, my service which would normally take 40 minutes at the most, was over. 7 hours later!
We had a bit of a challenge finding a room, but in the end gave in a took a room that was way above our budget, but at least meant an end riding round confusing, narrow, cobbled one way streets of San Luis.
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San Luis Plaza Principal

Posted by Dan Shell at 04:47 AM GMT
Queretaro

Our next destination was Queretaro, another of Mexico ‘s fine colonial towns, and one of our favourites, as it turned out.
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On the road to Queretero, a stop fro strawberries

We found a lovely place to stay and were told that we were visiting at a good time as it coincided with the Queretaro Cultural Festival.
We unpacked the bike and had a quick shower before heading straight out to the city to catch some of the action.
We saw a couple of bands playing in the squares, walked around and soaked up the atmosphere and the architecture. We could have stayed longer, but Mexico City was our next stop and we were both rearing to go. One more night in Queretaro and then we were off into the big unknown of Mexico City.
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Posted by Dan Shell at 04:56 AM GMT
To Mexico City

We really were very,very unprepared, we couldn’t get a fix on the address on our GPS, no one we spoke to knew where we should go, so we decided to just head to the freeway and follow the signs ‘til we got closer, then we would ask for directions again. A simple plan-destined for failure!
As night fell, we were just entering the city limits. My cousin in Mexico City, Stanley advised us to enter in the evening when it would be cooler, it skipped my mind that it would also be darker!
Sure enough, about 10 minutes into the city we hit our first patch of trouble.
Mexican Police always have their flashing lights on, so you don’t always pay attention when you see the reds and blues in your mirror, but this Police Motorcyclist pulled up next to us and signalled for us to pull over. Uh oh, what have I done?
Well, apparently motorcycles are not allowed on this road, the Periferico, which is Mexico City’s ring road. The vague directions I had gleaned from my cousin told me to ride along the Periferico until I found the exit for Los Palmas. I explained in my broken Spanish that I had no idea about the motorcycle exception, and that I hadn’t seen any signs, and he just pulled out his rule book and showed my something which appeared to be written in Spanish legaleese. Roughly translated it said; “You owe me 15 days minimum wage.’ I told him I didn’t make minimum wage and that I didn’t have a job, which he didn’t find amusing, and then told me that the fine was 1,500 pesos, or £75. This was my first fine, how was I going to fare?
I informed the officer that I didn’t have that kind of money, and I got the expected response; “you can pay me here, now, cash 750 pesos.” Right, getting better, a little haggling and we were down to 500 pesos and I thought I had done well, until I recounted this story after I met up with Stanley, and he said I could have gotten away with 200 pesos, easy.
Oh well, it was my first time, next time I would do better.
After repeatedly getting lost in the maize of freeways and off shoots, we hired a taxi to lead us to my a Mall near Stanley’s house, and called him come pick me up and lead me to their home.

We spent a few great days wandering the streets of Mexico City, we were cleansed by a Shaman in the Zocalo, the main square in the city centre, visited the museum of Anthropology, we had our futures read by some birds, the feathered kind, climbed up the pyramids of Teohoatican, and took a boat trip along the old canals.
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Then, swine flu hit, hard. The bars and restaurants closed and the government advised everyone to stay indoors. Everybody started wearing surgical masks and the streets became deserted. We figured it was time to leave, so we said our goodbyes, packed up the bike, and headed off for the Pacific coast.

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Getting cleansed by the Shamen in the Zocalo in DF
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Posted by Dan Shell at 05:14 AM GMT
The Road of Death!!

The ride started as normal, and we found our way out of Mexico city without too much trouble, the problems started later on. The road was glorious. We rode up, down and round mountains, through the forest, twisting and winding our way along in the sunshine, and after a few hours, we were ready for a stop.
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Spectacular views on the road to Altamarina( The Road of Death)

We pulled into a little taco stand on the side of the road and ordered some grub. There was a Federale eating beside his pursuit car next to us and we waved hello. These are the guys that we were warned about; the Federales are the hard-core cops, no messing, so we were a little wary. We were half way through our meal when he ran to his car and sped off. 10 minutes or so later, we also got back on the bike and started making our way down the mountain. A couple of miles down the road we hit a tailback, and cruised along the side of the queuing cars and trucks to the front, where the same Federale was in his car, blocking the road. I parked up and went to see what was going on. deputydan.jpgThis Federale was a really cool guy. He wanted to know all about our trip, where we came from, how much the bike cost, what did we think of Mexico and so on. He apologised for the delay, told us there had been a tanker spill a little further down the road, and it would all be cleared up soon.
Sure enough, a few minutes later he motioned for us to pull ahead and pull over to the side of the road, where he deputised us as Federal Deputies, and handed us both Policia Federale badges. To say that this made our day would be an underestimation!
We continued towards our destination, huge grins on our faces, narrowly missing a herd of cows crossing the road, then narrowly missing a herd of goats, then donkeys, around every corner it seemed there was something living that shouldn’t have been there.
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Some of the animals we encountered on the road

The scenery as we rode around the winding mountain road was gorgeous, and had to restrain myself from pulling over every 5 minutes to take photographs.
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As we descended one mountain, we came across a town, and another roadblock. We waited on the bike for a few minutes before dismounting to see what was the hold up. One of the townsfolk told me that there had been a shooting only moments before, and a man was dead; the police had to close the road to gather evidence, and were also interviewing witnesses. It looked like we would be stuck for a while, then an old local farmer told us there was a back way around the block. Brilliant, we backed the bike up and headed down a narrow road, only to get stuck in traffic again. I got off the bike and walked a little way down the road to investigate. On my way down, I stepped on a round concrete drain cover, which promptly gave way, leaving me with one foot on the ground and one leg knee deep in the water. There were 2 ladies in a pickup truck next to me who looked down at me in horror and jumped out of their truck to help me out of my hole. I had a couple of grazes, but was otherwise fine, and everyone in the traffic queue had a good laugh, myself included. As it transpired, a coach had decided to have a go at this back way round the road block, and had managed to wedge itself in good and proper on a tiny bridge, and couldn’t go forwards or backwards, so I was forced to go back to the bike, turn around, and head back up to the main road. Fortunately, the road had been re-opened, and we were able to continue what we had named “The Road of Death” to Zihuatanejo and the beach.

Posted by Dan Shell at 05:29 AM GMT
Back on the Pacific Coast

After the hustle and bustle of Mexico City (before the swine flu closed everything down) and our 2-day ride along the road of death, we were ready to kick back and relax on the beach. We found a lovely little guest house ran by an eccentric Cuban, and spent a few days just chilling on the beach and wandering round the town before following the coast road down to Acapulco.
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The beach at sleepy Zihuatanejo
The ride to Acapulco was another great one., twisting roads, with glimpses of the Pacific thrown in for good measure every now and then.road to aca.jpgto acapulco2.jpgacapulco.jpg
The Beach at Acapulco
Acapulco had been the uber resort for the well to do Mexicans and Gringos since the 50’s, and was way past its heyday, after being offered girls and drugs by 10 year old boys, we decided to get out ASAP, we spent a night there and headed off along the coast again to Puerto Escondido. If Acapulco was a disappointment, Escondido was the cure.escondido.jpg
Ice cream on the beach at Escondido

Beautiful beaches, cheap rooms, and a cool, friendly vibe made for one of our favourite stops. We found a lovely little wooden Cabana for 150 pesos and went out for some Happy Hour action on the beachfront.
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Posted by Dan Shell at 05:45 AM GMT
Puerto Escondido and the Pacific Coast

P1170713.jpgescondido3.jpg A few more days of Escondido and it was time to move on down the coast, we stopped at another little fishing village on the coast that had been overrun by hippies in the 70s and was still thriving on backpackers and budget travellers, and stayed in one of our favourite rooms so far. We moved into a little second floor room with a window and balcony that looked out over Zipolite beach and the Pacific Ocean.
beachwindow.jpgzipolite beach.jpg The Beach at Zipolite
On our second night there we saw what looked like a green light bouncing off the waves as they broke on the shore. In the morning we asked the owner what it was that we had seen , and she told us that it was phosphorescence, and it was the brightest that she had seen in her 15 years of living there, apparently we had had quite a treat.
On out 3rd day in Zipolite our old friends Dan and Stacey e.mailed us to tell us that they were in Escondido, and that another biker that we had met in Baja was also arriving there in the next day or two. We had been a few days ahead of these guys for the last couple of weeks, so we decided to backtrack to Puerto Escondido to hang out with them for a couple of days.
We rode back to Escondido and spent the next few days exchanging stories of breakdowns, near misses, and Police encounters, good and bad, with our fellow bikers.
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The gang back together again!

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Release the beast!
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The lot of us took a trip out to a beach a few miles down the road and released some baby turtles into the ocean, we relaxed on the beach and drank on our porch, it was great to be back together again, but, as ever, the clock was ticking and the rainy season was fast approaching, so after our little catch up, we packed up once again and headed off toward the Yucatan.

Posted by Dan Shell at 06:31 AM GMT
To Oaxaca

We made a beeline to Oaxaca city where we visited the ruin of Monte Alban, and from there headed out via the Valles Centrales to Chiapas and San Cristobal de Los Casas.
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Toasted insects at the market in Oaxaca
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The ruins of Monte Alban

Our ride along the Valles Centrales road was a non-stop sightseeing tour. We visited two ruins, a busy local market, the biggest tree in Mexico, and finally arrived at Hierve El Agua, a petrified waterfall. We had seen pictures of the falls in Oaxaca, and had decided to check them out.
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The clifftop pools at Hierve El Agua
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We had originally planned to arrive at the falls at around 2pm, and then see if we wanted to stay overnight or to move on, but after a being delayed from all the sightseeing on the way , and by the last 11 miles of dirt road that slowed us to a mind numbing 10mph, our only option was a quick dip in the pools on top of the falls, and a night in the mountains. Our lights had dropped out of their casings after all the off-roading, and were now pointing squarely at my front fender, and showing a few inches of road ahead, so night riding was out of the question, and we had about one hour of daylight left, on top of that , my fuel consumption was dropping wildly, and instead of my usual 250 miles range, I was down to 150 miles, and I barely had any gas left in the tank, meaning we would have to backtrack to the nearest town before we could head out East.
Fortunately for us, there was one room left at Hierve El Agua, and we took it, we strolled down to the top of the falls and the sight took our breath away.
The pools are formed from sulphur springs gushing out over the granite rock. As the water washes over the edge of the rock, the sulphur deposits form a petrified waterfall down the side. We sat in the pool right at the top of the cliff and looked out over the gorgeous scenery around us.
We stayed in the pools for an hour or so, then made our way back up to the taco stands for dinner before walking into the nearby village to watch the Mother’s Day celebrations before getting an early night in our bungalow. That night, from our porch, we watched an amazing light show, courtesy of a distant electrical storm, before jumping in our bunks for another early night in the middle of nowhere.
The next morning we bought an emergency litre and a half of gas from a shop in the village, before making our way back down the mountain and onward to San Cristobal.

Posted by Dan Shell at 06:47 AM GMT
Chiapas

We set off in the glorious sunshine and left Oaxaca state, into Chiapas. The brown and dry landscape gave way to lush, tropical vegetation, the roads became bumpier and more pot-holed, and after lunch, which was the first time we tried Iguana-and the last, hopefully- the weather started to change too.
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Soaking wet after our first tropical downpour

As we climbed one of the mountains, the sky darkened, we rounded a corner and the road was wet, maybe we had missed the rain? No such luck, a minute or so later, the sky went from grey to black, and the rain came down. All we could do was laugh, within seconds we were absolutely drenched. Water filled our boots, my glasses steamed up, and the rain stung my face and cheeks.I slowed to a crawl and squinted through the droplets on my windscreen. Around the next corner we rode under a sign reading, “BIENVENIDOS A CHIAPAS”.
Fortunately the downpour lasted only 10 minutes or so, and we dried out in just enough time for the second instalment as we entered San Cristobal in the dark.
Our first night was a bit of a put off, arriving in the rain never really gives a good impression, and we just wanted to find somewhere as soon as possible to get out of the wet. We looked in our Lonely Planet, found a reasonable looking Hostel, and went straight there and booked in for two nights.
This was a mistake. We never usually booked more than one night at a time, but being tired, cold and hungry, we went along with the receptionists suggestion to book and pay for two nights. That night we slept very badly in the cold, windowless, damp room, and uncomfortable beds, and were awoken at 6 in the morning by the early shift arriving at the hostel and turning the music on, loud. The other thing that bugged us was the amount of rules posted on every wall in the hostel. In the breakfast room, a sign proclaimed;
“Guests are entitled to one visit to the breakfast buffet, one glass of juice, two slices of toast, one fruit, one cup of coffee”. It was worse than being back at school, and seeing as the only people causing problems in the hostel were the staff, we thought this was rather rich. We spoke to the receptionist in the morning to ask if we could check out and get our money back for our second day. He replied “ No problemo” so we went off in search of alternative accommodation for our second night, and that’s when we met Juan.
We had seen a couple of places, but when we went into Posada Mexico, we were greeted by the biggest, friendliest smile we had seen in ages. Juan was a chatty and quite excitable Mexican in his twenties. He showed us round, and we took a room and paid a deposit. We rushed back to our first Hostel, the Backpackers, to retrieve our bike and luggage and move out.
Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, especially in Latin America. When we went to get our money back from reception at Backpackers, we were told that the owner said that we couldn’t have the money back. Here we go again, I thought. I asked to speak to the owner, and the receptionist called him, and then told me that the owner didn’t want to talk to me. So I kicked up a bit of a stink, wrote a long and not too favourable report in their guest book, and left the hostel with half our money and a bad mood.
Back at Posada Mexico, we parked the bike up in the garage and settled into our room. We chatted with Juan, who was a mine of information, and then went to explore San Cristobal. This city was the first time we saw Mayans in traditional dress in an urban situation. The town was quiet, due to the swine flu scare, and we wondered round in the rain, diving from doorway to doorway trying to keep dry.
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On returning to Posada Mexico, Juan introduced us to a couple of Frenchmen who were also staying in the hostel and asked if we would like to go out for dinner with them all, which we gleefully accepted. We all ate well, and drank too much that night, and became firm friends with the Frenchmen and Juan. We were all planning to go to see the ruins at Palenque and to visit the waterfalls at Agua Azul, so we decided we would go together.
The next day, the Frenchmen set off in the Jeep they had hired from Mexico City and we followed behind on our bike. We rode up and up into the mountains, through Mayan villages, over a ridiculous number of speed bumps until we reached the town of Ocosingo where we would stop for the night. Ocosigno had been the base of the Zapatista Rebels, and many of the bars and restaurants had pictures of balaclava clad, cigar smoking, gun toting rebels.
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Then next morning we rose early and headed out to Agua Azul. We arrived early before the crowds and had the pools and falls all to ourselves. We climbed to the top of the falls, and then, made our way back down to swim in the pools at the bottom. By this time the tourists and the vendors had arrived. We were surrounded by young Mayan girls with baskets of bananas and tamales on their heads. We bought some of both and chatted with the girls, who found it extremely amusing when I tried to balance one of their baskets on my head, without much success. At midday it was time to head of to the jungle enshrouded ruins of Palenque.
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We had all really been looking forward to Palenque, one of the best known ruins in Mexico, and we weren’t disappointed. We scrambled all over the site with our guide, up the pyramids, in the tombs, and through some of the jungle to see some of the 95% of the site that is still covered in moss, trees and grass.
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The site itself covers some 20 km, with only 5% cleared and restored. We explored the site in oppressive heat, sweat pouring from all of us, until the site closed at 5pm, before heading back down to the entrance to the Palenque national park to find a place to stay in the heart of the jungle.
We were shown around a few options before Jacquie and I settled on a tree house overlooking the river. Needless to say the camp of cabanas, bungalows and tree houses were full of backpackers, hippies and travellers, and there was a very easy going and friendly vibe in the camp. We made friends with our neighbours, a group of Israelis who had just finished their military service, a couple of Swedish girls and a young Mexican bartender on holiday from Playa Del Carmen, and our newly formed posse headed to the restaurant for dinner and a fire show, and on returning, Jacquie had “Happy Birthday” sung to her in 5 different languages, simultaneously. Isn’t it strange how every nation known to me sings that song to the same tune?
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I could have easily stayed at Palenque, in the Jungle Palace tree house, for a few more days, but the next day, with slightly fuzzed heads, we said our goodbyes to the Frenchmen and our new Israeli friends, packed up and rode out. We visited one more set of ruins at Tonin with the Frenchmen before we went our separate ways.
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Posted by Dan Shell at 08:07 PM GMT
The Gulf of Mexico

It felt good to be riding unaccompanied, even though we missed the company of the Frenchies, we could speed up where we wanted, slow down where we wanted, and stop where we wanted. The weather was as gorgeous as the scenery as we rode north up the Yucatan Peninsula and towards the Gulf of Mexico. We had never seen this side of the country and when we finally came to the beach road, the turquoise blue waters of the Gulf welcomed us in an unforgettable way.
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Following the coastal road, we soon came across a small restaurant right on the beach, so we pulled over, parked up and went and sat on a table on the sand, hastily removed our boots, rolled up our jeans, and went paddling in the warm Gulf waters. We shared a lemonade and enjoyed the calming sounds of the water lapping the white-sand shore before booting up and riding along the coast. We detoured into the town of Sebaplaya, just because it was there, and also it meant we could ride the costal road a little further. The latter was far more important than the former.
It was here that we came across the bullring. We weren’t sure at first exactly what this huge wicker basket looking building was. It looked like it had just been put up, was made of wood and covered in palms, it reminded me of “the Thunderdome” in the Mad Max movie. We found a spot by the side of the road to park the bike and went over to the ring to get a closer look. We had arrived just in time to the matadors get ready to enter the ring, and the bulls getting moved into position outside. We were in prime position right at the gate to see the grand entrance of the matadors, and the release of the first bull.
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We asked around and were told that the bullfights would go on for three days, so we jumped back on Garth and headed north once more for the last 60 miles to Campeche. We found a nice cheap hostel in the centre of the city and unpacked the essentials. We parked the bike out side and pulled out the bike cover, it felt safe as houses so we didn’t worry much about anything happening to Garth overnight.
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The Castillon at Campeche

We met some fellow travellers in the hostel who said they had seen us on the road and had basically been following the same route as us for the past few days, passing us, or being passed by us, on several occasions. We all wet out for some street tacos together, and wandered round the city, we talked about the bullring and the guys said to they ‘d like to come too. So, the next day, we headed back to Seybaplaya , bought hot dogs, beer, tickets and chips,and took our seats for the bullfight.
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We had been too late to see any bullfights, the Mexican season ending in March, with the Matadors basing themselves in Spain for the Spanish season. I had wanted to go to a bullfight well before I had ever thought of going to Mexico, and was full of nervous excitement of what was to come.
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Run Forrest, RUN!

I was intrigued, and to the distain of my fellow travellers, quite enjoyed the spectacle, Jacquie stayed for the first fight, then left, then the Aussies from the hotel left, leaving me feeling quite guilty and alone in our terrace seats. I watched one more fight, during which one of the matadors had to run for his life from a bull that had him in his sights, and then went and rejoined Jacquie and the guys to return to the hotel, and a slightly more “civilised” night in town.
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Posted by Dan Shell at 08:35 PM GMT

From Campeche we had a hard ride on a dirt road 21miles down to Celestun to see the pink flamingos. The “short cut” added about an hour to our journey, and caused a not insignificant amount of tension between Jacquie and I, but that was all washed away on the boat trip to see the Flamingos the next day.
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From there, it was a straight shot to Cancun, via the amazing, and very expensive, ruins at Chichen Itza. It was blistering hot again, but the site was incredible.
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It was a shame that it is no longer possible to climb the pyramids, apparently health and safety is making a rare appearance, however, the ruins were irresistible to explore. After a few hours scrambling round the huge site, we road down to the nearby Sambula for a quick refreshing dip in one of the Yucatan’s many Cenotes- an underground pool of water, before heading to Cancun
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Security guarding our bike at the Cenote

Posted by Dan Shell at 08:57 PM GMT
July 18, 2009 GMT
To Cancun the Dreadded

harley cancun.jpgJacquie booked her flight and we were left with one week together. We headed down to Playa Del Carmen, not wanting to stay in the gringo high-rise Mecca of Cancun any longer than necessary, and after a few days there, moved down to Tulum and stayed in a sand floor Cabana on the beach, catching up on our tanning before Jacquie’s return to the gloom of the UK. We loved Tulum, enjoyed Playa Del Carmen, and made the best of downtown Cancun, but all the while, the impending separation weighed heavy on our minds. Jacquie had bought a return ticket as it was the cheapest option, and we both focused on the option for her return in two weeks time.
The time came for Jacquie’s departure, and we rode from Playa to Cancun for the last time. We had both decided to make our goodbye as quick and painless as possible, so I helped her in with her bags, went with her to check in, then we had a quick drink whilst sorting out last minute details like money. We hugged each other tightly outside the terminal and I walked back to the bike alone, turning round and waving to Jacquie every 5 paces.
I got on the bike and rode out of the car park, I rode over to Jacquie who was still standing outside the terminal, we had one last hug, and then I rode out of the airport and towards Chetumal and the border.

Posted by Dan Shell at 05:27 PM GMT
August 07, 2009 GMT
First night alone

It’s really hard to explain how I was feeling as I headed due south, past Playa Del Carmen, past Tulum, and onwards into the unknown. It was strange riding the bike solo, I had no luggage outside of the bike’s boxes, and the bike rode like a different machine. I took off my jacket and stowed it in the back box, turned the music on the stereo up, and rode along in the beautiful sunshine. I could accelerate faster, brake harder, and turn tighter. I could actually ride the bike like I had never ridden it before. With no one following me, and no one to follow, I could do exactly as I pleased, but with no Jacquie, it didn’t feel right. One minute I would be elated, the next overcome by waves of sadness. Jacquie and I hadn’t been apart for more than a couple of hours for the past 30 weeks, and most of that time we were no more than a few inches apart, and now there was an empty seat behind me.
As I passed Tulum, I entered butterfly territory. At first there were just a few of them, then they were all around me, I slowed down as my windscreen became a battering ram, and squashed butterflies began to obscure my vision. There was nothing I could do as more and more of these beautiful creatures came to the end of their short lives on my screen. The road ahead seemed to be full of static and the butterflies darted all around the road and me and my bike.
That day I rode until I reached Chetumal, the last Mexican town before the border, some 6 hours later, arriving just after dark into this dreary, characterless town. I found a cheapish hotel without too much anguish, but was put off by the staff and the manner of the short, fat receptionist. I rode round the town for another hour in a fruitless search for a better option before returning to my first stop, the unfortunately named Hotel Ucum.
I paid up, unpacked, and went out to find an Internet café and a taco stand. I hated Chetumal. The streets were dirty, people unfriendly, and the town downright ugly. I did what I had to do, sent Jacquie an e-mail, and returned to the Ucum. I sat in my puke-green room and sobbed. This was not a great place to be on my first night alone.

Posted by Dan Shell at 09:30 PM GMT
INTO BELIZE

The next morning, I rose after a poor night’s sleep, went back into town for a quick breakfast in the market, followed by a fleeting visit to the Internet café-no messages, before setting off for my fist solo border crossing and Belize.
I used up my remaining pesos on fuel, fags and fast food and hit the border at around 10 am. I queued for emigration and then was turned back as I didn’t have any pesos left to pay the exit fee. Back I went to the gas station where I had just spent my last pesos, to retrieve more for the exit fee.
belize border.jpg I got back to the border about 20 minutes later, and sailed through emigration, then customs and then immigration, then customs again, paid my fees, got the bike sprayed with disinfectant, purchased by obligatory but no doubt useless insurance, and entered Belize an hour and a half later, and a few dollars poorer.
Just riding the roads in rural Belize, I knew I was in a different country. The small poorly paved roads cut through flat, tropical grasslands and the air had the distinct smell of the Caribbean. I was so reminded of St Martin, in the French West Indies where I had lived some 15 years prior, I almost felt like I was coming home.
Again, I was alternating from being high on the buzz of entering my first new country for 4 months, as well as being in my first Central American country, to being gutted that I couldn’t share it with Jacquie. Still, the beautiful day, the lush countryside, the quaint roads, and Belize itself raised my spirits. I stopped a few times along the way to have a soda and chat to some locals. I had almost forgotten that Belizeans spoke English, and the strong Caribbean accent was music to my ears. Everyone welcomed me to their country and were eager to chat to me about the trip and how I liked their homeland.
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I stopped and ate fried chicken by the green- blue Caribbean sea, and took out my Lonely Planet for inspiration, I had no idea where I should aim for, but I had decided I definitely needed to spend some time here, and not take one of my options, which was to ride straight through Belize to Guatemala in my first day.
The owner/waitress/chef brought my lunch over and we started to natter. She asked me where I was headed for and I told her I wasn’t quite sure, I hadn’t really made any plans.
Without any further ado, I was treated to a full scale explanation of all my options, and I decided I would take her advice, and head to Belize city, get on a boat, and “reeeeelax ‘pon one o’ dem ‘dere hammocks for a coupla days, take it easyyyyyy.”
How could I not!
I rode on through the north of Belize, sideways down the country towards Belmopan, the capital, before turning left onto the Western Highway.
Time was getting on, so I pushed ahead to Belize city and after being welcomed once again to everyone I stopped to ask directions from, I arrived at the Water Taxi terminal at 4.30pm. I went in and was told the last boat would leave in 45 minutes. The question was, what would I do with the bike. There were no car ferries, as there were no cars on the Cay Caulker, my destination, so why would there be anything but passenger ferries. I was pondering my predicament when a tall Belizean walked over to me and introduced himself as Cobra. Cobra told me he was a licensed cabbie who worked in conjunction with the Water Taxi Association, and that I could keep my bike in his backyard for a few days. We negotiated a price and I followed him on my bike as he drove back to his house.
secure parking.jpg Somehow I managed to ride the bike through the narrow gate into Cobra’s yard, took out my beach bag, locked up the bike and covered it up with my dirt encrusted bike cover before getting into Cobra’s taxi and racing back to the terminal to get on the boat for Caye Caulker.
A short 40-minute high-speed boat ride later and I was on Caye Caulker, the “Go Slow” island. I disembarked, walked down the jetty to the shore, and checked straight into Tina’s hostel. I walked into my dorm room and was welcomed by my new roommates. I couldn’t have wished for better company. I was sharing with two gorgeous Swedish blonds and a beautiful French brunette. I got the feeling that I was going to like the Cayes.
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The four of us sat on the balcony as the sun set, drinking beer and eating chips, and were soon joined by our neighbours, and then by the residents of the floor above. By 7 o’clock the party was in full swing. People came and went, but the core posse of the four of us from room 1, stayed the course. I was DJing with my computer and one of the Swede’s portable, and very loud speakers, and being fed beer and chips, whilst the crowd on our balcony swelled.
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The party didn’t stop for three days, alternating between our balcony in the evenings to the split during daylight. Good friends were made, and on the last day we all went on a snorkel trip with the Ragamuffin Crew.
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We had a great day of Snorkelling over the very shallow barrier reef, swimming a few feet above scuba divers, and watching the Nurse sharks, Southern stingrays, Sea turtles, and a plethora of tropical fish going about their business. On the return trip to Caye Caulker, the rum punch came out, the music got turned up, and the party began.
We got back to shore having drunk far too much of the sweet Rum punch, and I staggered back to my dorm to collapse.
Early the next morning I packed up, and with sadness in my heart, got back on the boat for Belize City and said goodbye to Caye Caulker.
Cobra was at the Water Taxi terminal when I arrived, and he took me back to his place to retrieve my bike. All was well under the bike cover, and a few minutes later, I was back on the road, headed for Plasencia.
I rode southwest for an hour or so until I came to my turnoff. As I turned the corner, I spotted a couple of lads, one of them wearing a Harley Davidson leather jacket, pushing an ageing Yamaha along the other side of the road. I pulled up opposite them, and got off the bike, ready to lend a hand, but before I had turned off the ignition, they had already jump-started the Yam.
They rode over to me, and introduced themselves as Leo and Jimmy. We spoke for a while about the usual, bikes, roads, trips and countries, before I was invited to ride with them until their turnoff, about an hour or so down the road in the right direction.
We rode together, along winding roads, which were just like English country lanes. There was hardly any other traffic on the road, and the ride was joyous. We pulled over on the side of the road some 70 or 80 miles later, shared a Caribbean cigarette, and went our separate ways.
I continued down the road a little further until I reached my turnoff, and started the 25 mile dirt and gravel track, bumping and bouncing my way down to Plasencia.
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I arrived hot, tired and hungry at Plasencia and set about the arduous task of finding a reasonably priced room that wasn’t too shabby, or at least clean. In some places this is an easy job, in Plasencia it was a chore. With the help of some friendly locals I found Oscar’s Guesthouse, unloaded my gear, and set out in search of some good old Caribbean fried chicken. I wasn’t too taken with Plasencia, and set off after a hearty breakfast burrito back up the dirt road, along the wooden plank bridge, and towards Guatemala.
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I stopped for a quick drive by of Dangriga, a sleepy beach town but with a bit more soul than Plasencia, and secretly wished that I had spent the night there instead. A few hours later and I was at the border to Guatemala
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Posted by Dan Shell at 09:55 PM GMT
Guatemala

. My heart sank as I hit the road to Flores. Once again, I had to crawl along another twenty odd miles of gravel before I reached hard blacktop and the chance to pull back the throttle and put some miles down.
I arrived at Flores, and couldn’t resist the pull of the first restaurant I came across, MacDonald’s. After a quick quarter pounder, I saddled up and rode along the bridge to reach the island in the lake and without no trouble I found Los Amigos, parked the Harley in their reception, and settled into my new home for the next few days.
Jacquie had e-mailed me while I was in Belize and was going to fly back to Cancun in a few days, and then bus it down to Antigua to meet me.
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I spent a couple of days on the lake, took a boat out to one of the islands on the lake and rode out to the amazing ruins at Tikal. I spent a great day walking around the site and the jungle paths, spotting my first Toucans. The howler monkeys were living up to their name, but kept out of sight, the spider monkeys were the troublesome ones, throwing fruits and seeds at me, and peeing in my general direction from the canopy of trees overhead.monkeyniuts.jpgTikal.jpgmonkeysee.jpgtucan.jpg

I bumped into Andy again, my Canadian buddy who I had met in Baja, and he in turn had met some cool Texans who were self confessed Chupacabra hunters, in search of the mythical Latin American equivalent of the Yeti. We all headed out on my last night for a party in the Chupacabra Hunters camper van, and Andy introduced my to Alex and Thomas, a pair of Norwegians who were also travelling south, in a 1971 VW Camper they had bought from Frank Zappa’s first drummer. We all drank a little too much, and I left with the party getting a touch messy in the wee hours of the morning.
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Next day, once again, I packed the bike and headed south for Rio Dolce.
A few hours of riding in more glorious Guatemalan sunshine, and I was on the shores of the river that led out to the Caribbean sea. I stopped on the bridge to take a photo, and just when I was getting back on the bike, I saw the Norwegians VW Camper approaching. It was hard to miss with the sharks’ teeth painted across the front, and behind the van was Andy. Reunited again!reunited.jpg

We stopped and chatted on the bridge before heading of together to the hostel at the other end of the bridge. An evening of shenanigans followed, and the next morning we all jumped in a boat with two girls who were volunteering at the hospital, teaching the local kids English in return for free room and board.rioflowers.jpgriversales.jpglivingston.jpglivingstonkids.jpgbeachl.jpg

We took a trip up the river stopping off at a hot spring that was way to hot to even dip a toe in, before heading on to the very Caribbean town of Livingston. We strolled along the beach, stopped for a long lunch, and then went back to the dock and got back on the boat to return to Rio Dulce.
The girls were pretty fed up of their volunteer work, and decided to jump ship and head off in the Norwegian’s camper van the next day to come with our newly formed posse to Lanquin.

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I left with the Norwegians, following their van for the first hour or so, while Andy took his KLR on the Northern dirt road. I was soon quite bored of 50mph, and waved goodbye to the van and its cargo and headed off alone at a more comfortable pace.
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The trip to Lanquin was another great ride, except for the last 15 miles of bumpy dirt road to the hostel at Lanquin, El Retiro.
I met up with Andy, and the next day, the Norwegians arrived too.

Posted by Dan Shell at 11:50 PM GMT
August 29, 2009 GMT
Lanquin,Samuc Champey,San Pedro

The following days were spent clambering up more waterfalls, crawling along underground tunnels, and enjoying the scenery and natural beauty of Samuc Champey.
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The hostel was a great base for our excursions and more friends were made during our stay. On the last night of my stay I DJ’d at the bar/restaurant, and we all had one hell of a party!
The next morning Andy and I packed up our bikes and headed out for San Pedro, on Lake Attitlan. I had my Harley packed up pretty quickly, and set off ahead of Andy, who would make much quicker work of the 12 miles of dirt before we reached any sort of tarmac.
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We met up with each other at the end of the dirt road, and rode off together towards San Pedro. We rode through a local market, receiving more than our fair share of stares form the traders. Both our bikes were unusual, Andy had a surfboard strapped to the side of his KLR, and I was on a Harley…not a common bike for the dirt roads of Central America.
We rode on and on, and on some more. It always surprised me how long it could take to do such little distance, and today was no exception. We got held up behind a stream of trucks and busses, exuding their customary clouds of black smoke. By the time we reached Antigua, it was getting dark, but, as we only had an inch or so more distance to travel on the map, we decided to push on.
Neither of us had ridden much at night, or in the dark. The roads were bad enough in the daylight, and riding in the dark meant you missed out on any scenery. With no street lights, cats eyes or signage, night riding had many challenges, as well as being less secure than daylight hours.
But, we figured we were so close, that we may as well carry on.
We rode up and up, into the night, and with the help of our fairly poorly detailed road maps, were lost within an hour. There was no sign of life on the road apart from the odd speeding truck or bus, no petrol stations, shops, nor anyone to stop and ask for directions.The pair of us had been bouncing around on dirt roads for a few hundred miles in recent weeks, resulting in our lights getting a tad out of alignment. Andy's lit up his front mudguard, while mine shone on the overhanging branches of trees. I could only see the road when I was taking a right handed bend, Andy had a better view of left handers, but somehow, we made it.
Relying on my compass only, and following the road as best we could, we carried on some more. Then all of a sudden, the tarmac was gone, and in its place, more dirt and rubble. We crawled along at my Harleys best pace, before coming to a new section of road. My relief was short lived, as after another 500 metres or so , we were back to the dirt track for 3 more miles, this pattern continued for what felt like an eternity, until we finally came upon a gas station.
We stocked up on chocolate and warmed ourselves with hot coffee, and were directed by a gaggle of 6or7 truck drivers to our destination.
We finally reached the turnoff we had been waiting for, and headed towards the lake on roads which were gradually becoming smaller and in worse repair. We rode on, now feeling the cold more than ever, as well as being hungry and tired, but when we crested a small hill and saw lights off in the distance, our spirits raised, only to be dashed once more when we discovered that we were still 3 villages away from our destination.
We finally made it to San Pedro, and after grabbing some Tacos in the square, we were led by a couple of local boys on a 125 to a hostel where we parked up our bikes and went straight to bed without even unpacking!
We awoke to a beautiful morning and headed down to the lake. Having arrived in the dark, we had no idea what awaited us, and the surprise was wonderful. San Pedro was a quaint, undeveloped village, and the lake was beautiful. We sat on the shore watching the locals washing their clothes on the rocks, and surveying the surrounding mountains.
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We had a chilled day, recovering from our ride, checked our e.mails and pottered around town, and generally relaxed, and waited. The van loaded with Norwegians and stow away volunteers was only one day behind us, which only meant more madness and mayhem were merely moments away!
Sure enough, with the arrival of the Camper van, a party was brewing. We spent the day together in a super chilled out café bar, sampling some of the local delights, before heading off to the Buddha bar, where I had arranged to play another set. I began DJing at 9pm, and my 11, the place was jumping. We danced till dawn, or at least 2am, before moving on to the after party at some Danish guys’ house up the road.
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Posted by Dan Shell at 11:06 PM GMT
August 30, 2009 GMT
ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA

After one more recovery day, we were off again, to Antigua. Andy and I left the posse and rode on together.
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We finally arrived in Antigua after driving straight past the turn off, twice!
arrvlantigua.jpg We rolled into town checked out a few hostels, then took a room in one of the few places that had all we needed, a secure spot to park the bikes, internet, and clean sheets. As ever, my budget was $10 for the room, and this was $7, nice.
Now I just had to wait for Jacquie to arrive.
I waited in the bar of our hostel for Jacquie, who had told me she should be in Antigua by 6pm.
Finally, at around 9pm, Jacquie walked into the hostel and I rushed up to hug her. We went and sat in our room and Jacquie told me all about her trip. She had had an eventful one, her bus was held up in Mexico, and armed robbers boarded the bus and took money from all the passengers , and left just before the police arrived. Jacquie was shaken up by her ordeal, but happy that we were reunited.
We went out and I showed Jacquie around the city.
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As per usual, we found our favorite part of the city was the colourful market, and we spent hours wondering around, sniffing and tasting everything that didn't move! The market was full of bright colours, friendly people, and the best food around.
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You raelly can buy anything at the market...kid in a box anyone?
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We had spoken about doing a language course, and we both decided to enrol. Andy had met up with one of his friends from home, and they were also going to take language lessons.
Jacquie and I walked around some more, checked out some schools, and that afternoon, we enrolled in a school for a week’s classes and had arranged to stay with a local family for the duration of the course.
Our time in Antigua was fun, we learnt a bit more Spanish, climbed an active volcano in the pouring rain-not the best time to be scrambling over red hot lava-and enjoyed a break from the hot weather.
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Volcan Picaya, seemed like a good idea..
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The easier way up would have been by horse taxi, but who wants to do it the easy way..
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The Lava halfway up, with rain sizzling on the rocks..awesome

Our friends in the van were just a couple of days behind us, and we all re-united once more in Antigua and had a few nights of partying before heading to El Salvador.

Posted by Dan Shell at 12:07 AM GMT
To El Salvador

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A wave goodbye from Guatemala

Our ride into El Salvador has to have been one of the most memorable rides to date. We took the coastal road, and followed the contours of the mountains, riding the winding route overlooking the Pacific to our right, with the lush mountains in turn looking over us from our left. We rode through tunnels, and on each corner were rewarded with some spectacular views.
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We stopped at a restaurant overlooking the sea, and were joined by a group of a dozen or so bikers from San Salvador who were out on a weekend jaunt.
We were asked where we had come from and where we were going to, and all the usual questions; how much was the bike? how fast did it go? And how big was the engine?
We drank fresh lemonade and ate some beautiful Ceviche before getting back on the bikes and riding to El Tunco, a small surf town 40miles further down the road.
The vibe at El Tunco was so chilled and relaxing, a nice change form the city, and it being the weekend, many of the city folk from El Salvador were down to lie on the beach, surf and relax.
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arriving in El Tunco
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just in time for the sunset


We met a group of guys in the beach bar who were down for exactly this reason, to chill for the weekend, and they asked us to join them.
We sat around the table, drinking, talking, and getting to know the locals. The people in El Salvador were much less used to visitors than in Guatemala, or any of the places we had visited so far, but were without doubt the most welcoming and friendly.
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Who needs a TV!


We were shown around the city by another biker we had met on Horizons Unlimited, went to the Harley store-an obligatory stop in every country-and had dinner in one of the new American style malls.
We left El Tunco after a few days, and went up into the mountains, to see the coffee growing regions ,more waterfalls and some more El Salvadorian towns and villages.
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The Lake in the Crater

Jacquie really wanted us to ride the Ruta de Flores, a road that in the right season, has amazing flowers bordering its side, but, we weren’t in season, and, although the road and the scenery were both beautiful, there were hardly any flowers to be seen. A couple of local cops stopped as we were looking on our map by the side of the road, we told them we were looking for the Ruta de Flores, and they said they would lead us to the start of the road.
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We followed the cops in their pickup for 25 minutes til they pulled over and pointed us in the right direction.
We had been warned about corrupt police in Mexico and in Central America, but apart from the one time in Mexico, al our run ins with the Police had been really harmless, with the Police being friendly, helpful, and quite charming!
This time was no exception, the police had their photos taken with us, told us to be careful if riding at night, and wished us the best for our trip.
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Some of the spectacular scenery on the Routa de Flores

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We arrived in Juaya, up in the mountains, and spent a quiet night in, before getting another one of those early nights in this sleepy mountain town.
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We woke early walked through a coffee plantation to the waterfall, and in the afternoon we chilled back at the hostel with some other guests as the rain came down.coffee.jpg
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The next day we rode back down the mountain, stopping off at the spectacular crater , before resting up for the night before our marathon ride planned for the next day.

Posted by Dan Shell at 02:08 AM GMT
El Salvador-Honduras-Nicaragua

While we were in El Salvador, there had been a military coup in Honduras...quite something, they kidnapped the president and took him to Costa Rica. America and Colombia were up in arms saying it was an illegal coup, and thousands of people were in the streets in Honduras. At this point no one knew if they were protesting his arrest, or celebrating it...only in (Central) America.
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A quick blast through Honduras

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The local way to travel
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That's GOTTA be a strong bike!

The day the borders re-opened, we got on the bike and did an epic ride through El Salvador’s volcanic landscape, out of El Salvador, meaning we had to export the bike, then go through immigration, then import the bike into Honduras, and then do the Honduran emigration, $48 and 4 hours later, we were in Honduras, we sped through Honduras, stopping very briefly for a taco and some abuse from a very very drunk national, and 2 hours and 6 military and police checkpoints later, we were at the Honduran border with Nicaragua.


I rode into the customs complex, and whilst looking for the right building to import the bike, I missed the huge pot hole in front of us. The bike dropped 8 or so inches into the hole, and emerged minus a stand spring, with my stand dragging along the gritty floor. Uh oh, that was the sixth time, and I was down to my last spare spring. We repaired the stand with a bungee cord and rode up to the customs building. Another 2 hours of exporting and importing, and we were through, almost. I took a photo of the bridge and the ¨Welcome to Nicaragua sign¨ as per usual.
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The snap that caused all the trouble!

A Policeman from the Honduran side ran over to me and seized the camera, telling me it was illegal to take photos of the police. He pocketed the camera, then asked for my driving license, which he put in his shirt pocket with my camera…this was going to be fun!
I insisted that the photo was of the sign, and showed him the picture I had taken, he asked for my driving license, which I gave him, then he pocketed it, and the camera, and demanded $80.
This is fairly normal practice; police are corrupt, and eager for an extra buck. I told him I had enough money to import the bike to Nicaragua, and no more, so if I paid him, I would be stuck, not being able to re enter Honduras, nor enter Nicaragua, I gave him my favorite line of having no money , but a lot of time! I explained that I could wait all day if I had to, but that I couldn’t pay him any money. I went and sat on the bike, taking off my helmet and jacket and getting comfortable. A few minutes later, he approached me and said $20 would be enough, I again said I couldn’t pay him, and said all I could do was give him cigarettes. A few minutes later, we were on our way over the bridge, into Nicaragua, waving goodbye to the smug copper, smoking my Marlboro, and pocketing a $5 bill in his fat, sweaty hands.
Entering Nicaragua was a fairly simple, and free, experience, and half an hour of paperwork later, we were free to go.
The road on the other side of the border consisted of stones and rocks thrown together in a fairly straight line for 3 miles, at the end of which, a man with an assault rifle stopped us and asked for the $1 toll. I resisted at first, not wanting to pay a toll for a road that hadn’t even been built, but, with the rifle looking a tad menacing, and the fee only $1, we paid and were on our way to Leon.

Posted by Dan Shell at 10:37 PM GMT
Leon, Nicaragua

Arriving in Leon, we decided to stop and have a rest, we found a lovely French Deli, and were greeted by the French owner and his Dutch woman, they chatted with us, and we were persuaded to stay . Christian, the owner of the bakery, took us round to see a couple of nearby hostels and we decided to treat ourselves to a private room, with its own bathroom, and ...a TV! Ultimate luxury for a mere $15, sweet!
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Arriving IN the Hostel Via Via

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LEON Cathedral and the central square


The problem was, we hadn’t seen the fleas jumping around on the bed until it was sleepy time, so, at 10pm, exhausted and not in the best of spirits, we had to check out of the hostel and move over the road to a much less attractive, noisy hostel, into another dorm room. After flicking the pubes from the previous guest off the bed, I dropped a diazepam, and finally drifted off to sleep, only to be woken at 4am by my new hand and foot rash. Apparently I had a lovely fungal infection, caused by God-knows-what, spreading across my hands and feet.

I had a joyous morning in Leon, spending half a day at the hospital, after being refused admittance into 2 private clinics. I was not at all happy about having to go to the hospital, everyone had told me I was likely to come out worse off than how I went in, but I could see no other option, and my rash was growing angrier by the hour. Eventually, after being directed here, there and everywhere, I was sat in a waiting room with two HEAVILY pregnant women, taking it in turns to moan and groan, and making my little rash seem truly insignificant.
Thankfully neither of them gave birth in the waiting room, which I really thought was going to happen, and an hour or so after signing in, I was shown to the Dermatology room, where a young Nicaraguan Doctor, checked me over , had a very brief look at my hands, and prescribed me some more pills to go with my cream, which I had been prescribed in El Salvador when the rash made its first appearance.
Unfortunately, my rash didn’t improve, it got worse and worse to the point that my hands and feet were unbearably itchy, and were keeping me up at night and making miserable. My 40th birthday was looming, and I wasn’t feeling great about that either. All in all, I was in a bit of a state to say the least, when a Dutch guy recommended I go see a specialist Dermatologist who had a clinic round the corner from the hostel. That afternoon I went to the clinic, and after a reasonable wait by central American standards, I was in front of the specialist. For the first time, my hands were cleaned and properly inspected under a magnifying glass, and my fears were confirmed, there was no fungal infection, but instead the rash was a manifestation of some kind of allergic reaction. I was sent next door to the pharmacy for an injection in my hip, and sure enough, by the end of the day the itching had disappeared, by the next day, the rash had all but gone too. I was so relieved, as was Jacquie and everyone who had been around me for the last couple of days whilst I had been sleep deprived and moody.
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Steptoe Y Hijo

The next few days were spent wondering around Leon, we took a quick bus ride down to the nearby beach with our new friends from the Bakery, and spent the afternoon under a Palapa, drinking beer and eating fish.
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We watched the sunset and headed off to catch the last bus back into Leon, only problem was, the last bus leaves from a different place to all the others, so , while we were waiting at the bus at the North end of town, the bus was definitely NOT waiting for us at the south end! We missed the bus, but fortunately managed to talk a local into taking the four of us and three other girls who had also missed the bus , back to Leon in his van.

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Ready to cook Armadillos for sale at the roadside

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Taxi?

I took a day out to go to the Harley shop in Managua, and after being stopped by the police and talking my way out of another fine for doing nothing wrong,I arrived at the store, got another spring for my stand, and was welcomed by the dealer, Guillermo. He was really happy to have a Harley rider from outside Nicaragua visit his store, and invited me for a ride out, “in my honour” sometime next weekend. His mechanic fitted the new spring for me, and I left the shop excited about the up coming ride.
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I stopped and took pictures of one of Nicaragua’s many volcanoes from a spot by the lake, and went on a ride down a small road to the shores of the lake fpr a better look at the volcano, a bunch of locals came out to greet me and forced me to join them for a beer, again questioning me about the why’s where’s and how’s of the trip. I made my excuses as the sun was going down and started making my way back to Leon.
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One more stop by the police, another long conversation in which I talked them out of fining me for not actually doing anything wrong, and I was back on the road.
The thing with the Police is a tough one. The Police have never been threatening, I think with me, they just see a huge shiny motorcycle coming towards them, they see the Florida registration Plate, and think it’s a good way to increase their meager earnings.
Every time since the first stop in Mexico City, I always have a routine for dealing with this;I first take off my helmet and sunglasses, I smile broadly, and say “buenas dias, senor!” in the most cheerful voice I can muster.
I always carry all the necessary papers, and I get them out immediately.
I then take out my cigarettes and offer them to the Police.
I am then usually told that I have done something wrong, which I ask them to explain, and then I am usually told how much the fine will be.
This is when I say that I am sorry if I had done anything illegal and that I was unaware that I had committed any offence, and try to start up some sort of conversation in my pretty poor Spanish.
I always include something about how wonderful their country is, how beautiful their women are, and how friendly all the people have been, in the hope that they won’t want to spoil their countries image!
I tell the cops that I don’t have much money, and then I produce my mugger’s wallet. This is the wallet that I carry at all times in case of a mugging or an encounter such as this, with the Police. I usually have in it no more than $5 in local currency, and it serves as a “booby prize” far anyone who may want to relieve me of my cash. It’s enough for them to have a little something without me loosing all my cards and cash, which are normally spread around my luggage, my person, and the bike.
My encounters with the Police rarely involve a handover of cash, and all the cops I have met, whether trying to help me out or get money off me , have all been friendly and jovial.I think they just try it on …cos they can.
So, back in Leon, we were making more new friends, and some old ones were turning up too. We arranged to all go en masse back to the beach to celebrate my 40th, and on July 9th, we left the hostel for a day on the beach. Unfortunately we missed the bus by a matter of minutes, but I managed to stop a beat up old van, and the driver agreed to drive us to the bleach.
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We all clambered into the back of the van, and sat on an assortment of used wheels and tyres that covered the floor in the back of the van. Nevertheless, we were in high spirits, and half an hour later, we were on the beach.
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I was just thinking what a shame it was that the Norwegians in the camper hadn’t shown up in Leon, when I was jumped on and thrown to the ground. Thomas and Alexander, the Norwegians, were also here, and they had been preparing a Birthday dinner, looks like we would be staying at the beach all night. The Leon posse were happy to say on the beach, so we booked a dorm for the night, and the party got started. The Norwegians had gone all out, and were cooking fresh fish on the beach by their van. I made cocktails for everybody with the huge bottle of Flor De Cana rum the Norwegians had in the van, and we danced around the campfire, ate and drank til it was time to retire to the dorm for a hot night with the mosquitoes!
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We had breakfast on the beach before jumping on the bus back to Leon and the hostel. We had a day of lying around recovering before it was time to go back to Managua and meet up with the “Pistones” Harley Club for our ride out.

Posted by Dan Shell at 11:38 PM GMT
August 31, 2009 GMT
The Nicaragua Pistones

Guillermo Teran, the owner of the Harley shop, had kindly offered to put us up in the hotel next to the shop for the night, and we had gleefully accepted, so, after arriving at the dealership, we dumped our stuff in the room and went down to meet the other Harley guys in the shop.
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The Pistones really were the Upper Class of Nicaraguan Society. One of them was from the Flor De Cana Family, another owned a huge chain of Sex Hotels, one was very high up in the organization of the national bank, and so on, all really nice, friendly guys.
Nicaragua is like most Central American countries; in as much as a few large families from the old colonial days still possess the majority of the wealth in that country, and in Nicaragua, they all rode Harleys!
If you ever need to network in Nicaragua, get a Harley!
We saddled up and rode the back roads, past the Volcano at Massaya and into Granada.
Granada is another colonial town, similar to Leon, but in much better condition, and more visited by tourists. We arrived into town en masse, around 12 bikes, revving their engines and turning heads in true poseur style, with me rolling at the back trying to be discreet!
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Guillermo, the man with the plan, thanks a lot for everything mate!!


We all parked up and went and sat outside a sports bar, and Guillermo treated us to lunch, we all talked bikes, roads and cultural differences, walked around town a bit, then headed down to the lakeside for some pictures, before roaring back out of town and back to the shop before the rain came.
Back at the shop, we played a few games of beer pong before Guillermo dragged us out for dinner, again, on him.
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We went back to the shop, which had a bar attached, had a few drinks with our host, before dragging ourselves up to bed exhausted.

Posted by Dan Shell at 12:10 AM GMT
September 03, 2009 GMT
Nicaragua to Costa Rica

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!
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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.
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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.
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The Horses arriving in town, a bunch of guys holding their drunken mates on their horses...
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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.
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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.
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Every time the boat lurched, my heart skipped a beat...
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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.
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Garth settled in the bar for the night

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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.
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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 .

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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.

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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!
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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.

Posted by Dan Shell at 09:20 PM GMT
September 16, 2009 GMT
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.
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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.

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samarabeachhorse.jpg 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!
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My first river crossing, Costa Rica

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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.
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Mal Pais Beach

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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.

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Ready to roll, CR HOG Chapter at the dealership.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Posted by Dan Shell at 05:54 PM GMT
September 22, 2009 GMT
Alone Time in Costa Rica

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!!
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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.
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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.
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Tak, just after I told him that I had put the spacer on the axel wrong...oops


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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Posted by Dan Shell at 09:59 PM GMT
October 06, 2009 GMT
Panama City

I somehow found my way to the old part of the city, Casco Viejo, and after asking a couple of street vendors for Luna's Castle, I rolled up outside just after dark. I checked in, parked up, unloaded, e.mailed Tak's friend who lived in Panama City, and rinsed the sweat and dust off me in a cold shower.
I got back to my computer to see that I had a message waiting already form Tak's mate, George, telling me to meet him in Hooters in 30 minutes if I wanted to go to a killer party. Hmm, Hooters..killer party...I thought about it for about 2 seconds, and then started rushing to get ready to go out. I wasn't going to miss this!
It turned out that George, together with his partner, Hector, owned Hooters, and another club called the Roof. We had a beer at Hooters, and left to go to the party which was at the roof.
We turned up, skipped the queue, got ushered into the VIP bar, and got settled at a table with a bottle of Absolut and a load of mixers, and told to help myself!
I was introduced to a bunch of people, made a few drink for some of the ladies, then got into some dancing!
I was mistaken for the lead singer of Anthrax and asked to sign the Absolut guitar, posed with some of the Rock n Roll lookalikes who were there for the Absolut Rocks party.
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I stayed a while at the party, but fatigue got to me, and I headed back to the hostel at around 3am.
The next day I suffered. I had caught a cold somewhere, probably in my last ride in Costa Rica when I got rained on all day. My nose was leaking like an old Triumph, and I felt terrible. It took all my strength just to get downtown and buy some medicine, but fortunately the next day I was back on form and went out for a walk round the city.
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Panama, a city of contrasts, the shiny modern high rises dwarf the crumbling former glory of the colonial days

The staff at the hostel told me where the areas to avoid were, so I headed straight there. I always find that the no go areas are generally the coolest to explore.
I had no money on me, only my camera and some cigarettes, and as I walked around, the locals approached me, asking what I was doing there. “Mucho peligro”-much danger, they all said. I hung out with the barbers in their shop shooting the breeze as the clippered away at their clients, including a two-year-old boy who, it seemed, really did not to be in the barber’s chair.
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Again they said the same to me;this area is not for tourists, much danger, don’t go round this corner, don’t walk down this street and so on. Finally I decided I might just be pushing my luck and started to head back to the safer area around the hostel. I hadn’t felt threatened at all, but with all the warnings, I gave in and headed back up the hill. I got back to the hostel and took my bike out for a ride over the bridge so I could see what it looked like in daylight. I rode down to Veracruz beach on the other side of the bridge and ate lunch in one of the Palapas on the beach, before riding back to the city.
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Panama was a city of two distinct sides. There was the fading glory of Casco Viejo, the old city, with once majestic colonial buildings crumbling away standing next to beautifully restored old houses, narrow streets and dilapidated tenement buildings, and then there was the 4 lane highway leading to the high rises, skyscrapers and shopping malls of the new city. There were slum type buildings on the waterfront, with tin roofs and piles of garbage all around. Children would run around playing in the squalor wearing underwear, and directly behind these slums, were the shiny new office blocks and condos. It was a city of huge contrasts.
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Brightly painted chicken busses raced through the city, dropping off passengers by slowing down a little, but rarely coming to a complete stop.
I dropped into my new favorite place in Panama, Hooters, to meet George for lunch, and we arranged to meet up again for bike night, which Hooters hosted every Tuesday night. I was introduced to Oscar, the President of the Panama Chapter of the Big Boss MC, and he asked if I would like to go for a little spin with him and a few of his mates round the city. A half a dozen of us got on our bikes and rode out the city to the new bridge over the canal, and we parked up at the top of a hill, overlooking Panama City and smoked. We hung out a while before heading back once more to Hooters. Oscar invited me to meet up with his club members at their clubhouse from where we would all ride through the city back to Hooters for their bike night the next day.
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The Big Boss MC Members at the Club House

Bike night rolled along, and I rode up to the Big Boss Club house, at the back of one of the city’s many sports bars, and was introduced to the gang.
I sat in on their meeting, in which they discussed the pros and cons of leaving for their rides earlier in the mornings, and went through he details of their upcoming ride to Costa Rica. At the end of the meeting, I was presented with an “official” Big Boss MC cap and T-shirt, and welcomed as an honorary member of the club.
Photos were taken, and I gave Oscar my Harley Davidson of Florida T-shirt as a reciprocal gift, I had nothing else to give!
We finished off our beers and all saddled up and the dozen or so members of the club and I rode through the city, arriving to Hooters where another twenty or so bikes were already parked.
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I had e-mailed the other 3 bikers who were going to cross on the boat to Colombia with me, and they had also come on their bikes to the bike night. The local bikers were all keen to find out as much as they could about our respective trips. I had heard this a few times before from bikers, “You are living my dream” and “I wish I could do what you are doing”, and the usual questions , they always wanted to know if I had a problem with people trying to rob me, steal the bike, damage the bike and so on.
We all told these guys the same thing. Just book it, pack, and go, it’s as easy as that. We had so far had no problems at all with the bike, other than me sometimes not being able to lift it off its stand. I figured that the Harley was a much harder bike to steal than a KLR or a smaller bike. It's like the sign said in the kitchen at Luna's CAstle which read, "FAT PEOPLE ARE HARDER TO KIDNAP!"
We talked bikes, roads, borders, police and roads and routes with the Panamian bikers, swapped e-mails and gave out blog addresses, ate burgers and sank a few beers before the bikes dispersed and us intrepid traveling bikers rode back to our hostels.
I had one day of running round the city in preparation for the next part of the trip, the sailboat from San Blas to Cartagena, Colombia.

Posted by Dan Shell at 01:57 AM GMT
October 16, 2009 GMT
The Stahlratte Adventure-Crossing from Panama to Colombia

I had deliberated over this choice for several days and had decided that sailing would be the best option, and I had picked a boat that a few of my fellow bikers had used before and had a good reputation.
I had been e-mailing the captain of the Stahlratte, a 106 year old fishing boat that was doing the trip from Panama to Colombia, and he had assured me that getting the bike onto the boat was not going to be a problem, all I had to do was to cross a small river, and the rest would be easy.
I knew I was in for quite a tough ride to Carti, where I would pick up the boat, and I was half looking forward to the challenge, and half nervous of dropping the bike and not being able to reach the destination.
At 5am, the Jeeps came to the hostel to pick up passengers, and I put my luggage in the back of one of them. I followed the first Jeep out of town towards Chepo, and then turned off the highway and onto a dirt road. This was a 40km stretch up to the little river that I was going to have to cross.
I followed the Jeep along the road which deteriorated as we went on. The track was made up of vaying types of grave, loose gravel, packed gravel, large rocky gravel, muddy gravel and loose gravel, and in parts, just mud.
I was following the first Jeep up a steep gravel hill when the Jeep stopped. I braked, my front wheel locked, and then the bike started sliding back down the hill. I did all I could to keep the bike upright, but the weight was too much for me and the bike went over.
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I jumped off before I got stuck under it and took a deep breath. First things first, take a photo.
I knew I couldn’t lift the bike on my own, but I tried anyway.
It was now around 10.30am and the sun was beating down on me. I took my helmet and jacket off, placed them on the side of the “road” and attempted righting my bike, with no success.
There was nothing to do but wait, and within 10 minutes, the second Jeep appeared at the bottom of the hill, the Jeep I was following had not seen me fall and had continued onwards.
The driver and a few of the passengers form the second Jeep got out and helped me lift the bike, I jumped on, and with a push from the guys, and help from the engine, the bike slowly started climbing the hill, I throttled back gently and the bike stabilized and I picked up speed as I tackled the hill.
There were a few more worrying moments when the back end of the bike was fishtailing wildly behind me in the mud sections and skipping friskily on the loose gravel going up the hills, but by keeping the bike pointed in the general direction of the road, braking with the gearbox, and taking good run ups for the next uphill sections, I finally made it to the river.
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My heart sank when I saw what lay ahead. This little river was daunting to say the least. The level of the river was much higher than I had been led to believe. Huge trucks were crossing regularly, the water coming up to the tops of their wheels. As much as I had wanted to have a go at crossing this obstacle unaided, I figured there was too much at stake. The water level was as high as my saddle, and the current was fairly strong, the last thing I wanted was for the engine to stall and the bike to go over and get carried off by the river!
I got talking to Elissa, a lady who was working with the construction crew who were working on improving the road and building the bridge, and she said she had an idea to help me cross the river.
She got on her walkie-talkie and talked rapidly in Spanish to whoever was on the other end of the airwaves. A few minutes later and I heard a heavy rumble in the distance. A minute or so after that, the “solution” came into view in the form of a yellow JCB digger. The JCB crossed the river and lined up with the huge metal scoop alongside my bike, we measured up the scoop and the bike and soon came to the conclusion that this option, novel as it was, was not going to be the solution after all.
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Next, I stopped a bunch of the trucks coming and going across the river to see if any of the drivers would agree to take my bike in the back of their trucks, but with no joy.
Then Julie, the boss of the Jeep drivers, came back from the other side of the river after dropping off the rest of the passengers, and told me more bad news. The boat that the captain was going to send to pick up the bike was not going to be able to come down the river as there were sections of the river that were too shallow for the boat to make it down.
I had had one last option, the Kuna.
The Kuna Indians were a fiercely independent indigenous group who inhabited the islands along the Panamanian coast. They had resisted the pull of modern, city life and still lived traditional lives on their island communities. There was a group of 8 or 9 Kuna men at the banks of the river, and after a little haggling, gesticulating and laughing, they agreed to lift the Harley into one of their canoes and walk it across the river to the other side.
Gingerly, I rode the bike down the mud banks and in to the river until it was alongside the canoe that was barely as wide as the bike.
With a few grunts and plenty of huffing and puffing, together we managed to lift the rear of the bike onto the canoe, and then hefted the front end in too. We pulled the canoe across the river, not helped by another truck that crossed in the opposite direction causing a huge wash that nearly knocked the canoe over, but a few minutes later, we were on the other side, repeating the whole lifting process to get the bike back off the canoe.
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The task completed, the river crossed, and I was full of a sense of enormous accomplishment. I thanked the Kuna and paid them their $30, they were overjoyed at the prospect of spending it all on beer and having a party!
I got back on the bike on the other side, slid up the muddy bank and continued along the dirt track to the next river where I would take another boat to the Stahlratte.
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I rode the last few remaining kilometers to the final river without any mishaps and arrived at the river as the lancha, a big canoe with an outboard engine that was going to take me to the boat.
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The Kuna were there to help again, for a fee, and we walked the bike along a wooden plank until the front wheel was in the boat, then lifted the back end in. It was much harder getting the bike in this larger boat, and in the process, the bike sustained a couple of minor injuries, and I had aching muscles for the next couple of days.
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Once the bike was safely wedged into the lancha, we set off along the river to where the Stahlratte was moored. We pulled alongside the ship and one of the crew, a tall blond German guy called Roly,also known as "Tachicumba"-the big man- tied ropes around the bike and we began the winching process.
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The bike was lifted onto the deck and strapped up against the side of the deck. We then unloaded the rest of my luggage and I was shown around the boat, before getting in the dingy to go ashore on one of the inhabited Kuna islands.
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I walked around exploring the tiny island, crammed with small traditional wooden huts, and traditionally dressed Kuna strolling around. The Kuna are amazing people. In their language, there are no words for work, money or time.
If, for any reason, they need to know what time it is , they will ask you “Watchie watchie?”, the word that they use for “work” is the German word, and the word they use for money is the English word. Their culture is one of trade and co-operation. As with many indigenous tribes, you have to ask to take a photo, and normally charged a dollar. I encountered a group of women making the traditional clothes with symbols embroidered on to ward off evil spirits and was invited to join them. We sat and chatted and they explained which animals kept which evil sprits away, and I was allowed to take pictures. Another group of women were sat outside the local store, and were not at all into the idea of me talking with them or taking pictures, even for money.
kunawoenembroiderpanama.jpgkunawomanmobilepanama.jpg The funniest thing was to see these traditionally dresser villagers, living on a tiny island, living in wooden huts, chatting into their shiny mobile phones I spent a couple of hours on the island, watching the fishermen bringing their catch in, and then the women gutting and cleaning the fish by the water before I jumped back in the dingy to return to the boat.
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The crew cooked up a beautiful dinner, and just as the light was fading, the other bikers, who had left a few hours after me, turned up.
Their boats were winched on board and we all sat down over dinner and talked about our day. They all said that when they saw the Harley sat up on the deck as they approached the ship that they were amazed that I had made it.
We were all pretty exhausted, and after dinner I went down to my bunk to sort out some bits and pieces and fell fast asleep, waking up some 10 hours later.
I sat up in the bunk, banged my head on the bunk above me, and stood up. Every muscle in my body was aching. The previous day had been extreme! The riding alone had been physically demanding, and all the lifting off and on boats had left me with a sore back and stiff arms and legs.
At around 11am,the rest of the passenger turned up and our small group of 4 swelled to the full compliment of 18 passengers and 4 crew.
We introduced each other, had a quick orientation of the ship and then we were underway. We sailed for a couple of hours, anchored beside an uninhabited island, donned our snorkel gear and jumped off the boat.
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bbqsanblaspanama.jpg We swam round the island over the reefs , watching the fish below, and explored the desert island. Then it was back to the boat a nap before dinner. We took the dingy back to the shore, built a BBQ, and threw on a bunch of chicken. While the chicken cooked on the Barbie, we sat on logs around cluster of candles, told jokes and swapped stories.
captainludwigsanblas.jpgdinnerprivateislandsanblaspanama.jpg I made cocktails for the Captain and the crew, and myself, we ate a great dinner on our private island and went swimming in the warm Caribbean waters as the sun went down and darkness rolled in.
Back on board, the music went on and the party continued for a while until bedtime.
I went to the top deck and settled into a hammock to escape the heat of the bunks below deck. I slept peacefully on the deck for a couple of hours until I was awoken by crack of the loudest thunder I think I have ever heard. I sat bolt upright, and for a moment had no idea where I was. The ship was pitch black, and as I was squinting to see anything, a bolt of lightning lit up the deck and the surrounding islands. I sat back down on the hammock and watched the light show.

The lightning wasn’t just a brief flash, but lit the sky up for a good few seconds at a time. It was quite amazing. The ship was quiet; there were no lights for what seemed like miles around, and every few seconds, the lightning lit up everything around in an electric blue strobe. I was in awe. I lit a cigarette and sat under one of the tarps watching the storm. After a while, I went and sat in the lounge and watch through the porthole as the rain came sheeting down. I woke up in the lounge as the day broke, and saw that the rain was still falling. The motor of the boat was put putting along, and the crew were busy preparing breakfast. We were on our way to our next stop, another tropical paradise island, and we were all hopeful that the weather would break.
Unfortunately, it didn’t. We sat and ate breakfast under a tarp supported by two oars on the poop deck, and then we all adjourned en masse to the saloon to watch a movie while the rain fell. Eventually there was a respite from the rain and we all jumped off the boat for a a bit more snorkeling.
The next day we were off again and heading for Colombia, we sailed all day and all night. I was one of the few people who didn't get sea sick, I think it was because I spent the whole time on board on the top deck, in the fresh air. I fashioned my self a kind of seat belt from some spare rope for when I was in the hammock to stop it swinging around too much and I slept in that at night under the stars.


Posted by Dan Shell at 05:13 AM GMT
October 24, 2009 GMT
Colombia

After a few days of sailing round the San Blas Islands on the Stahlratte, we arrived in Cartagena. There was a bit of hanging around while our fixer went ahead with our passports to Immigration. We then all went onshore, as we had been summoned to the Immigration office. We grabbed a couple of taxis and were in and out of Immigration in a short time. We then returned to the boat, unloaded the bikes, and then headed into Cartagena to find a hostel.
We ended up in Media Luna , in the old part of Cartagena, and had a quick walk around to get our bearings before holing up in the hostel and relaxing.
Cartagena was a sensory overload after 4 days on the open water. The walled city was simply beautiful.


Cartagena was a sensory overload after 4 days on the open water. The walled city was simply beautiful.
Narrow cobbled streets were lined with beautiful old colonial buildings, street vendors were selling everything from single cigarettes to blankets, from freshly squeezed juice to mobile phones. Old men played dominos on the street corners iguanas strolled around in the park while kids played double-dutch on the grass. There seemed to be something going on everywhere you looked. The sights and sounds of this city thrilled me, but the heat was intense, and after a couple of days of wondering around , I decided to make a bee-line to the beach. I loaded up the bike and set off for Santa Marta, 4 hours north of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast.
Santa Marta is one of Colombia’s top destinations for vacationing Columbians, but when I got there, I could not, for the life of me, understand. The city was grimy, the beach was almost non existent, and I was quite unimpressed. I checked into a hotel, lay down on the bed and slept.
I left Santa Marta early the next morning, hoping that I would find something better in the next town, Taganga, only 10 minutes ride away. The 10-minute ride took more like 40 minutes, due to me somehow getting lost on the road, but when I did arrive, I was greeted by a gorgeous beach and a delightful little seaside town. This was more like it!
I found myself a dorm bed in the Casablanca Hostel, right on the beach, with the balcony of the dorm room overhanging the sea. Oh I do love to be beside the seaside.
Taganga was a lovely little fishing village, with a series of bays and beaches easily reachable by hiring a fishing boat followed by a walk along the coastal bluffs.
The beaches were all pretty busy, but I found myself a little bay all to myself and settled down on the sand for a snooze. I lay undisturbed on the beach for a couple of hours before making my way back to the main beach for some fresh fish. The restaurants had no menus; instead they each had a cold box filled with the catch of the day which they would bring over to the table so the diner could choose exactly which fish they wanted cooked up.
I ate my fill of fish, rice and beans then got back in another Lancha, for the trip back to the main beach and the hostel.
After a quick shower, I grabbed my camera and went for a walk round the village. Kids were playing in the streets and I stopped to chat with a few of them. More and more kids came out of the homes to see what the fuss was about, and within a few minutes, I was surrounded!
The fun went on until the sun started to go down, and I made my excuses and returned to the hotel.
There didn’t seem to be much going on, so I took the opportunity to get a rare early night, and went to bed. I was awoken by a thumping bass rhythm coming from behind the hostel. I tried to get back to sleep, but after a few failed attempted, I decided to go see where the music was coming from. The club was indeed just behind the hostel, and it was jumping. I bumped into a couple of guys I had met in Panama City, and we sat and enjoyed a couple of beers together, before tiredness hit me again and I returned to the hostel.
A couple of days chilling on the beach and I was ready to head South. I had to return to Cartagena to pick up the road to Medellin, my next stop, so I allowed myself another day of wondering round this gorgeous city, watching street dancers entertain the tourists, and watching tourists entertain the locals with their antics.

Posted by Dan Shell at 02:33 AM GMT
December 15, 2009 GMT
To Monteria

As per usual, leaving the city was a task and a half. Road signs and street names were almost non-existent; my GPS, with its world map only, was about as useful as a bacon sandwich at a bar mitzvah, but eventually, by using my compass, asking several taxi drivers and following my nose, I eventually made it to the city limits. I passed a huge outdoor market on the outskirts of the city and had to pull in to investigate. I loved mooching round the markets, it is without doubt the best way to interact with the locals and immerse in the culture, and usually was the best place to eat great fresh food for next to no money.
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As I rode through the market on the Harley, heads turned, usually with an inquisitive look, but a quick wave and a cheesy grin from me nearly always was followed by a smile back. I stopped and talked to a few of the vendors, tasted some of the food that was on offer, and had a quick rummage in some of the stalls before heading out, southward bound once more.
I rode out of the city and into the hills, unsure of what awaited ahead. I loved having Jacquie with me, but at the same time, I relished the times I had the bike to myself. I stopped a lot more often when I was alone, to take photos or just to chat with people I saw by the side of the road.
There were always people selling things by the side of the road, and on this stretch of road, it seemed the specialty of the roadside vendors was fish. All along the side of the road were little wooden stalls selling huge fresh fish, and a bit further along the same road, I came across three young boys, standing on the roadside, holding out long branches with Macaws and Parrots perched on the end. I simply had to stop for a photo, and as I pulled over , the boys approached me. They launched into their sales spiel, which amused me greatly. What on earth was I going to do with a bloody bird on a motorcycle? Was I expected to perch the bird on my shoulder and ride off into the sunset like some kind of pirate biker hybrid?
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I asked the boys if they sold many birds, to which they replied, “ Si , Claro”, “of course”! I then asked them if they had ever sold a bird to a motorcyclist, they all looked at each other and then quiziically for a moment before all replying at the same time, “no, senor, usted puedo ser il primero !”-No , sir, but you could be the first!
We all laughed, I started my engine up, and returned to the road, watching the boys waving to me in my mirror. I threw a hand up to wave back and accelerated away. A little further on, I came across another group of young boys, holding up a recently captured and killed set of rabbits for any interested buyers, I stopped again briefly , for another quick snap and a chat, and was off again. I rode on through the beautiful Colombian scenery for another couple of hours before I had to look for gas. I came a cross a small but fairly busy town, and pulled into the filling station. Before I had even removed the gas cap, a crowd of local men had surrounded my bike.
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By the time the tank was full, there must have been at least twenty guys around the bike and me. The standard questions followed. How much did the bike cost, how big was the engine, how many gears, where had I come from, and where was I going, and the Colombian favorite; what do you think of our country. It would be very easy to become a little nervous, after hearing al the stories of car or bike-jacking, thefts, kidnaps etc, but I never felt a single pang of fear. The Colombians were even friendlier than the El Salvadorians, who were amongst the most delightful people I had ever come across. Colombians were always really pleased to see foreigners visiting their homeland, and it was always a pleasure to be in their company. One of the guys admiring the bike spotted the speakers in the fairing and asked if the bike had music.
I turned the radio on, and played a track from the CD in the player. Moments later, we had an impromptu salsa disco in the gas station. The crowd around Garth and I expanded, and now included women and children, as well as the men. A random hand in the crowd turned up the music, and the party began. The forecourt of the gas station was now packed with kids and couples dancing to the music from Garth’s stereo. The whole scene was just hilarious. It was one of those “only in the Americas” moments.
Reluctantly, I turned down the music, started the engine, and rode slowly through the throng of revelers and back onto the road, waving to the crowd as I rode out of the town.
As the daylight ebbed away, I pulled into Monteria, a rather dismal, sprawling town that normally I would have ridden straight through, but daylight was a necessity for riding.
Apart from the obvious threat of banditos on the road at night, I had other considerations. My headlights had been out of alignment since the Yucatan in Mexico, so I had one light illuminating the trees overhead, while the other lit up my front fender, neither did a particularly good job of actually lighting the road ahead, so night riding was something I tried to avoid at all costs! I found myself some very basic accommodations and ventured out on foot to find some supper. There were no surprises in Monteria, I found a little street vendor selling some kind of meat on a stick, and ate it on my way back to the hotel.
I was up bright and early the next day, eager to get out of town and back on the road to Medellin, where supposedly the most beautiful women in Colombia awaited!
I stopped briefly at the fish market on my way out of town, as always unable to stop myself form having a nose round any sort of market.
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In true fashion, Garth attracted a crown once more, the usual questions were asked, “how much, how fast ,how many cc’s, how many gears” , before I headed out for the road to Medellin.

Posted by Dan Shell at 09:42 PM GMT
To Medellin

The route was another spectacular kaleidoscope of colours, mountains, valleys and gorges, I was forced to stop several times to take pictures of the breath taking scenery, but as ever, my camera never managed to capture the true beauty of what my eyes could see.
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colscen2.jpgThis road was the first time I came across a true Colombian anomaly.
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A young lady partaking of a mountain shower


The ingenious villagers living in the mountains had managed to create a routing system for the water coming down off the mountains to put it to good effect.
Around every corner, huge trucks were parked by the side of the mountain, and the locals were using the diverted water to wash them. The men would spray the trucks down, and the kids would climb all over the trucks to wash them down with soapy water.
trukwash.jpgIt was quite a sight. Water jets sprayed up from the side of the road round every twist, I rode through one just to get a quick shower and cool down, before continuing winding and twisting along the mountain road.
There was a lot to see on the road apart from the amazing scenery. I passed a bunch of not so young kids riding a trolley jack down the side of a mountain, more kids were clinging onto the backs of lorries getting free rides to the top of the mountains on their bicycles, then freewheeling down the bottom.
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I saw people perched on the tops of busses and on the back of trucks. There was plenty to keep me occupied!
I reached Medellin after a few more hours of gorgeous mountain roads, and without much ado, settled myself into the Pit Stop Hostel.
I bumped into a couple of the passengers from the Stahlratte, and made a few new friends in no time, and after a quick shower, we all headed out to check out the scene in Medellin.
A couple of days and a big night out was all that was required from Medellin, and I quickly tired of this modern and fairly bland city.
I packed the bike up early in the morning , and rode out of Medellin as the sun was rising over the city, onwards to Bogota.

Posted by Dan Shell at 09:58 PM GMT
To Medellin

The route was another spectacular kaleidoscope of colours, mountains, valleys and gorges, I was forced to stop several times to take pictures of the breath taking scenery, but as ever, my camera never managed to capture the true beauty of what my eyes could see.
colsecenery.jpg
colscen2.jpgThis road was the first time I came across a true Colombian anomaly.
mountain shwr.jpg
A young lady partaking of a mountain shower


The ingenious villagers living in the mountains had managed to create a routing system for the water coming down off the mountains to put it to good effect.
Around every corner, huge trucks were parked by the side of the mountain, and the locals were using the diverted water to wash them. The men would spray the trucks down, and the kids would climb all over the trucks to wash them down with soapy water.
trukwash.jpgIt was quite a sight. Water jets sprayed up from the side of the road round every twist, I rode through one just to get a quick shower and cool down, before continuing winding and twisting along the mountain road.
There was a lot to see on the road apart from the amazing scenery. I passed a bunch of not so young kids riding a trolley jack down the side of a mountain, more kids were clinging onto the backs of lorries getting free rides to the top of the mountains on their bicycles, then freewheeling down the bottom.
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I saw people perched on the tops of busses and on the back of trucks. There was plenty to keep me occupied!
After a brief stop for some hot chocolate, with cheese crumbled on the top ( A Colombian invention, I believe)I reached Medellin, and without much ado, settled myself into the Pit Stop Hostel.
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I bumped into a couple of the passengers from the Stahlratte, and made a few new friends in no time, and after a quick shower, we all headed out to check out the scene in Medellin.
A couple of days and a big night out was all that was required from Medellin, and I quickly tired of this modern and fairly bland city.
I packed the bike up early in the morning , and rode out of Medellin as the sun was rising over the city, onwards to Bogota.

Posted by Dan Shell at 09:58 PM GMT
Bogota

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After yet another awesome ride through more of Colombia, I arrived in Bogota, the capital.
Garth really needed a little TLC , and when I arrived in Bogota, I headed straight to the Harley dealer to book him in for some good lovin’.
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The owner greeted me and Garth went straight into the workshop for a once over. We needed a new pair of tyres, new brake pads, and a 25,000 mile service, and was hoping that we would be able to repair the lights that were still as useful as a pair of candles when it came to illuminating the road at night, and fix the MP3 socket on the radio .
It was Friday afternoon, and I was hopeful that our bike would be ready to roll the next day, as was the owner of the shop, Andres. We all hung around in the shop, talking bikes, roads, and the like and before I knew it, it was almost 10pm. Hector, the mechanic appeared from the workshop, and said that he would finish the bike off in the morning. I thanked him for his hard work and for staying on so late, said good night to Garth, and Andres paid for a taxi to take me to a nearby hotel.
By the time the cab found the “hotel” we were looking for, it was almost 11pm. Just enough time for a shower and my first taste of the famous Bogota nightlife, I thought to myself. Alas, this was not to be the case.
The owner of the “hotel” was a lovely old lady in her eighties, who had converted her family home , which she had lived in all her life, into a guest house. When I asked her or a key, she told me that she was the only one with they key, and I wouldn’t need it anyway as it was too late to go out.
“ But I haven’t eaten since midday, and I am thirsty too, and I wanted to go out and see the city on my first night” I said to her, to which she replied;
“Well, tomorrow will be your first night then, won’t it”. She smiled at me, went into her room, and closed the door. And that was it. My first night in Bogotá did not turn out as I planned!
I retired to my room, and sat on the bed. I didn’t feel tired, but when I laid down, I fell asleep almost instantly.
I woke at 8am, went downstairs, and said good morning to my hostess, before popping up to the Harley shop on foot. It was a ten-minute walk, which had taken 45 minutes in a cab the night before!
Once again, I was greeted by the owner and walked into the workshop where the bad news was imparted to me.
There were no rear tires to fit my bike in the shop, or indeed in Bogota. The lights would have to stay as they were , and the bike wouldn’t be ready by the end of the day. On top of that, the following Monday was a holiday, so I would have to wait for the bike until Tuesday. This also meant I would be missing out on the bike rally that was being held that weekend, and, even worse, I would have to walk, nightmare!
The only good news was that they would be able to fix the radio, and complete the service.
I was gutted. Jacquie was arriving the very next day, and I had really wanted to pick her up with Garth, as I knew she would be as pleased to see the bike as she would to see me.
Well there was nothing I could do about it, the workshop closed on Saturday afternoon, and there wasn’t time to put the bike back together.
I used Andres’ computer to e-mail my Spanish friend Marie Carmen who had just moved from Barcelona to Bogotá, and she came and met me at the shop and we went out to lunch together. It was lovely to catch up with my old friend, and we arranged to see each other later on in the evening. We said our goodbyes and I went off in search of a more suitable place to stay.
I checked out a couple of hostels before finding one with a lovely private double room, my first in months, in anticipation of Jacquie’s imminent arrival. Saturday night was a fairly quiet affair, Marie Carmen got herself invited to go see Depeche Mode in concert, I couldn’t get a ticket, so I hung around the hostel and chatted with other guests. We popped out together for a quick local drink, and returned to the hostel in time for a good night’s rest.

Sunday came, and I was somehow full of nerves. I had been alone for a couple of months, and although Jacquie and I had spoken frequently on skype, I was in a bit of a tizz about her arrival. I was really looking forward to seeing her, but also just a touch concerned about the loss of my absolute independence.
I spent the morning wondering around the flea market, pocking about in the heaps of junk that covered all the stalls, before heading into town to get the bus to the airport.
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I arrived a good couple of hours early, as the Sunday schedule for the collectivos to the airport ended at 4pm, and Jacquie wasn’t due in ‘til 6. I could have taken a cab, but decided I didn’t have much else to do, and so elected to go early and wait around at the airport. I have always enjoyed hanging around airports anyway, its one of the best places to people watch, and there was bound to be a MacDonald’s where I could secretly spoil myself.
I kept an eye on Jacquie’s flight number and all seemed to be in order. I killed time until about 15 minutes before her plane was due to land, when I popped for to visit the toilet. When I emerged, I saw that Jacquie’s plane had landed. I rushed over to the plate glass where crowds of people were waiting to greet their loved ones, and tried to get a look at the passengers leaving the terminal.
I could barely see inside the terminal, and 5 planes had landed at the same time, so the terminal was full of arriving travelers. After an hour and still no sign of Jacquie, I started to panic. I found a security guard, who could only tell me what I already knew, that the plane had landed.
I quickly walked around the terminal to see if I had missed her and she was waiting for me elsewhere, but that was fruitless. I returned to the glass doors, and twenty minutes or so later, Jacquie appeared.
We hugged and kissed, before grabbing a cab and headed back to the city and our cozy private room for a proper catch up.

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Some of the cool old remenants of American dependency ion the streets of Bogota

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Check out the dude on the mobile!

bogotacentral plaza.jpg Bogota's central Plaza

We spent the next few days walking around Bogota,seeing the sights, and taking in the atmosphere. We picked the bike up on the 4th day, paid a whopping $1,000 for the work, then headed off, southward bound, together again.

Posted by Dan Shell at 10:33 PM GMT
December 16, 2009 GMT
The Coffee Region

Our next stop was the Zona Cafetera, Colombia’s coffee growing region, we left the wet and cloudy Bogota behind us, and rode through even more breathtaking scenery until we reached Armenia, a short ride from Salento.
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We met up with a local biker friend from the ever useful Horizons Website, shared a delicious coffee served to us from the back of a Willys Jeep parked in the town centre, and then followed him out of town and on to the road to Salento.
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We immediately like the place, we rode into town and found the main plaza, and straightaway a group of locals were standing beside us helping us find Plantation House, our accommodation in Salento.
We found the hostel easily enough, and met Tim, the ever so slightly eccentric and quintessentially English owner, met us with a broad smile and a look of amazement at our choice of transport.
We unpacked and settled into our room, before descending to the kitchen to meet some of the other guests who had also arrived that day. There was an Irish couple, who had just had their back packs stolen off the bus, with all their belongings in them, leaving them with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Between us and the other guests, we loaned them warm clothes, boots and money so they would be all right until they could get to the embassy and arrange their insurance. We also met up with another English couple, and we all got along splendidly. That night we walked into town for dinner and a few bevies, and arranged to hike around the area together the next day into the valley and up the mountains that surrounded the House.
We set off bright and early, and after a hearty breakfast and another vitalizing coffee, we picked up a Jeep in the square to take us to the edge of the Cacora valley.
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The hike was gorgeous, but exhausting, and 5 hours later we were back on the Jeep returning to town absolutely exhausted. We had crossed log bridges, climbed mountains, visited a hummingbird sanctuary, walked through the forest of wax palms, and now all desperately need a nice rest.
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We spent the evening chilling out together in the kitchen and chatting and arranged to meet up again the next day to go on a small tour of Tim’s Coffee Plantation.
The story he told us was that after he had bought the house, the old lady that owned the coffee farm berated him for not buying her farm when he bought the house. He had told her that he didn’t even know it was for sale, and asked her the price, and after a few meetings with the bank, he bought the farm too.
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tim with one of his beloved beans


Previously the coffee yield had been on the low side, the very low side, but with help from the Colombian Coffee Growers association, the farm’s production was now on the rise, and Tim had some great ideas and plans for the place.
We stayed another night in Salento and then were off once again to Cali.

Posted by Dan Shell at 12:27 AM GMT
Cali, Biker heaven!

We had been in contact with another group of riders who were listed on Horizons, and headed straight for the Asturias bike shop in the town , where we met Jorge, the gregarious owner, and Harley rider, his wife Sory, and their French friend, Alain, who came to the shop hen Jorge phoned him to inform him of our arrival.
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The Asturias posse

Alain, walked us round the corner to the Casa Blanca hotel, owned by a young Dane called Mike. Mike had been traveling on his bike through the Americas when he met his now wife, and they had bought the Hostel in Cali. He showed us around the hostel, and we parked the bike in his garage. The hostel was spotless and brand new, and full of bikers and a cyclist as well as backpackers and Argentinean tourists.
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Me and Alain outside Casablanca

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The outskirts of Buenaventura, one of the poorest parts of Colombia

Alain the Frenchman came to the hostel the next morning to take us out to the afro Caribbean port town of Buenaventura, and after a fresh fish lunch in the colorful market, he dropped us off in the village of Cordoba. We left the bike at the house of one of his friends and said goodbye to Alain, while we walked down to the railroad.
The trains no longer ran along these tracks, but instead, the locals had come up with a novel form of transportation-the MOTO –Rail.
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The front wheel of a common 125 motorbike was bolted onto a wooden platform, which had runner on one side, connecting with the old train track, while the rear wheel sat on the track and drove the contraption. We sat on a little wooden bench on the platform, and the driver started the motor an doff we went. It was an ingenious mode of transportation, and as we rode along the tracks, Jacquie and I couldn’t suppress our maniacal grins. We passed over old railway bridges and looked down into the dense jungle below.
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We rounded a corner, and coming in the other direction another moto-rail contraption approached. This was a single-track railway and someone had to get off. Our driver asked us to get off the platform, and he and his co-pilot swiftly picked up the whole bike and platform combo off the tracks and on to the side of the railway, the other bike passed us, and we picked the bike back up and placed it back on the tracks, this happened another two or three times on the way to our final destination, some 25 minutes down the tracks, San Cypriano.
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We walked for 5 minutes or so into the village , where kids were running around all over the place and the local afro population regarded us with quizzical looks.
We found a room in a boarding house, and went for a walk around.
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San Cypriano "high street"!

A football game had just started on the village pitch, where the jungle had been cut back to clear land ofr this important pastime. We pulled up a couple of chairs and sat and watched the game with some of the other locals. It was a hard game to follow, all the players were shirtless, and we had no idea who was on what team!
We watched the game , which ended when the sun went down , and the hunted down a place to eat. Our options were, to say the least, limited. There was one restaurant open in the small village, and we sat down and asked for a menu. There was none. Instead we were told that if we wanted to eat, we would have to come back in an hour, and the food would be ready. “What are we having”, we inquired-“Fish” was the response.
“Very good, fish it is then, we’ll see you in an hour”.
We wondered around for a while, played a quick game of scrabble, and an hour later, we were sat in front of two plates, of fried fish and rice.
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The Eatery

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One of the local kids

We ate and played with the inquisitive local kids, before heading back to our lodgings in the dark. When the sun went down, the village went dark.
The next day, we took a pair of huge inner tubes and a couple of local kids as guides, up through the village to the top of the river, where we sat in our tubes and rode back down the river to the other end of the village. There were some fairly rapid parts of the river, which got our hears pumping a bit quicker, and at one point, my arse slammed into some rocks where the water level was lower than expected, but the four of us had a great time tubing the river and riding on the water.
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We got back to the village, packed up our stuff and headed back to the railway track for our ride back to Cordoba where, hopefully, our bike awaited.
We got back to Cali just before dark, and shared our experiences with the other guests at Mike’s Casa Blanca hostel.
Alain met up with us again for one last ride around Cali. We went up to the nearby Lago Calima, and stopped off on the way to sample some delicious roadside snacks.We stopped again for a quick beer, for Alain, and hot chocolates for me and Jacquie.
At one point on the way back to Cali, Jacquie turned round to take a photo of Alain on his BMW, and when he saw the camera pointing at him, he quickly stood up on his pegs, and with his arms straight out, assumed a Jesus-on-the-cross pose for the picture, at 50mph!
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Back in Cali, I had to get the lens of my camera cleaned, so, Jacquie and I took a cab to the outskirts of town to find the Panasonic service centre. The cab ride back into the centre was unforgettable. The Service centre called a cab for us, and when it turned up, we had to stop ourselves from laughing. The yellow fridge-on-wheels type Japanese cab was pimped up to the max. Low profile tyres sat on chrome wheels that were a good 4 inches wider than the body of the car, and the suspension was jacked up to boot. Inside, where a driver’s mirror would usually be, was a 14inch tv screen, showing bikini clad, big tittied Colombian girls grinding and shaking their groove thang to a latin beat.
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The music was pumping, and the visuals were outstanding. I don’t know how impressed Jacquie was, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen until we arrived back at the Casa Blanca, I almost asked the cabbie to drive around a bit longer, but didn’t think Jacquie would find it as amazing as I did, so we paid and thanked the driver and went into the hostel.
We popped in to Jorge and Sory’s shop to say we would be going the next day , and to thank them for their hospitality, but they told us that there was no way we could leave as a big bunch of Cali riders, led by Jorge on his ’97 Harley, were all going on a ride , and we simply had to go with them.
We agreed to meet at the shop the next day, and I went and took the bike for a clean in preparation for our up coming ride out.
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Ready for the Rideout
We turned up at Asturias at 9 the next day, to see half a dozen assorted “Alto Cilindraje” bikes already waiting. We got chatting to some of Jorge’s biker friends, and more and more bikes turned up. Come 10.30,around 40 bikes were gathered at the shop, and we started off on the ride.
We picked up a few more bikes on the way out of town, and when we made our first stop, at the Suzuki / Honda main dealer, there were over 50 bikes.
There was a mini show on at the dealers, and Jorge’s group and us parked up in the parking lot, where we were treated to a stunt show, and got involved in some bike games, slow races and the like. Jacquie and I were interviewed and photographed, and even won some prizes, and then we were all on our way again to stop number two.
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Garth in a slow race against a mini moto
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The Gringo biker being interviewed

About 60 bikes were now riding together , and when we pulled into the next stop, I was surprised to say the least at our final destination, the car park of a nearby Police station, about 2 hours out of Cali!
As it turned out, the Cali bikers had been invited to come to the Police station, where the cops were having a family day / Halloween aprty, and all the kids were dressed as bikers!
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Jorge and a bikeful of happy kids!

The event was huge fun, the bikers took the kids, and some of the adults, out on short rides, with up to three passengers at a time on each bike, and the cops and their kids posed for photos atop the Harleys and other bikes in the car park. We were treated to lunch, and it was the first, and hopefully the last time I was served lunch by a uniform copper!
While we at the police station, the sky darkened and the clouds thickened, the bikers, looked dubiously at the oncoming weather, and at around 5pm, we made our way out of the car park, just as the rain began to fall.
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We made it just around the first corner, where there was a restaurant with a large covered area, and 50 or so bike pulled in out of the rain. We waited a wile to see if the weather would pass, but the rain simply became harder and harder, so we donned our waterproofs and started to make our way slowly back to Cali. We stopped on the outskirts of town and said our goodbyes before everyone made their separate ways home.
We had intended to only stay in Cali overnight, but had stretched that out to 4 nights, it was time to get on the road again and head for Ecuadorian border.

Posted by Dan Shell at 02:34 AM GMT
December 22, 2009 GMT
Ecuador

We set off at a reasonable hour the next day in gorgeous Colombian sunshine, but with in an hour of leaving, the skies had once again darkened, and as we neared Popayan, the heavens opened once more. We pulled into town in search of hot chocolate and nourishment, in the hope that the weather would clear up, but no such luck.
We decided to leave town anyway, Popayan didn’t look that appealing in the rain, so once more, we dressed up in our rain gear and got on the bike, we had ridded only a few blocks when I spied a couple on a BMW stopped at a junction. We rode over to them and asked where they were going. We got to talking to the young French couple, and decided that as we were all going in the same direction, we would look for a hotel in town and move off together in the morning. We rode around the town until we found a hotel with internet and parking, and just as we were getting back on the bikes to park up, another two BMW’s turned up. As it happened, a British couple that had met the frenchies previously in Cartagena owned these bikes. Now we were a real posse!
We all checked in to the hotel, and dined that night together in Popayan. We all got along great , and Jacquie and I were looking forward to riding with our new mates.

We left Popayan early the next morning in a 4 bike convoy. Somehow I ended up leading the group, and of course got us all lost on the way out of town, but soon we were back on the Pan American and en route to the border.
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In Convoy with our new BMWist mates

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More stuning scenery in Southern Colombia

We all wanted to see one more sight before we left Colombia, the Cathedral built into the valley near Ipiales, so we rode down to the town , and found our last hotel in Colombia, a converted convent 5 minutes walk away from the Las Lajas cathedral. We parked our bikes inside the old convent, popped up the local eatery for dinner, and then returned to the convent to sleep.
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Parked up at the Convent


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The Cathedral at Ipaiales, built on tyhe spot where the Virgin Mary appeared for the 1st time to an indigenous Colombian


We walked to the Cathedral in the morning, our last stop before the border, and 2 hours later, we entered Ecuador.

ECUADOR

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In Ecuador, our man in the customs office was just plain mean and miserable.
We all arrived at the border together, our French friends, Thom and Flo, 2 up on their BMW, and Rik and Emily, the Brits, on a BMW each. Rik took great pleasure in taking the Mickey out of our choice of bike, but stopped laughing when he couldn’t keep up with us on the smooth roads.
So six bikers rocked up to the customs office. The girls stayed with the bikes while the boys took the papers to the office. I knocked on the door, and when no one replied ,I opened it and poked my head inside to see what I should do.
The lone customs officer shouted at me to wait outside by the window. I retreated hastily and apologetically, and went over to the window. I told Rik and Thom that the dude had screamed at me to get out and wait so, that was exactly what I intended to do.
After 5 minutes and no movement, Thom knocked on the window. The angry little customs man opened up and now shouted at Thom, “ I am trying to work here! Just wait”
Thom tried to ask if we should come back later, or how long we should wait, but the window was shut in his face and the conversation abruptly ended. Next, it was Rik’s turn. We had waited outside this guy’s window for half an hour, and still nothing. Rik knocked on the door and gingerly popped his head in. Thom and I waited for the angry screams, but none came . Rik re-emerged a minute or so later to inform us that the custom guy was now on his lunch break. There were now a couple of other people also waiting, one of them, a local, told us this was quite normal. I had had enough by this stage, so I walked over to the uniformed police office who was randomly checking the contents of passing cars, and told him what was going on. He was surpised that we were still waiting outside and went over to talk to the customs officer. This seemed to have some effect. We were told to get our chassis numbers checked by the police, and to get our papers ready. By this stage the papers had been ready fro an hour.
One by one, the customs dude saw us, and as he processed our papers he did not stop complaining about how much work he has to do , and how unacceptable his conditions are and so on. At one point, he moaned to me, in Spanish, that he found it disgusting how many foreigners passed through his border and did not speak Spanish. I protested that all three of us spoke Spanish, and as it was his job to deal with foreigners on a daily basis, maybe he should be the one with linguistic capabilities. Oops, shouldn’t have said that! Fortunately, my papers were nearly done, so I just had to listen to him rant for a few minutes. Thom was in next, and I think he took the brunt of our customs mate’s wrath! Rik looked like he was waiting to go see the headmaster after getting into trouble at school, I was just pleased it was over.
A mere two and half hours later, we were in Ecuador for real, and we immediately started to enjoy our newest country.

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Our first stop was at a famous cemetery, known for its huge hedge sculptures amongst other things. We split up and had a quick walk around here before bugging out and riding on to Otovalo. We followed the French who had already found a hostel with parking, and arrived at our lodgings just before the sunset.
We parked up, checked in, and went out for Pizza.

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The next morning, we rose early to see the market. Otovalo has one of the biggest indigenous markets in South America, and we spent a good few hours walking round the market, trying on traditional hats and alpaca sweaters. After spending a little too much money in the market, we split into three groups, the French went into town , Rik and Em went to see Condors, and Jacquie and I went to the nearby waterfalls.

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That evening, we all met up again and went out for dinner. I managed to persuade the waiter to let me behind the bar to make Passion fruit Caipirinhas for the table, and we got slowly drunk!
otbar.jpgotdrunk1.jpgotdrunk3.jpgotdrunk4.jpgotdrunk5.jpg The French looking slightly the worse for wear after one of my killer Caipirinhas!

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On our way to the Equator


Next stop, the Equator, we rode past the monument on the Pan American and dropped in to take photos with the bikes in front of the Equator monument before continuing on to Quito.
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Waiter , waiter, there's a foot in my soup!

We found suitable accommodations fairly easily, and set about doing what needed to be done in the city before moving south. I had to look up Ricardo Rocco, who had replied to my Horizons post, and also had to sort out a few bits and pieces for the bike, a new horn was desperately needed, riding without a horn in South America is almost suicidal, although I had gotten quite good at screaming warnings at drivers that were getting to close, I also needed to find a new hinge for one of the boxes and wanted to go visit the brand new Harley Dealer that was in the process of opening.
We met Ricardo in his office where he ran a Motorcycling School. He welcomed us with a huge grin and an even bigger ‘moto hug”. We liked Ricardo immediately; he exuded what they would call in Central America “Buen Honda” or “good vibes”.
We sat and chatted in his office for a while, then went out lunch. We talked more about bikes- Ricardo had 3, about bike trips, he was planning a trip in December from LA to Ecuador, and about the world wide community of bikers.
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Ricardo fell in love with Garth, and we loved him!!A real super guy


We had received so much great hospitality from bikers throughout the trip, and it was really heart warming to experience it. Lois Pryce’s name came, and the book that almost everyone we met on the road seemed to have read, and it clicked that this was the guy with the ”porn star name” in her book. What a coincidence!
We laughed about this for a while, and then Ricardo led us up to the Harley dealers to meet the owner, Roger, who very proudly showed us a round his smart, new dealership.
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Roger, on his spangly 2009 Police Harley

We fiddled around with the bike, still no joy trying to fix my headlights, and the horn I would have to find for myself, but the boxes were fixed, and I was given an old horn so I would know what to get .
Ricardo assisted me further by getting a mate of his to lead me round town to several moto accessory shops in search of a horn, which we finally found on the 4th try.
I went back to the hotel and fitted the horn, before going off to meet the rest of the posse. Today was our last day together, everyone off on their own journeys.
We celebrated Rik’s birthday at breakfast, then said our goodbyes.
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Jacquie and I were off to “Metad del Mondo”, another “middle of the world” kind of mini theme park.
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A shrunken head in the museum at the Metad del Mondo

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Who's that on my HOG??

We had a lot of fun at the equator, we did the experiments with the water going down the plughole, on one side of the equator the water goes down the plughole clockwise, on the other side, anticlockwise, and bang on the equator, it goes straight down. I had seen this experiment on TV before, and had been really looking forward to seeing it for myself. We had a look around some of the other displays; shrunken heads, mock ups of traditional style mud houses and a huge display of insects and spiders, participated in a couple more experiments, and then we were on our way again, on the long road up to Esmeraldas beach.

We rode for 4 or five hours through some beautiful Ecuadorian scenery. The land changed so quickly and so dramatically from scorched brown earth, to lush fields, mountains, and finally cloud forest, before we descended once more to the coast. We arrived at Esmeraldas, and continued straight back down the coast again. Esmeraldas was a built up beach resort, towering sky-rises, busy beaches, and lots of bars and clubs. Not what we were looking for.
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We rode on down the coast on harsh, bumpy roads until we could ride no more, and finally arrived at Monpiche. Our timing, once again, could not have been worse. We had pulled into one of Ecuador’s favorite beach spots in the middle of a long weekend. We traipsed around this cool, surfy beach town in search of a room, but lucked out. We were feeling despondent to say the least when a longhaired surfer dude came up to us and asked if we were looking for a room. He said he could let us sleep in a hammock at his place, as there were no rooms left in the town. We had a look, and I could see Jacquie was not thrilled at the prospect. We were desperate, so we said we would have another quick look around. Fortunately, a room had become available, and as we came out of our surfer mate’s pad, the owner shouted at us to come see the room he had.
It was nasty, small, smelly and dank, but it was a refuge from the mosquitoes, so we took it!
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Our stay at Monpiche was short and sweet , and we left after breakfast the next day for Canoas, the next beach town down the coast.

Posted by Dan Shell at 03:40 PM GMT
December 29, 2009 GMT
Canoas

CANOAS
We made a rare, early start from Monpiche, eager to get settled in time for a nice afternoon laze on the beach in Canoas, and left with the early morning mist still in the air. We headed down the bumpy dirt road and back onto the Ruta Del Sol, but after an hour of riding down the “Sun Route” there was still no sign of the sun.
The ride was bumpy but colorful, and we passed small wooden houses on the side of the road, mostly sporting brightly painted slogans on the side, and the children playing by the side of the road waved animatedly at us as we rumbled by.

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As usual , we saw more horses on the road than cars, and all along the side of the roads, varieties of beans, coffee and cocoa, were neatly laid out to dry.
We rode over a bridge and looked down to see the local women all doing their washing in the stream. We stopped to take photos and the women looked back at us, waving and laughing. We felt like we were a million miles from Quito.
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We rode on, until we came to the seaside town of Perinales, and decided to take a break for some Ceviche-the delicious South American fish dish where the fish is cooked in lime juice without the help of heat- in one of the seafront restaurants. We were just sitting down at a table when I was grabbed round the neck from behind. I thought my luck had run out, but then I heard the familiar laugh of our friend from Quito, Ricardo.
He was there with his family, enjoying the long weekend, and had done the same as us, stopped in Perinales for a lunch break before returning to the city.
We all sat together and enjoyed our lunch with a couple of drinks and a lot of laughter. Ricardo recommended us a Hostel with Cabanas on the beach in Canoas called Baloo, and when we said it sounded like a good idea, he phone them up from his cell phone and made a reservation for us.
We parted ways and after negotiating more of the “under construction” roads of Ecuador, we arrived in Canoas.
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The sleepy , sandy streets of downtown Canoas


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Our bungalow at Baloo

The town was a sleepy surfer town, with sandy roads and hostels, restaurants, shops and bars lining the seafront. We made our way directly to Baloo, checked into one of the quaint bungalows, and made our way down to the beach, the sun had finally come out, just in time!
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We sat on the beach relaxing until the sun began to drop down towards the horizon before heading back to Baloo for a sunset cocktail.

The manager was in the bar, and apologized for the state of the cocktail menu, saying they had been meaning to redo it for some time, adding some more exotic cocktails.
“I could help you there if you like” I blurted out, “ I am an award winning cocktail bartender, and could easily write you out a new list and train your bartenders”
The manager was overjoyed, and offered us a free night in the Cabana if I would work with her them for a day , redesigning their drinks list.
Jacquie was up for it, so we I wrote out a little shopping list for the manager, mainly fresh fruit and some juices, and agreed to meet in the bar the following afternoon.
That night I sketched out some ideas on a pad, and after a morning chilling on the beach, we went back to the bar to start shaking things up.
Me mixed, muddled and blended until all the hostel’s staff and guests, including Jacquie, were about to fall over.
The “training” went well, and the manager asked if I could do one more session, of course, we could have the cabana for free for another night. I looked over at Jacquie, who vigorously nodded her head in agreement, free accommodation AND free drinks, nice!

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I went surfing with one of the guests from the hostel, and then as the sun went down , went back to the bar for more training, more cocktails, and more fun.
We woke up the next morning slightly heavy headed, packed up , and made our way out of town to get the ferry across the bay to get to Ayampe, where Ricardo’s brother owned a Finca. Our trip was cut short when we arrived late for the ferry to see a huge line of cars waiting for the next boat. The tide had gone out and the water was too shallow for a crossing, we inquired when the next boat was due to cross, and were told that there wouldn’t be another boat for 4 hours. We were also told that the road round the bay was in terrible condition, and would take us about the same time, which would mean that it would be dark by the time we got to the other side. We decided to go back to Baloo and get an early start the next morning.
We turned round and rode back to Canoas, where we were given our old cabana back for one more night, in exchange for a few more cocktails and getting the staff drunk again, a sweet deal.
The next day we made it to the “Ferry” on time, gingerly road down the beach and onto the boat’s platform , and crossed over to the other side, where we continued down the Ruta Del Sol, once again devoid of sunshine, along the coast and to Ayampe.
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Riding down the beach to the "Ferry"

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And tip-toeing on board

Posted by Dan Shell at 01:36 AM GMT
January 03, 2010 GMT
Ayampe to Guaranda,Ecuador

We spent a relaxing evening in the hostel, perched up in the mountain, surrounded by jungle, overlooking the beach below, and then decided one more night wouldn’t hurt!
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The view from the Finca in Ayampe

The road was beckoning once again, and after breakfast on the balcony, with a beautiful view over the bay, we were on our way again, this time in glorious sunshine. Everything looked, well, better, in the sunshine, and each time we passed a beach town, I felt the urge to stop and look for a hostel, but we had dilly-dallied a lot over the last week, and both felt we should be pushing on, or we’d never get anywhere.
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At last, sunshine on the ruta del Sol

We rode along the beach road all morning, and then turned inland and started heading up the mountains, once again, the scenery was stunning, the roads clear, and the only thing that slowed our progress was my the spectacular mountain scenery that forced us to pull over for photos several times.
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Some of the stunning scenery approaching Riobamba

As the sun was setting, we pulled into Riobamaba. We had been helped through Guayaquil by a cop we’d met at a gas station on the outskirts of the city. When we asked him directions, who yelled at us “ follow me” and then proceeded to turn on his lights and sirens and race through the city at 80 mph. Through red lights, straight across intersections and screeching round corners, we stormed through the city. Jacquie screamed at me, “This is the weirdest Police chase I have ever been in, we are chasing them” I was thinking exactly the same thing, but the cops easily saved us an hour! Enabling us to climb the windy mountain roads to Riobamba in the last moments of daylight.
We found ourselves a place to stay, ate a quick meal of Caldo de Pollo in the street and crashed out for the night, it had been a long day of riding and we were both exhausted


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Some of the sights in Riobamba, Colonial architecture, Traditionally dressed highlanders, and a proper Chopper!

We walked around the city the next morning, before heading up higher into the hills and on to Chimborazo, a volcano over 5,000m high, its peak covered in snow. As we climbed, the temperature dropped and dropped, and we piled on the clothing, it was the first time I had worn warm clothes since Bogota.
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Well I never, a Push-Me-Pull-You !

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Chimborazo

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Jacquie does "The Sound of Music"

The Volcano was stunning, we looped all the way around it, visited the Swiss influenced mountain town of Salinas, where we toured the chocolate factory and drank the tastiest hot chocolate ever, before moving on to Guarunda, the capital of the region to stop for the night.
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the chocolate factory in Salinas

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kids in Salinas

We stopped in the main plaza to ask some cops fro directions, and they quickly came up with the same solution, “follow us”. Oh no, we thought, not another high speed chase, but in this case the cops on their 125cc Honda, lead us slowly through he city, showed us three different hostels, dropping us off at the last one, before wishing us well and cruising back to the police station.
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One of the friendly cops in Guaranda


We got talking to the hostel staff, who told us that the following day was a big fiesta in the town to mark its anniversary, and we simply had to stay for the party.
That night, in anticipation for the anniversary, there were bands at every Plaza in the town, and a huge fireworks display in the main plaza.
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The Military band kicking things off with the fireworks tower in the background

We caught a couple of the bands, and then waited for the pyrotechnic show.
The square was full of people, there was a band playing on the stage at one end of the Plaza, and a huge wooden tower, heavily laden with fireworks in the centre.
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The 24th of May 'Banda"

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Preparing Canelazo, a tasty heartwarming punch

The locals were busy getting slowly drunk on Canelazo, a hot punch made with Cinnamon, Mandarin, and lots of Aguardiente. At 9,000ft, it was cold, and we were bored of waiting, so we decided to join in on the drinking, which certainly helped pass the time. Eventually, on of the pyrotechnicians got bored too, and without warning, lit up the tower’s main fuse.
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The fireworks began shooting out of the tower, and the crowds of people started inching back. We noticed there were no security or safety teams anywhere near, nor was there any sort of firefighting or ambulance personnel anywhere to be seen, it was refreshing to see this ‘look after yourself’ approach after all the restrictions we have back home, but as the ashes started raining down on the clouds below, and a couple of fireworks backfired, the crowd backed off even further, and Jacquie was seriously worried. But, no one got hurt, and everyone enjoyed the show.
We staggered back to our hostel, and quickly fell asleep, even with the Latin music from one of the bands thumping through the walls of our room, and shaking our bed.
We were woken the next morning by the military bands marching up and down outside the hostel; so we went down to check it out.
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There were parades everywhere, we sat and watched for a while, then decided to make a break for it and get out of town, before the marchers blocked us in.

Posted by Dan Shell at 02:57 AM GMT
January 04, 2010 GMT
Bikers weekend in Ambato

Our mates in Cali were all heading down to Ambato for a big bike meeting, as was our pal Ricardo from Quito, so we had decided to ride back up to meet them all before heading out of Ecuador. We rode back the way we came, and into Ambato, a fairly ugly modern town, and to the hotel where the vent was based, and then we got out first shock. The rooms were $70-per person!That’s what we’d normally pay for a weeks’ accommodation. We looked around for an alternative, but we were left with the choice of a couple of dodgy places that rented rooms by the hour, the original hotel, or bugging out completely. We returned the the expensive hotel and were deliberating what to do when Ricardo the gentle giant pulled up outside. Seeing our stressed expressions, he asked what was going on. We explained our dilemma and he smiled, patted us on our backs, and told us we could double up in one of the rooms he had booked for his Russian friends, and we could split the cost of the room four ways, making it much more affordable. He assured us that it would be no problem, and he would forewarn the Russians of the new arrangements. We thanked him and went up to the room for a shower and to change for dinner. I went back downstairs to the bar to see who was about, and the place was empty. The receptionist told me that everyone had gone to some club to sign in, so I told Jacquie I was popping out and got on the bike to find this club.
As I was approaching the address I had been given, the familiar rumble of a pack of Harleys grew louder and louder, I rounded a corner and saw a pack of about 50 bikes heading in the opposite direction, I spotted our loony French pal, Alain, Jorge and Sory from the Asturias bike shop in Cali, and a bunch of the Cali riders I had ridden with whilst in their neck of the woods.
I span the bike around, passed a bunch of bikers, and pulled up next to Jorge, whose face lit up when he saw me.
A police escort was leading us along the city streets, and Jorge shouted to me over the roar of his engine that they were on a parade through the city and I should stick with them.
I joined the pack as we rolled through the city centre, stopping traffic and turning heads, until we pulled up back at the hotel.
Jacquie came down to the parking lot when she heard the bikes arrived and we greeted our Cali friends with big “moto hugs” as Ricardo liked to call them. The wine came out, followed by the band, followed by the food, and we all enjoyed a really good catch up.
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Our crazy French mate Alain greets Jacquie "his Queen" in his own inimitable style

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The Bikes and the set up for dinner at the Ambato Bike meet

We ate, drank, danced and partied, and it was really good to see familiar faces, something that doesn’t really happen a lot when you are on the move as much as we had been for the previous year. We arranged to meet up the following day for a group ride up to Chimborazo, and shuffled off to bed, leaving the band playing “Born to be Wild” for the third time, and a hundred or so bikers getting drunker.
We waited for Jorge and the Cali posse to turn up, and even though I had terrible stomach problems, I was determined to go with the group to Chimborazo. The guys finally turned up an hour or so late, and I told Jorge that I had a really bad turn in the night, but just had to grab my bags and we’d be ready, I went back to the room, picked up my stuff, but when I got back downstairs, the guys had left.
Jacquie and I saddled up and tried to catch them up, but in our rush, we took a wrong turn and it was half an hour before we realized what we had done, we doubled back and rode like maniacs to try to find the Cali bikers.
After an hour of riding, we had abandoned hope of finding them , but carried on anyway towards Chimborazo. Just as we were approaching the Volcano, we saw a bunch of bikes parked up by the side of the road, taking photos, and there was Jorge! There had been a confusion with my bad Spanish, and he thought I had said I was too ill to go.
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Chimborazo...again! This timw in the sunshine and with mates!


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Me and Garth posing at the Base Camp, over 5,000m.

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Time for a quick snowball fight

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Jacquie trying to recover from a bout of altitude sickness


We hugged, and all made our way to Chimborazo. We rode up the dirt road to the base camp at 5,000m, and played in the snow as close to the top as we could get on the bikes. A few of the riders, including Jacquie, felt ill with the effects of the altitude, so we slowly rode back down, regrouped, and continued riding around the base of the volcano, stopping here and there for more pictures.
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The Zig Zagging gravel descent from Chimborazo


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We rode with the group for a few hours, before saying our farewells and splitting off and heading on towards Alasui.

Posted by Dan Shell at 10:14 PM GMT
Bikers weekend in Ambato

Our mates in Cali were all heading down to Ambato for a big bike meeting, as was our pal Ricardo from Quito, so we had decided to ride back up to meet them all before heading out of Ecuador. We rode back the way we came, and into Ambato, a fairly ugly modern town, and to the hotel where the vent was based, and then we got out first shock. The rooms were $70-per person!That’s what we’d normally pay for a weeks’ accommodation. We looked around for an alternative, but we were left with the choice of a couple of dodgy places that rented rooms by the hour, the original hotel, or bugging out completely. We returned the the expensive hotel and were deliberating what to do when Ricardo the gentle giant pulled up outside. Seeing our stressed expressions, he asked what was going on. We explained our dilemma and he smiled, patted us on our backs, and told us we could double up in one of the rooms he had booked for his Russian friends, and we could split the cost of the room four ways, making it much more affordable. He assured us that it would be no problem, and he would forewarn the Russians of the new arrangements. We thanked him and went up to the room for a shower and to change for dinner. I went back downstairs to the bar to see who was about, and the place was empty. The receptionist told me that everyone had gone to some club to sign in, so I told Jacquie I was popping out and got on the bike to find this club.
As I was approaching the address I had been given, the familiar rumble of a pack of Harleys grew louder and louder, I rounded a corner and saw a pack of about 50 bikes heading in the opposite direction, I spotted our loony French pal, Alain, Jorge and Sory from the Asturias bike shop in Cali, and a bunch of the Cali riders I had ridden with whilst in their neck of the woods.
I span the bike around, passed a bunch of bikers, and pulled up next to Jorge, whose face lit up when he saw me.
A police escort was leading us along the city streets, and Jorge shouted to me over the roar of his engine that they were on a parade through the city and I should stick with them.
I joined the pack as we rolled through the city centre, stopping traffic and turning heads, until we pulled up back at the hotel.
Jacquie came down to the parking lot when she heard the bikes arrived and we greeted our Cali friends with big “moto hugs” as Ricardo liked to call them. The wine came out, followed by the band, followed by the food, and we all enjoyed a really good catch up.
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Our crazy French mate Alain greets Jacquie "his Queen" in his own inimitable style

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The Bikes and the set up for dinner at the Ambato Bike meet

We ate, drank, danced and partied, and it was really good to see familiar faces, something that doesn’t really happen a lot when you are on the move as much as we had been for the previous year. We arranged to meet up the following day for a group ride up to Chimborazo, and shuffled off to bed, leaving the band playing “Born to be Wild” for the third time, and a hundred or so bikers getting drunker.
We waited for Jorge and the Cali posse to turn up, and even though I had terrible stomach problems, I was determined to go with the group to Chimborazo. The guys finally turned up an hour or so late, and I told Jorge that I had a really bad turn in the night, but just had to grab my bags and we’d be ready, I went back to the room, picked up my stuff, but when I got back downstairs, the guys had left.
Jacquie and I saddled up and tried to catch them up, but in our rush, we took a wrong turn and it was half an hour before we realized what we had done, we doubled back and rode like maniacs to try to find the Cali bikers.
After an hour of riding, we had abandoned hope of finding them , but carried on anyway towards Chimborazo. Just as we were approaching the Volcano, we saw a bunch of bikes parked up by the side of the road, taking photos, and there was Jorge! There had been a confusion with my bad Spanish, and he thought I had said I was too ill to go.
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Chimborazo...again! This timw in the sunshine and with mates!


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Me and Garth posing at the Base Camp, over 5,000m.

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Time for a quick snowball fight

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Jacquie trying to recover from a bout of altitude sickness


We hugged, and all made our way to Chimborazo. We rode up the dirt road to the base camp at 5,000m, and played in the snow as close to the top as we could get on the bikes. A few of the riders, including Jacquie, felt ill with the effects of the altitude, so we slowly rode back down, regrouped, and continued riding around the base of the volcano, stopping here and there for more pictures.
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The Zig Zagging gravel descent from Chimborazo


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We rode with the group for a few hours, before saying our farewells and splitting off and heading on towards Alasui.

Posted by Dan Shell at 10:15 PM GMT
to Alausi

We stopped on route to allow a heard of sheep to cross the road, and stopped and talked to the young woman and her kids who were herding the animals, before riding the last few kilometers to the town. She was only just in her twenties, but her weathered face belied her age. Her oldest daughter was 9 years old and her son was three, both of the children were out helping her with the animals. There were other flocks around in the hills, and other families tending to them.

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The family were interested in our trip and wanted to know about England

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Alausi

We descended into the town and liked the place immediately. We checked into to a colonial style hotel, and walked down to the train station to inquire about the train that we were hoping to take down one of the famous routes that switched back and forth down to the bottom of the valley, but were told that since a Japanese tourist was decapitated whilst riding on the roof of the train, that there was no more service, only a weird bus type thing that rode along the tracks, but there was no more roof riding allowed.
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The new, improved, safer train ...no roof riding!!

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The train station at Alausi

We walked around the town, ate some dinner, and retired to our room, and made ready for our departure to Cuenca, our last town in Ecuador.

When we woke the next morning, the sleepy town was a hive of activity. Bus loads of villagers from other hill towns were arriving, and the occupants disembarked with goods ready to set up in the market.
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Strange Cargo-heading for the market at Alausi
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Alausi became a busy market town at weekends, and we couldn't resist a walk around to see what was on offer before leaving.

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Riding through the mountains again, the road cut into the side like an incision.

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Spit roast Guinea pig, a local speciality

The ride out was blissful, the road switched back and forth , descending and rising again, passing through valleys and over mountains, and we were sad when the road finished and we arrived in Cuenca, but the city softened the blow of the end of the road by its sheer beauty.
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Arriving in Cuenca


Beautiful colonial buildings surrounded huge, leafy Plazas and gorgeous churches were on every corner. We Parked up and walked around in search of a hostel. We checked into the last one we came across, housed in another beautiful converted colonial building, and went back to pick up the bike.
We were just getting back on the bike when another biker, from the states came over and started chatting to us. He was riding with a couple of other guys, and said we should come out and meet them for dinner. We agreed, took the bike back to the hostel and went out to meet the guys.
We dined in a cheap and cheerful chicken joint, and halfway through he meal, another one of their friend, Carlo, walked into the restaurant.
Carlo and I hit it off immediately, we sat around chatting, and he invited us to go round to his hostel for breakfast in the morning.
Jacquie and I turned up at their place around 9am and met his girlfriend, Toni, and we all got along really well.
We were munching on our brekkie when I heard the bike's alarm go off. I ran outside to find another cop sat on my bike, checking it out for comfort!
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Jacquie and I , and Toni and Carlo spent the day wondering the city streets, and planned to ride together when we left in a day or so.
Unfortunately, Toni fell ill the next day, so Jacquie, Carlo and I went without her to see a movie, while Toni stayed in bedresting and hopefully recovering, ready for the ride.
Alas it was not meant to be, and with Toni still ill, Jacquie and I left Cuenca alone the next day, hoping to see them a bit further down the road.
We rode towards the border, riding high up on the mountain passes, looking down at the clouds below. Just as Ricardo had told us it would be, it felt like we were in a plane, not a motorcycle, looking down at the tiny villages thousands of feet below us.
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Slowly the green mountain scenery gave way to the brown, rocky landscapes of the desert, and then dotted here and there we would come across small oasis’s of green, and then be back to the dusty, rocky landscapes of the desert.
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As we descended once more, we came across huge banana plantations, and then , after negotiating our way through a busy market, we hit the border with Peru.
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Posted by Dan Shell at 10:41 PM GMT
January 19, 2010 GMT
Into Peru

PERU
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We had decided to head straight for the surfer town of Mancora, and agreed we hade made the right decision when we arrived at the first town we came, to, Tumbes. We rolled straight through, not wanting to stop in this unappealing town until we came to a queue of cars and trucks. We pulled up to the front and parked up when we saw a policeman turning traffic around.
I walked over to ask him what was going on. Apparently, the local fishermen were protesting about plans for the Gas companies to drill in the bays where they fished. Their livelihoods were at stake and they were taking matters very seriously, and had blockaded the roads all along the coast, there was no way forward. I asked if we could go ahead and see if we could find our own way through, but the cop told us that it was dangerous. He said if we liked, we could wait around for a while and se if anything changed, but advised us to go back to Tumbes, the nasty looking border town we had just ridden through and wait it out.
We moved the bike off the road, parking next to the police car , and waited to see what transpired. We had been hanging around for about half an hour, when all of a sudden there was a commotion. People were running towards us from the direction of the blockade, the cops included, the policeman who we had been speaking to shouted at us to get on the bike and move back. Then he in turn ran to his car, and screeched off. We followed the cop car, but the passenger motioned at us to overtake him, putting his car between us, and the riotous fishermen.
We rode up the way towards Tumbes for a couple of miles, and then pulled over again. The cops pulled up to tell us they had lost control of the mob, and that we really should return to Tumbes and wait to see if things calmed down for the next day.
It seemed we had little choice. We rode back to Tumbes, and started looking for a place to spend the night.
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Our first impressions of Tumbes were absolutely right. The town was a complete dump. Moto taxis filled the streets, constantly tooting their horns, mosquitoes were everywhere, and the brick buildings were ugly and characterless.
We found a clean, reasonably priced hotel after an extensive search, parked the bike in the reception, and skulked up the stairs to our room, to hide for the night.
We didn’t emerge from our room until the next morning, when we ventured out to find a policeman and some breakfast.
We came across breakfast first, which unfortunately did nothing to lift our mood, and alas nor did the news we gleaned from the first copper we came across.
We walked through the town, just to make sure there wasn’t a nice part hidden somewhere, and when we had confirmed that the whole town was in fact a complete shit-hole, we went back to our room to watch TV.
We regularly checked the road situation with the receptionist, and went out a couple of times in the day to find a policeman to re-check the situation with the fisherman. As the day drew to an end, we reluctantly agreed to stay another night, and try again in the morning. We were meeting more and more tourists who were stuck in the same situation as us, so at least we were no longer the only gringos in town.
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There was no change the next day, except that Jacquie had started to feel a bit under the weather. I left her in bed and went for a little wonder round town just to get out of the room. I walked down to the market at the bottom end of town, and chatted with a few of the stallholders and shoppers. The people were friendly and I started to feel bad about writing the town off so haphazardly. It warmed me that at even is such a nasty place, the people were friendly and welcoming. Then I got robbed, and I changed my mind back again! I really wanted to get out of this place!
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Friendly locals at the market, moments before my watch was robbed off my wrist..

When I got back to the hotel, minus my watch, the receptionist told me that the blockade would be lifted in the morning. Best news I had had in ages! I rushed upstairs and told Jacquie the good news (we can leave here tomorrow) and the bad news (the watch you bought me got nicked).
We packed up and left early in the morning, and saw the best view of the town; in our rearview mirror! We rode through small fishing villages and saw signs of the roadblocks where rocks had been moved to the side of the road. It wasn’t just the small village south of Tumbes, as we had first thought, but a string of fishing towns all the way down the coast, almost as far as Mancora.

Posted by Dan Shell at 07:49 PM GMT
Northern Peru

We arrived in Mancora nice and early, found a lovely room in a hostel on the beach, unpacked, and spent a lovely afternoon chilling on the beach, drinking beer and making friends with other travelers, as well as bumping into some old faces from up the road, a couple of guys I had met back in Colombia.
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I took out a surfboard and sat on it for an hour, waiting for a wave, then gave up and went and sat back on the beach.
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The view from our beachside bungalow

On our second day we moved to a bungalow on the beach with stunning views of the ocean, and made more friends there, and I arranged to DJ on their party night in return for another free night in the bungalow. The set went down well, and I played until well after Jacquie went off to bed!
Another day of chilling on the beach and we were ready to leave Mancora behind and head down the coast to the next beach, Huanchaco.
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The fishermen's surf boats on the beach in Huanchaco


We only stayed overnight in Huanchaco, even though we would have liked to stay more, Peru was a huge slice of land, and we wanted to make our way southwards. We saw some of the traditional boats that the fishermen use, a clever style of half boat half surfboard, which the paddle out and the surf back in with their catch. Cool.
And then we were on the coastal road, southward bound. The stretch of road from Huanchaco to Lima was just breathtaking.
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Untouched coastline to the west of us, and pure desert, to the east, with nothing man made to spoil the view for hundreds of miles. The Peruvians warned us that this stretch would be boring, but we both found it absolutely beautiful.
There were a few dodgy moments where the sand had been blown almost all the way across the road, making it a single lane highway, but thankfully there was next to no traffic on the road, and we continued on without incident.
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Out of nowhere we came across an oasis here and there, and the brown desertscape briefly turned to lush green, before returning to the sand and ocean mix. The highway twisted and curved following the coastline, and I could have ridden that road all day long, in fact, I did. We arrived in Lima at around 7pm, just in time to catch the rush hour traffic. It was a huge contrast to riding through the desert for 400 miles and only seeing a handful of cars to having to fight our way through 7 lanes of traffic for 2 hours!
We stopped in Miraflores, and checked into the only hostel we could find, and crashed out for the night.
We had a few things to sort out while we were in the city, getting the camera cleaned was my top priority, and once we had that sorted, we got the hell out of there. More desert roads awaited on the way down to Nasca.

Posted by Dan Shell at 08:10 PM GMT
To Nasca

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The second day of the coastal road through Peru was the same as the first. We rode on, more of the brown stuff to our left, and the blue stuff to our right. The road occasionally left the coast and we wound up into the mountains, where we totally surrounded by sand, rocky mountains, and more sand. It felt as if we were totally isolated from the rest of civilization. Nothing living around for miles; we didn’t even get any insects splatting on our windscreen. There was just nothing...at all. It reminded me of Mad Max, post apocalypse, driving through the deserted desert.

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After a few hours riding the gorgeous coastal highway, we spotted a carport with a few sand buggies parked underneath, and decided to investigate further.
Sure enough, we had happened upon a sand-boarding outfit, and for $10 , the owners would drive us up through the dunes in one of their VW sand buggies and then we could sand board down a couple of dunes before being driven back.
We swoppped our sunglasses for goggles, dumped our jackets, and jumped into one of the buggies.
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Holding on tight in the buggy

We drove at breakneck speed over the dune sin the super light buggy, banking scarily on the sides of some dunes, and jumping right over others, Jacquie and I clinging on to the rails of the buggy for dear life, with ridiculous grins plastered on our faces, until we came to a stop at the top of a gently sloping dune.
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The driver unloaded the boards, gave us about 2 minutes of instruction, and then pushed us off the top of the dune. Jacquie took to the sand boarding like a duck to water, I was a little more hesitant, but after the 2nd run, started to find my groove too. We then drove another 10 minutes or so to a much longer, steeper dune.
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Jacquie went first, and glided down the steep incline like a pro, I made it about halfway before wiping out in a spectacularly flurry of sand, tumbling the rest of the way down the dune. Once at the bottom, we trudged our way back up to the top for one more run, before an even faster return to the base.
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Re-invigorated from our adrenalin rush, we remounted our ride, and made our way back to the Pan American, to continue slicing our way through the spectacular desert route.
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Another hour or so of winding our way through the desert and we reached the outskirts of Nasca.
We pulled over when we came to the observation tower, where , after a short climb to the top of the tower, we could see a couple of the world famous Nasca lines.
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No one really knows when, why or how these amazing drawings were made, but they were quite spectacular. The view from the tower only showed us a glimpse of the lines, but it was enough to encourage us to ride into town and take a plane ride to see more.
20 minutes later, we pulled up in the town centre and were immediately surrounded my locals offering us rooms and plane tours. We took up one of the locals’ offers, and went to check in to his recommended hostel. We had just enough time to check in, park up, and then we were whisked off to the small airport to wait for our plane.
After a short wait the pilot came to get us, 6 in total, and we were directed as to where to sit in the plane. And after a quick instruments check, we powered up , rolled over the runway, and were rolling along at take off speed. The planes reached take off velocity and the pilot pulled back on the joystick, and the tiny plane left the runway and climbed steeply.
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The little plane was buffeted furiously by the winds, and we all looked at each other rather nervously. The pilot explained how these little planes moved around a lot more than larger jets, and pointed out the sick bags to us; nice.
After only a few minutes in the air, the first of the shapes was visible, the pilot banked sharply so we could look down the wing to the drawing in the desert, circled around, and then banked again in the opposite direction to give the passengers on the other side of the plane a view. We flew over the whale, the hummingbird, the spider, the dog, the monkey the condor, the hands ,and most unexpectedly a carving of an astronaut, etched into the side of a volcano before flying over some of the huge geometric lines.
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The Whale and a section of the geometric lines at Nasca

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The Hands

The carvings were awesome from the sky, but begged the question, why would anyone go to such trouble to create these incredible drawings, only visible from the air, hundreds or even thousands of years before anyone could fly, I personally go for the alien theory!
We bounced around in the so-small-its-almost-a-toy plane for 45 minutes before turning round and landing back in Nasca, where the 6 of us disembarked, happy to be back safe and sound on the land.
We returned to our hotel, which, thanks to an electrical fault was plunged into darkness. Not being able to do much in the pitch black, we went out for some local nosh and got ourselves a fairly early night.
Bright and early the next morning, we left the dull and dismal town of Nasca behind and made our way southwards once more towards Arequipa.

Posted by Dan Shell at 08:48 PM GMT
January 26, 2010 GMT
Peru-The last bit

As we left Nasca behind, we also left the sunshine. Approaching the coast, we rode into a grey fog, which I was hoping might just be some early morning sea mist, but the weather worsened as the day went on, and at around lunchtime, the deluge began.
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It was like Big Sur all over again. The rocky cliffs to our left were crumbling as we rode past, dropping loads of rock all over the road. Our pace once again slowed dramatically as we negotiated the wet, slippery road, trucks came hurtling past us, often on the wrong side of the road, the rain began to seep into our waterproofs, and the visibility dropped so much due to the rain clouds that we were riding through, that I could barely see more than a couple of meters in front of me. Still, Jacquie and I rode on, in high spirits, looking forward to a break in the weather, which we knew would come sooner or later. Unfortunately, it was later, but that just made it all the more welcome when it did finally come.
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Jacquie dancing for joy at the end of our 7 hour rain ride


After 7 hours of riding, the sun came out and we pulled over to strip off our waterproofs, and had a celebratory jig by the side of the road, courtesy of Mr. George Michael on the radio of the Harley.
We rolled into Arequipa just as the sun was setting, found ourselves a cheap room, and went for a walk around the city.
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Arequipa was the first beautiful city we had seen since leaving Ecuador; we had started to think that all of Peru’s cities were ugly and characterless. Brick buildings lining dirty streets made up most of the towns, and Arequipa was a very welcome change.
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We spent only one night in Arequipa, we had a walk around the city in the morning, and decided we had seen enough colonial cities, and pretty as it was, decided to leave Arequipa behind and head on to our next stop on the way to Cusco, the lakeside town of Puno.

PUNO
We had a glorious ride through the mountains passing beautiful lakes, with wild Flamingos picking their way along the shores, until we arrived at Puno, on the shore of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world.
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One of the lakes on the way to Puno
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Flamingos and ducks share the lake

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The Peruvian Under Age Army

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We were treated to a military parade in Puno

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How do you like YOUR chicken? "Chicken to the Iron" or "Jumped" ?

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Every living room should have a Garth

Puno itself was another unattractive city, but the attraction was the lake, and it was gorgeous. We booked an excursion with our hostel, and were picked up at 5am by a minibus to take us to the boat that would take us to the floating islands and on to Taquila.

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Boats ready to take busloads of tourists out on Lake Titicaca

After driving around for what felt like eternity picking up other tourists from their hotels, we arrived at the port and were ushered onto a waiting boat, where our over enthusiastic guide gave us her well rehearsed spiel on the upcoming trip, and told us the correct way to pronounce “Titicaca”-not Titicaca, but Titicaca…we couldn’t hear the difference, no matter how many times she repeated herself!
We set off from the dock and were again bombarded with non stop useless and uninteresting facts about the lake, its islands, and its inhabitants. We were on the world’s highest lake, 284 m deep at its deepest point, and has a surface area of over 3,800kms.
The inhabitants of the floating islands make the islands from reeds, and live for free, and there is no land tax on home made islands.
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One of the many floating islands on lake Titicaca

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The islanders waved us over to their island when they saw our boat approaching, and greeted us with songs when we landed . It was all very touristy, but also a very different experience. The islanders used no money, but instead used a barter system for trading with each other, but the cash brought in by tourists help them buy other essentials, like mobile phones!
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Inside one of the islanders' houses

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Being serenaded off the island

We had a wonder around the tiny but interesting island, and then were sent on our way with more with local songs, and renditions of “Row, row, row your boat” and “Vamos a la playa” in a cringingly well-choreographed way.
We hadn’t realized how far away the next island was, and when we were told it was over two hours away, we settled in for a kip.

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The view from the top of Taquila

We arrived at the island and hiked up to the centre of the town, at the crest of the island’s tallest hill. We were in for a treat, we had arrived on “election day” when the islanders elect their leaders for the coming year. There was a huge turnout in the main plaza, all the islanders in their Sunday best, and after the speeches and voting, the beer came out and the drinking began.

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The islands' elders at the annual election, with crates of beer ready for after the speeches

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The elders were very welcoming and interested to meet us and hear our stories, and share their beer. We hung around chatting and gesticulating until we were called away by our guide for lunch. I was so happy we didn’t do these sorts of excursions often.
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Some inquisitive local kids....for once they didn't want money for the photo!

We ate in a small restaurant, perched on the side of the hill, with breathtaking views over the lake, and then made our way back down to the boat for our return journey.

Posted by Dan Shell at 02:31 AM GMT
January 28, 2010 GMT
Maccu Pichu

MACHU PICCHU
From Puno, we rode to Ollyantambo, an ancient Inca town in the heart of the sacred valley, from where we would take our trip up to Machu Picchu. Needless to say, the ride was glorious again; we stopped en route in another Inca town in the sacred valley, before heading on to Ollyantanbo, where we would take a train, then a bus up to Machu Picchu.
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The whole trip was going to cost us a fortune, even doing it the cheaper way by taking our train from here instead of from Cusco, but everyone had raved about the site, and we felt we couldn’t miss it.
We left Olly, as we had began calling it, at 5 in the morning, and after a short and rather beautiful train ride, we arrived in Aguas Calientes, from where we took the bus up the mountain to the entrance of Machu Picchu.

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As we entered the site, the mist clung to the mountains and obscured most of the city, revealing only small patches at a time, we climbed to the guard’s house, and sat on the grass, catching what glimpses we could as the clouds rolled over the site.
The location of the 600-year-old city was amazing. Perched atop of a huge mountain, surrounded by peaks, looking down at valleys, and it surely was a feat that the Incas could build such a city in this remote mountaintop.
We wondered around, in and out of the roofless structures, up and down the steps used for agriculture, and checked out the temples. As awesome as it was, we both agreed that we had been more impressed with the sites we had seen in Mexico; Palenque, Tonin and Chitchen Itza, and Tikal in Guatemala.

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We spent the best part of the day walking around the site, listening to snippets of other people’s guides, and gathering tidbits of information, before returning to the train station and back to Olly.

Posted by Dan Shell at 02:30 PM GMT
Cusco

Another day, another dollar, and we were off once more, more riding through the sacred valley, past more Inca sites, and to the former Inca capital, Cusco.

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Christmas Shopping in the Scared Valley

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Cusco


The Spanish conquistadores had used the city as their Capital, and the architecture was delightful. Huge colonial buildings surrounded the huge main plaza, and evidence of the Pre Hispanic times were everywhere, in the tiny cobbled streets around the plaza, the remains of the old city wall still running through the centre of the “new” city, and there were three sets of ruins overlooking the city.
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Remains of the old Inca wall running through the city.


Cusco was a bustling city, where tourists rummaged for bargains and touts plied their wares, mainly massages and trips to Macho Picchu.
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Click-that'll be $1 , thank you


Traditionally dressed women walked around with Lamas, while their daughters carried lambs, ready for a tourist to point their camera at them so they could then demand $1.

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Parades through the city on National Police day

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The outer walls of Saxaywaman
We happened to be in Cusco for National Police day, and watched the parades through the city before talking a long walk up to one of the ruins, Saxaywaman, an impressive site, built from huge rocks overlooking Cusco in the valley below. That night we made another pilgrimage, to Norton Rats.

It was one of those places that was talked about on the internet, a recommended stop for bikers on their way to Ushuaia, and we signed the gust book, drew an obligatory picture of our bike, played a few games of darts, and ate a mighty burger, bought the T-shirt and then we were ready to leave Cusco!

It was time for another split. Jacquie wanted to go home for Christmas, while I wanted to save my money and go on to Bolivia. We went out for another last supper, where I treated myself to the “World’s Biggest Burger”, and Jacquie treated herself to a big glass of Vino Tinto, before returning to our hotel for an early night.
During the night, my stomach, which had been fragile since Machu Piccho, finally went to stage 3.
I was cramping and running to the toilet all night, and neither of us got much sleep. Jacquie was due to be at the airport at 8am, her taxi was coming for her at 7, and at 6am, I was really in pain. She didn’t want to leave me curled up in a ball in the bed, white faced and red eyed. We called a doctor who turned up at the same time as Jacquie’s cab.
It was a flustered goodbye, but as usual, I knew she’d be back, so I put my brave face on, told her I was fine and kissed her goodbye. She went to her cab and the doctor came to my bedside. Not much of a swap.
After a quick examination and a few questions, I was diagnosed as having parasites, prescribed some drugs, and given a bill. I gulped, and then reached for my wallet, already knowing I didn’t have anything like enough money to pay him. I explained my situation to the doc, who said he could drive me to a cash machine, and then to a pharmacy.
I thanked him, struggled out of bed, put on some trousers and my fleece jacket, and followed him to his car.
We drove through the city to a cash machine, which handily had a pharmacy right next door; I withdrew the money and went back to the doctor’s car. I handed over the cash, and asked if I could possibly get a ride back to the hotel, but to my surprise, the doc told me he was going in the opposite direction, and drove off, leaving me by the side of the road, clenching. I bought my drugs in the pharmacy and made my way back to the hotel, a 5-minute drive or a 15-minute walk, I must admit, I felt a little hard done by, and was surprised that the doc refused my ride back.
I made it back to the hotel just in time for a last minute sprint to the toilet, took my drugs and went back to bed.

Posted by Dan Shell at 03:05 PM GMT
Bye Jacquie Hi Bolivia

I felt much better the next day, so I packed up and headed out of the city, aiming for Bolivia. I had a huge ride ahead of me if I wanted to get across the border in a day, but I was in the right frame of mind for a new country and a new chapter.
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Garth and I thundered back out through the sacred valley, and didn’t stop until I came across a procession in a town along the way, about 5 hours down the road. It was another festival, and as I rode on towards Puno I came across more and more of them. I was just on the outskirts of Puno when a cop stopped me for another procession to cross the road in front of me. I pulled over, parked the bike, and went for a closer look.
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The women were wearing in brightly colored dresses with bowler hats perched high on the top of their heads, while the men wore even more brightly colored flamboyant costumes that could have come out of Liberace’s closet. I asked some of the women if I could take a photo, and they happily agreed.

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One of the women went into a small house and came out with a huge mask and insisted I put it on a have my photo taken with it on. Then I gave her my sunglasses for another photo of her as a biker, then the fun really started. A group of young men who were in a band wanted their picture taken by my bike, then a group of girls in majorette type outfits wanted me to take their picture, then a couple of the elders wanted their picture taken with me, and with the bike.
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There was a real party atmosphere in the air as everyone prepared to join in the procession. I wished I could have stayed longer, but Bolivia beckoned, so reluctantly, I got back on Garth, and waving, I pulled off down the road towards Lake Titicaca and the border beyond to Bolivia.

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I rode through Puno and followed the road round the lake towards Copacabana, the first town in Bolivia after the border.

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The road worsens approaching Bolivia

As I approached the frontier, the road became more and more pot holed. Some of the holes were right the way across the road, and some were really deep, big enough to swallow a scooter wheel in its entirety. I had a couple of nasty jolts when the bike bottomed out on a few of them, but I managed to avoid most of them while still keeping up a good speed, I kind of enjoyed this slalom section of the road. I filled up in the last gas station before the border, thinking it be the last time I would be able to feed Garth with some high octane petroleum, only to be told that this gas came from Bolivia, and the highest octane they had was a measly 85. I filled up anyway, and rode the last few kilometers to the border.
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Approaching the tiny Peru/Bolivia border crossing


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I knew that this crossing was a small one, but had no idea exactly how small.
I didn’t even have to get off the bike on the Peru side, the customs officer, and then the immigration guys came out to check out the bike, stamped my passport, took a photo, and exported the bike for me in minutes, then I rode up the road, through an arch , and to the Bolivian frontier. My papers were all signed and sealed in a matter of minutes, and half an hour after I pulled up to the Peruvian border control, I was well and truly in Bolivia and on my way to Copacabana.
I arrived in the town,which was really little more than a jumping off point for tourists and travelers to pick up boats to see the Islands in Lake Titicaca, and soon found a room in a cheap and nasty hotel, unloaded and went for a wander. I bumped into a couple of guys I had met in Mancora, and together, we booked ourselves on a boat trip to another island in lake Titicaca, Isla del Sol, an island that our French pal in Cali had told us was a “must see”.
Well I guess one person’s idea of a must see and another’s differ wildly, as in this instance. The Island was not unattractive, but was no different to the island we had already seen from the Peru side.
We hit dry land, and set off on foot along a beautiful white sand beach, currently being occupied by a couple of pigs, that had dug themselves a small pit in the sand to keep themselves cool, and a bunch of young boys, completely naked, running in and out of the sea and throwing themselves on the sand.

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We left the beach and started the climb up to the ruins, on the way chatting to some beautiful local girls, dressed in incredibly bright clothes, selling flowers to passing tourists.
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We were passing more donkeys than people on the path to the top, I hoped the girls found some customers for their flowers.

After a quick and rather disappointing view of the ruins, I was pretty much ruined out by this stage, so it would take a lot more than a collection of stones to impress me now, we turned around a made our way back down to the boat.
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The boat left the dock a few minutes after we arrived, the last of the passenegers to get on board, and we started motoring back towards Copacabana under a cloudless blue sky.
The captain steered his boat to a floating island for us tourists to explore, but on closer inspection, the “island” showed its true form.It was made up of a bunch of oil drums covered in reeds. Only in Bolivia would you be able to find a fake island.

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The Fake Floating Island-only in Bolivia!
THE FOLLOWING IS AN ABRIDGED VERSION OF THE BOLIVIA EXPERIENCE, AFTER IT ALL GOT ERASED MYSTERIOULSY FROM THE COMPUTER…


There wasn’t really much to keep me on Copacabana, so the day after my tour around the lake, I woke up ready to get on the bike and leave. The Gods, it seemed, thought otherwise. The rain outside my window was falling hard, and the roads could barely manage to drain away the deluge of water, threatening to flood the roads at any time.
I went downstairs and tucked into the complimentary breakfast, hoping that the rain would soon give up, but if anything the rain began to fall even harder than before.
Well, I still had to pack, maybe the rain would stop by then, I thought to myself, so I went back upstairs to pack up my bags and bring them downstairs. The rain showed no sign of letting up, but I really wanted to get out of Copacabana, and into La Paz. The thought of spending the day wandering aimlessly around Copacabana in the rain was even less appealing than spending the day getting wet on the bike.
I slowly packed up my bike and stepped into my waterproofs, and headed out of Copacabana.
There was always a chance that I would ride straight through the rain and would be in the dry on the other side of the mountain that overlooked Copacabana.
I made my way slowly up the twisting, slippery roads to the top of the mountain, and then even more slowly descended the other side, where, unbelievably, the rain was falling even harder. It wasn’t raindrops that where falling on my head, but bucket loads of ice cold water.
The water stung my face, and once again, I cursed myself for not having tried harder to find a visor for my open face helmet, even though I knew in truth that I had searched high and low throughout Central America. Then I remembered, Jacquie’s helmet, complete with visor and chin protector was strapped to the back of the bike. I pulled over, and for the first time on the trip, donned a full-face helmet.
Excited about the possibility of a dry face, I pulled down the visor and set off.
About 100 yards further along the road I pulled over. The visor had steamed up and I couldn’t see a thing. On top of that, the visor was tinted, so even when it wasn’t steamed up, my view was limited. But the fact was, every time I pulled down that visor, it steamed up in seconds, and I had to try sticking a wet finger of my glove inside to try to wipe away the moisture. When this technique proved to be about as useful as , well, wiping wet glass with wet leather, I tried riding with the visor half way open, which meant that the rainwater was directed straight to my cheeks, and the cold, wet air went straight into my eyes.
I soldiered on, alternating between wiggling my wet fingered glove along the inside of my visor, and changing the angle and width of the opening of the visor. The rain continued to fall, my “waterproof ‘ gloves showed their true colour, rainwater dripped down the back of the helmet, down the gap in the neck of my jacket, to the seat of my pants, where it pooled around my arse, giving me that same feeling that I had in my boots, of flesh soaking in puddles of cold water. I sloshed around like this until I reached the lake that I would have to cross to be able to reach La Paz.
I pulled up to the shore and was waved towards a collection of wooden planks with a motor attached at the far end that was to be my passage across the lake.
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The "Ferry" across the lake

I gingerly rode Garth down to “ferry” and onto the planks, and stopped as directed at the end of the boat. After me came a couple of local taxis, and with out further ado, the young man that had waved us onto his boat, started up the motor with a couple of pulls on the starting rope, and we were off.
Coming in the other direction we passed another ferry, no more than just a wooden platform with a motor at one end, barely large enough o fit a coach on the planks. From where I was looking, it appeared that the coach was floating along on the water unaided.
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A short while later I reached the other side of the lake, and after a not inconsiderable amount of effort, I managed to wiggle the bike round and ride off onto the shore, barely keeping it from falling when the platform lurched back towards the water while I was half on land and half still on the boat.

Posted by Dan Shell at 03:25 PM GMT
March 21, 2010 GMT
La Paz, Bolivia

LA PAZ
After another 2 hours of riding through the rain, I eventually arrived at the top of a mountain and through the clouds, I was afforded a view of La Paz, the highest capital city in the world, laid out beneath me like a collection of Lego buildings.
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Looking down on La Paz

Here in La Paz, the rich lived in the lowest areas of the city, at around 3,660m, while the poorer were forced further up the hillsides, in a complete reversal of almost every other city in the world. The lower the land, the higher the price, and the more plentiful the air.
I descended into the city, into the streets filled with black fumes belched out by brightly coloured ex US school buses, mini vans, collectivos, pick up trucks and 4x4’s. There didn’t seem to be any rules of the road, except that one was well advised to give way to bigger vehicles, in my case, that meant pretty much all but the hundreds of 125cc bikes that were crazily zig-zagging their way through the dense traffic.
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Fortunately, I spotted the hostel that I had pre booked the day before on the left hand side of the road, and was able to make a slightly illegal but perfectly acceptable U – turn to park outside.
The second thing I noticed about La Paz, after the anarchic driving habits of the locals, was how much the altitude affected me. The reception of the hostel was up 2 flights of stairs, and by the time I reached the top, I was exhausted and struggling to catch my breath. I registered, wrestled to get my “waterproof” gloves off, leaving half of the inners still stuck to my hands, and peeling off the remainder of the outers, and slung my jacket and helmet over the edge of my bunk, before returning to the bike to park up and unload.
Once again, I huffed and puffed my way to the top of the stairs, where I had to stop to catch my breath before continuing down the hallway my dorm.
I sat on my bed, leaned backwards, and slept.
I awoke to the sweet, subtle sounds, of drunken adolescent Americans singing in the hallway. I looked at my wrist to determine the time, and then remembered that my watch had been stolen in Peru-things to do in La Paz No1, buy a watch.
I rolled out of bed and into the lounge area of the hostel to find a selection of bodies strewn across the floor in varying stages of decay. Those that were still able to talk were reminiscing about the events of the evening passed, who was first on the dance floor, who was first to vomit, and who was first to loose control of their jaw. It would appear that these young lads had had their first experience of Bolivia’s finest. I struck up a conversation with a young lad who was either going for a dread-lock look,or who had fallen over in a pile of vomit, I wasn’t sure which.
He excitedly told me how he and his fellow travellers thought Bolivia was so much better than Colombia, mainly because they had found a bar where you could order a drink and a wrap of coke from the barman.
I hoped that this wasn’t why everyone was so excited to come to La Paz.
I pored myself a glass of water, turned around and returned to my dorm to settle in for the night. As a cautionary measure, I squeezed my earplugs in as tightly as I could, rolled over and drifted off to sleep.
I spent the next day lazily roaming around the historical centre of La Paz. Bright colours where everywhere.
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Women and children wore brightly coloured skirts and woven cardigans, the fruit stalls were ablaze with colour, and the ex-school busses showed off their paintjobs under layers of wax.
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I strolled up to the Witches market, a selection of small shops, crammed to the roves with animal skulls, bones and skeletons, lotions, potions, broths and powders.
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Lama Skeletons outside a shop in the Witches Market, La Paz

On shelves outside these tiny overstuffed shops where Tupperware boxes filled with beans, beads, stalks, roots and more powders, as well as small wooden carvings to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune to the owners.
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There were plastic pigs, dressed in bright waistcoats, pink plastic bags full of God-knows-what, jars of jelly like substances, ribbons and lengths of cloth with bells or bones or both attached, charms and pendants of all shapes and sizes, all for a specific reason, cure, cause or celebration.
The shopkeepers, invariably wouldn’t even let me in, knowing full well that I was there to “browse” and would most likely not purchase anything from their store. In honesty, I think that they would prefer not to sell any of their stock to a western non-believer who was looking more for a souvenir than for a saviour.
One sight that perplexed me more than anything where the groups of young men wearing full, black balaclavas. I first spotted a group of them eating together in the market. I glanced over, but when my gaze was returned by a pair of eyes peering from the slot in the hood, I looked away and carried on walking. The next group I spotted were sat together in a semi-circle, perched on top of wooden boxes. As I looked on, an elderly gent, smartly dressed in fresh pressed trousers and jacket approached, started talking to one of the balaclava clad youths, then swapped places with the youth to sit on top of the box.
From under the box, the youth, looking remarkably like a young terrorist, retrieved a plastic bag from which he removed a selection of small round tins and brushes, and then set about polishing the older gent’s shoes. So, that was it, not international espionage, or hard line Muslim sympathisers, just shoe shine boys with a very odd uniform.
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The Ninja ShoeShine Boys of La Paz


It seemed that on every corner in La Paz, there were groups of ninja shoe shine boys plying their trade. I never did find out why they all decided to look so scary!
I went back to the hostel for a little nap, the altitude once again getting the better of me and slept for the best part of the afternoon, and spent the evening watching movies with the young Americans who were still recovering from their night out the previous day.
The hostel had its own micro brewery on site, and included in the price of a dorm bed was a free beer , so armed with my voucher, I made my way up to the bar , to meet some more of my fellow travellers. Unfortunately there was very little variety in the hostel, 99% of the guests being young Americans intent on doing only 2 things in Bolivia. Riding down the “Death Road” on a rented Mountain bike, and getting wasted on cheap Cocaine.
Death Road, Camino de las Yungas to give it’s proper title, is a 61 km length of road that runs from La Paz to Coroico, descending from a height of 4,650m ( 15,260ft) to 1,200m(3,900ft).. It gets its name from the excessive amounts of deaths that occurred on it. It is unpaved, narrow, with blind corners. The real danger, however lies not with the road, but with the trucks barrelling down it at breakneck speeds. Sometimes you drive on the left, and sometimes on the right, the road is barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other in places, and with sheer drops on one side and a mountain on the other, there is no room for mistakes.
Neither of these options particularly appealed to me, and I was on my way back down to the living room to have a read through my guidebook, when I bumped into a French couple who were also motorcycling their way through South America.
I turned around and went back up to the bar with them, they too were going to ride the death road, but I explained that I got enough of an adrenalin rush avoiding trucks and buses on regular roads, and didn’t feel I needed to go out of my way to look for more hardships than I already had to deal with. The fact that these two were riding much lighter, off road bikes made it a lot easier for them to complete their task, and when they asked me what I was riding, they were shocked that I had even managed to get the Harley as far as I had.
We sunk a few more beers together, and then the conversation turned to food. We were all fed up of rice and beans, and as we were talking a couple of lads came up to us and mentioned that we should try the Indian restaurant a few blocks away. The French, being French, had bought food to cook, me, being me, was totally unable to cook, so I wished the French luck on the Death Road and headed out in search of the Curry house.
After a few wrong turns I came across the Indian restaurant, and my eyes lit up as I read the specials menu;
Mulligatawny soup, followed by Chicken Korma, rice and Naan bread. If I had to make up my favourite three dishes in curry house, these would be the three. I was made up.
I went in, ordered my set meal, and a Cobra beer with which to wash it all down , and was not disappointed by my meal. It was delicious. The smells form my plate transported me back home to many a night with friends, passing plates of curry around in the less salubrious Brick lane restaurants in London’s East end.
It was a taste of home, a good old “English” Indian curry, lovely.
With a belly full of curry and beer, I walked back to the hostel, ready to leave the next day for Oruro.

Posted by Dan Shell at 04:00 AM GMT
March 27, 2010 GMT
Bolivian Altiplano

I left early in the morning and rode up the hill out of the city, and then continued to climb. I ascended above the clouds, upwards and onwards to the altiplano, at altitudes averaging 3,200metre, but reaching over 5,000m in places.
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Here the sky was spectacular, the colour of the sky, the shape of the clouds, everything looked as if it was being viewed from some kind of high definition, polychromatic lens. It was unnaturally beautiful.
The air had a different quality to it, a crispness like a sunny English Spring day,only more so , and I rode through the high plains in spirits as high as the road. The sun was shining, the air was crisp and invigorating, and the sky was a constant source of wonder. It was another one of those rides, like the one through the desert in Peru that I just didn’t want to end. Alas a few hours later, it did, as I pulled into the rather non-descript town of Oruro.
There wasn’t much going on in the town, I discovered after I had found a room in a small hotel near the now defunct railway. I found the central market and sat down to a hearty plate of stew of some kind, I think sometimes it’s best just not to ask what the ingredients are, and a tasty fruit smoothie, before wondering back towards the hotel.
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I was passing the town square when I spotted a couple of motorbikes parked up in one corner. I walked over to take a closer look, and was amazed to see a parked in between a Honda Shadow and a Suzuki a gorgeous 60’s Triumph chopper, complete with Union Jack Flag emblazoned across the petrol tank.
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The bikers were chatting together behind the bikes and I asked who the owner of the triumph was. The owner introduced himself as Sergio, “ but my friends call me Chopper, because of the bike” he explained. Chopper introduced me to the rest of the gang, and as we were all shaking hands , a few more bikes and bikers showed up. Chopper explained that every Friday night, he and his biker friends met at this corner and hung out. When I asked if they were going to go for a ride together, Chopper told me that he’ d be lucky if he’d be able to ride his bike home, let alone around the city. Marco, another one of the bikers, nodded in agreement, he was still working on getting his 50’s Jawa in full working order, and wasn’t up for testing his work just yet.
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Marco's Jawa, not quite ready for a road test


The guys asked me about my bike, my trip, and most importantly , what I thought about their country. In the short time that I had been in Bolivia, I had been asked this question more than in any other country. Bolivians were well aware that their country wasn’t as advanced as any of its neighbours, but I think they also knew that many travellers found this refreshing. Bolivia was the last bastion of “old school South America” It wasn’t as westernised as Chile or Argentina, didn’t receive as many visits as Colombia or Peru, but offered an altogether different experience than any other country that I had visited on the trip so far.
The people that I met could only be described as the salt of the earth(excuase the oun)-Bolivia having the largest salt flat on earth is co-incidental!), honest, hard working, and genuinely please to see travellers and tourists visiting their homeland.
Although Bolivia was by far the poorest country in the region, it was so far one of the most friendly and welcoming. True, Colombia had also been extremely welcoming in the rural areas and smaller towns, but Bogotá and Medellin, the biggest cities in the country were cities like anywhere else in the world. People rushing about, mostly too busy to stop and chat, but in La Paz I had people stopping their work to take time to talk, most of them wanting to know the answer that was on everyone’s lips;” what to you think of my country?”
The bikers invited me to go eat Pizza with them and we spent the evening together munching, drinking and talking bikes. I asked again about the Salar de Ayuni, the world’s largest salt flats that I had originally wanted to take my bike up to, and the answer was unanimous, and not the one I wanted. I knew the road was unpaved, and I know it was tough, but when the bikers told me that on top of that the flats were covered in water from the recent rains and that the road was in an even worse state than usual, I realised that I would finally have to accept that Garth and I wouldn’t be riding across the salt flats together after all. I was really gutted about this. It was going to be one of the highlights of the trip, but with all of Chile and Argentina still to come, I couldn’t risk any damage to the bike, plus I was riding alone, so if I got stuck in the mud, I could be stuck there for a while.
We finished our Pizzas and walked back towards the bikes just in time to see a procession of majorettes and a marching band strutting their stuff through the Plaza.
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Any Excuse for a Parade, none in Oruro seemed to know what this one was for!


I asked Chopper what the parade was for , but he just shrugged and replied “ we have too many Parades here, I don’t know what this is for, but it means my bike will be stuck here for another hour”
I sat and watched the parade with Chopper and his mates for a while, then said my goodnights and headed home to pack up and prepare for my ride to Chile the next day.
I was excited about another country, and, as much as I had enjoyed Bolivia, I was ready to get back to civilisation. I yearned for a hot shower, for continuous Internet connection, for high octane fuel, and for a return to a more manageable altitude. I was exhausted from the smallest amount of exertion, and was finding it hard to enjoy one of my favourite hobbies, smoking.
My last day’s riding in Bolivia was one of my most memorable to date. I was still high up on the altiplano, enjoying the freshest air I had ever breathed, with the blacktop all to myself, and amazing vistas of distant snow-capped peaks that I could see clearly, even when I was still well over 80 kms away.
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Flamingos strut their stuff in a salt lake on the way to Chile.

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I passed salt lakes reflecting the beautiful sky as if the surface was a mirror; other lakes had flamingos tip toeing along in the shallow waters. I followed the road for another 200kms until I came to the border.
Again, this border was a very quick and simple affair. A far cry from the sheets and sheets of paperwork and queuing in one portacabin to the next, as had been the case throughout all of Central America. I was in and out in about 30 minutes, and on my way to the beach at Arica.

Posted by Dan Shell at 11:35 PM GMT
April 03, 2010 GMT
Chile

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The ride continued to awe me, the road twisting and turning through winding canyon roads, still under a beautiful blue sky, still under a beautiful crystal blue sky, so high I could almost each out and touch the wispy clouds above.

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The brown desert contrasted magnificently with the sky. I passed odd patches of green, riding high on the altiplano, filled with a feeling that I was all alone, being watched only by the mountains that bracketed the desert road. I looked down on deep canyons, occasionally with meandering rivers running thousands of meters below me.
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As I neared the coastline, I rounded another curve to see the road snaking through the desert below me like a massive scalextrix set in the sand.
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I followed the road down, thinking I was finally approaching sea level, only to climb again to pass a final set of mountains, after which the road straightened out again, and I opened the throttle up. Garth slowly picked up speed, at over 4,000meters, the power was considerably lessened, but once I reached a cruising speed of 70mph /110kmh, Garth purred along contentedly. At this altitude, Garth was hardly using any fuel, and I went further on this tank of gas than I had on any ride before.
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The road continued on through the Atacama desert, taking me along ridges looking down on more deep canyons, taking past the Geoglifos, past the deserted ghost town of Humberstown, and finally round one last final bend before I was presented with my first view of the Ocean since Peru.
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The blue sea, streaked with tones of turquoise, met the desert sand, and there was Arica. I was disappointed that the road had ended, but also excited to be by the ocean once more.
Arica was not some sleepy surfer style beach town. Tall, modern high rises dotted the shoreline, and behind them, a maze of small buildings was crammed behind the beachfront condos and hotels.
Welcome to “civilisation”.
I curled my way down the road, back to sea level, back to the “modern world” and back to traffic lights, gas stations, junctions, and hooting horns.
I rode around for a while, and checked into the cheapest hotel I could find. I wasn’t really impressed with Arica. It was a bit of a shock to the system. Gone were the multicoloured ex US school busses. Gone were the traditional dresses and bowler hats, gone were the raggedy beat up pick up trucks and the crumbling colonial architecture of Bolivia, replaced by shiny new 4x4’s, modern high rises, and , well, civilisation. I pulled into a gas station to fill up, 250miles /400kms since my last gas fill, and Garth was still showing ¼ of a tank unused.
I couldn’t find a hostel in the city, so was forced to take a room in a cheapy hotel a few blocks back from the beach. I also had a hard time finding anything cheap to eat, gone also, it would seem, were the street vendors who had provided me with most of my dining requirements for the past weeks. The bonus was that bastion of the American dream, MacDonald’s.
I filled my grumbling stomach with the clown’s biggest burger, washed it down with Coca Cola, as opposed to the ridiculously high sugared Bolivian equivalent, and finished off my fine dining experience with a McFlurry. Things weren’t so bad after all.
Back at the hotel, feeling considerably better about life in the modern world, I turned on my air conditioning, and connected to proper high speed internet. There was an upside to civilisation after all!
I slept like a baby that night, well, I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night crying or mess my nappy, but you know, I slept well, and rose early the next morning, packed up, and left Arica for Iquique, in the hope of finding a slightly more relaxed beach town.
I headed back inland and followed another twisting road, riding through canyons until I was spat out again back on the coast at Iquique, an even more built up seaside city. I asked directions for the hostel owned by the guy I had met back in Peru, and made my way through the traffic, along the coast and to the hostel. I passed through the old part of the city, which was quaint, and lifted my spirits considerably, and arrived at the hostel, took one look at it, and went in search of another.
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The old part of Iquique

With the help of the Lonely Planet, my bible, I found the HI Backpackers hostel a few blocks further down the beach. An infinitely better option, I was able to park Garth inside the gates, was closer to the beach, and had much better facilities. Plus, it looked as if the hostel was cleaned more than once a month!
After I checked in and unloaded Garth, I hosed him down, washing off the desert sand and Bolivian mud, and a few weeks worth of grime, before giving myself the same treatment down at the beach, washing away the dirt and fatigue in the refreshingly chilly ocean.
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A million miles from Bolivia, Garth at the beach at Iquique

Posted by Dan Shell at 08:48 PM GMT
April 09, 2010 GMT
Iquique to Santiago

I spent a few relaxing days, hanging out on the beach with other travellers from the hostel, and catching my breath after the rigours of Bolivia. I would have stayed longer, the sun was shining, there were no mosquitoes to annoy me, and the hostel was full of lively, fun people, exuding a great relaxed, easy going vibe, but Christmas was drawing closer, and I wanted to get myself down to Santiago, settle into the city, and try to make some friends with whom I could pass the holidays, and also try to catch some of our biker buddies who we’d met along the way, Thom and Flo, the frogs, 2 up on a BMW, and Ric and Emily, who were each on their own Beemers.
Also, the elusive Jan, a crazy Dutchman who had been a few days ahead of me for a few thousand miles on his 1940’s Harley.
Santiago was really pulling me southwards, like a black hole. I had e.mailed the Harley Owners Group of Santiago, and had been invited to go for the Christmas run with them on the 19th of December. The only thing I really needed to sort out before I left for Santiago was a new rear tire. Iquique was a tax free zone, and I was told I could find a tire here for less than half the price of anywhere else in Chile.
I set off for the Zofri, the tax free zone, and was just pulling into the complex when another Harley rider zoomed passed me. I followed him down to the parking lot, and went over to introduce myself. He was meeting a few other Harley riders, and said that he could help me on my tire quest. We met up with his friends, and after a round of introductions, we all went off in search of the elusive Dunlop D402.
We nearly succeeded, there were tires to fit every car, motorcycle and truck in the automotive section of the Zofri, but alas, nothing to fit my rear wheel. I could have chanced a slightly bigger, or smaller tire, but decided I would try to get to Santiago and fit a tyre that the dealer was holding for me.
It was a tough decision to make. I had a tad over 1,000 miles to cover, and my tyre was already balder than me, more like a drag tyre than a road tyre, but, there was no rope showing, so I thought I’d give it a go. I had been assured that the road to Santiago was paved and in great condition all the way, and the roads since I had left Bolivia were certainly in great condition, so I went back to the hostel, and prepared myself and Garth for an early start.
I set off bright and early, waking up just before sunrise, and leaving just as the sun was rising over the mountains over my left shoulder. I had a full tank of gas, and as I left the city behind, I opened up the throttle and let rip, for about a minute, then I remembered the state of my slick tyre, and slowed down to a more respectable speed, in the hope of stretching out the life of the last semblance of rubber.
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I followed the coast, back on the Pan American Highway, known here in Chile as highway 1, and the blacktop sliced a path through the desert. As the sun rose in the sky, I rode down the Pan American, desert to my right, and the ocean, under a blanket of gentle mist, sat to my right. I followed the blissfully smooth blacktop along, past outcrops of rock, jutting into the ocean, and forever southwards. I was hoping to get over halfway to Santiago on the first day, aiming to make it to Bahia Dos Ingleses before sunset.
It was an awesome ride, the highway alternating form hugging the ocean at sea level, following the curves and sways of the shoreline, to rising up the sides of the mountains to look down onto the deep blue water, to long straight sections, surrounded by nothing but bare desert. I was awed.
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After 4 hours of riding, I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, now I was well and truly in the Southern Hemisphere. The road took me inland, and I pulled over to have a look at my options on my map when I came across a rare treat, a junction. I took the opportunity to have a look at my tyre, which was thinning, but fortunately still covered with a smooth layer of rubber.
I was still over 800miles from Santiago, but I had to keep my speed down, riding at an almost intolerable 60mph along fantastic, deserted desert roads. At least it gave me the opportunity to take in all I was seeing, feeling and smelling. Even so, I really wanted to open up and speed along this almost lunar landscape. The desert sand had a slightly reddish tinge to it, and I felt that this would be the closest I would ever come to riding on the red planet, Mars.
I extracted my map and laid it out on the seat of the bike, and as I was checking my options, a huge articulated truck flew by, the turbulence lifted my map and ripped it neatly halfway down the middle. I swore loudly at the truck, and was more than a little surprised when the driver slammed on his brakes and pulled into the side of the road a few hundred yards ahead of me.
My first thought was that I had sworn at the only English speaking trucker in Chile. The driver stepped out of his cab and waved enthusiastically at me. He came running over to the bike
“Aaah, so it IS a Harley Davidson, I thought so!” Where are you going?” said the driver to me in that rapid fire Spanish that the Chileans use.
I explained that I was hoping to follow the coast road to Antofagasta, and was then heading on towards Santiago, before continuing right down to Ushuaia.
“My friend, you are making the trip that I have dreamed of since I was a little boy, I drive the truck everywhere, but to ride these roads on a motorcycle, that is the dream my friend, the dream!”
He looked over at my map and told me of the possibilities.
It appeared that there was a road that I could take, unpaved, but only for a few Kilometers. I had to take my first right, follow this road for 2 or 3 kms and then turn left, and follow that unpaved road until I reached the coast road, that he assured me was paved.
We smoked a cigarette together, and I drank the bottle of water he retrieved for me from his cab. The driver, Juan Jose, asked me all about the bike and the trip, where had I started, how much had I paid for the bike, had I had any problems and so, and I filled him in as best I could, in my far from perfect Spanish.
Juan Jose, then said he had to push on, and wished me ”un buen viaje”, before leaping back into his cab, and driving off into the desert. I put the map away, mounted up and pulled off to the right in the direction of Paposo and the coast road.
After a few minutes, I came to another junction, with not one, but two unpaved roads bearing off to the left. Hmmm, there had been no mention of two roads, neither of which were showing up on my GPS nor had signposts indicating where they might lead me.
Normally, I wouldn’t have hesitated to go with whatever my instinct told me, and double back if I was wrong, but in this instance, I couldn’t really afford the extra mileage on my long suffering rear tyre. Gravel roads really take a toll on road tyres, and on racing slicks even more!
There was no traffic passing on the main highway I had just left, no one to ask, and I had this horrible feeling that my luck was going to change and that I would get my first puncture of the trip in the middle of an unused, unknown, unpaved road in the middle of the desert and be eaten by desert coyotes, never to be found.
I must admit, I was more than slightly worried.
I took a chance on the first road, followed it for 6 kms, then turned around and tried the second exit. I followed this road for about 10 kms before I spotted to my left a tarmac road, but there was no way for me to cross the deep desert sand to get to it, all I could do was stick to my decision and push on. And push on I did, getting more and more stressed as the gravel road continued on and on. I guessed I had passed the point of no return and was now committed to my choice. I followed the bumpy gravel track , until eventually after what seemed like hours, I hit tarmac, blessed tarmac. My elation, however, was shortlived, after only a few minutes of smooth cruising, I was diverted off the fresh blacktop, and back onto a gravel track that ran parallel to the smooth road. I cursed the construction crews and the busy bodies who had deemed the new road not ready to transport vehicles. This continued for far too long, off and on the tarmac, until finally, when I was directed off the tarmac for the 4th time, I just stayed on the tarmac, and continued along the “work in progress”.
I came across the construction workers a few clicks down the road, and asked them if it was safe for me to continue on the new road. They replied that as long as I kept my speed down, I would be fine.
I rumbled along the new road, ignoring the rest of the diversion signs, until I was finally back on a completed road that lead me straight back down to the coast. This road, probably due to its inaccessibility, was utterly, utterly deserted. I didn’t see any signs of life for hundreds of Kilometers. I parked the bike up in the middle of the highway, and got off to take pictures, still nothing to remind me that I wasn’t all alone on the planet.
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I rode on, and as the sun grew low, I decided to call it a day and go find a bed. I was only a short way from Bahia dos Ingleses, but decided I would just pull into the first town I came across off the highway. I don’t even remember the name of the town I stopped in, 13 hours after I pulled out of Iquique, let alone remember the name of the hotel I found. I do remember parking the bike up, asking where I could find some grub, picking up a takeaway, and waking up at first light with my cheek resting on a slice of pepperoni pizza.
Rested and refreshed, with the Pizza cleaned off my face , and a few millimetres of rubber left on my tire, I set off once more, and entered Santiago at just after 5pm, just in time to get caught up in the madness of South American rush hour. I had no idea where I was headed, and so when I spotted a bike on a trailer being driven by a huge 4x4, I caught up with the truck and knocked on the window. The driver agreed to let me follow him to the turn off to the road that would lead me to the Harley dealership and fresh rubber.
I followed him and took the turn off as directed. I was then fortunate enough to encounter another Harley on the road that I followed straight to the dealership.
The manager, Lucas, met me at the shop and the mechanics came out of the workshop to look over the bike.
They were all suitably impressed that I had made it, and there was now nothing but a smooth layer of fine rubber precariously stretched over the rope bonding the tire wall together.
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I arranged with Lucas for the tire to be fitted and for an oil change, before hopping in a cab to the hostel I had booked the day before, and where I was hoping to meet up with Ric and Emily.
I walked into the hostel, and there was Ric, busily tapping away on one of the hostel’s computers. We hugged and set about the business of exchanging stories and catching up on each others travels. Ric told me that the Frenchies, Thom and Flo, were in a hostel over the road and that they would be coming over soon, to meet us all for dinner.
I went into my dorm, had a quick shower, sniffed through my clothes for my least smelly T-shirt, changed, and went downstairs, where Thom and Flo were chatting excitedly with Ric and Emily.
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Reunited!!

We went out together for a Pisco Sour before dinner, where Thom surprised us all by saying that he was craving a MacDonald’s for dinner. Ric wasn’t too happy about the Frenchman’s gourmet choice, but went along with it, and a few minutes later, we were crowded around a table, eating Big Mac’s milkshakes and Mac Sundaes.
We all hung out together for the next few days, and then it was time for me to go pick up the bike, on the day of the Santiago Harley Christmas run. I turned up at the dealership to find Lucas waiting outside the shop. He’d been locked out, left his keys at home, and was waiting for one of the store staff to turn up and let him in. The mechanics were milling around the back door, smoking, and I went over to see how my bike was doing.
Apparently, it wasn’t quite ready, but Lucas assured me that it would be ready in time for the run, which left in just over an hour!
The keys arrived, and I followed the mechanics into the workshop to see their progress. My heart sank. There was Garth, in bits. Back wheel off, oil in a plastic tub under the sump, seat hanging on the wall.
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“don’t worry , we’ll have it ready in time for the run, for sure” they said.
I waited in the showroom and Lucas made coffee and we munched on doughnuts. He said he would go ahead and delay the run, and that one of the guys would lead me to the rendez-vous for the ride when the bike was ready.
Sure enough, a short while later, the mechanics rolled Garth out and took him out for a short test ride.
After a few minutes, Garth came rumbling round the corner, and one of the employees motioned for me to get my lid on and follow him to the departure point.
Garth had a new set of pads, so I had to go easy on the brakes, and my new tire also needed a bit of warming up.
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We pulled into a massive Gas station, where over a hundred Harleys and their riders had congregated, ready to roll. Lucas was giving a pre-ride briefing, and he introduced me to the group, who applauded me politely, and then, we were off. 120 Harleys pulled out of the gas station, and onto the highway. I hadn’t ridden with such a big group for ages, and it was making my heart race. We rode on until an hour or so later when we came to a tollgate. I pulled up, and was waved through, as one of the other riders was paying the tolls for the group. I rode over to the other side of the gate where a bunch of riders had parked up, and waited. Half the group left, and half stayed. Not knowing what to do, I left with the first group. As it happened, this turned out to be the fast group, and the roared along the highway at breakneck speeds, until they turned off the highway and onto a small lane. They pulled into a small roadside café and dismounted. I waited to see if the second group was coming, but there was no sign. Then a few of this group stared to make their way back onto the road and I decided to follow.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, ride on ahead at a nice slow pace, take in the scenery, have time to admire the fields and fields of vineyards along the Ruta de Vino, and admire the beautiful lakes. However this was not on the minds of my fellow bikers. It appeared that I had left the slow group and split off with the fast group, and now the slow ones of the fast group had stopped and I was riding on with the insanely fast death wish posse.
I could have just pulled over to the side of the road and waited for the rest to catch up, but I had no idea where I was or where I was going, for all I knew these guys might even be going a different way. So , I sped along behind the pack of 6 Sportsters, scraping my way round corners, and having a fair amount of difficulty keeping to the pace they were setting, but at the same time, I was having a blast pushing the bike to its, or at least my limits.
We arrived, my adrenalin still pumping, and pulled down a dirt track to the grounds of a beautiful lakeside restaurant that had been reserved exclusively for the Harley Owners. A short while later, the remaining hundred or so other bikes began pulling out of the driveway and parked up alongside Garth and the Sportsters on the grass.
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I couldn’t spot Lucas, the only person I knew out of this band of brothers, so I just hung around my bike, trying to look busy in the hope that someone would come over to me and introduce themselves. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen, so I made my way to the entrance of the huge dinning hall.
I was on the first step into the building, when a big biker dude passed me on his way in. He turned around and I all I saw was this quintessential “bicycle” moustache, favoured my North American bikers in the 70’s.
I just had to ask;”Are you an American?”
“no, I am from Canada” came the reply, “and what about you?”
And so the conversation began. I explained that I had been invited along by Lucas, but hadn’t seen him since we left on the ride, that I was travelling on the bike, and that I didn’t know any of the riders. He invited me to join him at his table , and I gratefully accepted. I then got introduced to his long term girlfriend, Paula, and we all got to talking animatedly about the trip I was doing, and the trip was had been semi planning, semi dreaming of.
He asked me questions, and I answered. Ralph was getting more and more excited about this wealth of knowledge sat next to him, and we were chatting so much, we nearly forgot to go to get our meal from the BBQ.
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After lunch, the wine, beer and Brandy flowed. The room was a sea of leather jackets, denim jeans, and the full catalogue of Harley Davidson T shirt designs. It never ceases to amaze me how much people take to the whole Harley ”lifestyle” package. Not just a bike, not just a way of life, but also a wardrobe too.
Ralph invited me back to what he called his Ranch. At first I declined, but Ralph and Paula made the decision so easy for me I could no longer refuse. I don’t know if it was the offer of a GPS map for my Garmin (Ralph had the same unit as me, and had maps for all of Argentina and Chile) they had a spare room, and , this was the clincher, a Jacuzzi!
We sat at the table and Ralph’s friends came over to say hi to him, on each occasion he introduced me to them, telling them of my “epic adventure” and his friends would stay and chat for a bit before moving round the room and hugging their mates or patting them on their backs.
We went outside to soak up some sun on the grass, took a look at some of the bikes and chatted to more of Ralph’s pals. We spent the afternoon in this way, and finally, Ralph, Paula and I set off for the ranch. They told me they are nearly always the last ones to leave, especially when the liquor is flowing!
P1100107.jpgWe had a much more relaxed ride back into Santiago, and arrived at Ralph’s just after dark.
I had a quick tour around Ralph’s amazing pad, before he threw some shorts in my direction and we all jumped into the Jacuzzi. I had one tiny moment when I had that slight panic. What if they’re swingers!!
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Thankfully Ralph and Paula were NOT swingers

I needn’t have worried; Ralph and Paula were wonderful hosts. We sat in the Jacuzzi supping fine Chilean red wine from Ralph’s cellar. I don’t know how long we stayed there, but it was longer enough for my fingers and toes to turn into prunes. I was shown to the spare room, and I collapsed onto the bed.
I woke the next morning with a slightly fuzzy head and the familiar smell of, could it be, yes, bacon.
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Ralph, Paula, and Azabache

Paula had been busy in the kitchen and a I sat down with Ralph and her and ate a hearty full English brekkie. We spent the morning downloading maps and talking about routes. Ralph had several suggestions for my continuing journey through Chile and Argentina, and I copied down a load of contacts for him on his trip, which was now turning from a dream into a possibility. I left the ranch after lunch and returned to the slightly less luxurious surroundings of my dorm room. I had to take the bike back to Harley Davidson in Santiago to fit the new bracket for my headlights, a part that had eluded me since it snapped on a dirt road in Mexico.
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Lucas’ shop had been the only one since leaving the states that could get all the parts I needed in less than six weeks. He had told me when I first arrived at the shop that he could order the parts from the states and have then in the shop 4 days later. When I tried to get this same part in Cancun, Mexico, the dealer had told me it would take at least 30 days for the part to arrive, and since then, I had never been in one place long enough to wait more than a week for anything. Mercifully, I had never really needed to. I was optimistic but at the same time reserved about finally getting my lights pointing on the road, in stead of lighting up the treetops.
The repair to fix the bracket in Cancun had left each my twin headlights equally useless. The right hand light lit the treetops, while my left side lamp blinded oncoming traffic; Night riding had been unbearable, but at times unavoidable. In the dark of night, I could light the road ahead when I was going round a bend, and the bike was leaning.
Not really an ideal situation.
I called Lucas on the 4th day, and although the package from the states had not arrived, he assured me that it was on its way, and told me to come to the shop at about 4pm so the mechanics could fit the new bracket when it arrived.
I arrived shortly before 4, and chatted with some other riders and Lucas in the store. I waited and waited, but at 5.30pm, the part still had not arrived.
Lucas was most apologetic, apparently there had been some mess up with DHL, but he was certain that it would be there at the store within 48 hours, he said he’d call Ralph and let him know as soon as the part arrived. I returned to the ranch, riding out of the city into a beautiful sunset. Sure enough the following morning, Ralph received the call.
I rode back into town and to the dealership. I waited in the store, again, just hanging out with Lucas and more of his customers, and spent the afternoon in the shop, drinking coffee and swapping stories and riders tales, and getting more and more suggestions of places I had to see and roads I had to take.
I loved these times, there was such a bond between bikers, weather they rode Harleys or not. But, here comes that word “brotherhood”, is something that I really think is strongest in the Harley clan. There’s that one common bond. We all know our bike isn’t the fastest bike on the road, we all know we have to chug round corners that a sports bike will eat up, but we also know that no other bike would do. It’s not about numbers and figures, not about acceleration and cornering, not even about chrome and leather, it’s the whole package.
A Harley is a V-Twin, and the sound these engines produce are actually patented. The degree in the Harley V-Twin is what also gives it that distinctive, and inimitable rumble. The big Harley Engines, “big twins”, are a little larger than a standard European family car, anywhere from 1340cc to 1600cc and beyond. The bikes wore more metal than the plastic Japanese sports bikes, and so are also a hell of a lot heavier, and therefore slower. Garth weighed in at a ridiculous 350kilos before we added the tour pak and luggage.
So what have we got? It’s a heavy, relatively slow bike, that doesn’t do too well in the corners, doesn’t brake that well, and well, doesn’t really handle great. None of that really matters. We have bought a Harley because when we get on it we can’t help smiling. When we fire it up, it makes our heart beat faster, and the grin broaden.
When we ride it we feel better about ourselves. You are transformed into the set of your own movie.
I have owned other bikes in my time, a few Yamahas, a Honda, I still own a Vespa, and have ridden a plethora of other makes, and like a lot non Harley bikes for various reasons, I might even consider getting one as a second bike, but I doubt it, if I could have two bikes, I’d have 2 Harleys.
They say that if you have to explain, you won’t understand, so I won’t try any more, except to say that Garth had taken me a tad short of 50,000miles. I had never been unable to continue the journey. I never even got a puncture – for which I still thank the preacher from George who blessed our bike in Florida, a year and a half ago.

My bike was finished off at the end of the day, and I rode back to the city and returned to he hostel. Ralph had invited me to join his clan for their annual Christmas camping trip, and I was excited about the prospect of spending Christmas on the beach. I had a few things I wanted to see in town, and also wanted to meet up with the guys who were still staying in the place before I left for the camping trip. I spent two nights in the hostel before returning to the ranch the day before Christmas Eve, so I could be ready to leave with Ralph, Paula and her son Franco in the morning.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, we packed up the trailer and the truck, and I followed behind on Garth as our little convoy pulled out of the ranch and headed north to the site that Ralph had reserved. We had a 3 hour ride up to the site in glorious sunshine, but as we got closer to the beach the sky clouded over and the temperature dropped a few degrees. We arrived at our patch and Ralph, Franco and his cousin who had joined us on his bike set up the trailer while I started a campfire.
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Ralph had brought enough meat to feed a football team, and enough wine to satisfy a small army. We cracked open a bottle and threw some meat on the BBQ. We sat round the fire, eating and drinking, Franco supplying the music on his acoustic guitar, and the hours slipped away under a clear star filled sky.
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The perfect way to spend Christmas Day

Christmas day was spent walking along the beach, and eating a huge and very untraditional but extremely tasty seafood lunch, followed by the usual shenanigans around the campfire. We were joined by our neighbours at the campsite, a couple of guys on leave from the Chilean Navy with their wives, and a friend of Paula’s who had driven up from the city with her son.
After a wonderfully relaxing mini break at the beach, we packed up the camping gear and made our way back to the city. I was meeting up with Carlo and Toni, our BMW buddies from New York, and Jacquie was flying back to Mendoza so we could all spend New Year’s Eve together in Santiago. I spent one more night at Ralph’s and early in the morning I set off to Mendoza, Argentina, to pick Jacquie up from the airport.

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Another amazing ride through the Andes, more outrageously twisty mountain passes, and I arrived in Mendoza with a few hours to spare before I had to go meet Jacquie. I rode up to the hostel I had booked, and rang on the bell. I was met by the manager, who told me that the hostel was over booked, and that I didn’t have a room. No amount of pleading or arguing was going to change the fact. The manager pointed me in the direction of another hostel and I set off in a huff. I found a room in the hostel, but was still pissed off. I had wanted a nice cosy little love nest to bring Jacquie back to, and my first choice had a beautiful homely double room, and the hostel had a pool and a huge kitchen, but this place was just another hostel, not dirty, but just characterless. I chose a room and set about unloading the bike. I had just put everything in its place when the receptionist knocked on my door. He apologised, and then told me that he had thought this room he’d given me was free, but it was in fact booked, but he could give me another room. I looked at the room. It was yet another step down, smaller than the original room, with less light, and a window that opened directly onto a brick wall.
My time was running out now, so I had no choice but to accept, but my good mood had taken a serious beating.
I moved all my gear into the new room, and left for the airport. On arrival, the information boards showed Jacquie’s flight was delayed by an hour, so I went for a stroll round the airport. That filled up about 6 minutes, what to do next?
I went over to check the boards again, only to see that Jacquie’s plane was now 2 hours delayed.
I went back out to the parking lot and took Garth for a quick spin. When I returned, I only had to wait a few minutes before the boards showed that the plane I was waiting for had landed, and a half an hour after that, I spotted Jacquie walking through to the baggage claim. We waved to each other animatedly, I couldn’t wait to throw my arms around her and give her a huge smacker on the lips.
Jacquie cleared customs, and I met her at the end of the ropes that keep the passengers separated from the greeters. We exchanged some body fluids, and then I took her bag from her and we walked arm in arm out to the parking.
We rode into the city so Jacquie could stretch her legs and take in some of Mendoza’s scenery, and we went straight out for a big fat Argentinean steak and a couple of glasses of Mendoza’s fine wine.
We got back to the hostel, and I told Jacquie the whole story about the room being, well, not being the one I had booked, or the one I would have settled for, but the third option, but she didn’t care. She was just happy to be back in South America, and back with me.

We left Mendoza the next morning to ride back to Ralph’s for one last night before returning to the hostel in the city centre to meet up with Carlo and Toni and share a Santiago style New Year’s Eve together.
The ride back into Chile from Argentina was much more arduous than it had been going the other way. Thousands of Chileans were exiting their homeland to spend New Year’s Eve in Valparaiso, an Argentine beach town famous for its extravagant fireworks display, and the queue for the border stretched for miles, and the tarmac had been lifted off leaving gravel in its place in preparation for a new road surface.
We followed a couple of other bikes along the inside of the queuing cars, until a policeman a few hundred yards from the border stopped us. He asked what we thought we were doing, and I explained, along with the other biker- who were Brazilian-that I was doing what I always do and skipping past the cars. The policeman seemed very confused by our behaviour. We all plead our case, but the copper was having none of it. Clearly bored, and with nothing better to do with his time, he was exerting his power because he could. We argued with him a few minutes more but soon we grew tired of banging our heads against a brick wall, so we turned round, rode a few hundred yards back up the queue, and pulled in again, with maybe 40 or 50 cars in front of us. We crawled along in the gravel, Jacquie walking along beside me. If I had the engine running, the heat from the engine started to slow cook my legs, but the bike was too heavy to push along the gravel, so we compromised, half pushing, and half riding the bike for another hour until we finally got to the border.
Once again, the new Argentinean system meant that no one knew how to make a temporary import for our bikes, and we waited another hour while papers were shifted from one portacabin to another, and customs officers discussed with each other the inadequacies of the new system.
Finally, we were through, and now we were stuck behind a convoy of huge trucks, slowly winding their way down the Chilean side of the Andes towards Santiago.
I waved goodbye to the Brazilians, and commenced a series of death defying overtaking manoeuvres, until we had a clear road ahead of us.
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We arrived back at the ranch in the middle of the afternoon, and were in the hot tub washing away our stresses a few minutes after we arrived.
Paula had prepared a delicious meal for the evening and invited a couple of Ralph’s friends round for dinner, and that night we ate, drank and made merry once more, before leaving in the morning for the hostel.
We arrived at the Casa Roja hostel shortly after Toni and Carlo, and after the usual catch up session, we went out for supplies. We bought our meat from a local butcher, and the rest of the ingredients for our evening came from the supermarket.
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Making the Caipirinhas, the most important part of any meal!

On returning to the hostel, the girls set about preparing the salad and veggies, Carlo was in charge of the BBQ, and I had the most important job, the drinks-on this occasion, Caipirinhas, the most popular drink in Brazil, made from mashing lime and sugar together with ice and Cachaca, a local rum type liquor.
We had a beautiful dinner, and shortly before midnight, we stepped out into the centre to watch the fireworks in the main square and the free concert.
We bought some tinsel wigs to help us blend in with the glittery locals, and a couple of rockets for good measure. The crowd in and around the square was huge, we could barley see the stage, but we could definitely hear the music, and the crowd loved it. The countdown began, and as the digital of the tower and display on the top of the telecom tower turned to 00:00, a sea of fireworks exploded from the roves and adjacent buildings. Simultaneously, thousands of rockets launched confetti into the air, filling the sky with tiny pieces of paper, coloured lights, and smoke. It was quite beautiful.
The only thing to spoil this spectacle was the cheap Champagne that was now being sprayed all over the crown by some idiotic Chileans. When the display was over, the crown began to disperse and we headed back to the Casa Roja for our own little party, away from the throng.
On New Year’s Day, we rode together for another night at Ralph’s, and another big meal accompanied by more delicious Chilean wine.

Posted by Dan Shell at 11:55 PM GMT
April 28, 2010 GMT
Chile to Argentina

We based ourselves there for a couple of days before riding out to Valparaiso, a coastal town known for its corrugated buildings and Bohemian vibe. From there, we followed the coast road as much as we could southwards before heading back inland to the Chilean Lake district and Pucon.
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Riding into Pucon was a surprise to say the least. After hours of riding through valleys and alongside lakes, we turned a corner, and found ourselves in the middle of Villarica Swiss Alpine town. It was incredible. The ski shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels all looked like they had been imported straight from Klosters or Davos.
We parked our bikes up and went for a walk in search of a good lunch stop. We ate in an equally Alpine style wooden restaurant, and then strolled around the town. We rode the final 40 minutes or so to Pucon, which also had a distinctively Alpine feel, and we all liked the place immediately. We found a hostel and settled in.
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Pucon


Set around Lake Villarica, Pucon is a popular ski resort in the winter, which transforms itself into an outdoor activity centre in the summer. Hikes to the still smouldering volcano Llaima overlooking the town were on offer, as was mountain bike trails to waterfalls, trips out on the lake and a variety of outdoor pursuits, however, the weather had been on the change, and on our second day in Pucon, the clouds rolled in and the rain came down. We passed the time walking round the small town, tasting the locally made Swiss-style chocolates, drinking coffee, and window-shopping. There was an earth slide on the volcano meaning that hiking up it was impossible, and to be honest , I was relieved. I had had my fill of scrambling up Volcanoes, and was more than happy to put my feet up in front of the telly and relax for a bit.
After a couple of days in Pucon, we were ready to move on. We were all heading to the same place, but Carlo and Toni were going to head out on the dirt road, while Jacquie and I would take the tarmac.

We headed out early in the morning, a day before Toni and Carlo, and rode out the way we had come in, past the beautiful lake, under the watchful eye of the Llaima volcano, and onwards towards the Argentine border once more.
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We rode on through more lush green fields and valleys, passing more volcanoes on the way. We stopped for a warming hot chocolate and a snack, the temperature had been slowly dropping since we left Santiago, and by now we were back to wearing jackets and neck warmers on the bike. Reinvigorated, and now wearing an extra pair of socks, we pulled out of the roadside snack bar and onto the road that would take us to the border with Argentina. The sun shone brightly as we rode on, the landscape alive with colours of blooming flowers, volcanoes to our left and to our right. It was beautiful.
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I rounded a corner, and here, in the middle of nowheresville, we came across the Moncopulli Museum. We spotted it by the 50’s American car hanging over the doorway, and had to turn around and go check it out. I spoke to the receptionist, explained that we were just on our way to the border and had no Chilean money, and she agreed to let us in for a quick look for free.
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We were amazed at what we found, dozens and dozens of beautiful old American cars, mostly Studebakers, with a few odds and sods thrown in, plus a small display of 50’s memorabilia. Opened in 1995 by a private businessman from Osorno, the museum was a joy. After snapping a few pics, we were back on the bike and headed for the border.
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We made one last stop at a beautiful waterfall, before following yet another lakeshore until we reached the border. The frontier was in the middle of a national park, high in the Andes, and was the most beautiful border we had ever crossed. The crossing was not busy, and we were out of Chile and into Argentina in no time.

Posted by Dan Shell at 08:06 PM GMT
Bariloche to Calafate

Both of us had really been looking forward to Argentina, and the promise of amazing steaks, delicious wine, and friendly folk, and now we were here. It wasn’t the first time in Argentina, but this time we were here to stay, at least for a while.
There was often a section of no man’s land between most South American countries, and that area here on the Chile / Argentina frontier was simply gorgeous.
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As we rode through the National park, shared by the two countries, as we climbed to the top of some of the hills, we looked down on lakes set between snow-capped volcanoes, twisted our way through forests, along more lakeshores, until we emerged on the outskirts of Bariloche.

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Bariloche


Bariloche was another famous ski resort and centre for outdoor adventures. I had been thinking of trying to work there for a ski season, but arriving at the beginning of summer as we were, there was no snow apart from on top of some distant mountains. The town however was still bustling. January and February is the summer holiday period for Argentina, and as a result, Argentina was awash with holidaymakers. Our bible, the ever faithful Lonely Planet, had warned us that in January and February bookings were essential in Argentina, but we had not paid much heed. It was our downfall. We hunted and searched in Bariloche for a room or pair of dorm beds, but we were out of luck. The crowded town was full. We were sat on the bike outside the Tourist Information office when a burly red-faced gent approached and asked us if we were looking for a room. When we responded in the affirmative, he pulled out a flyer form his pocket, told us there were still rooms available, and gave us directions. We rode up the hill and, on our second pass, found the hotel. It was small, expensive, run down and pokey, but we were tired and wanted to get out of our bike gear and explore the town on foot before the last of the day’s light disappeared.
We weren’t that impressed with Bariloche, and decided to continue on to our next destination, El Bolson, a less touristy, more chilled, Hippie town, where we had planned to meet up again with Toni and Carlos.
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We enjoyed yet another spectacular ride on the Routa 40, Che’s highway, through the Argentine Lake district to El Bolson, and after one wrong turn, we found the hostel that we had booked from Bariloche.
We checked in and took our stuff up to our dorm. We couldn’t help but notice how unfriendly and unwelcoming the people had been in Argentina so far. Since the border, where the friendly Argentine Police had greeted us enthusiastically, we had come across a string of moody, insular, inimical Argentines. The staff at the hostel were grouchy, and the other guests-mostly Argentine- just seemed really unsociable compared to what we had been used to. We both missed the company of Toni and Carlo, and just as I was about to vocalise this to Jacquie we heard a familiar engine sound, and a few seconds after that, Carlo rode into the driveway of the hostel. We ran over to greet them, and explained that we hadn’t been overwhelmed by Argentine hospitality and friendliness, and were really glad to have our mates back.

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That night, we went out together in El Bolson, and found a small local restaurant, where the owner, the chef and the barman gave us our first real experience of how genuinely affable Argentineans could be.
We ate a great BBQ and sampled some of the region’s locally micro brewed beer, before heading back to the hostel.
We decided over dinner that we would all leave together the next day for Trevellin, a village founded by Welsh settlers escaping Anglicisation and poverty in the late 1800’s.The road was packed gravel,and once again we had to lean into the wind and push our way down the compacted gravel road to our destination.
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We reached Trevellin to find there were still a handful of Welsh coffee shops, now serving the tourists more than the descendants of the original settlers. We had booked a hostel on the outskirts of the town, and were delighted with our choice. There were all kinds of animals running amok in the grounds, chickens, goats and dogs among them, and the Israeli owner was friendly and welcoming. He showed us around and told us of his plans to improve the property in the coming years. He had a few other guests staying with him, mainly Israeli travellers who had just finished their military service, the most common type of tourist in South America. The Israeli’s normally move around in large packs, dominating every hostel or town they visit. Isolated, I found the Israeli’s charming, kind and funny, but in a pack, they were a force to be reckoned with, inconsiderate, impolite, and cliquey. Fortunately, these guys were cool, and we all hung out together at the hostel in harmony.
We spent a couple of days at the hostel, enjoying the slightly warmer temperature of the Trevellin microclimate.
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Our next stop was Saramiento, and once again, we decided to split, Carlo was wanting more dirt road adventures, while Jacquie and I were content with the tarmac. The final approach to Trevellin had seen the wind’s strength increase, and we were told to expect more the further south we travelled, but I was totally unprepared for what nature had in store for us.
From El Bolson, there wasn’t an awful lot to see in Argentina until we reached Western Patagonia and the glaciers of Calafate and El Chalten. The road distances were huge, and the there was nothing to break the monotony of the boring blacktop.
Saramiento looked as good as any a place to stop for an overnighter, nestled as it was between two lakes. As we neared the town, the wind coming across the lake blew with a force that threatened to blow us, and the bike, right off the road. I battled the winds, Jacquie clinging on behind me, until finally, exhausted, we arrived in Saramiento.
Saramiento reminded me in many ways of some of the towns we had ridden through in Peru. Brick buildings constructed with no flair whatsoever. The town was soulless, characterless, and hostel-less. We found a hotel, again costing far too much for what it was, and Jacquie and I both agreed that we always seemed to end up paying more for the hotels and hostels that were in places that we didn’t even want to be. We headed out for a meal, and after realising that there was absolutely nothing at all of interest in the place, we returned to our hotel and watched some TV. In Spanish.
From here on in, we were in the land of the bastard winds. For the next two days we were constantly hammered by the winds, Garth moving forwards in a straight line but leaning at a 30-degree angle. It was tiring and unrewarding. The road was dull, straight and flat, with nothing to distract the eye except for the occasional oil drill diligently pumping away, standing solitarily on the brown plains.
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This dull road continued on for three full days, the wind constantly attacking us from our right. As we finally drew close to Calafate, the blue sky clouded over, and became blacker and blacker by the minute.
We knew what was coming next, and sure enough, with out much delay, the heavens opened. We rode through the storm and were out the other side of it after an hour of riding through fist-sized raindrops. In my mirrors I could see the threatening black sky behind us, and I opened up the throttle to get us to our destination as quickly as possible.
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Here comes the rain...

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And out the other side

Posted by Dan Shell at 08:48 PM GMT
Calafate to Ushuaia

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We arrived in Calafate exhausted and grumpy after an overnight stop in another non-descript town and went straight to the supermarket to get some food to cook up for dinner. The town was a pretty but very touristy little number, and the restaurants were way out of our budget.
It was when we were on our way to the shops that we saw, riding into town, Carlo, Toni, and their new friend, Frank, an Irishman that they had picked up on their way down on the Ruta 40.
We told them where we were staying and they went off to find a room, while we went to buy food for the 5 of us.
That night we sat in the hostel and compared the routes that we had taken. Frank and Carlo had had to battle through mud and loose gravel while the wind did it s best to blow then of the road. Their biggest problem had been that they were trying to keep a line along the tracks left by the big trucks, but the wind kept blowing them over the ridges made by those same tracks. We had to deal with a slightly stronger wind strength, but at least we were travelling on tarmac, a surface that didn’t shift, un like the gravel. I was happy that we had not had to contend with dirt roads in these conditions.
Calafate proclaims itself to be the Glacier capital of the world, and in this respect, it doesn’t disappoint. On our second day together we rode in convoy to the Moreno Glacier.
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The sky was a light shade of blue when we left the hostel, but soon the clouds rolled in, and then the rain came. Toni and Carlo had come with out any waterproofs, and as the water seeped into their shoes and clothes, it also dampened their spirits. We pulled into a café in the grounds of the National Park that contains the Glacier, and we all hung our clothes and wet socks in front of the fireplace while we drank hot coffee in an attempt to shift the chill from our bones. There was one more boat that day that could take us to the edge of the glacier, and we decided to go for it.
We finished our drinks, squelched back into our damp clothes, and headed off to the boat dock.

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We arrived just in time to eat our packed lunch, glug a bottle of wine, straight from the bottle, and get aboard. As the boat made its way towards the glacier, the rain stopped and the sky brightened up.
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The Glacier, one of the only advancing glaciers in the world, was extremely impressive, and made the three days of hell we had endured to get here so worthwhile. The boat chugged up and down in front of the glacier, and we were lucky enough to see a house-sized block of ice fall from it into the lake.
The next day we went our separate ways again, Frank, Carlo and Toni headed back into Chile to visit Torres del Paine, while Jacquie and I headed North to El Chalten to hike to another glacier.
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The road to El Chalten


Thankfully the wind had a day off that day ,and we made good time to El Chalten, one of Argentina’s newest towns, having sprung up only 25 years before. Where Calafate claimed to be the Glacier capital, El Chalten was the hiking capital. After we checked into our rustic log cabin style hostel, we took a stroll along the main street. Everyone, and I mean everyone, looked like a pro. People marched along the road in hiking gear, complete with walking sticks, thermoses and other hiking equipment, and I started to wonder if we had made the right choice. I had never been much of a walker, and these hikers were making me feel decidedly out of place. Nevertheless, I agreed to go on a 3 hour hike to the Torre glacier.
Despite my misgivings, the staff in the tour agency insisted that I would be fine, and that the hike would be well worth doing.
I hired a walking stick, Jacquie hired a pair of hiking trousers and a backpack, and we arranged to meet at the agency at 5.30 am for a 6am departure. What had I let myself in for?
I slept badly that night, worrying about the day ahead of me, and a 5am, I got out of bed and into the shower. We packed up our stuff, camera, layers of clothing, video camera and our sandwich lunch, and stepped out of the hostel. Outside, the light was just beginning to overcome the dark of night, the air was chilly and fresh, and I couldn’t figure out if `I was more excited or nervous. We met up with our fellow hikers and the guide explained the route we would be taking. We were all measure for crampons, sharp metal spikes that would clip on under our boots to help us walk on the glacier, and then we were off.
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Ready to walk...

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We headed up the hill out of town, and just as we reached the top, the sun lit up the town below in a glorious golden light. We walked on and on, through the woods, up and down hills, through amazing scenery until, 3 hours after leaving base, we came to our first challenge, the river crossing.
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There was a set of ropes tied above the river, and our guide attached us one by one to the ropes before we pulled ourselves across to the other side.
We rested on the other side of the river, ahead of us in the distance we could see the glacier riding up from the lake, and revitalised from the view, we set off once more.
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After a scramble down a precariously rocky decline, we were at the foot of the glacier. We stopped to attach our crampons and were given a quick demo on how to walk with the crampons, and told what we should and shouldn’t do while on the glacier.
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The guide’s assistants made ready the ropes, and two by two, we donned hardhats, and with an ice pick in each hand climbed to the top of the cliff. It was an awesome experience.
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We broke for lunch after the ice cliff, and then turned around and walked back over the glacier, and slowly started our way back to the town.
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Looking down on the glacier on our way back to town

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The sky was wonderfully blue now; the morning’s clouds burnt away by the sun, and the views of the distant ice-covered peaks were spectacular. The day had been perfect, and the guide told us how lucky we had been. This trip had been cancelled due to bad weather everyday for the last week, and today had been the best day for the hike that she could remember.

After a good 10 hours of walking, we were all flagging. The beauty of the scenery kept us going, and we finally arrived back at the town just as the sun was setting. We returned with our guide to the agency where we dropped off our gear before limping back to the hostel for a hot shower and rest.
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We were up and out early the next morning. The sun was shining, but not strong enough to take the chill from the air. We had a fair distance to cover, back-tracking pretty much all the way to Calafate, before crossing back into Chile where we would stop for a night before taking the ferry across to Tierra Del Fuego the following day. This was another day of flat, straight, wind blown roads, and the town we stopped in for our overnighter was another non-descript, dull town. The further south we rode, the colder the weather became, as did the temperaments of the people we met. I could understand, I knew I would be miserable if I lived here too. The few towns we passed were all of the same, unimaginative, functional style. Wind battered every corner of the land, and there was nowhere to take shelter.
We were blessed with ridiculously long days this far south. The daylight started around 4am, and darkness rolled in and overtook the daylight a little after 11pm, giving us the means to ride for 12 daylight hours or more every day, and we took advantage of this to cover more ground and get to our destination, Ushuaia, as soon as possible.
I was anxious now to get this part of the trip over with. Patagonia was a special place, sure, but the high winds, cold weather, rain, flat lands and straight roads, it was just no fun at all, and I longed for a return to warmer climes, and riding through deserts, beside pristine shorelines. I really was not enjoying this part of the ride, and just wanted to get it over and done with.
We opted for the shorter ferry crossing, landing in Cerro Sombrero, the ride was a little longer by road, but the ferry crossing was much shorter, and we were told more reliable. The ferries often had to stop if the winds kicked up and the waves became too high, and we had a better chance of getting across on the shorter trip.
We arrived at the port just as the ferry had started loading, and we were unloading at the other side in Tierra del Fuego half an hour later. We filled up with gas at Cerro Sombrero, and then hit the dirt road that would be taking us as far as the Argentinean border 170kms away.
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We had both been dreading this ride. Garth was a great bike, but was heavy, and hated the dirt roads. Fortunately, the gravel road was in really good shape, and we found we could ride at 40-50mph without too much trouble. As a result of this, we covered the ground twice as quickly as we had expected and arrived at the Argentine border two and a half hours after getting off the ferry.
We queued again to cross the border once more, and wondered why these two countries hadn’t managed to come up with an alternative. Tierra del Fuego was shared by Chile and Argentina; neither wanting to let go because of the valuable resources found there, most importantly, water.
After the crossing, we were back on tarmac, and we motored towards the final destination, Ushuaia, the end of the earth.
We had planned to stop overnight in Rio Grande, but we had covered so much more ground than we thought we would be able to, we decided to push on and go straight to Ushuaia. The weather had been kind to us, the roads had been manageable, and we had rolled straight on to the ferry with no waiting, so we were way ahead of schedule.
We rode on, the monotony of the flat, dull Patagonian roads now behind us, as we weaved our way through the mountains and lakes to the end of the earth.
We had been spectacularly lucky with the weather, but as we rounded one last mountain, our luck ran out, and the rain came down. We pulled on our waterproofs, and rode the last few miles into town.
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Ushuaia was bathed in an orange glow when we first laid eyes on the town spread out beneath us from our vantage point on the side of the mountain.
We saw more snow capped mountains in the distance, cargo ships were coming and going from the port, and the town looked quite surreal. I was hit with a feeling of achievement and accomplishment, followed by a wave of nostalgia, as the trip flashed through my brain. We were here, this was the end of the road, nowhere else to go, run out of road, dead end, full stop.

We rode down into town in search of a bed. We had been warned that we should book ahead in Ushuaia, but we had nothing arranged. We had, after all, arrived a day early. We checked out the two hostels listed in lonely planet, but they were both full, we then checked the places the receptionists had suggested, they too were full. We were tired, hungry cold and wet from the rain, not a great combination, and so the inevitable argument ensued. We split up, Jacquie heading downhill, and me uphill, in search of somewhere to sleep. We met up a few minutes later, both of us calmer, but neither of us had found a room. We continued to comb the town for a room, and finally took a room in a little hotel on the outskirts of the town centre. It was much more than we wanted to spend, but we had run out of options, and we had been on the road for 14 hours, we both needed to lie down and recharge. The room had a bath, a rare luxury, and I soaked away the chills that had worked their way into my bones.
We woke the next morning still aching from our three day marathon ride. We checked our e.mails, and we delighted to see that Toni and Carlo had also just arrived with Frank, and had met up with Chris, an American rider that I had met in Santiago.

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Re-united and on our way to the End of the Road landmark

Jacquie and I rode over to their bed and breakfast, and took the last room spare in the house. We ate lunch together and then the bunch of us rode together to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, the site of the official “end of he road” landmark.
I gawped at being charged a ridiculous amount of money just to ride into the park and take a photo of the sign, but we were here, and so we all coughed up and rode to the end of the trail. The park was one of the least interesting parks on the whole trip, as well as being one of the most expensive.
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We parked our bikes around the sign and took a load of photos. Passers by stopped and asked if they could take photos too, and we got chatting to a bunch of people, all of whom were impressed that we had travelled as far as we had, all of us starting from different points in the USA.
With the photos done, we turned around and headed back into town.
We found a little bar and sat down for a drink. It seemed that we were all feeling the same way; a sense of loss had come over us. We’d all had the same goal for so long, and now that we were here, we all shared this anticlimactic sensation. What now? I knew what I wanted to do, turn around and get the hell off Tierra del Fuego. I longed to be somewhere warm and sunny again, to go swimming in the ocean, to be around friendly locals.
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Just over 3,000kms to civilisation!

Posted by Dan Shell at 09:58 PM GMT
April 29, 2010 GMT
3,200kms to Buenos Aires

We had done what we wanted to do in Ushuaia, we bought stickers for our bikes and postcards for our friends (which finally arrived in the UK four months later), and decided to head out the next day. Carlo and Toni were coming with us, Chris and Frank were going to stay and explore Tierra del Fuego longer.
We had only been riding for a half hour or so when the rain started to fall. We pulled over and once again donned our waterproofs. Carlo was not happy about this change in the weather, well, none of us where, but we pushed on in the hope that we would ride through it and out the other side.
We pushed on, the rain, rather than dropping off, increased. I just wanted this ride to be over. I passed a truck, throwing up a cloud of spray that I could barely see through, and waited for Carlo to follow. When he didn’t pass the truck, I decided that I would push on ahead and wait for Toni and Carlo at the gas station in Rio Grande, it was the only gas stop en route, so I knew that Carlo would have to pull in there. I could order some hot chocolate for all of us, and from there, we could get on the internet and see if there was an option to stay in Rio Grande, wait for the weather to pass, and carry on once the rain had stopped.
We pulled into the garage and I waited for the pump attendant to come over while Jacquie went into the building to get out of her wet clothes and get on the Internet.
Sure enough, just as the attendant finished gassing the bike up, Carlo pulled in.
He was not happy with me. He was upset that I had left him behind. I explained that I had just wanted to get out of the rain so had carried on, and apologised for leaving him behind. In my mind, we both knew where we were going, and if he hadn’t turned up at the gas station, I would have gone back for him.
Carlo was prone to stopping a fair amount on a day’s ride. I had thought that he would have stopped for a piss or to re arrange his clothing or goggles, and I had been right, still Carlo was pissed off at me for not waiting for him, and I guess he had a point.
We found a place on the internet, and after we had warmed up , we got back on the bikes and rode the short distance to the hostel.
We parked up, went through the ritual of unloading, showered and went to the shops for some food to cook up. We returned to the hostel, and had just started dishing out the food that the girls had prepared when we heard a familiar voice. Frank walked. He had decided that Ushuaia had lost its appeal after we had left, and decided to leave to. He’d also been caught in the rain, and as luck would have, had the same idea as us. We dished up some food for him, and we opened the bottle of “Fin del Mondo” wine we had brought from Ushuaia.
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The rain continued for the whole of that day, and the next, until finally on the third day, the weather broke, and we made a run for it. The day got better and better, from a dull start, to a bright but chilly afternoon.
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We rode passed fields of sheep, being herded by Gauchos on horseback, under a sky with beautiful wispy clouds.
In many respects, Tierra Del Fuego reminded me of Bolivia. The sky was unnaturally beautiful, and unlike anything I had seen before. We came to the border into Chile once more, and Carlo told me that he and Frank were going to go on ahead, not wanting to wait for us on our slower bike over the dirt section of the road. I was a little peeved myself now. After the telling off I had received form Carlo after leaving him in the rain, now he was going to leave us on the hardest part of our journey. Well, that was fine by me.
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Another border, back into Argentina and back on the Chilean dirt roads of Tierra Del Fuego...


We went through the customs rigmarole and set off for the ferry. I must admit, I was annoyed that Carlo and Frank were not staying with us, and I guess that lead to me wanting to prove a point. We had managed an average speed of about 50kmh on the way out, and I was determined to keep pace with the others. We had a small head start on the guys, and I pushed Garth along the bumpy dirt roads to keep ahead for as long as I can. There was no sign of the guys behind us after ten minutes; I guessed they must have taken the alternative route.
I rode the bike as fast as I the road surface allowed, sometimes maybe a bit faster than that. We stopped at the side of the deserted dirt road for Jacquie to relieve herself, and she berated me for my speed. We jumped back on and I continued on at a speed somewhat decreased. We bounced and bumped along the road for another hour and a half, before turning off the road to head for the gas station at Cerro Sombrero.
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We had a small matter of getting stuck in the mud to deal with, and then after a quick gas stop, we travelled the last few kilometres on blessed tarmac before reaching the ferry. The others were in the queue, and we rode straight past them and parked up at the head of the line, before walking back to meet up. They had taken a different road, and had arrived a few minutes before us, it would appear that I had made my point.
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Waiting for the Ferry to stop rocking so I could ride on

After a short wait, we boarded the ferry, which was moving around a fair amount, making for a butt clenching boarding, and then we were on our way across the choppy seas to the mainland.
The next day we split up again, Jacquie and I leaving Rio Gallegos for the Monte Leon national park, while Carlo and Toni took Frank back south in search of penguins. The wind was blowing hard as we left Rio Gallegos, but as we reached highway 3, it increased to almost intolerable strength. We battled with the wind, leaning the bike into it in an effort to stay on the road. We were being blown about as if the bike was made out of paper. We pulled over at a rare, sheltered area and considered our options. As far as I was concerned, this was the most dangerous part of the trip so far. We had read and heard stories form fellow bikers about the strong winds in Tierra Del Fuego, but nothing had prepared us for this. To make matters worse, every time a truck going in the opposite direction passed us, we were smacked in the face with a force as strong a good hard slap. To make matters worse, they would temporarily block the wind that we were leaning into, meaning the bike would suddenly lean at an even more obtuse angle than that required to keep us heading in a straight line. The road was punishing, dead straight, flat as a pancake, dull and seemed to go on forever. At one point, a huge flat truck barrelled past us in the opposite, causing a blast of wind so strong that it ripped half the windscreen right off the bike.
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We pulled over, the screen wobbling precariously, and as Jacquie leant her bodyweight into the bike to stop the wind blowing it over, I tried my best to find a solution. I tried redistributing the holding screws so that instead of the usual 5 screws holding the screen in place, now there were 3, one on each end and one in the centre. This arrangement lasted for a few kilometres more until another truck roared past us, and the screws popped out again. We tied the screen to the back box and set off.
The wind got even stronger, and I was feeling the full force of it now the screen was gone. I was constantly splattered with bugs, butterflies and a variety of exotic insects, and by the time we arrived at the park, I was exhausted. We pulled into the park and onto the dirt track that we would have to follow for another 20 kilometres to reach the penguin sanctuary.
Jacquie groaned at the thought of riding another dirt section, not having fully recovered from the previous day’s ride from Rio Grande across Tierra del Fuego. We rolled slowly down the track, with me trying my best to give Jacquie as smooth a ride as I could until we reached the end of the track and the park’s snack twenty minutes later. We refreshed ourselves with hot coffee and sandwiches in front of the beautiful untouched and deserted beach before heading back up the track to the penguin area.
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We parked up and walked to the passed the pampas deer, keeping a watchful eye out for pumas, until we came across the penguin colony. The penguins took no heed of us as we walked through their colony to the cliff edge where we could look down at thousands of the little fellas waddling out of the sea. The wind was blowing hard still and we were sandblasted as we tried to take photos.
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The Penguins were adorable and made us chuckle with their swagger and clunky movements, and our spirits were lifted by our feathered friends. We strolled back to the bike, rode out of the park and up the road for another hour to look for a place to spend the night. We pulled into San Julien, another non-descript town built purely for functionality, lacking in any attempt at panache, rode around awhile, checked out a few of the hotels, until we decided on a roadside inn type affair. We continued along highway 3 the next morning, the wind still pummelling us constantly.

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We stopped to eat our sandwiches -stolen from the breakfast buffet- crouched behind a large concrete sign that we used as a windbreak. We rested for a while before once more returning to the 3 and battling our way northwards. The wind was relentless, and had blown all my good spirits away, and it was a real effort continuing on to our next stop at Caleta Olivia. By the time we arrived at the town, I was shattered, we rode up to the first hotel we came across, checked in, showered and rested, before heading out in search of dinner.
We returned to see Frank’s and Carlo’s bikes parked next to ours. We went in and knocked on their door, and talked about each other’s experiences on Highway 3, we had all had to deal with the ridiculously strong winds, and it had taken a lot pout of all of us. I told Carlo and Frank about my screen being blown off, and we went down to the bike with Frank to see if we could fix it, but to no avail. We accompanied Toni, Frank and Carlo to the restaurant that Jacquie and I had just eaten in, and decided we would ride together to Puerto Madryn the next day. We strolled back through Caleta Olivia, another dull Southern Argentinean with not a lot going for it except for the huge petro-chemical plant nearby, stopped off for some cake, and retired for a well needed early night and some rest.
We were up and out early in preparation for another long day through the wind, about 600 kilometres of dead straight, flat road again today, and we were all feeling a little low.
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The Joys of an Open Face helmet and no windscreen

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Frank, who was on the lightest of all the bikes, was getting blown dangerously across the whole of the road, and we had to pull over so he could rest. He was so bored of this straight-line battle that he was on the verge of nodding off on the bike. At one point, we were riding behind him and we could see his head lolling around, his bike slowed, and it was obvious that he needed another stop. We pulled up beside him and asked him if he wanted to pull over, he nodded his reply, so I then caught up with Carlo, motioned for him to pull over, and then went ahead and rode off the side of the road. We parked our bikes up, took out our snacks and walked away from the side of the road to find a spot to rest up.

We had just sat down and were passing around the chocolate and sandwiches when we heard a thud, we looked up in time to see Frank’s helmet get blown off the handlebars, and then the bike too got blown to the floor. We picked up the bike and retrieved the helmet, which was rolling off along the pampas, propelled by the wind.
Fortunately, there was no damage to either the bike or the helmet, and after our short break, we got back on the bikes, feeling somewhat refreshed and buzzing form our recent sugar hit. We carried on that way all day, riding for an hour or so, stopping for a break and a chat, a bite to eat, and off again. We passed through the police check area that Jacquie and I had passed on the way down, and the same guys were on duty.
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They instantly recognised Garth, and came over to say hello. One of the officers came over and started to ask for us to fill out the forms, with details of our passport numbers, where we travelling to and from and so on, but the Captain, with whom we had taken pictures on the way down, told him to leave us alone, and waved us straight through. We took another photo and then continued on our way. After one more stop to fill Frank up with Energy Drinks, we finally pulled into Puerto Madryn.
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At last, Puerto Madryn, beach, sunshine, warmth and finally some friendly folk!!

The days were getting considerably shorter, but we still had a good amount of daylight until about 9pm, so we even had time for a stroll down to the beach after we sorted accommodations and parking.
We treated ourselves to a day off the bikes, and spent the day relaxing on the beach and sorting out bits and bobs for our bikes, Carlo needed some oil, I was still trying to find a way to fix the screen on the bike, and Frank needed a new mirror after his bike got blown over by the wind. I was the only one out of us three to not gt his wish fulfilled, and I was getting tired of all the insects I was eating. At least we were now into the warmer weather, and the wind was beginning to ease off we thought.
The next morning, we left again, for Bahia Blanca, where we had been informed that the wind would disappear completely. Frank decided to stay in Puerto Madryn for one more day, so we said our farewells, and rode out of town.
We rode more of that dullest of dull roads, the 3 , through yet more Pampas , watching as the sky turned from blue to grey to black. We knew it was only a matter of time before the rain came down, but there was nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. The only signs of life along this road had been the gas stations, strategically placed at every 150kilometers. The rain started early in the afternoon as a alight drizzle. We pulled over, Carlo stating that the rain was moving in the same direction as us, and suggesting that we wait for it to get ahead of us and then follow along behind.
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Waiting for the storm to get ahead of us on the way to Bahia Blanca


It was a good theory, but the storm was moving a lot slower than us. We sayed behind the storm for an hour or so, riding for 20 minutes, then pulling over when we got close to the rain so that the storm could move away from us. We went on like this for a couple of hours, making incredibly slow progress, until finally I had enough. We put on our rain gear, and pulled back out onto the road. We hit the rain a few minutes later, and a few minutes after that, we were through the storm and out the other side. It had taken us 3 hours to travel 130 kilometres. Towards the end of the afternoon, we stopped at a gas station to fill up, and Carlo said he was going to push on to Buenos Aires. We had friends that we were meeting in Bahia Blanca, so once again, we said our goodbyes, or rather “see you later”, and split off in different directions. Carlo still had a fair few hours of riding ahead of him to reach Buenos Aires, and the daylight was beginning to wane.
As I rode on towards Bahia Blanca through a landscape that was still flat, but becoming more and more colourful with crops and flowers on either side of the road.

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Covered in Roadkill after the ride to Bahia Blanca with no screen

On the downside, however, the amount of insects coming to their death on my face increased. As I rode through the fields, I saw a large black blob in the air in front of me. I wasn’t sure at first what I was seeing, by the time I had recognised it as a bee, it was too late. I couldn’t to react in time; I saw the bee, in slow motion, fly straight into my helmet. A moment later, I felt it as it stung me on the ear. I pulled over; my eyes were watering so much I couldn’t see. My ear was throbbing. Jacquie pulled the sting out of my ear, and the pain intensified. I ran around in circles by the side of the road, until Jacquie calmed me down and made me sit still. I lit a cigarette and sat for a few minutes. My ear was bright red, and well on it’s way to becoming double its normal size! I gingerly replaced my helmet, and we rode the last few kilometres into town.
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My fat ear from the bee that got in my bonnet

We hadn’t expected much from Bahia Blanca, having come across nothing but plain, functional brick towns for the last week or so through Southern Argentina, and it was a good thing too. Bahia Blanca was just a larger, busier version of those more southerly, bland towns. Even with low expectations we would have been disappointed.
Bahia Blanca was not blessed with a clement climate either. Apparently, the city was either swelteringly hot, being blown to pieces by wind, or flooded by heavy rains.
This time of the year, we were enjoying the excessive heat. This place was hot. Real hot. The locals were mainly sat on the steps to their houses, the women in summery dresses, the men mostly in string vests, sipping on iced `Matte and smoking. Those that were moving did so at a very slow pace, using up as little energy as possible in the heat.
To make matters worse, the power went out in the city, no fans, no aircon, no TV, no lights. Apparently, when the city gets this hot, everybody turns on their air-conditioning, which overloads the city’s power grid. Brilliant.
We met up with our friends in Bahia Blanca as planned, and spent a couple of days hanging round in the hotel, to hot to do anything at all. We had met Angelica and Nick in Nicaragua, and they had spent my 40th birthday with me. We hadn’t seen them since, so there was a lot of catching up to do. They had recently been volunteering at an animal project in Bolivia. Nick had been set upon by the Puma he had been walking, leaving deep gashes across his neck. It seemed he had a lucky escape. They were now heading south, and I tried to put them off going to Ushuaia.
On our second afternoon in the hotel, the receptionist asked us if we would like to be interviewed for the local paper. The paper was running a story on why travellers came to Bahia Blanca, and wanted to come talk to us and take some pictures.
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We agreed, as there wasn’t much else going on, and that evening, the reporter came and interviewed us for her article. She explained that the feature was a monthly item, and showed us a copy of the last month’s issue. There, in the photo, was Ricky, a American biker I had shared the crossing from Panama to Colombia with.
Our interview over, the reporter then called the photographer, he picked us up and I followed on Garth as he drove to the train station for some pictures.
We posed by the bike, and once more, Garth was immortalised!
We hung around in Bahia Blanca for an extra day solely to hang out with Nick and Angela, occasionally leaving the hostel to go buy ice cream, before riding the last stretch up to Buenos Aires.

Posted by Dan Shell at 05:19 PM GMT
Buenos Aires

We were dreading entering the city. The GPS wasn’t working anymore, so we couldn’t rely on that, and the map we had as a back up had next to no detail of the city centre. Fortunately, the Gods were smiling on us that day, and we didn’t miss a beat. We rode straight into the city centre, into the oldest part of the city, San Telmo, and directly to our hostel.
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We persuaded the staff to let us park Garth in the reception, at the end of the breakfast table and moved into our dorm. The hostel was really well decorated with funky pieces of art, stacks of broken old television sets, and interesting displays of retro telephones and typewriters. The staff were friendly and helpful, but the place was hot, noisy and uncomfortable. The sounds of people talking in the common areas downstairs echoed through the hallways, and were amplified by the windows. Busses passed by in the narrow streets outside the window all through the night, and we barely slept. The next day we looked but couldn’t find another hostel where we could park the bike. So we decided to stay put and deal with it as best we could. We went and looked up our old mate Adrian, who had recently moved to Buenos Aires from Baja, Mexico. Adrian had apparently landed on his feet. He invited us round to his pad, a fantastic top floor apartment overlooking the Market, and introduced us to some of his friends from the city. We ate too much delicious Argentine meat, drank too much wine, and thoroughly enjoyed an evening catching up with our old mate. You meet so many people travelling that it’s hard to keep up, but spending time with old mates from home is just something else. To talk with someone with whom you have history, common friends, and shared experiences are such a breath of fresh air.

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We spent the next few days wondering the picturesque streets of San Telmo, the oldest district of Buenos Aires, watching street Tango shows, listening to music and checking out the numerous antiques and market stalls.
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Our long lost French pal from Cali, Alain was in town having to bring his bike trip to a halt after he blew up his engine, and together we went to visit the colourful La Boca area .
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The single square block was awash with bright colours and even more colourful characters, but if you walked one block too far, you really know you were in the wrong side of town. The change was dramatic. One minute we were surrounded by gringos pointing cameras at the lovingly restored old buildings, then there were just small groups of rather threatening looking tamps and addicts. We turned around and went back to the more tourist friendly streets of La Boca, sat down in a restaurant for a plate of Bife de Chorizo, a typical Argentine steak, and watched the world go by.
We returned to San Telmo and met up once more with Adrian and some more of his Argentine friends and went out for more meat at Dos Niveles, a classic San Telmo eatery. The place was packed with diners getting stuck into various cuts of prime Argentine beef. The food was delicious and very reasonable. One of the things we loved about Argentina was that, unlike its neighbours, it didn’t export all of it s best products to overseas markets.
Ecuador, growers of some of the world’s best coffee, exported all of it’s product abroad, forcing us to drink instant coffee –Nescafe, also known as No Es Café- at restaurants. Most of Colombia’s finest Cocaine was exported; similarly a large proportion of Chilean wine never found it’s way to Chilean wine stores. But Argentina help on to its best beef, and it was always available at low prices in butcher’s, supermarkets and restaurants. Well done Argentina.
Over the next few days, we explored more of the city, the centre and the refurbished docks at Puerto Madera.
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Puerto Madero

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Buenos Aires- Centro

Our friend Carlo had bumped into an Argentine Harley rider in a Buenos Aires’ BMW store, and , at his request, had passed on his e-mail address to me, saying we should get in touch on our arrival . We emailed him and arranged to meet at the Harley Davidson store in the North of the city.
We rode to the store and Luis was there to meet us. He owned and ran a small TV company that made bike shows for the Internet, and said that he wanted to talk to us about our travels. We chatted in the store for a while, and then he invited us to go to his house for some lunch. We followed him back to his house, a few minutes ride away from the shop and sat and chatted for ages. He invited us to come stay at his house whenever we wanted, and told us about a Harley rally that he and the other members of his bike club were going to in Mar Del Plata, on the coast a few hours south of Buenos Aires.
We had heard about Mar Del Plata, a popular vacation spot for Argentineans, and had been put off by the stories of packed beaches and literally millions of visitors in the holiday period from January to February. I had to work hard to persuade Jacquie to come with me, but she finally gave in.

Posted by Dan Shell at 09:41 PM GMT
May 04, 2010 GMT
Mar Del Plata Harley Rally

We planned to meet Luis at our hostel to ride down together with his other biker friends, but he got delayed and told us to go on ahead. We rode down to Mar Del Plata, and there were hundreds of Harleys on the road and I was getting more and more excited about the rally. Our friend Ralph had mailed us and asked us if we were going, and we were both really looking forward to seeing him there too.
The ride to Mar del Plata was tarnished somewhat by the two hours of rain we had to ride through, and by the time we got to the city by the sea, we were desperate to change and dry off. We rode to our hostel, the other bikers had purchased rally tickets that included accommodation in a plush hotel and all the meals for the weekend, but we had no ticket, the price being way above our budget. I had mailed the organiser and arranged to meet him in the hotel where the other rally participants were staying.
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Mar Del Plata, 1 million visitors a year, and no idea why!

Once we had refreshed ourselves in our hostel, we rode down to the hotel and were greeted with a huge “moto hug” by Sergio, the main organiser.
We explained that we really couldn’t afford the ticket price for the event, but would really like to come on some of the rides and just to hang out with some of the other riders.
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Arriving at the Rally HQ

He gave us an outline of the weekend’s planned events and told us we would be more than welcome to join in on the rides and activities if we wanted.
We met up with Ralph, and then Luis showed up and introduced us to all of his friends. We were made to feel really welcome by the riders and they all showed great interest in our trip. We arranged to go back to the hotel the next day to go on a ride with everybody, and made our way back to our hostel.
There was a lot on offer in Mar Del Plata, drag shows, cabaret, live music and nightclubs all had queues of people waiting to enter, and the streets were busy all night long.
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We retired to our hostel in a vain attempt to get an early night in preparation for the events of the first official day of the rally, but our hostel was in the middle of the main pedestrian street, and drunken revellers kept us awake for most of the night. After breakfast, we rode down to the rally hotel and met up with our fellow bikers.
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New Mates, Los Piratas MC

We set off for the ride through the city centre just as the rain started. We rode through the city with a police escort , and thousands of people came to watch as the hundreds of Harleys rolled through the centre. We stopped for a coffee break outside a mall, and the rain became heavier. I decided to call it a day, and Jacquie and I spent the day wondering around the “Bodies” exhibition in the city centre.
That night, we went out with Ralph and Paula who had invited us to dinner with them in a sushi restaurant they had been recommended, and after eating our fill and polishing off another couple of bottles of wine, we raced each other back through the city to the hotel. Sergio, the organiser, was there, and he wanted us to meet his partner, another Sergio, who had complimentary tickets for the rest of the rally waiting for us. He said that he was very happy to have us join the rally, after travelling so far and for so long, and that we were an inspiration to him and a bunch of the riders. Apparently, we were the talk of the town, the English couple who rode from Florida to Ushuaia, and who were now in Buenos Aires.

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We arrived early the next morning for the ride out, and were interviewed by two TV stations, putting my Spanish to the test as I ummed and erred my way through the interview. Fortunately, the sun was finally out, everyone had sparkly clean bikes (except us) and the riders were all in really good spirits. We were introduced to more new friends, and the questions about the trip were flowing. Was it not dangerous in Colombia? How corrupt were the police in Central America? How did you cross the Darien Gap? How do you cope with the dirt roads? And so on.
Then the signal was given to mount up and start our engines. Over 200 Harleys roared to life and left the hotel in convoy to ride to the Balcarce museum, and the Fangio family Finca.

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Fangio was a famous Argentine motor racer, who had raced for many years in many types of car, from rally to track, and had beaten Stirling Moss on many occasions in his heyday. His record for 5 Formula 1 drivers championship wins stood for 46 ears, until Michael Schumacher surpassed it with Ferrari. The museum held a collection of cars owned and driven by Fangio, and the range of vehicles was truly awesome, from 1940’s American saloons to beautiful 1950’s Mercedes’, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari track cars, right up to modern formula 1 cars.


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Sergio had a surprise in store for all of us, and after the museum, we rode to the Fangio Family ranch, and straight on to his private racetrack. We let loose on the track, most of us giving our bikes all we had, hurtling round the track. Jacquie and I were racing round the track, 2 up on our heavy tourer, passing the majority of the other riders on lighter, smaller bikes, as we scraped our floorboards on the track.

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Here's something you don't see every day, a bunch of Harley on a racetrack!

Garth loved his run-around, and we loved watching the faces of the guys on Sportsters as we flew by on our “RoadBus”.
Even when our rear brakes failed, we were still out braking the smaller bikes, and were going in and coming out of the corners quicker than most of the others on the track. Fair enough, we were probably the only ones on the track who were really “racing” but my God how we enjoyed ourselves!
We would have kept on going round and round the track until we ran out of gas, but were called off the track after 6 or 7 laps, and after we pulled off the track, I inspected the bike to see what had caused the rear brakes to fail. The answer was easy to find. The pipe carrying the brake fluid to the rear pads had ruptured, and there was no more brake fluid in the line. I would have to rely on my front brakes until we got back to Buenos Aires.

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We left the track and rode a short distance to the main house of the Finca, where a lavish meal awaited. I sat down with Luis and his Bike Club, the “Piratas”. Again, we made more friends over lunch, and after the meal, we were accosted by Sergio who insisted that we had to take part in the Harley Games.
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Garth wins the first round of the slow race!!

We competed in slow races, where I was beaten, in the final round, by a guy called Edgar, a rider from Cordoba on a sportster. I joined Edgar after the races, and he introduced me to his friends from Cordoba. They were all really cool guys, and Jacquie and I were made to feel really welcome. Edgar said that we were both welcome to come stay with him if we made it up to Cordoba.
More drinking and fun and games ensued. Jacquie and I competed in some games for couples, and we narrowly missed taking home first place in the “bite the wiener” competition.
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We hung out at the Fangio Finca for the rest of the afternoon, making more friends with the bikers from all over South America; Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru, and left as the sun was setting.
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The Farewell dinner

We rode back en masse, and that evening at the farewell dinner we watched the video of the rally that the organisers had made over the weekend. I hopped from table to table, not having one of my own, chatted to my new friends, swapped email addresses, and said my farewells. Luis insisted that we ride back with him and the Piratas, and that on our arrival in Buenos Aires, we should stay with him and not return to the hostel.
We awoke the next morning to grey overcast skies, and after breakfast, we hugged our mates Ralph and Paula, who were heading back to Chile, and rode off to wards B.A.
We rode under the overcast skies for half an hour or so, and then the rain came down in earnest. We pulled over to step into our wet gear, before heading out up the motorway to B.A. We stopped en route for lunch at a roadside diner, and arrived back in the city where the riders split off in different directions to return to their homes, while we followed Luis back to his apartment.

Posted by Dan Shell at 09:34 PM GMT
May 11, 2010 GMT
Buenos Aires to Cordoba

We spent the next few days exploring more of the city, we hung out with Adrian, visited my distant cousins, and ate more meat than is generally advisable for human consumption.

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The view over the city from my cousin's apartment in Recoletta


Luis was a perfect host, with many friends who took it in turns to come to his house and share an Asado with his British guests.

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Luis hard at work at the Asado

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The bike went back to the Harley dealer who repaired my rear brake pipe, and then got the bike valeted for free by a friend of Luis who owned a bike valet company.
Over the next few days, we went to tango shows, visited the grave of Eva Peron at the Recoleta cemetery, resting place of some of Argentina's most influential, wealthy and important departed, and strolled through as yet unexplored parts of the city, from the delightfully crumbling San Telmo, to the boutique paradise and bar heaven of Palermo, to the wealthy and exclusive Recoleta. We spent a day running from the mosquitos in the botanical gardens, ate ice cream from a few of the many Italian style Ice cream parlors dotted around the city, and just generally got to the know the city a bit better.
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The Recoleta Cometary, and the grave of Eva Peron

We met up with our new biker friends for a ride out of the city to an all you can eat beef buffet, more meat, and we hung out with Diego, also a new friend from the rally in Mar Del Plata. Diego had a business selling action figures over the Internet, and he was using a small flat in Palermo as a showroom. He invited us over to check out his wares. We went up in the lift to the 7th floor and were greeted by a life-sized cut out of a storm trooper guarding the door to the flat.
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We were shown around his huge collection of Star Wars figures, masks and spacecraft, and Comic and Cartoon action figures of all shapes and sizes, all in their original box, stacked from floor to ceiling in two of the rooms of the flat. He told me that this was nothing compared to his collection at his home, and I believed him.
We went out that night to sample some of the famous Palermo nightlife, with Diego and his mates leading us through the city.
Having local friends in a big city completely change the view you have of the place.
Tourists in cities are such outsiders, it takes a local to be able to pin point the hot spots of the moment. Guide books are usually three or so years put of date from the time they are researched to the time they are printed, and in a fast moving city, the in-place normally gets replaced by the “New In –Place” every 6 months or so. Plus going out in a city either alone or with a group of fellow “Gringos’ closes as many doors as it opens. We loved having Diego and Luis around to take us out, show us around and generally make our experience so much better than if we were relying on guide books, and even the recommendations of other travellers.
We extended our stay in Buenos Aires and ended up staying with Luis for 10 days after we returned from Mar Del Plata, or “Night-Mar Del Plata” as Jacquie liked to call it.
We made one last trip with Diego and his family to see Tigre, a port surrounded by streams and rivers, that plays host to a variety of markets at the weekend, and is also the starting point for boat trips along the river, and antique mahogany boats ferried tourists up and down on sightseeing excursions.
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Tigre

It was a slog for us to pack up and leave Buenos Aires. We had some good friends here, we really liked the city, the food was good, the weather had mostly behaved itself, and there was still plenty for us to see and do. But we decided it was time to move on.
Jacquie was going to fulfil a lifetime dream of riding horses with the Gaucho’s of Argentina, and while she was off doing that, I would stay with another new found friend form the Harley rally, Edgar, in Cordoba.

Posted by Dan Shell at 10:41 PM GMT
July 13, 2010 GMT
Cordoba

We rode out of buenos Aires in searing heat, northeast towards Cordoba, and arrived in the city centre 8 hours after we pulled out of Luis’ garage.
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On the way to Cordoba, at last , the Argentinian roads began to get exciting again


The city was uninspiring to say the least, not helped by the greying skies overhead. The city had a slightly oppressive feel to it, and try as I may, I couldn’t get excited about it. After being in Buenos Aires, which had turned out to be one of our favourite cities, Cordoba was definitely a step down, to say the least. I knew that I had only seen a very small part of the city, and that I should not really be judging at this early stage. I had made that mistake many times before, and Jacquie was trying to teach me the importance of patience, and not judging too quickly, but I was a slow learner.
We found the hostel after a couple of wrong turns, unloaded the bike, and parked him up in an garage for the night.
The hostel, in keeping with what we had experienced of Cordoba so far, was bland and unexciting, but at least offered a free tango lesson on the roof. Jacquie and I showered and made our way up to the roof, refreshed and feeling slightly more upbeat.
We mingled with our fellow travellers while we awaited the arrival of our tango teachers, and were assured that the city had enough o offer to keep us occupied for a couple of days.
Our teachers arrived, introduced themselves, and started off with a demonstration of Tango- the way it should be done. We were blown away. The couple moved together as if joined by some invisible glue. Each movement was perfectly coordinated, delicate and graceful.
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How to Tango

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How Not to Tango

Then it was our turn.
I consider myself a bit of a dancer, more of a Hip Hop B-Boy kind of dancer than a ballroom dancer, but I got rhythm, and I was ready to give it a go. Jacquie too was enthralled by the raw sexiness and the fluidity of the Tango, and we were both hoping to get to grips with at least the basics.
We paid close attention to our instructors, watched their every move, and did our best to replicate what we saw. The result was mostly a series of steps in which I mainly trod on Jacquie’s toes, while she responded with genteel kicks to my shins.
We looked on enviously as the Tango specialists showed us once more what we should be looking like, and then couldn’t help but laugh as we watched the other dancers in our group stumble their way through the few steps that were being taught. We were happy to see that at least we weren’t the only ones having a hard time taking to the choreography.
The instructors were obviously used to seeing their beloved dance being utterly destroyed by Gringo tourists, and were patient and gracious with us. Eventually, we began to get it together. We were still a long way from ever being able to dance together in a public place, but Jacquie and I would often grab each other randomly in the street and practice the little that we had learnt. Well, I should say that I would randomly grab Jacquie and Tango her around for a minute or two until she broke loose of me and berated me for making a spectacle of ourselves in public.
Jacquie got picked up a couple of days later from the hostel to go to the ranch to ride her beloved horses, and I made my way over to Edgar’s house, where I would be staying while Jacquie was living the good life.
I found their house, a few miles from the city in centre in a residential area of Cordoba, and as I pulled up outside, Edgar and his sister, Marcela came outside to greet me.
The welcomed me into their home like a long lost brother, and as per correct Argentine social practices, I was informed that there was to be an Asado that night with friends to welcome me to the neighbourhood.
I settled in, chucked all my clothes in the washing machine, had a quick nap, and woke in time to shower and get ready for the Asado.
Edgar’s friends began to arrive, and soon the house was surrounded by Harleys, and the meat was piling high on the grill. This was yet another Argentine house complete with seemingly mandatory built-in outside Asado grill. We sat on a couple of wooden benches, drinking beer, and eating the delicious meat from the Asado.
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Once the beer was gone, Edgar and his mates switched to the drink of choice for many Argentineans, Fernet coca. Fernet, obviously imported for the Argentineans of Italian descent, by Argentineans of Italian descent, was a hugely popular drink here in Argentina, and as was the norm, and in fitting with the Argentine tradition, a litre bottle of Fernet stood on the table flanked by 2, 2-liter bottles of Coke.
We helped ourselves to the drink, and as the night grew on, the Fernet disappeared, the guests began slinking off , and I staggered off to bed.
The next morning, feeling slightly the worse for wear, I followed Edgar to Lucas’ workshop.
Lucas had been at the house with us the previous night, and looked almost as bad as I felt. He looked at us through bloodshot, watery eyes, and beckoned us to bring the bike in.
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With Garth in the workshop, I went and bought us all coffee and biscuits.
Lucas got to work on Garth, removing the air cleaner, oil filter and draining the oil, poking at the brake pads, and checking the primary oil level,
We chatted to each other as he worked away, and before long, the job was done, and Garth was wheeled out.
We went back to Edgar’s where he asked me if I would like to go out to the mountains for a weekend away with him some friends.
I agreed, and we made arrangements for our departure. Edgar would leave before us to pick up his girlfriend in the pick up, and Marcela and I would meet them at a service station on the outskirts of town. The sky was a nasty, threatening shade of very dark grey, and I was unsure if leaving just before sundown was the best time to be heading out into a possible, even probable, rainstorm.
All doubts aside, we set off at around 5pm, just at the start of the city’s rush hour. We battled our way into the city centre, and just as we hit the central Plaza, the rain came down. This was no light splattering of rain either. The downpour, when it came, was ferocious. There were enough waterproofs for one; Marcela had a waterproof jacket on already, so I pulled over to get into my gear. We rode to the service station where we were to meet Edgar, and I told Marcela that I really didn’t fancy another couple of hours riding through the rainstorm in the dark.
We met Edgar, and explained that the weather had, for me at least, stopped play.
Edgar had to carry on, his friends were already there, as were his girlfriend’s. We waved them off and returned to the service station to see if the rains would slow up.
We sat and watched the news reports, all showing flooded roads and traffic jams, cars getting washed down the streets, and houses collapsing.
This was not looking good.
We sat and drank coffee, and within about half an hour, the rain had indeed lightened. We got back on the bike and headed back the way we had come into the city centre.
The road had indeed flooded. My lights had lost all sense of direction once again, and were doing a good job of blinding oncoming traffic, leaving both parties sightless as we passed each other in the dark. I timidly followed in the wake of the 4x4s in front of me. I would pause at each junction, where water came rapidly gushing down the slopes, trying to find the shallowest point to cross, but it was all guess work.
At places these junctions were under a foot or more of water. We pulled up at one, and there was a young mother, with her small son perched on the back oh her moped.
I attempted to offer to ride the woman’s bike over, but this got misunderstood, before I even realised what was going on, her son was passed from her bike tours, and wedged in between Marcela and me.
I eased Garth into the fast flowing river that was crossing the junction in front of us, and powered out the other side, where I waited for the boy’s mother to bring her bike across. She followed behind us, and we returned her very nervous looking son to his perch on the back of the moped.
We rode through the chaotic city centre and arrived back at the house, 14kms and 2 hours after we initially departed.
Marcela made some phone calls, and arranged to meet up with some more friends in the city. We changed into dry clothes, and swapped Garth for Marcela’s van and headed off once more to the city centre.
We spent the evening bar hopping round Cordoba, downing three bottles of Fernet between the 9 of us, before going back to the house to pass out.
The rain continued through the weekend, and I couldn’t help thinking about Jacquie, hoping that she was being spared the weather besieging the rest of us.
She had been really looking forward to riding on the pampas fields with gauchos, rounding up cattle and sleeping by an open campfire.
In the meantime, Marcela and friend of hers, who lived just around the corner form the house, were showing me around Cordoba.
My Fernet fuelled weekend came to a close and I returned to the hostel in Cordoba to meet up with Jacquie. We were both ready to get moving, so we looked at the map, read the Lonely Planet, and picked our destination.
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Fond Farewells from the Cordoba Posse, Edgar, Lucas and friend

We left bright and early to ride out of town, and made our way out of the city and up to Capilla del Monte, a popular holiday spot for Argentineans, and is wasn’t until I went to fill up with gas that I realised I didn’t have my credit card.
I thought back to the last time I had used my card and my heart sank when I realised it was in an ATM in Cordoba.
I called the bank, and with the help of the hostel staff, determined that the card was being help at the bank. I left Jacquie in Capilla while I rode back to Cordoba,. It was a rare occasion that I got to ride Garth with no luggage and no passenger, so I thoroughly enjoyed giving Garth a bit of a hard ride on the way back into the city. I picked up the card, and turned round to ride another 3 hours back to Capilla.
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I enjoyed a slightly more leisurely ride back up to Capilla, stopping along the way to dip my toes in the river that ran parallel to the road, and arrived back at Capilla just in time for another beautiful Argentinean sunset.

Posted by Dan Shell at 11:46 AM GMT
Argentina, Ruta 68

We headed out nice and early again the next day, but had only been going for a half hour or so before I heard an unusual sound coming from the bike. We pulled over and tried to find the noise, but after several attempts, we couldn’t find its source. We got back on the road, and the sound returned. It seemed that it only happened after we reached 80km/h.
There was a definite humming coming from the front of the bike, that had not been there before, we had t make a decision. Should be ignore it, hope it goes away , and have it looked at when we next get to a Harley garage, or we could turn around now and take the bike back to Lucas’s shop in Cordoba.
We decided to play it safe, and reluctantly we turned around and headed back to Cordoba for the second time.
It was only when we pulled up outside Lucas and I tried to show him where the noise was coming from that I noticed the cause of the new vibration.
We had left the bike outside the hostel, one of those rare occasions where we didn’t have much of an option, and someone had reversed into the front fender, which was now rubbing against the front tire.
It would seem that our return trip had been un-necessary. Edgar came to see us at Lucas’ shop, and insisted we stay the night, and then head off for Salta the next morning. We accepted their invitation and enjoyed one more night of beer, meat and Fernet with our mates before leaving for Salta.
We stopped to eat our sandwiches by the side of the road, next to a little stream, and enjoyed a little break in the sunshine.
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We headed off after our picnic, knowing we still had a long way to go.
As we approached Salta, we got back onto our old mate, Ruta 40, reminding us that the last time we were on this road, we were over 4,500kms South of our current position. We followed the road through a national park, up into a mountain range, and followed the road as it twisted upwards into the mountains. Then, of course, came the rain. We trudged through the down pour, climbing the mountain at a very slow pace, knowing full well that we were on a beautiful road, but not enjoying it due to the amount of concentration to keep the bike upright and the slippery, windy road.
As we reached the top of the mountain, we rode into the cloud and our already low visibility was lessened even more by the thick cloud that enveloped us.
We slowed again, and continued on , peering through the rain and cloud to try to make out the road in front of us.
We passed waterfalls, and knew that if not for the cloud, we would be enjoying stunning views of the valleys below us.
endof cloud68.jpg Rising above it all...finally rising above the cloud and rain in Argentina

After what seemed like eternity, we rode through the top of the cloud, and continued along the road with the cloud falling behind. It was a surreal sight, seeing the cloud gently roll along the flats on the top of the mountain.
The sky was blue again here, above the clouds, and we sped up and rode on towards Salta. Our joy soon disappeared when we hit our first section of washed out road. Jacquie got off the bike and I walked to the middle of the road just to see how deep the mud was. I rode over the mud and then motioned for Jacquie to cross on foot, but there was no clear path for her. Garth hadn’t struggled to much in the mud, so we went back and picked her up, and then crossed the mud once more.
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We had a fair few of these washed out mud sections, and after that day, became fairly good at negotiating them.
We skipped back onto Ruta 68, and followed it the last few kilometres to Salta.
We had really been enjoying being back on the bike after a few days off, and only stayed one night in Salta before hitting Ruta 68, this time to follow it out of the city, and through the canyons, before taking the 16 to Corrientes. The 68 was one of the all time favourites of the trip. There had been many like it, the Pacific Coast Highway and the dirt road to the Roosevelt dam in the states, El Espina del Diablo and the road of 3,000 Curves in Mexico, the Pan American into El Salvador, the coffee region of Colombia, and more recently the coastal stretch of the Pan-Am through Peru and Chile and the altiplano of Bolivia.

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The 68 threaded its way through vineyards, across forests of Saguaro cacti, and passed rock formations, each named for what they might look like if you had been eating mushrooms or drinking heavily, with the notable exception of the frog, which did look remarkably like a frog. We stopped and clambered over some of the rocks, climbing to the top of the more scaleable rocks and taking photos of the views stretching out in front and behind us.
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We spent the morning, wistfully gliding through rock formations, occasionally crossing the odd flooded patch of road, across a Martian landscape that could have been the set for Planet of the Apes. It was spectacular. The weather was perfect, the road void of any other traffic, and Garth purring happily beneath us.
We spent the afternoon on a more typical Argentine road, long, straight and pretty dull.
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Turn in 496kms, a typical Argentinean road!

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The North of Argentina bore many similarities to its neighbor, Bolivia. Poverty was one of them..
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The clouds became thicker, and changed from a wispy, fluffy white variety, to the mean and angry looking black ones. We made to the outskirts of the city, and then the clouds burst, and within seconds we were soaked. We rode into the city, unprepared, with no idea where we should be heading, soaking wet, tired and now cold too. Not a good combination, but we held it together, just about, Both of us taking it in turns to bite our tongue unless we say something that was set it all off. This was the sort of time Jacquie and I would usually be going for each other. You should have found a hostel, You should have written down an address, these questions both used by each of us in turn, this time, we kept it locked down. We found a bookshop with wifi connection, and we took the computer out of the bike and went across the road to the bookshop.
We cracked open the door, apologised for dripping all over the floor, and asked if we could use the internet to look for a room.
The lady behind the counter seemed exceedingly please to receive us, even with the pools of water we were leaving dotted around her shop. She spoke good English, and engaged us with her gentle tone as she spoke. WE responded to her questions, where we had come from and where we are going, and she said her friend had just opened a new hostel in town, and that it was only a couple of block away.
We thanked her for her help, walked back to Garth and rode round the corner to the hostel.
It was a beautiful converted old town house. Again, we were welcomed in a warm fashion by the receptionist, and shown around the hostel. We met the young owners, and chatted about the town and what the plans were for the hostel.
We found a car park for the bike after several abortive attempts to ride him up the stair into the hostel, and went up to our dorm to get into some dry clothes. We went out for Pizza and returned to the hostel to sit in our dorm and watch a movie on the computer.
We decided we would have the morning walking around Corrientes, and would then ride to Iguazu in the afternoon. We walked along the riverfront, styled in the same way as Venice Beach and Central Park, with a running track and a cycle track running alongside the sidewalk.

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We strolled in the heat along the river, passing a handful of beautiful, immaculate classic cars, until we came to the zoo .We entered and quickly walked through the zoo, enjoying the show from the randy turtles who all seemed to be getting it on, or rather getting on it, everywhere we looked, turtles were mounting their mates in a proud display of virility. We stopped and waited for the croc to yawn, and then after a quick peek at the aviary, we were off to get Garth and be on our way.
It was hot still, but the breeze as we rode afforded us pretty perfect riding conditions. We rode along the straight, flat road, 500kms before we encounter our next corner! At least with the sun beaming down on us; the tarmac smooth beneath us, and the vast expanses of lush green scenery around us, the ride was still enjoyable. We stopped to eat at a roadside eatery that was no more than a collection of wooden poles holding a black canvas-which in turn looked like it had recently been used to advertise some political party or other-to cover an BBQ, on which several pans steamed away. There was a house a few hundred feet behind the BBQ shack, and between the bbq and the house were a couple of wooden tables surrounded by plastic chairs.
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We parked and walked towards the bbq, the smell was mesmerizing. As we approached, the kids who had been playing outside the house came running over to us, and pulled us towards the wooden table. The oldest of the bunch, a beautiful girl of no more than 12 informed us of what was available, and asked what we like to drink. We ordered fish and salad and a couple of gaseosas and played with the kids while we waited. The food was brought over and we tucked in, it was delicious. We had missed this kind of eating, in southern Argentina the closest we came to street food were the hot dog vans, this was more like being back in central America, or Mexico, eating really tasty, possibly organic food that was way cheaper and tastier than we would be able to find in a restaurant or eatery in town.
Refreshed, and with full bellies, we asked for our bill, we paid the girl and all the kids followed us back to the bike. I took it in turns hoisting the kids onto the bike, and then we were off again, on the straight road to Iguazu.
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The kids from the roadside BBQ Shack.The blond kid's nickname was "Gringo"!!


The heat of the day intensified as we rode eastwards towards the falls. I was really tired, having ridden every day since we left Cordoba four, or was it five days ago, and now it was all catching up with me. I had to pull over, so when I came to a lay by next to a river, I rode into it and got off the bike.
Right there, no more than 3 feet from where I had parked Garth, was a huge, bloated alligator, or maybe it was a croc, whatever it was, thankfully for us, it was dead.
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A large swarm of flies buzzed around its body, and there were deep gashes along its back. We pondered the unluckiness of such an occurrence on the M25, ate some sweets and chocolate, and clambered back onto the bike.
We changed the plan, and decided to stop short of Iguazu, and head instead for Posadas, giving us one extra day of riding in Argentina. We stopped one more time on the outskirts of Posadas to remove a dead bird that had flown into my shin and come to its final resting place wedged in between my engine. I pulled to the side of the road to poke the dead bird out with a stick and to rub my throbbing leg.
The hostel in Posadas was almost empty, and we enjoyed having the run of the place. We didn’t get up to much, a quick walk to the local supermarket for some pasta and sauce, and then back to the hostel to cook. We ate in front of the TV, and got ourselves an early night.
Our last day’s ride in Argentina was a short one, so we started the day as we had in Corrientes, with a walk along the river, and a quick look at the town, before heading off for Iguazu.

Posted by Dan Shell at 04:21 PM GMT
Iguazu Falls

I had wanted to visit the falls at Iguazu since I’d lived in St Martin and heard stories of how amazing the spectacle was to behold from travellers I had met there. It was sure to be one of the highlights of the trip.
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The "Carnival Show" at the hostel in Iguazu

We had been warned that the town, on the Argentinean side at least, was nothing more than a tourist trap, designed to hold people overnight who were going to or coming from the falls, and the warnings were right. It was not an ugly town, but it was evident that it s sole purpose was to supply the visitors to the falls with accommodation, coffee, grub, souvenirs and tour opportunities.
There was no lack of restaurants and eateries, but we struggled to find something decent that would not kill our budget. We avoided the hoards of Israeli’s that had taken over the hostel we had chosen, and after we had eaten we headed straight to the dorm and to bed.
We left for the falls bright and early, and arrived at the park just after the gates opened. As we had been directed by previous visitors to the falls, we took the train out to the first walkway that led directly over the main waterfalls, named the “Devil’s Throat”, the largest of the 270 odd falls in the series. I had been slightly jaded by our travels, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to be blown away, or even surprised by many of the sights we visited, but Iguazu did not disappoint.
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The breathtaking "Devil's Throat" falls, with the Brazilain Tower in the distance.

The view was breathtaking, and the roar of the water rushing over the edge of the falls and into the deep canyon below was awesome. We stopped to take it all in, then we took the obligatory photos, and then we looked again. It was too much to comprehend. The power and force of nature, once again reducing us as nothing more than fragile human beings, temporarily residing on Mother Earth.
We spent the rest of the day walking around in the searing heat, occasionally getting a good soaking from the falls, spotting Tucans in the trees, and exploring the falls.
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We came across the boat dock and deemed it a good idea and another one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that we would regret not doing, so we packed our stuff up in one of the waterproof bags handed to us by the boat operators and climbed aboard.
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The boat manoeuvred itself so that it was directly in front of a gushing fall, we all stood up to take photos, and then were directed to take our seats. Once all the passengers had complied, the skipper motored the boat right into the stream of water. We were all instantly soaked by the force of the water crashing down all around us, and blinded to everything but the white water curtain that surrounded us. The boat eased back out from under the water, circled in front of the waterfalls and then returned us to the dock. A short and expensive excursion it certainly was, but worth every penny.
We changed into our drier clothes and climbed back up to the path, which we followed to the cafeteria.
We had seen pretty much all of the main attractions, and were suffering from the unforgiving heat beating down upon us, so after downing a bottle of overpriced Iguazu water, we made our way to the exit.
On the ride back into town, Jacquie, obviously affected in some way by the falls, decided it would be a good idea for her to flash me her boobs in the mirror. I burst out laughing just as she lifted her jacket, a truck came over the brow of the hill towards us, I reckon she made someone’s day that day.

The following day, we took the bus from Puerto Iguazu to Cuidad del Este, a tax free zone on the triple border between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.
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A rare "treat", taking the bus to Cuidad Del Este

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The Bus driver, as most Paraguayans, was never far from his Matte Cup and matching Thermos

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Entering into Paraguay, a new world of Chaos and disorder

My iPod had recently passed away, and I was looking for a replacement. After the relative peace and tranquillity of Iguazu, Cuidad Del Este was a veritable bustling den of iniquity. Everywhere you looked, people were rushing about carrying black plastic bags willed with newly purchased electronics, men where wheeling Refrigerator laden trolleys into stores, locals peddled fresh fruit, empanadas and sandwiches, and motor taxis zoomed around piloted by maniac kamikaze riders. I searched a few shops until I was offered the model I wanted at the price I wanted, made my purchase, and got the hell out of dodge.
We took the bus back out over the bridge, through Brazil and into Argentina for one more night until we returned to Brazil to view the falls from the other side.
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Halfway along the "Freinship Bridge" the flag painted on the wall changes from the Argentine blue and white to the Brazilian Green and Gold

Our Brazilian experience was shorter, more expensive, but no less thrilling than the Argentine side. The people we had asked about which side to see the falls from had all agreed that in truth, one needed to see the falls from both the Brazilian and Argentine viewpoints. And they were right.
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The View of the Devil's Throat from Brasil

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Posted by Dan Shell at 05:00 PM GMT
July 14, 2010 GMT
Curitiba& Floripa,Brazil

We spent the night in our ridiculously oversized private room, complete with Jacuzzi bath and power shower-with hot water, and after our breakfast of Dolce de Leche on toast and chocolate cake (I liked my breakfasts here!) we rode out and into Brasil proper.We noticed immediately the difference between Brazil and the other South American countries we had visited.
There were far less jalopies on the road, and no more grazing cows or wandering horses by the side of the pavement. The roads were in pretty poor shape, yet there was a tollbooth almost every 150kms.
Everything cost us double. Gas for the bike, the room in the hostel, bread, cigarettes, water, everything. This might have to be a quick in and out job.
We were aiming for Curitiba, for no other reason that it looked to be a good stopping off point before we continued to Florianopolis, further south along the coast. We arrived, found us a little hotel, and settled in.
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Curitiba

We strolled around the city as the sun went down, and were once again surprised at how much daylight we were loosing, 6 weeks before, in Ushuaia, we had daylight until 11.30pm, now it was dark by 6. It took some getting used to.
We lay in bed that night, and by stealing an unsecured wifi signal from an unsuspecting neighbour, I was able to check my e.mails. I had a friend in Brazil. We had competed together in my past life back in London at several cocktail competitions, had mutual friends, but had never really hung out before. I knew he lived near our current position, but couldn’t quite remember where. I searched through my e.mails until I found the one I was looking for, from Myles.
I nudged Jacquie, reading her book next to me;” he’s here” I blurted out.
“Who” was Jacquie’s only option for a response, and she took it.
I reminded her that I had mentioned I had a friend from London who had married a Brazilian and moved to Brazil, “Well, he lives right here, in Curitiba.”
I sent Myles a message, and the next day he came round to our hotel, gave me directions to his shop, and took Jacquie on the bus to our rendez-vous.
I had just retrieved Garth from the parking, and was on my way to Myles’ shop, when another Harley pulled up beside me. The rider shouted something to me in rapid Spanish; to which I replied, in my best “I have no idea what you are talking about” tone; “What?”
The rider wanted to know where I was from, and where the bike was from, and what I was doing in Curitiba- to be honest, there wasn’t much there for the tourist. I gave the standard responses, and answered all the usual questions, and when I had finished, the rider told me I would have to follow him to the Harley store. It was Saturday morning, and every Saturday morning, the local riders met at the store for coffee and doughnuts and a good chinwag.
I tried to explain that I had to meet Jacquie, but he would have none of it, and had a ready rebuke to all of my objections. I followed him to the store and was introduced to his pals, and to Fabian, the PR man of the store. He asked me more questions and took a few pictures of the bike, before running off to get me a Dealer T-shirt, compliments of the management. Now that was worth getting it in the neck from Jacquie.
I made my excuses and rushed off to find Jacquie and Myles.
I arrived at Myles’ about a half hour after he had, Jacquie had guessed what had happened, and wasn’t at all surprised at my tardiness. I explained that I had been press ganged, and Jacquie and Myles smiled at me knowingly.
Opposite Myles’ bicycle shop was a car wash, and I deemed it was high time for Garth to take a bath.
I took him over there and was told he would be seen to in about half an hour. We watched as he was sprayed with water, then soap, then a bright pink liquid that tightened our throats with its noxious fumes. An hour later and I was picking him up. Garth was gleaming. The black of the engine was black again, not brown, the chrome shone brightly, and the paintwork dazzled. Then I looked a little closer. The bike had been stripped of much of its varnish. Sure, all the dirt had been removed, but so too had much of the paint on the inside of the fairing, where the gauges and radio were. The decal along the centre of the gas tank was lifting off, as were the graphics along the side. Well, we won’t be doing that again, will we now.
We returned with Myles to his flat and met his wife, Susi, and their little boy Axel.
Myles and Susi really welcomed us into their home, they showed us around the city, fed us and gave us the use of their washing machine, which we merrily filled with pretty much every item of clothing we owned.
It was lovely being back in a home environment; we even got a taste of home when Myles pulled out his DVD collection, containing the whole of “Gavin and Stacey”, a British comedy that Jacquie and I were most partial to.
They took us to a Plaza in the city centre that was also the location for classic car owners meet as well as a Harley owner s’ get-together. We had a look around at the cars and then made our way through he narrow streets jammed with market stalls and street food vendors.
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We spent a few days relaxing and recovering at Myles’ place, before heading out for a weekend break to Florianopolis, a semi-detached island a few hours south from Curitiba.
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Our first peek at the beach in Florianopolis, hurrah!

We stayed in a surfer hostel at the southern tip of the island, and spent our days lying on the beach, watching more movies, and walking into the “town” centre. It was liberating, invigorating and revitalising, being back on the beach.
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I spent a day alone with Garth exploring the island while Jacquie relaxed on the quiet beach outside our hostel

It dawned on me that I am more of a beach guy than a city guy. I’m more into white sand than spangley malls, more into turquoise water than ancient architecture. I could have happily stayed weeks in Florianopolis. Our little corner of the island offered a gorgeous stretch of beach that was almost always for our sole use, and the pace slowed way down. We read, chatted and chilled. It was just what the doctor had ordered, and we headed back to Curitiba feeling refreshed and ready to move on.
We went to stay one more night with Susi and Myles, but our stay was unexpectedly extended.
The morning after we arrived back at their house, I woke to find my right leg seemingly locked. I couldn’t straighten my leg at all, and could barely get out of the bed. I hobbled about for a day, but when the leg showed no sign of improving, we set off for the hospital. My leg was locked in “riding position”, that is to say a 90-degree bend at the knee. Susi’s brother is a taxi driver, so, after several failed attempts at straightening the leg, we piled into his cab and drove over to the hospital. Before long, I was wheeled in for an X-ray. A few minutes later, a young Doctor was explaining something to me in perfect English, about my tendon getting locked in a “familiar” position. I had developed “50,000-mile" leg. Over the next week, I was injected 3 times with a bright pink liquid by one of Susi’s neighbours, who happened to also be a nurse.
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After chasing me round the living room for a while, I was captured, subdued, and injected. I hate injections. I was reminded of Nicaragua, where I had been prescribed a course of injections to cure a rash, and on entering the Pharmacy, I was asked to step behind the counter where the pharmacist deftly injected me in the butt, in a shop full of customers.

Posted by Dan Shell at 03:53 PM GMT
Sao Paulo to Paraty, Brasil

A couple of recovery days later, with our bags full of clean clothes, a fresh tub of Marmite, Jacquie’s favourite, and a few extra plastic bags full of herbs from Myles’ cabinet, we left our mates behind and made our way to Sao Paolo. We rode out of the city, and onto the highway. We passed through another bunch of tollbooths on this road. The only thing that eased the pain of having to pay to ride on potholed, single lane highways, was that the symbol for a motorbike on each of the toll booth price lists was an old Harley Davidson FXR.
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We rode all day, arriving at the outskirts of Sao Paolo just in time for rush hour-on Friday. In a city with over 11,000,000 residents, this is not the best time.
We joined the queue of traffic and hoped we were heading in the right direction. To make matters worse, the University teachers were staging a march through the city, and of course, they were marching on the same street that we were riding down.
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The 125cc couriers in Sao Paulo were without doubt, the most nihilistic, death defying lunatics I have ever seen!

We sat in the traffic, slowly melting in our riding gear, and making very little progress. Local couriers whizzed by us on their little 125’s, going through gaps millimetres wider than their handlebars, and far too small for us. When we did manage to find a gap in a lane that could accommodate Garth’s girth, we were soon being honked and tooted at by the stream of smaller bikes we were holding up behind. I guided Garth as quickly as I could between the lines of stationary cars. The 125’s were darting all around me like flies, in death defying feats of lunacy and daring. They threw their bikes about so wildly, it was a wonder they lived as long as they did. We had come across a couple of accidents where couriers had been knocked off their bikes. Luis and I helped a young guy who had been side swiped and knocked off his bike while undertaking a small truck. I was surprised at the time that it didn’t happen more often. The couriers often wore their helmets resting on top of their head, and not pulled on or fastened. Packages were sometimes ridiculously large, balanced precariously on the postie bikes favoured by most of the couriers. We saw a rather portly gentleman wobbling along on his scooter with a huge sac of corn on his lap that was so wide, he could bet get his arms around it and on to the handlebars. Once he did manage to grab them, and twist the throttle, he had no way of steering the bike as the sack was wedged in behind the handlebars so that they could not be turned either way.
Come to think of it, you never really saw any old motorcycle couriers. You can draw your own conclusions from that!
We squeezed ourselves off the main avenue and wove our way through the smaller parallel streets, in the general direction of the marker on the GPS.
Eventually we rejoined the main avenue further on down the road, where the traffic was actually moving, and continued on to the hostel.
Sao Paolo really is a big city. A crowded metropolis, alive with street vendors, roadside markets, what I can only call “traffic light entertainers”.
First spotted in Chile, where a group of break-dancers in Antofagusta were putting on a show every time the lights changed, I generally enjoyed the art of the traffic light entertainers. I pulled up to the front of the queue where the group were dancing, and cranked up the music from Garth’s stereo. They loved it! Here in Sao Paolo there were jugglers, jugglers on stilts, one-legged jugglers, brother-sister jugglers, jugglers on unicycles; we had seen a whole range of street talent in Chile, cheer-leaders, mime artists, slap stick comics, the works, here in Sao Paulo, juggling was King, and Queen, Prince and royal corgi.
Sao Paolo, however, was merely a stop over on the way to Paraty, we were heading back to the beach, and weren’t much in the mood for a city. We had no interest in checking out the museums, nor the malls, nor the art galleries, we just wanted some sand and some sea. After getting sorted in the hostel, we went out in search of a bank that would accept our cards, not an easy task in Brazil, and took the opportunity to have a mooch around our immediate vicinity.
We didn’t seem to be in a very lively area of the city. We walked around, but weren’t inspired to walk for long, so we picked up some Yaki Soba from a "Chinesa", cooking busily away at a wok in the street, and went back to the hostel.
We rode out the next morning, and Brazil revealed itself to us a little more. We headed out of the city and took the shortest route we could find to the coast.
We rode through lush green fields, rows and rows of coconut palms and tropical forests, up and over mountains, and then down the other side to be greeted with spectacular views of the unspoilt coastline below and the turquoise blue sea beyond.
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We followed the winding road down the mountain, and parked up on the first slice of beach we came across. We stopped next to a small beach bar and ordered sandwiches and fresh juice. We zipped ourselves out of our riding gear, and made ourselves comfortable in the plastic chairs in front of the beach bar, watching the waves rolling up and down the beach in front of us. This is what everyday should be like, I thought to myself. This ride was turning out to have all the requirements for a perfect ride.
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Garth takes a break by the beach under a palm tree, he loves to be beside the sea side

We had left early in the morning, barging our way out of a city that was just coming to life, had ridden for half a day and was now on the beach. The sun shone brightly, the air was fresh and invigorating, and breeze from the water cooled us.
We savoured the moment, sipping on our fresh pineapple juices on the beach with our mate Garth chilling out under the palms behind us. Perfect.
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Getting lost in Paraty

We rode into Paraty in the middle of the afternoon, we got lost, then found our way again, and made it to the Blue Jungle hostel. Time for a quick dip in the pool. We didn’t even check in, we just stripped off and dived in the water. The perfect ending to a perfect day. But the day wasn’t yet over. The guests in the hostel included a young English couple, an Irishman, and Aussie and a Yank, and we quickly all became friends, thanks mainly to the efforts of the German owner, Phelia, and her boyfriend Fabio.
That night, we headed in to town with the other English couple. Paraty was our first colonial Portuguese town, and it was a gorgeous town. Quaint but deadly cobble stoned streets were home to numerous boutiques, bars and restaurants. We ate in a per kilo restaurant, where you pick your food from the buffet, weigh it, and pay for the weight of your meal, we found this was a great way to eat so long as you avoided the fluff. Pasta, chips, vegetables, and salads were unworthy; our plates were piled with meat.
We ate, drank and chatted and the strolled through the historic centre of the town. It really was a charming little place, just on the verge of becoming a tourist trap, but not quite there yet, thankfully.
We finished off our dinner with ice cream from the per kilo ice cream parlour, and Jacquie and I agreed that we had had as near as damn it a perfect day.
There were a couple of things worth seeing around Paraty, not surprisingly, the first place on my list was the local Cachaca distillery. Jacquie and I ate breakfast at the hostel, and together with Dan and Sarah, the other English couple staying at the hostel, we walked into town and got on the bus for Penha. We had a bumpy ride on the cramped local bus, and our route took us past several areas where the road was still half covered with earth from the recent mudslides.
We got off at the entrance to the falls, which were directly opposite the distillery, and decided we would check the distillery first, then go visit the falls.
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The Engenho D’Ouro distillery is a small family owned affair, which produces organic Cachaca from the same water that fills the waterfalls across the way. We met Jorge, who gave us a quick tour of the site and a brief explanation of the distilling process. After the tour, Jacquie, Sarah and Dan went over to the waterfalls, while I stayed a little longer with Jorge, who had invited me to taste some of the different types of Cachaca made at the site.
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Some of the Cachacas from the Eugeio D'Ouro Distillery in Penha

We tasted aged, oak barrelled Cachaca, the regular silver Cachaca and a selection of delicious Cachaca liquors, honey, basil, strawberry, mint and orange were just a few that we tried. By the time the tasting was over, I was a little the worse for wear, it was, after all, barely past 11am. I walked over to the waterfalls and met up with the others, and joined them watching the locals sliding down the waterfall.
The water coursed over rock that had been so smoothed down that the locals had taken to using the falls as their own waterslide.
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Locals enjoy the natural waterslide at Penha

The coolest of the locals had the perfected the art of descending the waterfalls whilst standing upright, barefoot skiing down the falls.
Dan went and had a go with the young guys from the village, whilst the rest of us walked up the side of the waterfall to the top where we sat in the pools above the cascades.
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We took the bus back to Paraty, and the rest of the day was spent wondering the cobbled streets of Paraty.


Our next adventure in Paraty was the boat trip around the bay. We had been told that the trip from Paraty was one of the best boat trips in Brazil, so we decided to take another day off the bike and instead spend the day relaxing on the calm waters around Paraty.
Most of the hostel guests were going, so we all walked to the port together, picked a boat, haggled a price, boarded, and were on our way. The boat, no more than 20 ft long, was painted in the Brazilian colours, yellow and green, and had a small upper deck for the sunbathers.
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We motored out of the harbour, past a beautiful white washed colonial church, and out into the almost open water. The sea was dotted with little islands, some of them home to exclusive restaurants, others that were set up to host corporate and private functions, and others that were simply covered in trees. Stopped at a couple of the islands, once for some lunch on a deserted island, well, except for the restaurant and the coconut vendor, it was deserted, and we snorkelled above a reef just off the shore of another of the islands.

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Another beautiful day, we were loving Brazil. The skipper took us boys to the shore where we climbed up and over some slippery rocks and followed a track through the jungle to where we were going to jump off a “small” rock and into the water beneath. Well the small rock was more like a mini cliff face. The skipper was first to jump, and he pulled off his back flip dive with suitable aplomb for an islander, followed by the rest of us in a much less graceful manner.
We returned to dry land just before sunset and strolled back through the town and to the hostel. We sat around a BBQ that night, enjoying the company of our fellow travellers and their tales. It made life so much easier when you met people of a similar mind set when travelling. We all sat around the big wooden table outside the hostel, listening to the sounds of the frogs and insects surrounding us, and laughed and joked with each other.
The days passed lazily in Paraty, we took another bus ride out to a beautiful nearby beach, which was spoilt only by the persistent sand flies. I had pretty much come to the conclusion that paradise didn’t exist. There was always something amiss. Mosquitoes were a big problem; occasionally the wind kept them away, but this usually also meant one was likely to receive a proper sand blasting. There were of course other considerations. I had a mental list of requirements for my ideal beach, my “Playa Nirvana”, my Paradise.
It should be a sandy beach, fine, white sand. It should be accessible by paved road, and should not involve a hike.
There should be one, maybe two structures on the beach, providing fresh fruit juices, a small selection of cocktails-Mojitos, Pina Coladas and Caipirinhas-tasty snacks and fresh fish.
The water should be turquoise, clean and clear.
There should be a few people on the beach, not too many, but enough for a small amount of people watching.
The sun should be in an ideal position for sunbathing, and should be present from early morning until its sets behind the horizon, sinking into the sea.
There should be a gentle, cooling breeze.
There should be a complete absence of any sort of insect, flying or crawling.
There should be a small reef, providing an ideal opportunity for snorkelling.
Palm trees should line the beach, offering shade for the fairer skinned, and coconuts for the thirsty.
The occasional beach vendor wouldn't go amiss, so long as they were rare, and when they appeared, they would be fully stocked with all necessary beach goodies that we may have forgotten to pack, or run out of.

Not much to ask really, but after visiting beaches on both the Pacific and Atlantic sides, including a small selection of the Caribbean, I was still searching.
Mexico had some idyllic beaches around Puerto Escondido and Zipolite, but they were over populated, and the waves so high, and the rip so fierce, that we were prevented from going into the water. El Salvador and Nicaragua both had beautiful black sand beaches, and I think Nicaragua was the closest I came to an ideal beach, at Maderas, however the beach was too hard to get to and offered but one choice of accommodation, which was less than basic.
Beach wise, Brazil was shaping up nicely. A good deal of the beaches were home to apartments and condos for the rich and retired, and even though the `Brazilian government had a policy of keeping all beaches public, the beaches in front of the condos were only reachable by boat, unless you were a resident and could gain access through the gated and guarded entrance.

Posted by Dan Shell at 04:42 PM GMT
July 20, 2010 GMT
Arriving in Rio

The temperature had been steadily rising during our stay in Paraty, and as we came closer to Rio, the heat coming off the road was uncomfortable. We rode into Rio, over numerous bridges and under yet more mountains, Christ the Redeemer looked down on us as we drew closer to the centre of the city, and we followed the directions of the GPS to a hostel in Botafogo.
Generally, we had found the descriptions of the hostels in guidebooks and on the Internet sites as being quite honest, when we rolled up to the hostel in Botafogo, we knew there was something amiss.
On closer inspection, we noticed that the pictures of the dormitories and bathrooms were from an entirely different hotel, not even a hostel, the staff were indifferent to the point of rudeness, and the rules, covering most of the walls in the reception, were exhausting.
We had stayed in some strange places on the trip so far, some of them had some strange regulations, rules that you would hope weren’t necessary, and excessive signage. This place had all of that, and some.
“Only one person on the toilet at a time”
“No shouting after midnight” “Please don’t fill the fridge up with Beer”
“Don’t brush your teeth in the kitchen sink, it’s disgusting” (is it?)
“Flush the Loo after you Poo” and other classics adorned the walls of the hostel.
We were put in a dorm with no fan, no air con and no windows, and were told that the rate quoted on the Internet was incorrect and had now gone up. We took the grumpy reception staff to task, and soon found that almost every guest in the hostel had a gripe about something or other, and soon there were a dozen disgruntled guests behind me voicing their complaints, which must have proved to much for the receptionists, who after telling us to go forth and multiply, promptly walked out of the building, leaving a group of dazed and confused travellers in their wake. We looked at each other, exchanged looks that said “ oh well, its South America”…
The place didn’t create a good first impression, but the guests were all pretty cool, and a bunch of us headed out in search of sustenance. The hostel was located close to a supermarket, but as all the kitchen utensils were under lock and key, and the keyholders had just left the building, home cooking was out of the question. We were looking for more of a street food option, but it appeared that the only thing the hostel was close to was the supermarket. We couldn’t find a restaurant, a café or a bar anywhere around our hostel, and decided our evening might be better spent on the computer looking for alternative accommodation for the rest of the time we were going to be in Rio.
When we returned to the hostel, replacement receptionists were in place, who didn’t look up from their mobile phones or facebook accounts when we came in. This really wasn’t the sort of Brazilian hospitality we had previously experienced, and we couldn’t wait to get out of there.
We moved into another hostel down the road in Ipanema the next morning. Our hostel was in a small mews type street, with maybe 6 or 7 houses on each side of the street, of which 8 were hostels. The vibe in the street was always upbeat, travellers were always in and out and it was a cool place to hang out and meet people and get good tips where to go, where to eat and what to see.

Posted by Dan Shell at 03:35 PM GMT
The Favela, Rio

We booked ourselves on a trip to see the largest favella in Rio, Rocinha. We wouldn’t usually for the organised group tour, but an unguided stroll through a Favella of some 250,000 inhabitants, policed and run by machine gun toting drug lords and narcos didn’t hold much appeal either.
We were picked up by a mini bus, and joined a group totally 14 or 15 other gringo tourists, eager to catch a glimpse of life on the hillside residences that peered down onto the white sandy beaches and high rise condos of the more fortunate Cariocans.

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Roughly 19% of the 6million Cariocas live in the favellas that hang precariously on the hillsides around the city. They are the blood that runs through the veins of the city. They sell coconuts to beach goers, wash dishes in the glitzy hotels and restaurants, they shine the shoes of the businessmen, the relieve tourists of their cameras, and supply the drugs to the party set and dope smokers who ride the waves on the pristine beaches.
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The beach at the bottom of the Dois Irmaos mountain

We were driven to the foot of the “Two Brothers” or “Dois Irmaos” mountain, from where we all climbed onto the back of local moto taxis, and driven through the favella to the top of the mountain, under strict instructions to put our cameras away and hold on tightly to our bags and the driver.
We re-grouped at the top and were given a brief talk about the history of the favella.
The shantytowns first sprung up in Brazil after the abolition of slavery in the late 1800s. Rocinha’s history dates back to the 1920s, when the depression spurred on a massive migration of country folk to the cities. The growth accelerated in the 50’s when several smaller, surrounding favellas were demolished by the government in order to make homes for the growing community of wealthy Brazilians.
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the view from halfway up the mountain

Over time, the wooden shacks were replaced with concrete and brick, with homes being built literally one on top of the other, sometimes up to nine stories high. The land being built upon was, and still is owned by the government and is part of Rio’s national parks network. Most of the residences, and in turn their inhabitants live there illegally, under the radar. The water company runs water through the favella for half an hour in the morning, and half an hour in the afternoon, and the residents who are not plumbed in directly to any source of water go out to the street and collect water from the pipes.
A few of the residents have addresses and are registered, giving them the opportunity to vote, but the vast majority simply don’t exist.
We began our walk through the heart of the favellas, our guide occasionally going on ahead of us to let the spotters who were on the lookout for police that we were approaching, giving them the opportunity to hide away their guns, and giving us the chance to take out our cameras.

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Children played happily in the narrow streets, running up to us and posing for photos or showing off their drumming skills on plastic bottles and old paint cans. The favelados we met were all welcoming and friendly, with the exception of a few gaunt, lanky men, whose necks were adorned with more gold than Mr T. They looked us over suspiciously while inhaling deeply from their joints.

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Overhead, the electricity poles had a stupendous amount of wires twirling off in every direction. A few residents had electricity supplied directly to their homes but the majority simply ran their own cables from the poles, tapping into the supply in their own inimitable way. Their supply was rarely constant, but it was certainly cheap.

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DIY Electricity supply in the Favela

We were shown around one of the many NGO projects in the favella, an art studio where local artists displayed their work, and a bakery where young favelados where taught how to bake bread and cakes.

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Our guide seemed to know the name of every child we came across, and told us how he had seen the favella become safer and safer over the last decade or so.
The narcos still held the power in theses neighbourhoods, and much like the East End of London under the rule of the Kray twins, they kept the peace as well. There was very little crime in the favellas. Mostly because no one really had anything to steal, but also the narcos wanted to keep the favellas safe so that the tourists would come and drop some cash here and there, and also to make it safe for their business, to sell drugs.
We were fortunate to have a dry day on our visit to Rocinha. There is no rubbish collection, instead the inhabitants let nature take care of that, leaving their rubbish for the rain to take down to the bottom of the hill and dump the residue on the beach below.

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With no trash collections in the Favela, gravity and rainfall take care of removing the debris

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I was invited into one of the homes on the hill, and was shown to a window that offered a view of the condos and the beach below, less than 1 kilometre away. I could only imagine how painful it must be to wake up each morning in the tiny crumbling house, home to a family of 6, and look out of the window to see that unreachable dream. So close, yet so very, very far away.
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We left the favella and half an hour later we were back on Ipanema beach, buying sarongs and handmade bracelets from the very same people we had just been visiting in Rocinha.

Posted by Dan Shell at 04:08 PM GMT
 



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