April 05, 2006 GMT
Preparing to Leave

Hi & welcome to our first Blog on Horizons Unlimited,

After so many years of reading every corner of the site its hard to believe we are doing our own trip and Blog story.

This is a recent shakedown trip with gear and bike mods as we will take to the UK..

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This first Blog is really just practice to see how this web Blog thing is done and to see if I can get words and pics up without any screw ups. I will try to keep this Blog short as we are in the middle of packing up the house and making all those millions of arrangements you need to do so you can be out of the country for a year - thankyou to our family and friends for looking after stuff for us. I am sure this trip would be near impossible without this support back home. Mostly its the government and company bureaucrats that make it all difficult.

For instance we only just got our passports back from the Pakistan embassy in Australia where they held them for 5 weeks before approving our visas! To say we were worried was an understatement - 4 days before we are supposed to fly out and no passports! All because some bureaucrat thinks entering Pakistan on a motorcycle is a special case. I wont bore you all with the tales of incompetence from the Aus bureaucrats in charge of phones, banks, power etc. Honestly I dont know how they can be so good at incompetence and I am starting to wonder if other travellers have all these difficulties getting stuff sorted before they go.

Anyway, enough of the moaning, we are on holidays for a year!!!! Nothing to moan about there....

A little bit of background about ourselves -

John: a chemical & environmental science graduate with a lifetime passion for motorcycles, travel, camping and other outdoor pursuits. His motorcycling has spanned 25 years of mostly dirtbikes, but also a sportbike and naked roadbike mixed in there too. Adventure biking started about 10 years ago with a XR600 with big tank and some outback trips with mates. Married to Alanna for 20 years, currently living in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Alanna: a pre-school teacher with a passion for travel and an acceptance of her husbands motorcycle addiction, but only a relatively recent convert to travelling as a pillion. Recently told her worried family & friends that she would travel in the aircraft toilet or baggage hold if it meant she could travel more, so being a pillion wasn't so bad.

John's long time goal was to travel overseas on a bike, initially deciding on South America, but a few years ago changing plans to the classic Europe to Australia overland route through Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal. Alanna wasn't going to miss out on that, so this meant buying a bike suitable to 2-up for a year. After a lot of reading, riding & arithmetic (pun intended) I decided on a Suzuki V-Strom 1000 with a few modifications - suspension mostly - to cope with 2 of us and luggage/camping gear for a year. This sounds like we are large and carrying too much gear, but we dont exceed the GVM and we really have been very frugal with gear, it just adds up quickly!! I am sure the two-up travellers out there will understand. I will do a more detailed Blog on the bike some other time - for those interested.

We packed the bike ourselves, at our house, on my dirtbike trailer... including topbox, 1xpannier and tankbag in the crate

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In the pouring rain...
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...in a Harley crate!!!
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I had to spray-out the Harley labels for everyone's sensibilities....

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So the bike was delivered to the freight handlers at the Port of Brisbane around the end of February 2006 and was loaded onto a ship for the 6 week journey to Tilbury Docks in London, due to arrive on 14 April just a few days after we touch down in the old country. Hope we all make it in one piece.

Only 2 days until we leave now - with a 2 day stopover in Singapore on the way.

See ya on the road, or when we get home.

Posted by John Skillington at 12:54 PM GMT
April 07, 2006 GMT

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Posted by John Skillington at 06:33 AM GMT
April 24, 2006 GMT
Brisbane-London

Being new to this blog thing and being the Queen of Verbose I (Alanna aka Lan) am going to give this my best shot as John (aka Skill) has handed over the writing to me. He is in charge of bike stuff and technology, although he will edit and add to the Blog as required.

Many thanks to our good friends Kath and Sean for lending us their PDA and collapsible keyboard. It feels such a luxury to be typing this in the comfort of our accommodation listening to music and drinking a G & T. Life is good.
Lan typing

So I guess I will start at the day we left..............................My goodness, what a day! It felt quite surreal to hop out of bed in the morning knowing we were now on twelve months holiday and leaving the country for a similar period of time. The phone rings continuously, friends and family wishing us well and telling us to stay safe. We breakfast with my Mum, and close friends who have arrived from Perth on the early morning red eye flight. They then drive us to the airport where we discover our dodgy $15.00 suitcase has a broken zip (we bought them from a junk shop to get our gear to London, until we pick up the bike and panniers) After a few minor adjustments the problem is solved, bags are checked in and glasses of champagne are ordered.
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A lady sitting in front of us asks us if we are on our honeymoon? We have a bit of a giggle and say "No something even better, 12 months of holiday". She enviously tells us how lucky we are and when she retires in a couple of years she is going to take up travelling again. As I am walking down the skybridge I suddenly get emotional, my best friend hasn't had her baby (due on the 5th), my soul mate and usual travel buddy isn't coming with us, in fact it is her birthday and she is crook, my nephew has rung me to tell me how much he will miss us, Skill has spoken to his 92 year old grandma who is worried about us despite the fact that she lived in Iran for a short time in 50's when Skill's grandad was working at a sugar mill in Iran. I can feel a lump in my throat and get quite misty eyed. Well this is it are we doing the right thing?

And then just when you are having a tiny bit of self doubt, fate takes over. We sit beside a lovely, gentle man who lives in a neighbouring suburb, and as you do you get chatting about where you are going and what you are doing. He listens with great interest and offers us some advice. "What a trip. Travel now, do it while you can, my wife of 34 years and I were all set to travel next year, but she passed away last year after a very short battle with cancer. You just never know what life will deal you, she woke up with a pain one morning and was gone six months later". He said it with such sinceriity and sadness that any lingering doubts evaporated. Singapore here we come!!!

Made our connection to Singapore, onto a BA flight (very ordinary), had some dodgy six day old gnochi and 1 (yes we only got 1) beer. I must say Singapore Airport is amazingly efficient, through customs, stamp, stamp, stamp. They just love that stampy thing. Out into the cab cue and away, all of that took less than ten minutes. Oh forgot to mention one dodgy suitcase arrived minus a wheel stand, so it keeps falling over. We took up residence in the YMCA, which was marvellous, small but clean airconditioned rooms. With a huge all you can eat English/Asian breakfast thrown in for $80 Singapore Dollars. We were pretty tierd so we were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. In the middle of the night, about 3.30am there was this almighty bang, I leapt out of bed thinking, earthquake, gas explosion, terrorist attack, WRONG, an enormous thunder storm. Quite spectacular, Skill slept through the whole thing, so much for being my protector.

Singapore was Singapore. Incredibly busy and very, very humid. A city of such contrasts, one of the most successful financial cities in the world but in some places they still use bamboo scaffolding. BMWs, Feraris and traffic everywhere yet in amongst this chaos there are little old wisened up men still riding their rickshaw like bikes and not just for the tourists.

We walked down Orchard Road, then up into Fort Canning Park and over to Boat Quay. Back to the Y for a swim, a few beers then down to Raffles Long Bar for the obligatory $20.00SD Singapore Sling.

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The following day we checked our bags into storage and walked down to China Town where we spent most of the day, it rained on and off all day, the humidity was stifling, our clothes were soaked, so we decided to return to the YMCA where we spent the rest of the day in or beside the pool.
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Had dinner and our last Tiger Beer then caught the MRT (underground/train) to the airport. Checked our bags in all the way to Heathrow and waited, and waited and waited. Good old QANTAS, we were over 80 minutes late leaving. They fed us, the meatballs rivaled the BA gnochi in age. Then we all settled down for the night.

Once again a very uneventful flight until landing. We touched down in Frankfurt and I am not exaggerating the reverse thrust had only just been turned off, and we were taxing down the runway when a lot of the older Germans stood up and started to open the overhead lockers. The Aussie male flight attendant was yelling at them in German, some young guys were telling them to "Sit down, you bloody mugs" and I was not so politely saying "Sit Down", only because I could see my Bombay Saphire duty free Gin lurching from one side of the locker to the other. I had visions of it smashed all over the aisle. Sadly they did not pay any attention, until the flight attendant had to unstrap himself from his seat and threatened them. Mmmmmm Welcome to Frankfurt.

Our connecting flight was there waiting for us, so off one plane onto the next after being frisked, groped and xrayed by German Airport security.

We ended up in a holding pattern above London for 40 minutes, something we could have done without. Anyway nothing too eventful, except British customs didn't like the fact we didn't have a return ticket. We explained we would be riding our bike to leave and produced the carnet, which proved nothing, but it seemed to appease them. Then out to find Mo. There he was waiting for us complete with sign Alanna & John Skillo, just like in the movies.

We were invited to stay at family friends (Fred and Myra) vacant flat in the London district of Kentish Town. It is gorgeous, a brown brick house with an enormous black door nestled in amongst rows of similar houses distinguished only by their different coloured doors. The local pub is at the top of the street, 200 metres away, and the High Street and Tube station is less than 5 minutes walk. Unbelievable, Skill said to me "Don't get used to it, it's all downhill from here".

We didn't suffer from jetlag at all and have been on the go since arriving. Into Central London which is a visual feast of Spring colour, of course it is cold and rainy but I still love London. We went to the War Cabinet Museum and Churchill Museum on Wednesday and walked all the way down to Buckingham Palace and into Hyde Park.
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The bike arrives on the ship today so the shipping agent believes we may be able to pick it up next Thursday. So we have another week to kill here in London which is not difficult to do, there is just so much to do. What is the old Samuel Johnson quote, "When a man is tired of London he is tired of Life" We plan on donning the wet weather gear, packing our lunch complete with our new thermos and heading off to Little Venice (near Paddington Station) via the Camden Lock and London Zoo.

Well I should have bored you all enough by now so take care.

Cheers & Beers,
Lan & Skill.

Lan big ben

PS Lan's Quote for the week: "There are many ways to read a map"

Posted by John Skillington at 03:32 PM GMT
We get the Bike!

The Bike Story so far..............
Friday 25th February We deliver the bike to the shipping agent in Brisbane.

Tuesday 7th March the boat leaves Sydney

Wednesday 12th April Rang the shipping agent (London), yes the ship is due in tomorrow afternoon and it appears to be on time. Ring us back after Easter - maybe Tuesday afternoon

To keep ourselves occupied in the meantime

We did take that walk to Little Venice by Regent's Canal, it is quite amazing to see all these waterways and beautiful long boats right in the middle of London.
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After a fairly long hike we decided we would catch the tube home from Paddington Station, mmmm well that would have been fine and dandy but large parts of the underground were closed for maintenance over Easter so we had to underground hop from one coloured line to the next to get home, it would have been quicker to walk. Anyway we had a swift pint at the local and all was right with the world.

Next day we went to British Museum with every other person in London, we did manage to catch a brief glimpse of the Rosetta Stone as two rather rotund, loud girls stood in front of it obscuring it from view for about five minutes.

Like everything in London the museum is steeped in history and the architecture is stunning. We both really enjoyed the Reading Room with it's squillions of books. My thoughts immediately turned to Dad and Dave (Landy), they would love this place.
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After we were tierd of looking at old things it was off to Covent Garden where Skill just had to have a Cornish Pastie. I have to stop doing the conversion thing, but $10.00 AD for an overgrown sausage roll is a bit steep don't you think? Although Skill did remind me that I paid $5.00 AD for 150 grams of beans,($33.00 a kilo) like I said it is best not to convert.

Next day it was off to Greenwich, planned to catch the tube to Embankment and then a boat to Greenwich. Wrong, boarded the tube and sat motionless for ages. Announcement: smoke in the tunnel at some place I could not understand, so off we got and caught a Bus to Tottenham Court Road, (it's the only bus we know how to catch) and walked to Westminster Peir to catch the boat. We had a great day, Greenwich is really something special. Apart from being home to Greenwich Mean Time and the Meridian Line it is a truly beautiful village with so much to explore. The highlight for me was seeing John Harrison's clocks (developed to determine Longitude at sea) at the Royal Observatory. I must confess to being absolutely addicted to the movie "Longitude" so to see the four clocks in the flesh was pretty special.
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We also visited the Royal Naval College designed by Chrisoper Wren 300 years ago. It has a magnificant Painted Hall and Chapel with the most exquisitely decorated/mural ceilings and walls, which rival many of the others we have seen in our travels.
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Next day we went for a walk on Hampstead Heath with Sarah, Mo and Freddie to Kenwood House which you would all recognise as the setiing for "Sense and Sensibility" and part of "Notting Hill".
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Tuesday 18th April Rang back shipping agent, Yes the boat docked on time but the container has been held up in Customs for inspection, ring back the following day. Pressing them for details as to whether this was a random check, they answer "Officially" Yes. BUT unofficially the Government has been threatening job cuts so all of a sudden there has been a dramatic increase in container inspections by British Customs".

Everytime you turn around in this wonderful city there is something else to marvel at, yesterday we sat in the sun and gazed at the Albert Memorial and the Royal Albert Hall. Then off to the Natural History Museum for Skill and the Albert and Victoria Museum for me, which was an all day affair.
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Wednesday19th April Rang back shipping agent. Container is out of customs but will need to be delivered to the warehouse and unpacked and processed before we can get it. Maybe Friday or could be Monday. Please, please can we get it Friday. They would try....

Thursday 20th April We get back from a day in town and have a message, the bike will be devaned (container speak for unloaded) at midday Friday, but we will need to get Customs clearance paperwork first. Yay!!

Friday 21st April. D DAY WE PICK UP THE BIKE.

Get the Tube to Tower Bridge then up to Fenchurch Station and onto a train to Tilbury. Arrived at Tilbury with no map on where to go (The A to Z street directory doesn't go that far) so ask the lady at the train station who tells us to go across the bridge, end of instruction. Talk to a waiting bus driver who tries to send us back towards London to a district called Custom House. No we want Customs House Tilbury Docks. Oh well in that case straight up the road and the Dock entrance is on the right.

Do as we are told and arrive at the entrance of Tilbury Dock where we are briefly interrogated by the guards who point us in the direction of Customs House, hopelessly so as it turns out. So find a dodgy old canteen, it was like stepping back in time, all the workers had on those little white coats with their initials on them, just like you see in the old English TV Series. After causing the only bit of excitement in their day they finally agreed that Customs House was in a completely different direction from the way the guards had sent us.

Twenty minutes later we arrived. Up the stairs where Skill proceeded to talk to a lovely young man who was completely and utterly confused, they were not used to mad Aussies wanting to organise their own customs clearance. We had just begun the process when the iron shutters came down and the LUNCH 12.00 - 1.00 sign came out. Buggar. However we must have impressed the young man with our tenacity and he came out through another door and helped us fill out the paperwork and in under 30 minutes we were on our way.

We asked him where the best place to catch a cab from would be. Back into the town centre (which was a bloody long way back through the front guarded entrance, about 50 minutes walk), however he was such a sweetie that he let us out through the back gate (for staff only) and we were back in town in five minutes.
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Searching for a cab rank, we spied a huge orange sign that said TAXI and after some skillful negotiations they would take us to the warehouse at West Thurrock for 10 pound. Bargain. So off to West Thurrock (not a place for the faint hearted after dark I should imagine) The container was being unloaded when we arrived and we could see the bike crate looking decidedly worn, but intact. However it would be another hour before the paperwork clearance would be through. So off to the very, very dilapidated "Fox and Goose" for lunch and a beer.
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An hour later the paperwork from Customs is through and we pay 75 pound in fees to the agents, we can now start to unpack the crate. What a giggle I didn't even get a look in, all the boys stopped work on their fork lifts and came to help.
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We could not have been luckier, they were so incredibly helpful. Most shipping agents charge you quite a bit of money to get rid of the crate, but one of the guys was planning to ship his bike to NZ at Xmas time so he was more than happy to take the whole crate home. Another guy was building a green house so he was happy to take all the self tapping screws. (And I hid the rest of the rubbish in an old wheelbarrow) They kept coming to check on us to see how we were getting on, even offering a battery pack if the battery was flat.

After helpful directions to the A13 and the nearest servo, handshakes all round, we were off, managing to make it all the way back to Central London in peak hour traffic, avoiding the Congestion Zone without a wrong turn. How impressive is that. Thanks to Sarah for her fantastic navigational instructions.

The bike and all our personal effects arrived in perfect condition, and the bike started first turn of the key. Skill is a happy boy.

Well guys on that note I'll say good bye, and now the adventure really begins.

Cheers & Beers,
Lan

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Quote of the Week: "The journey, not the arrival matters" T.S. Eliot

Posted by John Skillington at 04:31 PM GMT
May 10, 2006 GMT
London to Scotland

Well I shouldn't have gloated about our navigational prowess. After picking up the bike and making it back to London with ease, we had a lay day sorting out gear on Saturday and on Sunday we decided we would head off to Oxford for the day, to get our bike legs after so long. Skill planned our route, onto the bike and away (it was grey, raining and totally miserable) Well to cut a long story short it took us nearly and hour to get out of Kentish Town, basically every street we went down we had to back track through. Ahhhhh! It was just one of those days.


Eventually made it to Oxford, not an easy place to find parking. Still cold, raining and grey. So what normally happens in these circumstances, off to the pub for lunch and a beer, Skill has coffee since he is the pilot. Weather cleared a little bit so we were able to have a wander around for the afternoon. Slightly cliched but it is a beautiful city of meadows and golden spires. Oxford University is the oldest University in England evolving sometime in the 11th Century.
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Of course we had to check out Harry Potter's Dining Room at Hogwarts. I think it was actually Merton College, I can't remember.
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More Harry Potter buildings, this time the Library, although Lan is more excited that it is also setting for many Inspector Morse episodes.
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Anyway back on the bike and off to London, stuck to the main motorways and had no hassles getting home. Our first day trip on a bike in another country resulted in a few lessons learned.

Lesson Number 1 Person navigating needs to do the route sheet.

Lesson Number 2 In London stick to the main roads do not take back streets (unless you have lived there for 100 years).

Lesson Number 3 Make sure you properly solder the power wires for the heated grips when you fit them at home or they stop working just when you need them in the cold rain of England.

Monday Skill decides he needed to fix his heated hand grip warmers and do a few other adjustments on the bike, so Lan has another day in our lovely warm London flat while skill tries to keep warm in the freezing garage, although he is very excited that he has used both the mini multi-meter and battery powered mini soldering iron bought specially to fit the limited tool storage space under the bike seat, and that the repair was successful.

Finally Tuesday we are ready to leave at lunch time, sad goodbyes to Sarah, Mo and Feddie and we are off, (with so much gear on the bike). Out of London, no worries and make our way up to Cambridge. With only the basic LP Cambridge town map to go by it was not easy to find our way to the Youth Hostel but eventually we had success. Found the Hostel, fully booked, mmmmmm OK over the road to a B & B which was expensive but lovely and we could park the bike around the back. Proper town map and off we walked, only to realise it was ANZAC day so we should go and have a beer which we did.

Cambridge is totally amazing, firstly there are bicycles everywhere and most of them have little baskets on the front, the next thing you notice is the sheer beauty of the place, the buildings are amazing.
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The following day the only thing I really wanted to go and see was King's College Chapel but when we got there it was closed to visitors at the front door for an organ recital. Skill being Skill walked around to the back door (big sign No Admittance to the Public) and straight in, no one stopped him so in I went too. There were some people wandering around but no one said a word so we listened to beautiful music, gazed at the church and let ourselves out through the back door which was now closed.
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By the time we finished half an hour later the organ recital was finished and the front door was open to visitors at four pound fifty. OK, that's 9 pounds saved to spend on beer.

It is at this point we decided to do a bit of a pannier purge, time to be really ruthless. Do we really need any more than 3 pair of undies? Could I do with one less shirt? Do we really need to carry the camera in it's case etc etc. In the end we had quite a sizeable parcel to send home.

We decided we would leave Cambridge and take the Wrong Way Round to Sandringham where there is, according to our AA Camping Book, a great camping area. So being such a nice day, off we go. Didn't get lost, but didn't make it to Sandringham, saw this sign "Camping" in a quite little rural place called Burnham Deepdale. What a find, a Youth Hostel and Camping Area. (Run by an Aussie, who's family own the farm it's situated on)
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We had barely switched the motor off when the only other traveller in the camping area called out "I'll put the kettle on". Val turned out to be a slightly eccentric dog loving widow travelling the English countryside in a camper van with her dogs. The weather was lovely so we had a great evening and found it hard to drag ourselves away the next day - leaving at midday.

Skill had had an offer from a guy on the Horizons Website to come and stay or camp in his garden in Yorkshire. He lived at Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North of Scarborough. So we set off, basically only stopping once for coffee, arriving quite late, 8.00pm. It was bloody freezing, I couldn't stop shaking when we arrived. Phil and his family own a farm that runs right up to some of the highest cliffs in England. The original farm house where his parents live is about 300 years old. It is simply beautiful. Unfortunately for poor Phil, he was pretty sick when we arrived hiding it well until we went to the pub for a beer (his idea) and he promptly fainted. Poor Phil copped a bit of a ribbing over the next few days from his friends about fainting in the pub, everyone seemed to know about it - small town I guess. Phil was most upset that he spilt a full pint of ale.

We walked all around the area marvelling at it's beauty. It is a very cold place though, and we ended up camping on the floor in Phil's spare bedroom rather than the garden.
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The following day we got on the bikes and it was of to the North Yorkshire Moors National Park for some sightseeing, first stop was Rievaulx Abbey.
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This Abbey was founded in 1132 and was the first Cistercian abbey in North England. Phil, Skill and I wandered around for a few hours before riding all over the Yorkshire Moors.
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We also visited a famous landmmark called White Horse (which was a recent huge horse figure made out of white stone pebbles on the side of a hill) OOPS forgot to take a photo of the horse, but its on the very steep slope in front of this pic - just imagine it... That is the carpark below where we walked from in all our winter bike gear, we were noticably warmer at the top!
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By the time we got back to Phils, it was cold, I couldn't feel my toes, so we got a Chinese takeaway, two bottles of wine and then into our sleeping bags and to bed.

You have to admire the British for their love of Chips though, at the chinese retaurant they wanted to know did we want rice or chips with our meal???? We were in hysterics. Definitely RICE please.

Sunday was a very, very lazy day mostly just sitting around chatting to Phil telling him about the ways of Aus and vice verca, in the evening Phil's friends Beccy and Charlotte collected us on the way to the Pub. A rather big night followed, a mini Pub crawl ending up at "The Vic" which was bloody awful, it was so crowded and you couldn't even see across the bar for smoke, but we had a great night and drank way too much. Towards the end of the evening I had to go outside to get some air, but was accosted by some locals that couldn't believe there were Aussies in Saltburn, so you know what happened, "we just have to shout you a drink". Well what's a person to do. We missed the last bus home so stayed on until the little man behind the bar started to shout "You'll be seeing your drinks off please" (Please note you couldn't understand a word he was saying, Yorkshire people are hard to understand) In the end it got the better of me and I just had to ask him "what are you saying and can you say it slowly". Being nearly the last to leave the Pub we wandered back to Beccy's place where Skill and Phill finished off a bottle of white wine.

Righto now comes the hard part how do we get home................... TAXI
The decision made we tried four cab companies before we ended up with an Irishman (we think), what a hoot, he wanted to show us his new GPS, "it has different voices" he says "this is Homer Simpson" we all have a laugh. But then he set up with an Ozzie Osbourne voice. We were in hysterics as this drug addled voice said "I said ................. Turn fuc**n right. No, I said fuc**n right" So ended our evening in Saltburn at 2.30am.

The following day we spent on the bikes touring the Yorkshire Dales, riding past the highest Pub (Tan Hill Inn) in England, too cold to stop though. At one point we stopped in a little village called Reeth and were walking around when it started to sleet, I had little pieces of ice in my hair.
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The boys wanted to push on, but I insisted on a cup of tea in the tea rooms. I noticed the boys weren't too upset and Phil even had toasted fruit cake which he told us only oldies usually eat. A couple more hours and back to Phil's place.

Tuesday we managed to get away by 9.30am which is a record for us. Sad farewells to Phil and then over the West Penines range to visit Hadrians Wall. It was simply a dreadful day. The wind was howling, it was raining and sleeting outside, so we opted for a YHA but when we got to the nearest one there they were fully booked out, so backtracking we ended up in a little place called Alston, at the foothills of the West Pennines. There was only one other person staying in this YHA so we got the whole 4 person room to ourselves.

The following day we decided we would go back and check out Hadrians Wall properly. Much nicer weather today.
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Then after a picnic lunch of soup we headed to Edinburgh to see our friends Thomas and Danielle.
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We had their address and a phone number, but when we got to a huge roundabout on the outskirts Skill decided we should opt for the footpath and check out the map for some options.
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After debating which way we should approach Leith from, we headed straight through the City Centre and surprisingly found our way through. Once in Leith we tried to ring Tom but no answer, so I accosted a man sitting in his car and asked him if he had a map of Edinburgh. Of course he did and would you believe it we were only three blocks from their flat. Found it no problems, locked up the bike and went to the pub for a beer.

Tom, Danielle and Tony (who had flown in with his parents from London that day) met up with us, and helped us get all the gear of the bike before celebratory beers all round. It was great to see them again. Unfortunately Skill had the symptoms of a cold coming on, but was still hoping to shake it off. Sadly this was not to be.

Danielle had organised Dinner for us all (at the hotel she works for) along with Cheryl and Graham, Tony's parents from Oz. We had a table with views right up to the castle. Simply amazing, even if they did try and serve us luke warm beer all night, the meal more than made up for it.
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We had a day in Edinburgh wandering the streets with Tom and having the occasional beer, before eventually finding our way back to Leith.
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We left the following day after taking considerable time to get out of Edinburgh, not because we got lost but because of the traffic. Trying to get onto the the Forth of Firth Bridge took forever, four lanes into two.
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By the time we got to the tolls we thought (according to the signs) it was free for motorbikes, but as we rode through the tolls someone was yelling - at us maybe?. Not sure why. but we just kept riding and we may now be criminal fugitives in Scotland as we were NOT turning around.

Right now we are staying with our friends Donald and Louisa and Donald's parents Mairi and Harry in Stonehaven. It has been really wonderful to see them again. We have been fairly quiet wandering around and also joining in the wedding preparations for their wedding in July. Skill has hired his kilt in readiness, wait till you see the photos. I, on the other hand am still searching.

We have been taking it slowly as Skill has been quite sick, (cold developed into full blown flu) we have had to use our emergency antibiotics three weeks into the trip, oh well that's what they are there for. But other than that we are fine and happy and enjoying ourselves.

We must say thanks to all our friends (old and new) for their generosity, for letting us stay with them, feeding us and showing us around. Thank you so much

Well that is all for now,
Cheers and Beers,

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Quote for the Week. "One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things" - Henry Miller

Posted by John Skillington at 11:29 AM GMT
May 25, 2006 GMT
Scotland

I must say that we have had a great time with our friends Donald, Lou, Mairi and Harry near Aderdeen, although they were all incredibly busy, with work, business commitments and wedding preparations etc etc. Skill was laid up in bed most of the week with the flu. With Skill being so sick we didn't get out much, Mairi was marvellous giving him the sympathy and attention his mean wife seemed unable to supply.

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On the day before we left we had a nice day out on the bike finding Drundochty Glen and church where Lou and Donald are getting married.

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Onto Fettercairn Distillery for a tour but no tasting as we were riding. It was a glorious day, we sat in the sun at the local Fettercain pub for a beer and a wonderful lunch.

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Then back on the bike with no fixed plan, we just rode, following the River Dee.

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When we came out at Balmoral Castle, we figured it was time to turn around and head back to Stonehaven. As we headed back it started to rain, and turned quite bleak.

The following day we managed to motivate ourselves to say Goodbye to Lou and Donald. It was nice to know that we will be seeing them again soon. We didn't get away till quite late and as we left it started to rain, by the time we got close to Balmoral it was sleeting and those little chips of ice were hitting my helmet again. The weather got progressively worse as we went over the mountains towards Tomintoul, a ski resort in Winter. The remains of snow still clinging to the some peaks and crevices not very far above us and that wind buffeting us all around again....

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........ We eventually made it to Inverness and went to check into the YHA but you guessed it, they were full. So armed with a list of cheaper places to stay and a very inadequate map we set off. Inadequate map is the key word. Had to resort to accosting a hapless shopper in the Morrison supermarket carpark for directions. Found the Hostels which were OK but no parking for the bike, well they had parking in a public car park near the Castle. Mmmmmmm no thank you.

Found a B&B around the corner so opted for that. The lady there was incredibly friendly explaining that it was her day for bikes as she had had to rescue a guy who had crashed his Ducati 996 in front of the house. We ended up parking next to it out the back. Skill (being the bike buff he is) identified the cause of the accident immediately - "brand new tyres, still had the fitting lube/soap on the rims, nipples and shiny surface still on the tyres". Poor guy had not even gone 2 blocks from the tyre shop, he had made an awful mess of the fairing, bits off everywhere.

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Out and about in Inverness, we found a pub that served Thai food, it was fantastic and just what we needed, before we settled down for a few more beers and listened to a great traditional Ceilidh band.

The following day it was onward and northward towards Thurso, it was an absolutely beautiful ride, with glorious weather for most of the day (but we have learned that the weather changes every ten minutes here, no exaggeration).

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Had a ride out to Scrabster dock to see if we could find out what time the ferries left for Orkney, the place was utterly desserted and no signs anywhere so we gave up and had a beer. Back into Thurso where we eventually found a hostel (above a fish and chip shop) to stay in, once again they let us park the bike out the back in the storage shed, in amongst the supplies for the shop. What a find a really friendly little place.

It was there we met Bryan an older cyclist who had cycled from Lands End (Southern most point of the UK mainland) and was on his way to Dunnet Head (Northern most point of the UK mainland), we spent the night in the hostel chatting to Bryan over a few beers and wee drams.

The following day as we are getting ready to leave, the owner of the hostel breezes in and starts chatting telling us to go to Gills Bay and catch the ferry to Orkney from there (much cheaper), a phone call later and we are off to Gills Bay via Dunnet Head and John O'Groates. At Dunnet Head we meet up with Bryan, so after the obligatory photos we celebrate his achievement with a cup of tea.

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Goodbye and down to Gills Bay where we wait for the ferry, get chatting to all and sundry who want to know about the bike etc etc. It is now a bit of a joke, people scan the number plate (as it is so short in comparison with the UK ones) then they see the AUS (assuming Austria) and walk away only to do a double-take as they read Australian Automobile Association, they then come back for a chat. It is like clockwork.

We had a great time on Orkney, from the moment we boarded the ferry, people were so friendly and helpful. The guys on the ferry tied the bike down and found a piece of cardboard so as not to damage the seat.

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We arrived at St Margarets Hope and checked out the Backpackers there which was very nice but we decided to go onto Kirkwall for a look.

After getting lost in Kirkwall and managing to ride the bike through a pedestrian only area we decided we didn't like Kirkwall that much so back to St Margarets Hope Backpackers at the Pub.

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Well we could not have chosen better, we had the whole place to ourselves for three whole days, a 6 bedroom house with lounge, dining room, and kitchen. The people in the pub were fabulous, from the locals to the people who owned the place. They made us feel so at home and every night a new local would shout us drinks even though we protested long and loud. Everyone seemed to know us and each night the regulars would come in and say "Saw you out today, how did you enjoy Stromness or Maes Howe etc etc"

Even though we were the only people staying at the Backpackers the hotel had some guests - One really interesting older man and his son became our afternoon drinking companions each day. George had been 17 when he was posted to Orkney with the army in 1943 and was back for the first time since then. You know the old saying that everyone has a story to tell, well here is George's story.

While posted at Orkney a young girl of 18 had turned up on a boat with a four day old baby and he had been instructed by an Officer to walk her and the baby home 4 miles to her village which he did. The next day the Officer asked him to go and check on the girl so he hired a boat for 4 pence and called on her. She told him she was fine but not to come again. (I guess because of the gossip)

George had never forgotten the young woman or the baby so 62 years later he was on a quest to find out what happened to her.

The whole time we were on Orkney it poured rain and was freezing. One day I swear I could see snow flakes drifting down only to melt before reaching the ground - remember it's almost Summer. However we still managed to visit most of the sights.

The famous Churchill Barriers built by the Italian prisoners of War, the little Italian Church that the POWs built from 2 nissens (circular tank like structures) and decorated with the most wonderful frescos.

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We also visited Maes Howe which according to the literature it is the finest Neolithic chambered tomb in Western Europe (pre-2700 BC). Maes Howe was raided by Vikings in the mid 12th Century. It houses the largest collection of of runic inscriptions to be found in any one place in the world. They have been deciphered and are basically Viking graffiti. "HAGAAR WAS HERE", that sort of thing.

Next on the list was The Ring of Brodgar a stone circle comprising originally 60 stones of which 36 now remain, and The Standing Stones of Stenness is a small circle from the third millennium consisting originally of 12 stones, both are older than Stonehenge.

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On our last night in Orkney, George has a bit of bad news, the young girl he is looking for died in 1965 and the locals are keeping mum about the baby. He feels that he has exhausted all his options and cannot go any further without causing trouble for her family. Things like "Does her still living husband know about the baby?" and if he finds the child, does she know who her mother was etc etc.

We have a few commisserative scotches and listen to his stories about his war time travels as an 18 year old to Burma, Siam, and some other wild places. In the next breathe he tells us how he thinks we are amazing and brave travelling to the places we are going to. Go figure!!!!

It was hard to drag ourselves away from Orkney despite the weather. A very early start, onto the ferry at 7.30 am for the 1 hour crossing then down the West Coast of Scotland. This was probably the most spectacular scenery we have seen in our travels, an absolutely awesome day despite the rain and wind (again!!). We even had to resort to having our morning tea in a bus shelter.

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At one point we encounter some Highland Cows who take a decided interest in the bike and follow it. Or maybe it was Skill's brilliant cow impersonations.

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We arrive at Ullapool and decide to camp for the night, it rains all night, as usual when we camp. The guy collecting the camping fee next morning looks at the bike and like most Scots asks how the weather is treating us. When we say we are making the most of it, but gale force winds, rain and less than 10 degree temperatures make it less than perfect for bike touring, his response is the same as every Scot - "occhh its fine Scottish weather" - a little grin on his face as he walks off.

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The following day we have an easy ride to Fort William and decide to take our chances and camp again. A brilliant evening with our tent pitched at the base of the Ben Nevis Ranges. We retire at 10.30 pm. The sky is still quite light, then it rains the rest of the night.

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Another late start. The day starts overcast but dry, but turns into a miserable days riding as it rains for the majority of the day, we stop only once for lunch at the Drovers Inn (a grotty old pub with kich stuffed animals everywhere), we stopped here last time we were in Scotland and we were so amazed we had to stop again - it was the same only now it's won a tourism award.

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Then onto Glasgow. Take a wrong turn, miss the Bridge so decide to take the Clyde Tunnel instead. By now it is pouring and getting later, continue on towards Stranraar. Start looking for accommodation at 6.00pm, Thistle Hotel - full, Travel Lodge - full, B & B 85 pounds NO WAY!. Next B & B 70 pounds NO, NO, NO! That's just too much.

We head into Ayr and finally find a beautiful B & B for 60 pounds. Still above the budget, but by this time we are both tired, soaked and frozen, and are seduced by our opulent surroundings. It is such a wonderful place we decide to get Chinese takeaway which we eat in bed while watching the Eurovision Song Contest. Sheer Warm Bliss. Finland won by the way, if you missed it.

Feeling fortified by our huge breakfast and our first glimmer of sunshine in a week we have a lovely ride down the coast to Cairnryan where we catch the P&O Irish Sea Ferry to Larne in Northern Ireland. And so we say our farewells to Scotland but will be back for Lou and Donald's wedding in a month.

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We are now in Northern Ireland, Derry to be exact, and despite the weather, we are having a wonderful time, every day is a new adventure.

Cheers & Beers

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Quote of the Week: "We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open"
- Jawaharal Nehru

Posted by John Skillington at 12:20 PM GMT
June 12, 2006 GMT
Ireland & Wales (& England again)

Skill bought our tickets for the ferry and came back to the bike fuming. "They are a mob of thieving B*****" They had quoted him a price for bike, rider and passenger, but when buying the ticket the price went up because suddenly I was not considered a pillion passenger on the bike but a walk on passenger and charged accordingly. There was a cheaper price for a passenger in a car, but a bike passenger was a walk-on at a higher price. Then they didn’t even give us a separate ticket so I couldn't walk on anyway!! Skill always feels these injustices towards bikers very personally.

By the time we arrive in Larne it is raining again so we ring a hostel for accommodation and ride the 20 miles up the coast to the Ballyeamon Camping Barn at Cushendall. It is fabulous, once again we are the only people here so we have the whole place to ourselves, well almost, Adela an American student is looking after the place for the owner for a few days and feeding the three cats and the German Shepherd.

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On our first day at the hostel we decide to go for a walk and for those of you who know Skill will appreciate that on our walk he once again takes the road less travelled, and we slog our way through water-logged peat bog tracks, to walk part of the Moyle Way to the top of Mt. Trostan. My hiking boots may never recover, great views at the top but freezing cold and very windy on the treeless, exposed, mountain ridge. There is a wind farm on the next ridge - no bloody wonder.

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We have a lazy afternoon resting in the hostel, apart from riding into town for dinner supplies.

Next day we leave the confines of the Ballyeamon Camping Barn in sunshine and head along the Atrium coastline to visit the Giants Causeway (Legend has it that the Giant, Finn McCool, built the Causeway so he could fight the Scottish giant Benandonner from the island of Staffa which apparently has similar rocks). By the time we reached the Causeway it was pouring rain and very cold. Then just as quickly the sun came out and we were able to see the amazing, hexagonal shaped rock columns protruding from the sea in sunshine. Back onto the bike (raining again) and into the town of Bushmills a few miles away (sunshine now), we parked for lunch.

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As we were getting off the bike, two guys in a National Trust Van screamed in behind us and got out and walked over looking very official. WHAT!!!!!!! We paid for our tickets at the Giant's Causeway.

"Noticed your number plate when we were following you. Where in Australia are you from?" To which we answer Brisbane. "Oh, I am retiring to the Tweed at the end of the year and just wondered how you went about getting your bike over as I've got a Wayne Gardner replica Honda NSR 400 I want to take with me"

Twenty minutes and many stories later we say goodbye to our new found friends from the National Trust, and finally find some lunch. Skill then decides he is going to do a tour of the Bushmill Distillery, apparently the oldest whiskey distillery in the world (400 years old in 2008), I go to the pub instead and have a few pints of Guinness before we head back to our accommodation.

In the forty minute ride back to the Barn we encounter warm sunshine, clouds, blustery wind, freezing cold rain, a hail storm hitting us (seriously, the road went white with pea sized hail and was very slippery), then torrential rain, and finally sunshine again. You have to see this weather here to believe it.

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The next day we make the decision to ride to Derry (in the rain and wind, of course) via the Irish countryside which is gorgeous regardless of the weather. After eventually finding the hostel (run by a Kiwi and her Irish husband) and organising parking for the bike, we cart all our gear up the numerous flights of stairs to the top floor of the hostel and collapse.

Feeling the need for sustenance it is out for a Guinness or 2 and then off for a walk to Free Derry Corner, close to the site of the Bloody Sunday protest/riot (depends which side of politics you are from). Walking around there is evidence that this is a city in the early stages of healing, but there is real hope and tangible feeling that peace (although shaky) is here to stay. We view the murals in silence, and then walk around the city walls for a couple of hours before heading back to the hostel.

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At the hostel we cook dinner and get chatting to some Aussie girls and I begin to realise that we are all tarred with the one brush. Some observations I have made about Aussie travellers:

We like to travel independently in small groups.

We always carry a sharp knife, (for cutting tomatoes) absolutely essential for backpacking.

We steal every condiment that is not nailed down. (Something to do with our convict ancestry perhaps)

And while the Kiwis and Aussies bag each other at home we will adopt each other as family when in a foreign country (Maybe it's the ANZAC alliance)

The following day we have to shift hostel as the one we are in, is booked out, so pack up, load up the bike, ride 2 streets away, where we park the bike in the garden (backyard) and carry everything up the 54 steps to the top floor, talk about being exhausted.

I must say we enjoyed Derry, the people and the history. We went back to the Bloody Sunday Memorial Museum and wandered all over the city, just window shopping and enjoying the odd beer.

From Derry we loop North West and end up staying in little place called Kilcar. We are not sure where the hostel is so we stop in Kilcar and Skill asks the first person he sees in the street. "Do you know where the Derrylahan hostel is?" The man in question turns out to be the owner, Sean, who is on his way to wedding.

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It could only happen in Ireland, lost, ask a complete stranger for directions and he turns out to be the owner. The hostel is a gorgeous farmhouse perched on the cliffs overlooking the sea. Although the hostel is owned by Sean, it is managed by a young German guy. In fact it is the first hostel we have stayed in that is comprised solely of Europeans. French, German and Dutch. We have a lovely time staying here, they were fabulous fun.

The next day the weather is still terrible and I have a sore throat so Skill has a day by himself on the bike sight seeing, checking out the incredible cliffs at Slieve League. These sheer cliffs drop 300 metres into the Atlantic Ocean. Skill also discovers a place where the heather was cut to spell out Country Ireland so that stray bombers in World War 2 would not bomb neutral Ireland.

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Of course when he gets home, I am completely miffed, because I have missed out. Skill is a tad cheesed off as his heated handgrips have failed again.

From Kilcar we have a fairly big day on the bike, down to Doolin where we stay for the night. A great days riding including yet another ferry crossing. Doolin is in County Clare perched on the edge of the Burren, a wonderful and beautiful rocky mountain range with little vegetation.

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Doolin is a very touristy place, which seemed to be inhabited by mainly Americans, so when we head off to the pub, there is not a local in sight, but the traditional music and food is good.

Just as we decide we have had enough, 3 ladies walk in and sit next to us. They are locals, and totally hilarious, we get chatting and don't leave for a long time. By this time, the Pub is in a slightly debauched state and a very drunk guy sitting with the band falls of his perch and hits the floor to a very rowdy applause. Time to Go.

From Doolin it is down to the Dingle Peninsular, what a ride. Finally the sun is out and the wind is starting to die down. It is a totally spectacular day, when we arrive at Dingle we decide to camp. At 7.30 pm we set off to walk the cliffs to the lighthouse and further along to the Castle Folly. We cannot believe the change in the weather it is, in a word, glorious.

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Next day we decide to ride the Ring of Kerry, our best days riding yet, sunny, warm and NO WIND, Hooray. Once again we are mesmerised by the scenery and at one point we drop down into this delightful village on the coast and decide it is such a shame there is no camping area here. We would love to stay, but no camping areas are listed in our AA guide.

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As we ride out of town, 2 kilometers down the road we find the most beautiful new caravan/campsite imaginable and even though it is early, we call it a day. We cannot believe our luck, sunshine, a secluded campsite overlooking the most spectacular bay, I have a Guinness in hand, listening to U2. Skill tells me I am spoilt, I tell him this is my reward for 4 weeks of freezing to death. Not really, but boy do you appreciate the sun when it comes out.

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We meet a lovely Canadian couple who generously share their Canadian Whiskey with Skill.

Next day we are very loathe to leave, and drag the chain packing up. We don't get away until midday and decide we will make our way to Blarney, which we do via the backroads where we take at least half a dozen wrong turns, but too bad.

One of the things we have noticed about Irish roads is the really bad signage. It doesn't matter which town you want to go to, you can get to it in any direction North South East West according to the signs. The other amazing thing is the number of tractor/trailers there are on the main roads, and there seems to be a huge amount of roadworks, you cannot go 20kms without coming to a set of temporary traffic lights which are ALWAYS red.

On our ride to Blarney (when we have no idea where we are) we come across the dreaded roadworks again. When the lights eventually go green after 15 minutes we have to ride over a metre high pile of gravelly dirt which is covering the whole road. No grader or anything, you just drive over it. Fine in a car, but on the heavily laden bike, a bit of a challenge." Nothing like a bit of dirt bike riding", says Skill, all in a days work.

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We eventually get to Blarney at 4.30 pm and decide we will visit the Castle which is surprisingly quiet. There is only one tour bus in sight. The grounds are lovely as is the Castle.

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As we wend our way to the top stopping off on each level to take in the views we are overtaken by the aging tour group from the bus who are focused on getting to the Blarney Stone at the top. This slows us down and by the time we reach the top most of the tour group are puffing, panting and coughing, two ladies seem to be having asthma attacks and a rather large gentlemen is scarlet and could have possibly been having a heart attack. As these pictures of good health move towards the Blarney stone they continue their coughing and hacking, Skill asks me do I want to kiss the Blarney Stone. I look at him in a bemused state. With this lot going in front of me, what do you think? A big fat NO.

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Anyway I don't think I need to be any more loquacious.

We decided we would camp the night at the Blarney camp ground which was a reasonable distance from town but quite pleasant.

The next day we start to head back towards Dublin to catch the ferry back to Holyhead. After a bit of research and a few phone calls we find that most of the ferries are booked for Friday and Saturday, but we can get a ferry from Dun Loughrie (near Dublin) today at 6.30 pm. Not quite the plan we had but we high tail it back to Dublin through the mad traffic making it to the ferry with not a lot of time to spare.

Getting onto the big ferries on the bike is great as you are always loaded first. We were on a fast ferry which only took 1 hour and 45 minutes. It was powered by gas turbines and cruised at 80kph, which Skill was quite impressed by. Needless to say, the thing really moved along.

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We were back in Wales by 8.30pm but had not booked accommodation so found a camping area in the next town. The AA camping guide described it as "attractive seaside position near a large fishing lake.....in lovely countryside. A smart toilet block offers a welcome amenity at this popular family park"

In actual fact it was a grotty camping area with a grubby toilet block (complete with disgusting 1 square shiny toilet paper which I thought was illegal in every country) on the edge of a midgie infested swamp. Not to mention the train line running along the edge of it. But by the time we had cooked tea, showered etc it was 11.30pm so we just decided we would go to bed.

Next morning we were awoken by this enormous roar, it was absolutely ground shaking. We bolted out of bed to see what the hell was going on.

What was going on was that the camping park was also right next to a RAF base, the runway ran right up to the caravan park. So for the rest of the morning there was an assortment of jet fighters landing and taking off. They were so low you could see the serial numbers on the missiles. (I am not exaggerating). Skill was quite entertained with the free air show, but we were both happy they didn't do night training flights.

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So sadly I cannot agree with the AA camping and caravaning guides assessment of these particular camping grounds. What a hoot!!!!

After deciding quickly that Rhosneiger was not for us we head towards Llandudno. A pretty little Victorian town by the sea. We stay for the night in the local hostel, once again run by an Aussie and her Welsh husband, which was great, more like a B&B. We ventured down onto the pier which is just as you imagine a British seaside pier to be complete with Punch and Judy show, tacky old arcade games and donkeys.

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The following day it is of to Bredbury (near Manchester) to visit Skill's second cousin twice removed. Ron and Christine were once again their welcoming selves spoiling us with huge meals and copious amounts of alcohol. It was good to stop for a few days.

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From there we rode over to Wales through so much lush green countryside. We stopped for lunch at a little place called Llangollen. I went off to buy a drink and when I got back Skill had been accosted by two old age pensioners as he ate his lunch.

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Next day it was more stunning countryside as we made our way to Cader Idris the second highest peak in Wales. Skill had a visit to the Centre for alternative energy while I lay in a paddock and read a book. Then we stayed the night at Machynlleth on the banks of a river in a farmer's paddock.

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It was then down to Hay-on-Way, to check out all the books, (for those of you who don't know it is supposed to be the world centre for second hand books) It is while we are here that Skill discovers that his Oxford heated handgrips are made at Oxford so he rings them and tells them his predicament. No problems, bring the controller in and they will swap it over for a new one. So tomorrow it is off to Oxford. We camp at a little place called Symmonds Yat on the banks of the Wye River. It is a very dodgy camping area but the village is delightful and we spend an idyllic afternoon/evening at the pub sitting beside the water, watching the swans while having a few red wines. (An Australian shiraz to be precise)

From the dodgy camping area it was a very quick trip across to Oxford where we get lost but eventually find Oxford Products in one of the many industrial estates in Witney near Oxford. The exchange is done, new controller installed in the carpark and we are on our way to ............... Dartmoor via the M4 and M5.

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A quite late arrival, 8.00pm, YHA is full (what a surprise!!!!) so we camp the night behind the Plume of Feathers Pub in the town of Princtown, the home of the infamous Dartmoor Prison and more importantly to me this is the setting of Sherlock Holme's most infamous case "The Hound of the Baskervilles". Next day we tour the moors which are simply stunning. This is a place I would dearly love to come back to.

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From here it is off to Newquay where we stay in Matt's Surfing Hostel. I love hostels, the variety of individuals housed in one place is always beyond compare, we have the obligatory Aussies, a young NZ couple expecting their fist child, Maurice a philosophical Frenchman who is in a word completely eccentric, we have the lovely young pommie guys who run the place along with the hanger onners who have obviously lived here previously. The bar is a great place to be and is where we spend most of the night.

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A young Aussie girl breezes in, she is a regular, but has been sent home from work because she has had too much to drink. She is incorrigible, "I told them ages ago I didn't want to work for them any more but they keep insisting. I don't know why they want to employ me, I am always late, I don't work hard, I let everyone in for free, and give away free drinks. Why would you bother" Oh but to be 19, gorgeous and blonde, the world is your oyster.

We would have stayed 2 nights in Newqay but they were booked out for the weekend so we take off and travel the coastal road down to Land's End and then down to the Lizard (there is some debate over which is the Southern most point of the British mainland so we cover both bases).

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From here we travel east and camp the night in a gorgeous place called St Just in Roseland near Falmouth.

We pitch the tent in amongst a big group of Yorkshiremen who have come South and are sailing for the week. Skill and I both decide (independently of each other) that we have found the Yorkshire people to be some of the friendliest people we have met in England.

Another days ride along the coast making our way slowly to Dover camping the night at a little place near Southampton called Hamble le Rice, an early night after a pleasant evening at the yacht club.

Leaving Hamble we call at a huge Tesco to do the obligatory food shopping. While we are trying to jam our new purchases into the top box a guy walks over and asks "Have you shipped it or ridden it from Oz?" We get chatting and it turns out he is a fellow traveller who rode his BMW GS Adventure from Alaska to South America only to crash it big time in Peru. Wrote the bike off and his leg is still recovering 7 months later. Not what I wanted to hear but nice to meet him none the less.

Oh nearly forgot to mention England is in the grip of World Cup Fever, about one car in ten has English flags flying and most of the houses and pubs are decorated with flags too. So I suppose it's lucky for them they had a win against Paraguay yesterday, Beckham scored the only goal.

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The last two days have been pretty boring days rides, mostly motorways with lots of traffic and traffic jams as we made our way to Dover.

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Now we go to France via ferry. So all I can say is "Bonjour, Let the charades begin".

Cheers & Beers

Quote of the Week:
"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware" - Martin Buber


PS It hasn't rained for 2 weeks. The weather is glorious.

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Posted by John Skillington at 11:28 AM GMT
July 11, 2006 GMT
France

Well we have adjusted to French life very well, even the bike has taken on a decidedly French flavour and quite likes being ridden on the right hand side of the road.

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We camped our final night in England at a campground in Dover. A pretty ordinary and uneventful campground until about 3am in the morning when I could hear a rustling noise in the rubbish bag, shone the torch, nothing. Back to sleep only to be awoken again by the same noise and this time, there was a hedgehog about 2 inches away from Skill's head. Up we get trying to get rid of the hedgehog who had curled himself up in a ball and refused to move. Eventually moved him and went back to bed.

Next morning a bit of a look around Dover before riding down to the ferry port, through a cursory passport control and into the bike lane. Once again we are loaded first. This was an event in itself and we nearly had our first OFF, because the bike is so wide with panniers and when riding up the ramps you are not supposed to ride in the middle where it is wet and slippery. So we ride close to the inner edge of the car wheel track, but there is a raised lip there to keep the cars on track. We don't see the raised lip and the bike front tyre goes over it and we suddenly slip all over the place, a little bit hairy and it would not have been a good place to have a buster.

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Uneventful sailing, we arrive in Dunkirk at 3.30 pm chanting (our now daily mantra) "Ride on the right" and we are off with no fixed plan of where we are going or what we want to see.

Heading South we pass through Saint Omer home to a very impressive 13th Century cathedral, Basilque Notre Dame. It's imposing grandeur dominating the whole town.

We finally call it a night in little town called Hesdin, after following the signs to the camping area and ending up in a crematorium, but we eventually find a tiny caravan park, it's residents have never seen the likes of us. We are a bit of a novelty as they ALL seem to casually walk past and say a cheery Bon Soir. For us, it was washing, tea and bed.

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Next morning we are awoken by a massive thunder storm, lots of noise but little rain. And then the next thing the Patisserie Van comes through the park horn tooting. When we finally surface bleary eyed I say to Skill "What Country are we in?"

Slight problem arises with morning ablutions, no toilet paper in the toilets, and we only have 5 tissues. We had been warned to stock up, but it slipped our minds. No shops close by, so that's two and a half tissues each, use it sparingly.

We head off towards Amiens only to accidentally end up on the motorway BUGGAR (all motorways in France have tolls), we get off the motorway at an unmanned toll station which is OK, I can manage an automatic payment. All goes well, pay my 2.40 euro, get my ticket and we ride to the gates, insert the ticket, boomgate does nothing. Try again, nothing. Back to the payment machine, insert ticket. We owe nothing. Back to the gate insert ticket, nothing happens. OK what now. Skill is all for criminality and is set to take the panniers off and ride around the barrier.

I decide we should not start our life of crime just yet and use the emergency phone,

Lan: Bonjour. Parlez- vous Anglais
Phone Man: Country
Lan: Pardon
Phone Man: Country
Lan: Australie
Phone Man Hangs up

The phone then rings, I pick it up and I have some one who speaks broken English.

Phone Lady: You must pay, Pay Station
Lan: I have paid, 2 euro 40
Phone Lady: You must pay
Lan: I have paid 2 euro 40!
Phone Lady: Oh Problem. Go to Pay Station

Back to Pay Station (it is now 40 degrees and I am sweltering in full bike gear) Phone rings.

Phone Lady: Card.... Machine.

I put the card back in the machine, it spits it back out at me and the phone lady is gone.

Back to gate, card in and after 45 minute we have success, the boom lifts. And this time it seems the problem wasn't even due to my incompetence. Technology and I have always had a hate-hate relationship.

Feeling hot, tierd and cranky we continue onto Ameins, where Skill is looking for a bike shop to buy oil or get the oil changed, we don't have an address or the slightest idea where a bike shop will be, we just ride. Leaving the outskirts of Ameins disappointed that our efforts have been fruitless we come across a huge MOTO shop, complete with a bar and restaurant. In we go, riding down to the tyre department. The guy speaks no English but we manage to communicate " huile", which he somehow understands. In less than 30 minutes the bike is on the hoist, old oil drained, new oil in, and we have seen pictures of his motorbike trip to Africa, and he only charges us for the oil. SUCCESS.

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Onward to town of Albert for lunch and then an afternoon at Villiers Bretonneux, the site of the monument and cemetery for Australians, Canadians and British killed during the Battle of the Somme. We were the only people there and spent 2 hours just wandering. In the tranquillity it is so hard to imagine that on the first day of the battle more than 23,000 men were killed and nearly 35,500 were wounded. If there is one place where the sheer futility and waste of war is personified this is it.

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As the day was so stiflingly hot it was no surprise that a massive storm hit, we sheltered in the monument, waited for it to pass and rode back to Albert where we opted for the Hotel de la Basilque opposite a beautiful church, which we thought was very reminiscent of the Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain. (Not in scale) There was no parking for the bike so they insisted we park on the footpath under the awning of the restaurant.

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The next day we are late leaving as we wander around Albert and Skill tries to upload some photos to our webhost site using the hotel computer, with some success. We head out to Corbie, a tiny village where the Australian Monument to our diggers is situated. Once again we are the only people there. The monument is in the middle of a Canola field overlooking the village, the church spire clearly visible from the hill is also in the old war photo displays. We pay our respects but are deeply saddened to find the monument in such a bad state of repair. All the black marble tiles are falling off and according to a sign, is undergoing engineering investigation. Let's hope our government rectifies this problem as a matter of urgency!!!! Some of the original trenches have been left...

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We leave the Somme heading South, needing fuel, every village and town we come to is shut for lunch (between 2 & 3 hours every day!) so no fuel. Make a decision to head to the larger centre of Ameins. Drive into the first fuel station, which is automatic, put in credit card, go through the motions, card is rejected. OK go to next petrol station, same deal as before. After trying another 4 stations we give up as the last one has a sign "French credit cards only". Keep riding, the second fuel light has now been flashing for 20 minutes and we are in a traffic jam. Not good.

I eventually say to Skill, just ride into the next automatic station, I am going to accost someone. Which is exactly what we do, I choose a young girl and explain through charades and bad French, our predicament, give her some money and a koala keyring and she lets us use her credit card to buy fuel to the same value. We now have fuel and we have learnt a valuable lesson. Always make sure the bike is full before lunch and fill up whenever we can.

Out of BLOODY Ameins (again) heading South West, a boring ride in the traffic, the day culminating in a storm. Decide to stop in a town called Vernon and look for accommodation, 4 hotels later we end up in Formule 1 which is cheap and basic but its clean and suits our needs for the night. We have dinner at the Pizza place next door, as there are no other eating establishments within walking distance. No English menu but we survive. We decide on a pizza, I tell Skill I am pretty sure that l'eouf is egg, to which he replies "No they wouldn't put egg on a pizza would they, anyway it wouldn't be that bad?". He is still recovering, raw egg in the middle of his pizza. Other than that it was all good.

Next day we head to the D Day Beaches riding along the coast stopping at Colleville-Saint-Laurent the site of the American Military Cemetery on the cliff overlooking Omaha Beach. The 9 386 white marble crosses in the pristinely kept cemetery is an image that is very poignant. (Perhaps our government should take a leaf out of the American's book when it comes to caring for our war monuments in foreign countries)

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From here we ride to Coutances and down the coast to Mont St Michel. Our first glimpse of the Mont, a little disappointing as it is very hazy and threatening rain.

After a long day we opt for a gorgeous cabin at Pontorson. The camping ground has a bar where we spend the rest of the night chatting to everyone in the place. It has such a friendly atmosphere that we head back to our cabin in the early hours of the morning, starving. The only food we have with us is chicken soup and a baguette which taste pretty good at 2.00am.

Next day we decide we like Pontorson and we will stay a few days, but we will have to camp as the chalets are full and the camping ground is busy as 5000 Marathon runners are descending on the town for the Mont St Michel Marathon.

It is so nice to stop for a few days and catch up on washing, have a few beers, swim and have free internet access. The bar which overlooks the pool is a hive of activity and the park is run by a group of friendly, funny young Dutch people. The park has mainly Dutch people staying which we thought was peculiar to this park only. We are to find out this is not so as every camping park is mostly filled with Netherland number plates with just a smattering of Germans, Irish and English making up the remainder.

We join in the festivities as the Dutch play in the World Cup that night. Orange everywhere, their enthusiasm is infectious.

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We also meet some lovely people who all seem to be genuinely interested in us and our travels.

We do finally make it out to Mont St Michel. You cannot help but be excited to be in this wonderful place, that we have seen in pictures, postcards and movies for most of our lives. We have all afternoon here before heading back to the campground.

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We are not that keen to leave Pontorson and drag ourselves away grudgingly after midday the following day heading towards Le Mans.

As we get closer to Le Mans there are people sitting along the sides of the road, bikes, modern and classic sports cars and police everywhere. Skill says, "Maybe the 24 hour race is on ha ha!!" All the traffic is diverted in Le Mans so we follow, knowing we are now hopelessly lost. Down one street, up the next and then a barrier, if we go any further we will be on the race track and yes the 24 hour race is definately on as we hear a few race cars blast past the barrier a few metres away and see them dissappear down the road/track into the distance. Skill suddenly has thoughts of going to the race, but our plans for the next week or so won't allow it.

We ask the Gendarmarie for directions to Blois. " Motorway, Paris droite droite" he explains with lots of hand gestures. OK off we go and he is right the diversion does go right and right again.

Yet again the storms are building and we are riding towards the darkest part of the sky. We arrive quite late, can't find a camping ground but see the signs for a Youth Hostel. Very expensive and pretty ordinary but it is dry. We go out to dinner at a little restaurant beside the Loire River and call it quits for the day.

Next day is yet another day of blistering heat, even for Aussies, a pretty ordinary ride and the storms start brewing, it is looking very, very black and we are heading straight into it, yet again. We decide to stop early while we are still dry.

We end up finding a lovely hotel in the most beautiful village called St Pourcain-sur-Sioule, one of those places you would probably never stop in, but we are so pleased we did. The hotel was so gorgeous, we go from camping and youth hostels to sheer luxury complete with period furniture, bath and shuttered windows overlooking a quaint street. We go for a walk before dinner, wandering the narrow streets that all seem to lead to the church square where we witness a very animated game of boules.

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We go out for dinner to a little restaurant and fumble our way through the menu, Skill a fantastic steak and me pasta and salad. I must confess that I did try to order Skill beouf tartare, (raw mince and egg) but the waiter was so funny. "Non non non" he insists, pointing to another person eating what looked like raw mince, so we decided we'd go for the other beef option.

The following day we continue South to Vichy which was a beautiful city. We had a great days ride through the Livradois Forest. Stunning scenery and cooler weather. It was a fairly long day stopping in Le Puy en Velay to admire the statues perched on the huge natural rock formations. Despite outward appearance, these towns/cities are usually quite modern and then on the outskirts you will find an old man tilling and watering his garden or crop by hand the same as it would have been hundreds of years ago.

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We called it a day quite late opting to camp at Langogne overlooking a man made lake. Very ordinary but the company was extraordinary. We camped next to an English couple Bob and Muriel who we spent the night with in the comfort of their motor van, telling tales and drinking scotch and pastis. We thank them for their hospitality.

Taking Bob's advice we continued towards Mende and then took an absolutely amazing and very scenic drive through the Gorges du Tarn towards Millau.

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Then of course onto the freeway and over the newly built Viaduct du Millau. This bridge/viaduct is really something to behold, it is simply awe inspiring.

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We stop for a while to take in the sight and get talking to some other bikers, one of which is German (and the tallest man I have ever seen, he dwarfed his BMW GS 1200) he gives us his address and invites us to stay. This has been a very common occurrence in our travels and we must say that the Germans have been particularly generous in that regard.

From Millau we get lost but eventually find our way to Nant where we camp in a cherry orchard.

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We have a short day to Pont du Gard, once again it is a stiflingly hot day and we opt for a wonderful camping area not far from the Roman viaduct Pont du Gard. We decide we will spend a couple of days here. Time to wash our jackets and catch up on maintenance. We really like this place, it is set in a olive grove beside the river, it has a beautiful pool beside a bar and restaurant.

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An afternoon spent beside the pool, a few beers and a gastronomic delight of duck for dinner. The owners are delightful and when they realise we are Australian they pull the television around so we can watch the soccer as we dine al fresco.

After our stunning draw with Croatia we are walking back to our tent when we get talking to a lovely German couple who invite us to their van for a drink or two........ or seven. We are joined by Bernard who works at the Campsite. He is quite hilarious and assures us that if he has any more to drink he will stand on "that table, take all my clothes off and sing the National song of my country". We would quite have liked to have seen that but he would not have another drink.

We find out that the German couple's names are Heinz and Hiede and they invite us for breakfast next morning.

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After a sumptuous breakfast with Heinz and Hiede we venture of to Pont du Gard and also to the nearby town of Uzes. Back to the camping ground, swim then happy hour with Heinz and Hiede before another delightful dinner at the restaurant.

The next day our new found German friends are leaving to go home. We really enjoyed their company and thank them for their thoughtfulness. Letting us put our perishable food in their fridge was a luxury. We exchange addresses and hope to catch up with them in Germany.

We leave this oasis and head for the coast, after a very hot and ordinary ride we end up at a little place called La Croix Valmer near St Tropez. Here we camped at our first 4 star camping area - in the dirt! Dry and dusty, no grass in sight and twice the price of Pont du Gard, very ordinary. The wind really picks up and blows for most of the day. I head to the beach and have a swim in the Med. The water is a little too brisk for Skill.

From here it was off to tiny Monaco, the traffic was so appalling along the coast we opt for the freeway, 130km an hour, and 6 euro poorer we arrive in Monaco. Unfortunately because of the windy weather the conditions are very hazy and visibility to the mountains poor. But we make the most of it and park with the millions of bikes and scooters. And head off for lunch, a beer (for Lan) and ice-cream (for Skill) beside the famous harbour.

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Out of Monaco and up into the mountains alongside the Italian border (we notice that the driving is becoming more frenzied the closer we get to Italy) camping overnight at a really cute little place near Sospell.

We watched the soccer in the kiosk (the Italy Game) and commiserated with a beer. Skill got talking to a young French couple travelling on a sports bike but with identical luggage to ours. Through charades, a little bit of English on their side, and a little bit of French on Skills he told them we were travelling for a year with the same luggage. The gorgeous young French girls reply was "Oo lala, non,non,non."

From here we had 5 days riding through the Alps which will rate up there as a highlight of the trip I am sure. We rode it South to North with every day getting better culminating with our first breathtaking view of Mont Blanc, snow covered, cloudless, and set against a pure blue sky. It does not get any better than this.

Alps Day 1 From Sospell up to Col de Brouis where there was a tiny and beautiful church perched on the mountain.

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Then onward and upward over the highest mountain pass in Europe, the Col de la Bonette. Unfortunately the day was still hazy so the views were a little obscured. Bike riders, check out just some of the road in the background of this pic - could not get the smile off Skill's face. There was days and days of these roads, so much so that we have worn out the sides of the tyres before the centre!!

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We camp the night in an idyllic location near Barcelonnette.

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Day two We have a fairly long day riding four passes. From Jausiers over the Col de Vars, Col d'Lzoard, Col du Lautaret and Col de Galibier

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A very hot day and once again another storm was brewing so we stopped and donned the wet weather gear but of course didn't need it.

Stopped for the day and camped in the most stunning place surrounded by the Alps next to a 400 year old church at Braman.

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An hilarious night ensued, walked to the only restaurant open for miles (a little ski village) and had a very dodgy meatloaf dinner and a heap of cheap wine. Back to camp and bed.

Did I happen to mention that the 400 year old church also had a bell tower and clock, the bell sounded every hour at the beginning and end of the minute. 10.00pm, 10 bell tolls at the beginning of the minute and 10 bell tolls at the end of the minute. 20 bell tolls, are you beginning to get the picture.

We got the giggles, shoved in earplugs and hoped for the best. Awoken at about midnight not by bells but by lightning, a huge thunder storm, it sounded quite eerie as the thunder echoed up and down the valley, and it then rained all night.

Day 3 It was over the Col de L'Iseran and Cormet de Roselend. We rode past glaciers and snow covered mountains. There were quite a few tunnels and snow/avalanche protection tunnels on this section of road.

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The ride and scenery were awesome but the French drivers left a lot to be desired. We came quite close to death as a Mercedes went to pull out on us from a side road as we came round a sweeping bend. Skill did so well to brake and keep the bike upright. The Mercedes driver did stop but not before he was half way out on to the road. Skill had to stop and take a break 5 minutes later as his legs had completely turned to jelly.

Then after lunch we were going up over a pass when a truck came boring down on us from the other direction, there was simply not room for two vehicles between the concrete barrier and the side of the mountain. But this did not deter him. We were stopped and had the bike leaned over so the right hand pannier was touching the barrier. The truck managed to get past with 2 inches between it and the left hand pannier (and my leg).

To cap off the day Skill discovered that the tip section of the automatic chain oiler was missing, fallen out or maybe caught in the chain and pulled out, either way no oil is going onto the chain. But being the engineering type he is, Skill wanders off to the food supermarket to look for something to fix it - mmm good luck. He comes back some time later quite excited with a packet of Bic pens? He manages to fix it with the cleaned out ink tube of a bic pen, proving that there is really no problem that cannot be solved with a bic biro. It has been working like a chalm so far.

It was just one of those days and we decided to stop while we were still alive. We camped near Beaufort in a beautiful little camping area in sight of a huge waterfall. I guess you have days like that.

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Day 4 Had a late start taking in the beautiful village of Beaufort before heading to Fleumet and over the Col des Aravis and Col de la Colombiere,

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before hitting the freeway around Geneva and ending up in St Claude for the night. We had dinner at the Camping restaurant where all the locals seemed to be eating and hanging out. Couldn't get a table so had to sit alfresco (suited us to a tee) and were going to take pot luck at the menu until a friendly English lady with fluent French translated for us. Had a great night with the locals, who could not speak a word of English. Amazing how far you can get with charades.

Life in France has been fun, and shopping in a non English speaking country is always interesting. In France we had a choice of the Shopi, Champion, Supermarche, Intermarche, Super U, Ed, Spar and Atac.

The thing giving us the most grief is the fruit weighing protocol, some shops you do it yourself. Unlike Eastern Europe, everything is clearly labelled and you can find the product easily, but they hide the bloody weighing machines and you think well I don't have to weigh them, they will do it at the checkout. Wrong. Then you get that grumpy Hmph from the person behind the counter. The other dilemma is do you take your own shopping bag with you or not. For Supermarche, Intermarche, Super U and Ed, yes, for the others no.

However I have never seen shopping centres in such idyllic locations. Check out the Champion.

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The camping has been great, the camp grounds are clean, well resourced and cheap. You order your baguettes and croissants from the reception the night before and collect them in the morning at most places.

The toilet paper saga continues, no consistency, some places have toilet paper, some don't and it doesn't seem to matter if it's a cheap or more expensive campground, you just never know. We now carry our spare rolls shoved down the tubes of the bike.

Because we have been camping in Caravan Parks so much and have been rolling with the older set (like the Grey Nomads at home) I have made some camping observations.

Observation one.
Only men do the washing up in the Camp Kitchens. And it is obligatory to carry your washing up, to and from the kitchen in a crate or preferably a red basket. I have completely upset the natural order of things by 1. Being a woman in the camp kitchen & 2. Carrying my washing up in my dodgy stainless steel cooking pot

Observation two. There can be no Dutch people left in the Netherlands as they are all in the their vans and campers in France.

We have loved France and everything that I thought would be stereotypes are in fact truths about this beautiful country. There are little old ladies in pinafore aprons sitting outside their houses or tending their small geranium gardens. There are men wearing funny little caps. The boules games, the abundance of bread, the croissants and pastries, the long lunches, and their pure love of food.

And while a frustration for visitors their strong stance on leisure time and the sacred lunch hours is in my opinion to be admired although there was many a time I cursed it.

We are now in Weyer, Germany (near Frankfurt), staying with the newly married Kai and Ulrich who travelled the world on their motorcycles for two years.

Soon we fly back to Ireland and then Scotland for our friends Donald and Lou's wedding, if we can figure out how to get to the airport by public transport as we are leaving the bike at Kai & Ricky's. Another adventure I am sure.

Cheers & Beers,
Lan & Skill


Quote of the week: Travel is not a hobby, it is a way of life.

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Posted by John Skillington at 02:44 PM GMT
August 05, 2006 GMT
Scottish Wedding & Paris

We arrived in Germany via the motorway from France and of course being the naïve travellers we are, got our passports ready for them to stamp at the border, but not even a cursory glance at the bike and certainly no passports, I don't think the bike even slowed down to 50km per hour.

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We consulted the AA Camping and Caravaning book and camped the night at a very flash but uninteresting caravan park before going to do battle with a German menu. Relief, it was in English and we were able to watch a World Cup game on the big screen.

Next day we were up bright and early and headed off through the Black Forest for a glorious days ride if you don't count the 2 traffic queues, one for the opening of a new tunnel "Tunnelfest" and another for an unknown event. We stopped in a typical German Village for lunch (not a touristy one) before continuing our ride up and over the hills.

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Camped the night at a very dodgy caravan park, however it did have internet access and cold cheap beer. For some reason the wheels fell off (us, not the bike) and we drank too much beer, had packet tomato soup for tea and fell into bed.

Upwards and onwards to Frankfurt, on the Autobahn, a little scary, we were doing 120/130 km per hour and we were left standing by the traffic doing 200+ kph in the outside lane. We arrived at Ulrich (Ricky) and Kai's place after lunch, where they fed us and BBQed with us till late. Ricky and Kai are wonderful fun and a wealth of knowledge as they spent two years travelling the world on their bikes, six of those months in Australia.

The following day Kai took us for a ride around his local area, glorious rolling hills of green, quaint villages and pine forests, stopping for an icecream and a viewing of one of Europes fastest trains.

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That night another sumptuous BBQ before the Germany versus Italy game. Kai was getting a little anxious that we would not have the BBQ ready in time so he resorted to using the electric fan to get the coals glowing hot.

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The outcome of the game was disappointing for them but equally so for us. It would have been great to see the host country go through to the final.

Next morning we were up early as were Kai and Ricky who dropped us to the train station where we caught a train, then another one, then a bus to Hahn Airport, made it with a few tight connections and onto Dublin with Ryan Air.

Dublin was Dublin. Busy, bustling, people slightly frazzled. We managed to catch a bus into the city where we even get off at the right stop before making it to our alright but expensive hostel. Out for the obligatory Guinness or two or three or four.

A fun night ensued. We ended up in a bar (where my girlfriend Kath and I had spent many a night last time we were in Dublin) with live music and lots of interesting people. We spend the whole night here, mainly because they have a delayed telecast of the Queensland v New South Wales rugby league State of Origin, and although we are not football buffs when at home this little link to Oz is too much to resist, quite hilarious as my facial reactions to the game have half the bar intrigued and shortly I have them all baracking for Qld (amazing what three guinness can do), well it looked totally doomed then buggar me dead if they don't win.

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Go to the bar to buy celebratory drinks where I get talking to the barman who is an Irish honourary Queenslander having lived there for a a few months, so he shouts me a Guinness.

By the time I return to my seat we have been invaded by Americans on one side and Czechs on the other. After about 5 minutes Skill and I realise that we have a Czech Mafiaosa complete with minder on one side and completely oblivious Americans on the other. What a laugh.

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The France versus Portugal ( I think) game began when the Czech guy informs us he has 10,000 euro riding on France winning and if they win he will be sharing a bottle of vodka with us. We decide on dicsretion and leave at half time promising to return after dinner. We don't return and France does win. I suggest it would have got very messy. We return to the hostel at 1.30 am, with no lasting connections to the Grande Mafiaosa fortunately.

Next day Skill and I went our separate ways, me to find an outfit for the wedding and Skill sightseeing.

Up early onto the airport bus and out to the ariport. Checked in, and out to the waiting lounge at the boarding gate nearly two hours early. (Skill is not impressed, why did we get up that early) We were in the Gate Lounge area for about 15 minutes when they announce that there was a security threat at Dublin Airport and for our own safety we were to stay where we were, the departure lounge doors are locked. Not a problem for us we think.

Then planes kept arriving and the people got off the plane but were not allowed out of the Lounge Area. Then flights were being cancelled left, right and centre, then the army, police and firemen arrived. Our flight was the only one that had not been cancelled but there was no information on the board either. Because there were now 3000 people (no exaggeration) in the lounge area you could not hear the PA system.

Skill goes to the loo and does not return. I go to the boarding gate and ask about the flight to Aberdeen, they inform me they have boarded and I can get on but it will be without our luggage due to the security lockdown. I ask them to call Skill which they do, repeatedly, but he does not appear. The security guard and I do a lap around the departure lounge/hall. No sign off him, so I make the decision to get on the plane, and there he is already boarded. I started to get cranky and am about to tear strips off him but then thought what is the point, he says when he couldn`t find me and the flight was boarded he figured I must have boarded, and once on board he couldn`t leave.

Well we are both here, the flight only has 30 people on it as all the other 220 people were not even allowed out to the boarding gate. Even if we don't have our bag, we will get to the wedding. We have not come all this way to miss it. We were reliably informed that we were the last flight out of Dublin airport for the next 5 hours.

Said a little prayer of thanks when we landed in Aberdeen and then onto the bus into town (after queuing to report our missing luggage, only to be told it may arrive tomorrow! May arrive! But we have a wedding to go to!!). I made a snap decision that I would have to go and buy another outfit, underwear, shoes and makeup.

Nothing like a mastercard, a tierd and cranky woman and a ticking clock. Like a woman possessed I had a complete new outfit in under 40 minutes. Skill collected his kilt, so onto the bus and out to our hotel, where we met up with friends from Oz. Lynn and Russ who were here for the wedding too.

A couple of beers, changed then out to dinner with 30 of the wedding guests, Donald and Lou (Bride and Groom) and Mairi and Hairi (Grooms parents). It was a lovely night and it felt wonderful to be amongst familiar friends who felt like family.

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Next day was a really slow day, got ready for the 3.30pm wedding. Our bag made an appearance at 1.45pm but even if we knew it would arrive then, it was cutting it too fine for the wedding and by then the damage was already done.

The wedding was beautiful, in a little chuch in the quiet Drumtochty Glen. The reception was at a local farmers barn, where we danced to the traditionl Scottish Band. We all had the best night. There are some weddings that will stay with you forever, this was one of them, Lou looked like a gorgeous mermaid/princess and Donald looked a very handsome highlander in his kilt. It was a truly special day and we feel honoured to have been a part of it.

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Sunday we spent with Russ and Lynn driving around the Scottish countryside before it was back to the hotel for beers and the big game complete with the Zidane drama.

Russ and Lynn were so kind to us, taking us to the airport next morning instead of us having to catch 2 or 3 buses. From Aberdeen to Dublin where we perched ouselves in the Airport pub for Guinnesses and waited for 7 hours to make our connection to Frankfurt, Hahn. Got chatting to two really nice young pommie guys. (Who like us had been waiting for their 7 hour connection to Stanstead) but they suddenly realised that their flight was boarding and they had forgotton to check in. Of course they were back half an hour later having missed their flight. They were still sitting there when we left 3 hours later.

Deciding that we better not make the same mistake we check in and have an uneventful flight back to Hahn where we find an Italian owned hotel to stay in. The owner picked us up in his Ferrari like van (well he drove it like one) and drove us to the next village where he keeps his restaurant open and feeds us at 11.00 pm.

Next day back to the airport, then bus, train, then miss our connecting train, so have to wait an hour for another one. Kai picks us up and we spend the day recuperating.

The following day is a quiet one until the evening when we all sit down to a lovely civilised dinner and drink way too much then Kai and Ricky's neighbour joins us bringing another bottle of wine. Needless to say everyone was a bit slow next day. And poor Ricky had to be up at 6.30 am and go to work. We all felt so sorry for her.

Next day Skill took a reconnaisance trip to SW-Motech about 90 minutes ride away to check out a bash plate for the bike. He got totally lost on the way there taking about 3 hours and absolutely soaked in a massive thunder storm on the way home. But he did manage to organise to get an alloy bash plate fitted the next day.

Next day we packed up our gear, said sad goodbyes to Kai and Ricky and headed off to get the bash plate fitted. You can see how sad Ricky is in the pic below.

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The people at SW-Motech were incredibly friendly and so helpful, we are now sporting a shiny new bash plate on the bike. The master craftsman in pic below (another Kai) did a quick job of working out how to fit an SWMotech bashplate to our Givi engine bars when they are really designed to fit to SWMotech bars.

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SWMotech also had some interesting bikes and equipment in their foyer, this one caught Skill`s eye.

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We camp the night in a great caravan park at Marburg, next to a lovely German girl who was about to compete in a Marathon which ran right past the Caravan Park, so we drank beer, ate dinner and cheered her on as she ran past three times.

From here we have a beautiful days ride through the Moselle Valley from Koblenz to Cochem and Bernkastel Kues following the Mosel river enclosed by the steep grape vined hills, it is a vey picturesque area with miles and miles of cycleways. The hills are so steep that they pick the grapes from an intricate monorail system.

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We camped overnight in a cute camping area complete with bar and restaurant, however we must confess to buying a cheap bottle of Aussie Merlot in a Lidel Supermarket and indulging in that. Are we sad or what in the Moselle Valley and we are drinking cheap Aussie reds. However we did sample the beers at the bar.

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Onward to Luxembourg next day where we stayed in a beautiful little town called Echternech.

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Once again in a stunning little caravan park on the outskirts of town. Cold beer, bread and croissants ordered and a friturie to buy cooked food from. I love European camping.

The following day we are feeling totally exhausted as we have been travelling pretty solidly for two months, and sometimes you have to remember to take a holiday from your travelling. (I know everyone at home will be thinking "What are they on about? But I am sure fellow travellers know what I am talking about).

So we we sleep in, read (no more english books left) and then in the afternoon take a short ride to the village of Vianden,

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before returning to Echternech via Diekirch when we could work out which way to go, all roads lead to Diekirch. Check out the sign.

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Back to camp where we have an afternoon beer, but I am starting to question my sanity, I found myself having a half hour debate with my husband discussing the merits of "Dab" versus the qualities of "Gluck". I think I need some female company I had flashbacks to a similar "Men Behaving Badly" episode. Oh my God, we are turning into Tony and Gary. I really MISS my girlfriends.

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Next day it is out of Luxembourg, through Belguim and back into France where we camp beside a fantastic river near a lovely Dutch couple who we spend the night talking to. We tell them that we are heading back to Paris and are wondering if we should use the camping area at Bois de Bologne. They assure us they have been there before and it is great.

So next day we set off with no directions to the Camping Area other than we can see a small area in Paris called Bois de Bologne on our very, very basic Paris map.

The day is stiflingly hot, the thermometer on the bike hits 45oC so we are wandering if we should call it quits early at a nice camping area (with a pool) about 50 km from Paris. After some discussion we press on, managing to get ouselves onto the A14 into Paris, take a wrong turn and end up on the N14 to Versailles, an illegal U turn closely followed by another wrong turn and two illegal manouvres and we are back on track, getting closer to Paris, until somehow we end up in the wrong lane and into a tunnel under the Seine. Mmmmmmmmmm which way now, follow the signs to Paris Centrale, somehow end up going through another tunnel, back under the Seine, when amazingly we join the A14 again. As we are thinking how clever we are we exit the tunnel and I say to Skill "Oh ##*# (those of you who know me well can insert your own expletive) that's the L'Arc de Triomphe" it's looming in front of us about half a km away. Skill says, well I can't repeat what he says, (I dragged out the camera as we are riding along, the L'Arc de Triomphe is just visible on the right)

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when suddenly I see an exit with Bois de Bologne on it. " Right lane Skill right lane", I am not sure how he does it but he manouvres the bike across 4 lanes of traffic, and with that we are in Bois de Bologne. Still no idea where the camping area is so we just ride aimlessly when all of a sudden a camping signs appear and we follow them for about 4 km and "Voila" We have no idea how we did it but as we Aussies would say, "Sheer arse".

By now we are hot, tierd and a little rung out and the storms are brewing. It must have been our day as they had cabins available so we take that option. So pleased we did as a massive storm hit about 2.30 am.

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We have had four nights, three days in Paris doing all the touristy things, which for us has been so exciting. Each day we catch the bus then the Metro into the city. Negotiating Paris has been a little difficult as there are barricades up everywhere for the culmination of the Tour de France on the following Sunday.

Day 1
Arc de Triomphe

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Champs Elysee

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Louvre

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Day 2

Notre Dame

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Eiffel Tower

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Day 3
Montmartre & Pigalle

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The weather has been very, very hot culminating in a storm every evening. As we have been taking the metro everywhere it has been a little stifling even for us, so I don't know how the Parisians are coping. Mainly by swimming in their fountains I think.

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We leave Paris on Sunday as the Tour de France descends and decide that we will head back towards Amiens as we know where the bike shop is and that the people are friendly, as we need another oil change and a new rear tyre. Decide we will camp at Albert (where we stayed in the hotel opposite the church before), arrive early and chill out, our neighbours arrive back, a lovely Scottish couple Jim and Elaine, we get chatting and they feed us a few beers and then we decide we will go out to dinner together in Albert. They drove us in so we didn't have to get all geared up, and we enjoyed a lovely night together, to bed at 1.00am.

We pack up next morning say goodbye to Jim and Elaine and head into Amiens to the Bike Shop, Motoland which we find is shut. IT'S MONDAY, of course everybody shuts their multi million dollar business on a Monday, in fact nearly everything is closed.

What to do? We decide to go back to Albert and put up camp again before spending the day visiting the war museum, the Lochnager crater, an impressive WW1 crater hole 100m across and 30m deep where the allies tunnelled under a German bunker and blew it up, the Australian Cemetery at Poziers and the British Cemetery at Thiepval.

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We spend another lovely evening with Elaine and Jim where we have a shared BBQ and Jim and SKill engage in a few too many scotches and Elaine shares a bottle of champers with a very grateful me.

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Next morning Skill gets up early and heads in Amiens while I pack up camp, he arrives back at about 1.00pm complete with new tyre and new oil, but having just seen a motorcycle casuality still lying on the road in a pool of blood, police in attendance, ambulance just arriving but almost certainly too late - depressing and sobering sight.

We say good bye to Elaine and Jim again as we go our separate ways both heading towards somewhere in Belguim.

Skill and I felt that we kept being pulled back to Albert and Amiens, for one reason or another, maybe those old Aussie diggers were happy to have us visit for a while and weren't ready for us to leave. We really loved this part of France and felt an affinity with the area. It is hard not to be moved, there are literally 1000s of cemeteries, which really brings home the enormity of this war.

We have a pretty boring ride through lots of built up areas into Belguim

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finding camping in a awful camping area at Kemmel near Ypres. We decide to set up camp and then head into Ypres which is a beautiful town (and has camping, Buggar).

We ride into the centre and through the Menin Gate, (this monument is inscribed with the names of 54 896 British and Commonwealth troops who were lost in the trenches and who have no graves) where we spy Elaine and Jim. We park and join them touring the Menin Gate, and return for the last post played each night at 8 pm.

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Then the four of us have dinner together. Sadly we say goodbye to Jim and Elaine for a third time before riding back to camp.

We left Ypres and decided to make our way to Brugge to stay for the night, a lovely ride along a straight country road when a large group of cyclists approached us from the right along with a skittish looking dog, so Skill slowed for the dog (not even really braking) when there was this massive noise and a huge shunt from behind which sent us hurtling along, somehow Skill managed to keep the bike upright.

I said "what the @#$% was that" and Skill replied "a @#$% car just hit us", we pull over and clambered off, me ready to explode and rip the person limb from limb as there was absolutely no excuse, on a long straight road, the cyclists on the right highly visible in their orange reflective jackets as was the dog and we were slowing not braking hard. However a young boy and his Mum hopped out of the car. Yep you guessed it, a newly licenced driver (2 weeks), honestly he could not have hit us any more dead centre if he had tried, his VW badge embedded in the back of the bike. However this was probably the best thing that could have happened as we just kept going in a straight line.

We are expecting to see massive damage, but surprisingly there was quite little - considering. The rear guard was bent up under the bike on top the rear tyre, licence plate light was broken the hose clamps on the tubes were busted and our pvc carry tubes were pushed into pillion footpegs and the end caps squashed on tight. Other than that mostly cosmetic damage and not too much.

After about an hour of broken english communication and a call to the police etc we managed to ride away, very shaken but really none the worse for wear. We both felt very jarred and my back and neck a little sore.

All we could both think of was, this is almost a repeat of Ewan McGregor's accident in "The Long Way Round" We have now christened it "The Ewan Incident".

We continued onto Bruge discussing what we should do about the tubes and the rear light quite sure that the tubes were beyond repair. (We couldn't get the lids off)

Arrived at the camping area at Brugge, it was full as was the other accommodation we tried, so we just decided to get out of Belguim and head for the Netherlands, the next camping area we tried was totally gross with no shade crammed in with about 5000 other tents so off we go to Sluis, finally success, a lovely little camping area with big beers and a restaurant. Well you know where we spent the rest of the day. Dutch beer seems to make everything just fine.

Managed to get all our washing done, had a fantastic dinner and when we got back to the tent at 11.00pm after watching the whole camping area playing BINGO someone had left 3 (English) motorcycle magazines for Skill. So you see what started out as an awful day ended very nicely really.

Next mornning we surface late and are trying to decide what to do for breakfast when the depositor of the magazines rides past on his pushbike with his son.

We get chatting and Andy, a motorcycle enthusiast invites us to their on site van for breakfast. What a lovely family, his wife Zara and two sons are English but have a permanent van here in NL where they holiday, so are semi locals. They help us out with directions and sightseeing tips.

We walk aroud Sluis which is a beautiful little town, complete with windmills and old dyke walls (which I forgot to take photos of, sorry)

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When we get back Skill still hasn't found a hardware to replace the hose clamps on the tubes so Andy offers to take him to the hardware store. Success. Skill works on the bike and we try to unscrew the tube lids for about 40 minutes finally prizing them loose and surprisingly they seem to be fine.

Andy and Zara's kindeness will long be remembered and appreciated, their simple act of kindenss really rejuvinated our spirits and made our stay in Sluis so enjoyable.

We leave Sluis and head up the Netherland coastline, complete with tidal control gates along this sea dyke in pic below.

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through the 6km tunnel and then onto Nijmegan via the freeway. Jim and Elaine had recommended a camping area to us but we could not find it and it was getting late so we stop and ask some people, they are B and B owners so we even briefly consider going with them. They are not sure but know of a camping place outside town. It is now 7.30 pm it is starting to rain with pretty ferocious storms all around us. We follow the B and B owners directions and end up at an out of the way camping area which has camping cabins available, Yes we will take it. By this time it is raining quite heavily and the thunder storm is in full force. We have been so lucky with the weather and finding accommodation.

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Next day it is into Nijmegan for a wander around before returning to our camping cabin for a few beers and our last night in The Netherlands.

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We are now in Switzerland staying with friends who we have not seen for six years. We have spent time in Germany, Austria and even a quick visit to Liechtenstein. But that is another story.

We are safe, well and happy. Cheers & Beers

Quote of the Week: "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing" - Helen Keller

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Posted by John Skillington at 05:13 PM GMT
August 28, 2006 GMT
Germany to Italy

We leave Holland via the Autobahn and head back into Germany, once again we are left standing by the traffic in the left hand lane. Scary stuff but the Germans seem to be very good drivers. We end the days ride at a village called Melsungen, we never seem to have a destination we just follow the camping signs.

A good pick, a camping ground on a river with a central lake. The owner was a gregarious German who now lives half his life in Spain and the other half running the caravan park, but previously was into freight forwarding and travelled all over the world.

The weather was stiflingly hot so we go to the bar and have a few pints (three to be exact) of the local ale, the owner comments on our drinking prowess "You are very thirsty" and gives us a welcome present two small bottles of German liqueur, one like Baileys and one which apparently is good for the stomach. We follow the afternoon Happy Hour with a swim in the lake.

Then of course the inevitable happens, a massive thunder storm hits, but by this time we are back at the bar restaurant for tea. Schnitzel (of course) pomme frites and cabbage salad. What to do about the storm, we stay chatting with the owner until it abates and bolt back to the tent. Bang, crash, thunder and lightning, time to put the ear plugs in and hope for the best.

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We wake in the morning, tentatively sticking our head out of the tent but all is Ok, overcast but dry.

A nice days ride ensues down part of the Romantic Road which officially runs from Wurzburg to Fussen through Bavaria. It is incredibly hot and humid, and we end up getting moderately lost as we are diverted through a town but after the town no more diversion signs. The GPS saves the day as our map is not that detailed.

The sky gets darker and darker, so we stop to put on our wet weather gear, unfortunately we are 5 minutes too late and while getting our gear out of the panniers we end up soaked.

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Oh well keep riding, which we do for another two hours till finally we both decide we have had enough, everything is wet including my passport, buggar, forgot to put it in a plastic bag.

Stop at one Gausthaus but the owner has just got rid of twelve cyclists so is having the day off, ride past another hotel in a little village called Bettwar, has a sign outside 21 euro, per person (but in German of course) so I venture in, perfect, huge room in a quaint village complete with restaurant and bar.

Whenever we stay in a lovely hotel room we instantly trash it, turning it into a drying room, come Chinese Laundry, in short we make a huge mess. It storms that evening but not before we manage to take a walk around the village.

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Next day we take a short ride into Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber. This quaint well preserved medieval town, with cobble stoned streets is enclosed by huge stone walls, the only entry and exit points being through the ancient gates. The Lonely Planet Guide tells us that according to a legend the town was saved during the Thirty Years' War when the mayor won a challenge by the Imperial General Tilley by downing more than 3 litres of wine at a gulp. Sounds like he could give Bob Hawke a run for his money.

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After a long chat with an English couple who want to know about our trip, we exit via the medieval gates and continue onwards towards Fussen.

We are not sure how it happened but somehow we get diverted off the Romantic Road again and have to ride along a VERY Unromantic Road until the GPS gets us back on track only to be diverted again around a horrendous looking accident (Did I mention it is now raining again) tierd and wet we call it quits early at a grottyy pub run by a very cranky little man, not with us but yells at his staff all the time. Even though the room is questionable, the surroundings are picturesque, a church to the right, a huge barn full of cows to the left and mountains all around.

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We enjoy a lovely Italian meal at a little restaurant across the road and when we come out of the restaurant we go for a walk around the town. Somewhere in the distance we can hear a band playing, we follow the music past the cows, and dairy to the local school.

Skill being Skill, walks up the stairs and into the stairwell outside the auditorium. Inside there is a thirty piece band in traditional Bavarian dress and a small audience. During the next break the band leader walked over and asks us to join the audience.

The concert was a final dress rehearsal for the band for a concert the following night. What a treat for us, they played a mixture of traditional and modern music for an hour and a half. Of course it was one of the times we had left the camera in the hotel room and neither of us wanted to miss out on any of the concert, so you will have to take our word for it, they looked and sounded stupendous.

It is at this point I should point out that this village was no bigger than Yarraman or Mt Mee (a comparison for the folks at home) but the school was beautifully equipped and had a huge centrally heated auditorium and quite large modern classrooms, obviously Germany places a lot of value on Education and their schools???????

The following day we head into Fussen which is only five minutes ride away, this scenic little town is home to the Neuschwanstein Castle which we check out from a distance as there are so many tour buses around.

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We also make contact with Luzius and Irene our friends in Zurich (Skill comes back slightly embarrassed and says "I'm pleased I rang, they live on Lake Zurich not Lake Geneva, but that's closer anyway" After coffee and strudel we ride into Austria.

We have a days ride through Austria bypassing Innsbruck and heading over the mountain passes and yes once again the mountain passes and roads are glorious. We end the day having to pay an outrageous 10.50 Euro toll to ride through a 15km section of the Piz Buin Mountain Pass, we were slightly outraged as there were no toll signs on the road (well none we could read anyway) and we had bought our vignette (sticker) to use on the freeways.

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We end the day camped in a tiny campground run by a lovely old couple who came and visit us to check out the bike, we had a very long conversation, them in Austrian and us in English, but I think they got the drift of what we were doing and where we were going. That night we have more live music as the people in the house across the road are having a rock jam session in the garage.

And it rains and rains and rains. Next morning it is still raining so we stay in bed hoping it will go away but of course it doesn't, it just gets heavier and heavier so we make breakfast in the tent and pack up in the tent, get our gear on in the tent and then pack up the tent in the rain. I emerge from the tent into the pouring rain with all my riding gear including my helmet, Skill says I look like something from Apollo 13.

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We have a whole day of riding through the rain, into Liechtenstein, to Valduz and then out of Liechtenstein into Switzerland, that took about half an hour. No photos, sorry as it was raining very hard but we can report that the Prince is doing a bit of a refurb on the Palace Valduz, apparently he can afford it, he is worth 3.3 billion pound sterling. Other interesting facts about Liechtenstein is there are 80 000 companies registered there, double the population and they are the worlds largest exporter of false teeth.

The rain just gets worse and worse but we keep riding as we want to get to Luzius and Irenes. We are nearly there when a torrential thunder storm hits (think of a summer downpour is Brisbane) thunder, lightning and driving rain, road flooding with manhole covers on the road popping up, not something you want to see while riding a bike. We are absolutely soaked except for the riding gear underneath our gortex liners. I have to tip the water out of my bag as Skill does with his back pack. Five minutes later we arrive at Luzius and Irene's place.

For those of you who don't know the story, we got to meet Luzius and Irene six years ago. Skill and his two mates Pete and Mark were doing a two week outback ride when they came upon a young Swiss couple in a broken down old Range Rover. They helped them as best they could and organised the Garage in Birdsville to tow them, and then of course spent the evening with them in the Birdsville Pub. Later when Luzius and Irene arrived in Brisbane they looked us up and stayed with us for a night.

It was so lovely to see them again, they are such a great couple and the open hearted generosity they showed to us was overwhelming.

Their home is right on Lake Zurich, complete with boat shed in the front garden and directly behind is the Lindt chocolate factory. It is in such a picturesque location. We have our own little flat where we are able to spread out and dry out.

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The evening we arrived we shared dinner with their friends and family for their monthly movie night.

Next day Irene takes us to visit Zurich and Luzius joins us in the evening, we go for drinks in a bar overlooking Zurich and then they take us to dinner at a great restaurant which is housed in a very old converted stable. They are very naughty and won't let us pay for anything.

We spend most of our time talking and catching up. It is also great for us to have a break from travelling and Skill spends time downloading photos etc.

Luzius and Irene take us to see the house and land they have bought and will soon be renovating/building. We also go for a walk along some beautiful country lanes. We are amazed that you just come across a café in the middle of nowhere, we also stop at a farmhouse where they sell cordials, coffee and cake. All based on an honesty system.

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Luzius' family are amazingly generous and include us in their lives, a late lunch we share a traditional Swiss Dinner, "Raclette", potatoes, special melted cheese and lots of accompaniments. Sensational.

We share many memorable meals with them including a fantastic grill cooked indoors.

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Luzius brother and Australian wife were also visiting. They are a wealth of information about the Middle East as they both worked for the Red Cross, their last assignment was 12 months in Afghanistan.

We do not want to leave Zurich or these wonderful people and a broken tent pole gives us an excuse to stay another day. Skill goes back into the city to buy a repair kit. That night Luzius is away with work but Irene takes us out to dinner, a lovely Pizzeria right on the Lake.

Such hospitality, we are looking forward to reciprocating as they did not have a good time in Brisbane, their hire car got broken into, and their cameras and other gear was stolen. Then when their battery died, no one would help jump start them. These are not the kind of stories you like to hear about your home town. So much for Queensland hospitality.

We do manage to drag ourselves away after 5 days but not until we have a shared lunch on the waterfront.

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We head back the way we came into Zurich making for the mountain passes. Up and over the Klausenpass, where we come across the Swiss army on maneuvers just before it starts to rain AGAIN.

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We find an idyllic hotel, Hotel Eidleweiss not too far from Wassen. I think the photos tell the story. A more scenic location would be hard to find.

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Next day we ride more mountain passes - Sustenpass, Grimselpass, Nufenenpass, Pso d S. Gottardo.

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Before heading up the Maggia Valley to camp the night. Slight problem. The Camping Grounds we try are full, the last one on our list is also full, what to do now? We are weighing up our options when the manager walks past and starts chatting to us, he is a biker and cannot believe we are travelling on an Australian bike. He finds us a small space and does not charge us for the night. Every time things seem hopeless an angel appears, even if it is in the form of an aging biker.

Next day is an early start riding the Pso del s. Bernadino and Splugenpass where we cross the border into Italy. At the border they take absolutely no interest in us at all, we are interrupting their morning coffee and paper.

We camped the night just inside the Italian border at a very scenic campground near Chiavenna, complete with mountains, waterfalls and an old (falling down) church.

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Next day out of Italy back into Switzerland over the Julierpass near St Moritz,

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over the A'Lbulapass into the town of Zernez where we camp the night in a campground beside a river in the mountains. It is freezing, well not quite but less than ten degrees. We manage to cook our dinner and drink our Aussie Red before the rain starts.

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When we awake next morning it has stopped raining but there is fresh snow on the mountains all around us.

Onwards towards Bolzano after crossing back into Italy. It starts to rain so we stop in a quaint village for coffee and cake.

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We seem to have now had endless wet weather. We get caught in a traffic jam and it just continues to rain and rain and I might mention the temperature is less than ten degrees again. In the end I have had enough and say to Skill take the next exit off the Freeway, which he does than we have a choice of right or left. Hmm go Left which he does, then we have a choice of two three star hotels,(which is amazing as this village is in the middle of nowhere) hmmm the one on the left. Yes they have one room left, it is very expensive but includes dinner and breakfast and there is a Garage for the moto. Yay, in under half an hour I go from cold and wet to soaking in a hot bubble bath with a glass of red in salubrious surroundings. Sometimes everything goes right, but other times of course it doesn't.

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The staff at the hotel are quite taken with us and seem to go all out to look after us, it turns out we are their first Australian guests in five years. It also turns out that we are in the German speaking part of Italy, which I didn't know existed.

They really are lovely, at dinner time they find someone who can speak a tiny bit of English and through charades and descriptive narrative we get the general gist of the menu.

Manager pointing to menu "Animal ....mmm....." she then puts her hands on top of her head indicating ears.

Lan "Baa baa"

Manager "No"

Lan "Moo moo"

Manager "Yes, little little."

Skill "Oh calf, veal."

Next item on the Menu

Manager "Animal"

Lan "Baa Baa"

Manager Purses her lips, no

Lan "Oink oink"

Manager "No no"

Lan "Fish"

Manager" No No Animal brings Eggs, Easter"

Lan "Rabbit"

Manager "Yes Rabbit"

And finally she explains the last dish is Tofu, but her look of disdain at this vegetarian dish obviously precludes us from ordering it out of respect for her efforts. We have to remember we are in the German part of Italy and the Germans love their meat.

All I can say is thank goodness the starter, entrée and desserts were from a buffet where we helped ourselves.

The next day we are both very loath to leave but load up the bike and onwards to, well we aren't sure but at least it is not raining. We have a lovely days ride up and over some more mountain passes with Pso de Mendola, Madonna di Campiglio where admire the saw-tooth like Dolomites mountains the highest peak being 3150 metres.

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We ended up taking the freeway from Bresica to Piacenza where we decide we should start looking for accommodation, well Piacenza is gross so we ride along the Trebbia River where we eventually spy a camping ground in a tiny village which remains nameless to us, we camped next to some hippies that partied till 4 am and then their dog started howling at 6.00am, Thank God for ear plugs is all I can say. The only saving grace was the wonderful pizzeria in the town Piazza only a short walk away, cheap, fantastic huge servings, and really friendly helpful people who helped us out choosing the best pizzas for us.

Next day we have a lovely days ride through the hills along a very winding road that continues to follow the Trebbier River. At one point we stop to put on the wet weather gear, near a water truck, and once again we have a conversation with the driver, him in Italian, us in English but the general gist of it was, all this rain and here I am delivering water, ridiculous. We enthusiastically agree.

It was one of those days when things should have been simple, ride along the coast and find a camping area. We end up riding aimlessly, looking for camping check out two, yuck, third down a goat track, where the bash plate gets crunched and to top it off we are running low on fuel. The only upside was we saw some lovely villages and beautiful coastline and bays.

Eventually we back track to Deiva Marina, however when we arrive at the camp ground we have a choice of only two camping spots on a terraced hill, both look as though they are pretty wet and will flood easily but we take our chances. We are pretty tierd so just decide to stay put for a couple of days, and to be honest we didn’t even leave the camping ground. We enjoy two nights but decide we will stay another night, mainly because it is raining but also because I have been bitten by a wasp (while reading my book in the tent, unbelievable) and my arm has blown up like a balloon.

Skill spends the morning downloading photos and researching ferries to Greece, and we are just having our lunch when we can hear the thunder rolling in. I go and grab a big sheet of plastic that some campers have left behind and put it under and up the sides of the tent while Skill builds a small diversionary wall, we then sit in the tent, open a bottle of red and hope for the best.

A torrential down pour with thunder and lightning, there was a river of muddy water running under the plastic under the tent, and thank God Skill built the wall otherwise we would have been soaked as the water was gushing down from the terraces above, it was like a waterfall.

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Finished the bottle of wine about the same time the storm finished and emerged with damp tent floor but otherwise reasonably unscathed.

It stormed again during the night but nothing like the afternoon. We packed up our mud soaked tent the following day and had a late start, an ordinary days ride to Sienna. We take the exit off the highway to Sienna North and I make Skill stop so I can pull out the Lonely Planet to check where the Camping Area is. After consulting the guide book, the Compass and the GPS we work out our plan of attack, only to look over at the roundabout to see a dirty great big Camping sign. AHHHHH we have just wasted 20 minutes. This seems to happen to us a lot. We find the camping area which is on the side of a hill in the dirt, but OK. Once again set up camp and go to the Bar/Pizzeria for tea. We have found camping to be very expensive in Italy. The cheapest place we have stayed in was 20 Euro. That's $32 AUD and you have to pay 1 Euro each for the shower and 1 Euro 60 cents to use the pool. The most expensive was 32 Euro!!.

I have to tell you about the SHOWER SAGAS, each camping ground has its own shower protocol which every other camper in the place seems to be aware of but we are completely in the dark. Some places the showers are included in the price, but you have to press a single button in and the water comes out for approximately ten secondsif you're lucky, not great for hair washing, so you have to position your bottom to press the button in continuously so you can rinse your hair. The next challenge is whether it is token or coin operated hot water, if it is a token you have to go and do battle in French, German, Belgian, Dutch, Austrian, Swiss or Italian explaining you want a shower token, this usually takes me half an hour. Then sometimes it is a flickmaster tap, sometimes two taps and sometimes just a cold water tap so when the scalding water comes out of the nozzle and burns you you realise you have to turn the cold tap (which is never labeled cold) on. The other combo is token/coin plus a press button that you have to keep pressing. There are other various combinations including upside down flickmaster taps, wrongly labelled hot and cold taps, but the very worst is paying 30 Euro to camp in a very dodgy campground only to find they have NO hot water.

Siena is a gorgeous Tuscany town with a labyrinth of cobblestone streets and well preserved Gothic buildings.

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According to the legend Siena was founded by the sons of Remus - one of the twins raised by the wolf and also one of Rome's founders. We catch the local bus into the town from the camping area and visit the shell shaped Piazza del Campo the towns cultural centre for 700 years.

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They are still in the process of cleaning up after the Palio two days previous to our visit. The Palio is a wild horse race and pageant held in the Piazza. Siena is divided into 17 districts and 10 of these are chosen annually to contest the race. The town is still in party mode so we enjoy the atmosphere.

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We visit the Doumo (Cathedral) which was begun in 1196 but don’t go inside due to the long line, and then it is off to the Chiesa di San Domenico & Santuario di Santa Caterina churches where St Catherine's preserved head and thumb is displayed - gruesome. It is a lovely church and seems to be visited by many monks.

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Next day we have a really scenic ride through the heart of Tuscany, glorious countryside, picturesque towns perched on hilltops and an indescribable light that seems to bathe the countryside in pastel shades. We end the day in a beautiful camping ground near Narni between Rome and Assisi.

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In the camp ground next to us are two Dutch girls Hedwig and Claudia who have ridden their bicycles from Holland, Rome being their final destination. We get chatting and they share a bottle of red with us.

We share our dilemma with them, to go to Rome or not to go to Rome. They insist we have to go to Rome and show us some good camping areas that provide shuttles to the local transport. That night we mull over what to do.

Next day it is decided we are off to Rome. The girls have already left and when we are packing up the bike we find two tiny little dutch clogs tied to the tank bag. A really easy days ride down the Via Flaminia only taking a tiny wrong turn and we are at the Camping Tiber. Easy.

The campground is very good, quite expensive to camp and reasonably cheap for a cabin so we take that option. It is 40oC+ so we spend the day by the pool drinking beer and lots of water. The evening was still so hot we didn’t feel like eating so we just got a pizza at 10 o’clock and fell into bed some time later still sweating. Of course an inevitable big thunder storm hit after midnight, but no problem in the cabin. At least it cooled things down.

For the next two days we wander Rome and see the usual tourist things, but hey its our first time in Rome.

Day One
The Spanish Steps with the church cloaked in scaffolding as is the case almost everywhere we seem to go throughout Europe.

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The Trevi Fountain with just a few tourists...

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The Colosseum

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The Pantheon

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That night we get back to the camping area late and run into Hedwig and Claudia who join us for happy hour where we celebrate their bicycling achievement Holland to Rome, over 2000 km. These two great girls also tell us that they are on their honeymoon so we drink to that as well. Then out to dinner at 10.30 pm. (I love that about Italy)

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Day 2
The Vatican and St Peters

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The following day we leave Rome, let me rephrase that, we try to leave Rome. We want to get onto the Ring Road but the entrance we need to use is undergoing roadworks and there are NO signs, it takes us an hour with us nearly riding into the centre of Rome and back out again. We do eventually get onto our chosen road and off we go. Most of the days riding is on the freeway, of course we take the wrong exit and end up in the grossest towns imaginable, not somewhere you would like to find yourself after dark. Eventually making our way down to the Amalfi Coast. Unfortunately it is very hazy due to fires.

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It is at this point that I should mention the driving. Everyone had told us how chaotic the driving was in Rome, but for us it seemed fine - just. However the closer we got to Naples the crazier and more dangerous it got. Poor Skill. I don't think he got to see any of the Amalfi Coastline as he was too busy watching the road and the traffic. Cars overtaking on blind corners, cars three across, buses and trucks just driving up the middle of the road. Scooters running up the inside and outside of us. While indicating that you were turning left across oncoming traffic was just an invitation for traffic to overtake you on the side you wished to turn, but the worst was the unlit tunnels with scooters and cars overtaking in both directions over double lines. We ended the day tierd and a little nervy at Sorrento in a camping area with ocean views to Mt.Vesuvius, but was littered with rubbish, had cold water and charged 30 Euro.

We decided to head to the beach for a swim but when we were walking down the steps to get there we walked past a sewerage treatment plant and the beach water was also full of plastic bags and rubbish (and we assume also sewage discharge). OK plan B sit on the jetty, drink beer and watch the locals. Oh yes and a glorious sunset over Mt. Vesuvius.

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Trying to decide what to do for dinner we are accosted by some local restaurateurs who want us to eat at their restaurant which we do. So glad we did, what a treat, fantastic gnocchi, and mussels and spaghetti. And of course the obligatory red.

Next day is a huge days ride, a whole 34 km to Pompeii where we camp in another awful camping area in the dirt. Not only is it in the dirt but there are feral mangy dogs in various states of decaying health, everywhere. Oh well we are here for one night and we are opposite the entrance to Pompeii Scarvi.

When Vesuvius blew its top in AD79 it buried Pompeii under burning fragments of pumice stone killing 2000 people in the eruption. The ruins are very impressive and give an insight into the lives of wealthy Romans.

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For us it was well worth the visit, but once again it was very dirty with a lot of rubbish strewn around. Skill was quite impressed as some of the mummified bodies on display were ones he can remember seeing in a "National Geographic" when he was a child.

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An absolutely fascinating place where you could probably spend weeks. It was very hot so we only lasted 5 hours before heading back to camp.

Back at camp we opted for a few beers and a chat to a lovely English couple, Paul and Penny who were on a three week holiday travelling on their Honda CBR1100. We spend the evening with them trading travel stories.

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We managed to leave Pompeii quite early and travelled the freeway to Bari. The freeways in Italy are quite expensive, it cost us 10.60 Euro for this section of highway. We had to pay at an automatic toll station which had vehicles queued for ages. While trying to feed the money into the machine I dropped my coin purse so had to get off the bike in a hurry and managed to twist my knee badly, as there was little room between the bike and the payment machine. I am now hobbling.

Down to the ferry terminal and tickets are purchased. Yay we are on our way to Greece but that of course is another story.

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We are happy, safe and well (except for a dicky knee) now lazing on a Greek Beach.

Cheers and Beers

Quote of the Week: "Two roads diverged in a wood and I - I took the one less travelled by" - Robert Frost

Posted by John Skillington at 06:41 PM GMT
September 22, 2006 GMT
Greece

Heading to Greece we couldn't decide which Ferry Line and agonised over whether to get a cabin or not, in the end economy won out. Skill checked out all the brochures, and all the ferry lines seemed much of a muchness, so we decided to just get a deck passage, 95 Euro as opposed to 300 Euro. We took the ferry that departed first.

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Well yes Venturous Ferry Lines had a very professional brochure and it looked like they did have nice ferries but not the one we were on. Think Greek Rust Bucket. We loaded first, no instructions on where to park and no such thing as a tie downs for the bike. We improvised and used what we had to secure the bike and then lugged our two panniers up 4 flights of steps (me with my bunged up knee which is now better) and across the open deck past 4 smelly semi-trailers with pigs in them.

There were no signs anywhere and when we were crossing the deck I was thinking, OH GOD maybe they literally meant deck passengers, out here with the pigs! We kept walking and eventually found the lounge area and the little man showed us where we had to go. It was OK with lots of chairs but all with fixed armrests so sleeping on them was possible but not comfortable. We secured our position and changed out of our riding gear had a beer and settled in for a long night.

In the end there were only 8 other deck passengers so we could all try to sleep on the seats around the arm rests. The only good thing I can say about the ferry trip (besides it NOT sinking) was that because we were on the truckies ferry the meals were huge and reasonably inexpensive.

We were woken by the steward at 3.00am but didn’t arrive at Igoumenitsa until 4.30am (5.30am Greek time), by the time we unloaded it was 6.00am and still very dark. Some days everything goes right and somedays it doesn't. Fortunately after a night of very little sleap it was going to be the former. We rode off the ferry looking for border control, none obvious so we kept going. Right outside the ferry terminal was the road clearly signed to Parga, the town we wanted and then only 10 kms further on was a service station open for business at this early hour.

Refueled we rode the half hour to Parga, a delightful coastal village just like the postcards.

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The camping area was open but it was still so early no one was around, so we put on our togs (Queenslander for bathers) and went for a swim in the most glorious crystal clear water. When we got back we found Mr Dimou who told us to find a camp place and come and see him later. By this time it is only 8.00am. Unbelievably there is a huge storm brewing so we start to put up camp and the bikers who are leaving give us their ground sheet. (A God send, we wish we had had this from the beginning)

Camp up, beds out and sleep time. We sleep through the storm (lots of noise but no rain) and awake at midday where we go to the Camping Ground Restaurant for lunch. Wow, absolutely sumptuous food. Another swim and a lazy afternoon before watching the sunset over a glorious coastline. Some days are good, but this was a perfect day, I love Greece.

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Parga's Camping Valtos is perfect, we have a lovely shaded area (still in the dirt but now we have a huge ground sheet), and they provide an assotment of old tables and chairs for those campers that don’t have them - like motorcyclists. We wish all campsites were this thoughtful. Also everyone seems to have pinched the loungers and drinks tables from the beach restaurants so we use them as well. Some campers leave behind anything they don’t want so I even have a lilo for floating about on courtesy of a young American backpacker.

The Camping Restaurant is absolutely yummy and open from 8am until midnight as is the mini market. The beach is two minutes walk away, the town is 15 minutes walk where there are about 100 restaurants and bars, nightclubs, shops, etc. We decide we will spend 4 or 5 days here just to regroup and get our (previous) blog finished.

In the Campground we meet two German overland travellers called Heinz and Hildie. They had ridden from Germany to India last year. This year they were just on holiday in Greece heading back to Germany via Albania. We talk about their experiences trying to pick up information for our own trip.

We were also camped next to a German couple who have been coming to Greece for the past 25 years so they gave us lots of great information about Greece but told us this was their favourite campsite - the beach, the facilities and the convenience. Hmmm it is not so good to come to the best first.

Our life at Parga was idyllic, swimming, walking into the village, eating and generally relaxing.

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On one of our visits to the town we check out the thong (footwear) index as we are sick of wearing our tevas to the beach. No double pluggers models over here but we secure two pairs of thongs for under 9 Euro. Skills have little Greek flags on them and mine are sparkly. We are pretty excited with our new purchase but are not sure where we are going to carry them on our already overloaded bike.

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It was very hard to drag ourselves away from our life in Parga but we did manage it eventually.

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We had a short days ride to Lefkada island where we promptly took a wrong turn and rode on very rough and nearly non existent mountain road to Ag Nikitas. We camped for the night in an unusual campground that looked brand new but nothing was open. The beaches in this area were stunning and the water an unusual turquoise blue colour.

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The next day was a reasonable days ride through some of the most picturesque coastal roads along with some pretty awful ones as well. Here are some of the good bits.

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Thw awful bits were the amount of rubbish in some places, housing and building waste and general refuse just dumped over the side of the roads down to the sea in places that should be as beautıful as the pics above. Huge mountainous of it, like a refuse tip into the sea! Unbelievable. We couldn't bring ourselves to take pics of this environmental vandalism. As we are wondering how the Greeks can do this in such scenic locations, a kilometre further on we would come across one of the little roadside shrines that seem to be everywhere. It is such a bizarre mix. We hated the rubbish but we did love the shrines in all their shapes and forms.

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It gets to 3.00 pm (our now usual lunch time) and we are starving but cannot find anywhere to eat. In the end we opt for a very ordinary looking Kantina (that is the spelling they use) on the side of the road, not somewhere you would ordinarily choose to eat. Well not only was the location very scenic the food was excellent, one of the best shish and salad we'd eaten in Greece, so looks can be deceiving.

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Refuelled with food we head towards our destination for the day, Delphi. Delphi is home of the Temple of Apollo, one of the most important oracles of antiquity. Delphi was also site of the Pythian games once held every four years in Apollo's honour. Athletes and poets would descend upon the city to compete for the victors laurel crown. Hmm I wonder if the poets competed against the athletes?

It is believed that Delphi really holds the origins of the "Olympic" Games and not Olympia.

We arrive at the camping ground which was great, perched on a terraced mountain top with views to the sea. It was here we met Sam and Kylie two young Aussies who had driven all through the Nordic countries to the far northern most point at Nordkapp to see the middnight sun and then through Eastern Europe to Greece. We spent a few hours together around the pool and over dinner.

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But my favourite thing about this campground were the kitsch mushroom lighting.

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Next day we had a great day wandering Delphi's ruins

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However we had just as much fun wandering around the little town of Delphi. We had the best fish lunch, with extraordinary views to the coast.

We were in the same quandary about Athens as with Paris and Rome - to visit or not to visit. Sam and Kylie said it was hard work and really a pretty mediocre city as did most of the Greek people we met. "It is just a big city but with crazy drivers" we were constantly told. In the end we decide against Athens and head instead, to Meteora.

Our ride takes us through some beautiful mountain areas, some gross shanty towns, but mainly just uninteresting highways. But once you reach Meteora you are awestruck. Giant rock formations (volcanic plugs we think) seem to reach skywards from the flat Thessalain plain. Atop these formations are amazing monasteries. They are believed to have been founded by a monk named Barnabas in the mid 10th Century.

The camp ground is great (in the dirt again) but with a lovely pool and restaurant and who can beat the views.

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We stay for two nights visiting the Grand Meteoro (The Monastery of the Grand Transfiguration) which was built in the late 14th century on the imposing stone column Plays Lithos. It is a beautiful place but I can't help but wonder about the irony of it all, the monks came here to get away from the world to be safe and live in solitude, yet today they have literally 100s of tour buses a week visiting them??????

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We ride back down the mountain past the other monasteries including the Varlaam and Roussanou.

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We leave Meteora and head to Thessoloniki, we need to get a big service done on the bike, Skill has a recommendation from the HU website and an address but we do not have a map of Thessoloniki so we just ride in the vain hope that maybe we will find it. The ride to Thessoloniki was much quicker than we thought with most of the new freeway being open, but because it is not yet completed there were no tolls. YAY!!!

We arrive in Thessoloniki to oppressive 45 degree temperatures and no bike shop to be found. We are getting closer and closer to the city centre when I suddenly see a Suzuki Motorbike shop with V Strom stickers on the door. I tell Skill to do a three lane maneuver and 2 illegal U Turns (Hey this is Greece, no one cares) to get there, which he does.

On arrival the mechanic does not speak English but the guy behind the counter does. Its not the shop we were looking for and Skill is not sure that the communication process is that great but we take our chances. I leave Skill at the bike shop which is in a pretty dodgy area and look for a hotel, Best Western 100 Euro, Grand Mecaro 145 Euro, another nameless hotel 130 Euro and finally the Hotel beside the Live Sex Show 55 Euro. Back to Skill in a lather of sweat and completely soaked we both decide the Best Western it is, expensive but at least they have air conditioning and secure parking for the bike. We head to the Hotel Vergina (we weren't game to ask how to pronounce it), unload the bike and walk up two flight of stairs struggling with the doors.

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It is at this moment I realise that the Greeks are not into 4 star service, the two guys behind the desk continue smoking and watch me struggle with two panniers, helmet and backpack not even offering to help me into the lift which is an old fashioned doored one. I am about to rip some ones face off when Skill comes to the rescue from downstairs and helps me.

Air con on, shower, washing done and out to discover the delights of Thessoloniki in the still 40 degree heat. We head straight to the waterfront for a couple of beers and watch the traffic antics.

Greek drivers are crazy but thankfully not as crazy as the Southern Italians. However as we sit by the waterfront road we witness about 10 near misses, lane swapping, horns blaring etc etc. And then as we are watching a very new Audi reverse park an old Alfa hits him on the side and rides his vehicle up almost onto the bonnet of the Audi. The argument that then ensues is hilarious, Skill and I are in stitches, in fact worth another beer.

Next we visit Thessoloniki's only real tourist attraction the White Tower which is not really white, is closed for renovations and not really very interesting anyway.

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By this time it is 8.30 pm and it is still 37 degrees. We get a kebab and a few beers and head back to our air conditioned room.

The following day after breakfast (where I steal every condiment which is not nailed down ensuring I get my 95 Euros worth) Skill takes the bike to the bike shop and I struggle to get everything downstairs, once again they watch me with no offers of help, then to add insult to injury they want to charge me an extra 9 Euro for parking, it is at this point I become very assertive (#^%&), the parking fee is waived and our gear is put into storage.

Skill spends the day at the bike shop while I wander the streets. He is more than happy with the work that the mechanic does, he is very slow but meticulous and secures all the parts we need including brake pads, new chain and sprockets including the smaller non standard front sprocket we want, which he goes out to buy on his scooter. He also lets Skill clean our reusable air cleaner and spends a lot of time straightening the bash plate we managed to crunch in Italy. Some of the parts do not strictly need replacing just yet, but they may be difficult to get in Turkey and all but impossible after that heading east, so we elect to replace all this stuff now. This only leaves new tyres to be sourced in Turkey.

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We leave Thessoloniks oppressive heat 490 Euro poorer but the bike is serviced and we are heading for the Greek coast again - yeah.

Down to the Sithonia Peninsula where we find the Camping area in our guide book but don't like the look of it so it is off to another one down the road which advertises bar, minimart etc. When we get there, there are lots of tents around but on closer inspection everything is closed up (for the season) so we unload the bike, I start to set up and Skill rides into Sarti to get beer and dinner supplies.

By this time it is 8 o’clock and we realise that NONE of the other tents in the whole campground are occupied so we help ourselves to their table and chairs and also their bamboo oil lanterns. The toilets and showers are pretty ordinary (toilets are all foot pad ones) but there is plenty of hot water, all I can say is thank goodness for our new thongs.

Next morning we wake early and head for a morning swim, being the only people around is amazing. We have never ever seen water so clear, not even on the Grear Barrier Reef. It is absolutely stunning with Mount Athos (where the monks live) as a backdrop. We have breakfast and then head back to the beach for the day. (After we borrow a beach umbrella from a deserted camp) I laughingly say to Skill, this is a Greek Inskip Point.

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We have a greet day culminating with beers and nibbleys on the beach at sunset and a fantastic camp cooked dinner after Skill rides back into town and discovers the butchers, bakers and minimarket. The beer index is the best so far anywhere on our trip, less than 50 cents for 1/2 litre, and the food is cheap too. This would be a good place to stop for a week or more, but we have to keep moving.

Next morning we decide that a morning swim in the birthday suit is the best idea as we won't have to pack wet togs. Breakfast, pack up and we are on our way to..........well we don't really know, but a little further towards the Turkish border somewhere. It is a pretty short days ride through beautiful coastal scenery when we end up in Kavala in a very posh camp ground complete with bar/disco and restaurant beside the beach. The water is not in the same league as where we have been but nice none the less. Swim then an expensive beer at sunset. I say to Skill "lets lash out and have a G and T". He comes back and says "Enjoy, two G and Ts just cost me 13 Euro". Bloody Hell.

Well lets just say that after one drink I was well on my way, there must have been 5 nips of Gin in it, I kept having to go back to the bar and get more ice and tonic, reminded me of our days in Spain.

That evening we had a great meal at the restaurant and watched the full moon rise over the water.

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Next day another short ride to Alexandropolis, where of course we camped in the dirt again. Once again all the facilities were closed, so we ride into to town to shop and just hang around. In the evening the wind really picks up and there is dirt blowing everywhere. We both decide we have just had enough of this camping on the bare dirt thing. Today we are really over it, so early to bed. Next day it is still blowing , in fact it is gale force, packing up is difficult and riding conditions are nearly impossible. Skill has difficulty keeping the bike upright and on the right side of the road and it just keeps getting worse the closer to Turkey we get.

As Alexandraopolis is only 30 kms from the border we arrive at the Turkish border early. And so we are about to embark on the next leg of our journey, there is something magical about heading East to Turkey and we are both pretty excited, the beginning of the overland part of our trip has really started.

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But that is another story. We are now in limbo waiting for our Iranian visa which we will have word about on the 26th of September, things are uncertain, as two other independent Aussie travellers we met at the Embassy had been refused a Visa. We are hoping this will not be the case for us so fingers crossed.

Cheers and Beers,

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Quote of the Week:
"Do not wait for your ship to come in - swim out to it"

Posted by John Skillington at 07:36 PM GMT
October 04, 2006 GMT
Turkey - part 1

At the border it is quite hilarious, we pass through Greek immigration who want to know where our Greece stamp is, we don't have one we arrived at 4.30 in the morning and couldn't find anyone to stamp our passports. "OK" and stamp stamp stamp, off we go, past the Greek and Turkish guards dressed in traditional dress.

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Arrive at the Turkish border, stop, check passport, "You must go and get visa over there" Ok so off I go, Skill stays with the bike while I chat to the visa guys. Success back to border control, stamp, stamp, stamp.

OK next we need to change money which I do at the bank, and chat to a lovely young man who helps me out and wants to know all about the bike.

Next it was onto another border control, who needed to view our passports, the carnet, license, registration and something else, I can't remember. Being able to produce these documents pleased them no end, but of course we need to purchase green card insurance so off Skill goes, I wait with the bike, and wait and wait. When he returns he informs me he has been drinking tea and chatting.

Ok stamp,stamp, stamp, and off we go, freedom we think, but no there is one more border control. We wait for ten minutes for him to get off the phone, then "Papers". I climb off again and show him the papers that his mate 10 metres away has just stamped. All is cool and he says "Welcome to Turkey" Yay we are free.

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In fairness it did only take an hour so that was good going.

The ride to Istanbul is horrendous, not because of the traffic or because of signage or anything like that, it really is blowing a gale, the wind is just buffeting us from all directions, Skill really struggles to keep it all together.

We stop for fuel and lunch, local cuisine, somehow I end up with fantastic food,(kofte) and Skill scores liver, which he nearly gags on. I share mine and we are on our way again. The wind does not give up and on the entrance to the freeway grassfires are out of control, this is not a good combination but we do survive. Our plan for getting into Istanbul, well we don't have one. I vaguely suggest that if we head to the airport I might recognise the roads from when I visited 4 years ago.

We get to the airport roundabout and I am not sure, talk to the guy in the car next to us, Sultanahmet I ask, he points to the exit and then as we get onto the roundabout he motions that we should follow him. Next roundabout same deal I ask a taxi driver "Sultanahmet" same response follow me. And then unbelievably I do recognise where we are and in we go. As we are riding along people are yelling out "Aussie", high fiving us and beeping their horns. At first we wonder what the hell is going on but then figure out it is a "Welcome to Istanbul".

We can't take the left hand turn we want so over the Bosphorus to Beygolu, a big blockie and back into the Sultanahmet. I make Skill park the bike while I look for the hotel, which I find less then 100m away but we cannot get to it because of all the one way streets. OK back over the Bosphorus big blockie, and into the Sultanahmet. Finally success we get to the hotel nearly an hour after I first find it.

Unpack, of course the Turkish are so friendly, they help us unpack the bike, find a park and take all the gear up to our room, a little different to the Thessoloniki Hotel, where I was ignored. I must say we are pretty happy to be in Turkey and Skill can not believe how friendly the people are.

The first night I have a great time giving Skill a quick tour of the sights and we head down to the back packer quarter where we have dinner. Istanbul is the most magical city and we spend till late wandering the streets.

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Next morning off to breakfast where I befriend "Sergai" the hotel alley cat. The waiter tells us "His name is Sergai, he very lazy cat, every morning at window till 10.00 o'clock (which incidentally is the finish of breakfast) then he sleep all day"

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We spend the first day trying to organise our Iranian Visa. Off to the Iranian Consulate, talk to the armed guard in front of the big black door who talks to the man behind the big black door and we are let in. I ask if I should wear a scarf, "No, no problem" is the response. Because the embassy closes at 11.00 am they give us the forms and instructions and tell us to come back tomorrow.

Ok now it is off to retrieve our mail that my sister has sent Poste Restante. The Post Office is two blocks away and all is going well until they tell us that the bigger parcel is out at Taksim and we must go there to collect it. When we ask them how to get there they shake their heads, pour over our Istanbul map and say we must go to Topkapi tram stop. Alrighty onto the tram and out to Topkapi (we are now in the boon docks), after asking countless people we arrive at the Post Office an hour later but they are shut for lunch, OK off to a risky looking café, have lunch and back to the Post Office. Are redirected to four different counters, sign four different pieces of paper in triplicate and finally we have our parcel, Yay. It was worth it, I now have vegemite again. (Thanks Schell)

The afternoon we spend wandering the streets before heading up to the Orient Hostel Bar for a beer or two. I think this is the best view in town.

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Next day it off to the Iranian Embassy again where we put in our applications and pay our 100 Euro. Patience is definitely a virtue in these circumstances. The final straw comes when we hand over all our documents in a zip lock bag and he informs us "you need two plastic". I am gobsmacked, he just made that up, no one else including the other Westerners in the place have presented their documents in a plastic bag. Skill informs him "one plastic". AHHHHHHHHH

Skill goes off to the Aya Sofya while I do the washing

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and in the afternoon we head to the Cistern for a look.

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And then it is off to the Orient for a few more beers. Chatting away to the bar guy when 4 young Aussie backpackers walk in. We have a bit of a giggle as they try to order Rump Steak. I turn around and laughingly say "It's not going to happen guys."

The young girl responds by saying "What's your name"
Me "Alanna Skillington".
Young Girl "Oh my God, your'e Mrs Skilly. You taught Shaun and I in Preschool 19 years ago, I'm Telan Wade"
Me "#%$^ you make me feel old"

Anyway needless to say we had a late night and many beers enjoying their company. Unbelievable. What are the chances of meeting young kids you taught two decades ago (in a little town with a population of less than 20 000) in a bar in Istanbul.

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Our next two days are spent visiting the Spice Bazaar,

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Blue Mosque,

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The Hippodrome.

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On our last evening we brave the Grand Bazaar, before heading off to the Blue Mosque light show.

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Next day we leave Istanbul very easily following the coast road for the ride to Ecebat. A nice days ride although it is still windy. We arrive in Ecebat and find TJs new hostel at the Hotel Ecebat. He has parking for us not in the foyer but beside the foyer in a lockable area. Clean room which is good, reasonably priced. Book our Gallipoli tour and up to the bar for a beer. Meet two kiwis so we spend the night talking to them, BBQ tea and bed. The view from our window...

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Next morning Skill checks his emails. We discover that a HU overlander called Marcus is in town bunking down at the Boomerang Bar. Skill responds and we head off on our tour.

There are so many thing one could say about Gallipoli but it is difficult to find the right words to describe the way you feel when you are there. I guess that is why so many Aussies, Kiwis and Turks make the pilgrimage.

Simpson's Grave

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Anzac Cove

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Anzac Beach and Sphinx

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Lone Pine

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The Trenches

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The Turkish Memorial

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When we get back to Ecebat we head to the incredibly dodgy Boomerang Bar, but Marcus is not there so we have a few beers and meet Marsut the owner. I cannot believe it but the boomerang we gave to him four years ago is still behind the bar.

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Eventually Marcus turns up, what a great guy, travelling the same route as us on his BMW R100 GS he bought in Germany.

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Well you can guess what happened, late night, lots of beers and no food, although Skill and I managed a plate of casserole at 11.30.

Next day we are off to Bergama and Marcus decides he will tag along, which is great,

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we ride a pretty ordinary highway before taking some scenic back roads. Just before Bergama we are pulled over by the Jandarma who think we are German, "No we are Aussies", they check our papers and bid us a very friendly goodbye. We arrive in Bergama where I find the Athena Pension and our good mate Aydin who does remember me. (Kath one of my travelling companions of four years ago had been back the previous year to visit him)

Aydin lets us park the bikes in his newly acquired house and garden. Locked up tight.

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We have a lazy afternoon with Marcus drinking beer at a local café before heading back to Aydin's kitchen where Marcus cooks for us all. (Including Aydin)

Next day Skill and I head up to the ruins of Pergamum through the hole in the fence following the blue dots.

A very hot day but stunning all the same. We spend the day wandering around the ruins, eat our picnic lunch under a fig tree, and have figs for dessert. When travelling like we are sometimes you have to pinch yourself and say "Oh my God look at where we are, sitting in a ruin that is more than 2000 years old eating fresh figs. It doesn't get a whole lot better than this."

The ruins of Pergamum are in my opinion wonderful as you can wander at your leisure all over them with no guides, touts or other tourists to hassle you. There are even archeological digs in progress but with no one around.

The Temple of Trajan

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10000 seat Theatre

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We spend the afternoon back at the Pension with Marcus and Aydin, leftovers for dinner, beer and bed.

Next day we say goodbye to Marcus as he has word that his Iranian visa is approved and he needs to pick it up in Ankara.

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It is market day in Bergama so Skill and I are off to the markets, what a visual feast. We buy our fresh fruit and veges, and chicken for tea.

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When we get back to the Pension Aydin takes us for a ride (him on his scooter, us on the bike) out to Allianoi the ancient Roman Spa Town complete with hot spa baths.

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Sadly all this is going to be flooded by the Yortanli Dam which is nearing completion. We feel very sad for Aydin as he feels so passionately attached to this amazing historic site. To us it is almost unbelievable that you could flood and ancient working ruin like this.

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From here we are off to a local fish farm tucked away in the mountains, fed by a mountain stream. Fresh trout and salad for lunch. Absolutely sensational.

On the way back to Bergama, Aydin's scooter dies so we have to toe him through Turkish traffic to the Honda shop. Skill says to me "I can't believe I'm doing this, do you know how dangerous this is", as the trucks and dolmuses blast past us.

We arrive at the Honda shop in one piece, they fix Aydin's drive belt and we head back to the Pension where Skill and I cook a chicken casserole for dinner. Aydin's mum joins us and she adds the fresh corn she has cooked to the feast. Aydin shares a bottle of white wine and all is good in the world. The four of us share a great meal.

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We are hesitant to leave Bergama but make the short ride to ANZ Pension at Selcuk. A wonderful spot with lovely people running it. A Turkish family who lived in Australia for 12 years own it. Once again they offer us parking in the central reception area but we feel the bike is safe parked on the quiet street and we can see it from our room.

Next day it is off to Ephesus where we spend most of the day. Ancient Ephesus was a great trading city and centre for the cult of Cybele, an Anotolian fetlility goddess. Over time Cybele became Artemis and a huge temple was built in her honour (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) When the Romans took over, Artemis became Diana and Ephesus became the Asian Roman Capital. The origins of Ephesus date from around 600 BC.

The Library

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Curetes Way

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Loos with a view

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Harbour Street

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In the afternoon we visit the remains of "The Temple of Artemis" not very much is left, only a few pillars. In this photo you can also see the Basilica of St John on the hill. (Beside the pillar) St John is believed to have come to Ephesus in his old age to write his gospel. He is meant to be buried in a tomb beneath the church.

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We also visit the Museum which houses the most amazing artifacts.

From Ephesus we have a long days ride out to the ruins of Afrodisas.

Most of Afrodisias dates from the 1st Century AD. The name is derived from the Greek for the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite called Venus by the Romans.

The Tetrapylon (Monumental Gateway)

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270m long stadium

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The beautiful marble bouleuterion

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And then it was down to Lake Koycegiz, we are weighing up our Pension options when Skill says, "Where did you stay last time?" To which I answer "I don't want to be boring, maybe we should go to Dalyan".

Skill says "I've had enough for the day lets just head to the Tango Pension". Alright, in we ride get off the bike and go inside to negotiate a room. When I come back out Skill is chatting to two other people. Unbelievably it is Belinda and Patrick Peck from Cairns. (Also HU members) Two Qld registered motorcycles at Lake Koycegiz???????? But wait it is stranger than that. On the previous night their friends who live one block away from them in Cairns also turned up at the Pension. They had no idea that they were coming to Turkey and certainly no idea they would be at the Pension. What are the chances of that happening?

So it is 7 loud and excited Aussies that drink cocktails "Sex on the Beach" and beer before heading out to dinner, what a great night and what lovely people.

Next day Grant, Susan and Liz are off on a sea kayaking trip while Patrick and Belinda are off to Fethiye. Skill and I go off on a boat trip on the Lake, to Dalyan and Turtle Beach. A lovely day but storms all around.

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Next day we head off to Fethiye and arrive at the Pension where we think Belinda and Patrick are, get a text message from them, they are still in Dalyan so head back there and join them. Can't find the hotel in Dalyan so ask some construction workers who get on their scooter and show us the way.

We spend a lovely evening wandering around Dalyan, tea looking out over the Lake up to the Lycain Tombs. Hard to find a better location.

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Next morning there are storms all around, decide to stay in bed. About 1.00pm after group discussion we make the break and ride to Fethiye, in hindsight not a good idea. About five kilometres outside the town it just buckets down, Belinda and Patrick are in front and pull into a servo to wait for us and have their first fall of the trip because the servo has so much diesel on the smooth concrete driveway. They are OK and the bike is fine. We make the rest of the ride into Fethiye through flooding rain.

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After we try four different hotels we end up in an OK hotel with beautiful views of the harbour.

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Dinner/Lunch then out for a walk around the town, Belinda wants a massage for her sore neck (from the fall) so we get two back/neck massages for 12 lira. We had to protect our honour as they also want to give us a boob massage as well. "No my husband, he will not like"

Then back to the hotel for a few room drinks. Got into trouble for being too noisy again.

Next day beautiful sunshine so after brekky we pack up

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and head to Sakilkent Gorge where we walk up the gorge for a short way. Because of the flooding rains the water is quite dirty.

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A lovely trout lunch before heading to Patara where we score an amazing Pension for 30 lira a night.

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And probably one of the best dinners we have had in Turkey home cooked by the ladies of the house.

Next day is my birthday, Skill goes to phone the Iranian Embassy. D DAY for visas. Yee ha, they have approved out visa. To celebrate we walk to the beach and spend most of our day there before it is back to the Pension for lunch and then a wine and nibbly sunset before a sumptuous dinner.

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A pretty idyllic birthday. And a big thanks to Patrick and Belinda who changed their plans and spent the day with us. It was great to have some Aussie company for my birthday, I really appreciated it.

Thanks to everyone who called and sent text messages. Even got a little bit homesick.

Tomorrow we have a long ride to Ankara so,

Cheers and Beers for now

Quote for the Week:
"Don't tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled" Mohammed

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Posted by John Skillington at 04:46 PM GMT
October 19, 2006 GMT
Turkey - Part 2

Next day it is goodbye to Patrick and Belinda and we head to Ankara as we know that we have to be there by Thursday as the Embassy is shut on Friday and we don't fancy spending three days in the capital. This was our biggest days ride by far. We leave at 10.00am and reach Ankara at 8.30pm with only fuel stops and a quick lunchstop. The last 40 kms before the freeway from Polati to Ankara is roadworks, a loosely gravelled surface in the dark. Finally make it to Ankara.

To quote the Lonely Planet, if you have your own vehicle, "do yourself a favour and use public transport instead. Driving is chaotic and signs woefully insufficient". We couldn't agree more, with no map, and a big diversion on the way in we end up pretty lost and pull over asking a young guy "Closest Hotel". He tries to explain in Turkish then goes and gets his boss from the Restaurant who speaks English. In the end they decide that the young guy should drive his bosses car (a BMW) and show us the way. Which he does, it takes a good 10 minutes to get there, we are so grateful but he won't accept anything and drives off. After he leaves, Skill goes in to negotiate. Special price 120............. US dollars. I don't think so, they direct us to another hotel a block away, this time I go in, 140 Euro and no negotiation, I ask them for another hotel, they direct us to one up the road. Finally success. We are pretty tierd so order room service have a shower and die.

Next day we leave early and it is off to do battle with the Iranian embassy, we catch a taxi in (the taxi driver gets lost, but does stop the meter) and make our way through the 3 doors to the counter. This time a scarf is expected.

Because our visa applications were done in Istanbul we have to refill them out in duplicate and attach photos again. Of course we don't have photos with us so down to the photo shop. He takes our photos then has difficulty printing them as the printer is broken. "I call a friend". Friend comes and finally after an hour, photos. Bolt back to Embassy. Wait for an hour. And then yahoo, we have our visa, by this time it is 12.30pm.

Back to the hotel, onto the bike and back into the Ankara traffic. Amazingly the hotel is on the road that we need out of town, (I could kiss those young men who got us onto the right road) and it is a straight run out to Kirikkale and then Goreme. Near Kirsehir we run into a huge thunder storm, we decide we do not want to get wet again and the lightning is all around us. (Yes Again) We pull into a service station that we realise is not open but we can shelter under the roof. A young man comes out and tells us to come inside which we gratefully do. After two Turkish teas more people arrive and the "big man" invites us into his office, they try to ply us with food, raki, tea, apple tea, and we manage to have a conversation through a little Turkish a little English and lots of charades.

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After an hour the storm has abated and we bid our new found friends goodbye. The Turks are the most hospitable people.

Onward to Goreme, on arrival we pull up outside an internet café where Skill checks emails to see if we can track down an Aussie friend visiting Goreme. No luck but we get a card for a pension with parking for the bike so we give that a go. What a find? We were so lucky to end up at the Star Cave Pension.

The Pension is relatively new and beautifully appointed. And Ahmet and Ramazan are the most friendly hospitable hosts. Check out our cave room...

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On our first day there we head up over the hill and into Love Valley and marvel at the beautiful fairy chimneys

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then it is off to Goreme Open air Museum. This is a World Heritage Site, rock cut Byzantine churches and chapels. The Karinlik Kilise is the most famous of the churches for good reason. Look at the amazingly well preserved frescos dating from the 1st Century AD.

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Our second day in Goreme is spent being lazy wandering the cobblestone streets and watching the daily lives of the people. Goreme although a heavily touristed area still clings to its traditional way of life with veiled women in their baggy trousers and the men drinking tea in the tea houses (after 6.30 pm as it is Ramazan) It is a truly amazing place.

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The following day with the help of Ramazan our host we manage to find a box and post home all our camping gear, and other bits and pieces. Nearly 12 kg worth. The poor old bike is going to be so happy without this weight.

There is a huge mix of nationalities staying at the Pension, the obligatory Aussies and New Zealanders. We also have John and Cassabadra from the US and Nadya and her band of Russian friends. Nadya is amazing, she has discovered mountaineering and came to Turkey to climb Mt Ararat. Out of twelve people only she and the two guides made it to the summit.

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The Pension also play host to a revolving door of Koreans and Japenese.

I suppose I should also mention our favourite resident at the Pension, a wonderful dog called Boncuk. Boncuk is our constant companion, each day she comes into the village with us for lunch. I also smuggle her into our room where she keeps me company while I recover from my cold. She really is the dearest little thing.

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Next day we decide that we will go for a ride and check out the sights, including the Underground City of Derinkuyu,

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Ihlara Valley,

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the monasteries at Selime and finally we follow the original silk road from Aksaray to Nevsehir via the ancient Agzikarahan Caravanserai.

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That night we sample one of Ramazan's Amazing pottery kebabs.

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Over the next four days Skill tries to get tyres ordered for the bike. We were thinking of having them shipped from Ankara to Van but we hear on the grapevine there is a bit of PKK unrest around Van so decide against that. And then I end up getting sick with a bad cold and cough so we decide to stay put and Ramazan helps Skill organise the tyres to be sent to the pension at Goreme.

He also goes out on the bike with Skill to track down a shop in Nevsehir that will be able to fit the tyres when they arrive. The two of them cause quite a scene in Nevsehir, bikes this big are not that common in this part of Turkey,

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Because we decide to stay for the extra time and have not booked the Pension is full. The family refuse to let us stay anywhere else and we end up at the family home for a night with Ramazan, his wife Tubga and their new baby. Then next day they bring us back to the Pension as there is a room available again. We also get the wonderful news that our good friends Mick and Treena have had their long awaited and precious baby. It is at times like this you wish you could duck home for a quick hello and join in the celebrations.

We end up staying in Goreme for eleven days. Each day is wonderful, walking the valleys, chatting to the local shop owners who now recognise us and shake hands with us and invite us in for tea. We also take a ride to Rose Valley where SKill takes a liking to brightly coloured hats (I didn't think this affliction overtook you until you reached Nepal). Life is pretty idyllic except that I don't seem to be able to shake my cold.

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Finally the tyres arrive and Skill and Ramazan set off into Nevsehir, returning successfully with new tyres for the bike. The next day is Saturday so we decide to set off, but get an email from Marcus who is broken down in Iran, his BMW gear box is dead. We decide to spend another day to see if there is anything we can do for him via email while we are still reasonably close to Ankara. In the end there is really nothing we can do and Marcus seems to have things under control so we leave for Nemrut Dargi on Sunday.

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We have a long days ride through amazing scenery, mountain roads, long flat plains, dusty mud built towns. It is pretty obvious we are not on the tourist route. Everywhere we see women on donkeys collecting wood. Old tractors and trailers mounded high with turnips. Villagers picking and packing potatoes. It is like a time warp. The main obstacles on the roads is not so much the traffic but the goats and sheep being herded by young children.

We arrive at the small village of Karadut at about 7.00 pm and find a hotel which is pretty ordinary but OK. We are the only people staying there and the restaurant is not open so we must go to the house for dinner which we do. The food is amazing and we eat dinner sitting on the floor. Although the people are friendly enough it is pretty obvious we are an imposition, next morning we go to the house for breakfast, and Skill tells them we will just take the room rate. This makes the man of the house do his "you ungrateful tourist" act, but too bad.

We have a wonderful days riding firstly up the steep rough road to Mt Nemrut. For those of you who don't know, this summit was created by a megalomaniac King called who built two ledges into the mountains and erected huge statues of himself and the Gods and then had his underlings build an artificial peak of crushed rock 50 metres high. The sheer scale of it is breathtaking even more so when you realise it was built in about 50 BC. It remained hidden from the world until 1881 when a German engineer happened upon it.

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We spent two hours on the peak wandering alone through the ruins. One of those "I am so lucky to be seeing this" moments.

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From the summit we take the short cut road down some pretty amazing hair pin bends and very rough roads past remote stone and mud villages to the ruins of Arsameia founded in about 80BC. These ruins have a column/statue of Apollo the sun god and a relief of Mithridates shaking hands with the god Heracles. Close by is a cave temple with the steps till in tact.

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After a drink and chat with a lovely local man we move on to the village of Eski Khata with its Castle ruins and and beautiful Seljuk Bridge.

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Then a ride back to Narince via the Roman Bridge and another huge Burial mound like the one atop Nemrut Dargi.

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In the village of Narince we cause a sensation by stopping to buy fruit, veges and pasta for tea. At one point I could not get to the top box for the villages surrounding the bike.

The following day we know have a long days ride to Tatvan. (After asking many locals they assure us that the road to Van is fine, just not after dark, due to the PKK unrest) So up and gone by 8.00 am. We also know that we have to catch a ferry across the dammed Euphrates River (part of the HUGE Gap dam project) but cannot find any info about it. Hmm best laid plans, we arrive at the dam at 8.40, the ferry has just left and we now have to wait till 10.30 am so we wait and wait and wait. Skill passes the time observing the varied and abundant fish life swarming around the vehicle loading structure in the lake's very clear water. I think he was wishing for a fishing line....

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Eventually we load with all the trucks and dolmuses and make the 20 minute crossing.

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Ok on our way, we ride through flat inhospitable looking country that only goats seem to like to Siverek, once again dodging, carts, sheep flocks and tractors. Then onto Diyarbakir and other wild looking towns.

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The Turkish landscape looks so dry and arid but there is an abundance of water, every river has flowing water in it. The soil is obviously fertile as there is small cropping everywhere. Apparently Turkey is one of a few countries that is self sufficient in agriculture. Between Diyarbakir and Silvan there are huge expanses of harvested wheat crops and we must do batlle with 100s of wheat trucks carting the grain and stubble. This one is not as overrloaded as most.

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We eventually start to climb up and over the mountain passes with countless trucks. At first it is very disconcerting, all along the hills are military lookouts with soldiers with machine guns at the ready. At one point on the pass we come to a stop behind about 100 trucks because of road works. Eventually we start to move, it is sheer chaos with trucks overtaking and outmaneuvering each other. We cannot see a thing because of the dust and to make matters worse we realise that there are also trucks coming towards us as well.

Apparently it is all in Allah's hands. We on the other hand although having great respect for Allah feel that we can contribute to our well being and self preservation by defensive driving, a view obviously not shared by most other drivers here.

They really are crazy. Things that would have completely freaked me out at the beginning of the journey now don't even rate a second glance, cars overtaking on the wrong side, cars overtaking within 2 inches of the panniers and my leg and then cutting us off are common place. The only thing that we find difficult to handle is two trucks or buses coming towards you on a blind corner and there is nowhere to go.

Anyway we survive and make it to Tatvan in one piece, check out our hotel options in this ordinary city. The people on the street are helpful and direct us to a few hotels. We opt for a cheapie and get what we paid for. When we check in the guy is very friendly and says "Welcome to Kurdjastan"???? The room however is a pretty grotty, smoky room which is on the main road and so very noisy. Not only that, when we open the window the room fills up with smoke from the restaurant chimney across the street.

Skill sleeps like a rock (as usual), I am awake for most of the night, we leave Tatvan early next morning after a less than palatable breakfast of stale flat bread, smelly butter, olives and cucumber. The tea was OK.

We travel along the Northern side of Lake Van through glorious scenery. Lake Van is a huge inland sea, some 3750 sq km. The Lake was formed when Mt Nemrut Volcano blocked the overflow. The Lake has an extremely high alkalinity level.

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We also ride past the snow capped mountains of Nemrut and Suphan before taking the road to Dogubayazit.

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This is amazing countryside, there is a huge frozen lava flow from Mt Temdurek Volcano which we stop to take a photo of just before a military checkpoint, not a good idea but had no idea what was around the next corner.

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There is also a huge military presence in this area, on top of the mountains about every 1km there is a military lookout. We finally get our first glimpse of Mt Ararat shrouded in cloud. Just beautiful. And then into the dusty town of Dogubayazit.

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After locating an OK hotel I am exhausted so have lunch in our room and just go to bed. Skill spends the afternoon exploring this dusty town.

It must have been one of those days, I discover that my watch has fallen off during the days ride, I break a tooth eating lunch (so much for my $3000 dental bill before I left OZ) and then a while later Skill says "You are not going to believe it my watch has stopped working". And the final straw comes when the menu button on the phone dies. Lucky the Pide we have for tea is bloody good.

The next day we take a ride out to the magnificant ruins of Ishak Pasa Palace. We pass the military compound, I am gobsmacked some 200 tanks and other military hardware at the ready.

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Ishak Pasa Palace is amazing I think the photos tell the story.

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The Palace was begun in 1685 and completed in 1784 so a relatively new building by Turkish standards.

When we get back to town it is off to the Bazaar to look for new watches, after much haggling and decision making we have 2 watches for 30 YTL. How long they will last is a matter of some debate!!!!!

Skill also goes out for a Turkish haircut, they do a sensational job for the princely sum of 5 YTL.

As we have been riding along there have been so many things I would love to have taken photos of but have refrained because of military concerns, or not wishing to offend people or simply because we are lost in the moment (or simply lost) and are taking that mental photograph.

Our favourite moment was seeing a tiny 3 or 4 year old boy looking after a herd of goats near the Palace, with Mt Ararat in the background. He ran all the way to the road and waved furiously to us.

Tomorrow we cross the border into Iran so more adventures to come I would say.

Cheers and Beers (well actually there will be no beers for a while, so I will say Cheers and Chai)

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Quote for the Week: " For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." - Robert Louis Stevenson

PS. Turkey is suffering from lack of tourists at the moment for varying reasons. But this amazing and beautiful country is one, that if given the opportunity one should see.

The scenery, the beaches, the ruins are all part of its charm, but Turkey's biggest asset is it's people. They would have to be the most generous, warmhearted, gentle people we have met so far. Although not wishing to offend, Turkey is still my favourite country.

For other Overland Motorcycle Travellers
Accommodation that we have stayed in that we can recommend and have reasonably secure parking for the bike are:

Athena Pension - Bergama (fantastic breakfasts, Aydin's omelets are the best)
Tango Pension - Koycegiz
ANZ Pension - Selcuk
Akay Pension - Patara (fantastic home cooked Turkish Dinners)
Tango Pension - Koycegiz
Star Cave Pension - Goreme (Ramazzan makes the best pottery kebabs in town)
Isfahan Hotel (bit dodgy but OK, hot water only after 7.00pm) -Dogubayazit

Out two favourites were Athena and Star Cave Pensions

Posted by John Skillington at 06:22 PM GMT
November 09, 2006 GMT
Iran

Up and at em early as we know it will be a long day. Breakfast, packed up and gone by 8.30am we ride past the plains beneath the twin peaks of Great Ararat and Little Ararat on our way to the border. (Gurbulak)

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We make our way up the wrong side of the road past the kilometres of trucks to what we think is the first checkpoint, a guy comes out of the guard house and asks for our papers and carnet which we hand over then he says follow me. After a minute we both think the same thing he is not an official and stop him to take our papers back. He plays dumb and continues to be helpful. In the end Skill goes to the correct checkpoint and then into the hall to get the carnet stamped and we are free to leave Turkey. The unofficial official wants a fee for his unwanted services. NO!!!! And the money changers are all around us hassling to change our money into rial.

Ignoring them we ride through the big sliding iron gate out of Turkey and wait for the Iranian guy to open his big sliding iron gate. Skill has to get off the bike and help him.

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We took over 2 and a half hours to get through the border but everyone was courteous, friendly and obliging. The wheels just turn very slowly and the paperwork is horrendous. For most of the time I sat in the waiting room area and watched Iranian cartoons and talked to a few local women while Skill stayed and organised paperwork. At one point we had to pay for photocopying but hadn't changed our money to rials so one of the guards lent Skill 10 000 rial. (about $2.00) After we had changed money Skill went to repay him and he would not accept it.

At an estimate we passed through 5 different checkpoints each time thinking well that must be it. Eventually we are on our way riding through Barzagan, Maku on our way to Tabriz. We have our first fill up with fuel. It costs us less then $2.00 AUD, after the astronomical prices in Turkey Skill is a happy camper, although he doesn't appear to be in this photo.

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At one point the weather turns cold and rainy so we stop for a late lunch and don our wet weather gear, all the time cars, trucks and buses are tooting their horns and waving to us.

As we get close to Tabriz, cars start overtaking us then slowing down to wave and take our photos with their mobile phones. On the outskirts of the city we are stopped at a checkpoint, the police are so friendly, "Welcome to Iran, welcome, welcome".

Not long after this we stop again to look at the Lonely Planet and get directions, within 2 minutes we are completely surrounded by a group of 10 bike riders all wanting to chat about the bike, ahhhh, all this attention is a little overwhelming.

Into the City Centre where we stop again and ask a policeman for directions and then another stop, we are just rechecking our directions on our Lonely Planet map when a man sticks his head over Skills shoulder and says in perfect English "Can I help you"? " Ummmm not sure" is our response. He then points to a name in the LP and says this is me. Sure we think, here we go. He hands over his business card and sure enough it is Nasser Khan, one of Tabrizs most experienced and respected guides.

We are saved he gives us impeccable directions to a hotel with parking. He tells us it is not a 4 star hotel but it is cheap and will be Ok for one night. So that is what we do.

On arrival it is pretty dodgy but they do have parking for the bike. The bathroom is pretty ordinary but at least there is hot water.

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Tabriz is not a very scenic city so we opt for a takeaway tea and some Iranian Ashi Mashi cola before Skill heads to the internet across the road which someone kindly directs him to.

Next day we head out of Tabriz, somehow we are on the road out of town again, our destination is Ghazvin.

Signage in Iran is difficult as I am not that good at distinguishing Farsi and the English signs are few and far between.

At one point we come to a Y intersection, one road is a highway and the other is marked as a freeway but with absolutely no other signs. Alrighty we'll take the freeway. Off we set. We followed this freeway for over 200km, during that time we did not see one sign and there was not one single town (except for the mud brick villages), no service station or for that matter any other traffic.

As we were to find out it was a brand new freeway in the midst of being built. This became very evident as we rode along. At one point we came across a roller that was pretty much on fire. Skill accelerated past at great speed as the diesel fuel tank was also alight.

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The landscape was totally amazing, more reminiscent of a moonscape than any earthly landscape.

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Eventually we joined up with the main freeway into Zanjan (which is where Marcus is stranded, his BMW gear box still in pieces) pass through the toll which is free, get our passports and paperwork checked and we are on our way. About 60 km down the road we are pulled over by the police.

Polieman Hello. Where you from?
Skill: Australia
Policeman: Welcome. Passport
Dutifully hand over our passports which he takes to his superior in the car. Back they come.
Police: Problem
Skill: What problem.
Police: No moto on freeway.
Skill: Why?
Police: No moto on freeway!
Skill: OK so where do we go?

There is then a huge silence of about two minutes, we are not sure but think maybe we were meant to offer some money to stay on the freeway, but we don't. After a while Skill gets out map and says

Skill: Where do we go

After some conciliation they say,

Police: You go on freeway for 50km then take exit and follow this road.

Pointing to a minor road on the map.
We dutifully say our thankyou's and they say for the forth or fifth time...

Police: Thank you, we are happy police.

Not sure what that meant, maybe they had been smoking something.

Off we go down the freeway for 50 km and do take the exit as it is now only 30 km to Ghazvin anyway. The traffic is crazy, trucks overtaking buses overtaking cars and scooters at the same time in both directions on a normal one lane each way road. We are forced off the road many times.

Arriving in Ghazvin city with only a sketchy map and vague hotel directions we pull over to regroup when a car pulls up and offers to take us to a hotel. We diligently follow arriving at a nice looking hotel but after Skill checks it out they have no vacancies.

We are once again weighing up our options when a street stall vendor wanders over and offers to take us to our nominated hotel, on his bicycle. He just leaves his stall and off we go up a one way street against the traffic down some narrow back alleys and out onto the main street and there we go. We cannot thank these people enough.

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The Hotel Iran is great, very basic but we have parking for the bike and a balcony where we can cook our breakfast with the fuel stove (It is still Ramazan so breakfast and lunch are difficult).

That night we wander the streets and run into both our navigational saviours. They are very friendly and are happy to chat to us in broken English. The stall vendor gives us free chewing gum and his phone number in case we want him to guide us through the bazaar.

An early dinner at an Ok restaurant and an early night. We watch the sun set and then there are huge thunder storms all around and we enjoy a great light show from our balcony.

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Next day we are feeling very lazy so stay put, Skill decides to do an oil change on the bike and the hotel guys are really helpful finding old containers to drain the oil into. Skill asks "Where should he take the old oil to", their response, "just pour it down this drain". Skill is horrified "No, no, no". Response, "It is OK". Poor Skill continues to be horrified and they say "Oh alright we will take it away". My guess is it will go down the drain but at least we tried.

We are so lucky to be in Iran at this time as it is the official day of mourning for martyr Emam Alli (we think) and there is huge processions and festivals which continue past our hotel all day and the singing, chanting at the mosques continues late into the night. It is truly an amazing sight and we have the most wonderful day.

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We spend the next day wandering the bazaar, with it's grotesque

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and glimmering sights.

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I make the decision to buy a black coat so that I can blend in a little more. The guys where we buy it from are hilarious and want their photos taken.

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That day and evening there are more thunder storms and a reasonable amount of rain. (The average rainfall for the month of October in Iran is meant to be 0mm)

The next day we make a move and start our daily life of crime using the freeway. We don't even make it 10 km out of Ghazvin before we are pulled over by the police. Same story

Police: Moto, Autobahn Problem
Skill: Incredulously "Why"
Police: Car fast, Moto. Bang (using fist into hand gesture), dangerous...
Skill: No this is a big moto, see speedo, can easily do 120km hour. No problem"
Police: No moto autobahn problem.
Skill: Where do we go then?
Police: Pointing towards the tolls and the "Autobahn" AHHHH

So down the freeway we go and are pulled over at least another 4 times during the day. Same story, same response and we continue to use the freeway.

Most of the cars on the roads are old (pre 1980) and seem to be of a similar make. Driving on the freeways or in the towns are the ubiquitous blue utes (or pickups) in varying shades of blue carrying all manner of cargo.

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Whether it is supplies for the shop

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Or perhaps some furniture.

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And even Marcus' broken down motorbike. (Read on for more about that saga later. Poor Marcus.)

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The motorway to Tehran is pretty ordinary but the road into Tehran is horrendous. Tehran is not a city for the faint hearted, the pollution is dreadful and our throats and noses are burning with the fumes. We get lost of course and three different lots of people that we ask for directions motioned for us to follow them which we do.

Bless them we are on the road out of Tehran heading past the Holy Shrine of Emam Khomeini. At this point I should mention the great reverence that is paid to the Emam Khomeini, his face is everywhere, in shop windows,

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on cars, in hotels,

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and on billboards

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and even the money is unofficially referred to as Kohmeinis (10000 Rial)

We also pass Behesht (the military cemetery for those who died during the Iraq Iran War) on our way to Kashan.

Everyday it is the same deal we ask people where is such and such hotel and people will hop on their bikes and show us the way, which is what happens in Kashan. Kashan's city is an interesting ancient mud brick structure, which we can view from our hotel room, (sorry through the flyscreen)

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Of biblical significance it is believed that the 3 Wise Men set out for Bethlehem from Kashan.

We have an afternoon wandering the Bazaar before making friends with two beautiful Iranian girls who invite us to their home. Unfortunately we have to leave the next day so are not able to take up the offer.

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Later on Skill is pretty happy that he can find some non alcoholic beer which we drink in our room beneath the arrow pointing towards Mecca.

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We spend the next morning walking the streets and finding a bank to change our money. We don't get away till late but take the dreaded freeway to Esfahan, we make it 150km before we are pulled over by the Police. We are nearly past them when they see us and they run out into the middle of the road to flag us down. We have to physically turn the bike around to get back to them.

These guys are not interested in our papers, nor do they want to throw us off the freeway but they do want to drink tea with us and chat about the motorbike. They put down the radar gun, ignore the passing traffic and talk with us for half an hour. They are locals from Esfahan so give us some handy hints, scenic sights, hotel and internet information. We cannot get away but finally we are on our way into Esfahan.

We find our way in, park the bike and Skill goes off hotel hunting. He is away for nearly an hour during which time at least 50 people look at the bike and want to say hello. By the time Skill gets back I am surrounded 3 people deep.

Finally off to a cheap hotel that will let us park the bike in the foyer. It is good to get out of my hot riding gear, I am about to expire.

Esfahan is a beautiful city, it's main tourist attraction being the Square (well actually it is a rectangle)
Meidun-Emam Khomeini with beautiful mosques, a palace and ancient Bazaar.

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We spend the evening trying to make our way around the square but cannot make it more than 50 metres without being stopped by someone who wants to welcome us to Esfahan. We spent a long time talking to this lady and her husband chatting about our respective families.

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The next day it is off to play tourist in Esfahan which is difficult as you keep having to stop and chat. We walk to the river and look at the Si-o-Se Bridge with its 33 arches. It was built in 1602.

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From the bridge we can see the men harvesting the weed from the river.

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Mostly by traditional methods,

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and some not so traditional methods, we wonder how long the whipper snipper will last.

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We cross the attractive Khaju Bridge and make our way back to the main square through beautiful gardens.

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It is here we meet the wonderful Mohammed who is a medical student returned to his home town for study break. He takes us under his wing and shows us through the Bazaar. Through the ancient gates with their beautiful frescoes.

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Here we see the tablecloths being printed in the traditional manner.

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We also see the beautiful and exacting work of the metal artisans and the artists painting miniatures on camel bone.

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And of course no tour would be complete without a visit to an Iranian Carpet shop.

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Mohammed also took us into some older parts of the Bazaar to see the Camel wheel, a huge grinding stone that up until 10 years ago was actually powered by camels.

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We had the most wonderful day and thank Mohammed for his time and generosity.

By this time it is quite late we have not eaten but have given up trying to get back to the hotel for food as we only get 10 paces before someone stops us for a chat or invites us in for tea. We decide to stay and just sit in the square to enjoy the sights of Masjed-e Emam Mosque completed in 1638. It is truly beautiful with a huge dome and high twin minarets.

There is also a smaller mosque called Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfollah in the square, it is equally beautiful.

I suppose at some point in the story I should mention the the abundance of motorcycles everywhere in Iran. These photos were taken in Esfahan.

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To see three people on one bike is commonplace as is a family of four.

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Our record spotted so far is five. And they definitely start learning to ride at an early age.

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After being in Iran's cities I have noted that although the women of Iran may wear the black Chadors, let me tell you these City dwelling girls are out there, the scarves are worn right at the back of their heads, their clothes are the latest hipsters and tiny tops. Their shoes are sensational and everyone is beautifully coiffured and made up. They almost had me rushing off to put my makeup on. However there are dress police who monitor what women are wearing and issue fines and sometimes even jail sentences for repeat offenders who dare to flout the strict dress codes.

The women are also highly educated, more so than the men which leads me to believe that the woman of Iran, will in the not too distant future, be a force to be reckoned with.

Our next day is reasonably quiet as there is a huge national day of protest against the US and Israel. Some of the signs make interesting viewing.

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The following day we make the break and ride to Yazd. There is just miles and miles of dessert as far as the eye can see but the roads are good and fast and the police do not throw us off. Hooray.

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At a fuel station we come across an abandoned tank that they have built the road around. Quite a sight!!!!!

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We arrive in Yazd quite early but do not have a lot of information about hotels in our old Lonely Planet. We get directed by the locals to the Silk Road Hotel. What a find. An absolute oasis in the midst of the chaos. It is also used by all the overland travellers.

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There is Patrick and Sophie from The Netherlands, Theo and Laura from Switzerland who are riding their pushbikes overland

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and then Benjamin and Mende from Germany riding their tandem round the world.

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Our first evening is spent chatting and eating the fabulous food at this welcoming place. They also have non alcoholic beer from Russia which tastes like real beer.

Over the next four days there is a huge assortment of travellers from all over.

We meet the wonderful Marco who is an effusive Italian with an amazing zest for life.

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This is Marco's story:
Marco had caught the train from Islamabad to Quetta five days previous to him arriving in Yazd. On the section between Multan and Quetta the train had been attacked by rebels with bazookas and machine guns. They tried to blow up the engine and kill the passengers by firing downwards when they realised everyone was on the floor. Eventually the train managed to get into a long tunnel where they waited for three hours before continuing to Quetta. Although a very serious story Marcos' wonderful Italian animation and sound effects had us in stitches. He concluded his story by saying "I was very scared, I thought I was going to die" That very personal reflection and his newspaper cutting from the Baluchistan Times were pretty sobering.

And then the exuberant Raoul rides in on his Chang Jiang motorcycle which he has ridden from China on his way to Holland.

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What an amazing group of people!!!!!
We have the best time in Yazd, not really doing a lot except chatting, laughing and eating. Occasionally we leave our oasis to marvel at the mosque, or walk the labyrinth of streets in the old part of the city.

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We also visit the bazaar, Yazd was an important stopping point on the trade route from China. Apparently Marco Polo visited here in 1272.

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Skill and I loved this shop selling Singer sewing machines.

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On another day we visited the Towers of Silence. This place belongs to the Zoroastrian religion, a small minority group in Iran. The Zoroastrians believe this is the place where the dead go free, they would bring their dead to these hilltop structures and leave them for the vultures to devour. They would return a month later collect the bones and place them in a large well.

Sadly for these people, the Muslim powers that be, filled in the wells and now the local youth ride their motorcycles all over this sacred site. Absolutely no respect is shown for what is essentially a cemetery. The question was posed to our Zoroastrian guide how would a Muslim person feel if we rode our motorcycles into their Mosque?????????

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On our final night in Yzad, Marcus finally catches up with us, the clever Iranians have managed to fix his gear box using very unorthodox methods. It is also the end of Ramadan so we have our own celebrationary feast (Eid al-fatar) of pancakes, thanks to Raoul.

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We (Marcus too) leave the next day heading towards Kerman, we get 100 km down the road when Marcus' bike loses power and dies. We load him into a local truck and he heads back to Yazd. We continue onto Kerman where we catch up with Patrick and Sophie, the Dutch cyclists from Yazd. After witnessing our first dust storm we manage an early dinner and chat the evening away.

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We get an email from Marcus the next day to say Raoul fixed his bike and that it was nothing too major. He will try to catch up.

We start our journey through the sometimes dodgy Baluchistan area to Bam, a pretty uneventful ride through the dessert to the depressing Earthquake ruined city of Bam.

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We stay at Akbar's Guest House. This amazing man lost his hotel and some of his guests also perished in the earthquake, his own son being buried for many hours. This would have kept many a man down but he is rebuilding his guest house out of steel and enthusiastically showed us the view from the top. Sadly Bam now has little to offer visitors.

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We leave Bam fairly late thinking Marcus will catch us up, but it is not to be so off we go. As we are riding along we have our first "run in" with the police who pull us over for what we think will be a passport check or maybe a police escort (as we are in Baluchi rebel country) but no. Two police officers and two armed army guys hop out of the car and politely shake our hands then tell us we were doing 120km and will have to pay them a 200 $US fine. We tell them "No we were not doing 120 km hr" (we weren't) and they argue with us for 10 minutes. In the end Skill says "Well where is your proof, where is the speed camera". They answer "no camera, we know you were doing 120 km ph because we followed you in car". In the end I've had enough and say "you must take us to the Police Station in Zhedan because we do not have 200 US$. We will talk to the Chief of Police there". All of a sudden the story changes. "you are angry". "No, not angry just confused we were not doing 120km p hr" is my response. "Oh well you must go now, we are sorry"

So we leave the best of friends as we give them 4 koalas and a pencil instead of 200 dollars. It was not a threatening situation at all, quite the opposite really, it turned into a bit of a joke, we will have to give them 10 points for trying. Although other travellers we met had huge problems with corrupt police.

So onto the border town of Mirjaveh through the gates to Iran immigration only to find because it is Friday it has shut at 2.30 pm as has the Pakistani immigration office. We are stuck in No Mans Land having to stay in the absolutely revolting hotel at Mirjaveh which has no water and is currently undergoing renovation/demolition???? our room has two beds with revoltingly dirty blankets and even worse pillows. We get out our liners and blow up pillows, buy some bottled water and make the best of it. Luckily we have our pasta and pasta sauce, we cook dinner on the window ledge. We also meet some lovely young Turkish people who are on their way to the Moondust Festival in India. They are not staying at the hotel but are camped outside. Skill lends them the stove so they can make some Chai.

We happily say goodbye to the Mirjevah Hotel, and the view of the rubbish dump from our window and unhappily say goodbye to our Turkish friends and start the long process to leave Iran which goes smoothly, but once again it is a slow tedious process of mind numbing beauacracy at its best. So next its onto the wild frontiers of Pakistan.

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We loved Iran. The people in Iran are truly the most kind, hospitable, wonderfully friendly and respectful people we have met. Generosity of spirit runs in their blood. We cannot count the number of people who have helped us out, invited us into their homes or simply stopped us in the street for a chat.

The only thing you are likely to be killed with in Iran is KINDNESS. (or perhaps the driving, they are dangerously woeful) Although the scenery is not as spectacular as some countries we have visited we would not have missed this experience for anything. It has been almost humbling.

If given the opportunity we will be back.

Cheers and Chai.

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Posted by John Skillington at 09:22 AM GMT
November 26, 2006 GMT
Pakistan - part1

After doing all the paperwork and taking two hours to leave Iran, we ride out of Iran into Pakistan following a dusty trail only to realise we have missed the immigration point, which I actually mistook for a chook shed. (Chicken Coop) We turn around and join the 100 locals who are queuing, the money changers are trying to boss us around and tell us we must join the line outside and stay there, obviously so they have more time to badger you to change money. Tierd, hot and slightly annoyed Skill goes into the main office where we are processed in 10 minutes, then it is off to the the next shed across the rubbish strewn dustbowl called Taftan.

The carnet details are entered into a huge old ledger that measured well over a metre long. Finally we are off, to get our black market fuel

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and make the break to Dalbandin across the incredibly harsh dessert landscape. We were informed that we would have a police escort to Dalbandin so we were pleased when none eventuated.

About thirty kms from Taftan we are stopped by a piece of rope stretched across the road. Out of a tent appears a red bearded (hanna) guy wearing grey flannel like pajamas carrying a huge gun. OK what now!!!!

We are to learn that these are checkpoints manned by the Baluchistan Levi where we have to record our passport number, apparently so the authorities can track us if we go missing. In truth this probably would not happen as they are often loose dirty scrappy bits of paper jammed into an exercise book.

The road to Dalbandin is good, fast and straight. Occasionally to break the monotony of the vast dessert landscape there are a few camels, both dead and alive. The only other traffic on the road are the black market fuel guys in the blue utes and the occasional Pakistani trucks which are truly beautiful.

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We arrive in Dalbandin to the only hotel in town but after the Mirjaveh hotel it is sheer luxury. On arrival we are instantly swamped by about 50 people. Skill goes inside while I have 50 Baluchi men just staring at me. I take the opportunity to photograph a few of the kids.

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We have just got into the room when the power goes off, we are reliably informed it will be back on at 7.00pm so we grab our headlights and candle and have a cold shower. We then entertain ourselves by looking out the window at the passing parade on the main street. Goats being herded, donkeys and carts being driven by 10 year olds, colourful trucks with horns blaring, black market fuel runners and even the odd camel. Add to this the open drains, rubbish, small fires and men urinating in the street (discreetly underneath their clothes) Bloody Hell!!!!! What is it Dorothy said to Toto, "I don't think we are in Kansas anymore"

That night watching television in the main office of the hotel there is a report of Bomb blasts in Quetta with 30 people being killed or injured. Not good news, but we are now committed, we have to go on, there's no going back.

Next day is a long ride to Quetta. Everyone has been telling us how bad the road is, and while it is not great, (it is a one-lane, pot holed, bitumen surface) it is no worse then roads we have travelled in Far Western Queensland. Although sand dunes blowing across the road in places was different.

At one point we go to overtake two trucks and get pushed off the road into the soft sand, the bike is out of control (tank slapping), all I can think is "this is going to hurt". Skill powers on and somehow we remain upright. His remarkably cool comment is, "I don't think I'll do that again".

The landscape is dramatic, sand swept dessert to one side of the road and huge mountains on the other.

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The locals were mostly friendly, waving and crowding around when we stop for fuel.

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There was only one section near Nushki where we thought things were a bit dodgy with the kids throwing rocks and a couple of cars swerving towards us to frighten us, and people screaming at us. We also passed a motorcycle, where the pillion was carrying a shotgun. Around the next corner we come across three army trucks and about 100 soldiers who seemed to be scouring the area, guns at the ready. It was at this point I was really looking forward to getting to Quetta.

We have since learned that most other travellers had an armed escort through this area.

We refuel in Nushki and head towards the Lak Pass, this is where our armed police escorts begin. In a way you feel much more unsafe when they are around, emotionally you begin to think, "I have an armed escort, it must be unsafe". Then they make you do 50 km hour so their old vehicles can keep up, and finally you attract the attention of every Pakistani on the road, "Foreigner here, Foreigner here" Here are a couple of photos of our escorts into Quetta.

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We arrive at the Hotel Bloom Star, tierd but happy to be in Quetta, it has been a long, long, long day.

It is here we meet the wonderful Samuel, another Dutch cyclist. Samuel has ridden his pushbike every km of the way from Holland and camping out alone all the way across the Baluchistan dessert, sometimes getting water from wells with the camel herders. This amazing, unassuming young man is a true adventurer.

We also meet Robyn, a Canadian, meeting another overland group who have not yet arrived. Robyn spends the following day with us, and tries on a few traditional Pakistani clothes.

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One cannot begin to describe Quetta, it is a filthy, wild west frontier city with open sewers and dust/fume laden air but we could not help but wander around with our mouths open. (Well not literally, you would get a mouthful of two-stroke and diesel fumes and God knows what else.)

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The town is made up of many different ethnic groups including Pashtuns, Baluchis, Mohajirs along with Afghan refugees.

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Next morning we are awoken by the sound of jet fighters flying over, we wonder what is going on, but no one seems to bat an eyelid.

Later that night we realise why the jets had been so active all day, the Pakistani Army had bombed a Religious school on the border near Peshawar killing 80 people. This has since caused huge tensions within the Pakistani government with some members resigning.

In the evening we catch up with Marcus and Daniel (a young English backpacker who has hitched a lift on the back of Marcus's bike). They made it to Quetta a day later than us and we have a few celebrationary beers in our room - our first beer since leaving Turkey.

Next day we leave Quetta discreetly with a minimum of attention?????

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This is a daily occurrence, we cannot stop without being mobbed, we make our own traffic jams.

We manage to get away with no police escort and follow the road through the Bolan Pass where the English built a famous train line. Later we hear grenades had been thrown at the train just 1 day earlier as it climbed the pass. We pick up a couple of police escorts along the way but they only drive with us a short way.

At one point we stop beside a river for a break, there are a friendly group of camel herders there who are happy for us to take photos.

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Marcus is feeling pretty dreadful (some food poisoning) so he and Daniel stop in Sibi at midday while Skill and I press onto Jacobabad. While looking for a hotel we are accosted by the local police who take us to a hotel then place an armed guard with the bike and two more outside our room for the night. Jacobabad isn't on the tourist route for obvious reasons, this is the view from our hotel window.

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It is late, we are tierd so order dinner in our room and leave the over zealous police to get on with it. Talk about overkill. The locals are very friendly and we feel there is absolutely no threat to our safety.

The next day is the worst days riding we have had on our whole trip. No police escort out of town but they stop us after about 10km and we have an armed escort for the next 450 km at an average of 50km/h. We could maybe understand the escort through the Sind region as it has a dodgy reputation, but we felt safe and people were always friendly.

This area is quite scenic. It is where we cross the mighty Indus. There is an abundance of Water Buffalo and the local people are harvesting the reeds along the waterways. We wished we could have stopped for more photos but our escort precluded us from doing so.

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The escort then continued for another 200km through the safest area of Pakistan, the Punjab, to city of Bahawalpur.

The police inform us at one point that we will need an escort for all our travel through the whole of Pakistan. We are shocked. It is incredibly irritating to do 50-80km/h on the highway, stopping continuously to change escort cars, with a long chat between police at every change. They also chase away any local people that come near us, we feel quarantined from experiencing and seeing Pakistan, the reason we are travelling here.

In the end we just ignore them, honestly no less than 20 cars and 60 personnel were involved in these escorts. Talk about a waste of resources.

We argued, complained and threatened them, as no other travellers we have met have had this harassment. We are sure it is not law, so we are not breaking the law by ignoring them are we? That is our logic anyway. At one point in sheer frustration I ask them do they think we are bad people. They are genuinely mortified " No, no, no it is our duty and honour to provide an escort."

They just do not get it, we just want them to leave us alone. So annoyed and angry are we that on several occasions both Skill and I came very close to telling the police officers to f... off, which would have been a first for both of us. We resisted but only just.

Skill even tried to tell them we would make an official complaint and that we had intended to stay in Pakistan for one month, but if police keep harassing us we would leave to the more civilised India as soon as possible - trying to use the Pakistan-India rivalry but still no luck. Several times we just speed away from the clapped out old diesel Hilux's ignoring police directions to stop (a little disconcerting when they are holding machine guns), but they would just radio ahead and the next armed escort would be waiting for us. Ahhhh......

We are totally exhausted by the time we get to Bawaluphar (10 hours later, no lunch and in the dark) and checked into the first hotel we see, not what I would call great, in fact it is only just passable. We have our cold shower and find a fabulous restaurant next door, it was really good. Then we crash into bed.

So tired are we that we don't wake till 10am so decide to stay the day, not that Bawalhapur has a lot to offer. Find an internet and wander the market, with it's eye popping sights.

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Later we meet a lovely women in the hotel, this young woman is in an arranged marriage with a controlling, angry, scotch swilling old man, who is a bigamist into the bargain. Bigamy is acceptable in Pakistan apparently?????

I admire the hanna on her hands and later in the evening she comes to our room and paints my hands then we have a girly make up session, with my limited makeup.

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She does not have much English, but I glean that she has a boyfriend (of some means) whom I end up talking to on the phone. He had quite good English, so I now have his email and will attempt to get the full story from him. I just hope that she is very careful.

In the evening over dinner Skill and I plan our escape from the police, we have everything packed up and aim to get on the bike as early and as quickly as possible and tell the hotel guys that we are going to the Lal Suhanra National Park - opposite direction to where we are really going.

Next morning we put "Operation Escape Police" into action and finally we are free, we ride to Multan and then onto Lahore with only two police checkpoints but no escort. What a relief.

We are stopped by the Highway patrol on the pretext that our lights are on, but he just wants a chat. At one point he asks us if we are carrying a gun as a means of protection. And he is deadly serious. We are shocked and emphatically say "of course not". I wonder if my tomato knife counts as a dangerous weapon

In Lahore we do what every guide book tells you NOT to do we ask an auto rickshaw driver to take us to a hotel, we agree on a price ($1.00 AUD) and then make sure he leaves before we enter the hotel. Worth every last cent. We stay in Lahore for 4 nights, after the 8 days of solid rides we are ready to stop for a while. On our first day we overcome our fear of the suzuki auto rickshaws and start to enjoy riding in them, the drivers are crazy but amazingly skillful at the same time. We venture out to Lahore Fort and after paying the overinflated foreigner's price spend the afternoon wandering around.

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Once again that wonderful Muslim hospitality kicks in, people are amazingly friendly, we have numerous people give us their addresses and phone numbers inviting us to visit their homes and cities. We also start to be a little overwhelmed by the number of people, men women and children who keep wanting to have their photos taken with us. We are here to see Lahore's main tourist attraction and by day's end we have become the tourist attraction. These ladies wanted me to pose with them.

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The following day we wander the markets and the local streets of Lahore,

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then spend the rest of the day at Lahore's only backpackers The Regale Internet Inn where Marcus and Daniel are staying. They arrived the same day as us, with even worse Police escort stories. After comparing notes over more local beer we decide Marcus wins.

Apparently they endured the same Police interference as we did but Marcus did not slow down at all and just kept riding as the Police chased him. At one point they radioed ahead and got the police in the next village to set up a roadblock made out of cars and long pew like seats. By the time the boys arrived every person in the village was gathered around the roadblock and he almost had to lay the bike over to stop in time. The short story is that he was not allowed to use the road he had chosen and had to backtrack two hours with a police escort for the rest of the day.

Marcus' mate John has also arrived from Australia with a new BMW gearbox and drive shaft in his luggage. Now, as chance would have it there is also another HU member, broken down in Lahore. Lars' BMW drive shaft had also failed. Somehow Lars had managed to find a guy in Lahore who is a motorcycle collector and BMW enthusiast with a workshop and band of willing workers. This guy is a university professor/lecturer and you can only see a fraction of the bikes he has collected all stuffed into this garage..

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But due to the professor being at university during the day, the boys can only use the workshop during the evening which is what they do. The guys (Marcus, Skill and Lars) work late into the night with the help of the Professor's team and sometime after 1.00am emerge with two working BMWs.

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From Lahore we have a reasonably easy days ride to Islamabad, however finding a hotel is difficult, they are either absolute dives or five star hotels. It is at times like this we really wish we had kept our tent as the Overland Camping Area looks great.

In the end we opt for a dodgy hotel as it is late. No dinner and bed. I can cope with the dirty sheets, the less than clean bathroom and cold showers, even the heated arguments coming from the next room. However I could not cope with the rat that ran over my foot when I got up to use the bathroom. I let out a huge scream which Skill slept through. I then spent a sleepless night on the look out just in case Ben had relatives.

Next morning my sunny disposition had disappeared and for this reason my husband had shifted us to a new hotel by 8.00am.

We venture out to get our Pakistan visas extended as we think they are about to expire. But they assure us they are all in order, valid for 3 months and don’t need extending. That's not how we read the visa, but we don’t argue, just hope its all OK at border exit time.

We then go out to find the Indian High Commission. At the security checkpoint to the Embassy Enclave they will not let us in on the bike which we figure is reasonable, ok we will walk in. NO. OK we will catch a taxi. NO. Ok then how do we get into the Indian High Commission.

Apparently we need a letter of invitation from the Australian Embassy. WHAT? We think they don’t understand, so we say again we just want to apply for a visa. Same story, we cannot even get to the Embassy, let alone get a visa application form! OK how do we get this letter from the Aus embassy?

We are told to ride our bike to the Australian Embassy which incidentally is inside the same secure area and just around the corner from the Indian High Commission! The stupidity of some bureaucrats is often beyond comprehension.

After talking to the guys at the Australian Embassy they tell us to ignore the police and just ride around the corner to the Indian High Commission, which we do. We collect our paperwork from a nice Indian man and ride out waving to the security police as we do. They all happily wave back

On our way back to the hotel we call in to see if any of our cyclist friends have made it to Islamabad. No they haven't but Rose and David Cochrane a British couple we met in the Iranian Embassy in Ankara are camped there as is Robyn from Quetta.

We spend the afternoon and evening there and join the Overlanders for takeaway Pizza Dinner.

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Next day it is back to the Embassy Enclave and Security Checkpoint. Once again we are stopped, but wiser this time we say we are going to the Aus Embassy. You must have a diplomatic passport. WHAT? " No we rode in yesterday, we are going to Australian Embassy to collect our letter of authorisation" we fib to them. Then another policeman comes over and says "they were here yesterday, it is Ok".

So we sneak off in the direction of the Australian Embassy and then cut around the back again. We don't stand in the queue with the 100s of Pakistanis but push to the front of the line and are let in straight away. We are not being pushy as there is a separate queue for foreigners. In under an hour we have submitted our applications and passports. We ride back out through the security checkpoint and once again wave to the police, who enthusiastically wave back. ONLY IN PAKISTAN!!!!!!!!!!!

We spend two more days in Islamabad, trying to organise postage, update our blog and also visiting Dave and Rose at the Camp Ground.

On our final evening in Islamabad at the hotel Skill spies something out of the corner of his eye, eventually tracking it down to underneath my bed. Yes. It is yet another rat and yes we are in a different hotel. Skill goes down to the reception.

Skill: There is a rat in our room
Reception Guy: You want tea in your room?
Skill: No there is a RAT in our room
Reception Guy:(with great excitement) A rat!
Skill: Yes a rat!
Reception Guy: (Now highly animated) Oh very good. You must take this man with you, He is number one rat killer, he is like cat.

So up they all troop, and the number one rat killer fails to kill or even catch the rat as it dashes out of our room and up two flights of stairs with four grown men in hot pursuit. Below is part of the rat extermination team.

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Tomorrow we plan on heading up the famous KKH (Karakoram Highway) towards the Khunjerab Pass (Chinese Border). We know that it is getting late in the season and we will probably not make it that far (due to the snow and ice on the road) but are really looking forward to the journey.

Cheers and Chai,

Quote of the Week: "A traveller without observation is a bird without wings" - Moslih Eddin Saadi

Posted by John Skillington at 12:58 PM GMT
December 04, 2006 GMT
Pakistan - part 2

For those of you not familiar with the KKH (Karakoram Highway) here's a little bit of background.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Pakistan and China jointly constructed a road across the mountains following a branch of the Silk Road from Kashgar to Islamabad via the 4730m Khunjerab Pass. It was only in 1986 the Khunjerab Pass was opened to travellers. This engineering feat was completed by approximately 15000 Pakistanis and 20000 Chinese. Conditions were hard and deaths on both sides were extremely high.

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By its very nature the road needs continual maintenance. It is is a huge unending job, landslides, rockfalls, mudslides, and the crumbling slopes continually make the road impassable to traffic.

But oh the scenery, it is jaw droppingly beautiful, this highway bares witness to huge mountain ranges, (the Karakoram, Himalayan and Hindu Kush Mountain Ranges) enormous glaciers, deep ravines and valleys, and then there is continual presence of the mighty Indus River.

Our journey continues, we leave Islamabad and head to Taxilia, of course it is raining, well in fact there are thunderstorms so pull over in a service station to get out the wet weather gear, we are instantly mobbed and invited in for tea. The young man whose family ownes the service station is very interesting, highly educated and his siblings are spread all over the world, Canada, Australia and the US.

Once again there are beautiful trucks and buses everywhere, out comes the camera.

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We head out through some pretty gross little villages, mud and rubbish and animals as far as the eye can see, towards Abbottabad. We call it a day at Mansehra at the reasonably clean (rat free) Karakoram Inn, complete with a good restaurant which is still open. Mansehra is probably about 60 km from the 8 October 2005 Earthquake epicentre, although it is not too badly effected and is home to many NGO and UN offices. In this photo you can see a tent school in the distance.

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Next day onward and upward to Besham, a nice 4 hour ride (120km) through some great scenery and winding roads. We loved the terraced rice fields.

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We cross the Chinese built suspension bridge at Thakot and also our first checkpoint where we once again have to fill out our details so they know where we foreigners are.

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Besham is not an unfriendly town but the people in this area seem to be unanimated and expressionless. There are no smiles or the usual waves. This is the heartland of the Sunni Muslim Religion. These people are staunchly religious and unfortunately seem to have little access to education, nor do they want it. I didn't realise how much teacher I had in me. It is very upsetting to know that many of these children will never attend school, and the girls will have no opportunities. It was also in this region that we saw woman dressed in berkas. Skill gets really upset by the Berkas which he finds really awful especially for what they represent.

We have an interesting stay in Besham at the grotty Palace Midway Hotel. It is here we meet Freba. Of all the people we have met on our travels this girl is one of the most amazing. My only regret is that we could not spend more time with her and I did not take a photo of her.

Freba's story: Freba is from Afghanistan and currently living in Islamabad with her mother and sisters. Her father and brother are in Kabul with one brother studying in the US. Freba works for a German NGO trying to spread the word about Hygiene to this Earthquake affected region. Her job is almost impossible, because she is a women and the people do not want any outside influences. Only the day before we arrived there had been demonstrations in the town against all the NGOs, the leaders/agitators say that the NGO's are trying to take away their religion. More likely these local leaders fear their power base being eroded if locals listen to anyone but them.

Freba was quite adamant that she and her NGO are trying to help as she is herself a Muslim Afgan woman. "All I want is for them to learn a little about hygiene so they do not get ill" she tells us.

We asked Freba about Afghanistan which she told us was really starting to improve especially in Kabul. Life is a lot better now she says. She then told us that she was actively working for women's rights in Afghanistan, and she was the first woman of her country to participate in an Olympic Games. (Athens 2004 in Judo) Since that time she had become a public voice for women in Afghanistan, which at times made her life difficult and dangerous. But throughout all of this her family particularly her father and brothers have whole heartedly supported her. Quite uncommon I would say.

This beautifully spoken, gentle woman is a true humanitarian.

Next day is yet another glorious days ride to Chilas, the scenery just gets better and better and the road gets worse and worse. It is this section of road which apparently suffers most from landslides, fortunately we didn't come across any this day but we did encounter many animals.

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We arrive in Chilas where we stayed at the Chilas Inn, complete with beautiful gardens. We really enjoy our stay here.

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An early start next day as it is a 5 hour ride to Karimabad via Gilgit. All we can say is look at the photos. We had great sunshine and a wonderful days ride. A highlight of the day was our first view of Nanga Parbat, eighth highest mountain in the world at 8126m. We also catch a glimpse of Rakaposhi (mountain peak) shrouded in cloud.

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We arrive at Karimabad/Hunza and run into Marcus and John who are returning to Gilgit, only a quick chat as its getting late and then off to find a hotel. As Winter approaches many of the hotels and shops are closing. We end up at the Hilltop Hotel which has amazing views and a pleasant garden but it is very, very cold and the hot water is intermittent. Not really their fault as the power supply is very unreliable, sometimes in winter it can go off for weeks at a time. They do have their own generator (supplied by a foreign government) which helps. We end up having three blankets on our bed and sleeping in our thermals complete with beanie. But my oh my, you cannot beat the scenery, it is absolutely breathtaking.

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We spend three nights and each day wandering the village, chatting with it's inhabitants, especially the beautiful children.

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We also visit the Fort which is 780 years old.

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Our guide is a lovely young man complete with an economics degree but also a love for his Hunza history so we have a lovely afternoon. Sadly he tells us that only two hours ago the last Queen of Hunza passed away at the age of 96. Her funeral will be tomorrow.

The family (rulers of Hunza Province) lived in the fort up until 1945 and then moved to newer quarters in Karimabad.

When the Pakistani government daned that Hunza was no longer a separate province but part of Pakistan, the family became only figure heads with no say at all within the Pakistani government.

You cannot help but love this village, the people, the scenery and the way they live their lives. This branch of the Muslim religion is known as Ismali. Their leader the Aga Khan (Imam number 49) is a progressive man. The first thing you notice about this region compered to the South, are the people's faces, they are happy and animated. There are women in public and they do not all wear scarves. They are allowed to pray with the men in a community hall called a jamaat khana. Prayer is seen as a personal matter. The children all attend school and Hunza has one of the highest literacy rates in Pakistan. They also have basic health facilities and a little more infrastructure. And they seem to genuinely love the tourists.

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Before we start the return journey to Islamabad we head North without making it to the Khunjerab Pass, it is too late in the season and the road is far too icy. We pass the village of Pasu

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where we meet this lovely man herding his Yaks.

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and actually get as far as Sost before turning around.

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But for Skill, to have travelled even this much of the famous KKH has been the realisation of a 10 year dream. And you can see why.

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We return to Gilgit and stay a couple of days where we catch up with Marcus again. The weather has closed in and we are not keen to travel in the rain. So the bikes stay put at the friendly Madina Guest House.

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Marcus tells us about his visit to Fairy Meadows (cabins/camp high in the mountains near Nanga Parbat) and his desire to return. In the end we hatch a plan with 4 other travellers (including Patrick and Sophie our Dutch cycling friends from Iran who have turned up in Gilgit) to get to Fairy Meadows. Marcus, Skill and I ride to Raikot Bridge.

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while Patrick and Sophie, Kevin and Caroline hitch a ride on the back of a 4WD Ute.

Marcus then bravely rides his bike up the incredibly steep and dangerous track to the village and organises a jeep to come back down to collect us all. We leave our bike in a lock up at the Bridge as its too difficult to ride this road with pillion and luggage.

The trip up in the jeep is indescribable. The track is only just wide enough for one vehicle and there is a sheer vertical drop into the valley of well over 400 metres. I am absolutely terrified as are most of our crew, what have we done? Most decide there and then to walk down!

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When we finally arrive at the village (I thank Allah) we meet our shotgun toting guides and then start our 2 and a half hour treck UP the mountain to the camp. If someone had told me that I would be trekking in the Western Himalayas during twilight into the pitch black evening I would have told them not to be crazy. As we walk along we can hear avalanches on the mountain We are like the seven dwarfs all with our headlights, it is hard work but at the same time exhilarating. Up and up we go reaching the snow line which we trek through for half an hour. We arrive at about 7pm, tierd but excited, light a fire to warm the very basic cabin and our guides prepare our dinner.

We are all pretty weary so bunk down as soon as dinner is finished. In the morning this is what we can see from our bed. Dawn over the eighth highest peak in the world. Not something we will ever forget.

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Out of bed and we are witness to an avalanche coming in a huge wave down the mountain, in the distance of course.

We spend an idyllic day in this majestic setting, chatting, eating and reveling in our good fortune having such a place all to ourselves - oh and trying to keep warm.

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In the afternoon the guides tell us they are off to hunt down our dinner. They return a couple of hours later with "Mountain Chickens" which they turn into a scrumptious soup and curry.

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Marcus and Patrick inspired by their success take the shotgun and go on their own expedition. It is a fruitless one but they are very excited to have fired a gun for the first time in their lives. They both confess they could not have shot a living creature anyway.

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Once again we witness a spectacular sunset over the "Killer Mountain" so called because of the number of people killed trying to climb it. No doubt this is due to its sheer, near vertical sides so steep that little snow sticks, giving its name Nanga Parbat meaning naked mountain.

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Next morning we leave and hike down the mountain to the village.

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Once back at the village Marcus rides down, Kevin bales out and catches a lift on an overloaded, log laden jeep while Patrick, Sophie, Caroline, Skill and I start the 15km journey down.

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Skill and I both have trouble with our boots and are sliding forward in them, at one point I do the old stumble trip thing and really hurt my big toe. (I later learn it is broken)

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And Skill has shin splints, and there is still only 10 kilometres to go! By the time we reach the bottom we have walked more than 20 strenuous kilometres and over 2000m vertical. We are absolutely wrecked, keeping in mind we have done little exercise for eight months.

We say Goodbye to Patrick and Sophie and Caroline as they hitch a ride with some goat herders in their jeep back to Gilgit.

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We repack the bike and make the 80 minute ride back to Chilas breaking our golden rule and arriving just after dark. We opt for the upmarket Shangri-La Resort, the promise of hot water and room service is too much to resist. We are absolutely exhausted and take full advantage of this little bit of luxury.

In the morning I can barley move and have a great deal of trouble getting on the bike. I say to Skill "Next time I decide to walk 20 kms down a mountain remind me I am over 40, not a bloody 20 year old!"

We ride back to Besham often stopping to admire one of the many suspension bridges and the Indus. Later in the day we are stopped twice by landslides, the KKH workers are quickly on the job clearing a path through the rocks and dirt.

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Being gluttons for punishment we stay in the same place as before, at least we have hot water and the food is passable.

Next day it is shorter ride to Mansehra through lots of earthquake ravaged areas. A lot of villages are still tent villages.

I also get out the camera to take photos (sorry they are blurred) of the overloaded vehicles, which are an essential part of KKH. No truck, car, van, bus or autorickshaw is ever too full. There is always room for more cargo or passengers.

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We have an early finish and stay at the Karakoram Hotel in Mansehra again. Next morning the skys have cleared and there are glorious views to the snow capped mountains.

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A short day back to Islamabad, but for some reason the traffic is more dreadful than normal, we witness three accidents. In Islamabad we do the rounds of the hotels, we are ready to give up and pay the fortune they want for a semi decent room when we happen upon a guest house which is a better option for us.

We are also early enough to pick up our passports from the Indian Embassy. We are all ready to do battle with the security police at the entrance to the Embassy Enclave but they just wave us through. We cannot work them out. Passports collected we venture out to the Marriott for take away beers and all is good in the world.

The following day Skill heads out to the Post Office to collect our mail my sister has sent while I do the mountains of washing. He is gone for hours. When he arrives back he explains that nobody actually knew where the Poste Restante mail was kept and sent him from one Post Office to the next until he finally ended up in Rawapindi 15 km away.

As chance would have it he happened to bump into (literally) the equivalent of "The Post Master General" for Islamabad/Rawapindi area who was none to pleased with his underlings incompetence so he told Skill to follow his car back to Islamabad which he did, he then sat in a huge office drinking tea with this man while his staff ran in circles to track down our letter. Finally after 4 hours, success.

That afternoon we go to get on the bike and it won't start (the first bike glitch in 8 months), so the guys at the guest house take Skill to the battery shop where they put it on the charger overnight. Next morning the battery has not taken a charge and is deemed to be dead so we purchase a new one.

As I said the first glitch in eight months and the battery is good enough to die on us in a major centre where we have access to facilities, you can't ask for more than that.

We spend 2 more nights in Islamabad just catching up with jobs, bike washing and bike oil change and fortifying ourselves for the journey to the border.

It is a long days ride to Wagh, we get completely lost in Lahore, but arrive just in time to check into the passable Wagh PTDC Hotel before heading to the famous border closing ceremony. This is where the Pakistani and Indian Armies in all their pageantry try to outmarch, outyell, and outscowl and outstamp each other. It is absolutely hilarious. Hundreds of people from both sides of the border come each night to watch this event. They have even built grandstands to house the spectators.

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We enjoy the spectacle before an early night. Tomorrow we leave Pakistan and it will be onto India and the ancient Seik city of Amritsar.

I would be lying if I said Pakistan is an easy country to travel in. It is not.

Every day is a challenge, the traffic mayhem, the rubbish, the dirty hotels, the lack of facilities and the sometimes non existent infrastructure. The way women are not seen in public and are completely dominated by a male run society. But in my opinion it is a SAFE country to travel in and truly worth the effort. Our KKH experience will be a highlight of our entire journey.

Pakistan is in a troubled part of the world, and is bordered by some of the most dangerous and turbulent regions in the world, Kashmir and Afghanistan. Life for Pakistan's citizens is difficult

It is a poor country and most people do not have a lot, but what they do have, they will happily and willingly share with you. They are very honest, kind, gentle and giving people. We NEVER felt unsafe or threatened, quite the opposite, and the authorities were beyond reproach. The vast majority of these people want, what we in the West want, a peaceful existence, prosperity and a better way of life for their children.

Lets hope they can achieve it.

Cheers and Chai


Quote for the week: "If you don't know where you are going, any road will lead you there" - Unknown

PS Below is the latest Australian DFAT Travel Advice for Pakistan, which was updated after we had entered Pakistan.

While I do not recommend flouting DFAT warnings sometimes it is far better to make educated and informed decisions on the ground. Our best source of knowledge came from other travellers who had just made the journey, thanks to Raoul and Dave and Rose for their advice.

Our other rule of thumb for travelling, is to stay away from Western Hotels (which we can't afford anyway) and not eat in Western take aways. (Although we did have Pizza Hut Pizza, sometimes you just got to have beer and pizza)

Australian DFAT Warning: Thursday Nov 23 20:55 AEDT

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) says militants may
be planning an attack on Australians within the Pakistani city of
Peshawar.

The threat is reported in the department's latest Pakistan travel
advisory.

"Recent reports suggest that terrorists are planning attacks against
Western, including Australian, individuals and interests in Peshawar,"
the warning says.

Peshawar, on the edge of the Khyber Pass, is the financial capital of
Pakistan's troubled north-western frontier. DFAT has long urged
Australians to take extra precautions in the city.

The advisory also warns of the possibility of an attack outside
Peshawar.

"Recent credible reporting indicates a potential terrorist threat
against Western hotels in Islamabad," the warning says.

"If you do decide to travel to Pakistan, you should exercise extreme
caution.

"We continue to receive reports that terrorists are planning attacks
against a range of targets, including places frequented by foreigners."

Pakistan is considered an ally in the so-called war on terror, but its
porous border with Afghanistan has been problematic in the fight
against Islamist militants.

The last major attack on Western interests in Pakistan was the March 2
bombing of the US consulate which killed four people including a US
diplomat.

The overall level of advice from DFAT for Pakistan remains unchanged at
"reconsider your need for travel" while areas bordering India and
Afghanistan are listed as "do not travel".

"We strongly advise you not to travel to Baluchistan, the
federally-administered tribal areas, and areas adjacent to Pakistan's borders with
Afghanistan and India ... due to the volatile security environment.

"If you are in these areas you should consider leaving."

Posted by John Skillington at 07:50 AM GMT
December 31, 2006 GMT
India - part 1

Disaster has struck, the letters z, x, a, s and e have died on the collapsible keyboard so you will have to be patient and forgive typos and worse than usual spelling in this blog as it will be a tedious process until we get a new keyboard, anyway here goes.

Well it's another day and another border crossing, Pakistani Customs are right outside the hotel so we venture over, they totally ignore us as they are far too busy going through a German Hippie/Yogi's luggage, scanning his walnut barrel as a potential bomb threat. Eventually they get us to bring our panniers in and start to go through them but quickly get bored with that and don't even check the tank bag or the tubes on the bike. Giving us the all clear they wave us on. We go to the next checkpoint and sign documents and then get to the last point where they tell us we don't have an immigration stamp to leave.

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Ok turn around and back to the immigration office beside the customs office (where they failed to mention we needed another stamp). Finally we leave Pakistan and enter India. After 3 checkpoints, toing and froing, handing over passports and the carnet countless times we are welcomed to India. All that took 3 and a half hours.

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While we are waiting to cross we watch the antics of the ant like workers on both sides of the border, the Pakistani team dressed in orange continuously take bags of potatoes to the gate where they meet the blue Indian team bringing dried fruit to the gate, they then swap commodities and snake their way back to their respective trucks who take the produce away. But never once do they set even a toe over that magical border line.

Onward to Amritsar where our first job is to find a bank and moneychanger. The bank part is easy but trying to find a moneychanger is proving difficult.

As fate would have it living beside the bank is an Indian motorcycle enthusiast called Karan who takes Skill to the money changer on his bike then kindly guides us to to Mrs Bhanderi's Guest House.

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This place is quite expensive by Indian standards but after the hotels in Pakistan it is pure heaven, a spotless room, reliable hot water, crisp clean ironed sheets, a wonderful all day menu and internet access.

We sit in the sun in the beautiful gardens, watching the playful squirrels and drink a beer or two, or maybe it was three. What a nice easy entry to India.

That night we have roast pork, roast potato and veggies with gravy. The simple things in life bring such pleasure.

The following day we take a bicycle rickshaw with a young man to the Golden Temple. This is the Sikhs' most holy shrine and to visit everyone must remove their shoes and cover their heads, even men.

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After entering the complex which also serves as a military memorial we make our way to the bridge which leads to the Golden Temple across Amrit Sarvor (Pool of Nectar). Apparently the dome of the Temple is gilded with 750 kg of gold and inside the temple there are four priests who keep up a continual chant from the Sikh Holy book. Despite the huge crowds it is restful and we spend a few hours just wandering.

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After leaving the Temple, we head to the Jallianwalla Bagh Park which commemorates the 2000 Indians who were killed or maimed here when the British authorities indiscriminately opened fire on 20 000 unarmed peaceful demonstrators. Historically it is believed this incident spear headed by Ghandi's program of Civil Disobedience led to "everyday" Indians increasing demands on the British to leave India.

Next day is a long ride to McLeod Ganj where we get our first taste of the Indian's penchant for suicidal driving practices not dissimilar to Pakistan except with more horn blowing, verbal abuse and hand gesturing.

McLeod Ganj is the Dalai Lama's home. In 1949 the Chinese forcibly took over Tibet and in 1959 the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, fearing for his life and those of his people trekked over the Himalayas to McLeod Ganj where he was granted political asylum and also later, the exiled Tibetan Government. This area has become the headquarters for the 40 years plus struggle to free Tibet. China refuses any attempts at negotiation and freeing Tibet seems a long way off, if an impossible outcome for these people.

Before coming here many other travellers told us "Oh McLeod Ganj is so touristy" to which I responded "Good", because after Pakistan we were quite happy to be tourists in a touristy place.

However on arrival I was ready to revise my opinion as the road we needed to take to our chosen hotel was blocked by several buses who needed to reverse (unknown to us at the time, reversing lights on buses are non existent) And then there was an officious little whistle blowing Indian yelling at us saying we needed to reverse our 400 plus kg motorcycle up the hill. I get off and push the bike and we park where he indicates. Within a minute he is back blowing his whistle and yelling at us again to move.

On our whole journey I have not "lost it" once but after five hours on the bike and no lunch, today was going to be it. After grabbing his whistle and telling this man that I was going to surgically implant his whistle where the sun don't shine and then getting ready to batter him around the head with a Lonely Planet he backed off.

We were then able to make our way to the wonderful Pema Thang Guesthouse where the Tibetan owners and their staff welcomed us wholeheartedly, although everyone had to sit on the bike and have their photos taken before we could unpack.

We spent a lovely evening with two other Aussie travellers and enjoyed a truly memorable Tibetan meal and glorious sunset.

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Next day we walked the streets chatting to the Tibetan monks and nuns, and then took the road out to Bhagsu village before heading back to the Guesthouse for afternoon cake and coffee, what a luxury.

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The next four days continued in the same pattern. Of course we visited the Tsuglagkhang Complex, which consists of the Dalai Lama's home, the Namgyal Gompa and the Tsuglagkhang, the central chapel and the most important Bhudist monument outside Tibet. The building itself is a very modest one, but a peaceful, calm and holy atmosphere prevails. We are even lucky enough to catch a glimpse of his Holiness.

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We visit the Tibet Museum which tells the heart wrenching story of the Chinese invasion of Tibet and the Tibetans ongoing struggle for freedom. You cannot help but be moved, angry, and affronted.

We then let our hair down and go souvenir shopping, not something we often do. We make a pretty good job of it and have to post the parcel home, but not before this man has sewn us a calico postage bag.

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We really get a giggle out of the peace loving Tibetans at the guesthouse, every living creature is sacred with the notable exception of the MONKEY. Every day there is the open sport of trying to shoot he monkeys with a pellet gun. They are obviously a real menace and we were warned to keep our doors locked because of them.

We ended up staying for two extra days (than planned) because the weather really closes in, rain, hail, thunder, lightning and snow on the mountains. The snow on the mountains brings the "GOOD" monkeys down. They are beautiful with long white coats and lovely gentle faces. These guys definitely do not receive the pellet gun treatment.

While we enjoyed McLeod Ganj it is not without its social problems, violence is quite common, as are the drug related issues. While we were there, there was quite a serious attack on a Western tourist.

Finally the weather clears and we make a move, heading towards Mandi, knowing it will be a slow ride through the mountains. On leaving McLeod Ganj I cannot help but get a giggle out of these two billboards posted near each other. Somehow one doesn't seem to complement the other.

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A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

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Army man be a winner for life.

As the journey continues we come across huge crowds of people gathered around a cliff edge, yes, the latest tourist attraction is the bus that went over the edge that morning killing 18 people. You think that perhaps this would make them a little more cautious but not more than 3 kms away we meet two buses trying to overtake a truck at the same time on a blind corner. They just do not get it.

Despite the traffic it is a pretty days ride through the valleys. We make it to Mandi where hotel options are not looking good. We try for a resort on the outskirts of town but they are full and they then direct us to the "Balleydue Hotel" 5 km further on.

Finally we arrive, not, at the Balleydue but the Valley View Hotel (obviously our ears are not yet tuned to the Indian accent) which is in the middle of nowhere but lovely. Just as we are unpacking another Aussie/New Zealand couple turn up. Shane and Sheryl are are lovely couple living here in India while Shane is on a 6 month work contract. Shane also has a passion for motorcycles. And as the conversation continues we learn he worked with a friend of ours in Oz. What do they say about six degrees of separation. We have a great night and thank them for their company, it was so nice to have someone to share a few drinks with.

Next day we are late getting away and it takes us 5 hours to do 120 km, the traffic is horrible but we make it to Chandigrah unscathed but finding our way in proved difficult. We stop at every roundabout and ask the traffic police for directions to Sector 22, after taking a very indirect route we find the area we need and a hotel.

Next day we visit the Nek Chandra Rock Garden This garden was created by a Roads Inspector who used all the recycled items he found to create a fantasy world. Apparently the story goes that no one knew it was there for many years and when it was discovered people were amazed. The authorities then let him keep on creating. He is now a world famous artist.

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We leave Chandigrah just before lunch and head towards Pehowa in the Heryana Province famous for its Basmati Rice. We then stay at a state run hotel run by Basil Fawlty, complete with our own Indian reincarnation of Manuel. Not a particularly great hotel but we survived and did not get food poisoning which was a plus. Next day a short ride to Hisar where we stay in another state run Hotel, fortunately up a peg or two from the previous evening. I sit in the sun by the lake, (apparently a local tourist attraction) in reality it was a muddy old dam full of rubbish but the Indians were still out in their pedalos having a great old time. Skill could not resist the lure of cable TV and sat in the room watching motor sport.

The traffic in India is indescribable. There are no rules and no visible police to enforce the rules.

On the roads a hierarchy of might exists, the lowest being pedestrians, followed by bicycles, motorcycles, cars, trucks and finally the buses. The only thing that trumps a bus is a cow. The buses stop for nothing and push everything in their wake off the roads.

Besides the woeful drivers you have to take into consideration the tractors, carts, donkeys, camels, horses and goats. I find the traffic and riding conditions very confronting and must say it is not that enjoyable for me but Skill takes it all in his stride.

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Next day is a long ride to Bikaner, this journey along unsigned and unused roads takes us through spectacular desert scenery, and we can also finally do 100 km an hour. Skill lets out a sigh of contentment as he puts the bike into sixth gear for the first time in India We pass untouristed villages of tea drinking men, brightly sari clad women, grubby waif like children playing cricket, camels and their herders, goats, donkeys and desert ruins.

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Arriving in Bikaner we find Bhairon Villas our chosen hotel easily with no one hassling us. This glorious hotel is in an old Haveli. The Havelis were built by the rich and are entered from the streets through huge gates or archways, to central courtyards. Inside there are usually restful gardens and the rooms are richly decorated as is definitely the case with our room.

We open the double wooden windows and look out at the Junagarah Fort. What a find???

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We spend the next day touring the fort gaping at the scenery. Our guide is a man who is obviously very jaded. We get a racing commentary that we cannot understand and exasperated sighs if, God forbid, we should want to stop and look at something with more than a cursory glance. Despite this we had fun and found the place really interesting. Check out the don't sniff sign

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In the afternoon Harsh (our host and owner of the family Haveli) comes to find us and tells us he is going to his cousins wedding party where the groom will perform part of a historic symbolic procession where he rides off to fetch his bride. There will also be traditional dancers and music. Would we like to watch?

This sounds wonderful. They fetch us at 5.30pm and we figure we will stand at the gate and watch. I start to get nervous when Harsh appears dressed in an elegant traditional suit

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and we hop in the car with two other travellers Oliver and Monica. (Monica is a beautiful and exuberant Spanish girl who is appropriately dressed in a sari) I get even more nervous when we arrive at Lalgarh Palace and there are the most extravagantly dressed women in fabulous saris and ornate jewelry. The men are splendidly dressed in brightly coloured turbans, jodhpurs and other traditional clothes, most are sporting swords. And finally there are highly decorated animals everywhere including an elephant.

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I say to Harsh, "Harsh exactly who is it that is getting married?". "My cousin the Maharaja of Bikaner. The King."

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Oh my God and we are dressed in our daggy travel clothes, I hadn't even done my hair. I cannot begin to describe the splendor of the occasion, or how uncomfortable we felt in our ordinary clothes. But no one seemed to care, in fact we are invited to stay.

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We watch the parade where the Maharaja rides his elephant off to fetch his bride to be. In reality he does a loop around the Palace and returns by car.

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We join in the festivities, the firebreathers, the traditionally costumed dancers performing acts of contortionism, dancing on broken glass and picking up money with their eyes.

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Then it is time to eat a huge feast and then men partake at the bar. It was truly amazing and will be one of the highlights of our time in India.

On the way back to the Villas Harsh tells us we cannot leave as the wedding reception will be in two nights time and we must attend, which we do, this time we are dressed a little more appropriately. Thankfully as Skill pulls celebratory status and is interviewed by TV India on his impressions of the Royal Wedding. Apparently they are impressed with his enthusiasm and tell him he will be beamed around Indian televisions in a Royal Wedding piece the following evening. The reception is huge, over thousand people and takes on a more fair like atmosphere, outdoors with marquees, buffet meals, and fireworks.

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Harsh and his family are the most generous and hospitable people, they find out it is Skill's birthday and spoil him with drinks and dinner, then Harsh insists we stay on one more night so we can have a belated celebration. Monica makes mojhitas, Harsh provides music, food and drinks, and we enjoy a great evening.

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I should make some mention of the wonderful Monica, a terrific girl who spends eight months of every year travelling. She works for four months in Manorca every year selling the traditional tribal jewelry she buys on her travels. She was such a great girl and so much fun. One of our days in Bikaner we went off to the beauty parlour and treated ourselves to a three hour facial, neck and back massage along with a hair treatment and head massage all for the Princely sum of 300 Rupees, less than $10.00 AUD. It was heavenly.

We are really sad to say Goodbye to these wonderful people, it feels like we are leaving family. But leave we do and enjoy a four hour ride through the desert to Jaisalmer, a town on the Pakistan India border, our hotel takes some finding but after three quarters of an hour we find it tucked away in a back street. We settle ourselves down in the most touristed hotel we have stayed in so far. It is here we meet Jana and Paul a Czech Canadian couple with an insatiable quest for life. In their late sixties they climb mountains, scuba dive, paraglide and travel the world. They are great company, as are Chris and Alida from British Colombia.

Our time in Jaisalmer was spent exploring the fort, once we could get past the Camel Safari touts, persistent shopkeepers, musicians and children chanting, "one pen, rupee, rupee". The people and sights are truly amazing.

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We wander aimlessly taking it all in and spend a good deal of time discussing the all victorious Australian Cricket team. Ricky Ponting is God and according to reliable sources at Hari Om's Silver Studio, should he wish to become an Indian citizen he would easily be elected Prime Minister. Unless Sachin Tendulkar was the opposition candidate, even then it would be a close contest.

Jaisalmer's fort is a living fort where the towns people still live and trade. Unfortunately due to the tourist explosion and over population the fort is in serious peril. The aging plumbing system cannot cope with the increased quantities of water and it is affecting the rubble foundations.

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Every evening is spent on the hotel rooftop, having a few beers (which are billed as special cold coffee to get around Rajasthan's licensing laws) watching the sun slowly sink on the desert and the lights on the fort begin to glow. Life is good.

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After all the travelling we have done I thought we were prepared for most contingencies but nothing can prepare you for India, it is the most frustrating, infuriating place on earth and just when you are sure you really hate it and want to leave something bizarre and magical will happen and it will suck you back in. As they say anything and everything is possible in India. We will continue to enjoy.

Cheers and Beers

Quote for the Week: Travel is more than the seeing of sights; It is a change that goes on deep and permanent in the ideas of living.

Posted by John Skillington at 08:42 AM GMT
January 08, 2007 GMT
India - part 2

Finally we are back in action with a new iPAQ keyboard to write the blogs and we have a little catching up to do. Thanks so much to our friends Kath and Sean for scouring Australia to find it for us, then flying to Melbourne to pick it up and post it, hope you enjoyed yourselves. The lengths some people will go to so we do our blog homework. So now where were we last blog.....

Ahh yes, ......We leave Jaisalmer and it is off to Jodhpur, once again riding through the desert with its beautiful sand dunes and old forts. We are totally amazed that we even find Jodhpur as there are roadworks everywhere with no signs and the deviations are more reminiscent of driving across the Gulf roads in the Northern Territory (Australia). Bulldust, feet deep.

We find our hotel without any trouble, only having to stop once and ask the flower sellers in the market, we then ride right through the middle of the Sadar Market, not for the faint hearted, but once again we score on the Hotel front, staying at the glorious Pal Haveli Inn.

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It is an old Haveli set around a court yard and owned by a terrific family. Although these places are a little more expensive (this one 800 R/ $26.00AUD) they are great places to stay, the rooms are beautifully decorated with lanterns, antiques, rugs and wallhangings. Check out our bed. I felt like a princess.

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We also meet up with Alida and Chris (from Jaisilmer) again and share our afternoon sunset with them.

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Unfortunately the inevitable happens and I get the dreaded Indian travellers belly-bug and am bedridden for the first day in Jodhpur. I am not happy. The staff bring me a constant supply of 7-Up and check on me every few hours while Skill spends the day out and about in the market.

Next day I am feeling better (antibiotics are wonderful things) and it is off to the fort. Meherangarah is a true fort, still owned by the present day Maharaja, it is perched on a 125m hill with ramparts, battlements, cannons, and studded reinforced gates.

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And there is great audio tour (we usually avoid them) which explains the history and life of the fort in detail. These small handprints are the sati marks of Maharaja Man Sigh's widows who killed themselves by throwing themselves on his funeral pyre in 1843.

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We enjoy a a truly captivating day here.

Then we head on down to the Jaswad Thada, a white marble memorial built for the Maharaja Jaswant Singh II in 1899.

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Then to end the day we watch the sun go down over a few beers. Life is tough.

The following day we spend walking the streets around the old city, checking out the clock tower and the temples. In the afternoon we decide we should book a hotel in Udaipur as Christmas is fast approaching, after 12 phone calls and no luck (the Indian population also take their winter holidays at this time) we decide we like Jodhpur and we will stay put till Christmas, the staff at Pal Haveli cannot believe that we are staying for so long, but start to treat us as family, they know our breakfast choices off by heart, its the little things like the extra lemon on our pancakes. Check out our other breakfast companions.

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The following day is a lazy one for us but it is also the Maharaja of Jodhpur's birthday so the owners of the hotel (who are relatives) look resplendent in their turbans and jodhpurs as they leave for the birthday celebrations.

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Our host and favourite employee at the hotel (Limbah) is not joining the celebrations but is very happy to have his photo taken on the bike.

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In the afternoon Jana and Paul, turn up at the hotel for lunch so we wile away yet another day perched on the terrace. (Sorry Jana, Limbah has chopped you out of the photo.)

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Over the next few days we amuse ourselves by haggling with the bangle sellers, getting lost in the market, doing some shopping in a refreshingly hassle free, fixed price shop and we also go out to the Palace for a few hours and are in awe of the privileged life that the wealthy in this country have and had.

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A little bike servicing is due....

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We also marvel at the old blue city. It is surrounded by a 10 km wall and is an intricate maze of narrow winding streets. Traditionally, blue signified the homes of the Brahman caste but everyone now paints their homes this luminous blue colour.

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Christmas is approaching but there are no decorations or any evidence that the Indian population observe Christmas, not that the mostly Hindu population should I guess. Then to my surprise when we get back to the hotel one afternoon Yogita (the owner's granddaughter) is decorating a pine tree.

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Later in the afternoon we see a very bedraggled Santa riding a scooter then a little further down the street Santa is out and about on a camel. This is Christmas in India.

Christmas day is a quiet affair, we have not even managed gifts for each other. We ring home and feel homesick but soon overcome our melancholy with a few beers on the rooftop.

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Then head out to see if we can get some money out, post our package and find anywhere that can fix our PDA keyboard or even buy a new one. Our efforts are fruitless, all the money machines are out of action because of power cuts, the parcel section is closed as it is Christmas day and the keyboard is a completely lost cause.

We cannot find anywhere that serves any resemblance of Christmas dinner so we opt for the only place serving non-curry dishes, Pizza Hut, and yes we enjoy it. In the evening Limbah comes to see me and presents me with a posy of flowers and a cheerful "Merry Christmas". That night there is also a huge fireworks display. All is right in the world.

After eight days it is time to go. On leaving, our Rickshaw driver/companion wants a photo on the bike so we oblige.

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Then it is off to do battle at the Post Office first, it takes us 2 hours. Mind numbing bureaucracy and nobody actually working, of the 40 employees only two were actually serving, the other 37 were drinking tea or playing solitaire on the 5 working computers and one man was mindlessly stamping a book of papers while shouting at everyone else.

It is now midday so we head towards Ranakpur, a fairly pleasant days ride (well for India) and we end up at the dodgy Shivka Lake Hotel, but the Jain temples are amazing. This sacred spot is in a wooded valley, the main temple was built in 1439 according to a strict system of measurement that had the number 72 at it's core. Inside there are 1440 individually carved pillars and 72 shrines. It is truly one of the most beautiful Temples we have seen in India.

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When we are ready to leave the motorcycle is surrounded by people, (as usual) including this priest who was insisting Skill take him for a ride.

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What would be the penalty for injuring a priest in the event of an accident?????? Skill declined.

Next day it is on to Udaipur via some scenic backroads to Kumbalgarh Fort, built in the fifteenth century by Maharana Kumbha. The Palace at the summit is known as the cloud palace because during the monsoon it is shrouded in cloud. This fort is not on the main tourist route and is quite an amazing sight.

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It then takes us two and a half hours to do the last bone shaking 60 kms to Udaipur. After having to ask for directions countless times we manage to find the Udai Niwas Hotel. Parking the bike here proves to be a little difficult, the luggage comes off and all the staff push and guide Skill up the steps and thin ramp but success and the bike has a home off the street. We have a lovely room and great views from the rooftop restaurant.

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Udaipur is quite a beautiful city surrounded by mountains and set around Lake Pichola. In the midst of the Lake is the extraordinary Lake Palace.

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This Palace was built by Maharaja Jagat Singh II in 1745, but not only did he build this glorious vision on Jagniwas Island he also flooded a village and enlarged the small existing Lake so as to have the ultimate water view.

Udaipur is obsessed by the James Bond movie "Octopussy" which was filmed here over 30 years ago. Every night at 7.00pm every hotel plays the movie. No deviation from this time slot is ever entertained.

Other attractions in the City include the City Palace, the Jagdish Temple and the Monsoon Palace to name but a few.

We decide to stay in Udaipur until New Year so once again we just relax enjoying the company of many Western tourists that seem to frequent this part of the world.

We meet up with a Kiwi family, Guy, Michelle and Ella who are having their first Indian Adventure. We have met so many people travelling with young children in India, they do not seem to have any difficulties at all. In fact in some ways it smoothes the way as the Indian people love children.

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We spend most of our time in Udaipur walking by the Lake entertained by the daily lives of the people, especially at the washing ghats, and also in the backstreets. A really interesting place and the touts are not too persistent.

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One afternoon we venture into a restaurant for a beer and spend quite a few hours watching the antics of this troop of monkeys.

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Then as we leave and step out onto the street we are nearly run over by an elephant in the peak hour rush. It's times like this you just love India.

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We also play the ultimate tourist and take a sunset boat ride.

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New Years Eve is a fireworks spectacular, which we watch from the rooftop of the Hotel, over a few beers, I would have killed for a glass of champers. Shouldn't complain too much as we did find a bottle of white wine.

We leave Udaipur after saying goodbye to the wonderful Beamer, another favourite waiter, on New Years Day.

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Destination Goa. We spend five solid days on the bike to get there.

The first day was to Vadodara in Gujarat.(A dry state so no end of the day beer here) While I am looking for a hotel Skill is mobbed by about 100 people and I cannot even get into the bike to tell him where we are going to stay. After battling my way through the crowd we head for the sanctuary of the Hotel. It is hot, I am tierd, the hotel staff are hassling me for a tip and then Skill comes upstairs and cryptically tells me "the newspaper is downstairs" to which I tersely reply "I don't want to read the bloody paper, I want a cold drink and a shower".

But NO the local Press have heard of our arrival and want to interview us. Reluctantly it is back downstairs for a chat and photos. Such is the life of celebrities????????????????????????

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Next day is a good ride on good road to a dodgy, expensive highway resort hotel just North of Mumbai, where nothing works including the water and they still want to charge us 1200 Rupees. Let's just say we were not happy and made our feelings known and next morning did not pay the asking price.

The following day is horrendous. Because we are on a motorcycle we are not allowed to use some Expressways and have to take minor highways which are not signed, we get completely lost and end up going around and around on the outskirts of Mumbai, every one we ask for directions says after the obligatory head wobble "Just go Straight". In reality this means "I have no idea, but I cannot possibly lose face, so I will tell you anything".

Eventually Skill spies two Western dressed girls carrying books. I jump off the bike and run after them. They give us the best directions, draw us a detailed map and tell us "God no, don't ask a man in India for directions".

Success we are on our way, but the directions lead again to the Expressway with signs in English, or we can take the National Highway with signs in Hindi. After being lost for two and half hours we opt for the Expressway, we figure they have to catch us first.

We cruise on the Highway pretending not to see the countless whistle blowing, bamboo stick wielding policemen and make it 50 km but are stopped by the toll gates. They want to fine us 1500 Rupees but we are quite adamant that there were no signs (which there weren't) so how were we to know.

They are completely bamboozled but the lure of 1500 Rupees is too much. I am getting tierd of sitting on the bike while they dally around and say "Just tell us where we are meant to go" They explain but are still holding out for their rupees. In the end Skill gets off the bike and towering above them says forcefully "Just open the gate" which they do and we are on our way. At least the expressway got us out of Mumbai.

We laugh because apparently it is too dangerous for us to have our 1000cc motorcycle on the Expressway but the usual assortment of rust-bucket buses and trucks doing 40km/h are allowed, then they have no hesitation in sending us 4km down a one way road the wrong way to get onto the Highway we are allowed to use. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

We arrive in Pune and stop on the outskirts to check out our Hotel options, we are engrossed in our task and after five minutes look up, we are surrounded by no less than 200 people and the crowd is growing. People, bicycles, motorbikes and Rickshaw drivers are now blocking the 4 Lane National Highway in both directions. It is chaos, buses, trucks and cars are all blowing their horns and the traffic is building, all caused by us parked under a tree beside the road.

We get out of there the best we can pushing our way through the traffic and pulling in at the first hotel we see. Skill comes back and says "It's bloody expensive but really nice, we're staying" The hotel staff are so friendly and cannot do enough for us. It is a brand new Hotel.

Sheer Luxury, we don't leave the confines of our airconditioned three roomed appartment ordering room service and luxuriating in a bathtub with enough hot water to fill it. A comfortable inner spring queen size bed and double sheets. Everything is clean and works properly, very un-Indian.

Next day rejuvenated it takes us over an hour to get out of Pune and we only managed that because a wonderful young man guided us on his motorbike. Then it is an easy day on the freeway (we are allowed on this one) to Belgaum where we overnight.

Onward to Panjim via the National Highway 4A. This would have to be the worst road we have come across in India. It is a deeply potholed dirt track for some 50 km of 155 km. It is down to first gear trail biking, bottoming suspension and crunching the bash plate again several times. Skill had to work hard to keep our fully loaded heavy bike upright as well as dodging the trucks/cars/buses trying to run us off road.

This is a national highway and it got much worse after this.....

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We do arrive in Panjim, once again ignoring some stick wielding, whistle blowing police (who knows what they wanted, but we were not in the mood), in time to pick up our parcels. One is from Pac Safe who have sent us a replacement base for our tankbag. They were so helpful and had no hesitation in sending us a free replacement as the zip had broken.

The other is from our close friends Kath and Sean, our belated Christmas presents include Anzac Biscuits, Tim Tams, rum, champagne, and a SD card with new music, bless them.

It has been such an awful day and the previous four days have been stressful, the terrible roads and woeful drivers, I cannot count how many times we have been run off the roads. So in true girly fashion I have my first meltdown and burst into tears with at least 20 people looking on.

Skill valiantly decides we should get out of there and make it to Palelom so we can awake to the sound of waves the next morning.

We do make it, and after checking out three places we decide on a beach hut. I don't think we have ever enjoyed a beer so much in our lives. We put on our new music, drink our beer, eat some Anzac Biscuits and watch the sunset, before venturing out for a fish and lobster dinner.

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Welcome to Goa.

Cheers and Beers,


Quote for the Week: "Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in the pursuit of something else" - Lawrence Block

Posted by John Skillington at 08:07 AM GMT
March 08, 2007 GMT
India - part 3

Life in Goa is quite blissful and we spend three days at Palolem, just swimming, eating, and generally relaxing.

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However the restaurant next door cranks up their music at about 11.00 pm and have a penchant for rap so we walk over to Patnem to check out other accommodation options. We are amazed at the difference between the two beaches, Patnem is so much quieter and low key. We love it and make the move. We choose the newly opened Carlito huts right at the end of the beach. There are five huts, and we are only the second people to stay in them. Everything is spotless.

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Our only neighbours are a great young French couple and their young "bebe" Max who is a delight and sleeps right through the night. The staff adore him and kidnap him every opportunity they get, his parents often have to rescue him from the kitchen or the restaurant where he is being fed an endless supply of chocolate.

And of course there is a restaurant and bar run by the very obliging "Jo".

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Life is rather idyllic, each morning we awake to this view of the beach,

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then it's off to a breakfast of fresh fruit salad, homemade yoghurt, and masala omelette.

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Next is a morning swim, a stroll along the beach, a late seafood lunch.

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Then another beach stroll where there is always something to entertain and delight.

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A sunset swim, sunset drinks,

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More seafood for dinner, a moonlit beach walk and bed. No wonder we couldn't leave.

While we are in Patnem we meet up with five other motorcycle travellers, Bob and Pete, Annis and Laurens and
Cecelia. They had all travelled from Europe, via Turkey, the Central Asian Stans, Mongolia and Russia, China and Pakistan. The guys had travelled in pairs but Cecelia made the journey alone. Quite a remarkable lady!!!!

It was great to compare stories and share meals.

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While we were stopped Skill gave the bike the once over as he had been concerned it was occasionally running rough, the hot idle speed had dropped and recently needed several adjustments and the cold fast idle seemed not to be working at all. Nothing serious enough to stop us, but it needed checking.

So being the engineer type he consulted the rapidforum Vstrom website users for some advice.

Although all sorts of things could be checked, most involved tools and parts not available to us. So Skill decided to install our spare sparkplugs and balance the throttle bodies. Unfortunately the vacuum gauges normally used for balancing are not available in India as they don't have multi-cylinder bikes, so he used an old BMW trick using a length of clear hose and oil to indicate vacuum balance. Only problem is it took 1 1/2 days and 150km riding around Goa to locate tubing the correct size before he could even start!

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In the end neither sparkplugs nor balancing solved the problem - bugger, what now? After lots of thinking and reflection (well his current book was "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance" after all) Skill made some minor adjustment that immediately fixed the automatic fast idle. Great, but he was annoyed it took so much time and effort only to find it was so easy to fix. So while things were apart the bike got an oil & filter change and a good check-over.

Just when he thought he was almost finished, he discovered one rear wheel bearing was totally collapsed - bugger! Now as luck would have it the cook (whose brother in law owns the huts) had a friend who was a good motorcycle mechanic specializing in imported bikes - both a rarity in India. Skill rides to Benaulim to meet him and after a shopping expedition returns with only non-sealed type bearings, but they will do the job for now. On his return he starts to work on replacing the bearings which proves difficult in the now blowy, sandy conditions only a few metres from the beach. Without any shelter, windblown sand is sticking on everything and without proper tools the job is difficult. However after several hours, skinned knuckles and some (we actually lots of) swearing - success, new bearings are in and the bike should be right to go again hopefully!

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We do not want to leave Goa, but after 2 weeks our Indian visa is fast running out so we must go, calling in on our mechanic friend who has found some better sealed bearings for us as spares and would not take any money for them or his time!

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We overnight in Morjim in the North of Goa and are so pleased we chose the south of Goa for our 2 week stay, the beaches were much nicer as was the atmosphere.

From here we decided to head North to Agra as quickly as possible, so we overnight in Kolhapur, then retrace our ride to Pune where we get lost for two hours (again) before finally getting on the right road and staying overnight in the uninspiring town of Ahmadnagar.

The next day we leave early and ride 200km to the wonderful Ajunta caves. This is World Heritage site and dates from around 200 BC. The 30 Buddhist caves are cut into a horseshoe shaped gorge. In each cave is an intricately carved Buddha and in some caves the remains of vast frescoes.

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It is getting late and trying to escape the touts proves difficult, but finally we are on our way and get to Jalgaon. On the outskirts of town Skill thinks there is something wrong with the bike but traffic is heavy and stopping is not easy. At a set of lights people are pointing at the tyre, I get off with difficulty (we are so hemmed in by traffic) and yes the tyre looks decidedly flat. We are lucky as there is a tyre repair place about 100 metres from the intersection and the traffic policeman stops all the traffic so we can get there.

Skill manages to plug the hole under the watchful eyes of 200 (no exaggeration) pushy spectators who all offer helpful advice in Hindi all at the same time, while none would have ever even seen a tubeless bike tyre or plug repair in their life!!

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The plug seems to do the trick and we use the tyre repair man's compressor to fill the tyre. A lovely man who refuses my 15 rupees telling me it is only 5 rupees. I reoffer the 15 rupees, he refuses saying it is not right to take 15, it is only 5.

We find the welcoming Hotel Plaza just before dark which is such a relief, it has been a long day. We must give this hotel and owner a big plug, it is cleanest and most helpful, honest place we stayed in, in the whole of India (apart from Rajasthan).

We leave early next day after checking the tyre which seems to be holding. This day rates up there as the worst days ride we have had on the whole trip, the roads are indescribably bad and the traffic is insane. It takes us eight hours to do 325 km, in some places the road is almost blocked by the many trucks with broken axles and differentials due to the state of the road. Then finding our nominated hotel in Indore proved difficult. We were absolutely exhausted and knew that tomorrow was probably going to be the same except longer. So Dinner and Bed.

Next day was not quite so bad, the roads improved slightly and the truck traffic thinned out considerably. We only have a six hour day and end up at the highly recommendable state run Shivpuri Resort.

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Over our afternoon beer we get chatting to three Indian retirees who have spent their retirement travelling India and tell us we cannot miss the Temples at Khajuraho or the Village of Orchha, so next day we change our plans and head to Khajuraho.

The road to Jhansi is a vast improvement on anything we have travelled on in the last week, so we make the most of being able to travel at up to 90km per hour. After Jhansi we move onto Khajuraho stopping for a roadside fruit snack in the middle of a field, but of course the locals turn up and we happily manage to stretch our fruit lunch between numerous people.

We end up arriving at a reasonable hour and finding an Ok hotel with an expensive room but they "Promise" us there is hot water.

On arrival we meet up with two cyclists Ania and Robert from Poland, who have made the same journey as us. They are a great couple and we enjoy their company. It is now like we are fully fledged members of some "Overlanders" club, with remember when, horror/fantastic hotel stories, Tehran pollution, Pakistan Police Escort tribulations, terrible Indian drivers etc etc.

Next day it is off to the Temples. The grounds surrounding the Temples are peaceful and offer us some retreat from the usual Indian touts and hassles. Oh yes, then there are the Temples with their erotic art work.

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Now we have your attention ............ The Temples were built by a Chandela Dynasty and survived for five centuries before the Mughals trashed it. The Temples date from around AD 950 to 1050 and were astonishingly built over only 100 years, and no one really knows why they were built at Khajuraho. There was nothing of great interest or beauty here and no big population centre near by so the question remains "Why Here?" However it's isolation helped preserve it from the Muslim invaders and it fell into ruin and the jungle took over until 1838 when a British officer, TS Burt was shown the temples by his bearers. Needless to say he was shocked and was reported to have said the erotica was "a little warmer than was any absolute necessity for."

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Experts are uncertain of the reasons for erotic sculptures. Theories include, a Kamasutra for the young Brahmin boys in the all male temples. Others claim the figures were to prevent the temples being struck by lightning by pleasing the rain God Indra who was a bit of an old letch. However the most popular belief is that they are actually Tantric images.

Anyway whatever the reason the Temples are truly a marvel. We spent a good four hours soaking up the magic before joining Bob and Ania again. They were meant to be leaving by bus to Varanassi but apparently bus services had been cancelled, for no particular reason (except it is a Saturday) so they were staying put.

I also have a huge argument with the hotel manager over the decided lack of hot water, which he tells me is "Hot", try tepid. Skill comes to the rescue as I am about to do him bodily harm.

We say goodbye to Bob and Ania next day and have a pleasant (well the truck drivers only try to kill us twice) ride to Orccha where we stay in the state run "Bewa Cottages", except ours is a tent, beside the river.

It is a really peaceful place, as we are only staying overnight we do not visit the Palaces and Temples. Instead we walk along the river where we meet some interesting people

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and into the village where we gaze at the beautiful buildings from afar and markets up close.

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Orchha was founded in 1531 and was a Rajput capital until the late 1800s. There are three Palaces with medieval Islamic architecture and three large 16th Century Temples.

We are sorry that we have cut ourselves short of time as Orchha has such a peaceful feeling to it, but onwards to Agra, another bone shaking, traffic clogged road but we arrive at a reasonable hour and find the welcoming Tourists Rest House easily. They even tell us our parcel (containing our new keyboard) has arrived and hand it over. Bless Kath's little cotton socks, she has also sent us some magazines, trashy ones for me and motorcycle ones for Skill. Over a beer we happily peruse them before having dinner with 4 other travellers, Mel from Armidale (Australia), two British guys Mark and Andrew and Yamuna who was adopted by Dutch parents from an orphanage in Tamil Nadu, India some 20 years ago. She is back to visit India for the first time. Hers is a really interesting story.

Next day Skill wanders the streets while I do not leave the garden confines of the hotel, reading my trashy womens magazines and catching up on the now way behind blog. Beers and dinner with Mel and Andrew before a late night. It is wedding season in Agra so every night just as you are starting to doze off the 100 decibel wedding processions start. It really is a sight to behold.

The terrified looking, sweaty, groom is usually riding a decorated white horse followed by a line of dancing people, holding lanterns connected by frayed electrical cables powered by a generator carried in a tuk tuk belching out two stroke fumes. Add to this a huge sound system where everything on the graphic equalizer at full volume, blasting distorted Indian music into the night.

Next day we bite the bullet and take an auto rickshaw to the Taj. I am not quite sure what I was expecting, in fact I was expecting to be disappointed. We were not, it truly is a beautiful ethereal sight.

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While taking in our surroundings I get chatting to this young man who tells me his tale of woe. He is in love with a young teacher but his parents do not approve and will not sanction a "Love Marriage" so he does not know what to do. Arranged marriages are still the norm in India, with "Love Marriages" accounting for only 2% of all marriages.

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Next day we manage to find our way out of Agra without too much trouble and the double lane highway to Varanassi is looking promising but that soon changes as it goes back to one lane criss crossing from one side of the unbuilt freeway to the next we are down to an average of 30km per hour, remembering this is the number 2 National Highway. Then just as we had given up hope of even getting half way to Varanassi, the 4 lane highway appears out of nowhere again, so we do make it to the industrial city of Kanpur, but another long day. Trying to find a hotel again proves difficult and in the end two wonderful Hindi speaking boys on a motorbike take us to the main part of town, we are so grateful as we would never have found our way.

We are stopped outside a couple of OK looking hotels trying to figure out what to do next and of course the crowd is gathering when, this vision appears and says "Gday can I help you out". Yes it is another angel. Geoffrey is an Indian who lives in Melbourne and is back home visiting his parents in law who own a Hotel.

We are saved, they let us park the bike in the foyer and welcome us wholeheartedly. It is a lovely hotel.

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Next day is more of the same, but we need to navigate our way through Allahabad. Allahabad is at the confluence of India's most Holy rivers, Ganges and the Yamuna, as well as the mythical Saraswati River. It is at this point that Pilgrims come to bathe each year, but once every six years Ardh Mela takes place and millions of Pilgrims visit. The most Holy week being during February. And guess when we arrive????

The newspapers report that during this week 20 million people come to bathe along this small stretch of river. Difficult to comprehend the scale. It takes us a couple of hours to make our way through the traffic. This photo is of the tent city which springs up during the pilgrimage.

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We do make it to Varanassi and have GPS way-points for the Hotel so life is reasonably easy. Now as luck would have it, our friend Caroline (who trekked with us to Fairy Meadows, Nanga Parbat, Pakistan) is also in Varanassi, so we catch up with her for dinner, it is so nice to see her. We are staying a long way from the city centre so catch a rickshaw back to the Hotel, what a scream, there are wedding parties everywhere blocking the road so the driver takes it upon himself to get us to our hotel using footpaths, roadworks, one way streets, hotel gardens and any other means at his disposal as long as we keep moving. By the time we do arrive back at the Hotel we are in hysterical laughter, it was as if we were part of a James Bond Movie chase scene.

Next day we spend walking along the Ghats beside the Ganges, with it's eye popping sights.


The bathers.

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The washing,

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The cricket

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The near naked, ash covered Sardus

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The markets

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The snake charmers

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The Buffalos

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Not to mention the burning ghats where bodies are cremated in public.

In the afternoon we take a boat ride with Caroline and her friend Uwai.

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I am unable to describe Varanassi. It is a filthy, dirty, traffic ridden city with a highly polluted river running through it, and touts and rickshaw drivers hassling you at every turn BUT it is a highly religious city which draws you in and seems to pocess a powerful mystical quality. We enjoyed our visit.

We leave Varanasi with ease, unbelievably there are signs we can follow, but alas it is not the road we want, but we follow it anyway. It takes us 5 hours to do 200km to Gorakhpur.

I should explain that Gorakhpur is currently under military/police curfew as two days previous to us arriving, three trains had been burnt and there had been continued rioting in the streets. We are not sure of the reason. Fortunately we arrive just before 5.00 pm and find the Hotel thanks to Abhijeet who finds us on the street and kindly shows us the way.

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The Hotel Bobina comes recommended in our Guide book, but the lime green fish tank in the foyer should have had alarm bells ringing.

What a circus? Of course the usual hot water issues, (I am so over being lied to about hot water, they know there is no hot water but the same charade is played out in most hotels) so bucket hot water for a shower which is not a problem if they wouldn't lie to us in the first place. Then down to the restaurant which the manager made a point of telling us, was open.

No menu, OK what can we have??? No one speaks english but we glean that the cook has gone home because of the curfew so we can have omelette and butter toast. OK that will be fine. Forty five minutes later no omelette but our toast minus the butter does appear. I ask if there is a problem.

Yes there is a problem, no one knows how to cook an omelette. I offer and go out to the kitchen to cook dinner, where I find 6 men hovering over a gas hot plate. But the owner is horrified and hunts me out. So after another 30 minutes two omelettes???? appear. The saga continues as we try to order tea. So two hours after first ordering we achieve an omelette, toast and a cup of tea. But the final insult to this injury was the bill, we get charged, on top of, the 15% hotel tax, a 10% service????????? charge.

Let's just say at that point we make the decision to leave as soon as the curfew is lifted in the morning and have a roadside banana breakfast. Oh yes forgot to mention, after dinner we have no water in the room at all. At 11.00 pm we are just dozing off when there is a knock on the door and a man proudly announces the water is back on and proceeds to come in, turn on all the lights and demonstrates this to us by flushing the toilet.

Oh well some days are like that.

I guess in our story we need to mention the "Sounds of India". Every morning you are awoken by what we have christened "the sound of India". That is the men of India coughing and hacking up copious amounts of phlegm and sputum, which they then proudly spit anywhere and everywhere. They are completely and utterly preoccupied with spitting in this country.

I should also make mention that travelling behind the buses is a dangerous proposition as the Indian travellers seem to have a propensity to vomit out of every single bus window, so if you are not spat on you are bound to be hurled on instead.

Then comes the TRAFFIC ............. I cannot even begin to describe how bad the roads are, they go from a lovely two lane highway (still with obstacles such as water buffalo herds, goats, cows, ox carts, tractors and trailers, scooters, pedestrians, and the obligatory trucks careering towards you on the wrong side of the road) to a single potholed bitumen track to a dusty dirt track with half metre deep holes, all within a few kilometres. No exaggeration here. Then to that equation add insane traffic and drivers. Our Scottish/English Land Rover driving friends Rose and Dave came up with rules for driving in India that went something like this, with a few additions from us:

1. Firstly ensure your vehicle is NOT roadworthy and make sure your tyres are completely bald and preferably patched.

2. Do not use your indicators (they are non existent on trucks and buses anyway) instead use funny hand and finger gestures which no one can interpret or understand, to signal your intent.

3. Always pull out in full view of oncoming traffic, preferably causing them to take emergency evasive action.

4. Overtaking maneuvers should always occur on blind corners, single one vehicle roads or dangerous mountain passes.

5. Aim your vehicle directly for the dotted white line and do not deviate from this practice.

6. When stopping, do not pull over and try to inconvenience as many people as is humanly possible especially if you are a bus driver.

7. Trucks and Buses must travel on the wrong side of the 4 lane freeway in the fast lane careering towards oncoming vehicles abusing anyone who dares to think they can use their side of the road in safety.

8. Cars, motorbikes, bicycles, rickshaws and carts should all use whatever part of the road they want, in whatever direction they like, and should change their minds regularly and without warning.

9. Pedestrians must wander into the path of oncoming traffic without paying any attention at all, then look totally shocked and amazed when approaching vehicles sound their horns.

10. Livestock should always be herded along the main road, preferably in the fast lane on divided freeways so the stock can graze the median strip.

And finally you must try your hardest to kill other road users.

We met one Indian man who said to drive in India you need 4 things:
1. Good Horn;
2. Good Brakes;
3. Good nerves, and finally;
4. Good Luck.

As you can tell from the sarcasm, I have really struggled with the riding in India but Skill seems to have been able to keep it all together, and still enjoys being on the bike. But we would both be lying if we said driving in India is a pleasurable experience.

It is just the ridiculous "me first" mentality. They would rather kill you and themselves or hurt and maim someone or destroy property than wait for one second before pulling out, turning off, or overtaking. There are absolutely no rules and even if there were, there is no one to police the rules. The end result always seem to be the same, a minor or major accident usually involving a truck.

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What can you say about India. Life in India is difficult but never dull, traffic chaos, noise, filth, rubbish, mangy dogs, cows eating rubbish, no respect for personal space, everyone, including priests, beggars, touts, rickshaw drivers and shopkeepers all seeing you as a Western walking cash machine. You want to yell and scream is sheer frustration, "Get me out of this bloody place". But you will forgive all of this when something magical happens, a colourfully decorated elephant walks on by, you see vibrant coloured saris drying in a stark brown dessert landscape, you witness ox driving water wheels to irrigate crops, or see the Hindis worshiping their Gods in beautifully elaborate or decidedly simple temples, or watch young children bathing playfully in a river, or smell the glorious scent of roses in the flower stalls.

It is a land of such contrasts, obscene wealth, debilitating poverty, colourful beauty, dirty ugliness, extreme kindness, impatient rudeness, quiet gentleness, ruthless violence, stark desserts, glorious beaches, lofty mountains and flat plains.

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It really is "Incredible India" but after three months the good bits seem to be fewer and farther between and the bad bits more frequent and annoying, so it is definitely time to go. Roll on Nepal.....

Cheers and Beers,

Quote for the week: "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page" - St Augustine

For other travellers out there here are our top accommodation tips for India, these are the places that went out of their way to accommodate us. They also have secure parking:

Bikaner: Bhairon Villas (our favourite, run by the wonderfully hospitable Harsh)

Jodhpur: Pal Havelli Inn (a close second)

Udaipur: Udai Niwas Hotel (Parking here is tight and you will probably have to remove luggage to get up the ramp)

Jalgaon: Hotel Plaza. Simple but a really lovely man running the place Parking is on the street but right at the front door and there is a night watchman, pretty safe.

Posted by John Skillington at 11:48 AM GMT
April 23, 2007 GMT
Nepal

We leave Gorakpur as soon as the curfew is lifted at 8.30 am and make the 100km ride to the border at Sonauli, a dusty Indian town complete with traffic jams caused by the trucks crossing the border, we later find that it is more congested than usual because of the Terai blockades.

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Indian formalities completed, we enter Nepal and head to get our visas which take no time at all.

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Then off to do the carnet, I wait with the bike, and wait and wait and wait. After an hour Skill emerges to tell me that the guy that normally does the carnets is off on lunch and no one has any idea on what to do. It takes another hour for the Nepalese authorities to complete the carnet.

By this time I have been rescued by a sweet young man called Arjun who keeps me entertained with stories about Nepal. When Skill emerges Arjun directs us to a restaurant where we can have some lunch, and he joins us.

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By this time it is nearly 3.15 pm so we head to Butwell and call it a day. We park outside the hotel and something miraculous occurs, I am left in peace not one person bothers me.

No one asks the usual 40 questions:

How far one litre?
How much this bike cost?
How fast this bike go?
How much tank hold?
How big the engine?
How many cylinder?
Where you from?
Where you going?

and when Skill emerges from the Hotel he has a stunned look on his face and says "Where are all the people?"

WE LOVE NEPAL.

We stay at the Hotel Siddartha where the great people tell us there is no hot water showers till the morning but 2 huge buckets of hot water appear five minutes later. We are a little gobsmacked at the honesty and efficiency. There is not a lot to see or do in Butwal, it is a hot, flat, dusty, dirty crowded town, so we leave early next morning and make our way to Tansen.

It is a short 35 km ride to Tansen (Palpa) in drizzling rain. Despite the rain it is a beautiful, peaceful, and trafficless ride, the roads are instantly better as are the driving standards.

I remember reading Dave McMillian and Erica Tunicks "Nepal Blog" saying the first thing you notice about Nepal is the billboards advertising Shakka Lakka Boom noodles and they are right,

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the signs are everywhere, in fact there are billboards everywhere, every shop wall and any other available space is covered by advertising signs usually extolling the virtues of 2 minute noodles, although clean and healthy gums also rate a mention.

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Tansen is the former capital of the Magar Kingdom, Tanahun. It is a quaint town perched high above the valleys and river below. The streets are narrow, steep and winding full of Newari shop houses and temples. It is like taking a step back in time. By the time we navigate our way to a hotel it is pouring and we are soaked.

The helpful staff assist us with our paniers and we have two large coffees in our hands before we can get our wet gear off.

We have a peaceful afternoon getting lost in the labyrinth like streets before stumbling upon Nanglo West, a Nepalese Restaurant where we spend the rest of the afternoon watching the rain run in torrents down cobbled alleyways, while sampling a bottle of red and devouring chicken mo mos by the plateful.

We love this atmospheric little village but sadly it bares the scars of a major Maoist assault from late last year. Tansen Durbar (home of the local administrative centre) bore the brunt of most attacks.

Next day the skies have cleared and we get a view down to the valleys below. Skill is also impressed by the building in progress next door.

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We have the most glorious days ride along the less trafficked, spectacular Siddhartha Highway. The road wends its way through valleys and villages. I feel happy to be on the back of the bike and have enough confidence to get the camera out and start snapping away again. (Something I didn't do much of in India)

The terraces are amazing

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as are the daily lives of the villagers.

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(sorry they are a bit blurry)

A lot of the villages we ride through are heavily decorated with flags (not prayer flags) which we think are for the Chinese New Year.

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We arrive in Pokhara exhilarated to have had such a wonderful days ride. We pull over to check out some signs pointing to various guest houses along the lake when another one of those angels appear. This time it is British expat Rick who runs the Hearts and Tears Motorcycle Club, a rent/buy/tour bike business in Pokhara. Rick takes us to the Sacred Valley Inn which is absolutely wonderful.

We manage to get everything off the bike, secure a beautiful room with balcony (for $10.00 AUD) when the heavens open up. We then have the best lunch and coffee we have had in months, and to top it off we have another Aussie motorcyclist for company in the form of Don who has been riding his Enfield between India and Nepal for the past two years.

In the evening we venture out to downtown Pokhara, we are so excited, there are restaurants everywhere and pubs and bars, even supermarkets that sell more than two products. It seems that we have found a little piece of Utopia. And like any good Aussie on their first night in Pokhara we head to the Everest Steak House for our first steak since leaving home washed down with an Aussie red. Then it is off to the Busy Bee bar to watch a live band, and have a few beers with Rick and his partner Monica. WE LOVE NEPAL.

The next day as we start talking to Rick and Don, we become aware of the fuel shortages in Nepal. The Terai Province which borders India are flexing their political muscle in the run up to the elections by blockading fuel trucks into Nepal. We are not that worried as we love Pokhara and can wait for fuel to arrive. We are also keen to do a bit of hiking but the weather is not kind to us.

Occasionally in the morning the cloud will lift and you suddenly realise that you are breakfasting beneath some of the highest mountains in the world. It is breathtakingly beautiful, but also a privilege to be in such a place as this.

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We spend a week mooching around Pokhara in the vein hope that the weather will clear, unfortunately it is not to be and hiking is not an option.

On the other hand, eating, shopping, and drinking are, as are nightly visits to the Busy Bee to check out the bands. One night as we settle in for the night and are seated around the bar I observe a sign which says "NO DRUGS OR CANNABIS WILL BE TOLERATED ON THESE PREMISES". I also happily observe that every single person sitting along the bar is rolling a joint. The Nepalese seem to be in the same league as the Italians when it comes to a flagrant disregard for rules and regulations.

We also take some day rides, one to Naya Pul (where the Annapurna Circuit ends) and also up to the village of Sarangkot perched high above Pokhara. In good weather the views of the Annapurnas are amazing, we were not that lucky but they were still pretty stunning.

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We enjoy the day here, the scenery,

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The paragliders

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And these school kids take my fancy, they have finished school and are wistfully wishing they could jump the fence and join the fun of the day care centre.

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Eventually we decide to make the break and head to Chitwan National Park and of course the day we decide to leave the weather clears. As we are getting fuel

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before we leave I happily snap away at the mountains and the Fairy Floss Man.

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This old man continually wants to be in the photo.

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"No I want photos of the mountains" I tell him. He is so persistent that in the end I take his photo to get him off my case, and of course as soon as I have done so the hand comes out for Rupees. I oblige, it is sometimes easy to forget that this country is the poorest in the world.

The ride is another enjoyable one, following the Prithvi Highway.

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We turn off at Mugling towards Bharatapur. It is at this point the traffic is stopped and banked up, we ride around it to find that young children have the road barricaded off with a big rope and are extracting money from each vehicle. People seem to be willingly and happily paying them money, we ignore them and sneak through with a truck. We later learn that it is the week of Shiva's Birthday and the money is to buy sweets with. A bit like trick or treating only by extortion.

We arrive in Bharatapur having to ask for directions several times. It is also here we have our second altercation of the trip admittedly at very low speed, well actually a motor bike clips our pannier. The pannier stays attached and Skill just manages to keep us upright but not before narrowly missing a bus and cyclist. We are shaken but all is OK. We continue on our way arriving at Chitwan in time to find a nice little cottage at River View Jungle Camp and spend the afternoon perched beside the river drinking beer, and glorying in the magnificant sunset.

Royal Chitwan National Park was created in 1971 and covers about 932 sq km. In the 60s and 70s many animals were lost to poachers, but through the 80s and 90s things improved vastly as the poaching was slowed by border patrols. However the political and economic instability of the past few years has seen a return to poaching and rhino and tiger numbers are falling at an alarming rate. We heard from many local sources that the problem starts right at the top of the Parks hierarchy, a park official had recently been removed (only for a month) because he had been found to be connected with poachers and the sale of rhino and tiger products over the Chinese Border.

Tourism at Chitwan has also been badly affected by the Maoist insurgency. Whilst we were travelling around we were surprised to see so many UN cars and people, they were here to oversee the containment of Maoist arms. Camps had also been set up to house the Maoists. However tensions were still running high and rumour has it that the guns being procured by the UN were old guns bought cheaply from India and that the good weapons are hidden safely away?????

Next day we are up bright and early to take our elephant ride through the forest to look for the rhinos and any other animals out and about. We go by jeep to meet the elephants, but it is slow going as it is a public holiday (Shiva's birthday) and the kids have their makeshift rope road blocks set up every 100 metres. The Nepalese are so patient with the kids, never getting upset or chastising them, and paying them small amounts of money.

When we eventually arrive we get loaded into our howdah (riding platform) on the elephant's back

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and then the mahout (rider/driver) scarpers down his trunk and into a building. This seems to be the signal for our elephant to wander off riderless in search of food, and we go along for the ride.

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Eventually the mahout reappears and after angrily rousing at the elephant for his naughtiness we are finally off. What a wonderful morning we had...........

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On returning to our hotel by elephant we spent a few lazy hours by the river watching the antics of the locals enjoying their holiday. Come late afternoon it is off for a ride in a dugout canoe made out of a Kapok tree,

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then a walk through the forest to the Elephant Breeding Centre. You cannot describe how gorgeous these creatures are.

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These elephants spend their mornings giving elephant rides but during the day they graze in the park, returning late afternoon to be housed at night.

I cannot tear myself away but we need to cross the river and walk the few kilometers back to Sauraha before it storms. Our walk takes us through the Tharu villages where the people continue to live as they have done for 100s of years.

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Next day we are back down to the river to watch this Aussie guy (he was having trouble staying on) bath with the elephants. It truly is a wonderful spectacle watching them play in the water. If you shout "chhop" you even get an elephant shower!

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Whilst enjoying the spectacle Skill got chatting to this little girl collecting wood and helped her tie a knot to keep the bundle together.

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Another amazing day and another canoe trip (along a different stretch of water) to the Elephant Breeding Centre where we again play with the babies.

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To end the day we perch ourselves beside the river and watch the sunset.

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Next day it is time to leave, we are sad to be saying goodbye to Gopal our tour guide. He was such an interesting man, who had worked so hard to rise above his poverty stricken circumstances. He is now working hard to educate his three girls. A rarity in Nepal.

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We head towards Kathmandu via Daman. We have been told that the road is a bikers dream with a beautiful, winding mountain road over high passes. It is also reputed to have the best view of the Himalayas in Nepal. What people fail to mention is that it has just had unseasonable snow falls. (It is also at this time that Kathmandu gets snow for the first time in 62 years)

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We have a great ride until we hit the passes where the snow is over the road, somehow we make our way through it until about 5 kilometers from Daman where I bail off the bike and walk. Skill slowly picks his way through the snow and ice.

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Occasionally he will get stuck and will have to wait for me to catch up and push to give him enough momentum to get going again.

On my walk I encounter the locals who have converged on the place to play in the snow.

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By the time we reach Daman we are both exhausted so we bunker down in the only hotel in town which is pretty ordinary. It is absolutely freezing so we hunt and gather some food, make a cup of tea, put on every piece of clothing we own and get into bed where we stay till morning.

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Next day the weather has not really cleared but we take some photos anyway and then it is another lovely days ride towards Kathmandu.

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All is great until we hit the Prithvi Highway at Naubise then the traffic and traffic jams start. However my navigational skills must have improved over the past 12 months because we make it to the Tibet Peace Guest House in Paknajol without taking a wrong turn. Unload the bike, sit in the sun in the garden, order lunch and have a beer.

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It is then that we relise that we have achieved our original goal, Istanbul to Kathmandu, rather a special feeling.

Over the next few days we just chill out in Kathmandu savouring the food and running the gauntlet of the touts in Thamel, who talk to you in veiled whispers. "You want smoke", NO "Hashish", NO "Opium", NO "Magic Mushrooms", NO "Rickshaw", NO Tiger Balm, NO "Trekking" NOOOOOO.

Once again fuel has becomes an issue and the queues at service stations are over half a kilometer long. We decide to bide our time and wait it out.

In the meantime we visit Durbar Square where the city's Kings were once crowned and where they ruled from. The square remains the heart of the old city. We spend our day just wandering and watching.

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On another day we visit Swayambhunath also known as "The Monkey Temple" named after the troop of monkeys that live there.

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Then before we know it we have been in Kathmandu a week. It is a dirty polluted city seething with touts and beggars but there is something about it that holds great appeal, well to us anyway. However life is tough for the locals, while we are there the power loadshedding hours increase to 7 hours a day and there are several bandhs (public strikes) and the rubbish is not collected for a week owing to some political crisis.

One afternoon we get a first hand experience at how quickly things can spiral out of control. Whilst Skill is out having the bike washed and I am out shopping a local child is hit and killed by a minivan. Within minutes the driver is being hauled out of the vehicle and almost lynched, the police intervene just in time to save his life, but the vehicle is torched and within another 10 minutes there are 1000s of protesters on the streets, setting alight tyres. The police have no control.

I make my way back to the Guest House but Skill takes hours to get back on the bike via backstreets as the city is gridlocked.

During that first week we also change to the Kathmandu Peace Guest House only because they have bigger rooms and we can spread ourselves out. We also decide that we will head to Thailand so we start to make plans to crate the bike up and organise plane tickets. We end up using Eagle Eyes Freight Forwarders to do this and have no complaints.

Whilst organising this we run into several other overland motorcyclists whose company we enjoy for the next four days.

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Back at the Guest House we have new companions, Alan is an American who spends his time between Myanmar and Thailand and is a wealth of information about both countries. We thank him for all is help.

We also have the company of two German couples who have driven their Landcruisers overland along the original Silk Route including Afghanistan.

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Over the next week we fall into a lovely routine, Northfield Café for breakfast, shopping and sightseeing, Dolce Vita for coffee, lunch wherever we fancy, cocktails at Rum Doodle or Maya Bars and dinner at K-Too or Everest or La Dolce Vita and then in the evening out to listen to a band. It is just unfortunate that we both suffer from bad colds.

During this week it is also the Festival of Holi, which was really fun.

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This Water Festival takes place on the full moon day in March, basically it is huge day of water fights, from every rooftop coloured water bombs are launched at anyone and everyone. This was an incoming missile just outside our room.

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Finally after two weeks in Kathmandu we follow the cratemaker out to the airport,

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and get the bike crated up.

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Tomorrow we leave this wonderful but troubled country. It will be with a heavy heart.

Cheers and Beers,


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Quote for the Week: "Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else." - Lawrence Block

Posted by John Skillington at 11:59 PM GMT
October 18, 2012 GMT
RTW Part 2 - South America

Well here we are 5 years on ready to travel on the bike again. On arriving home from our first overland motorcycle trip in 2007 we had a four year plan to travel again which blew out to 5 years but finally we are on the move again.

Time dulls the memory, we had forgotten the sheer hard work it takes to pack up your life for 12 to 18 months and we could never have done it without the support of friends, family and the HU Community who have kept us inspired when we would begin to lose focus.

So once again we will start at the beginning......................

The race to leave by October really began in August when we had to have the bike crated up and be at the port by the 13th August, 2012. Once again we did this ourselves, we acquired a crate from the local Harley Dealership for a carton of beer, modified it a bit, and packed the bike and bike gear inside. Then Skill delivered it to the Port of Brisbane, hoping all is well and it will arrive in Valparaiso on the 16th October. The cost of shipping was about $AUD1150.00. There will be more fees at the Chilean end.

The last week before we leave is a total blurr, final house packing up jobs, visiting family and friends, organising last minute details, there doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day. We arrive in Brisbane on Friday night with good friends Liz and Al, descending on Helen and Davin who have organised a lovely farewell dinner with other good friends. Next day into the city to spend the day/night with my family before spending Sunday evening with Glenn and fellow Brisbane HU members. Then it is up at 3.00 am when Glenn delivers us safely onto the flight to Sydney. We are so grateful to Glen and Leeanne for their generosity. We really hope they are on the road soon.

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Skil & 'Toplock' Glen

The connection to our LAN Air/QANTAS flight is made, it turns out to be a huge newly refurbed QANTAS plane, and we are on our way. It is a couple of hours into the flight that I suddenly make the realisation, “This is it! We are on our way again.” The adrenalin rush hits tempered with the inevitable questions of self doubt, are we doing the right thing, will we enjoy it as much as last time, we haven't travelled in a non English speaking country for 5 years, will we be able to manage..........................Blah Blah Blah. The feelings of self doubt are quashed with a couple of champagnes, lunch and a 12 hour flight.

Posted by John Skillington at 08:19 PM GMT
Chile - Santiago & Valparaiso

After a perfect landing in Santiago Chile we find ourselves lined up to pay the reciprocity tax that Aussies are required to pay in reply to our own government's visa requirements for Chileans. This is all OK until we realise that there are about 300 people queued (2 other planes have landed before us) and only 2 people on the processing counter. After standing in a line for nearly three hours we have our visas, are stamped into the country and have collected our bags. It's not what you need after a long flight and wasn't the best welcome to Chile you could get.

We make our way to the Transvip bus counter, secure our tickets and are whisked away by a wanna be Alonso who treats the streets of Santiago as his own personal F1 circuit, while listening to the strains of Lionel Ritchie. We arrive at the delightful Hostal Rio Amazonas # a pale shade of green and totally exhausted, it has been a long 24 hours without sleep.

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Hostal Rio Amazonas

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Alanna relaxing in style

We ignore the anti jetlag rules, have a shower and sleep for six hours before going out to a little cafe across the road for dinner at 10.30 pm. The original feelings of self doubt have gone, if anything it feels more like a relief to be in a foreign country, playing the charade game, not knowing what you are going to get to eat because there is not one word on the menu you recognise, having huge bottles of beer to drink. The sounds of happy and exuberant chatter everywhere. Life is as it should be.

Next day we begin our usual exploration of a foreign city, that is to wander the streets aimlessly only to happen upon a great eating drinking precinct and plonk ourselves down for the day, for some reason this always seems to happen to us and we are happy to go with the path fate has chosen for us.

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Skill enjoying a drink in Barrio Bellavista

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Lan enjoying a drink in Barrio Bellavista,

We fill our six days in Santiago visiting the sights, including Pablo Neruda's home "La Chascona" and the Museo de la Memoria (a new museum depicting the years of the Pinochet Dictatorship)

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Parque Forestal Santiago

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Our first view of the Andes is less than impressive through the smog haze, but it's exciting none the less.

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Smog views of Santiago from atop Cerro San Critsobal

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A huge statue of the Virgen de la Immaculada Concepcion

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Skill at the Museo de la Memoria (The Pinochet Years Museum)

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Mounted Guards at Moneda Palace

We also master the underground system and find our way to the head office of Andes Logistics de Chile where we pay them $CH140 000. (About $AUD 275.00) According to their documents, payment is for Cargo Manifest, "Unstuffing" and Handling Fees. We also get an update on arrival dates and a new Bill of Lading. The ship appears to be on time and we will probably get to UNSTUFF the bike around about the 18th or 19th. We will have to wait and see.

Brimming with confidence at our successful negotiations at Andes Logisitics we head to Magellas Insurance Office to try and negotiate 3rd Party Insurance for the bike. Needless to say this is a complete and utter failure so we give up, walk back to Barrio Brasil and settle ourselves in at the glorious Golindas Restaurant for a big lunch and my first Pisco Sour.

I have taken my first three mouthfuls when I say to Skill “Can you feel the earth shaking, the underground Metro must run underneath us”, he gives me a puzzled look and says "There is no Metro here", as the shaking becomes more intense and the bottles on the shelf begin to rattle. Hmmmm, maybe it's not the pisco sour, but a little bit of an earthquake tremor. Half the restaurant stands up ready to bolt, me included, but the shaking stops after about 5 seconds and we all resume our eating/drinking positions. They told me that the Pisco Sours delivered a wallop and they were dead right.

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Newspaper Article about the little shake

We enjoy Santiago but make the move to Valparaiso by bus after 6 days. The bus system is highly efficient and we leave right on time and arrive in Valparaiso exactly 1 hour 45 minutes later as stated on the schedule. We cannot get into our accommodation until 5.00 pm, and it is now 1.00pm. What to do? We grab a taxi, giving him a random restaurant address which he has no idea of how to get to, and everything is shut as it is Sunday. Finally after driving around aimlessly, I recognise the name of a bar/restaurant (Cinzano) which I have read about in the guide book. We part company with the taxi driver and after much handshaking, we tumble in through the doors of Cinzano lugging our suitcases and backpacks.

What a find, this place transports us back to the 1950s instantly, we leave our bags in the corner atop some beer crates and sit ourselves down for the afternoon securing drinks, lunch and more drinks. The stoic bar man eventually warms to us cracking a slight smile and mixes us up some mean pisco sours, followed by free alcoholic digestive drinks which are bloody awful. I am sure they were chuckling behind their serious demeanors, let's get rid of this rubbish on the gringos.

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Mr Happy mixing up Pisco Sours

We also start up conversations with the locals …....................what I should say is we draw, mime and use our ten words of Spanish over and over again. Generally the Chileans are hospitable, happy people willing to go the extra mile to communicate with us. I wonder how many Australians would go to these lengths?????????????

After a somewhat bizarre, dare I say it, alcoholic afternoon, we arrive at Villa Kunterbunt, our accommodation, also the home of our Chilean Customs Brokers, Enso and Martine. After a long chat and a few more beers we learn that our ship is on time and we will probably have the bike on the following Friday. Still a bit of a wait but there are worse places to be stranded without a bike.

The following 6 days in Valparaiso are spent, literally wandering the streets taking in the amazing sites of this World Heritage listed city. It is such a juxtaposition of grime and grace, wealth and poverty, colour and decay. It would have been something to behold in it's heyday, before the 1906 Earthquake & Tsunami and the completion of the Panama Canal, which signalled its demise.

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Valparaiso's colourful Buildings

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Street Art and Graffiti is Everywhere

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Every day we looked for the ship with our bike - didn't see it

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There used to be 33 finiculars (ascensores) to transport people up and down the steep hills, now only 4 are working. Ascensore Artilleria is the oldest still working, completed in 1893.

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If the Ascensors are not working, this is your only option.

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More street art during our walking tour of Valparaiso

Villa Kunterbunt sees many visitors and we get to spend two evenings with fellow Swiss Motorcyclists who have shipped their bikes in for a 6 week world wind tour of South America. It is fun and inspiring to be with like minded souls.

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Swiss BMWs

They leave on Tuesday, and we kill two more days, tomorrow is D Day. Hooray we get to "Unstuff" the bike.

Cheers & Beers,
John & Lan

# For fellow motorcyclists: when we asked Hostal Rio Amazonas in Santiago, they said that they could provide secure locked outdoor parking for a couple of bikes free of charge. This was a lovely hostel/hotel, very central to everything. $AUD75.00 including breakfast (High season price)

Posted by John Skillington at 08:23 PM GMT
October 31, 2012 GMT
Argentina - finally on the road

Well D Day has arrived and we are off to pick up the bike.

Enso first goes to Customs in Valparaiso town by himself and when he returns, we get into his friend's pick-up and we are off out to the shipping agent's warehouse, about 20km away. On arrival we enter the main building where Enso negotiates, and gets several pieces of paper stamped several hundred times (slight exaggeration), after this we are informed that only one person can go with Enso to uncrate the bike, so I sit and wait and wait and wait. Eventually Enso returns with the same stamped pieces of paper and we enter the building again where (no exaggeration here) he goes between two rooms 6 times getting more stamps and more pieces of paper which he exchanges for other pieces of paper. Finally I am allowed to pay a total of CL $72 000 (About $AU145.00) in exchange for another piece of paper and we are done.

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The bike crate

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Unpacking the crate

I am now allowed into where the bike is, but by this time Skill is all done and is waiting the arrival of the fuel we had bought on the way. We fill the bike up and it fires up first time, all good. Skill turns the bike off and fuel starts to leak out everywhere! Bugger, bugger, bugger! The bike and exhaust is now hot and we imagine the bike engulfed in a fire ball in the shipping warehouse, bike destroyed and some huge liability cost for damage to the warehouse. We try to quickly get the seat and the fuel tank covers off, but its not a quick process on the Vstrom. The leak stops thankfully and by the time the tank is raised there is no sign of where it was leaking? Skill starts and stops the bike, pokes and prods hoses and fittings, but there is no sign of any leaks? What the...? Skill reassembles the bike and hopes for the best.

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A few technical difficulties

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Lan offering helpful hints

Enso has the crate all packed up and loaded into the pick-up along with the top box and then Skill rides the bike (following the pick up) back to Villa Kunterbunt. We are all done and dusted by 1.30 pm. For fellow motorcyclists, Enso and Martina charged us $CL100 000 ($AU200.00) to organise everything at the Chilean end which in the end was worth every cent. Our total costs to ship the bike from Brisbane to Valparaiso was AU$1770.00.

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Skill ready to ride his first kilometers in Chile

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The ride back to Villa Kunterbunt (Enso is taking these photos from the pick up)

We spend the rest of the afternoon securing the top box, getting our belongings organised and dealing with gear that is just not going to fit on the bike. You would think we would have this all sorted now for RTW stage 2, but apparently some lessons have to be relearned. The poor old bike is going to be so overloaded. Skill also notices some damage to the dash near the windscreen, the crate has obviously been top-loaded and the hoops on the crate must have been shoved against the dash. Oh well, I guess it could be worse. We are just about to give up and head down to the town for a drink when another bike gremlin appears, radiator coolant is leaking out, Skill checks it out and and the overflow tank is low, but as with the fuel it stops leaking of its own accord and we are nor sure where it was leaking from? At this point we do give up and go to La Playa Bar for a beer or two. We also look for replacement radiator coolant but on a Saturday afternoon it is a lost cause, so we head back up the hill to our logings where we cook burgers for dinner.

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La Playa Bar Valparaiso

Sunday we get away about 10.30am and as usual we have no real plan, we are heading towards the Argentinian border. Fortunately the traffic as we leave Valpo is relatively calm as is Vina Del Mar, so we get onto the highway easily and are finally away, after negotiating a few tolls and a few scenic detours (ie we get temporarily lost) we stop at a servo to refuel and have our first on-the-road thermos cuppa and sandwiches from the new topbox.

After this we just head towards the border thinking we will stop in Los Andes for the night, but the sun is still high so we keep going. And then we start to climb the Andes and climb and climb switchback after switchback, overtaking truck after truck and still we climb and climb. Through avalanche/snow protectors and long tunnels, we are at the top of the world, well 3200 m anyway.

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Climbing to the top of the world

We come to a checkpoint, it is now very cold and windy with snow still on the ground and “zona control” signs everywhere, is this the border crossing? “No no they say, keep going” so onward we go to an Argentinian checkpoint where we are issued with a scrappy piece of paper torn from a note book with our bike rego and “dos personas” scribbled on it. We offer our passports but are waved onwards. Down the mountain pass, and some distance later we realize we are definitely in Argentina. OH POOP!! Where is the border control? We turn around and a kilometre back we eventually find the correct border crossing checkpoint which is in a huge building located off the road. Its well signposted in Spanish which we didn't understand so ignored. Strange there are no barriers and border officials to stop you going past this point?

It takes about an hour to cross and we have now broken our first rule of motorcycle travel on the first day. Always do border crossings first thing in the morning, not at 5.30 in the afternoon. We now enter Argentina legally and are stopped by the army about 10kms up the road and we have to surrender the scrappy bit of paper with bike rego and dos personas on it. It has been stamped no less than 6 times. We so enjoy the ride to Uspallata, the scenery is jaw droppingly beautiful, but we don't stop for photos as it is late and we are losing the daylight. By the time we reach our destination it is 7.30pm (its dark just after 8pm here at the moment).

After a few unsuccessful attempts to find secure parking for the bike at a few hotels in town we head out to the HI hostel 5 kms out of town, its now almost night and we have broken our second rule, ie; no riding after dark in foreign countries. The hostel rooms are full but we can have their self contained cabana for the night and as they have a full house they are cooking dinner and would we like Crumbed beef schnitzel, mashed potato and salad, topped off with crème caramal for dessert? Are you kidding? We are such happy little vegemites in our cabana with a dinner feast and cold beer. We didn't even have to leave the premises, they brought it to us.

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Skill enjoying our first Argentinian meal

Sunday is a quiet day at the Hostel, we move to a cheaper room and just relax and take in the surroundings, then head into town to the local parilla for lunch (3.30pm) It is dia de la madre (Mothers Day) so the place is packed, we do get a seat and watch everyone eating their own body weight in Barbecued meat. We opt for a less carnivorous meal and enjoy the antics of the locals. Next morning Skill realises that the new chain oiler plastic tubing has disappeared. He should have left the old bic biro tube alone (put on in France 5 years ago as an emergency replacement, lasted all the way to Aus and 5 years more). He thought he would replace it before leaving home with a proper Scott Oiler one. It lasted one day. Oh well back to the bic biro tubing.

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Fixing the chain-oiler (the first of several attempts)

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HI Hostal Uspallata

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HI Hostal Uspallata - self contained cabin

Monday we decide to backtrack as we didn't get to see Puente del Inca and we want to take some photos of Parque Provincial Aconcagua, where we hadn't taken photos after crossing into Argentina late in the day. The best laid plans go awry as we are stopped in a huge line of traffic, and are informed that the road is closed because of an accident, and won't be open for “shrug shoulders” maybe 1 hour, maybe 2 hours, who knows? Back into town, park outside the Tibetan cafe (made for the movie “Seven Year in Tibet” filmed around Uspallata) we gather supplies and decide we don't want to wait for “who knows”, so we are off towards Mendoza. We will have to come back some other time to see the sights here.

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Tibetan Cafe – Uspallata

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On the road towards Mendoza

As usual we just ride, not sure where we will end up, we reach Ruta 40 and decide to skip Mendoza and head towards San Rafael (where we hope to make contact with John & Annette, although we haven't been able to get through to them on the phone), as we get closer we can see a huge storm in front of us, so we stop, don the wet weather gear and continue on. As we get closer the air temperature takes a dive and the sky turns green, looks like hail to us. We make the decision to turn around and ride back 20km to wait it out.

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Donning the wet weather gear

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Waiting for the storm to abate

After an hour we continue on, so pleased we waited it out, there is water and hail on the road everywhere. We make it to San Rafael, dry and unscathed, head to the Tourist Office to find a hotel with parking. After miming and drawing I have a map with two hotel options, we choose the first. Not salubrious by any means but it does the job, it has secure parking and hot water, which we are finding is always a bit of an issue. We wander the streets of this modern little city and have a hamburger and beer for tea. Another successful day.

We have still not been able to make contact with John and Annette (an English couple who rode the world for two years and decided to settle on a farm (finca) outside San Rafael), we have directions to their place so we decide to wing it and go out on spec. Fifteen minutes later as we are riding down a dirt road, we see a bike pulled up so we pull over, only to be warmly welcomed by Annette saying “I thought that was a travelers bike I could see in my mirrors. I have just finished emailing you 5 minutes ago". She was returning from town.

We spend a lovely two nights, three days at the farm, enjoying the peaceful location, the entertaining company and admiring the back breaking work that this couple have put in to make the run down finca a going concern. It is a credit to both of them and all the motorcycle travellers who have helped out over the past five years.

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John and Annette's Farm

John and Annette seem to never be alone, there are always travellers calling in.

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Afternoon drinks with John, Annette, Nick (Canadian biker) and Franck & Carole (Swiss Landcruiser Travellers)

The following day we eventually tear ourselves away from the great company and get on the road at 2.00pm after Skill has tracked down some bike issues. We have been having a series of small problems with the bike, the first being the radiator leak which he finds to be an unsecured hose clamp that has been left loose by the guys who did the big service on the bike before we left. Hmmmmmmmm what else have they left undone.

The second problem has been that the bike has been missing occasionally but not consistently. Spark plugs are cleaned and injector cleaner is added to the fuel, we will see how this goes.

The last problem is that the battery doesn't seem to be charging fully. We had this problem back at home and after it had been checked out by two different auto electricians and deemed fixed we felt confident to travel with it. Battery has been fine for starting so far, the voltage is just staying a bit lower than it should be, so its not fully charging. For now we are disconnecting one headlight which seems to bump up the voltage and alleviate the problem.

We ride the 200 km to Malargue in awe of the gorgeous scenery around us and those ever present snow capped mountains. We camp at the Municipal Campground, I set up camp and Skill goes out to hunt and gather. At 7.30pm we decide to cook our pasta for dinner only to find the fuel stove is dead and won't pump any pressure into the fuel bottle, buggar, it was working perfectly before we left home. What is going on with all these gremlins? Skill tries to pull the pump apart, but the plastic breaks and it is deemed a write-off. So how do we cook our recently purchased pasta dinner now or make a cuppa for breakfast?

Skill goes back out to look for a replacement stove at 8.30pm in a small town, not holding out much (any) hope. He returns an hour later with a big smile, a new gas hiking stove and gas. As luck would have it Malargue is an outdoor pursuits town and shops are open until 9pm due to being closed for siesta all afternoon. We try cooking dinner with more success this time and finish at 10.30, laughingly wondering how the folks at home would go with such a late dinner, only to be brought to our senses that we had actually had an early dinner by Argentinian standards. A family arrives at the campsite after we are all done, light their fire and start to cook their asado, it is 11.30 by the time they eat.

Next day armed with lots of information from John and Annette we head off on the famed Ruta 40 towards Buta Ranquil, the morning is just glorious, mountains all around and a broken and patched bituman road scattered with sections of ripio (gravel). By lunch time the winds starts to pick up and we stop in a partly sheltered spot near the Rio Grande for lunch.

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Lunch stop near Rio Grande

By the time we get back on the bike the wind has really picked up and the now entirely ripio road is full of rolly gravel. It is quite a difficult 40 km ride in the wind, with Skill saying the wind gusts are skidding the front tyre sideways across the road while doing 40 – 60 km/h. Not much fun for either of us.

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Ruta 40 (You can't take a photo of the wind)

Once on the tarmac the wind turns it up another notch and we are having trouble keeping the bike on the correct side of the road, it seems like a long ride to Chos Malal in these conditions. At one point Skill opens the top box and the lid gets blown of it's hinges onto the ground. It is very uncomfortable on the bike but we do manage to stop and take a couple of photos of Volcan Tremon.

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Volcan Tremon

We arrive ------- fairly tired and check out 4 hosterias and the campground (which looks fine, except for the driving wind) so we opt for a quite expensive hosteria, shower in glorious amounts of hot water and go out for dinner where we have our first Argentinian asado grill. We roll back to our lodgings after assuring the waitress that there is no way we can possibly fit in 2 litres of dessert as well as ½ the cow we have just eaten. Later talking to Skill I say “I don't know how you kept the bike upright today, and this is only a precursor of what is to come.” I must say I am not overly fond of the wind. I guess we shall see what happens down the track.

Onward and upward, today there is NO wind. We refuel and put in more fuel injector cleaner before making our way out to the highway, only to stop so Skill can reconnect the headlight. It is at this point I notice that we hadn't put the lockable cap back on one of the storage tubes at the servo. I know exactly where it has come off as I heard it but thought we had run over something. After retracing our steps by bike, I re-walk the street as Skill re-rides the road. I am stopped by a young man who tells me (in Spanish) that someone has already picked it up and it is gone. “OK” I say and walk back to a shady spot to wait for Skill. Two minutes later the young man arrives in a beat up old blue car playing dooov dooov music, he indicates for me to wait here, he is off to get our cap. Skill returns and sure enough our guardian angel reappears 10 minutes later with our cap. Two very grateful Australians, one bemused Argentinian, lots of handshaking and kissing, and a clip on koala for the fluffy dice. Lesson learnt, always double-check the bike before we take off.

We only get 10 minutes down the road when we get to our first police check since arriving in South America. We explain that we can't speak Spanish and he indicates with a large smile that he will have to handcuff us and take us off to jail for this offence. He checks our passports, makes sure we are full of fuel, lets us take a photo, shakes our hands and sends us on our way. What a card???

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Happy Argentinian Policeman

Finally we get on the road, what a difference a day makes, no wind, no traffic, perfect bitumen and beautiful sunshine, it is glorious. A quick morning tea/lunch break and it is off again.

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One of our many morning tea/lunch breaks. The top box is working a treat, thanks Mark & Bron (original design) and Glen (organizing construction).

We keep on riding and cross a river into the little town of Los Lajas (50 km short of our intended destination) where we spy a beautiful campground on the river. We start to continue on, when we both say, “Let's go and look at the campground”. Needless to say it is gorgeous and we end up staying for two nights.

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Campground at Los Lajos

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River at Los Lajos

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Sunset at Los Lajos

So far the Municipal Campgrounds in Argentina are great, $AUD6.00 a night, hot water, and free power, and sometimes even sell cold beer.

We eventually drag ourselves away from Los Lajos a sleepy little rural village with nothing to it, but absolutely charming none the less, and make our way to Zapala and then onwards to Junin de Los Andes (trout capital of Argentina) before stopping in San Martin de Los Andes. The riding was spectacular and the scenery quite breathtaking,....but that will have to wait for the next blog.

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Volcan Lanin

Life on the road has taken on a happy and somewhat familiar pattern, we are so lucky to be here and even though there have been a few little hiccups, life is definitely good.

Cheers & Beers,
John and Lan

PS: We have a Spot Tracker kindly given to us by Paul Anderson and IMEMS as a leaving gift. This is an emergency beacon if ever needed, but also records our current location if we remember to press the OK button. The following link shows the last 7 days where we activated the OK - if anyone is interested. It can also track us on the move, but we have not paid the extra for that function. You will have to copy and paste the following:

http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=05HiAoRqXyqEj966XEaNimbiT8zGhfMTi

Posted by John Skillington at 04:23 PM GMT
November 14, 2012 GMT
Argentina - San Martin to Fitz Roy

We arrive in the delightful San Martin de Los Andes after a glorious days ride. After a couple of half hearted attempts at trying to find a camping ground we give up and head to the Tourist Information Office where we find a delightful young lady who speaks perfect English and directs us to the Puma Youth Hostel.

Another brilliant find, a gorgeous double room in the attic, kitchen facilities, wifi, hot water and fabulous staff. Some days are just easy and this was one of them. We throw our panniers in the room, shower and off to wander the streets.

San Martin is a touristy town but with good reason, it is nestled between two mountains on the shores of Lago (Lake) Lacar, it is a pretty little town where well heeled Argentinians live and play. The streets are lined with boutique chocolate shops and more restaurants and parillas then we could count, but despite this it was a delightful place to wander around. We discovered the local Cerveceria El Regional which had fantastic local beers but was a bit posh for us, so we could only afford one beer. However look at the size of the beers, lucky we ordered the small one.

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Beers at Cerveria El Regional

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A bit posh for us

We spent a lot of time wandering the streets, followed the local stream one day and watched the locals catching trout in the middle of town!

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Stream running through San Martin de Los Andes

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And of course a walk down to the Lake every day.

We were only going to stay 2 nights but on the third morning we awake to rain on the roof and driving winds, “Go downstairs and book us in for another night will you hon” I say. I don't receive too grumpy a response so I take that as a positive and roll back over to sleep. The day turns into a wild and woolly one, with the wind gusting up to 75 km an hour according to news reports. There are trees down everywhere, but the locals don't seem at all perturbed, we figure it must be a common occurrence.

We spend the day indoors and wander to the supermarket to see if we can cook something with vegetables in it for dinner. The Argentine cuisine, while heaven for meat and pasta lovers, is a bit short on the vegetable front. We achieve success with 5 different vegetables and a steak stir fry thing for dinner. We also go to the National Parks office and hunt down a map for the Seven Lakes drive to Bariloche.

I guess I should also mention the long search for a new camping pillow. Yes forgot to say, another bit of kit failure, at the last camp ground I awoke with my head on a hard, flat, squashed bit of cold plastic. My new Kathmandu pillow was a dud. Again we weren't holding out much hope, but San Martin de los Andes came up trumps with a self inflating pillow for $AUD20. I was a very happy girl.

The following day is glorious sunshine, so we say a fond farewell to the staff at the hostel, carefully pack my new pillow and we are off. It is an absolutely amazing days ride in the morning, huge snowcapped jagged peaks in every direction you look and stunning blue lakes at just about every turn. Everyone we met told us this road was probably one of the best in Argentina for scenery and we were not disappointed. There was about 40 km of gravel, but a very easy ride. However it did turn quite cold in the afternoon.

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Seven Lakes Road

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Lan and Skill Happy snap

The wind is blowing hard again for the last part of the ride into Bariloche but we still feel exalted from the days ride, however we are a little disappointed with the town itself. While you cannot fault the location and scenery, the town does not inspire greatness. After a visit to the Tourist Information Office we set off to 3 different hostels, 2 who didn't answer the doorbell, and one who didn't have parking. What to do next, too cold and windy to camp. We are just about to ride off when Skill notices another hostel down the street. I go and check it out, yes they have a double room available and if we can squeeze through a couple of posts, we can park under the front porch/verandah near the front door. After taking the panniers off we do manage to just fit in, but great secure parking none the less. We can certainly recommend Perikos Hostel to others. Skill goes out to find supplies, and comes back very chuffed with himself, a litre of gin for $AUD5.00 but the Tonic water cost $AUD3.00. He advised me that I had to make the gins very strong as we couldn't afford any more tonic!

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Skill pleased with his gin purchase

That night we meet our first English speaking travellers since leaving Valparaiso, and spend a late verbose night with Ben and Miriam from California (studying in Valparaiso) and Patricia from Sweden. It is also at this point that I decide I need the balsamic vinegar (for our salad) out of the top box and go to retrieve it but the pacsafe is locked to the topbox, I get the key to undo the lock, hmm no go, maybe I have the wrong key, after half an hour of trying every key, WD40, force and swearing we give up, its worked perfectly every day so far but now the lock is stuffed. We will figure it out tomorrow.

In the morning we ask the hostel owner where we can go to find a workshop to cut our lock off, he tells us “One moment”, walks to his ute (pick-up for non Aussies) where he fossicks around and produces a pair of bolt-cutters, less than a minute later our problem is solved. Makes us wonder how safe it really was, guess it keeps the honest people honest.

We spend two nights in Bariloche, the following day we go for a wander around and take some photos which tell the story of why this city is one of Argentina's most touristed but it lacks the charm of St Martin de Los Andes.

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The circus is in town – what a view

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Surfs up on Lake Nahuel Huapi

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Tree huggers in Bariloche. Must get cold here, even the trees need jumpers


We leave Bariloche and take the circuit ride out to Villa Llao Llao, it is a beautiful morning and the scenery is breathtaking.

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Circuit ride to/from Villa Llao Llao

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Circuit ride to/from Villa Llao Llao

On returning to the outskirts of Bariloche we follow Carmen (Carmen the Garmin - GPS) towards El Bolsen, it takes us on a back road which degenerates into a rough gravelled road/track before rejoining Ruta 40 and we are on our way south again. It is such a nice day that we potter along calling in at a few different sites and this amazing campground where we have morning tea. We are still outside “The Season”, which means that although the private campgrounds are open they are all in the midst of setting up, so there seems to be an awful amount of mowing, whippersnipping and maintenance going on at each campground we visit, but no one camping yet.

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Beautiful campground for morning tea

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Beautiful campground for morning tea

We continue on to El Bolsen and call it quits after a very relaxing 180km day on the bike. We check out a few options for camping before we find quite by accident the delightful “La Chacra” Camping in an old apple orchard, again we are the only occupants besides 3 cats. We get ourselves organised setting up our camp, then I look up and once again there are huge peaks (Mount Piltriquitron) towering above us, the setting is unbelievable. We really enjoy this campground but by 8.00 pm it is 2 degrees, time for bed and down sleeping bags. We have a comfortable nights sleep (especially me on my new pillow) and next morning sit in the sun with our cups of tea. A nice life. Our only problem with camping is that it takes us so long to get going in the morning. Sunrise is currently after 7am, so by the time we get up around 8am, have breakfast and pack up we are lucky to get away before 11.00am.

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La Chacra campground - El Bolsen

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La Chacra campground - El Bolsen

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La Chacra campground - El Bolsen

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Wildlife La Chacra Campground – El Bolsen

Onward and upward, to where we are not sure, we just follow Ruta 40 to Esquel, (it is on this stretch of road that we come across two large travellers bikes heading in the other direction, the first we have seen, but they do not stop) before deciding to head to the small village of Trevelin near the Chilean border. Stopping at the Tourist Information Centre we get directions to the HI Hostel, despite having directions and a map we cannot locate it, and ride around in circles, only to eventually find it in the first place we looked. Vandals had recently ripped down their signs and it looked nothing like a hostel. Check out the fantastic location.

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HI Hostel Trevelin

We can't get into our room yet so head down the street to check out the local markets, buy a piece of delicious apple pie and walk the streets of this small town, we hunt and gather and return to the hostel to cook dinner, the dining room/kitchen looks straight out to the mountains. It is divine.


Next day it is hard to leave this absolutely beautiful view, (I don't believe I have ever stayed in a hostel with a setting like this) but we make the move as Trevelin is expecting rain for the next 3 days and we really need to start heading South.

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Views to the Mountain from HI Hostel Trevelin

We are both feeling a bit squeamish in the morning (Skill a bit more then me) but not too bad so we head off, stopping for fuel twice and trying to decide whether we should call it quits in Jose de San Marin at midday as by now we both have stomach pains and a headache. However it seems a bit silly to stop after only 190km and besides rooms are rarely available before 2 pm, more usually late afternoon. Stupidly we decide to press on, “We will stop in the next town” we say. The only problem is that there is NO next town or anything else for 260km, despite what the maps and road signs say.

Our route takes us east away from the Andes and out onto the open plains, the wind is now gale force and relentless, howling, driving and cold, then to top things off it starts to rain. There is no point in stopping for lunch as it will just be blown out of your hands, besides neither of us feels like eating. When the wind hits from side-on, it comes up underneath our helmets and it's an effort to keep your head from being continually ripped sideways or forced backwards. I am sure if they weren't strapped on, they would be stripped from our heads. Skill jokes that we should not get much wear on the center of the tyres today as we rode most of the way on a 30% lean - seriously! Its really hard work and 100% concentration for Skill wrestling a heavily loaded bike riding 2-up in such windy conditions.

We arrive in Sarmiento looking pretty bloody awful after 6 hours riding and fighting the wind, Skill hasn't eaten anything all day and and says he is feeling shattered. Then begins the search for accommodation, 5 hotels (most completo, all overpriced and smelling like cheap toilet freshener), one awful camping ground (we wouldn't have camped anyway because of the wind, I think we must have been delirious what were we thinking????) and 2 cabanas later we settle on La Rosales Cabanas after I frighten a poor Argentinian family with my slightly demented and desperate Spanish. By this point we are just totally exhausted and both have headaches, a slight fever and stomach cramps. We drag the gear off the bike, shower and go to bed at 6 pm (2 hours before dark) with no dinner. We sleep for 14 hours straight. By morning we seem to have overcome whatever it was ailing us. We are still very tired and a bit washed out and there is still the constant roar of wind through the trees outside, so we pay for another night in the not-so-touristed backwater of Sarmiento and plan for a lazy day inside to recharge and recover.

I get out the tourist guide brochure that we got from the Tourist Office and proceed to read it with interest, we could visit the Petrified Forest Natural Monument or Valley of the Giants Paleontology Park which apparently is “displaying 11 copy's of dinosaurs made to real dimensions and sculpture with scientific strictness”.

I am afraid the 11 giant plastic dinosaurs will just have to wait, we rest for the most of the day before taking a walk into town to the supermarket. By the time we walk back, the wind has picked up another notch, dust is flying and we just about fly home with it.

We also do a bit of research via maps, guidebooks, and the GPS (we have no wifi internet). We decide as we have time we are just going to do short days of about 200kms for the run south, particularly if the wind is bad, but need to make sure that the towns listed on the map actually exist and that accommodation is available. I guess we are lucky to have that luxury. It would certainly be difficult to put in 500km days in this driving gusty wind.

As the night wears on the wind picks up even more and by 10.00pm the roof is rattling and the shrubs outside are hitting the windows, we eventually go to sleep wondering what the morning will bring.

As we awake the wind has not abated and I fear that we will be stuck in the land of “The Giant Plastic Dinosaurs” forever. We decide to make a break for it anyway, and as we pack up and have breakfast things seem to calm down a little and then suddenly the wind is almost gone. We get on the bike, visit the bakery, fail to get money out at two bank cajeros automaticos (ATMs - this is a bit of a problem in Argentina and there are always long queues to use the automatic tellers) so we ride towards Comodoro Rivadavia. The ride takes us through open plains and ridges and that wind is back again. This is also oil country and everywhere you look there are giant mechanical birds pecking at the earth (oil rigs) 100s of them. (Forgot to take pictures, it's difficult in these windy conditions)

We bypass Comodoro Rivadavia and head towards Caleta Olivia (our intended destination for the day) arriving at lunch time we consume our bakery goods by the Atlantic Ocean and then head to look for a hotel. A somewhat fruitless effort, they are either overpriced or completo (full). After another 2 failed attempts with the ATMs we do finally have success and get out $200 AUD. That is the limit for a foreign cash withdrawal in Argentina so it seems we are looking for ATMs every few days.

We now make the decision to press on, hoping that Fitzroy 76 kms down the road, does have the accommodation it says it does. Otherwise it will be another 300km to the next nearest town. Hmmmm, as The Clash once said... should we stay or should we go now???? We go and bless Fit Roy, it not only has a lovely little motel with parking for the bike, it also has quite a stylish truckies parilla restaurant next door, where we can eat and drink. Mind you, along with 2 service stations, that is about all there is to this 2 street town. What more could you expect in the middle of the Patagonian plains?

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Bike parked at motel at Fitz Roy

What more could we hope for? A day without wind would be good. The following day is just horrendous, a huge dust storm blows up in the early hours of the morning and when we walk outside we can't stand up straight, sand and dirt is being blown underneath the door and the gusts are rocking the stationary bike, threatening to blow it over (Get the picture, cause we couldn't take one????) We get dressed and decide to make the move to Puerta Deseado out on the coast, its off our intended route south but its only 100km or so and there should be a little more to do than in Fitz Roy. As we try to get the gear on the bike, there is sand being blown into our eyes, the bike is unstable, stuff is being blown out of the top box as we try to pack it and you can't see more that 100 metres down the highway. Even the trucks are pulling over and line the main street while the drivers wait it out in the Parillia.

I chicken out and say to Skill “I am not sure I can do this” and he says “Yes I think its just too much today” so we unpack the bike and once again we are stuck in a small hotel room in a town in the middle of the Patagonian Plains, at least we find bread, ham and tomato at the only shop in town, and there is a Restaurant less than 60 paces away. To stop the dust getting into our room, we roll up the bath towels and jam them under the door and the hand towels in the window frame which seems to work. We don't bother with the bike cover, it would just be ripped to shreds or pull the bike off its side stand. Since we have cable TV (we hope the satellite dish stays attached), we decide to spend the day watching movies and CNN/BBC where we find out that Barak Obama is back in as US President, so I guess it could be worse.

That evening we walk the 60 steps to the Don Esteban Parilla and have a humungous pizza, the air temperature has dropped significantly and when we look out the window it is raining quite heavily (what next?), we leave the restaurant, walk the 60 steps back to the motel, by the time we arrive back in the room I am shivering, so on with the thermals and into bed. What will tomorrow bring????

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Dust Storm at Fitz Roy. The haze is dust and sand, not too bad at this point, we didn't go outside when it was at its worst.

Cheers and Beers,
John & Lan

PS The bike gremlins seem to have abated and the engine has been running perfectly now for the last two weeks. No engine missing after cleaning the plugs and using some injector cleaner (not sure which one fixed it). The battery charging problem remains so we now have one headlight permanently disconnected which seems to rectify the problem and keep the battery fully charged, so far. Skill suspects the voltage regulator is dodgy, but we are not likely to find one of these for the Vstrom easily.

Posted by John Skillington at 04:20 PM GMT
November 18, 2012 GMT
Argentina - Fitz Roy to Ushuaia

Still in Fitz Roy we are up and at em early-ish, the sun is out, it's still semi-windy but there is no dust storm, so we pack up, Skill takes the bike seat off to find the tubing to decant some fuel into our emergency bottles (starting to get a little further between fuel stops now). There is sand/dust in every nook and cranny, under the seat, covering the battery, in the tool compartment, everywhere, all from the dust storm.

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Filling emergency fuel containers and cleaning out sand/dirt

We decide to skip Puerta Deseado, get fuel and we are off, it's cold today (about 8 degrees C) and we don't get far before the wind picks up again and we are buffeted for the next 100 km to Tres Cerros where surprisingly there is a big YPF service station and hotel and nothing else in the middle of the desert. We refuel the bike and ourselves and sit inside in the sun out of the wind to warm up. We then make a move and do another windy 100km to Puerto San Julian where we discover the town's highlights before finding an expensive dodgy cabana, beggars can't be choosers. As I look out the window across the main road I see a travellers bike come into town. They are 2-up and the poor guys are struggling in the wind just like us.

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The highlights of Puerto San Julian (There is also a national park where you may see the Commerson's dolphins apparently)

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It is also at Puerto San Julian we see our first flamingo!

Well no, not really, we did see real pink flamingos on the ride into Sarmiento but we were too tired and sick to take photos

Next morning the wind is still howling but we decide to move on, as we get on the bike I say to Skill “You know I am absolutely terrified in this wind don't you?” His calming response is, “You will be OK and its only 150km, Lan”. OK stop being a princess and get going, we refuel and ride in the wind getting the usual buffeting, bike tyre skidding, helmet wrenching and today I experience another phenomenon, the wind is coming up underneath my rain jacket and physically lifting my armpits up, I feel like I am a giant parachute. Skill said he thought the fuel economy suddenly went bad????? When the sidewinds are really bad I try my yoga breathing to calm myself and when that doesn't work I seem to hum “Don't Cry for me Argentina” I am not sure why, because that doesn't work either. Skill says he hasn't got time to do anything other than keep the bike upright and sort of on the right side of the road.

We arrive at Comandante Luis Piedra Buena (yes that's the name of the town) alive and windblown, it is a neat green little town, much nicer that Puerto San Julian. We ride around to have a look before heading out to Isla Pavon where they have a picnic area and camping ground a few kilometers out of town. Amazingly someone had the forethought to plant 100s of poplar trees that act as an amazing windbreak, some must be 50 meters high and planted so close together they almost form a wall. We decide to camp even though the winds are still howling but the camping areas are quite sheltered and almost still.

We find milk, cold beer and water so don't have to go back into town and just chill back for the afternoon and do a few jobs, get the washing done, also time for Skill to have a bit of a sideburn trim. As I am cutting his hair with my nail scissors the caretaker lady walks over, indicates that she is a hair dresser and takes over the job. Bargain! Camping and a haircut.

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Skill getting a free haircut with my nail scissors

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Camp at Pavon Island

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Sunset at Pavon Island

Well the camping was actually not a bargain, it was very expensive and they assured us there was hot water. Well there was no hot water so we couldn't shower and next morning the toilets had all backed up and overflowed the whole toilet block - all for more than triple the price of any other camping place we have stayed so far, we are not very happy with the rip off! We want a partial refund, but since we don't speak any Spanish, it would be more trouble than it was worth.

But that night as we pondered over which one of our emergency meals we would have for dinner, pasta, soup or risotto, a family moves in next door and begins to prepare for an asado. Hmm, makes our dinner look a bit grim.

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A local family preparing for an asado

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They start to cook the salted whole lamb about mid-afternoon. A few whole chickens were cut open butterfly-style then salted and put on the horizontal grill with hot coals under it from the main fire, then beef roast and sausages also went on the grill later again.

About this point another guy walks over and tells me (Skill is down by the river) we will have to move the bike off the field out to the dodgy parking area . “NO” I say. He continues on with a little bit of English “You will move moto, festival tomorrow” “NO” I say again. Minana vamos. Las diez en punto. Camping uno nochos. He persists and so do I “NO NO NO we are not parking the bike out there.” We come to an agreement, we will put the bike into our poplar enclosed camping area beside the tent. Skill comes back when the debacle is over and after listening to the story says “Are you still friends then?” “I think so” I say. We manoeuvre the bike into the enclosure.

By 10.45 we have had our not-so-gastronomic risotto feast and around 11.00 pm we are in bed reading.

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Dinner

I am actually nearly asleep, when there is a “Hello, you come eat”. Our asado party are inviting us to eat. We would dearly have loved to (it smelled great), but had just eaten and were both in our sleeping bags nearly asleep. Besides I would have terrified them if they had seen me in my thermals. (I look like a big blue worm squeezed in the middle) We politely thanked them over and over again for their kind offer, and really hope we didn't offend them. The Argentinians are on the whole a really friendly lot.

We wake reasonably early and take out our earplugs, there is something wrong, I'm not sure what it is. “OH MY GOD NO WIND” The day is incredibly calm, a quick cereal breakfast, cup of tea, and a speedy pack up, we are on the road by 9.30am (By the way absolutely no sign of the festival organisers).

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Getting the bike out of the poplar lined camping enclosure

What a great ride, we get to enjoy the scenery see more flamingoes at a distance and even take a few Guanaco photos, and do battle with the Rheas that look like a small Emu and seem to possess exactly the same limited number of brain cells when near roads.

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Guanacos - they can jump the fences with ease, even with no run-up.

We arrive in Rio Gallegos after being waved through a couple of police checkpoints, it has been a great ride, we actually got to enjoy the stark scenery. We find a hotel, leave our bags in the foyer (rooms not ready) and find a great place to eat. As I said some days are easy. This was one of them, we check out the sites of the town and walk along the river foreshore where we think there must be a festival in progress. Most of the town is out along the waterfront, picnicking on the grass, playing games, or just walking. Every open space area is literally packed with people. But we found no festival, we think it was just because it was sunny warm day with no wind on a Sunday that everyone was out enjoying themselves. Along with this, there was a major traffic jam with all the young lads out with their cars giving their best to outdo each other with loud exhausts and even louder music. It is the Hunter Street of Argentina. (The Newcastle Song)

We leave Rio Gallegos with the intention of stopping in Cerro Sombrero if the conditions are bad, but once again the Gods are being kind and there is NO wind, not a breath. On the bike and away by 8.30, we ride to the border (Argentina/Chile) to find the Yamaha Tenere 660 travelers Bike parked out the front (the same bike I saw come into Puerto San Julian). After a brief chat with German owners Ingolf and Antje we manage to negotiate our way through the border and ride the 50 km to Punta Delgada where we meet up again and wait to catch the Ferry. We have a chance to have a longer chat, like us they are on a long term journey.

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Looking back to Punta Delgada

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Catching the Ferry to Chile

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Antje and Ingolf

The ferry crossing is calm and quick. It is still early by the time we refuel in Cerro Sombrero so decide to press on, the next 110 km is gravel, but not overly difficult and unbelievably we still have no wind. The scenery is stark but incredibly impressive, we really enjoy the ride.

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The ride to San Sebastian

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The ride to San Sebastian

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Guanacos cross here

We make it to San Sebastian, lunch (4.30pm) at a delightful little restaurant and do yet another border crossing – Chile to Argentina with the Chilean authorities and then 5 km up the road we deal with the Argentinian contingent. We still have hours of daylight so on to Rio Grande, where we run into Ingolf and Antje yet again. After a few fruitless attempts to secure accommodation (all outrageously expensive) we settle for sharing an adequate over heated 2 bedroom apartment in an old run down hotel, and share a lovely evening with Ingolf and Antje, the first travellers we have met on the road.

The further South we have come the more and more expensive accommodation has become, our beautiful double room with ensuite in San Andes de Los Martin only cost $39 AUD, yet we have paid up to $75 AUD for the dodgy cabana (which only slept two) in Puerto San Julian. It seems to be the less touristed the town, the less options you have and the more expensive the rooms are. We really hope that on the way back North the weather is better and we can camp more as most campgrounds range from adequate to amazing.

Next morning we are up and at em early, and we can't believe it, still NO WIND. We say goodbye to our new delightful friends, refuel and we ride the now paved 250km to Ushuaia in near still conditions. I say to Skill “Can you believe this, we have battled the wind for two weeks, and we get to ride the supposed windiest part, Tierra Del Fuego in absolutely perfect conditions, how lucky are we???”

The ride is stunning, we admire the huge and well kept estancias (large farms), ogle at the scenery and the closer we get to Ushuaia the more beautiful and vegetated the landscape becomes. Up and over the amazingly impressive snow strewn Garibaldi Pass, down the other side and suddenly we are there. Welcome to Ushuaia. WOW!!!!!

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Morning Tea Stop at a River on the way to Ushuaia

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What a view with our cuppa!

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On the way up the Garibaldi Pass

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Just over the Garibaldi Pass

We are getting better at hand-held video from the bike, check out this clip that Lan took on the Garibaldi Pass, copy and paste the following to view in Youtube -
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmrDhTD_4mY&feature=youtu.be

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Welcome to Ushuaia

I guess this blog sounds a little negative, the wind has certainly made life on the bike difficult, but we are still lucky to be here seeing the things we are seeing, meeting the people we are meeting, and generally living our simple and somewhat nomadic life.

Cheers and Beers,
John & Lan

Things that we find amusing (NB: we are staying mostly in cheaper places)

I have not seen one single plug for a sink since entering South America. I don't know how they wash up.

Plumbing, we are yet to find a toilet that actually flushes properly AND then stops running. Most showers don't drain, not always because of blockages but usually because the drain hole is the highest point in the shower floor. Most sink/shower taps and flick mixers are not attached to to the bench/wall and are only held in place by the water pipes they are connected to.

Most toilet seats are broken, ie not actually attached to the pedestal so you slide off when you sit down, or the lid won't stay up, or it smacks you in the back when you sit on the seat, or all of the above.

Oh and just like many parts of Asia and the middle-east, we are back to putting toilet paper in the bin beside the toilet, not into the toilet (it's funny how you forget all these things when in the comfort of your own home for a while).

Posted by John Skillington at 06:45 PM GMT
December 08, 2012 GMT
Antarctica - Part 1

Sorry we have skipped ahead with our blog, but because we experienced so much in such a short period of time we wanted to get it down while it was still fresh in our memories. We will do a backtrack/catch-up soon.........................so here is Antarctica Part 1......

Day One Monday 26th November It is the day we leave for Antarctica, we are pretty excited but also a little nervous as neither of us has ever been on a boat trip of this length before and certainly never on waters like the infamous Drake Passage, renowned as the roughest stretch of ocean in the world.

It is raining and overcast when we get up, what are we going to do until our 4.00pm boarding? This problem is solved when Mariano tells us we can stay in the Cabana all day if we like and he will take us to the Port. We pack up the bike and ourselves and leave for down town Ushuaia at 2.00 pm with our beautiful luggage. We left the panniers attached to the bike with our helmets and other bike stuff stored at the Cabana, so we just used reusable shopping bags to carry our gear to the ship, we must have looked like classy passengers!


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Our beautiful Louis Vuitton Luggage, lucky we are not on a posh ship.


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The bike tucked away in the garden at Ona Shin Cabanas


After lunch and a few beers we head to the port, deal with a very laid back customs and board the beautiful little ship “Polar Pioneer” that is to become our home and haven for the next 10 days.


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Boarding the Polar Pioneer


The air of excitement is palpable among our fellow passengers, and the Aurora staff and Russian crew are certainly welcoming. We settle ourselves into our cabin (we have been upgraded to a private cabin with bathroom, woohoo!!) and meet on the bridge to get our first briefing which is a little dubious - the Port is closed due to the extra high winds and there is a storm building out in the Drake Passage, a decision will be made later that night as to whether we will cross or not, that is if we can get out of the Port. No time is wasted though and we have our life boat drill right up front while waiting for the Port to re-open. This was actually quite a bit of fun.


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Life Boat Drill


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Life Boat Drill


After a fantastic dinner the wind drops a little and we eventually do leave the Port a little later than planned at 8.30 pm and a decision is made just after midnight that we will indeed tackle the Drake Passage tonight. Don our expedition leader tells us to make sure everything in the cabins is put away or batoned down, that seasickness medication is at the ready, it will be an interesting crossing and we should be brave! Oh Shit! He was dead right, storm force winds (higher than gale force) gusting up to 50 knots and what the experienced sailors on board described as “moderate to high seas”, meaning 7 metre waves breaking over the bow with white-water occasionally breaking over the bridge on deck 6. However the staff tell us they have endured much worse conditions especially on the crossings to the South Georgia Islands. At least things weren't flying around the cabins they tell us???? Well maybe, but in our cabin the few things we hadn't secured were thrown on the floor and were rolling all around, the cabin curtains were swinging from vertical to 45 degrees and back again and we could regularly see waves wash past out deck 5 porthole. But I guess it could have been worse?

Day Two Tuesday 27th November 2012 We were tossed around for the next 36 hours, with only a handful of people making breakfast and lunch the next day. Having said that, the staff were fantastic, Dr John making the rounds of the cabins, handing out drugs of all descriptions and bringing people food. Both Skill and I are susceptible to seasickness and were worried about it before we left, but compared to most people we faired OK. We stayed in our bunks for the first day, I managed to make dinner, Skill stayed in his bunk so I brought back some food, which we managed to keep down, just. Moving about the ship, up and down stairs is quite a task in these conditions with both hands definitely required to hold onto the railings. Talk about a baptism of fire!!!!

Day Three Wednesday 28th November That night the rough ride continued, sleep is nigh impossible. If you don't brace yourself in the bunk you slide up, down and around on the bed. I am watching the clock from my bunk, it is 4.07 am as our little ship is being buffeted around on the sea, we seem to be pitching, lurching, rolling,......forwards, backwards, side to side, forwards, backwards, side to side. As I am thinking “Oh My Goodness, what have we done, is this what it's going to be like for the whole journey?”, the Polar Pioneer gives another lurch forwards, backwards, then if by some miracle there is no side to side motion and we seem to be suddenly travelling through much calmer waters.

Later in the morning just as I am leaving the cabin, we get Don's wake up call for the morning “Whales!” As I am only a flight of steps from the bridge I gingerly make my way up on my newly acquired sea legs and get to watch the antics of these majestic creatures. I cannot wipe the smile off my face, I got off pretty lightly on the seasickness front, I am on my way to Antarctica and I have seen whales before breakfast. How did I get to be so lucky????? Skill is not quite so enthused he is still in bed and feeling pretty ordinary, he doesn't make breakfast so that makes 2 days with only a few dried biscuits and small piece of chicken.

After I consume a huge breakfast an action packed day on board emerged, Martin (The ship's photographer) introduced photography to those who can actually take a photo without putting their glove over the front of the lens or having the horizon on a 45 degree angle, I guess I should have listened more intently. We also got our daily housekeeping and routine briefings, how to enter and exit the zodiacs, the all important tagging on/off system, the need for environmental vigilance including the need to vacuum our outer clothing today and disinfect our gumboots daily. Finally we are kitted out with our most important on shore fashion accessories, “The Gumboot”. By this time Skill is feeling a tad better but is still unable to make lunch.

In the early evening we both go to the bar for drinks where there are newly emerged faces, seasickness is well and truly on the decline. We are a diverse group aged from 23 to 70+ from all walks of life and socio economic backgrounds, mainly Aussies and Kiwis, but also Polish, Austrian, Canadian, American, British and Russian. Everyone seems happy and excited, with the prospect of what is to come. We are welcomed by Terry, (Hotel Manager and Barman) Don and Captain Yuri (our Russian Captain). There is a genuine feeling of fondness and mutual respect between the ship's crew and Aurora staff, a feeling of family that seems to pervade the ship. It becomes perfectly obvious from this tall, quietly spoken man that we are in the safest of hands, a very comforting thought as we retire after dinner that night, Skill's first meal in a couple of days.

Day 4 Thursday 29th November Because we have taken so long to cross the Drake Passage in the storm (travelling at a reduced 7 – 8 knots instead of the usual 10 – 12 knots) we are running behind schedule and Don and Captain Yuri are working continually to maximise our time in Antarctica and to allow as many landings as possible, these guys really go the extra mile. Low cloud surrounds the ship and then icebergs slowly appear on the horizon.


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Our first Iceberg sighting


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Our first Iceberg with penguins on it.


We gather on the bridge patiently waiting for our first glimpse of Antarctica and just after 10.30am Hydruga Rocks emerges through the low cloud. No time is wasted, zodiacs are in the water (manned by all the staff including our resident doctor and the diminutive Maggie - Assistant Tour Manager) and we make our first Antarctica Landing. We will let the photos do the talking


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Our first landing on Hydruga Rocks


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Chinstrap Penguins - The perfect pair.

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Chinstrap Penguin - Hello little fella

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Even more Chinstrap Penguins

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Yep its snowing - Lan sitting in the snow watching penguins


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Poohy Penguins


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Chilled out Penguin

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Left, Right Lone Penguin march

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Gentoo Penguin


After lunch and a short transit, zodiacs are back in calmer waters and we visit Portal Point on the Antarctic continent and cruise around the magnificent icebergs. It is at times like this I have to pinch myself, is this really me here in this indescribably beautiful place. Although these photos are great they do not do this magic place justice.


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Going to Portal Point


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Lan in the Zodiac


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Lan & Skill standing on the Antarctic continent


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Portal Point panorama

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Cruising the Icebergs

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More Iceberg sculptures


Day 5 Friday 30th November After another overnight transit, it is a beautiful morning of calm icy waters and an amazing sky. Zodiacs are once again in the water early and we explore Curverville Island and watch in sheer joy at the antics of the gentoo penguins.


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How we get the zodiacs in the water


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Curverville Island Beauty

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Curverville Island


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Cruising the Icebergs

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Icebergs with icicles


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Terry picks up an ice sculpture for the bar. Tasted great in my G&T later that night.


Back on the ship and we spend the afternoon on the bow in near still glorious sunny/overcast conditions as we cruise through the Gerlache Strait, Butler Passage, and the narrow ice packed Lemaire Chanel.


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Gerlache Passage


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Giant Petrel


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Lemaire Channel Entrance


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On the front deck of Polar Pioneer

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Lemaire Channel Reflections

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Ice in the Lemaire Channel

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Cruising the Lemaire Channel, no wonder this place is known as kodak alley


We do a predinner cruise near Petermann Island


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Cruising away from Polar Pioneer


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Crabeater Seal


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Weddell Seal


Then after dinner it is back out in the zodiacs where we land on Petermann Island. These photos are taken at 11.00 pm at night.


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Gentoo Penguins


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What??? More Penguins!

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Penguins and Memorial


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Abandoned Argentinian Base Hut


Skill and I sit quietly on a rock trying to take it all in. I say to him “You know we have been so lucky to see all the places in the world that we have, but I think that right here, right now is the most beautiful place I have ever seen” He agrees, then our moment of philosophical pondering is over as we realise our feet and hands are frozen. Time to get back to the ship.


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Our sheltering Haven, the beautiful Polar Pioneer

But wait, there's more...... stay tuned for Antarctica Part 2 coming soon!

Posted by John Skillington at 02:35 AM GMT
Antarctica - Part 2

Day 6 Saturday 1st December Yet another overnight transit, and we awake to 10 cm of fresh snow on the front deck of the ship, but by the time we have had breakfast the crew have hosed it off.

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Snow on the deck


We are into the zodiacs for a landing on Almirante Brown an Argentinian field base surrounded by nesting gentoo penguins. We do a slow but steady hike up the hill in fresh powder snow, enjoying the views out over the bay, by this time the sun is out and we enjoy the warmth, while in the other direction there are dark clouds looming. Like 5 year olds we play in the snow and bum slide all the way to the bottom.


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Almirante Brown Base - Argentinian (currently unmanned)


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Lan being a 5 year old


Back in the zodiacs we cruise around the corner to Paradise Harbour. The water is glassy and absolutely still. Santiago (Aurora's Naturalist) is such a knowledgeable and enthusiastic guy that you are swept along in his wake. He turns off the Zodiacs motor and we just sit and enjoy the silence, it is breathtaking. By the time we return to the ship the cloud closes in and it is snowing again.


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Weddell Seal - they are not scared of us at all.


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Gentoos, going, going, gone.


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Exploring the glaciers by Zodiac - Glacier doesn't look so big?

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Spot the Zodiac near base of glacier - now it looks big!

Another ship cruise through the beautiful Neumayer Chanel to Port Lockroy, where there are four people stationed during the summer months. Port Lockroy is a British base that is undergoing restoration, it houses a museum and post office.


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Port Lockroy British Penguins saluting the flag


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Port Lockroy Museum


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Lan at Port Lockroy

We do a quick zodiac ride over to Jougler Point and revel in the beauty and sunshine. It is an amazing feeling to be walking on the frozen ocean.


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Jougler Point


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Lan and Skill at Jougler Point


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Yacht at Jougler Point - crossing the Drake Passage in that would only be for the brave!


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Sleepy Weddell Seal enjoying the sun too.


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God this place is just so beautiful. Panarama


Later that afternoon we have the Polar plungers, full immersion in the icy Antarctic waters. We didn't try it, must be old enough to realize it was only for the young, brave and fool-hardy. Some plungers have to wait for the floating ice to clear before taking the plunge from the gangway, but James tops everyone's efforts by jumping from the top deck in the nude, well not entirely nude, he was wearing gumboots and socks!. But it was OK, couldn't see much when he emerged....

That night we have a BBQ on the back deck, we cannot believe the weather, nor can the staff, they keep telling us how lucky we are, days of calm conditions and sunshine are not common in Antarctica and we have got more than our fair share. It is a really bizarre feeling, listening to music, eating fantastic food, drinking glu wein, dressing up in silly hats, in a word partying in this pristine location.


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Funny Hats - Lan with Cath and Tony from Newcastle


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BBQ on the back deck - that has to be the best background scenery for a party we have ever seen.


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The brash ice starts coming in around the ship


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More brash ice sets in at sunset about 11 pm.


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Next morning, - will we get out? Luckily the Polar Pioneer has an ice strengthened double hull.


I guess I should also mention how lucky we have been with the group of people on this trip, with the exception of one or two more eccentric characters, everyone on board is an experienced independent traveller. We have all mixed really well, young and old alike, it really has been quite extraordinary. Most nights the bar is packed with people, having a few drinks and chatting, meal times are always loud and boisterous, everyone has made an effort to be part of the family. Tim and Kathleen our chefs and the Russian girls do an amazing job with the food which brings everyone together.

That night some hardy souls elect to camp out on the ice but we both decide we paid too much for a warm cabin not to use it and we don't need to say we slept on the ice in Antarctica. Our decision was vindicated when the campers admitted they didn't sleep much anyway in the overnight minus 5 degrees Celsius temperature without a tent and almost 24 hour sunlight. We slept just fine in our warm cabin!

Day 7 Sunday 2nd November We can't believe it, we awake to yet another sunny still day, after breakfast we pull up anchor and it is on to Neko Harbour, It is an absolutely stunning day, I decide that it cannot be any more beautiful on land than it is from the flybridge so stay on board drinking cups of tea revelling in our last day in Antarctica. Skill goes ashore and sits with Gentoo penguins, listening to the creaking, cracking, groaning of the very active glacier. He witnesses a huge piece of glacier calving into the still waters of the harbour causing sizable waves for a few minutes, then all is still again.


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On our way to Neko Harbour


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Arriving at Neko Harbour


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Another Weddell Seal welcomes us - actually they really could't be bothered whether we we there or not.


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The kayaks in Neko Harbour


We up anchor and journey over to Enterprise Island. The day is so gorgeous, most of us stay out on the front deck and Terry provides us with gallons of hot chocolate with a nip of mint liqueur, absolutely delicious! I now know what I am going to do with the aging Creme de Menthe in the back of the cupboard at home. On arrival at Enterprise Island we get in the zodiacs and go cruising through the brash ice, bumping and clunking our way through. We eventually find the wreck of an old whale factory ship before making our way back to our ship through icebergs and vast amounts of ice.


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The old whale factory ship


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Amazing blue hole in the Iceberg


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Clear still waters – you can see the icebergs extending to huge depths below the waterline


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Skill marooned on floating sea ice


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Who needs to go to Egypt - Pyramid Iceberg


Day 8 Monday 3rd November
Yet another transit overnight, we find ourselves in much choppier conditions near Elephant Point on Livingstone Island, part of the South Shetland Islands. The crew first check to make sure there is a suitable landing point and tell us that it will be rough and we will all get wet in the zodiacs, but the beach landing is OK. Amazingly no one flinches, especially not our 70+ lot and everyone makes the 15 minute ride to Elephant Point, so named because of the Elephant seal population. Upon exploring the shore we find 18 trapped elephant seal pups. Because of the very late snow falls this year they had become trapped by walls of frozen snow around them. After a little debate about the rights and wrongs of us interfering with mother nature Santiago initiates the inevitable rescue and we pitch in with ice axes, shovels and hands digging ramps out of the holes. Santiago, James, Tarn, Maggie and Don worked like trojans to get the baby seals out of water-filled ice holes, some of these seals must weigh 80 – 100kg and trying to lift them when wet and struggling must be like wrestling a greased pig.


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Elephant seal pup rescue


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More seals to rescue


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Elephant Seals - so ugly they are kind of cute.


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Baby Elephant Seals


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Don't cry baby seal


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Gentoo walking very carefully around the elephant seals


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Lan walking very carefully around the Elephant seals


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Antarctic Gull - much larger than the Aus version


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Giant Petrel - with a wingspan of about 2 meters these guys are huge!


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Itchy seal - some of their faces look like cartoon charactures.


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Big male seals make a racket with their bellowing.


Because we had taken a fair amount of time with the rescue the wind and seas had picked up, the ride back to the ship in the zodiacs was slow and pretty rugged, we were absolutely drenched, and had to have three goes at lining ourselves up with the ship gangway. Getting out of the zodiacs onto the gangway was also very interesting, one minute we are level with the gangway, next we are 2 metres lower, but everyone managed to get on-board with no injuries thanks to our guides and the fabulous Russian crew.

After lunch Dr John appears in the dining room “Who needs drugs?” was the question. Nearly everyone was the reply. Bugger we are heading back into the dreaded Drake Passage. Don tells us it will probably be a “lively and bouncy afternoon and evening but not as bad as first crossing” and it was, but everyone handled it much better this time. I had no seasickness at all, Skill was OK but sleepy from the drugs, he makes dinner but heads to bed early, we are rocking and rolling again. That night I spend a late evening in the bar enjoying a few beers with a great group of people, there are only eight of us and we stay up till about 12.30 in the vain hope we might get sleep later in the evening.

Day 9 Tueday 4th November
Sleep was not an option, it was a reasonably rough night although it did get calmer as the morning went on. Most of the day I spent mooching around, reading, having a few beers in the bar and generally enjoying the company of our fellow passengers. Skill was not seasick but really sleepy from the medication so slept on and off for most of the day. He also had developed a head cold so was not a happy camper. That evening most of us made dinner and afterwards the bar. A pretty laid back day, catching up on sleep, we were all pretty exhausted it had been a non stop action packed 8 days. Not only were there multiple landings everyday, but also lectures, information sessions, and we also had access to the bridge any time we liked. We spent a lot of time up there admiring the way the crew navigate the icy waters and watching the world go by, not to mention the whales, dolphins, penguins, birds and icebergs. It had truly been amazing


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Up on the bridge

Day 10 Wednesday 5th November
Another sleepless night for me, I am sure the drugs I was on were uppers, I was like a startled rabbit caught in the headlights. Skill was taking Phenergan so was sleepy but it was still a reasonably broken sleep. It was another quiet day on board in the morning until we got the news that Santiago (who is Argentinian) had negotiated with the Chilean authorities to allow us within 2 nautical miles (about 3.7km) of Cape Horn, a great privilege so were told, usually ships have to stay about 12 nautical miles off shore. We crammed onto the bridge and out of the cloud Cape Horn appeared, a sight I certainly thought I would never see in my lifetime.


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Dodgy photo of Cape Horn in the rain and mist


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Radar image of Cape Horn as we approached


Later in the day Skill signs up for the engine room tour, it must be a boy thing, the smell of diesel was overpowering as soon as the engine room door was open, I would have been sick so passed up the exciting engine tour opportunity.


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Polar Pioneer Engine Room - pic for the boys


After that everyone seemed to be in party mode, the seas flattened out and finally we were back in the Beagle Channel.The bar filled with people and later in the afternoon Captain Yuri came and joined us for final Captain's drinks. After dinner we went downstairs and watched a slide show of photos taken on the voyage, before retiring to the bar for a late night, later for some than others. We anchored in the Beagle Channel for the night so finally had a good nights sleep in calm waters.

Day 11 Thursday 6th November We awake to find ourselves nearly back in Ushuaia, a last breakfast before we disembark, swap emails, say goodbye to new friends and disappear back to our respective lives. It truly has been a remarkable experience, one that we will reflect upon for years to come. We cannot speak highly enough of Aurora Expeditions and their amazing staff. We are so pleased that we made the choice to take an Expedition style cruise on a small ship.


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The Aurora Staff


“A journey is a person in itself, no two are alike, and all plans, safeguards, policies and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” John Steinbeck


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Panarama photo of Paradise Harbour

Posted by John Skillington at 07:14 PM GMT
December 22, 2012 GMT
Ushuaia

Blog Backtracking...... our time in Ushuaia before we leave for Antarctica.

We are pretty excited to be in Ushuaia, we have heard so much about this place from our fellow motorcycling friends over the years. We find the Freestyle Hostel with no problems, secure parking out the back after negotiating a building site, throw our gear into the room, for tonight we have to share a dorm room with two Italian ladies but tomorrow we get to move into our own private room. We then head out for a king crab empanada and Quilmes beer. The Hostel is a busy place with many nationalities coming and going. We spend the rest of the day sussing out down town Ushuaia, finding the supermarket, before heading back to the hostel for a few drinks and managing to cook dinner in the hostel kitchen.


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View from Hostel


The following day we move into our new room and spend the day chilling out in the upstairs lounge of the hostel, trying to catch up on emails and blogs. We also hunt and gather and discover that empanadas and BBQ sauce go really well together, that evening we fight for a space in the zoo like kitchen, it is a mele. I also share a few gin and tonics with an older Italian lady and proceed to have a 2 hour chat, me in English and her in Italian, surprisingly I think we understood nearly everything that was said. Skill had to intervene a few times with google translator, but I think it was the G & T s that really did the trick.

While the hostel is fine, in fact it is great, we are here for another 10 days and we don't fancy having to stay here and battle for space in the kitchen all that time, so we ride out to Rio Pipo the overland motorcyclists campsite of choice but there is not a sole around and it is bleak. We then go to the tourist office and later look on line at our cheaper cabana options. After that we go for a ride and suss them all out, we finally chance upon Ona Shin Cabanas owned by Mariano and Nancy, little did we know how lucky we were. This little oasis proved to be our home away from home, and Mariano, Nancy and their gorgeous cleaning lady (whose name we never got) could not have been more helpful.

That evening we tried to go to a family run Chilean seafood restaurant (yes I know we are in Argentina) for dinner but were told we would have to reserva, so reserva we did. Oh well Pizza it is instead. We return to the hostel after a fantastic calzone, it is midnight, we are finally getting into the swing of eating late.

The following day we spend all morning trying to find somewhere to do an oil change, in the end Skill gives up and buys some oil, he then heads out to the supermarket to buy a bucket or bowl to drain the old oil into. He returns quickly, very chuffed with himself, he has found some old water bottles in a bin that should do the job.


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Skill happy with his bin find


A speedy oil change ensues at the back of the Hostel. After several goes at trying to find a proper place to dispose of the oil and being told to just put it in the bin, we regretfully do.


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Oil Change at the back of the Hostel


We head to Chkos restaurant where we enjoy a sumptuous king crab dinner and watch the sunset over the Andes at 10.30 pm.


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Phone photo Skill at Chkos Retaurant


On Saturday we get ourselves and the bike packed and at midday we move to our beautiful little Swiss style cabana, it is a glorious day, we settle ourselves in then head off to the Carefour supermarket to shop, the top box is absolutely chock a block. It is so nice to have our own space, our own kitchen and our own fridge. The first thing I do is fill the ice cube trays, yay finally G & Ts with ice. It is such a beautiful day we proceed to sit in the sun and have a few wines. Our life is pretty much perfecto.


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Skill drinking red wine outside our Cabana


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Our red wine of choice costs less than $2.00 AUD


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View from our bedroom window


To be honest our time in Ushuaia goes quickly, people say what did you do for nearly two weeks, in a word not too much we seem to be very good at filling our days with doing very little. We wander down into the town each day (it is about a 20 minute walk), walk around the harbour watching the myriad of cruise boats come and go.


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Boats in the Harbour


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Lan and Skill at the Harbour


Then hunt and gather at the supermarkets on the way home.


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Going to the Supermarket


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Coming home from the Supermarket


One morning a couple of days after we move into the Cabana I wake up and look out the window (I can see the mountains without lifting my head off the pillow) to see that we have had a considerable snow fall over night. After breakfast we wander into town in the sleet and snow.


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We have had a fair amount of snow overnight


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Coming home from the Supermarket after the snowfall (Compare this to a couple of photos above to see how much snow we had)


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A cold and windy day in Ushuaia

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Down town Ushuaia, the weather is cold.


From then on in the weather takes a turn for the worse and most days we have rain, sleet or snow, sometimes a combination of all three, and there is always the wind ranging from a gentle breeze to gusty cyclonic conditions. I am so glad we didn't camp.

On one day we head to the Museo Maratimo which is located in an old prision that held up to 700 inmates in 380 small, cold cells. Many of Ushuaia's first non indigenous inhabitants were convicts. Many similarities with Port Arthur. This prison was not the original and housed criminals and political dissidents up until the 1950s. (I think) The museum was a hotchpotch of Ushuaia's history but interesting none the less.


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Lan talking to some pretty notorious inmates


After nearly two months of Argentinian food we are hanging out for something with a few more vegetables in it. On one occasion it takes us three days and three supermarkets to hunt down enough ingredients to make Burritos (couldn't find flat bread had to make do with pocket bread) but we are eventually successful, even finding plain natural yoghurt is a challenge.


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Yay Burritos for tea


One day while out having our daily hot chocolate at Laguna Negra -our cafe of choice- Skill spies this notice in the window.


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Motorcyle Rally Poster


When we get back to the cabana he does a bit of a search and emails the organiser (with the help of google translator) who insists that we must join them at the meeting which will be held at the airport. The weekend of the rally arrives (we are still in two minds as to whether we should go) and we decide we will go for a quiet ride out to the National Park, we must pass at least 100 bikes on our way out, and when we return to refuel at the YPF service station two local motorcyclists accost us and insist that we must join them and show us the way to the meeting. We are pleased they did as we would have had a bit of trouble finding it as it was at the old airport.

We had a lovely weekend with these guys and although our Spanish is still hopeless and very little English was spoken we still felt very welcomed. We thank them for their hospitality. On the Saturday afternoon we had official photographs on the runway at the airport and then a police escorted ride through the streets of Ushuaia before parking up in the middle of town, there were probably about 200 bikes of all sizes, types, and makes. The riders aged from 4 to 80+. Later in the evening we venture back to the airport for an Asado dinner, slide shows and a local entertainer who was pretty damned good. We leave early at 1.00am.


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The ride onto the runway

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Lan and Skill at the motorcycle rally

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Bikes, bikes everywhere

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The bikes assemble on the runway

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Our Police Escorts

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We assemble in the main street


The next day we meet at 10.00 and it is off for more police escorted rides up to the glacier and then out into the surrounding countryside before another asado lunch. We decide we need to leave the meeting early so we can get back to the Cabana to sort out our gear and the bike before we leave for Antarctica tomorrow. We do eventually get ourselves sorted out and that night as I go to sleep listening to the rain on the roof and wind through the trees I wonder what we will do with ourselves till 4.00 pm tomorrow. Oh well I am sure we will think of something.

Posted by John Skillington at 10:27 PM GMT
December 25, 2012 GMT
North to El Chalten

We sadly leave Ushuaia after nearly a month. Long sad goodbyes to Nancy and Mariano then it is onto the bike. It is cold and rainy, we then have to queue for fuel at the YPF, as the two previous service stations are out of fuel.

It is a pretty miserable ride up over the Garibaldi Pass where the rain turns to sleet and the temperature is down to 0 degrees. Once we are over the other side conditions improve and we have our picnic lunch in the sun beside yet another pretty river, As we approach Rio Grande it gets windier and windier After doing a bit of internet research before leaving Ushuaia we have an accommodation option at Ruta 40 B&B run by Willy a fellow biker and traveller. We find it easily, what a great place to stay, Willy is a lovely guy who gives us run of the house including the kitchen. Later in evening Dutch cyclist Zoost arrived beaten by the wind on a lesser known Pass into Chile, he has decided to take the more travelled route, Ruta 40.

Next day we wake late to roaring winds, we decide not to make a move and stay put. A lazy day ensues chatting with Willy, the wind dies down a little in the afternoon and Zoost decides he will ride towards San Sebastian. We go for a walk and hunt and gather for a curry dinner. That night Willy joins us for dinner as Indian curry is something new for him! Willy has a myriad of friends and family coming and going, it is lovely to be in a family home again.

We leave Rio Grande in windy conditions, but we fair OK and I am not fazed by it at all, maybe I am just getting used to it. Skill and I both laugh saying we have been leaning to the right so much on the way South, it is now difficult to lean to the left, I am sure my seat has a permanent dip in it on the left side. We cross the border out of Argentina.


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Border crossing at San Sebastian, Argentina


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“It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas”, the lads are starting to put up a wire Christmas tree at the San Sebastian Border


Next we cross back into Chile and stop in the middle of nowhere at this cute restaurant for lunch.


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Restaurant just after the border crossing into Chile


And we continue on, the wind has eased off and it is a lovely, but cold ride across Tierra del Fuego to Porvenir. We find the Hotel Espana, and just get the gear off the bike before it starts to rain. Later in the afternoon we go for a walk, they are obviously a bit twitchy about Tsunamis and with good reason I should imagine. I hope our hotel is above the evacuation zone?????


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Tsunami Signs in Porvenir

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Tsunami Signs in Porvenir

The town is tiny and there is nothing much open only the Panaderia, so we buy empanadas (pastries with savory fillings) and eat in our room.

Next day we can't catch the ferry until 2.00pm so we check out the highlights of Porvenir which takes less than 30 minutes but it was nice to be out and about.


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They have an affinity with concrete animals in Porvenir, not sure what a Polar Bear is doing in the Southern Hemisphere, perhaps it is an oversized Labrador????


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It's a giant swan


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Which way does the prevailing wind come from?


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It's beginning to look like Christmas here too!


Down to the ferry stop where there is a myriad of international travellers, a young Belgian couple hitchhiking there way around South America for 7 months, a French couple who now live in Ecuador and are scouting for travel destinations for their motorcycle touring business, Peter (Peter on the Road) a German driving a huge Mercedes Benz motorhome truck, and finally an English couple riding GS1200s, Iona and Stewart.


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Waiting for the Ferry


We eventually load up and the bikes are tied down before we adjourn inside with Iona and Stewart, the three hour crossing goes very quickly as we chat with the guys. We arrive in Punta Arenas, leave the ferry, find some extremely expensive accommodation and go out for drinks and dinner with the Brits, as we are back in Chile we have a great seafood dinner and some Calafate Pisco sours. As it is only 2 days before Skills birthday it was a nice treat and we really enjoyed their company.

We leave Punta Arenas as it is not the most inspiring place in the world and ride in calm conditions towards Puerto Natales, it starts to look rainy so we stop to put on our wet weather gear. Just as we are about to head off again a travellers bike pulls in, it is Nick who we met at John and Annettes. An hour long chat ensues, we get info on Ruta 40 condition and fuel availability and Nick gets info on accommodation, border crossings and ferry times. This is the great part about meeting up with travellers, there is always information to be shared. Just as we are about to head off, Peter in the large motorhome pulls in to check we are all OK, we are so he heads off leaving the bikers to continue our road-side discussions.


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A roadside chat with Nick


We eventually get going and continue on, the wind starts to pick up and the last half hour into Puerto Natales is challenging but not even close to the conditions we endured on the way South. We have a recommendation for accommodation in this little town and find it easily, while it is pretty basic and even a little dodgy, it is clean, cheap and cheerful and run by a local family with 2 small children, and it has secure parking for the bike.


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Arriving in Puerto Natales


There is the usual myriad of cyclists, backpackers, travellers and locals, we stay overnight and next day walk the town checking out this cute little place and organising our goods and chattels and food for our visit to Torres del Paine National Park. Overnight the conditions take a turn for the worse, it is cold, rainy and blowy so we decide that as it is Skill's 50th Birthday we will stay put, it is a lazy day spent indoors with pisco sours and cashew nuts instead of a birthday cake. We also watch Josefina, Grandma, Lily and Martina decorate the Xmas tree. Later in the evening we visit a groovy little cervezeria with Tex Mex for dinner. All in all a pretty cruisy day.


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Skill's 50th Birthday


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Decorating the Christamas Tree at Martina's House Hostel


Next day it is a fairly clear day so we make a break for Torres del Paine National Park armed with our food, drinks and camping gear. We refuel at the Copec and off we go, we get about 30 km out of town when we stop to check the chain oiler, it is at this point the bike decides it is not going to idle and is coughing and spluttering, after stopping and starting it a few times and revving it for a few minutes the problem abates and we continue on, very weird. The ride is glorious, even though there is a bit of loose rolly ripio. There are guanaco babies everywhere, towering mountains and aqua coloured lakes, the sun is out, there is no wind, it is simply stunning.


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The ride into Torres del Paine

We enter the National Park and camp at Las Torres beneath the snow capped jagged towers, it is glorious scenery and the sun is out, we just chill back and have a few glasses of red wine before chicken and pasta for dinner. We go for an hours twilight walk before hitting the hay at 11.00pm.


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Skill having chicken soup for lunch


Next day we have a slow start before organising our back packs and heading out on the Mirador las Torres Walk.


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Skill crossing the first bridge


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Lan looking a tad weary

The walk takes you 9.5 km and over 800 m ascent, I bailed out at the first refugio at about a height of .450 metres, because I am basically lazy and unfit, and besides I had caught Skill's head cold and was not feeling that great. It was a beautiful sunny day, in fact it was bloody hot, I even got sunburnt. Skill decided to continue on enjoying a day on his own, and I sauntered back down to the camp. He tells me the view from the Mirador (view point) was spectacular, but concedes he had underestimated the climb and over estimated his fitness - so he was now totally shattered! An early dinner and that night we both slept pretty well.


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Another bridge to cross

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The scenery changes to beautiful forests

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The infamous Towers in full glory

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Torres del Paine panorama

The following day we packed up and decided that we would do the dirt (ripio) loop back to Puerto Natales as we could not get fuel in Cerro Castillo so didn't have enough fuel to cross the border at Cancha Carrera back into Chile.


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Leaving Torres Campground (Bridge)


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Stopped to admire the peaks

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What a magic place.

My videoing skills from the back of the bike still need refining especially on the corregations but check out this link. It was a stunning ride.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrxAgpXrMFk&feature=youtu.be


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Not a bad place for a lunch stop?????


We arrive in Puerto Natales, refuel and head back to Martinas House Hostel, park the bike and get a room. All too easy. A quick bit of washing before we head out for the best Pizza Dinner since our arrival in South America.

A new day dawns and we say goodbye to Josefina and family again, then it is off towards El Calafate and another border crossing out of Chile at Dorotea and back into Argentina at Rio Turbio.


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Yet another border crossing, back into Argentina


Once again the wind Gods are being kind and it is a beautiful calm day. We arrive at Tapi Aike where we need to get fuel if we want to take the ripio shortcut to El Calafate. They are closed for siesta at 12.00 and will reopen at 1.30pm, it is now 1.00pm. We have our lunch and a cup of tea, and just as we are finishing up the generator fires up and a guy appears to man the pumps.


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The fuel stop at Tapi Aike


The 60 km ripio shortcut is slow as it's covered in deep rolly river gravel but gets a little better after the first 30km, and we arive back on the sealed road a little shaken up but all good. Onwards to El Calafate where we try a few accommodation options before deciding on the campground at Camp Ovejero. There are 4 other German travellers all on bikes and an assortment of cyclists of all different nationalities.


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Drinks at the Campground Ovejero (sorry it's blurry could have been our state of mind)


That night the wind picks up and howls all night continually buffeting the tent and blowing dirt everywhere, when we get out of bed in the morning there is grit everywhere and the willow and poplar tree branches are carpeting the whole camp ground. I am still not feeling very well (aka Princess, apparently) and Skill valiantly decides we should get some accommodation, the wind dies down a bit and we get the bike packed up before heading to the tourist office to get a list of hostels with parking. We end up at a really unusual place, a motel room attached to a hostel that gives us access to the kitchen, it is clean, well the room but not the kitchen, and reasonably priced. We have a shower, make breakfast at 11.30 and I go to bed for the rest of the day. That seemed to do the trick, as when we go out later in the evening I am feeling great. A chicken and pasta dinner at a cheap and cheerful place, a few beers and all is right in the world.

We awake to sunshine so decide we will head out to the glacier, we gather our picnic lunch together and take a beautiful 80km ride to the Moreno Glacier.

Once again the pictures do the talking.


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Lan at Perito Moreno Glacier

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Perito Moreno Glacier

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Panorama of Perito Moreno Glacier

I had just started the video when this happened, check out the link.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7wrQjQDjUQ&feature=youtu.be

We leave at about 4.30pm and artfully dodge lots of rain storms to arrive back El Calafate without getting wet. We park the bike and unload our gear just before it dumps down, it is very wet outdoors, so wet in fact that the gutters are all banked up and water is up over the footpaths. Glad we aren't camping tonight.

Well as the weather predicted we have strong winds and sunshine in the morning. I talk Skill into staying for another day, we get ourselves organised, do some washing and get some emails done.


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Washing time


Just after lunch as I am sitting in a protected spot out of the wind reading my book, the temperature suddenly drops and next thing it is snowing/sleeting but the sun is also out. I don't know how this is possible but it is. By this time it is really, really cold, time for indoors and a cup of tea. We head out for a few drinks and an early dinner (9.30pm) before calling it a day.

We awake to a lovely day and head towards El Chalten in beautiful still conditions despite what the road sign warning says. It makes so much difference to the ride when there is no wind.


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Must get windy here!!!!


We stop to take some photos of the Glacier Viedma (I think) and Lake Viedma and run into Georg, a Swiss traveller who has been on the road for 10 months. After a chat it is another 100 km to our lunch stop.


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Georg, a Swiss traveller


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On the way to El Chalten


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Lunch stop outside El Chalten


On arriving in El Chalten we find the fuel station, tourist office and finally a hostel. They arrange parking for us tucked away in an alcove, as chance would have it we are next to another Aussie (NSW) registered V-Strom 650. The owners are away on a trek so we are told. I guess we will meet them on their return.

The hostel is a huge place with the biggest rooms I have ever seen, more like a suite, in the end we decide we are going to stay here till Christmas, as it is a gorgeous place if a little on the expensive side. However from here we tackle Ruta 40 to Perito Moreno (nearly all gravel road - ie; ripio) where there are mostly uninspiring towns, limited fuel stops and we are not sure what will close for the Christmas period. So all in all much nicer to stay here.

Now let me fill you in on this little place where we spent the Festive Season, it is right on the Argentinian/Chilean border and it was only built in 1985 as an outpost against Chilean encroachment. It has now become a major tourist destination for trekkers. It is nestled at the confluence of 2 rivers and from our hotel you can see (when not shrouded in mist rain or snow) the absolutely beautiful granite spires of Mount FitzRoy (3045m) and Cerro Torre (3102m). Although it is highly touristed it is a bit like going to a very small Australian country town as far as faciilities go, yesterday we had to go to 3 little shops to get enough food to make dinner, there is one ATM, a dodgy fuel station and there is no mobile phone reception, but it does have satellite internet. The town is powered by diesel generators. Having said that there are about 80 different accommodation places, lots of little restaurants and even a micro brewery.

Our first day in El Chalten is spent walking the streets of this thriving metropolis. We hunt and gather at the 3 little shops, tomatoes and red wine at one, chicken at another and biscuits at the last one, it is like a treasure hunt. You can't plan what you will have for dinner, it is a matter of making do and improvising. That night it rains quite heavily but surprisingly there is no wind.


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Welcome to El Chalten

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More awesome towers

The following day we go for a walk around the streets and along the river. Just after lunch James and Michelle (the hiking V Strom owners from NSW) make an appearance and we spend the afternoon chatting and comparing notes. They are a lovely young couple who have been in South America for 7 months and will continue up through Central America. In the afternoon we take both bikes out and ride to the end of the road where the ferry boat takes hikers across the Lake to Chile where they continue on to O'Higgins. It is an absolutely beautiful afternoon, a stunning ride on the one of the most scenicly beautiful roads we have encountered. We arrive back at the hostel after 8.00pm, cook dinner and look out at the most spectacular scenery. Still not a breath of wind.


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Michelle & James on the ride out to Lago del Desierto

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Lago del Desierto (I think)

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The ride out to Lago del Desierto

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The ride out to Lago del Desierto

It is Christmas Eve, what to do, well those of you who know Skill well, will laugh when I say we went on a trek, admittedly it wasn't up to his usual scrub bashing, rock hopping, exhausting 7 hour adventures. We took a leisurely 3 hour hike up to a couple of lookouts quite near town, once again it was a breathtakingly beautiful day, but not all of those illusive peaks would show themselves.


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Panorama of El Chalten

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Rain sweeping in over the mountains towards Lago Viedma - panorama

We wander back into town, have pizza and a Quilmes beer for lunch at 4.00pm, which now seems to be our standard lunchtime, revisit the three mini mercados and luck in as the trucks have been today and the shops are full. I think we will be able to manage a roast chicken and vege Christmas lunch. On our way back to the hostel we pass the microbrewery and decide we should check it out. And still no wind. The locals are gob smacked, there has been no wind for 5 days in a row, apparently this never happens. It has been the most stunning day, in fact we got sunburnt on our hike. At midnight crackers and a few fireworks go off along the main street, welcoming Christmas Day. Feliz Navidad.

Christmas day dawns with glorious sunshine and still no wind!!!! We exchange our ever practical gifts. A new belt for me (my old one broke) and new wool socks and thin gloves for Skill. He now has to ditch a pair of old socks.


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New socks and gloves for SKill

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A sunburnt Lan with her new belt

After a late breakfast we sit outside in the sun and have a few beer (it is Xmas day after all) and then venture inside to cook our roast chicken dinner, all in all it was pretty good. After our late lunch we go for a walk, the mountains are stunning and have fully revealed themselves. Skill decides he will do a longer hike up to Mirrador del Fitz Roy and I go for a walk out to the National Park Office where I sit and ogle the fully visible Mount Fitzroy and Cerro Torre. The word awesome is often overused but ever so accurately describes these two peaks. I then venture for a hike along the river. Skill's hike is about 10 km and a 400 m ascent, so quite a bit easier than the Torres del Paine track, but still quite strenuous for Christmas afternoon.


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Mount Fitzroy and Cerro Torre finally reveal their peaks

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Mount Fitzroy and Cerro Torre finally reveal their peaks

Our Christmas Day concludes at midnight with a few wines and the knowledge that it has been a very special unforgettable Christmas. The weather has been incredibly kind to us.

Tomorrow we tackle one of the more difficult parts of the infamous Ruta 40 heading North.

Posted by John Skillington at 05:40 PM GMT
January 16, 2013 GMT
Ruta 40 & Careterra Austral

Boxing day is here and we need to leave this little oasis of El Chalten and head North, we refuel and add an extra 5 litres (in a 5 litre plastic water bottle) to the bike. As fellow travellers, Grant and Jules Guerin so succinctly put it, we are now a travelling molotov cocktail.

We have calculated it will be a little over 300km to Gobernador Gregores, about the limit of our fuel range so the extra is an insurance policy.


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Refueling at El Chalten – a more scenic fuel stop is hard to imagine (pity about the power lines)


We leave in glorious still conditions and sunshine, and retrace our route for 80 km then head towards Tres Lagos. We stop to put in our extra five litres at the end of the sealed road, only to find the bike will not idle again (it has been a perfect run on the bitumen at 110km an hour). Skill tries to do a bit of diagnosis, and then we put in the extra fuel. We decide not to stress too much and have our morning tea cuppa. We pack up, start the bike which is now running perfectly and continue on. I hate intermittent faults.

Ruta 40 reminds me a bit of the Oodnadatta Track (maybe not in as good condition). It is pretty rough and chopped up from the recent rains but fortunately not too bad and the best thing is they haven't graded it so it was quite hard packed. We make good time but often look longingly at the not-yet-opened sealed road that runs beside for most of the 300km distance.

About 100 km from Gobernador Gregores dark storm clouds appear and it starts to spit sporadically, this is not a road you want to be riding after rain, so we just keep going hoping to miss the rain and perhaps have lunch later when we arrive. We do bypass the rain and arrive at about 4.30pm, refuel and find a nice hotel where we demolish our lunch before heading out for a walk. This little town is much nicer than we imagined and the hotel is quite OK. We have leftovers for dinner in our room and an early night.


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Rain looms on Ruta 40


An early start for us, we are on the road at 8.30am, refueled and carrying our extra five litres again.


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Another fuel stop


We head out of town to an intersection with not a single sign on it (in fact the first sign to Baja Caracoles we see is 100 km later). We ask a local road side worker the way and he points straight ahead (reminds us of India, “Just go straight Sir”). The road is rough ripio once again running alongside the not-yet-opened bitumen and then we hit an unexpected completed bitumen section about 40 km further on, we were not expecting this in fact the sealed road is now open nearly all the way to Baja Caracoles. After our first 100 km we put in our spare fuel and all is good.


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Our refuelling stop on Ruta 40


The ride is quite enjoyable although it does get very cold and we stop at Baja Caracoles to get a coffee have our lunch and refuel. After refueling the bike does its “I don't want to idle thing yet again”. Feeling a tad warmer after lunch and coffee and with the bike idling OK again, we are lulled into a false sense of security as we tackle the next section of Ruta 40 which is a nightmare, it is like riding along a dry river bed with our very heavily laden bike, it is at times like this I don't know how Skill keeps the bike upright. It takes us over an hour to do this section as we roll, buck and skid our way over the rolly rocks. Then all of a sudden we hit a beautiful paved road that is a motorcyclists dream and takes us all the way to Pertito Moreno (the town not the glacier), even though its a dive, we check out two extremely dodgy camp grounds and two non existent camp grounds before we instead decide to leave for Los Antiguous on the Argentinian Chilean border. The camp ground here is also gross and windy, so three hostels later we end up in an adequate cabana for the night and try the Plato del Dia (plate of the day) for dinner at a local restaurant. It has been a fairly long day.

Today we cross into Chile at the rather delightful named Chile Chico border crossing,


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Border crossing at Chile Chico

all goes smoothly and quickly, even though they search all our bags for contraband food items.


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Repacking our bags at Chile Chico Border crossing

We restock our emergency food supplies in Chile Chico before riding one of the most scenic roads alongside South Americas second largest lake (on the Argentinian side it is called Lago Buenos Aires and on the Chilean side it is called Lake General Carrera) This road is all ripio and to start with is fairly good as we climb up and down the roller coaster road which has been cut into the mountains alongside the Lake. Most times we have a view of the lake but sometimes the road will disappear into heavily wooded forest sections. About 30 km later the road deteriorates and it is heavily corrugated roly ripio for the next 100 km.


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Panorama On the Chile Chico Road

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Riding the Chile Chico Road

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Riding the Chile Chico Road

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Riding the Chile Chico Road

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Views over Lago General Carrera


This road is truly spectacular and reminds us a little of the KKH in Pakistan the way it is cut into the side of impossibly steep mountain side with sheer vertical drops of 300 – 400 metres to the lake in places. There is only the occasional random guard rail and in many places it is only one car width wide, but with two-way traffic - thankfully fairly sparse. We are down to first gear to make some of the climbs and descents, sounding the horn on the blind crests and corners in the vain hope on-coming traffic will hear us and leave some room as we are on the 'fall off the cliff' side of the road! Then to compound the situation we come to a section were we are following a grader which has just finished smoothinig out the surface but pushed the deep rolly gravel and soft dirt back onto the road. As we are one of the first vehicles through there is NO clean line. Once again we are ploughing, skidding and bucking along. When we reach the intersection of the Careterra Austral the road grading has stopped, but we decide that we will not head South to Cochrane (where we will have to retrace the same route to return as there is only one road). We instead ride 40 km North to Puerto Rio Tranquilo on slightly better ripio but now it is quite windy again.

Luckily we find a lovely camping spot at the Bella Vista Hospedaje. We camp in the back yard in a poplar-tree enclosed garden. There is a camp kitchen and hot water showers, so what more do we need?

That night we share a delightful evening with Lydia and Rafiel (an Argentinian couple travelling in an old camper) and two young Californian lads Seth and his mate whose name we never got. They are backpacking and hitchiking their way around Chile.


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Lydia and Rafiel enjoying a mate (Mate is the potion that Argentinians are obsessed with, it is a shared beverage that looks like horse-chaff with sugar and hot water added, usually drunk out of a aluminium receptacle and aluminium straw filter)

Next day we are still pretty tired so decide we will stay for another day, but we can not find our gregarious host Marcela anywhere. When she reappears it is obvious she is quite distraught, I glean that her Aunt and 2 young children have been in a terrible car accident about 20km South of Tranquilo and her aunt is dead. Grief is palpable in any language. We reassure her that we are staying and will light the boiler fire tonight and try to look after the place till her return later that night. All of this is communicated with NO Spanish but I think we got there in the end.

We enjoy a lazy day in the sun, check out all the streets in Tranquilo, visit it's three shops and wander down to the Lake.


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Skill looking at the inland sea which is Lago General Carrera – Puerto Rio Tranquilo


On our return to the hospedaje we have been invaded by sheep so we hunt them out before lighting the hot water and enjoying a couple of beers in the sun.


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Sheep invasion


Next day feeling refreshed we head off towards Coyhaique, once again it is gravel but not too bad. We climb up over a pass and it starts to rain, so we don the wet weather gear before continuing on. It is on this section of road that we pass six travellers bikes, the lead guy stops briefly to say hi there is a group following, sounds like an aussie accent, but there is traffic coming so we so we say bye and move on, the bike group appear shortly and appear to be a tour and don't stop.

Just before Villa Cerro Castillo we stop beside the road for a cuppa and some lunch. Just as we are packing up a bike pulls up, it is Dom an Aussie riding a Kawasaki KLR 650, he has been on the road for a year from Alaska, an animated chat ensues before three Suzuki DR 650 bikes appear, 3 American riders who are on a four month journey. An hour and a half later we leave, this is the most travellers we have seen, but of course as usual we are swimming against the tide, that is, we are heading North and they are going South.


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Roadside meeting


We hit the bitumen at Villa Cerro Castillo and it continues all the way to the uninspiring town/city of Cohaique.


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Twists and turns out of Villa Cerro Castillo


We find camping accommodation in a gross backyard of a hospedaje, it is at this point we are joined by Kevin (who travelled overland UK to Nepal the same year we did) and Jan both on old R80 GS's. They have the good sense to get a room. What a funny day, we have met so few travellers so far and we see/meet 12 in one day. Go figure. We head out to the only open cafe in town with Kevin and Jan and enjoy a late dinner. That night it flogs down rain on our little tent but we stay dry inside. Hmmmmm.

We pack up the wet tent in the rain and try to find breakfast, we manage only a coffee before getting out of this uninspiring, unopen town. (Not sure why everything was closed, maybe it was because it was New Years Eve) The ride is on a lovely sealed road, we refuel at Villa Manihuales a tiny village where we also secure the best empanadas we have eaten in South America. We also have a long chat with more travellers, a Brazilian couple riding a BMW who are also heading South.

Another 90 kilometres of fantastic sealed road that must have been designed by a bike rider before we hit the ripio again for the slow 60 kilometre ride into the gorgeous German settled village of Puyuhuapi. We settle on a camp ground in another backyard, and are soon joined by, Jared, Jessica and Kobus, 3 Americans who have been travelling by 4WD for over 18 months, then Chris and Marg from the Netherlands arrive on 2 BMWs. Then finally some older Americans in a rented car arrive. The place is packed for New Years Eve and the overly excitable owners already have a huge asado on the go for their family New Years celebration.

The travellers gather together in the camp kitchen for a late night of food and festive fun, a few beers, wines and rums ensued and we also got to share in the asado lamb leftovers. Needless to say no one got away early next day.


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Camped undercover. Waiting for our very wet tent to dry out. We had to pack it up wet earlier that morning.

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Jared, Jessica and Kobus

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Marg and Chris


We finally got on the road just on 11.30 but were stopped by some bored local police who wanted to check all our paperwork. This is our first roadside police paperwork check in Chile and we had become so complacent that all of our paperwork was packed away in our panniers, so we had to unpack our stuff on the side of the road about 1 minute after leaving our campsite! After reviewing all our documents, they advised us in Spanish that we should keep our paperwork more easily accessible in the tank-bag – yes well we usually do for border crossings, but we were in the middle of nowhere today!

It was a glorious day (hot even) and we bumped and jumped our way over 160 km of badly potholed ripio to Futaeleufu, a pretty little village near the huge Futaeleufu River.


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A good ripio section on the Careterra Austral


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Bridge crossing the Careterra Austral


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Coffee Break on the Careterra Austral

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Stopped on a little river (Careterra Austral) for lunch


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On the road into Futaeleufu


The American guys had recommended the campground there, it was gorgeous. We also run into Seth and his mate from Hospedaje Bella Vista. We wander into town looking for an open shop but on New Years Day it was a fruitless exercise, Skill does manage to secure 2 beers at a cafe so all is not lost. Back to camp for emergency tuna pasta dinner and our small 7-Up bottle full of left-over red wine (can't waste it). No wonder the bike weighs so bloody much, we are a travelling restaurant/bar.

We enjoy 3 days in Futaeleufu, the weather is glorious, we get a bit of washing done, wander the streets, do a few river walks and enjoy a campfire every night, a pretty perfect life I would say. We also find the only internet cafe (slow) in town to try and track down information about the newly instituted land border reciprocity tax for entry into Argentina. There seems to be two dates floating around, the 3rd and the 7th of January and unfortunately it seems like payment must be pre-paid on-line and a printed receipt presented at the border. In the end we decide we will wing it and hope it is the 7th January, we will cross on the 4th, we know we will have to pay it sooner or later but would just like a more convenient location to do it in, ie somewhere with reliable internet connection and a printer. Once again they haven't thought about overland travellers, especially not being able to pay in cash at the border.

Well cross we do, (I think this is our 6th border crossing, I've lost track) and nothing is mentioned about the reciprocity tax, PHEW!! However the Chileans have snavelled Skills exit paper that is needed for entry into Argentina, it is so bloody hard keeping an eye on all the bits of paper you get given, then taken away, stamped then given back AHHHHHH!! In the end the Argentinians don't seem to care too much as I have mine and they stamp us in.


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We cross back into Argentina


Onwards to Trevillin where we stayed on the way South, a quick lunch in the park before a windy ride to Esquel and finally El Bolsen. We go back to La Chacra campground where stayed last time we were here. Our last visit wasn't in “The Season” as everyone calls it and there was only us and three cats. It's now definitely “The Season” and the place is packed, the little cafe is open and there are people everywhere. The first night we set up, enjoy dinner and go to bed late only to be woken at 1.30 am by a family of drunken ferals driving a beat up old V8 pick up towing an even more beaten up caravan. They proceed to back the caravan over one of our guy ropes, before setting up their extra tents right on top of us, they finally finish at about 3.00 am but not before their feral pekinese dogs wake the whole campground with their incessant barking.

Next morning we pick up the tent and move to another spot (no we didn't pack it, we literally picked it up and carried it to a new spot). Skill takes great delight in starting the bike which is right beside their tents and revving the bejeebies out of it for a few minutes. It is fairly obvious from peoples reactions that they have also not endeared themselves to other residents of the campground.


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Skill cooking dinner with vegetables at La Chacra Campground


We spend five nights in El Bolsen mainly because the weather becomes inclement and it is widespread, but we enjoy a gorgeous Saturday at the markets,


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Lan sampling the artisans beer at the El Bolsen Markets (there is a lot of small micro breweries around this area).


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Skill enjoying the shade of a cherry tree at the El Bolsen Markets


Then Skill ventures out to the Lavedoria to pressure clean our now unrecognisably dirty bike.


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Hooray we have a clean bike


The next day the weather is miserable, it buckets down and is quite cold. The new tent seems to hold up OK and we manage to keep everything undercover and dry although it is a tight squeeze. We spend some of the day in the little cafe with everyone else before retiring back to the tent for a few vodkas. That night as we cook dinner in the undercover area, we both complain about how cold it is and go to bed in our thermals. Next morning there is a reasonable amount of new snow on the mountain above the camp ground. So this is Summer????

It rains on and off for the next two days, but it is interspersed with spells of sunny weather so all is ok. We just kick back and enjoy El Bolsen, Skill manages to secure a haircut but not before having to queue for over an hour to use the automatic teller. People had warned us how manic Argentina gets during the holiday season, this prediction proved correct as it took me an hour to collect provisions at the supermarket and we then have to queue for over 45 minutes to buy fuel before leaving the following day.

We do eventually get out of El Bolsen and ride to the camp ground on Lago Gutierrez which had not been open on the way South. We enjoy an absolutely idyllic afternoon here, taking in the glorious surroundings, sampling a few beers in the sun, before enjoying the little restaurants basic meals.


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Lan enjoying the afternoon at Lago Gutierrez


Brimming with enthusiasm we get away at a reasonable hour, enjoying the short ride to Bariloche. From here on the day deteriorates, the traffic to Villa Angostura is horrendous and it is slow going, mostly 40km an hour. We debate whether we should cross the border back into Chile here or at Junin de Los Andes, after lunch in a dog-poo infested park we decide to cross here as we expect the traffic on the Seven Lakes road will be busy, dusty and slow going. It is also now 36 degrees, so now its summer!

Well the best laid plans..................... we get to a check point before the border only to be informed that we cannot cross here, it is only for trucks and buses (not sure if this is a permanent state of affairs), so we once again tackle the Seven Lakes road, and all our predictions prove correct. The dust makes the road quite dangerous as visibility is poor and the slow speed and heat make it uncomfortable, I am so glad we got to ride it with minimal traffic on the way South. We stop at a camp ground just before San Martin de Los Andes, the one that was completely deserted previously. It is now so packed with partying holiday makers that there is no room. Bizarre. We continue on to SM de Los Andes only to find this is the case here too, with 2 more of the camp grounds full, so we ride on to Junin de Los Andes where we camp in another packed camp ground, but we do find cold beer and I enjoy my first South American river swim, but not for Skill as water needs to be bath-warm for him to swim. Another tuna pasta dinner and an early night.

Well the next day dawns, and starts promisingly, the local bakery delivers pastries to the camp ground (which is a good thing as we had nothing for breakfast), we scoff them down with a cup of coffee and pack up. We actually get away quite early for us, 9.30am. Then the rot sets in............we queue for an hour and a half to get fuel, seriously the queue was about 1 km long in the sun and about 35 degrees!


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Skill queuing for fuel


When we finally get fuel we hit the road towards the border, a gorgeous ride ensues, on a lovely paved surface. It is glorious and we stop to take in the beauty of Volcan Lanin.


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Volcan Lanin


Just after entering the National Park the road surface deteriorates to the usual rolly ripio but we still enjoy the ride to the border where queuing takes on a whole new level. To cut a long story short, it seems like half of Argentina is here waiting to cross to Chile, the line stretches out of the building and down the road, it takes us about three hours to clear this border.


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A day of queuing, Skill at the Argentinian border (most of the line is behind us at this point - standing in the sun)


Luckily the Chilean side is much more efficient (ie they have more than two people on the processing counter) and we are through in under an hour. All in all that's over 5 hours queuing so far today, and for half that time standing in the sun in 35 degrees. It is a very hot day and when we get back to the bike to ride on (Argentinian side), someone has taken our water bottle from the bike, (the first time we have ever had anything taken off the bike) so now we have no water as well.

Once we are in Chile it is a very dusty, rolly ripio 20 km ride until we hit the paved surface. By this time it is 4.00 pm and we haven't had any food or water since breakfast, (you can't take food from Argentina into Chile so we don't have our usual lunch supplies with us) we are both feeling dehydrated and slightly feral. The gorgeous Mapuche village of Curarrehue proves to be our saviour with several delicious fried ham, cheese and tomato empanadas, lots of peach juice, 2 litres of water and ice blocks.

Feeling human again we enjoy the ride into Pucon but can't find ourselves inspired by the very crowded La Poza camp ground (apparently the travellers camp site of choice), so after a visit to the Tourist Office, a quick ATM then fuel stop (no queuing in Chile, yeh) we find ourselves at Copacabana camp ground, a haven on the outskirts of town, and of course we are the only gringos.

We have a gorgeous view of Volcan Villarica, there is a swimming pool and grassy non crowded camping spaces and a brand new clean ablutions block, our kind of place. We set up the tent, venture out to find a huge fruit and vegetable filled supermarket, and secure supplies. Dinner at 11.00 pm and bed. It has been another very long, hot day.


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Volcan Villarica, the view from our campground

Although we have had a few long, hot, difficult days we are still enjoying our travels, the people, the places and the rides, it is an amazing journey.

Posted by John Skillington at 04:46 PM GMT
March 03, 2013 GMT
Pucon to San Rafael

Our days in Pucon are quite blissful, our first morning we awake to a beautiful sunny day and although it is very hot, we have a piscina (pool) to cool off in, the views to Volcan Villarica are uninterrupted and quite spectacular, although it is not puffing out any smoke.

We do the usual chores, washing, mending, and research. The most exciting thing about Pucon is the huge amounts of different foods available, we score Burrito mix and Petaks Tikka Masala curry sauce, heaps of fruit and veges, we are in seventh heaven. Actually Pucon is quite a pretty little town and unashamedly touristy.

The following day is even hotter, but good old Volcan Villarica decides it will have a bit of a huff and puff for us, check out Skill's photo. We don't venture far from the camp site and I make use of the pool to cool off.


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Volcan Villarica huffing and puffing


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Copacabana camp ground at Pucon

Skill does a bit of bike maintenance cleaning the front sprocket area finding that our local Suzuki Dealership at home didn't install the rubber seal on the clutch actuator at the last service, that's strike 2 as they had also forgotten to do up the radiator hose clamp which was the cause of our leak found at John and Annettes in San Rafael some months ago. They go for strike 3 when Skill cannot get the axle nut off the rear wheel to adjust the chain. After much blood, sweat and tears he manages to lever it off.


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Skill does some bike maintenance


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This should have a rubber seal, its now packed with grease until we get a new one.


Our last day in Pucon we do manage to make it into town, wander the streets and find ourselves a very expensive margarita slush puppie, but it was worth every cent. It looks like summer has finally arrived in Chile, less than a week ago we were freezing in El Bolsen.

We decide we will start to head North but are really a bit over dirt roads so take the paved long cut to Cunco where we luck in on the cutest camp ground yet. We have our own little enclosure, complete with power, covered area, water/sink and fire place, and wifi. Oh I forgot to mention the piscina (pool). We also have company in the form of Mr Ed the inquisitive Donkey, not to mention an array of horses and alpacas. This camp ground is about 5kms from town so Skill does have to ride into town each day to shop which I think he quite enjoys.


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Mr Ed says hello


We spend 3 nights in this little haven as it is our kind of camp ground, very quiet, a few Chilean families entertain us with their antics, but we just take care of ourselves, that is we just turn the gas on at the toilet block if we want to have a hot shower. We help ourselves to wood offcuts (from where they are building a new cabana) when we want a fire. We could have easily stayed longer but thought we should move on to Curacautin.


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We enjoy a camp fire at night


But which road to take, the long way around and up the freeway on a paved surface or the shorter ripio alternative through the stunning Conguillio National Park.

Well of course you know which road we take, the ripio alternative which was quite pleasant and lulled us into a false sense of security. We can return to the paved road just before we enter the National Park but the ripio road seems fine so we continue on.


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Lovely roads at the beginning of Conguillio National Park


For a while all is fine, but as South American roads do, it turns to SH**!!! We are suddenly on a rough 4WD dirt track covered in rolly lava rocks with really steep ascents punctuated by deep gravel and powdery dirt. We get into a few tank slappers but manage to stay upright - just.


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Stopped to recover after a rough ascent


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Volcan Llaima and Monkey Puzzle trees


At the next few ascents I get off and walk up trying to talk Skill through the best track up. Now what goes up must come down, and the 4WD track down is even worse (a dirt bikers dream, but we are not on a dirt bike). Once again I get off and walk the track down using the intercom to talk Skill down the least difficult path. Skill turns the bike off, puts it in gear and uses the clutch to help brake downhill but its so steep in places that the bike is sliding downhill with both wheels locked. This goes on for the next 45 minutes and when we are nearly down the steepest part I walk off again telling Skill it is starting to look a bit better when I hear a voice in my helmet saying “Lan I'm over”. Oh Buggar! I dump my helmet and jacket and bolt back up the hill (I left the camera in my jacket so no photos) where I find a very hot and sweaty Skill uninjured but the bike is on its side facing downhill resting on a pannier, crash bar and handle bars, with the rear wheel uphill and well and truly up in the air.

After taking off one pannier, tank bag and assorted gear, we wrestle with the bike for about 5 minutes trying to get it up but with the back wheel off the ground, every time we lift the bike a little it just slides down the steep hill on its side. We can hardly stand on this hill without sliding ourselves. We do eventually mange to get the bike upright, sheer brute force and adrenalin I think. After a bit of a rest we reload the bike down the hill, let the tyres down some more and finally continue the downhill descent, me on foot and Skill on a slightly scratched but otherwise undamaged bike. Perhaps I should mention it is now 37 degrees. It took us over 2 ½ hours to do that 40 km section most of that for the maybe 2 km descent...... it really did look fine on the map!!!


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We reload the bike


As soon as we finish this bad down hill section the road is fine again, still ripio but otherwise good, so we continue on easily, hot and tired but both fine. We pass the amazing lava fields of Volcan Llaima, which last erupted on New Years Day 2008.


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An old lava flow from Volcan Llaima


and continue on to join the sealed road at Curacautin where we refuel, put air in the tyres and ride 30km towards the Argentinian border where we have been recommended the Suizandina Lodge. We find it easily and my theory of a crap day always ending well is vindicated. There are storm clouds building and thunder booming off the mountains so we opt for a room, quickly shower and find 2 icy cold beers and chill back to enjoy our surroundings.


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Storm clouds build


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The local residents


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Panda the Llama

This lodge has a reputation for great food so that night we lash out and have the restaurant dinner............. and boy oh boy was it worth it.


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Skill enjoys his salmon dinner

Surprisingly, we have a late night chatting to the mainly German tourists who share our lodgings. The following day we enjoy the best breakfast we have had since our arrival in South America before a day of computer blogs and tyre research (we need new tyres). In the afternoon we do a hike through the forest surrounding the Lodge, it is a lovely walk amongst the Monkey Puzzle trees. Once again there are storms all around and it feels like a hot, and oppressively humid Queensland afternoon.


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Walk through the forest


After some research about Heidenau tyres Skill discovers he can get them in Santiago about 700 km north or Osorno about 300 km south, so a decision is made, we will head South again, a much easier option than going North to Santiago, where we have already spent a week and seen the sights, not to mention the crazy capital traffic, parking and expensive accommodation.

We leave late in blistering temperatures and ride South mostly on the freeway, the bike is playing up really badly again and won't idle and keeps dying at every toll-gate we go through, so we stop at a Copec to refuel and Skill pulls the bike to bits in some shade. Once again we are hot and frazzled. A lovely truck family (Dad the driver has his wife and four kids with him) are having a break next to us and seem to be quite concerned about us and come to our aid with iced water and cups, the kindness of strangers.


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Skill trying to diagnose our fuel and idling problem

It is Saturday and the motorcycle shop in Osorno will not be open until Monday, so at this point we decide it is too hot and windy and will likely be the same or worse in Osorno. Also we are sick of the freeway so we head towards the mountains to the Lake town of Panguipulli where we hope it will be cooler. We camp on a steep terraced campsite (we slide to the bottom of the tent every night) but it has impossibly gorgeous views.


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Our camp at Panguipulli, it has been another hot day


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View from the camp, oh it's just another lake and another volcano


We awake to another hot day on Sunday so stay put in our shady campsite. Monday arrives and we pack up in slightly cooler temperatures and ride towards Los Lagos then down the freeway to Osorno. It seems Osorno does not have a lot to offer in the way of sights but we do find the shady but noisy Municipal camp site on the outskirts of town beside the freeway before Skill heads out to find the bike shop which is thankfully quite close by. I decide to stay with our camp as there are people everywhere, the public pool is located within the camp grounds and as the temperatures hits 36 degrees in the afternoon the place is packed. Skill has a successful afternoon securing two new tyres to be fitted in the morning, finding oil for an oil change, 2 empty oil bottles to drain the old oil into, a lavadoria to clean the bike AGAIN, money from the automatic teller and food for dinner. All in all not a bad afternoon work while I sat in the shade at the camp ground!

Back at the camp ground it is a circus, a pine tree has come down in the strong hot winds the previous day, not that far from where we set up camp and what seemed like most of the municipal workers of Osorno arrive in beat up old pick-ups to cut it down and clean up. Work place health and safety in Oz would have had a fit, a fully running chainsaw is tied to a rope and lifted up to a guy who is clinging to a branch up in the tree, he starts to chainsaw the branch but the chainsaw coughs and splutters and dies, the chainsaw is lowered back down to the ground and restarted before once again being hoisted back up to the awaiting guy. Repeat 8 times. By this time there is much consternation and I would suggest swearing in Chilean. Why do chainsaws always seem to have this effect on people?

It takes them all afternoon to get part of the tree down in between 10 minute breaks every 30 minutes!!!!! Well it is hot I suppose. Then the workforce take the chopped up branches away one small branch at a time, this takes another couple of hours until it is nearly dark. This process then continues long and loudly the following morning. Ah the Serenity?

Next day I stay put at the camp ground again while Skill goes out to get the tyres fitted, a lesson in patience as it takes them 3 hours to put on two new tyres, we now know why they charge $40 Aus to fit the tyres (Skill reckons Rob from Tyres for Bikes could have changed at least 6 sets of tyres by himself in that time). Meanwhile Skill removes the non-standard oiled foam air filter and gets them to clean and re-oil it in the workshop (1 hour, no exaggeration, but thankfully only charged $10 Aus). It was absolutely caked with dust and dirt, sand and bugs.

Skill eventually makes it back to the camp ground with new tyres, a clean air filter and he has also managed to buy new spark plugs and oil filter. An afternoon of bike maintenance ensues at the camp ground, an oil change and new spark plugs fitted, before we manage a sumptuous sweet and sour chicken dinner cooked on the gas stove.


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How many times has this bike been apart in the last few weeks?


Since we have come this far south again, we decide to keep going south. We leave Osorno at a reasonable hour and head to Puerto Octay on the shores of Lake Llanquihue, it is only a 50 km ride so we continue on, trying to find a non existent camp ground, it is still early so we decide we will do a loop ride around the second largest lake in Chile and back to Puerto Octay. I am a little nervous about this as there is a reasonable section of ripio according to the map, and we have to ride through a National Park beneath Vulcan Osorno, does this sound familiar???? I shouldn't have worried as the map was wrong and it is now all paved and a beautiful ride with great scenery.


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Loop road around Lake Llanquihue under Vulcan Osorno

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Vulcan Osorno again

So we arrived back at Puerto Octay unscathed. There we found the camp ground easily but were gobsmacked at the price, US$30.00 for a fairly ordinary camp ground in a very small village, but in the end decided to stay as we got chatting to another English traveller. Helen and her husband have been on the road for two years but are currently stranded waiting for a new clutch for their Land Rover. As is the way with travellers we chatted late into the evening.

We didn't leave until after lunch and had decided we would head back to the Cunco camp ground as it was in the right direction, they had wifi and we needed to get the new reciprocity tax thing sorted out before we crossed back into Argentina. However the bike is really playing up again and is running on only one cylinder half the time, once again it is a roadside stop to try and diagnose the problem. Things improve a little but we still conk out at every toll stop. On arrival back at San Pablo campground we nearly decided not to stay as they have a summer camp of about 200 children staying, not the serene quiet place we had left a week ago, but stay we did and it wasn't too bad except for the loud bad music and the line-up for the limited showers.

Just as we had put the tent up a cyclist rode in, it was Olivier who we had met at the camp ground in El Calafate before Christmas, another late night but this time around the campfire, it was great to catch up on his travels. He also told us the reason for the border closure between Bariloche and Osorno, (in our last blog we could not cross here so had to go to Junin de Los Andes border where we had to queue for 3 hours) apparently the Aduana Building on the Chilean side had burnt down on New Year's Eve, this also explained the reason for the insane traffic, fuel queuing and the long wait at the border. Junin de Los Andes was the next closest border crossing to the Bariloche one, one of the main borders between Chile and Argentina. Suddenly it all made sense


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Saying good bye to Olivier

In the end we stayed for three nights as we were joined by a lovely Swiss couple and their two young children, they were delightful company. Skill also pulls the bike to bits to try and find the answer to our engine problems. He removes the airbox looking for a possible air leak, but none was found, then pulls off the fuel line and the external fuel filter to check it. He doesn't find anything conclusive but when the external fuel filter is shaken and back-flushed the fuel was very dirty, suggesting we got dirty fuel somewhere. Skill also suspects there could have also been a small kink in the fuel hose, so modifies things a bit to hopefully prevent this happening. When the bike is back together it runs perfectly but is idling at much higher revs than before, a small adjustment fixes this. Skill now suspects that a fuel restriction was the problem, if due to a kinked fuel line this should now be fixed, if due to a blocked filter we will have to buy a replacement. The non-standard fuel filter arrangement on our bike uses a car-type fuel injection filter fitted external to the fuel tank, so any fuel filter of similar size and specification will work and thus should be easy to find a replacement (this being the main reason for this modification). Good news is the bike seems to running fine again for the moment, even with the old fuel filter.

Meanwhile back at our camp with the never-ending doov doov music, 200 children and the declining cleanliness of the toilet block at the camp ground, we decide to move onward and upward. It was also at this time we got the news of the deepening flood crisis in Queensland, our home state. After making contact with our family and friends to make sure everyone was safe we felt more comfortable to move on.

We did manage to sort out the reciprocity tax thing and to pay it online but not before an hour of trying to deal with a website that was more off line than on and cost us $100 US each. Very frustrating!!!! However we still have no access to a printer to print the receipt.

We head North towards Suizandana again as it is close to the Argentinian border where we will cross back to Las Lajos and then on to John and Annette's finca (farm) at San Rafael. However forewarned is forearmed and this time we don't take the shorter ripio road through Conguillo National Park from Cunco to Curacautin. (I wonder why) We take a lovely paved ride out to the freeway which we use for about 100 km before retracing the road back to Curacautin, which is also a nice ride. This time we arrive at Suizandana unscathed and check in to camp for three nights.

It is a beautiful place to camp, so quiet and serene compared to the school camp. Once again we make use of the restaurant for a couple of nights, and this time we really do chill back, I read three books from their library, Skill catches up on emails and keeps an eye on the developing flood crisis, we do absolutely nothing, not even the washing. On our second night of camping a huge storm develops in the surrounding mountains and it looks like we will get wet but it skirts around us and we enjoy a beer while watching the black clouds build over the volcanoes. This is definitely volcano country, we are camped within sight of three of them, the biggest being Volcan Llaima, the one we rode past on the first journey here.


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Storms and beers

After three nights we leave our cool haven and get the lovely staff at Suizandina to print out our reciprocity tax receipts before we leave, but really don't expect we will be asked for them. We take the ripio road up over the pass as we are not too keen to use the 4 ½ km tunnel, the longest in South America. Apparently it was built as a railway tunnel then they decided to bitumen it and use it for cars/trucks/buses. It is one way with no ventilation, no exits and no safety!!!! The ride over the ripio pass was steep but generally in good condition and the views were fantastic, so glad we took the slower but more scenic road rather than the tunnel.


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Ride over the pass


We rejoin the sealed road on the other side of pass and reach the Chilean border crossing which is nice and quick before riding on for a further 22km over the pass to reach the Argentinian border crossing, and again a great ride with perfect bitumen sweeping corners and spectacular views. All proceeds smoothly at Argentina border, until they start asking many questions (in Spanish) and are gesticulating wildly. Finally we realise they are telling us we need to pay the reciprocity tax. We are very surprised that they asked for it, but they are even more taken aback when we produce our printed receipts. “Bueno Bueno” is the reply. So fellow Australian, US and Canadian travellers, seems like we will be asked for our reciprocity tax receipts at Argentinian land borders.

It is a beautiful ride to Las Lajos where we camp at the Municipal camp ground, again, as we stayed here on our way south last October. We spend a lovely evening with a Chilean motorcyclist, a professor teaching history/philosophy (we think) in Concepcion, before watching a huge storm pass to the North of us. Thunder and Lightning everywhere.


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The Professor and his 125

Next day we decide to stay put and in the evening are joined by a great German couple travelling in a wicked camper, yet another late night of chatting.

We get away the following day and ride up the paved road to Neuquen, it is a fairly nice ride but as is the way with bigger cities we get lost and end up going over the toll bridge which is free for motorcyclists but we get an earful from the 10 year old attendant (well she looked about ten) as we should be in the outside lane which is specifically for motorcyclists, apparently we should magically know this, as usual there is no sign telling us “Moto” or a picture of a motorcycle. Fortunately we can squeeze around the toll gate and we are free to find our way to the non signed road to 25 de Mayo, also the main highway North. It is at this point that the bike decides to play up again. After another 250 kms the wind picks up and the clouds start to close in so we opt for an expensive motel room in Catriel. A quick visit to the supermercado and it is beer and pekada (tapas) in our room.

Next day is a reasonably long ride through the Pampa to San Rafael, before we leave Catriel Skill buys a fuel filter, this project takes him an hour and a half, I wait with the bike and wait and wait, I fear he has been kidnapped by the fuel filter bandits. We leave quite late and ride the 200 kms to Santa Isabella, the bike is playing up again so Skill puts in the new fuel filter in and hopes for the best. It is another 260kms to San Rafael and we arrive at John and Annette's finca around 6.00pm.

It is lovely to be back among friends, we end our day chatting with John, as Annette is babysitting a friend's house. We will see what tomorrow brings.

Posted by John Skillington at 03:01 PM GMT
March 13, 2013 GMT
Finca Fun – San Rafael

Our first day on the farm is a reasonably quiet one, it is Sunday and we help John with a few odd jobs before Annette arrives home later in the afternoon, a late night of catch ups, drinks and tall stories is the order of the day.

The following day we head down the farm for a morning of tumble-weed weeding, the weather is oppressively hot and sticky, so by lunch time it is time for a siesta and a swim. In the late afternoon we return to the farm for a bit more work. This is the pattern of events for the next week. Skill helps out on the farm, driving the tractor, whipper snipping (strimming if you are British) and becomes the self-appointed pool man. I do what I can on the farm and help Annette in the house and with meals. It is a reasonably busy time as the plum harvest is approaching. However there is always time for an evening asado and evening drinks and we three (Skill, Annette and I) even learn to make bread in the wood-burning adobe oven outside.


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Time for an asado – Skill and Annette


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John and Annette – evening drinks


For the first week there are huge storms in the area nearly every night. Hail storms in summer are a big problem for the San Rafael Mendoza area, John and Annette tell us that most farmers expect to be completely wiped out by hail once every four years. This area is such a food/wine bowl that the Argentinian government and the biggest Bodegas (wineries) can't afford to loose crops, so fund hail planes. They send up planes that release silver iodide into the storm, which forms particles that the moisture attaches to, so rain falls quickly and doesn't form hail. Skill says this science is not proven but John (as in John Green not Skill) said he believed it worked as he had seen too many hail storms turn to rain for it to be coincidence. The farmers also have what are essentially rocket launchers on their farms that they fire off during the storms based on the same principals. While we were there, the planes went up nearly every second night. Being a farmer's daughter I would be a bundle of nerves on these stormy evenings, I know what it is like to lose your livelihood in one storm. John and Annette were quite philosophical about it, “What can we do about it, have another drink Lan.” Fortunately only one storm hit the farm while we were there and no hail.


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Storms build up nearly every night - view over the plum drying racks


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Don't worry, have another drink Lan

Although the finca (farm) is a small one by Australian standards it is very labour intensive and John and Annette (and fellow motorcycle travellers) have worked tirelessly to turn it from a run down farm to a productive going concern, especially when a couple of the newly planted orchards of plum trees are fully producing in a couple of years. The 15 hectare farm produces mainly plums, with a smaller amount of grapes and walnuts, but there is a myriad of other fruit trees on the farm. One of the biggest jobs that happens every week is the watering of the farm. This part of Argentina is essentially a desert with less than 10 inches of rain a year, that is why agriculture relies so heavily on the labyrinth of irrigation channels, with water from the Andes.

Every six days the farm has an allocated 24 hours of watering, where water is diverted from outside canals onto the farm by a series of gates and channels. It requires constant monitoring, even during the night as the smallest channels beside the orchard trees and vines become clogged with weeds and soil restricting flows in some areas and increasing it in others when it needs to be as even as possible. This requires the manual use of a large hoe to open up or restrict each channel for the entire 24 hour allocated water day. The other problems associated with this watering system, is it is very open to theft which happens on a regular basis. That is people up-stream pilfering water when it is not their turn by opening the water gates onto their fincas.


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Part of the channel watering system


In the following week, the four of us pile into the old ute (pick up) and head into town for a days shopping, off to the farmers market (for bulk fruit & veg), the wholesale supermarket, normal supermarket, the carniceria (butcher), the fish market, two gasoline stations (because John needed diesel for the tractor and there is a 20 L limit per purchase for drums) and finally the wine shop. All of this has to be done between 8.30 am and 12.30 pm before everything closes for siesta, it makes for a manic day in town because nothing happens fast in Argentina.

On another day Annette and I have a girl's day in down town San Rafael, we catch the local bus into town and have a day out, I buy some replacement shoes and Annette hunts down a trophy for the golf day she has organised.

The following day we join the golfers (after their golf game) at the San Rafael golf club for lunch, it is quite a posh place and we enjoy the afternoon sitting and chatting with John and Annette's friends, mostly expats and some Argentinian.

It is in this second week that we are joined by Mattheiu, a young French Canadian motorcylist who is nearing the end of his journey. He stays for the week and helps out while trying to organise the sale of his bike. John and Annette's friend Tom (who runs a rice farm in Peru) also pays a visit during this week.


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Mattheiu and his bike.


The boys seem to get an enormous amount of work done in the week, as does Annette.


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The boys (Skill, John and Tom) putting out the plum drying trays


I guess no farm would be complete without animals and John and Annette have a myriad of them, 5 eccentric dogs, three of them rescued from the streets – Rita, Posh, Mo, Blackie and Rosie. Three ducks including One Wing who was egg sitting, 2 geese George and Mildred who frequented the pool area everyday much to Skill's chagrin as he was now the self appointed pool man.


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George and Mildred, the pool geese


Then late one afternoon, John and Annette's Argentinian neighbours Jose and Gladys turn up on their moped carrying a suspicious looking package. Inside was a tiny white kitten, a much needed new rat-catcher for the household. She was a dear little soul and seemed to attach herself to Skill immediately. John and Annette both admitted to not really being cat lovers, but a rat catcher was definitely needed with all the dried plums and walnuts that get stored near the house.


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The new kitten “Kitty” asleep in the grapevine


In the next week, work continues on the farm as the plum harvest gets closer, the drying racks are finished off, and there is more whipper snippering, weeding and slashing done. We also manage to get jams and soups made from the huge amount of fruit and vegetables that the farm produces, Annette has a stockpile of pickles, jams and conserves she keeps to see them through the year.

On Friday John and Skill head into town to do more shopping, we girls stay put at the farm. The boys return frazzled but with a fair amount of success. Poor John has had to deposit a cheque at the bank, they arrive at 8.00am and take a number, John queues and is finally served at around midday, this is just to deposit a cheque, nothing complicated! This is just a way of life in Argentina, you queue for everything, post office, bank, supermarket, and I can't imagine what it must be like at the social security offices?????????

On Saturday evening we head off to a friend's birthday party and enjoy a lovely night with John and Annette's friends. It is a late finish and we continue to chat over a few drinks when we get home, bed at around 3.00 am. Next morning we wake at around 10.00 am and find that John and Annette are already down the farm picking plums, we didn't even hear the old tractor start in the barn next to our bedroom – ooops.

During our last week, we all take a day off work and go for a ride up the beautiful Valle Grande. It is a great days ride and we enjoy a picnic lunch by the river before returning home in the late afternoon. The pictures tell the story.


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Annette - intrepid biker gal

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Dam - Valle Grande

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John and Lan chilling. Graffiti or street art?

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The mob squad - assassins for hire???

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The girls - Lan and Annette

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Panorama Valle Grande

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Beautiful rock formations and colours

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Stopped for a chat

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A bus approaches

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Our lunch stop


It is also during our last week that the evening storms return. It is a busy week as the plums are starting to fall off the trees so the four of us begin to pick these 'first fall' plums in amongst other assorted jobs that still need to be done. Between us we pick 2 tonnes of plums (Annette is the “gun” picker, I have no hope of keeping up with her) and get them onto the dying racks where they are covered with plastic, in a week or so they will be prunes. It is a fairly time consuming business, all the trees need to be individually shaken and the plums then picked up “off the floor” by hand. Apparently the professional pickers lay down netting, shake the trees and collect the plums by bringing the netting together and tipping the plums into the boxes. As it was only the beginning of the harvest only a small percent of the plums are ripe and falling, so it was not worth our while to use the netting yet. A team of professional pickers still need to be found as the harvest proper will begin in the following week. John estimates there will be 30 to 40 tonnes of plums to be picked.


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Loading the plums onto the drying racks

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The plums are covered with plastic to help with the drying process

On our second last night at the farm we are invited to Juanan's Bodega/Finca up the road for a birthday dinner. Jose and Gladys are Juanan's managers. We arrive at 9.30 pm, there are huge storms all around and it makes for a spectacular light show. We have dinner in their newly built winery barn, we tuck into Gladys' home made empanadas (the best we have had), a young pig cooked in the adobe oven and salads and bread. We also get to sample Juanan's wines (made by Jose) and pink champagne. It is only their second year of production, but the wines are really quite nice. It is a “pinch me, I can't believe I'm here” evening. We arrive home at 2.00am and poor John has to continue with the watering through the night as it is their water day. Skill and I have another huge sleep in while poor old John and Annette are sweltering in the heat picking plums, I guess we just don't have their stamina.

We finally do make a decision to leave on the following Saturday morning, the 2nd March, also the 7th anniversary of John and Annette owning the farm. We think we will head for Tupungato, but really aren't too sure. We will see where the road takes us.

We cannot thank John and Annette enough for their hospitality. They are a great hard working couple who have shared their lives and farm with countless motorcyclists from all over the world. They believe it is their way of indirectly paying back the people who helped them on their three year “around the world” motorcycling odyssey.

We came for a week and stayed for a month, we came as strangers and left as friends, do I need to say more.

Note: If any motorcycle travellers wish to experience life on a farm in Argentina and are interested in visiting and working on John & Annette's finca near San Rafael, refer to Annette's post on Horizons Unlimited HUBB forum for all the details. (http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/travellers-seeking-travellers/argentina-accommodation-board-offered-exchange-68716)

Posted by John Skillington at 07:07 PM GMT
March 21, 2013 GMT
San Rafael to Cafayate

It is Saturday 2nd March and we finally decide that we need to get on the road again but feel rather guilty leaving poor John and Annette with 40 tonnes of plums to harvest, our timing was probably not the best, but hope we provided some help with all the pre-harvest preparation jobs.

We make the short ride into San Rafael where we attempt to get some money out but with no success at all, after lining up to try 4 ATMs we realise it is not the usual Argentine ATM 'no cash' problem. Our card of choice is not working! After a cafe lunch and a bit of internet time we discover our bank is off-line, hmmmm well at least the problem is diagnosed, time for a different card but we hate using this one as they charge us a whopping $10.00 per transaction and you can only take out a maximum of $200.00 AUD in Argentina, oh well needs must.

Onward and upward we retrace our ride up Ruta 140/40 to Tupungato, a fine champagne grape growing area right below the Andes, the scenery is breathtaking, Mount Aconcagua looms like a huge monster in the background – it is like being in a painted movie set. We are really happy to see these beautiful mountains again and I say to Skill, “they make your heart sing”

We stay at a hotel right in the middle of town, only because they have secure parking and wifi, we have a bit of catching up to do. Other than that there would be no reason to stay in this 1970s once grand hotel, it is very tired looking and there are more staff working there than guests staying. However the staff are lovely and on the second morning at breakfast a Manuel (Fawlty Towers) look-a-like introduces himself “elo, my name is Pablo, I speak eeenglish, if you wish food I will be pleeesed to serve you”

From Tupungato it is time to ride and we put in a fairly long day (well for us anyway) to Villa Mercedes, the ride is fairly boring as it is along mostly freeway with many trucks. Around Mendoza it is harvest time and we are constantly dodging really old heavily laden relics carrying grapes and plums to the processing plants and Bodegas.

We make it to Villa Mercedes around 5.30 and after checking out a couple of dodgy hotels we opt for the oldest, most run down Hotel Espana, the rooms are very basic but clean, there is hot water, the owners are very accommodating and the bike is secured in a garage out the back. The hotel layout is exactly like those we stayed at in Spain some years ago, rooms set around a marbled courtyard. This building would have been gorgeous in its hey day but would now take a huge injection of money to bring it back to its former glory.

We have dinner at a place around the corner and half way through dinner a young dishevelled looking boy aged about 11 or 12 appears at the window, he is begging; not for money, but for food. The table beside us give him a sandwich and I make him a chicken and tomato roll. Begging for money is one thing that we are fairly immune to these days, but begging for food is quite another, it is a very sobering moment. He was a polite young man thanking us for the food, eating it outside on the footpath and leaving as soon as he finished his sandwiches. You sometimes forget that although Argentina is a place of haves, but there are many, many more have nots. There is a facade of wealth but there is a huge underbelly of poverty. We return to our room around the corner feeling a tad overwhelmed.

Next day after Skill does a quick hunt and gather for breakfast, we refuel and hit the road. It is a lovely ride along gum tree lined roads, in some places we did a double-take it looked and smelled so much like Australia. The road is not in great condition but the traffic is fairly sparse so we can overtake the trucks easily. So far our experience with Argentinian truck drivers has been a positive one, they often indicate to let us know when to overtake and they always give us a “Hello” (they flash their lights or toot their horns). This is in complete contrast to their car driving brothers who are completely hopeless, they either want to tailgate, overtake in dangerous places or drive up the middle of the road. Watching them corner is hilarious, 7 times out of 10, they will come into a corner doing 120km/h or more, brake right at the apex and then drift uncontrollably onto the wrong side of the road.

We turn off the main highway North and head towards Villa General Belgrano, a very kitch, but pretty German village, we check out the hostel there before having lunch and deciding we will continue on to Alta Gracia. It is a great twisty ride through the mountains and valleys. After our usual long hunt for a hotel we luck in on the Hostal Hispania. Although not cheap this is by far the best hotel we have stayed at in Argentina. The place is just gorgeous, two nights is in order I think. The day has been a scorcher so we have a shower and secure ourselves a position on the veranda overlooking the grounds and the pool. It is time for a cerveza.


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Skill enjoying a beer


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The Hostal Hispania and grounds (very different to the Hotel Espania)


That evening we are about to head out for dinner only to discover that the restaurant attached to the Hostal has a huge smorgasboard buffet set up consisting of mainly seafood which is a rare find in Argentina. We decide that we will give it a shot, what have we got to lose. We grab our tray and plate, take what we want, they weigh it and we pay accordingly, Now comes the catch, all the food is cold and we have to microwave it, food poisoning is looking more promising!!!! The place is packed with well healed Argentinians so we figure we might be OK. All in all it was a great reasonably cheap meal and we did survive, but I couldn't help but make the contrast to the stark realities of a hungry child the night before.

Next day we are pleasantly surprised yet again, a huge buffet breakfast is on offer, we sit on the verandah enjoying our coffee, pastries and fruit, before pilfering some extras for lunch and heading off to the Che Guevara museum. Alta Gracia was the childhood town of Ernesto Guevara. The family moved to Alta Gracia from Rosario when Ernesto was a young child to try and ease his asthma. They lived in a few houses in Alta Gracia from 1932 to 1943, but Villa Nydia was their main residence. We spend a good few hours looking through the museum, which did have English translations. We know our LP guidebook is out of date for prices in Argentina, we usually double or triple that listed, however the LP lists entry at 5 pesos ($1 AUD) and we were charged 75 pesos each! We could only think that Che would be turning in his grave since he fought for justice for the poor. Poor Argentinians wouldn't be able to afford this fee!


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Skill at the Che Guevara Museum


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The Ponderosa II (Norton 500) look a like at the Che Guevera Museum


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Lan and Che


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Not the usual photo of Che


Once again the day is very hot and we seek the sanctuary of our air conditioned room for a few hours after lunch before heading out to the Jesuit Museum in the middle of town. In 1643 the Jesuits built a huge working estancia run by slaves to finance their university in the nearby city of Cordoba. The Jesuits were expelled in 1767 and the estancia fell into disrepair until it was briefly inhabited in 1810. Today the main buildings have been restored and turned into a museum. All in all a really interesting day.


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The Jesuit Estancia


Sadly we leave the peace and quiet of the Hostal Hispania and ride a 100 km to the town of Capilla del Monte famed for it's mystic mountain that draws lots of new-age believers and UFO fanatics. I can't say it inspired us to great things. After all the luxury of the past two days we camp in the Municipal campground with a couple of hundred dogs and assorted cats, the usual bad, loud doov doov music and the constant smell of asado fires. Skill hunts and gathers and we have an early dinner before a very hot and humid nights sleep.


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Setting up camp at the dodgy Municipal Campground - Capilla del Monte


Next day is overcast but still quite hot and very humid, we pack up and get away late, part of the problem being the cerveza bottle “RETURNO SAGA”.

In order to buy the local beer (Quilmes and Andes) in a reusable bottle in Argentina you must have a bottle to return before you can buy a bottle of beer, now this is a bit of a problem for us on the motorcycle, where do you carry a glass beer bottle??? So whenever we stop for the afternoon in a town, we have what we now call “the returno saga”. Sometimes they will just refuse to sell you a beer without a returno bottle. Other times they make you swear on your grandmother's grave that you will bring the bottle back. Sometimes they will charge you an extra price for the bottle which they will sometimes refund to you when you bring the bottle back with the docket and sometimes they will charge you a smaller extra amount that they won't refund when you bring the bottle back. You never know what combo you will get. Of course the much more expensive beers like Heinekin and Stella don't have the returno saga attached to them. Sometimes it is just easier but more expensive to go to a cafe and have a beer there.

Anyway on this particular morning we have to return the said bottle to the supermercado, where I queue for 10 minutes only to be told that I should go to the 'recepcion', where upon it takes them another 10 minutes to process my request. After signing three (I am not exaggerating) bits of paper I leave the supermarket 8 pesos richer (about $1.40 AUD). Why did I bother you ask, I am still asking myself the same question.

So after a trying start to the day we finally get on the road. It is an awful, uninspiring ride with temperatures in the high 30s. It is 450 km of flat, straight, dry road, with only the occasional dusty, rubbish strewn village to break the monotony. At one point we ride across the Grand Salt flats and I think 'I should take a photo', but I am so hot, tired and soaked through with perspiration that I cannot be bothered. And of course the bike which has been running perfectly for the past month is now playing up badly again in the heat.

By about 5.00pm we reach the town of Frias, the bike won't run properly, it is over 40 degrees teamed with oppressive humidity and there are storm clouds everywhere. We opt for the most expensive hotel in town with tantalising promises of air conditioning, a pool and restaurant. Well 1 out of 3 wasn't bad I suppose, the mystery pool never appeared and after two room changes, up and down countless steps we finally had a prison room (no windows) with air conditioning. Fortunately it was so bloody hot as there is only barely tepid hot water and the huge shower head breaks off and hits Skill in the face when he tries to adjust it! The surly staff were so full of their own self importance they couldn't be bothered to get out of their own way. And all this for a price more expensive than the gorgeous Hotel Hispania in Alta Gracia, go figure. We stayed in our room, cranked up the air con, found a cold beer and waited for the huge storm to hit – but it never arrived unfortunately. We eventually found the restaurant downstairs opened at 9.30 pm so had a pizza and retired for the night.

Up and at em early, we wanted to get out of this place and we were on the road by 9.00am, sadly we cannot recommend Hotel Simon in Frias, overpriced, unhelpful with illusions of grandeur. However we were pleased that we stopped in the town for the night as the next 200km was pretty short on accommodation. Once again it was a stifling hot day but we were headed for the mountains, and the small town of Tafi del Valle. The ride once off the highway was stunning, twists and turns through the mountains and instantly cooler. Unfortunately though, it was Saturday and the traffic was pretty bad, at one point we were behind 20 cars/trucks so decided we would stop for lunch even though we were only 30 kms from our destination. The picnic area was like a long forgotten Incan ruin, all over grown with vine and weed. We found the only usable table and enjoyed our lunch, before being joined by a large family in an old F250 which was profusely spewing water from the radiator. They proceeded to take a large child's pool from the back and set it up next to the river, we are not sure what happened next as we took our leave.


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Skill having lunch in the overgrown picnic area on the way to Tafi del Valle


We arrived in Tafi del Valle with Skip and Rach's (Skipskys) recommendation of the Nomades Hostel fresh in our minds, unfortunately it was full so we spent another hour looking for a room before settling on Hospedaje La Querencia in the centre of town, fairly cheap, clean and cheerful. The owners were most insistent that we put the bike in their garage as rain was on the way. What a difference to the night before!!!

We enjoy the afternoon in Tafi del Valle and sample a new beer on our beer tour of South America, before heading out to a restaurant around the corner for dinner.


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Lan samples Norte cerveza, it tastes just like Quilmes

Thank God for ear plugs is all I can say, as we have really loud distorted doov doov music just down the street, (from 12.30 am till 9.30 am) there is no let up and we figure it must be a party in the house across the road. When we head out later we discover that it is 2 young girls sitting in the middle of the street surrounded by beer bottles with the boot of their car open. The music is blaring from a boot fall of speakers. What the??? What I don't understand is that nobody says anything to them and the police are oblivious to it all, although they are out and about wandering the streets. When we come back later the car is gone, so presumably they drove home or somewhere, completely drunk.

We spend the day wandering the streets and enjoying the local sites. Just before lunch the temperature plunges and the rain and storms set in, it is nice to be in our little room. Skill orders empanadas from downstairs and we have a late “empanada and red wine” lunch. That evening we head out to another restaurant and order the local speciality “lechon” for dinner. Suckling pig.........Yummo.

Next day we pack up at a reasonable hour and get on the road for one of the most spectacular rides to date.


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Leaving our hospedaje in Tafi del Valle


We refuel at the local YPF (that's EPF) and while I am waiting for Skill I snap this photo, they learn to ride young in Tafi Del Valle.


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Young rider


Once on the road it is a absolutely perfect days ride, we leave the town,


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Riding out of town


before hitting the twists and turns of the spectacular RN 38, the road takes us up over 3000 metres before dropping back down into the desert like, boulder and cactus strewn valleys onto Cafayete.


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The spectacular ride to Cafayete


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The spectacular ride to Cafayete


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We call in at the ruins of Quilmes, named after the local indigenous peoples, not the beer. The site is one of Argentina's most extensive ruins dating from 1000AD. It was a settlement covering nearly 30 hectares, and housing 5000 people. Other than that there was not a lot of information at the ruins, not even in Spanish, but we enjoyed the scenery none the less.


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The ruins of Quilmes


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The ruins of Quilmes


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Cruella de Ville of Quilmes


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Quimes Ruins panorama


After a picnic lunch we continue on to Cafayate, passing a very recently overturned vehicle, people were still inside the vehicle, but the police were just arriving so we keep going. Once again we do the long hunt for accommodation (the nice campground was shut and the municipal one looks gross), we eventually run into some German bikers who we had met in Cunco (Chile) and end up at the Hostal Balcon together. The hostel is basic but ok. There was no secured parking but we were off the street, so all was good. The view from the rooftop is pretty nice, we also have our own balcony overlooking the street. We also manage our first Skype call with our gorgeous friend Kath, an hour and half later we join Kirsten and Bruno (the German bikers) upstairs for a beer.

That evening the place is packed and the manager cooks us all paella for dinner ( a donation payment system), we put all the tables on the footpath and enjoy a balmy evening with about 12 other travellers, it is like the “League of Nations”. A late night with many red wines, lucky the supermarket was across the road for supplies.

The following day the German guys leave, they are heading for Cachi. We decide to stay another day to catch up on internet stuff and washing and spend a really nice lazy day, before heading out for dinner at a local cafe on the square.


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Our German friends leave for Cachi (we will follow in a day or two)


We spend another day at the dodgy hostel just chilling back before we have a cook up (on the one burner that actually works) of curried sausages for dinner, a reasonable success story. We try for an early night but the town is going OFF. Car horns honking, firecrackers going off, processions and music, Skill wanders down to the square, there are people everywhere in front off the church, a night of celebrations, the new Pope, Papa Francisco is Argentinian. Looks like it will be earplugs tonight.

Posted by John Skillington at 06:43 PM GMT
April 01, 2013 GMT
Cafayate to La Quiaca

Leaving Cafayate we head out with plans to ride Ruta 40 to Cachi, we stop to refuel at the YPF but with no luck, an English speaking Argentinian on a BMW redirects us to another fuel station up the road and follows us there.

After refuelling he advises us not to ride Ruta 40, 'very dangerous' he says and gives us a map with alternative routes which we reluctantly decide to take, but it is such a stunning ride along the RN68 we wonder if Ruta 40 could be any better?


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Lan on the stunning RN68


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View from Tres Cruces on RN 68


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El Obolisco on RN 68

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The Devil's throat on RN 68


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Riding the RN 68

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Riding the RN 68


Just before reaching Salta we turn off and head over the pass of Parque Nacional Los Cardones. The vegetation here is green and lush in the beautiful valley and then we start climbing. The weather starts to deteriorate, it begins to rain lightly and then the fog closes in as we climb and climb, then onto narrow ripio road with no barriers and we keep climbing the switchbacks up to 3,300 metres and its now very cold. The visibility is down to only a few metres, we can barely see the edge of the road and cannot see anything of what must be a great view. We finally start to descend and slowly conditions improve and then suddenly we pop out into bright sunshine in middle of a desert complete with cactus! This is a good thing as I am damn near frozen, once again the scenery is breathtaking now we can see it again.

We arrive at Cachi exhilarated and thankfully, defrosted. We decide to camp and have views up to the snow covered Nevado del Cachi (6380m), we pitch the tent and as the sun goes down it gets cold and the wind picks up, so we retreat to our tent.

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Scenery on the road into Cachi


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Lan defrosting


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Lan inside the tent – red wine time


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Skill inside the tent

We manage to reheat our left over curried sausages and eat in the tent, before rugging up and venturing out to spend the evening with our neighbours, Natalie and Alex an Australian/American couple who are overlanding in a 4WD, shared stories and wine make for a late evening.

Next day we are up and at em, we have breakfast, pack up, hop on the bike and say “Where are we going?” After a brief discussion we decide, despite the 'very dangerous' warning that we will tackle the 160 kms of Ruta 40 ripio back to Cafayate, surely it can't be that bad. The first third of the ride is quite easy and we enjoy the scenery, it is quite stunning and there are cute little adobe villages and farmhouses every few kilometres.

As the scenery gets better and better the road does start to deteriorate. It is mostly a hard packed gravel surface but there are numerous undetectable patches of sandy bull dust which are not that great for our poor old bike, it is just so big and heavy and a real handful in the sand. I guess I should have more trust in Skill's riding ability as we arrive back on the sealed road outside Cafayate in one piece, shaken but not stirred. I really struggle to enjoy these riding conditions, and this sometimes detracts from the landscape around me, but the scenery on this road is amazing, whatever the road conditions, it is something really special.


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On the road from Cachi to Cafayate - Ruta 40


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On the road from Cachi to Cafayate - Ruta 40

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On the road from Cachi to Cafayate - Ruta 40

Back in Cafayate we decide to find a better hostel than last time and luck in on the Rusty K Hostel which is the same price and absolutely gorgeous. We take off the panniers and Skill squeezes the bike down a narrow alleyway to park in the garden.


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We squeeze the bike down this alleyway

This hostel is lovely and we wish that we had discovered it last stay. We enjoy the afternoon in the garden.


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Skill enjoying the garden at the Rusty K Hostal

That evening the owners cook up a big asado and the guests and staff eat together, it is a great evening. A huge dinner including wine costs us 50 pesos, $10.00 AUD each, a complete bargain.

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Cooking our dinner


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A shared asado

Next day we sadly leave this little hostal (put it on your list of places to stay if you are a biker) and retrace the stunning RN 68 back to Salta. We have a lead on accommodation in Salta and find it easily via Carmen (the Garmin), but are a bit worried as the promised parking looks as if it will be non existent. I should have more faith, as I check in they tell me parking is “No Problemo” and proceed to open up some big doors onto the street. Skill rides the bike in past the reception desk and parks in the courtyard. “No Problemo”. We have often questioned our choice of panniers but over the years and our travels we have learnt having detachable panniers makes life much easier for manoeuvring the bike into tricky parking postions, ie hotel and restaurant foyers, over gutters, up ramps and stairs, down alleyways etc etc etc.


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Skill parking the bike at Hostal Salta Por Siempre

We spend a couple of days in Salta as the weather takes a turn for the worst, it rains not long after we arrive and continues to do so the following day. We decide that we should get out and about and pay a visit to the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology, a museum which tells the story of the discovery of three mummified child sacrifices found at an altitude of 6700m on Llullailaco Volcano. The museum is a little devisive in Salta, many locals argue that the perfectly preserved remains should be laid to rest. The exhibition was amazing but as I gazed into the little girl's face I felt quite melancholy and thought that perhaps we should not have visited this museum and maybe she should be returned to her home high in the mountains.

We visit Salta's other highlights in the rain


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Iglesia San Francisco - Salta


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Streets on Plaza 9 de Julio - Salta


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Iglesia Catedral - Salta

As we get ready to leave Salta the next morning we run into a recently arrived Englishman, Paul, riding a Tenere which is parked next to the V Strom in the foyer. We have a long chat about travelling, road conditions and bike problems before getting away mid morning.


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Skill with Paul, another bike traveller

We have a fairly easy but none the less gorgeous ride over the mountains through lush vegetation on a narrow one lane road that brought us out at the city of San Salvador de Jujuy. Then we start to climb to the tiny town of Purmamarca still with the idea of heading to Bolivia. Purmamarca is a lovely little village, more Bolivian than Argentinian with crafts being sold everywhere. We eventually find a reasonably priced hostel room. After a cook up in our room (of our left overs from Salta) and a bottle of the excellent Estancia Mendoza wine we decide we will head over the Paseo de Jama to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. We do a bit of research via the internet about fuel availability and get an early night, Chile here we come AGAIN!!!!!


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The best decisions are made over food and wine (gourmet spread cooked in our room)

Next day we do get away early as we know it will be a long day. On leaving Purmamarca we just climb, switchback after switchback on ashphalt, it is absolutely sensational.

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We start to climb

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and climb and climb and climb

We then hit the plateau and stop for a break at Salinas Grande,


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Riding accross the Salinas Grande


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Lan at the Salinas Grande

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Salt figures for sale - Salinas Grande


before climbing some more to reach the the small adobe village of Susques. We refuel on the outskirts of Susques and admire the native wildlife before we do some more climbing and stop for lunch near Salinas Olaraz in the lea of an old abandoned adobe house as the wind has started to pick up.

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Refuelling at Susques

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The well accessorised natives

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Lunch stop in the lea of old adobe ruins

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Lunch stop

From this point on we ride in cold driving wind that gets worse and worse, nearly up to Patagonian standard, we are down to 60 km an hour to keep the bike on the right side of the road. We refuel at Paseo de Jama and once again say goodbye to Argentina before entering Chile, however we have to travel 160 kms to San Pedro de Atacama before we reach the Aduana and can be officially stamped into Chile.

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Hello Chile........again!!!

We climb yet again, the lunar landscape of the altiplano is stunning, we can see flamingoes from a distance in the salt lakes, there are huge wind blown monoliths dotting the landscape, and snow capped mountains at each turn, then finally we are at the highest point, 4800 metres the highest we three have ever been. The bike is behaving impeccably, I am not, I am frozen, frightened (not really but the wind is bloody awful) and fighting for a breath in the thin air. This road is above 4000 metres for about 200 km and above 4500 metres for nearly 100 km. GET ME DOWN!!!!!


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4800 metres – The highest we have ever been

So finally down we go, a few twists and turns and then to quote Ken and Carol Duval a huge straight slippery slide down to the plains of San Pedro de Atacama at 2440 metres. We are instantly warmer but still windblown, clearing Chilean customs is a breeze compared to finding accommodation, everything is outrageously expensive or booked out, thankfully Skip and Rach and other travellers had warned us. We end up at Hostal/Camping Takha Takha which is about the most moderate decent place with parking we could find. We opt for a dorm type private room with shared toilet/bathroom facilities for about $60 AUD.

We decided not to camp as they want an outrageous $36.00 AUD per night! The room is bit of a compromise, as we can still use our camping gear to cook in the camp ground when we want, however on that first evening we head down town (200metres down the street) and enjoy soup and pizza dinner in a courtyard restaurant, the stars are visible and there is a huge brazier burning, a lovely way to finish what has been an exhilarating day.


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Camping and basic room accommodation at Takha Takha


San Pedro de Atacama is a hotch potch of dusty streets lined with adobe style buildings, it is certainly the wild west but it has appeal. We enjoy our first day here, after a fabulous breakfast with Marlon (a lovely Brazilian man riding a BMW GS800) we wander the ramshackle dusty streets. We even manage to find oil and a place where Skill and Marlon can do oil changes on the bikes. That evening we enjoy a fabulous dinner in another courtyard style restaurant.

We have another day wandering the streets before finally deciding on which tour to book. Sure we could ride the bike out to all the sites but I would actually like Skill to be able to relax and enjoy the views and walks rather than having to wrestle the bike over the heavily potholed and highly trafficked roads. Our decision is made we use Cosmo Andino Tours and book the high altiplano lakes tour.


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Wandering the streets of San Pedro


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These ladies are cooking flat breads


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The decaying Iglesia San Pedro


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The ceiling of Iglesia San Pedro is made from hand hewn Cardon Cactus


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The Paseo Artesanal

Later in the day we jump on the bike and head out to Valle de Luna for sunset, where we also meet Marlon.


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Valle de Luna

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The two bikes at Valle de Luna

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Lan in front of the Tres Marias


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Sunset over Valle de Luna

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Sunset over Valle de Luna

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Moon over Valley of the Moon

Next day we are up at 6.30 am and board our mini bus at 7.30 am, first light is about 7.00 am here. Our first stop is to see the flamingos on Laguna de Chaxa, I am pretty excited although we have seen quite a few flamingoes on our travels, it has always been from a distance, these guys are up close and personal.


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Flamingo on Lake Chaxa


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Another flamingo

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And yet another flamingo


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more bloody flamingoes....


We have a Chilean picnic brekky and then head off to visit the Altiplano Lakes of Miscanti and Mingues.


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Lake Miscanti

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Lake Mingues

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Wild Vicuna

before travelling another 60 km towards the Argentinian border to the amazing scenery of Salar Agues Caliente where we stop for a substantial lunch. At this point we are only 40 km from Paso Sico and the Argentinian border.


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Scenery of Salar Agues Caliente


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Scenery of Salar Agues Caliente

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Scenery of Salar Agues Caliente

From here we retrace our steps to the small village of Socaire with it's quaint adobe church


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Adobe Church at Socaire

and then onto Tocanao where we check out another church and the local street scape.


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The Tocanaco Bell Tower


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Local Street scape


We get back on the road and return to San Pedro around 6.00 pm. It has been a truly great day. Back at Hostal Takha Takha we share a beer and chat to Marlon. We decide we will stay for one more day before riding back over Paso de Jama, but Marlon will head that way tomorrow.

Our last day in San Pedro is a day of tackling chores, washing, boot maintenance (my 12 year old boots are not going to make the distance) and a few minor motorcycle repairs. We plan to get on the road early and be off the altiplano by early afternoon to hopefully avoid the wind which seems to get worse in the afternoon. Can't wait to ride this road again................................. Well we are up and at em early, on the bike by 8 am, cleared Chilean passport/customs by 9.30am and ride back up the huge slippery dip to the Altiplano.


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The gorgeous Altiplano


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Riding the Altiplano

Just after we reach the highest point and come down to the first corner there is a “Problemo”, a truck has not made the corner and has overturned, recovery is in progress.


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Truck Rollover

Nothing we can do so we continue on, it is an absolutely spectacular day and we are loving the ride and the scenery with no wind, did I mention NO wind! We take a dirt track off to the beautifully eroded monoliths.


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Monoliths in the lunar landscape


We pass the lakes again and there are flamingoes everywhere, three take off and seem to soar above us for two or three minutes, I have to keep reminding Skill to keep his eyes on the road, not skyward bound. They are just so beautiful and graceful in the air and these guys are really pink. We clear Argentinian immigration, refuel and stop for lunch in the same spot as before, refuel in Susques before recrossing the salt flats and then it is finally time for the downward twists into Purmamarka, this has to be up there with our best rides ever.


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The downward twists


We go back to the same hostal as last time, what can we say this is the view from our bedroom.


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View from our room.


An early night and next day we get away quite late as we have a wander around and take the obligatory Purmamarka motorcycle photos,


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Purmamarka


before enjoying another spectacular ride to the border town of La Quiaca, it is typical of most border towns, a bit wild and woolly. We find the Hostel Copacabana easily, but Skill has to negotiate the gutter, steps and a building site to get the bike into the courtyard. We enjoy a quite night and a bloody dreadful take away pizza before making it an early night. (Well we are in bed before midnight, we have become Argentinian with our time keeping) Tomorrow is another border crossing, this time into Bolivia, we will see what the new day brings.

Posted by John Skillington at 09:16 PM GMT
April 19, 2013 GMT
Bolivia - Tupiza, Uyuni & Sucre

Well what will today bring, another new country - into Bolivia!

We get away by 10.00am after manoeuvring the bike out of the building very carefully, as you can see.


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We get the bike out of Hostal Copacabana


Arriving at Argentinian immigration and customs is a breeze and we are processed pretty quickly, then it is on to the Bolivian side, immigration is quick, but there is always a catch, Customs. Where is our segura (insurance), well we don't have any, our inquiries of other travelers indicated we didn't need it for Bolivia. Where can we buy it? From La Quaica, NO. From Villazon, NO. On the Internet. NO. So we need it but we can't get it? So what do you want us to do?

He motions for Skill to step inside the office and quickly intimates if he slips Sesenta US, $60.00US inside the passport, then “No problemo”. Skill declines and the amount drops to $50.00US, then to $40.00 US in quick succession. Skill comes out to the bike to talk to me as I am trying to get the camera out to take this joker's photo and tells me that apparently $40.00 US will make the problem go away. “Bull****”, I say and walk into the office and smilingly say, “No, no, no, you are naughty, this money is for you” and point at him. Still smiling and laughing, meanwhile secretly wanting to hit the slimy little git.

Then all of a sudden he waves Skill to the front desk and the bike is stamped in, the problem has gone. Apparently whatever I did seemed to do the trick, wish I knew what it was. Then after a bit of a broken conversation we ask if he has children, “Si” and we plonk a couple of koalas on his desk. After that everything is fine and as we are repacking the bike, he comes out and jokes with us to “Hurry up”. Nothing like being bribed with a smile.

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Chinese made Aussie Koala 1 - Slimy little Bolivian Customs Guy 0


After this we are extremely wary and get on the bike and ride, not even bothering to get out money in Villazon. At the first checkpoint (a piece of rope across the road) the rope is down, as a mini bus is stopped so we just ride around the bus and wave, no one stops us so we continue on. At the second checkpoint about 40 km further on the rope is down again and we just ignore the guys who are in their hut. (Apparently these guys gave Paul – English guy we met in Salta - a hard time) We arrive in Tupiza after negotiating our way through a landslide on the highway. We find the Hostel Valle Hermosa (recommended by the Copacabana Hostel) easily, but as usual we are on the top floor and have to lug everything up the stairs, it is only 12.30 and we are stuffed, must be the altitude??????

Tupiza's claim to fame is it's dramatic desert landscape and in the early 20th Century Tupiza was home to one of Bolivia's biggest mining barons, Carlos Aramayo. His mines and their payrolls were rich enough to attract the interest of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who apparently died in a shoot out in the town of Saint Vincente, 100 km Northwest of Tupiza.

We wander out into the streets, and find a money machine as we have no Bolivianos, thankfully no trace of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, then find a local cafe and have the “menu del dia” which was pretty yummy. So far we are really liking Tupiza, the people at the hostel are friendly and the town is easy to negotiate. That night we have dinner at the most bizarre restaurant "Alamo" which is like an American movie themed restaurant but the food was sensational.


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Lan and Skill at Alamo restaurant Tupiza.


We enjoy this little town and spend another day before deciding we will do the Uyuni Salt Flats tour from here, the bike is safely locked away in the garage, Valle Hermosa tours seem to have a good reputation and the tour is a day longer tour than out of Uyuni. The other plus is they will bring us back to Tupiza for nothing. That night we sort our gear out, buy a cheap bag to put on top of the roof rack, and meet our fellow travellers, there will be two “jeeps” actually a landcruiser and a patrol, we will be travelling with two young French guys, Cedric and Maxamilien and in the other vehicle are a French couple, Priscill and Mattheiu, a young German girl Katia and an Israeli guy, whose name we never got, sorry.


We leave at 8.00 am the next day and luck in with our driver, Vincente, and cook/guide, Celia. They are both really nice, Vincente doesn't speak any English but luckily appears to be a fairly careful, competent driver. Celia does a great job with the food given the lack of facilities, and speaks a little English. We are so lucky as our French travelling companions, speak three languages so kindly translate for us the whole time. How lucky are we?

The first day is a really long one, over 11 hours. However the scenery is stunning, the company good and the food delicious.


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Is this a bit like Inshalla (I hope Vincente isn't trusting in God too much)


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Another Moon Valley


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Cactus


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Lunch Stop Lan with the Llamas, what a magic place


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Lunch stop with the Llamas


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An Adobe Village along the way


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An Adobe Village along the way

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Mountain Scenery


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Ghost Town at an altitude of 4690 metres, the vehicles are refuelling


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Lan and Skill enjoying the mountain scenery


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Altiplano Viscacha


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Scenic view of Lake Morejon at 4855m View to volcano Uturunco 6008m

We arrive at our very basic accommodation after dark, a concrete compound with a series of 4 share dorm rooms, no shower, but working toilets. Poor old Max is not feeling great and disappears to bed while Skill, Cedric and I have dinner before retiring to bed at about 10.30, it has been a long day and it is very cold, we are at nearly 4300metres. I am wearing my thermals, socks, am wrapped up in my silk liner, my down sleeping bag and am under three blankets, I am quite warm.

Next morning we don't rise till 7.30 am have a leisurely breakfast before packing up and continuing on. Max is feeling much better and we all enjoy the drive to the next Lake, even if it is a bit smelly, the flamingoes are gorgeous.


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More Flamingo photos


Onward and upwards to Laguna Kollpa where there are huge flocks of flamingoes, it really is a sight to behold.


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Huge flocks of flamingoes on Lake Kollpa


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Huge flocks of flamingoes on Lake Kollpa


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Cedric, Max and Lan

We then venture out to the Dali Desert


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Lan in the Dali Desert


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Hanging around in the Dali Desert

before we have a lovely swim in the thermal pools before lunch. As usual lunch is a feast which we really enjoy.


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John & Lan bathing at 4350metres. Lovely warm water

Unfortunately after lunch Bolivian belly suddenly hits Skill and we have to dose him up on medication to make the rest of the journey (thanks Katia). We then visit some of the world's highest geysers at an altitude of 5200 metres,


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The Geysers


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The Geysers

then it is a leisurely drive to our next accommodation, before we venture out to the Red Lake.


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The Red Lake (Known as Laguna Colorada)


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The Red Lake (Known as Laguna Colorada)

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The Red Lake (Known as Laguna Colorada)

Because it is an early day, Skill hits the sack for a while, while I have a few vodkas and watch the kids play “Cheater”.


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A very competetive game of cheater with Matthieu, Priscill, Cedric, Max, Katia, and our other travelling companion


Skill manages to make it to dinner and the eight of us have a few wines and continue to chat and enjoy each other's company. At 8.30pm a very toey middle aged American man from another Tour comes and asks us to be quiet, we are making too much noise, there are people trying to sleep. What? It is 8.30pm, we try really hard to be quiet, but at this point it is a lost cause as we all have the giggles at our own audacity to be making noise at this time of night so we eventually give up and go to bed. It is absolutely freezing, once again I have everything on and am inside my silk liner and sleeping bag, under three blankets, I also have on my beanie and gloves. I cannot move.

We are up and at em for a pancake breakfast before packing up and moving on. Today we travel lots of amazing 4WD tracks, first visiting the Tree stone in the Sili Desert,


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Tree Stone in the Sili Desert


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The absolutely amazing Sili Desert

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The starkly beautiful Sili Desert

before venturing on to countless Lakes with countless flamingoes.


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Lake Hedionda (??>)


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A flamingo on Lake Hedionda


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Eco?? Hotel at Lake Hedionda

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Lake Hedionda Landscapes

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Lake Hedionda Landscapes


We then cross various salt flats before arriving at the small village of San Juan.


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Local Lady - San Juan


It is then onto a Salt Hotel on the edge of the Uyuni Salt Flat itself. Skill and I actually get a room to ourselves and even manage a hot shower, even though we have to queue for over an hour. The hotel is amazing, nearly everything is made from salt including all the furniture. Once again we share a meal with our fellow travellers before lights out at 10.30 pm (the generator is turned off), this time we didn't get in trouble for making too much noise, and surprisingly the hotel was toasty warm, I didn't even use my sleeping bag.


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The very comfortable Salt Hotel


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Dining Room of the Salt Hotel


The following day, a very early start, 5.30 am we are driving across the Salar, at first we are high and dry following some sort of road, then we hit the water and probably drive for 10km through the salty water before stopping to take in the sunrise. It is absolutely freezing!!!


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Skill watching the sun rise over the very beautiful Salar de Uyuni.


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Sunrise over Salar de Uyuni

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Lan enjoying the sunrise

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The very beautiful Salar de Uyuni at Sunrise. Not a bad way to celebrate a wedding anniversary


We continue on to Incahuasi Island for a brisk hike before breakfast.


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View over the Salar from Incahuasi Island


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View over the Salar from Incahuasi Island

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View over the Salar from Incahuasi Island


It is then a glorious drive across the Salar before we stop for those ridiculously childish photos


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It's Easter Sunday so chocolate is in order


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A BIG block of Toblerone


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Childish photos

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Childish photos


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The jump - Katia, Mattheiu, Priscill, Lan, Max and Cedric


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Our travel team Lan, Skill, Katia, Priscill, Mattheiu, Cedric and Max


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Our travel team with driver Vicente, and cook Celia.

and continue on to the now closed down salt hotel, trading as a dodgy museum.


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Salt Hotel Museum

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Lan and Katia at the Salt hotel museum

We arrive at the village of Colchani, a highly touristed village selling all manner of textiles and trinkets. Colchani residents are also involved in the harvesting of salt. All done by hand. Surprisingly the salt is only for the Bolivian market, I don't think they will run out any time soon.

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Harvesting the Salt

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Harvesting the Salt.

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A Colchani lady sells her wares

We arrive in the dusty outpost of Uyuni where everyone else disembarks, quick goodbyes and we return to Tupiza with Vincente and Celia. It is a five hour journey back through amazing countryside, it has been a long day for us but an even longer one for Vicente and Celia. We really enjoyed their company and insight into this amazing country.

Next day we are very lazy and can't be bothered to move on so repack our gear, organise to get some washing done and wander out for a late lunch before a very early night. We try to get away at an early hour as we have mixed reports on the road and driving times to Potosi. So far we have heard that the road is paved, that it is ripio, that it takes 7 hours, that it takes 5 hours. We head off to refuel, we only need 5 litres, we arrive at the first service station but they refuse to serve us as we are foreigners and they don't have the government receipt books for the foreigner priced fuel, so we head to the next service station that does have the receipt books but they are out of gasolina (it is not a ploy, they really are out of fuel), back to the first service station where a lovely English speaking Argentinian family try to help us and do a big translation for us. To cut a long story short, the manager will not back down for any money, he refuses to sell us fuel and keeps saying camera camera. OK what to do next.

We ride back into town, wave a $50.00 Bolivano note at a taxi driver for 5 litres of fuel. He accepts the challenge, he and Skill disappear in the taxi, go back to the same service station we have just been at. The taxi driver buys 5litres of fuel in a jerry can and he and Skill return to the bike. Fuel goes into the bike and the taxi driver pockets $30 boliviano profit. It would of cost us 45 Bolivianos at the foreigner price anyway. What a bloody rig morale.


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What to do when they won't let you buy fuel.

By this time it is getting quite late so we head out of town wondering what will be next. So far we have only ridden 75 km on Bolivian roads, and we have had attempted bribery and not been able to buy fuel.

The ride to Potosi is wonderful, a lovely paved road with only one minor dirt detour, very little traffic and not a single police or army check at any of the checkpoints, we are waved through. We stop for a late lunch in the shade of a pepperina tree in the middle of nowhere, it is a beautiful day. At the next village we find a service station where they have no problem serving us but still at the foreigner price. We continue on to Potosi where we have a little bit of a problem negotiating the one way street system but all in all we manage to find a hotel with parking reasonably easily. So we can now tell you the road from Tupiza to Potosi is 260 km, it is paved and it takes about 4 hours with a stop for lunch and fuel.

Potosi is actually the worlds highest city at an altitude of 4100metres. The city of Potosi sits beneath the cone shaped mountain of Cerro Ricco, the richest source of silver the world has ever seen. Mining began in 1545 and continued for three centuries. During this time it is believed nearly nine million people died in the harsh conditions, mainly Indigenous and African slaves. Archaic style mining continues to this day, but it is no longer silver, but minerals that are the prize. Due to my aversion to small spaces we decide against a mine tour but do go out for a wander around the town. It is a chaotic, edgy mining town with incredibly crowded, narrow streets. We find a nice restaurant to eat in before retiring for the night.

We get away early next day and after negotiating the crazy traffic and one way street systems, emerge on the road to Sucre unscathed, and once again enjoy a glorious ride on a paved road to Sucre. The weather starts to close in and rain clouds loom on the horizon, we ride through a few scuds but make it to Sucre without getting wet. It is only midday and we book into the first hostel we find with parking, it is quite luxurious and a little expensive by Bolivian standards, however a good decision as it starts to rain and continues for the rest of the day.

Later in the afternoon we check out another Hostel with parking, Hostal Pachamama. Here we run into Paul, the Tenere rider from Salta. This Hostel while not as posh as Hostal Tukambamba is less than half the price, has a beautiful garden, big kitchen, pleasant rooms and heaps of parking. The decision is made. Tomorrow we move. We go back to our lovely room, with king size bed, spotlessly clean bathroom, endless hot water and fast internet. We enjoy it while we can.

Next morning after breakfast we do move to Hostal Pachamama which is to become our home for the next three weeks, it should have taken us 10 minutes to travel across town but there were student demonstrations going on so it was an hour trip instead. All part of life in Bolivia!!!!!

Posted by John Skillington at 07:27 PM GMT
May 13, 2013 GMT
Sucre to Samaipata

People come to Sucre for three days and stay for three months, it is just that kind of place. It is a really easy city to negotiate, there are great restaurants, markets/supermarkets, cultural museums and activities.

Life here is simple. Our move to Hostel Pachamama (Mother Earth) proves to be the right one, the cost is 100 Bol ($15.00AUD) per night and we have our own big room with ensuite on the second floor overlooking the garden. It really is a gorgeous place.


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Hostal Pachamama


The hostel is owned by a lovely family who also have a sponsored son Martin, who was the sweetest young man, he worked like a trojan in the hostel all day, then went to school in the afternoon, then back to work in the hostel in the evening. And you never saw him without a smile on his face. A very bright young man, he had also taught himself English.

There was a real mix of ages and cultures amongst the inhabitants, our favourites included Te, a beautiful young American girl, Sun an equally gorgeous Korean girl, Helga an older Austrian lady and Mark (commonly referred to as Mr Mark by Martin) a British soccer coach who while travelling was coaching the local kids in Soccer. We also got to spend a great week with Lisa and Jarrod a pair of Aussies who were on their way home after living and working in the UK for 8 years. There was also a constant stream of Israelis, French, German and Argentinian travellers as well.

However amongst all the great people we got to meet there were two very odd, older travellers who just did not fit in and made life as difficult for others as they could. One very opinionated woman who believed in black magic and and an older guy with absolutely no social skills, who could not stand any sort of noise, he was staying in a hostel??????

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Hostal Pachamama


Our first week in Sucre adopts a similar pattern, we shop at Mercado Central for our daily fruit and vegetable supplies, haggling with the gnarly ladies becomes part of the process, then it's off to El Patio for the best Salteneas and coffee in town, before Spanish homework and then it is off to afternoon Spanish classes for four hours. We have a great teacher, called Moi who is a University Lecturer/Student. I would love to report that we are now fluent Spanish speakers, but that would be an outrageous lie. We have improved a little but are really not that much better at all, however we enjoyed the experience. Our problem is we are basically lazy and probably don't put the time in that we should. Most people staying at Hostal Pachamama were doing Spanish lessons, but unlike us they were clever, earnest, young beings and seemed to be continually studying, and were therefore quite good Spanish speakers.

Another thing we love about Sucre is the zebras, yes zebras. On our very first afternoon out and about we come across two guys dressed up as zebras, I assume it is street art and they will hit people up for money, so completely ignore their protestations at me crossing the road on a red 'Don't Walk” signal, this is Bolivia after all. There is much hand (foot) wringing and crying into hands but as we continue on up the road we come upon a whole herd of them. Oops they are part of a road safety, pedestrian education program, stupid bloody, gringo woman!!!!!! Needless to say I am rather remorseful. These guys and girls do a great job and make everyone smile, they are Sucre's ambassadors.


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The Zebras of Sucre


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The Zebras of Sucre

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Herds of Zebras

The next two weeks in Sucre, we just chill out, enjoy the hostel's gardens and the hammocks, have a couple of BBQs with Mark, Helga, Jarrod and Lisa. We also discover it is just as cheap to eat out as it is to buy food and cook yourself, so we try most restaurants within walking distance.


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A lovely Italian dinner at a very posh place

We also visit the huge markets where you can buy anything you could possibly need, washing powder, hair care products, shoes, blankets, buckets, ladders, toys, even dried llama foetuses in the witches markets! As we have no need for any of the above items we buy a 5 litre container to carry extra fuel in and wander home. The markets are always an eye opener, especially the witches market. All sorts of weird items and offerings. (Sorry no photos, they get a bit tetchy about gringos taking photos)

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The Streets of Sucre


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The Streets of Sucre

During this time we also get our tourist entry stamps extended from 30 days to 90 days at immigration, and Skill has to venture out twice to the Aduana building on the outskirts of town to get the bike's temporary import papers extended to 90 days, although this sounds simple, this is Bolivia, and it probably took up a full day in time. On the first morning that Skill is taking the bike out to the Aduana for them to inspect it, the bike refuses to start (it has been sitting for over a week, but this is not normally a problem) Skill eventually gets it to start but it is running really, really badly. He makes it to the Aduana, then after it's inspection on the ride back it decides to run perfectly again. On his return he pulls the bike to bits yet again with another theory of what may be wrong????

It is also at this time that Skill finds a local Honda dealer and gets him to order a new front sprocket for the bike, the day before we leave the new sprocket is fitted and the bike has a bath at the local lavadora, it looks brand new, well almost.

However all good things must come to an end and we leave Sucre after fond, sad, farewells to our Pachamama family. We ride for about 3 kilometres before we hit the first snag of the day, Sucre is blockaded by trucks, so at first glance it looks like we can't get out of town, however we follow the local motorcyclists lead and wend our way through: up footpaths, along dirt tracks, down stairs, between trucks and posts for the next 3 kilometres. I walk the road trying to pick the best path through, talking to Skill on the intercom. A good couple of hours later we make it through but we are both stuffed and we haven't even left Sucre.

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Negotiating the truck blockade in Sucre


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Negotiating the truck blockade in Sucre

However the benefit of blockades is that once you are through you have the whole road to yourself, it is a glorious ride to Potosi and we make the most of it. We refuel using our new 5 litre container and get fuel with no problems at the local price. We have since found out 5 litres is the magic amount petrol stations can sell you without having to fill in paper work. We have learnt to park the bike around the corner away from the petrol station, Skill takes off his riding jacket and takes the container in to be filled, so far it has worked every time.

We hit Potosi around lunch time and yes you guessed it more truck blockades, this blockade is much longer but with not as many trucks, but it still takes us over an hour to wend our way through, once again I walk a lot of it and direct Skill through, it is tight fit and the last section proves difficult, up a steep dirt track between a sign post and a truck, somehow Skill and the bike stay upright and we are on our way to Oruro. By this time we are both puffing and panting, remembering that Potosi is at an altitude of over 4000metres.


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Negotiating truck blockade in Potosi

The ride to Oruro is a lovely quiet one with little traffic, the scenery is gorgeous and by three o'clock we are famished so stop for a very quick picnic lunch as it is another 200 km to Oruro. We refuel again with no problems with our trusty 5 litre container and we are on our way. We arrive late in the bleak mining town of Oruro with the name of a Hotel and GPS coordinates (thanks to the Life Remotely team). This is a godsend as we are parked, checked in, and showered by 7.00 pm. We get out the gas stove and make chicken soup dinner in the bathroom of our room and then fall into bed. It has been a long arduous day.

After a rather dull breakfast in the vast dining/ball room (we are the only guests) of the hotel we pack up and get under way. We are heading to Cochabamba to visit Cory and Paolo Rowden (of Bolivia Bound Tours, who, our friends Guy and Buzz used to follow this years Dakar), once again it is a high altitude ride climbing up to 4496 metres, with glorious scenery and glorious riding until about 30 km out of Cochabamba.


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Climbing, climbing, climbing to 4496 metres

We hit another blockade, this time it is a village blockade with rocks, burnt out tyres and villagers facing off against riot police. We decide to back right off so we can assess the situation and park ourselves down a side road in the shade. There is lots of noisy bangs and yelling going on, but we come to the conclusion it is fireworks, not rubber bullets or tear gas.

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Blockade outside Cochabamba

After about two hours, the riot police seem to back right off and Skill sees a larger local motorcycle come through the blockade so we decide we will give it a go. As we are about to leave Skill informs me we may have bigger problems than a blockade, the key is jammed in the ignition and won't turn. At this point I pick out our tent site for the night. Skill gets out the CRC gives the ignition a spray and after about 5 minutes he gets the key out. I suddenly remember that we have a brand new unused ignition key on my bunch of keys so we get it off and thankfully it works straight away. Phhewww, now for the blockade. Just as we get back onto the road the larger local motorcycle and rider comes back to go through the blockade, we ask him is it OK. Follow me he says so we do, me walking and Skill taking the bike over rocks and branches, meanwhile some of the villagers move the biggest branch out of the way for us. All the while there is much cheering going on at our antics. We say our thank yous and get out of there as quickly as we can. What we didn't realise was that the local motorcyclist was part of the Blockade, not travelling through it!!!!!!!

Negotiating Cochabamba is not difficult, just slow, but with Cory's perfect directions and GPS co-ordinates we reach their place just after 3 o'clock. This delightful family invites us to camp in their back yard and share in their ANZAC day festivities the following day. Which is exactly what we do. That night is very cold and there is even a good frost next morning, thank goodness for down sleeping bags.

The following day we decorate, and help prepare a feast of roast lamb and veges. Paolo is helped by her good Aussie friend Kate. Later in the day other expat Aussie friends arrive, and also Paolo's gorgeous Bolivian parents join in the festivities.


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Anzac day decorations


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Anzac day cricket match


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Lan enjoying the cricket match

After a very serious cricket match we enjoy the fabulous lamb feast followed by Hoky Poky icecream, Pavlova and Anzac Biscuits. It was so nice to be amongst such great people on Anzac Day. We thank them all for their kindness.

The following day Paolo invites me to go to the boys school with her. She and Kate have organised to make Anzac Biscuits with the class. I seem to slip back into teacher mode pretty quickly and enjoy the morning in this beautifully run Montesouri school. Later in the day we three girls go and share a coffee and a chat. I realise that is now 6 months since I have had girls day out and I really enjoy it. Later in the afternoon we meet Skill and Cory at Kate and Nathans house and have a huge left over lamb lunch.

The following day is Saturday and we join the family for the day. It is off to the markets, then we all go to a textile exhibition at Palacio Portales, the luxurious mansion built for the “King of Tin”, Simon Patino. The house is set amongst the most beautiful gardens.


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The Gardens of Palacio Portales


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The Gardens of Palacio Portales


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Palacio Portales


Then it is into the city for a Saltanea lunch and a visit to the “Spitting Llama” Bookstore for some English books to read.


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Lunch with the Rowden Family

That evening we join Paolo, Corey and their friends for dinner, it is a really enjoyable evening.

Sunday we just chill back, read our newly acquired books and enjoy the sunshine and the serene surroundings of the garden, however later in the day Skill develops another bad dose of Bolivian belly and is really quite ill.

The following day, although Skill is still not feeling that great, we decide to make a move and let the Rowdens have their garden back. (For more information on Corey and Paolo's motorcycle rental and touring business - Bolivia Bound Adventure Tourism www.boliviabound.net or contact Cory on cory@boliviabound.net)

We pack up and get thoroughly lost (in the market area known as La Cancha) getting out of Cochabamba, but finally get on the road heading towards Cliza, the gateway to Toro Toro National Park. We have a great deal of trouble finding Cliza but eventually get there after several wrong turns. Then we take several more wrong roads out of town, it seems the road to Toro Toro is very elusive, there are no signs, the GPS is of no help, and four different people send us in four different directions. In the end we are defeated and as Skill is still feeling terrible, we make the completely irrational decision to keep travelling on the road towards Samaipata.

Well to cut a long story short, the day deteriorates into one of those long, long days where the road turns to ripio and gets rougher, no towns with hotels materialise, and it is getting very late. Just on dark we arrive at the tiny village of Pojo, and we wend our way down a steep, twisty cobblestone road into the town, where accommodation looks to be non existent. We ask about a hotel and are pointed down a street off the plaza. As I am trying to find the hotel in a very uninspiring street, a lady appears and tells me to follow her.

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The uninspiring streets of Pojo

She is our travel angel, she owns a alojamiento (hotel/B&B/cafe), and we can have a room in her house for the night. We park in the garden, unload the bike, while she makes us hamburgers and chips, Skill finds a cold beer in a shop next door. Dinner is fabulous and all is right in the world. After dinner we have a hot shower and fall into bed. The beds must be have the hardest mattresses we have ever slept on but we are asleep by 8.30 pm. Then at about 9.30 pm we are woken by persistent knocking on our door, the owners want us to move the bike as late arrivals in a car want to park inside! What, surely you are joking? We are asleep in our PJ's and you told us to park there! So Skill starts the bike still half asleep, and then has to do a tricky manoeuvre along a path to park literally in the garden greenery beside the chook pen! OK now back to bed.


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Bike parked next to the chooks

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The gardens of our Alojaimento

In the early hours of the morning we awake again, this time to a violent storm rumbling all around the mountains, but quickly go back to sleep. Later in the morning we join fellow late arrival guests for breakfast before heading out, we get fuel at a local shop where they decant it into a five litre bottle for us, and we are on our way. The ride, while now wet, very muddy and slippery in places is absolutely spectacular, we climb up and up into the clouds, the environment has changed from a dry brown landscape to beautiful greenery and dense thick forests.


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The road to Samaipata


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The road to Samaipata

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The road to Samaipata

Just as we reach the tops of the mountain we smell something dead and rotting and see all sorts of birds circling, including condors, these birds are huge, what a treat we didn't expect to see these amazing creatures. We come down off the mountain and reach the town of Compara where we once again refuel and then have a beautiful ride on bitumen to the gorgeous town of Samaipata. We stop to take in the views, this is Che Guevara country, he met his end not far from here in the small town of La Higuera.

Arriving in Samaipata we pull over to check out our accommodation options when a Swiss plated van pulls up beside us. It is Martin who we briefly met in Turpungato in Argentina. We have a quick chat and both go our separate ways, hoping to meet on the road again as he will be in Bolivia for a while.

Then begins the long hunt for accommodation, we end up in the hippy retreat of El Jardin, living in a yurt like construction. After we unload the bike it is off to the PUB, yes a bar, and wouldn't you know it, it is run by Aussies..................... but that's another story.

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Our Yurt in the gardens of El Jardin

Posted by John Skillington at 08:01 PM GMT
May 29, 2013 GMT
Bolivia (Samaipata) to Peru (Curucuito)

Samaipata will go down on our favourites list. We spend 5 days here enjoying the tranquil, peaceful surroundings.

The evening we arrive we find a bar and to our delight share the evening with fellow Aussie and former resident of Brisvegas, Kirsty. She and her husband Dave own and run the delightful “La Boheme” Bar on the main square. Kirsty is a Samaipatian enthusiast and gives us her take on the best food in town, which happens to be across the road at “La Cocina” run by 2 Istanbulians.. The food is a Mexican/Turkish fusion and although incredibly simple, it is amazing. After an absolute pig out we return to the Bar and finish the evening with another cleansing ale. We return to our yurt, climb the ladder to our bedroom and enjoy a long nights rest.


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Skill in the bar at “La Boheme”


Each day we go to the markets, wander the streets, do our washing, sit in the sun and read, in the evenings we venture out to “La Boheme” to chat with the regulars and locals alike then being creatures of habit we usually eat at “La Cocina”, we can't seem to get our fill of their great fresh food.

We do have one small problem while in Samaipata, there is no automatic cash machine in town and the cash machine in the previous village doesn't like our card. Fortunately we can delve into our American dollar stash and change it in town.


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The main square, Samaipata


On our last full day in Samaipata we ride the 10 km track out to El Fuerte, an ancient archaeological site. At the centre of this site is a huge sandstone monolith that has the most extraordinary abstract carvings along it's back. It is surrounded by many buildings, many of which are yet to be uncovered. It is believed to have been a meeting place and religious centre since 800 AD, for many different peoples including the Chane people, the Chiriguanos, and the Incas.

Fortunately it was a nice, cool overcast day, so we spent a good three hours just wandering the site by ourselves, a real treat.


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El Fuerte


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El Fuerte


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El Fuerte


Back to Samaipata for a great lunch before we venture off to the Mueseo Archeologico to look at some of the finds from El Fuerte and other local archaeological sites.

That evening we go out for a posh dinner before it is back to the local for a long, late night of cocktails and beers. It is fun to be amongst the Ex-pat and Santa Cruzian banter, however there is a rumour circulating that Bolivia is about to have a week or more of National Blockades, I guess we will see how it pans out.


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Margaritas at “La Boheme” Bar


The next morning we have trouble getting going, we don't really want to leave this little oasis but leave we must. After a big bacon and egg breakfast we head out of town in the rain, despite the conditions it is a glorious ride and as we drop down off the mountain the rain stops and the temperatures warm up.

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Skill enjoys his bacon and egg breakfast


Here is a link to short video clip of some of the ride.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDG3toFTeY4&feature=youtu.be

We arrive on the outskirts of Santa Cruz, refuel with the 5 litre bottle, as previously mentioned fuel is an issue. Quite often they don't want to sell fuel to foreigners as there is so much paper work to fill out. We have learnt that 5 litres is the magic amount, so we have to stop at least every 100km to fill up the 5 litre container. We park the bike around the corner, Skill takes off his riding jacket and walks in with the jerry can, so far this has worked most times, but once again it makes for a long day when you have to stop at nearly every petrol station you see, just in case.

We also find a money machine and get money out for the first time in a month, then we high tail it out of Santa Cruz (Population 1.5 million), thank goodness for Carmen's directions (Carmen the Garmin - GPS) as there is not one single sign to anywhere, we find our way onto the ring road, a 5 litre refuel again, and then another at the next gas station, and finally we are on our way. It is a slow ride to Buena Vista as there are countless chaotic market towns to negotiate. We arrive just before dark, manage to find a cute little place after checking out three dodgy hotels. They open up the doors and insist we ride the bike through the dining room out into the courtyard.

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Hostal in Buena Vista

We are unpacked, showered, and out for pepper steak dinner before 7.00pm. Later in the evening we sit in the courtyard, have a cleansing ale and admire the hostel's colourful free roaming pet Macau.


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Pet Macau


Next morning we have an empanada and coffee breakfast on the square before getting the bike out via the dining room, we are packed up and ready to roll by 10.00am, all we need now is fuel. This is a bit of a problem as the service station is out of fuel, we eventually track down a private seller and we can now leave.


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Riding the bike through the dining room


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The hunt for that elusive Bolivian fuel


Not far out of town we are stopped for our first police check in Bolivia, a very, young policeman asks for “Documentos”. “Que documentos?” Skill asks. “Hmmmmm, hmmmmm, hmmmmm”, was the response. Eventually he asks for pasaporte and moto documentos which Skill hands over. He peruses them for a good 3 or 4 minutes turning them over and over and over, then indicates for us to pull over, off the road. At this point, Skill tells me to get off the bike and follow him. I say in my pathetic Spanish “Documentos bueno” and intimate for him to give them back. He is still not convinced so I say, “Immigracion OK, Aduana OK. Bueno”. Then take the documents from him. He reluctantly returns them. At this point I say “Gracias Senor” Chao!” and we make a hasty exit . Not sure if he was out for a bribe or the poor young sole couldn't read, even though the temporary import document is in Spanish. Either way we take our leave and move on.

The road to Villa Tunari is an amazing ride through the Eastern lowlands, part of the headwaters of Amazon basin with huge rivers and jungle like vegetation, and a hot tropical climate.


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Huge Rivers


Fuel seems to be a bit of an issue in this area, that is, there is none, so after playing the 5 litre fuel game a couple of times we arrive in Villa Tunari around 3.00 pm, we are hot, sweaty and the bike is playing up, yet again. Although it is only a 160km to Cochabamba it is a long slow 4 hour ride up over the mountains, so we decide we will stay put. After one hotel declines to let us park in their enclosed parking area as they have workman parked there, we cross the road and stay in the very old San Martin Hotel. They have no problem with us parking in their yard, and while the room is dodgy as, the views are quite stunning.


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The grounds of San Martin Hotel


After a quick dip in the pool (it's the first time we have been warm enough to swim since we were at John & Annette's finca in Argentina!) we relax with a book then Skill manages to find a beer and some street food to quell our hunger, we enjoy a pleasant warm, afternoon pool side.

After yet another dodgy breakfast we hit the road not knowing what the day will bring, fortunately the travel Gods are being kind and there are no blockades. There are however 100s of trucks all doing 10km an hour up over the mountain pass, it is a painstakingly slow ride. Not only do you have to watch for oncoming traffic you also have to watch for the micro buses who tailgate you and overtake us and the trucks on blind corners.

At one point we are overtaken by 4 Brazilian plated bikes, they give us a friendly wave and speed on ahead of us, we are not quite as courageous?? as them in our overtaking manoeuvres. About an hour later on the descent into Cochabamba we see the Brazilian guys stopped for a break so we also stop for a chat. They ask us all sorts of questions about our travels but mainly they want to know about the road conditions in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, we give our road report, take a group photo and continue on.


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A stop with the Brazilian Motorcyclists


We arrive back in Cochabamba, call in to to see the Rowdens, have lunch and head into the city. We mange to find the Hotel Gina but as it does not have parking we park the bike in a paid secure parking area around the corner. Of course as usual we are on the top floor so after we have lugged everything up 2 flights of steps we are stuffed.

We spend the next 3 days in Cochabamba, taking in the sites and walking the streets of this modern metropolitan city, we are in food overload, Japanese one night, Mexican the next and of course the local food as well.

At lunch time we usually head out for a local “menu del dia”. On one such day we have lunch and also get the street guys to wash and polish the bike (just in front of our restaurant table), the bike is absolutely filthy from the ride to Santa Cruz.


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The bike gets a bath while we have lunch


Cochabamba's claim to fame is it's giant Cristo de las Concordia, modelled on the one in Rio but is slightly taller, we catch the teleferico (cable car) up and take the obligatory photos of the giant Cristo and of course views back over the smoggy city.


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Lan and Skill in the Teleferico


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The giant Cristo de las Concordia


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The giant Cristo de las Concordia


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The giant Cristo de las Concordia


That afternoon Cory calls in to the hotel and invites us to spend the weekend with them at a small cabin on a Lake just outside Cochabamba. We get ourselves organised and the following afternoon follow them out to the Lake. We enjoy a tranquil afternoon with Paolo, Cory and the boys, walking the Lake, canoeing and that night sit around the fire, under a perfect starry sky. The Southern Cross constellation is there in all it's glory. Thoughts turn to home, family and friends.


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Canoing on the lake.


The following morning, Kate, Nathan and their four children join us, we now have 6 adults and 7 children under 7. We move into our tent in the back garden, the best place to be according to Cory.
Some of our fondest memories of Bolivia will be the time we spent with these families.


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Dinner with the kids


Next day we try to get away at a reasonable hour, say very sad, fond farewells and get on the road to La Paz, it is Sunday and we are hopeful the blockaders will be on days off.


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Saying Goodye


We refuel twice before leaving Cochabamba and with Cory's perfect directions get out of town with ease. We then retrace our path over the mountains to Caracollo (near Oruro) and then it is a very cold 193km ride to La Paz. There are road works everywhere and the dark, black sky is threatening to rain. We stop for fuel, a banana lunch, and don the wet weather gear.

Continuing on we ride straight into a storm, it was so cold that the rain was turning to snow and hail, fortunately it only lasted for 10 minutes then we popped back into the sunshine. We arrived in El Alto (the city that surrounds La Paz) and because we had GPS coordinates for the Hotel Sucre in La Paz we followed Carmen's (Carmen the Garmin GPS) directions. BIG MISTAKE!!! She is a bloody cow and directed us straight through the huge market area of El Alto, I cannot describe the chaos of animals, trucks, taxis, buses, people and us on bike bigger than the space shuttle. Sheer Lunacy. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

By some miracle we got out of the market area and with no idea of how we did it, we get on the toll road into La Paz. Once we did that Carmen did a great job of getting us straight to the Hostel which is on Plaza Sucre, right in the city centre. It has been a long seven hour day with only fuel stops, and we are very tired. Although Residencial Sucre is quite old, it is spotlessly clean and it is a bike friendly hostel, they even have a specially made ramp to get you into the building. The owners are lovely and tell us to relax, get ourselves sorted, have a shower and register when we are ready, just what we need to hear. We follow their advice and that evening head out for an Indian Curry, our first in over 7 months. Did I happen to mention, we love Bolivia.

La Paz and Residencial Sucre is to become our home for the next 6 days. Unfortunately during these 6 days, protests and blockades become more intense and the main El Prado and other roads into La Paz are blocked off. Finding your way into and out of the city is a lesson in supreme patience. However late one evening we are joined by Alex and Anya two beautiful, young Polish motorcyclists, there are now 4 bikes in the foyer of the hostel. The other bike belongs to Hans a Swiss RTW motorcyclist who we also met briefly in Cochabamba.


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Bikes parked in the foyer of Residencial Sucre


We are very lucky Residencial Sucre is in a great central position, with sites, parks and food places all around. We are on Plaza Sucre, across from the famous San Pedro Prison. There are no guards, the prison is controlled by the prisoners who work to pay for the cells, those with money can live in quite luxurious accommodation while those without income live in the hallways and struggle to survive on the official rations. The prison is a village in its own right, complete with shops, restaurants, billiards halls and even a creche as prisoners families live with them. It is a tourist attraction in itself, there are even unofficial tours of the place, but we didn't try it out. I guess for the prisoners it is better to have shelter than to have to sleep on the streets.


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Plaza Sucre


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Plaza Sucre


Every day we are in La Paz there are blockades and demonstrations, usually starting at 9.00 in the morning and finishing around 6.00pm. On Tuesday and Wednesday in particular the protests pick up and there are dynamite blasts all day................ yes they protest by letting off dynamite, which you can buy in the markets.


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Protesters


We stay in La Paz for 6 days partly because of the protests and still didn't get to see one of the main squares near the presidential palace and parliament as that is where the main protests were taking place and although we walked all over the city, we avoided the main protest areas for obvious reasons, did I mention the dynamite!! As far as we know it was the public servants who were protesting for a pay rise, but there could have been more people involved, who knows, truck drivers, miners, butchers, bakers???????

There is nothing unusual about protests and blockades in Bolivia, it is part of their daily lives, people are used to it, but having said that, people were slightly tetchy. While we were having a coffee in a very Western style cafe, the protesters started to march along the street outside complete with fire crackers (no dynamite thankfully), the staff locked the front doors until they had thoroughly checked out the situation.

Then while we were out walking and I was trying to get a video off the protests from a distance a lovely older lady who spoke English started to talk to us. She said “Please don't go any further, we never know what will happen, people are going crazy” She then gave us her thoughts “This is not my Bolivia, it is very sad.”

However when all is said and done we loved Bolivia, it is the most amazing place. I don't think I have ever been to a country where there is such a juxtaposition between ancient cultures and modernity. One day as I was walking up an alleyway in the Witches Market I was following two ladies, one dressed in traditional Bolivian dress complete with flared skirt and bowler hat, carrying her wares on her back and the other was dressed in a Prado suit, walking in 6 inch heels (I don't know how this is possible on the streets of La Paz) carrying a Gucci Handbag. And it is not just in the capital that you see these stark differences it is all over the country. On one side of the road you will see expensive homes with 4WDs parked in the driveway and on the other you will see a family eeking out an existence in a one room mud adobe hut and a donkey in the driveway. I guess it is these social/economic differences that lead to the social unrest.


La Paz is a great city, very exotic and authentic but with enough Western influence to have great restaurants, bars etc. There aren't a lot of sites to see, but just wandering the streets is an experience in itself.


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The Streets of La Paz


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The Streets of La Paz


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The Streets of La Paz


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The Streets of La Paz - Llama foetuses in Mercado de Hechiceria


On our fifth day in La Paz we decide we will ride to Coroico, we are up at 6.30 am and on the bike by 7.45am to get out of La Paz before the blockaders start, the lovely owner of the hostel has given us directions of how to get onto the road to Coroico. We negotiate this easily and are soon on the open road. The plan is to ride to Coroico, have lunch then ride the so-called 'death road' back to La Paz. This road was once named the worlds most dangerous road, but nowadays most of the traffic uses the new asphalt road so it's not quite as dangerous any more, well apart from hundreds of mountain bikers and the occasional motorcyclist crossing paths.

Unfortunately only a short way out of La Paz on the new road we are greeted by snow, ice and wind, and the conditions were getting worse and more slippery the further we pushed on. In the end after a couple of nasty slides, we made the decision that we should turn around and it was back to La Paz.


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The road to Coroico


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The road to Coroico


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The road to Coroico


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Snow covered Llamas on the road to Coroico


Skill was really disappointed that we missed out on this spectacular road, but it really was getting dangerous as he couldn't see a thing through his helmet in the rain/snow/white-out and it was so slippery. There was also a chance of being cut off with more snow falling and all our gear was back in the hostel in La Paz so we thought it best to play it safe and return while we could. It continued to rain in in La Paz for the next few days so I guess it was still snowing in the mountains.

On Friday afternoon as we are having some internet time we get an email from Cory and Paolo explaining that it looks as if the blockades are going to get worse.

“Things are going to get a lot worse...on Monday the highways out of La Paz will be heavily blocked by people coming from the rural areas...they are coming to march against the union members that have been causing all these strikes...Don't want to worry you...and it could well be that you may already be out....but please please go this weekend.”

We heed their advice, when the locals are telling you it is time to go it is time to go. It could all have blown over and been political propaganda but it could also get violent and I guess that is why Paolo wanted us out. As we said blockades and social unrest are part of Bolivian culture, you just have to accept the situation. We never felt unsafe or threatened, it just made travelling on the bike a little uncertain, you never know what the day will bring, all part of the adventure.

On Saturday, with heavy hearts, we leave La Paz at about 9.00 am as we had to change all our Bolivianos that we had got out the day before into US dollars and Peruvian Sol. It took us close on two hours to get out of the city as their were protesters (not blockaders) and all the traffic was being diverted which is fine if you know La Paz (there are about two road signs in La Paz). The poor old bike was so hot and the clutch was taking a caning on the steep, traffic jammed streets. Once we were on the open road we headed to the border but not before riding through a big rain storm, it was very cold, but thankfully only lasted about half an hour.


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Storm building on the way to the Bolivian/Peruvian border


We got to the border at 12.15 and were processed by immigration really quickly which we were grateful for as we knew the Aduana (Customs for the bike, we need to hand in our temporary import paper) shut at 1.00pm. Wrong the Aduana was shut at 12.30 and by 2.30 pm was still not open. By this time we were joined by a Chilean and 2 Argentinian motorcyclists. Everyone was getting extremely tetchy and after speaking to several people (thank goodness for the Spanish speakers) the authorities told us that they didn't know where the Aduana guys were and we should go out to the truck aduana on the outskirts of town. This we did and the guy took our papers and we left within 5 minutes of arriving. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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Leaving Bolivia


By this time it is getting on for 3.00pm. We get to the Peruvian side and are through immigration in less than 10 minutes and head to Aduana............................ well they can't seem to find the Chilean guys make of Chinese motorcycle on the computer and the only available Aduana officer doesn't seem to know how to use a computer but he persists and persists...., to cut a long story short we are processed over an hour later.


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Welcome to Peru


While waiting and waiting and waiting, I watch the locals pushing loads of goods between the two countries. I discover I still have some Bolivian coins so give it to this young mother who has been pushing loads of bricks between the borders for the past hour.


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A young mother


We then change money, get fuel and head towards Puno, it is now just after 4.30pm.


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Getting fuel at the Peruvian border


We have a lovely ride by the shores of Lake Titicaca, but about 20 minutes before our destination it rains again. We are heading to Puno but have the GPS co-ordinates for a hotel in a little town Chucuito, just before Puno, and as it is wet, late and getting dark we opt for this place. It is quite cute, the room is clean and there are promises of hot water. We stay and Skill goes to check the town out, he comes back and says, “you are not going to believe this but there is not one single restaurant open”. Neither of us really care, he has managed to find red wine and chips. We always carry emergency food, and we have a left over can of beer, crackers, cheese and tomato so that is entree, then we have a bit of pasta cooked on the camp stove in the bathroom. Finally, a cup of tea and chocolate for dessert. NO WONDER THE TOP BOX IS SO BLOODY HEAVY.

We have a tepid shower and go to bed, once in bed there is absolutely no chance of either of us moving, we are pinned to the bed as the 3 blankets are so heavy but thankfully, also very warm. We are absolutely exhausted, but also happy as there is a huge thunder and lightning storm over Lake Titicaca. And because we have a tin roof and skylight in the bathroom, we can go to sleep listening to rain on the roof and watching the lightning display through the skylight. Welcome to Peru!


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The main square of Chucuito, 15 restaurants and not one open.



Posted by John Skillington at 01:32 AM GMT
June 13, 2013 GMT
Puno to Cusco the long way round.

We awake in a new country, Peru, a place we have dreamed of coming to for nearly 30 years.

Our excitement is tempered by our tiredness, yesterday's border crossings, teamed with the rain and cold had been a bit of a marathon effort, for this reason we start the day slowly. We make breakfast in our room then go for a walk around the village of Chucuito. It is a lovely, sleepy little village and it's inhabitants are incredibly friendly.


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Out and about in Chucuito


The short ride (including a police checkpoint) into Puno is easy, but finding our way around the maze of one way streets is a bit of a challenge. The other Peruvian peculiarity we notice is the existence of tuk-tuks, those 2 stroke noise machines used for transporting people at the speed of light. We eventually wend our way to the Plaza de Armes, only to find there is a parade in progress so all the surrounding streets are blocked off.


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Parade in the Plaza de Armes


We park the bike, have an empanada from a street vendor and then consult the girls in the Tourist Office. They give us a list of hotels (with parking) and addresses and we are off on the great hotel hunt, we do eventually find the 3 hotels listed but they are all out of our budget (even though I had given the girls in the Tourist Office our budget) so we continue searching, on our own.

I must say Puno doesn't immediately endear itself to us. It takes us nearly two and half hours to find a a decent hotel with parking, we watch a taxi driver run over and kill some ones pet dog without a backwards glance and mini buses do their best to side swipe our panniers. We eventually stumble upon the Hotel Julio Cesar and park the bike in a private car park next door. We can actually see the bike from our bathroom window. Finally after lugging all the gear upstairs (they do have a lift), all I want is a HOT shower. Well you know how it's going to end don't you. No hot water.

At this point we give up, go to the restaurant next door, order a fantastic meal and drown our sorrows in a few pisco sours. Some days are easy, some are not ….......................... but when all is said and done we'd rather be here travelling than anywhere else. Inspired by our pisco sours we walk around the town to orientate ourselves and book a tour of Lake Titicaca for the following day.

Unfortunately we end the day on rather a sombre note, later in the evening we get 2 lots of bad news, Australian friends Steve and Jackie (Toughen up Tours) have had a nasty motor cycle accident on their way to the Overland Expo in Flagstaff (America) and are in hospital and John's grandmother is now very ill and not expected to make the next 24 hours.

The following day it is an early start, after checking emails/facebook for an update on our friends and loved ones, we make breakfast then it is onto a mini bus down to the harbour to board the Titicaca Express, apparently the fastest tour boat on the Lake according to our English speaking guide.


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View back to Puno

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Apparently we are on the fast boat.

We are off to the island of Taquile where we visited the less touristed side. This small island community has it's own individual culture, council, justice and law enforcement system. Their economy is obviously based on tourism, but also agriculture and the sale of their textiles. Only the men of the island knit while only the woman weave. If a man from another island marries into the community they have one year to learn to knit. Knitting is taken very seriously.


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Local Taquile Island men knitting

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Taquile Island locals

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Knitting is a serious business

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Taquile Island family

After an idyllic morning walking the island and meeting the people and learning a little about their very involved culture it was back onto the boat and across to the Peninsular of Santa Maria (this community had only been on the tourist circuit for 6 month) for lunch. A hungi like meal cooked in corn leaves under the earth. Once again a cultural show for the tourists but enjoyable none the less.


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Beautiful ladies in beautiful hats

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Thanking Pachamama for our lunch

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Husband and wife - leaders of this community


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The beautiful ladies again. The older lady is much revered. She is the community's midwife.

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Serving up our lunch

After lunch it was on to one of the Uros floating islands a fair way out. These people actually lived here full time unlike some of the other islands where they just turn up to do the tourist thing. They had also only been on the tourist circuit for less than twelve months so were not jaded, in fact they were loving their celebrity status and were hamming it up for us. Their most enjoyable piece of theatre was the re-enactment of a duck shooting complete with an ancient gun and a the tossing of dead limp duck. But of course the most obvious reasons for us being there was to purchase their wares, which I did. Yet another rug for the collection, while Skill bemoans “Where the bloody hell are we going to fit that?”


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Homes on one of the Uros Floating Islands


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Traditional boats. Well actually not so traditional, their hulls are full of plastic water bottles.

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Which rug/wall hanging should I buy?

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This one

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The great duck shooting re-enactment

Confession time, when we booked the tour I said to Skill “I don't know why we are doing this, it is expensive and will be so kitch” but on our return to Puno after the day out we found ourselves admitting what a really enjoyable day we had had.

Because of our change in plans, that is to leave Bolivia via Peru we are completely disorganised. Our intention was to come to Peru later this year or early next year. We have no road map, no GPS mapping and I have done absolutely no reading about Peru. So over the the next few days we chill back in Puno and try to rectify those few problems as the town starts to redeem itself.

Firstly an act of God occurs at the hotel. We get hot water. Secondly we find a huge new supermarket where I can buy Liptons English Breakfast teabags (South American tea is awful) and thirdly we discover Macchu-Pizza that makes the most sensational wood fired pizzas with side dishes of garlic and chilli sauce. Maybe Puno is not so bad after all. The staff at the hotel are lovely and although they don't speak any English they go out of their way to help us. We manage with our Spanglish to get our washing done and to buy our SOAT (Peru compulsory third-party insurance) really easily. Skill also manages to download GPS maps for Peru but after 2 days of trying to find a road map of Peru we give up, it is a lost cause.

On our last day in Puno we hunt down a very touristy coffee shop on the square, have an adequate coffee and afterwards I have a browse in their very upmarket gift shop, and unbelievably I spy 2 really great road maps of Peru. Hooray our last little problem solved.

After that we join the crowds on the square where we watch an amazing parade, of school children (of all ages) doing dances in all manner of stunning costumes. The music is wonderful and the dances enthralling.

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Young dancers - Puno

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Young dancers - Puno

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Young dancers - Puno

We are captivated for a couple of hours and at the end, we along with countless parents and children, spill out into Puno's streets. School festivals/concerts/parades are the same the world over, proud parents carrying all manner of left over crumpled costumes while tired, excited children talk incessantly. The carnival atmosphere was palpable, everyone wore a smile, Puno had just redeemed itself completely.

The following day we manage to leave Puno at a reasonable hour after goodbyes to the hotel staff and helpful advice from a bored traffic cop who chats to us as we load the bike. We ride out of town and get fuel at a service station............. amazing, no haggling, no 5 litre container, and we can fill up the tank in one go. Fuel in Peru is quite expensive and to our surprise is also sold per American gallon, but at least we can buy it.

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We can buy as much fuel as we want


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View back over Puno

We ride alongside Lake Titicaca to Juliaca (thank goodness for the GPS as there are no signs to get us through the town) and then it is a stunningly beautiful ride over the altiplano, past lakes and a National Park which takes in a Vicuna sanctuary.

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Harvest time - Lake Titicaca

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What a stunning ride

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Watch out for Vicuna!

We turn off at Canahaus and so begins another beautiful ride. The weather starts to close in as we then climb to 4910 metres before the downward switchbacks into Chivay. At the entrance to Chivay we have to stop and pay the entrance fee to Colca Canyon. This is the first time we had been off the bike for 5 hours. We had planned to refuel along the 315 km ride but the only fuel we saw was just out of Juliaca and we had only done 45 km since Puno. However this was a big mistake as there was no fuel after Juliaca and we cruise into Chivay almost at the limit of our fuel range. Fortunately we made it by the skin of our teeth.

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Stopped at the entrance to Chivay, we get off the bike after 5 hours

Funnily enough neither of us were that tired or sore, it had just been such a beautiful untrafficked ride, beautiful but cold. We quickly and easily found great accommodation in a lovely little hostel, unload the bike just before it started to rain/sleet. The travel Gods were being kind that day, hot shower, a very late picnic lunch on the floor of our room with amazing views up to the mountains.

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View from our room the following morning

That evening there is a huge festival in the Plaza, once again it is school children, luckily the rain has abated, so we go out to watch for a while, buy some street food and back to our room to eat, in the dark. There electricity is out. Oh well dinner by headlight and early to bed, it has been a great day.

Next day we just chill back and explore the pretty little town that is Chivay, we have a huge smorgasboard lunch at a tourist hotel and then just sit in the sun, read our books and have some internet time.

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Out and about in Chivay

Up and at em, we are on the bike after our first skype call to good friends Liz and Al, it was so nice to hear their voices. We plan to ride the 50 km to Cabanaconde with the idea that we will rise early the following morning to join the throngs of people at Cruz del Condor between 7am and 9am to see the magnificent condors. Apparently this is the only time to see the condors. We are assured they aren't around after 9 am! We wonder how they can tell the time so accurately?

The ride is beautiful, we stop at every viewpoint and every village, it is a glorious sunny day and we happily play tourist and enjoy the sights.

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The ancient terraces of Colca Canyon

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Can you spot the tunnel? Pitch black inside and filled with dust!

The village of Maca was particularly geared towards tourists but we stop and join in the fun anyway. Skill was fascinated with a number of tame eagles the locals had on display so paid a few coins for the touristy photo opportunity.

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The tourist street of Maca

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The tourist street of Maca

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Babies

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Skill could not resist getting up close and personal with the eagles

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Magnificant creatures

We get to the Mirador at Cruz de Condors at around 1.00 pm, there is no longer a single person or tour bus in sight (they all leave after 9 am), it's just us, we get off the bike, sit back and take in the view in silence for about 15 minutes and check out a good vantage spot for the following morning. I am sitting on the railing when I hear a whoosh sound behind and above me, unbelievably it is a condor, so close I can see his eyes. “Sh**” says Skill, “I left the camera on the bike”. He goes and grabs it and while doing that more condors appear in the skies. Don't they know that they are meant to be “Off” after 9.00am!

We spend the next hour all alone with these 5 condors, but none come as close as the first one. It was almost as if he was saying “Ha ha, you haven't got your camera, have you”. It's moments like these that I cherish in our independent travels, how lucky are we to spend time all alone with these majestic creatures. A little later 2 young local boys appear on bicycles, they sit quietly and watch the condors with us


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The Condors


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The Condors

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Condors over Colca Canyon

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Young local boys join us

The rest of the road to Cabanaconde is newly paved and it is a lovely 10 minute ride down the hill to the picturesque town. We find the Hostal Pachamama and it's gregarious host who apologises for the building construction works in progress, but we get the bike inside the courtyard after some manoeuvring then it is off to the square for some Caldo de Galinda (vegetable/meat soup with rice/quinoa) for lunch.

We spend the afternoon in the courtyard/construction site in the sun, before an early adjournment to the bar/restaurant where it is nice and warm because of the wood fired pizza oven. We enjoy a fantastic meal and a pleasant evening with fellow travellers in the warmth of the restaurant. Once back in our room we sleep under 10 tonnes of blankets, even though we cannot move and my feet are laid flat, at least we are warm.

The following day we retrace our steps back to Chivay, we again see a condor on our way out of Cabanaconde but are gobsmacked at how many people and tourist buses there are at the Mirador - Cruz del Condor and can you believe it, not a condor in sight there! We arrive back in Chivay around mid morning and check back into the same hostel.

Once we have internet reception we get the sad news that John's grandmother has passed away. While sad we are glad she is at peace, this amazing woman was aged 99 years, 2 months and 9 days. She had lived a good, happy, healthy and full life.

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Eva Fourro, John's much loved Grandmother

We also get news that Steve and Jackie's injuries while serious enough, are not life threatening, they are still in hospital, being well looked after and making good progress.

We spend a subdued afternoon in Chivay, Skill manages to wash the bike and I wile away another afternoon with a book. While the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful, we are not really here, our minds are back in the small town of Howard, Australia, where the family has begun to gather.

The following day after a quick refuel we backtrack to Canahaus over the Abra Patapampa Pass, at an altitude of 4910 metres I think this is our highest pass yet. It is an absolutely beautiful day, so much warmer than on our way to Chivay a few days ago.

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We are really on top of the world

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Ladies sell their wares at the top of the Pass

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View back to the volcanoes

We arrive in Peru's second largest city, Arequipa. As usual the outskirts of the city are grotty and dirty, there is traffic mayhem everywhere and we have no idea of where we are going. We find our way into the city centre and try to find accommodation. We are stopped in a back street close to a recommended Hostel (thanks Skip and Rach) which we are having trouble finding. While we are trying to find the street on our map, a scooter whizzes by then does a quick U turn and comes back to us. “Hello, can we help you” says the rider in perfect English. Helmut and his wife are motorcycle enthusiasts and after some discussion about accommodation and our budget takes us to a friend's hotel where he negotiates “mates rates” for us, in a absolutely beautifully appointed hotel with secure parking. Its still a little over our normal budget, but we decide to spoil ourselves. We settle ourselves in, order sandwiches and beer from room service and take in our posh surroundings.

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Our beautiful posh hotel room

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Skill with Helmut and his gorgeous wife


After a bit of a walk into the Plaza de Armes to orientate ourselves, Helmut returns and takes us to a glorious old building that houses a private members club. We settle in for the evening with drinks and great conversation. Just after midnight we get ready to leave and settle the bill. Helmut will not hear of our paying. “You are my guests”. We thank this lovely gentleman for his kindness and generosity.

We spend another 2 days in our salubrious surroundings and visit the sites of Arequipa, including Museo Santuarios Andinos, home of Juanita the ice Princess, the Monastero de Santa Catalina a monastery citadel within the city founded in 1580 and countless other churches and squares. We really enjoy this cosmopolitan city with it's fabulous food, glorious views and the ever present Misti Volcano visible from everywhere in the city.

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7th Century Cathedral on Plaza de Armes -Arequipa

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Monastero de Santa Catalina – a citadel within the city, founded in 1580


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Monastero de Santa Catalina

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Monastero de Santa Catalina

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Monastero de Santa Catalina


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Monastero de Santa Catalina


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Monastero de Santa Catalina


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Monastero de Santa Catalina

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Views from the local restaurant terrace

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Views from the Mirador Yanahuara with the ever present Volcan Misti

At this point we need to make a decision about which way we are going to go, do we head back to Chile or should we see a bit more of Peru in the dry season................... flip a coin.......... more of Peru it is. So it is off to Nasca. We leave Arequipa with only a couple wrong turns and head towards the infamous Pan American Highway. Once we hit the ocean road it was a spectacular glorious ride that we both thoroughly enjoyed, the scenery is just beautiful and the road is a series of endless twists and turns along the sea cliffs for over 200 km. We also enjoy the sight and smell of the ocean, it has been a long while since we were at sea level and smelled the saltwater. The huge ocean swell comes straight in from the Pacific and just smashes against the shore and cliffs, ocean spray and mist fill the air for kilometres inland.

Our plan is to continue on to Nasca, but as we near Chala we realise that it is after 4.00 pm and it is still 200 km to Nasca. Helmut has told us of a nice little spot to stop called Puerto Inka just North of Chala so we decide to check it out. What a find. We can camp right on the ocean, the hotel has a restaurant and cold beer, what more do we need?

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Camped at Puerto Inka

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Camped at Puerto Inka

We enjoy a beautiful afternoon here and then after a Ceviche dinner we go to bed to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach.

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Puerto Inka

Next morning after breakfast in the restaurant we go for a short walk to the Inka ruins. We are in no hurry to leave this idyllic location and get away after 10.00.

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Puerto Inka Ruins

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Black sand beach Puerto Inka

Once we leave the coast, the ride to Nasca is through the dessert on a long straight uninspiring road. The desert itself is amazing though, with not an ounce of vegetation and huge sand dunes.

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The Pan American Highway – on the way to Nasca

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Stark desert - Pan American Highway

Arriving in Nasca around lunch time we track down a great hostel, Hostel Nasca Trails with easy undercover parking. The owners are lovely people and speak English, Spanish, German and French. A very talented man. Nasca is not that an inspiring place but we enjoy it anyway. On the afternoon of our arrival, Skill is going over the bike as the chain oiler seemed to be working overtime in the heat, he comes back to the room and declares, “Hmmm I think we have a bit of a problem”. The oil was not from the chain oiler, we have developed a bit of an oil leak. Bugger. Oh well we will sort it out tomorrow.

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Huston, we have a problem.

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A bit of an oil leak

The following morning Skill is up early and takes a flight over the Nasca lines, unfortunately my aversion to small planes precludes me from this activity, and I continue to snooze. He arrives back at the hostel just after 10.00 am. I am amazed by the number of great photos he has taken. For those of you who don't know about the Nasca lines. They are huge (up to 200 m in length) continuous line drawings and geometric shapes made over 500 square kilometres in the desert by the Nasca people, some 1000 years ago over a period of 100s of years. To this day no one knows the exact reason for their existence. Many theories abound, from a giant astrology calendar, water map, religious worship or a landing path for aliens? The lines were made by clearing away stones to reveal the lighter soil underneath, the reason they have survived this long is because Nasca only receives 30 mls of rain per year, so very little erosion.

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The Nasca Lines - the famous monkey

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The Nasca Lines - Hummingbrd

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The Nasca Lines - Condor

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The Nasca Lines - Spider

That afternoon Skill seeks out some diesel to clean up the bike and tracks down the cause of our oil leak, it is the counter shaft oil seal. We put the SOS out on facebook and the HU website and within a couple of hours we have numerous offers of help, many thanks to Glen and Guy who put their hands up to help. Guy puts in an amazing effort and manages to track down the parts in two days and has them in a DHL bag the following day. We cannot thank him enough. He also has a contact in the DHL office in Brisbane who goes the extra mile for us. Thank you, Stacey, we owe you. After much deliberation we decide to have the parcel sent to Cusco.

It takes a couple of days to sort out the bike issues mainly because we have no internet for a day (the whole town of Nasca has no power on Sunday as they are installing new transmission towers) and then Skill gets a really good dose of food poisoning from a dodgy Ceviche so we stay a few more days until the drugs kick in. We do manage to visit the Maria Reiche planatarium (the German mathematician who made research into and conservation of the lines her life's work) and also a fabulous little museum housing an amazing number of Nasca artefacts. We also visit one of the Cantallo aqueducts.

After determining that our oil leak is a slow one we stock up with oil and make the decision to ride the 600 kms to Cusco. While we enjoy our time in the sun and warmth of Nasca it is not the most beautiful of places, we have nearly exhausted the tourist circuit, and the food in this town is very ordinary, so it is off to Cusco.

Next day we leave the warmth of Nasca to ride the 6 hours to Chalhuanca. I sometimes question our sanity, we are going to ride a reasonably remote road with not one straight bit in it up to an altitude of nearly 5000 metres while leaking oil at a reasonable rate. Hmmmmmm!!! On leaving Nasca we climb and climb switchback after switchback, up and down valleys and then onto the altiplano and then it is up and down various passes and valleys for the next 3 hours.

At one point we come across a truck that has not made the switchback turn onto a bridge, he has basically jack knifed the truck and has wedged himself into the bridge and has the road completely blocked off. We wait for 15 minutes while they manage to back the truck up and luckily we can sneak through the gap created, the cars trucks and buses will have to wait a while longer.

Up on the altiplano we stop at the highest point for a quick picnic lunch, then continue on managing to dodge snow showers and rain, it gets colder and colder and just as I am thinking I am not really enjoying this we come across some Llama herders and their beautiful beasts. My coldness is quickly forgotten and once again I am in awe of these people, their animals and their landscape. The fact that while stopped we put on every piece of warm gear we own also helps my disposition

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Rain and snow showers on the Alti Plano

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Beautiful Beasts

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Decorated Llamas


Once again we arrive in Chalhuanca dry (I don't know how we manage to dodge the rain and snow showers) find a posh hotel, complete with a grazing llama by the pool. After checking in, securing a hot shower albeit in the pool shower room (the only electric shower on the premises as the solar hot water in our ensuite was cold) we sit with our inquisitive llama friend by the pool and enjoy a beer in the twilight. As we enthuse over the days ride it starts to rain quite heavily and continues to do so for the night. Luckily there is a restaurant on the premises so we don't have to venture out.

Next morning we awake to blue skies and snow covered mountains in the distance. After a refuel and an oil check (we have been doing this hourly on our ride) it is on to Abancay, this ride is along the valley floor beside the river and has to rank up their as one of the nicest we have done. Once in Abancay we get lost as there is a funeral procession blocking the main road out of town then the next road we want to take is blocked off by a procession or union march, the Gods are conspiring. After taking countless back streets we eventually get back on the road out of town and climb very very quickly, 1500 metres in less than 20 minutes.

We have both been so lucky not to have suffered from altitude sickness but this climb to over 4000 metres is so quick that I start to feel quite nauseous. After telling Skill I don't feel so good, he replies “Well don't vomit in your helmet”. After tempering that statement with sympathy and offers to stop we ride down the mountains just as quickly as we have come up and I feel fine again. After this we have a break and a picnic lunch under a locally built shelter.

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Stopped for a picnic lunch on the way to Cusco

Unbelievably we manage to dodge storms yet again (the roads are quite wet in places) and ride into Cusco just after 4.30pm, just in time for peak hour. We have GPS co-ordinates for the Hostel Estrellita, and after criss-crossing our way up and down the cobbled one way streets we arrive unscathed. The lovely helpful people at the Hostel, put their bridge/plank up and we ride down into the coutyard and park beside another bike, whose owner is absent, somewhere in Ecuador, apparently.

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Parked in the courtyard of Hostal Estrellita

Well I guess we should say the ride from Nasca to Cusco is one of the most amazing rides we have done, not only because of its beauty but for a combination of reasons, the road itself, the diversity of scenery, stark desert, altiplano, verdant valleys, huge rivers and breathtaking mountain passes, and finally because there is not one single piece of straight road for over 600 km (well OK, there might be 20km at the most) So if you are a fellow motorcyclist travelling to South America, do yourself a favour and ride this road.

After two long 6-7 hour days we are a tad knackered so have an early dinner at Jacks Cafe (a place that is to become our gringo restaurant of choice) and fall asleep under another 10 tonnes of blanket dreaming of twists and turns. Welcome to Cusco.

Posted by John Skillington at 03:17 AM GMT
July 22, 2013 GMT
Cusco and the Sacred Valley

We are lucky enough to be in Cusco in the two week lead up to Inti Rami – the festival of the Winter Solstice. It is truly amazing, there is always something going on in the Plaze de Armes

Cusco sits at 3300 metres above see level. It is the continents oldest continuously inhabited city, steeped in history, the narrow cobblestoned streets are lined with huge Incan built walls, and while it is undeniably a tourist city it is also undeniably beautiful and still quite authentic. It truly is a lovely, living city.


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The Plaza de Armes – Cusco


However our first three days in Cusco are marked by rain, freezing temperatures and continual visits to DHL to check on our parcels arrival. We know that the DHL process will be a long tedious one so we make the decision to move to a warmer hostel. We feel a bit mean doing this, as the family at Hostel Estrellita are incredibly kind, the place is old but spotlessly clean and the company is good. However I am frozen to death and the old beds are not that comfortable. However the price is right, it is ridiculously cheap, about $12.00 a night including breakfast.

We literally move one street away to Hostal Labrador run by the gregarious Estella and her family. We negotiate a weekly rate. We now have a comfortable bed (well beds), our own bathroom and a warmer room. There is no off street parking but it is in a dead end lane way close to the Plaza de Armes, the only beings interested in the bike seem to be the street dogs, lets just say the cover needed a wash when we left.


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The hidden alleyways to Hotal Labrador


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Our new posh room


During those first few days in Cusco we visit Qorikancha. these Incan ruins form the base of the colonial church of Iglesia de Santo Domingo. In Incan times, the Qorikancha was literally covered with gold and was used not only for religious purposes but also as a celestial monitoring station. Of course it was looted and trashed by the marauding Spanish conquistadors, however the Incan stonework has survived unscathed by the Spanish and numerous massive earthquakes. The Incans really were master craftsman.


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Qorikancha


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Qorikancha


In complete contrast we also check out the local motorcycle street and with the help of the phone to translate, Skill asks a local shop if he can work on the bike in their workshop. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing they agree and we try to explain that we are waiting on a part. All seems to be Ok and we take our leave.

Everyday we go to the main Square to watch the dancers and parades, there is always something going on, there is never a dull moment, it is an amazing time to be in Cusco.


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Dancers in Plaza de Armes


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Parade Plaza de Armes


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Parade Plaza de Armes


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Parade Plaza de Armes


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Parade Plaza de Armes


We aimlessly wander nearly every street in the city centre there is always something to see. There is not much of Cusco we didn't get to explore.


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Lan points out the 12 sided stone


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Lan in Diagon alley (well that's what she christened it)


We also become complete and utter gringos whilst in this city, eating out at all the gringo haunts. One day whilst leaving Jacks (our restaurant of choice) we get a moral lecture from a young American lad who happens to be outside. He tells everyone within earshot that he only ever eats at local haunts when he travels, to which I silently reply “Well that's great for you, but I have had more Caldo Galindas (vegetable soup with a piece of meat) than you've had breakfasts sunshine so I am going to continue coming here everyday and eating everything on their menu” which I think we probably did. Anyway it's an Aussie owned establishment and by all accounts the owner is a silent philanthropist in Cusco helping out countless local disadvantaged women.

We also enjoy a fantastic curry at Los Perros Restaurant, another Aussie owned establishment, this place is quite posh, but we lashed out, our first Asian curry in soooooooo long.


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Skill at Los Perros


Of course we frequent the local watering holes showing no favouritism, we give them all a fair hearing - Paddy's Irish Pub, Cross Keys Pub and of course Norton Rats Pub, not only can you get beer and food, they are good vantage points for taking in the squares goings on.


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Skill enjoying the sunshine and a beer at the Cross Keys Pub


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A beer or two on the verandah at Norton Rats Pub

It is also where we meet an interesting variety of people. On one day we meet a group of independent American travellers who have had to turn back on Day 2 of the Inca Trail, it was just too tougher going for them. To their credit they listened to their guide and found some alternative trails to walk. On another day we meet a group of brash young Australian men about to set out on the Sakilkantay Trail, apparently a tougher prospect than the Inca trail, and with a couple of them suffering from altitude sickness, we wonder how they will fair.

One of the great things about travel is you get to meet amazing people doing amazing things. At Hostal Labrador we meet Jan, an English lady who is in the midst of setting up a charity to feed the street children of Ollantaytambo and surrounds. It gives her adopted Ollantaytambo godson a job and purpose while utilising the families disused terraces.

Meanwhile the DHL saga continues: I will now give you the abbreviated version of the proceedings. After having been in Cusco for nearly two weeks we are no closer to getting our bike parts. For 3 or 4 days Skill had been going twice daily to the DHL office asking “Was there anything we needed to do to expediate the packages arrival” only to be told the same information everyday, “No it was with Customs and it should be cleared in a day or two”. In the end it was a prompting email from Stacey (DHL Australia) and with the DHL tracking still showing the package in Lima on Friday morning, SkllI went back to the DHL office and insisted they call Customs in Lima to find out what was required. After they called DHL and Customs in Lima, yes there were actually documents required - surprise surprise! Apparently they wanted the invoice for the parts. Skill said “No invoice, parts are gift from a friend”.

So more calls to Customs and finally an answer. Aduana (Customs) will email a form/declaration to Skill which he must sign and return to DHL. Skill asks if DHL can print the form and sign it here immediately? No, the email will come to him, not DHL. When? Within the next hour. Three hours later Skill returns to the DHL office to tell them that no email has been received yet.

More phone calls and emails to Aduana, then "Please return in 15 min". Skill returned "No response from Aduana, please return in another 15 mins", Skill returned again "Aduana must be on lunch, please return later this afternoon", Skill returned 2 hours later and now the man that speaks English is not there "Please return in 1 hour" all in Spanish of course, Skill returned in 1 hour "Man will be here soon please wait", man finally returns and prints the Aduana form which was duly completed and signed complete with Skill's thumbprint and a passport copy!


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Skill is thumbprinted

By the time we got this far it was clear that Aduana need a value for parts and 'gift' wasn't going to fly, so we made up a value of $10US. Skill was then told to return the following day even though he pointed out it was Saturday and Aduana didn't work on a Saturday. "No please return tomorrow" He returned on Saturday only to be told Aduana don't work on Saturday, “Please return on Monday.”

Skill returns on Monday, there is no movement and after the man at DHL Cusco phones DHL Lima, he then resends the paperwork for whatever reason.

On Tuesday, I asked Skill if he wanted me to come with him today, to which he replied "Are you sure that's a good idea"?. Well the inevitable happened I had terse words with the young man, who kept telling me it was not DHL's problem, the package was with Customs and now we would have to deal with Customs to get them out.

I told him politely but very very firmly that “we have paid for DHL to deliver our parcel and they need to help us get it out of Customs, this is what their business is, receiving and delivering international parcels, they must deal with Aduana every day. It is his problem and we expect him to help. If he had given us the correct information on Tuesday instead of waiting till Friday, that may have helped us get our parcel earlier.” He seems to be completely dumbstruck that a woman would speak to him in this manner. He fiddled about on the computer for ages then told us we had to ring this number in Lima. By this time I am very antagonised and told him “No” he could ring the number in Lima, and sort it out, but apparently only the receiver of the parcel could do this, so we assumed it must be the Aduana in Lima, but no it was DHL in Lima.

Anyway he grudgingly rang the number in Lima and handed Skill the phone. Skill gave them the tracking number and explained that two lots of paperwork had been sent, (including a signed declaration with Skill's thumbprint), they then informed us that they hoped it would clear customs today or tomorrow, which they have been telling us for over a week.

We explained that we really need to leave Cusco as there is no accommodation this weekend (which is almost true as everything is booked out for the winter solstice party, we have to go back to our first cold dodgy hostel for a few nights) and her solution to this problem was that perhaps we could come to Lima (over 500 km away) to pick up the parcel. By this time Skill (a very patient man) has had enough and tells her in no uncertain terms that this is a ridiculous suggestion and we expect our parcel to be delivered here in Cusco by Friday.

We must say that DHL Australia was fabulous, it was all tracked and here in two days, it is the Peruvian end that is hopeless, they just don't seem to have any idea of how their own system works, or perhaps they just don't care.

It is also at this point that Stacey (DHL Australia and a friend of Guys) also has a terse word with DHL Lima and things start to happen. We are so grateful for her help.

As it became obvious that we are not going to get our parcel any time soon we decide we will take a day tour to the Sacred Valley. It starts off badly as our bus and guide do not show at the Plaza de Armes at the allotted time. In fact an hour later a completely flustered woman arrives apologising profusely that they could not get the bus into the Plaza because of all the people and police blocks for the street parades. We now get a private car ride to meet the tour which has only just arrived at its first destination, a dodgy market about 45 minutes drive away.

We have an enjoyable day with an eclectic group of 15 people. We visit the small village and ruins of Pisac, an Incan citadel surrounded by terraces, atop the terraces is the ceremonial centre with an Intihuatana (hitching post to the sun), several working water channels and some well preserved buildings. A cliff behind the site is honeycombed with hundreds of Inca tombs.


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The ruins of Pisac

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The ruins of Pisac


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The Incan tombs of Pisac


From here it is onto the Pisac markets and a posh smorgasboard lunch and then a visit to the ruins of Ollantaytambo. This village is absolutely gorgeous, and is perhaps the best surviving example of Inca city planning, it's massive fort stands guard over the cobblestoned village. It is also one of the only places where the conquistadors lost a major battle, when the Mano Inca threw missiles and actually flooded the plain below. The site was however more ceremonial and the stone work is amazing considering it was transported from kilometres away using huge (still visible) ramps.


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Lan at the ruins of Ollantaytambo


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The girls playing silly buggers in the niches at the ruins of Ollantaytambo


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View over the village of Ollantaytambo and the grainery on the opposite hillside


We love this village, but our time here is too short so we make a decision to return once the bike is back in action.

The tour bus wends its way back to Cusco via the village of Chinchero where we stop to look at the simply frescoed church, it is now dark and cold so it is a very quick stop.


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The Church at Chinchero


We arrive back in Cusco in the dark and to an absolutely packed Plaza de Armes, the place is going off, bands, and partying locals everywhere. We go for a wander through the chaos, grab a kebab and retire for the night.

The following day, Thursday we decide to book a city tour as it is cheap and we enjoyed our tour the day before. We do have a bit of a question about the timing, 2pm – 7pm, considering it is dark by 6.00 pm. Oh well we will give it a whirl. Just before we board the bus Skill goes to the DHL office to check on the parcel.

“Oh yes sir it arrived this morning”. WTF!!! “ and you didn't notify me. OK well I am here to collect it”. “Good sir we need your passport”. “ I don't have it on me and you know me. I have been here 3 times a day for the past two weeks. You also have now made 2 photocopies of my passport” “Sorry sir, we need your original passport” is the response. Bloody hell there is no time to go back to the hotel and get the passport before we get on the bus and DHL closes at 7.00pm.

The tour is hilariously BAD, every city tour in Cusco leaves at 2.00pm, they all follow the same itinerary and there are about 50 people in each group. We firstly visit Saqsaywaman, where we have to wait for nearly an hour to get in, we then have a rather disjointed misinformation session, which leaves us 20 minutes to look around, before it is back on the bus racing all the other tour buses to the next site. We do get the giggles as the guards are constantly blowing their whistles at the marauding tourists telling them to get off the rock walls that have survived Spanish conquistadors and earthquakes, but apparently it was alright to use the place as a quarry (for buildings in Cusco) up until 2001.


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Lan at Saqsaywaman


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The ruins of Saqsaywaman


Next we visit Q'enqo a small mysterious cave with rock hewn alters. Here we line up for another 30 minutes for a two minute walk through the cave. Then it is back on the Michael Schumacher bus for a 10 minute race to Tambomachay, a beautiful ceremonial bath still channelling clear water. It is very simple but quite lovely.

By the time we leave here it is completely dark, so at the next ruin of Pukapukara we don't even bother getting off the bus. Apparently in daylight it is a “Red Fort”.

And finally to add insult to injury our last stop for nearly an hour is at an Alpaca wool and jewellery shop. We do a cursory 5 minute walk through before getting back on the bus and chatting to a lovely young couple from Singapore.

Back to Cusco and we cannot move for sea of people, Inti Raymi festivities are in full swing, the Plaza is packed, there are food and drink stalls everywhere, 2 huge stages with rock bands playing, and a finale of fireworks. WOW!

Next morning Skill and his passport are at the DHL office before the 8.30 am opening time. He comes back with parcel in hand and a smile on his dial, has breakfast and then goes directly to the motorcycle shop and leaves me at the hostal.


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Our DHL Parcel arrives, thanks to Guy and Stacey


Skill writes - Because its now 2 weeks since I arranged to use the very nice clean Honda workshop, they take a while to remember me. Then the bad news, today is Friday and the start of the long weekend for Inti Raymi festival so although sales is still open, the workshop is closed until next Tuesday. WHAT? I explain that I don't need a mechanic just access to the workshop. Sorry but you are not allowed in workshop while it is unattended. While I do understand this I really need to get this fixed and get out of Cusco – PLEASE!

I can tell they want to help and after a number of phone calls a guy turns up on a 2-stroke motorcross bike (no helmet) and then everyone says I must go with him to another workshop. I thought maybe in the next street, but no, we go halfway across the city and now I have no idea how to get back to our hostal. We finally get to the workshop and its the usual ramshakle dusty dirty establishment – bugger – what to do. Oh well make the best of it I guess. I once again try to communicate that I will do the work and pay them for use of workshop. They seem confused but sort of agree. All goes reasonably well although they keep trying to take over working on the bike even though they would never have seen a bike like this before. In the end we replaced the leaking oil seals, changed the engine oil and filter, cleaned and re-oiled the air filter and washed the bike all for about $60Aus including new Motul engine oil and bottle of air filter oil. Result!

Luckily for me a local guy who spoke a little English took a liking to the bike and translated for me in the workshop, then he wanted a lift back to near the Honda shop, so at least someone could give me directions from the pillion seat. Only problem was he was enjoying the bike ride so much he kept forgetting to give me directions, or perhaps he was shit-scared, not sure.

Lan writes - As it is now the weekend and most hostels/hotels in town are full we move back to Estrellita Hostel. Compared to our stay 2 weeks ago the place is packed and there are now 4 bikes parked in the courtyard. We enjoy a lovely couple of days with like minded souls, but are itching to get going. Bring on Monday!


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Bikes parked at Estrellita Hostel

Posted by John Skillington at 06:32 PM GMT
Ollantaytambo to Puno

After the weekend we are eager to hit the road even if it is a short 3 hour ride to Ollantaytambo.

For the first time since we arrived in Santiago 9 months ago we have pre-booked our accommodation in Ollantaytambo at the lovely Hotel Munay Tika. The hotel is gorgeous, we have the most amazing views from our room and the staff are so helpful. The only problem is getting the bike through the garden door. It is more than a tight fit but Skill manages it.


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Skill got the bike through that door


We love this little village, it is just so beautiful, the ruins are visible from everywhere. On one of our days in the village we walk up to the Incan graineries on the opposite side of the main ruins. The views are outstanding.


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The bustling streets of Ollantaytambo


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The bustling streets of Ollantaytambo


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On our way to the Graineries


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The Grainery ruins

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The Grainery Ruins

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Views back to the ruins of Ollantaytambo


After a couple of days exploring Ollantaytambo, eating and drinking at just about every establishment in town we board our train for Aguas Calientes and the main event, Machu Piccu. We can't wipe the smiles of our faces


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Restaurant opposite our hotel


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Our train to Aguas Caliente


The train ride to Aguas Calientes is absolutely stunning, our necks are on swivels, in every direction the views are breath taking. Unfortunately the train is packed, not a seat to be had, and we are packed in like sardines, poor Skill cannot fit his legs under the table.

Aguas Calientes would have to be the most touristed place we have been to in South America, it is sustained solely by tourists, to and from Machu Piccu.
We arrive in this little town just after dark and are met by a girl from the hostel who has our name on a little board (Johan and Ellena), we follow her blindly through the maze of streets to arrive at our hostel. A quick shower, a dodgy pizza dinner and then it is off to meet our guide Peter, who gives us a run down for our MP visit tomorrow, we are to meet him at 8.00 am. We quickly buy snacks from the shop across the road for tomorrows visit and that is all we see of Aguas Caliente as we are in bed by 9.00pm.

The alarm sounds at 4.30 am, up and at em, dodgy breakfast then it is down to join the queue for the bus to Machu Piccu, we have a half hour wait but are soon on a bus enjoying the 30 minute ride up the switchbacks to Machu Piccu and enter the gates by 6.45 am.

People are swarming in like ants and I begin to question our visit. After dreaming of coming here for 30 years and all the amazing ruins we have seen in our travels am I going to be disappointed?


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Our first glimpse of the ruin


As we climb the path to the lookout at the Caretaker's Hut and finally arrive for our first glimpse, we cannot help but be overwhelmed by the absolute beauty of this ruin and it's location. It is everything we have imagined and more. Simply stunning. The sun does not rise over the mountains and hit the ruins until around 7.30 am. We secure our view point and soak it all in, it is all a bit much to take in, almost like I am in someone else's movie


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Here comes the sun – Machu Picchu


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Here comes the sun – Machu Picchu


Once again we luck in with the weather which for weeks has been in a word, changeable, today the sun is shining, it is hot and not a breath of wind. A beautiful day for exploring the ruins. We join Peter our tour guide for our two hour tour around Machu Piccu. We then spend the day at our own leisure visiting every inch of the ruins.


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Intihuatana (Hitching post of the Sun) sits atop a pyramid


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Sacred Rock - a coincidence or perfectly carved to match the mountains?


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Temple of the Condor


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Temple of the Sun and the Royal tomb


We take a break for lunch in the Incan quarry, it is quite bizarre, although the place is crawling with 100s of tourists we have this place all to ourselves and enjoy our picnic lunch in peaceful solitude.


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Skill enjoys lunch in peace and quiet


We then walk a small portion of Inca trail up to the Sungate and back again.


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Walk to the Sungate along the famous Inca Trail


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Walk to the Sungate. View back to Machu Piccu including the road up, a series of switchbacks


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Check out the size of those mountains


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Views back to the ruins


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An exhausted Lan


When we arrive back at the main ruins at 2.00pm there is hardly anyone around at all, we take the opportunity to re walk most of the ruins and catch one of the last buses back to Aguas Caliente around 4.45 pm. Once back in Aguas Caliente we collect our gear from the hostel, grab a burger and a few happy hour drinks before catching our train back to Ollantaytambo at 7.00 pm. Luckily our lovely hotel in Ollantaytambo is only a 5 minute walk away, we return to our room, a hot shower and bed. It has been an amazing day, one we will remember for a long time to come.


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Lan and Skill at Machu Piccu


Next day we sleep in, mooch around Ollantaytambo, repack the bike before a late Menu del Dia where we get chatting to a lovely American couple who are actually staying at the same hotel as us. As we enjoy our lunch with views to the ruins we notice that the school kids are out on the terraces apparently practising for an anniverary re-enactment of the great battle where the Mano Inca defeated the conquistadors. It is a shame we will miss it.


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Ollantaytambo Streets


Next morning we leave Ollantaytambo with a touch of sadness, we have really enjoyed our stay in this beautiful living village and great hotel. The ride back through the Sacred Valley is stunning and once again it is a glorious sunny day. The road follows the river for the first couple of hours before we return to the main road between Cusco and Puno. We are in no hurry as we plan to stop in Pucara for the night. We stop in a random village for a local lunch and continue on up over the Alti Plano.

As we are tootling along we are pulled over by the police, for what reason I am not sure. I think they were going to book us for speeding, except we weren't speeding, and they had no radar anyway. After a long, happy chat, a check of documents and insurance, then 2 koalas passing hands (I handed over one koala and one pen but was soon asked for another for his colleague, cheeky buggers) we were on our way, none the wiser why we were pulled over. We later passed these guys at another checkpoint where they enthusiastically waved us on.


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Hmmm, it's the Peruvian Police

At this point it is getting on a bit so we do start to push it along, at Pucara we make the decision to press on to Puno, mainly because Pucara is a bit of a dive and the hotel is very unimpressive. After another 200 km we reach Puno just after sunset. It is absolutely freezing, we happen upon the Hostel Arequipa which we know has parking and decide that will do us for the night. We unpack and lug the gear upstairs before it is off to MachuPizza for dinner. We return to the room where the thermometer in the tank bag is showing 4 degrees. I decide the tepid water in the shower is not for me and crawl into bed, luckily there are lots of blankets and we are toasty warm once we put our beanies on to keep our heads warm. At this point we still haven't decided if it is back to Bolivia tomorrow or are we heading to Northern Chile. Ohhhh I guess we can figure it out in the morning, that is if we haven't frozen to death overnight.

Posted by John Skillington at 07:29 PM GMT
July 25, 2013 GMT
Puno (Peru) to Tilcara (Argentina)

Yesterday was a long day, and last night in Puno it got down to minus 6 degrees Celcius, so we have a bit of a sleep in before venturing out for a bacon and egg breakfast and hitting the road for (hmm is it back to Bolivia or off to Chile) a toss of the coin and Bolivia it is.

We leave Puno easily, fill up with fuel and enjoy a short ride to …................... the first police checkpoint. They check our papers, including our SOAT insurance and we are off again. About 20 kms further along we pass a traveller's bike with Guatamala plates, we don't stop as he gives us the thumbs up and continues to take photos. Not long afterwards he overtakes us and disappears. We are enjoying our ride and the scenery, the mountains are back in all their glory.


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The ride to the Bolivian Border


We spy the Triumph Tiger again and this time we stop. We meet the gregarious David, an American/Mexican citizen living in Guatamala. After a quick chat we discover we are both heading for the Bolivian border at Copacabana so travel together.

We cross out of Peru easily and then it is on to Bolivia.


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We cross out of Peru


All appears to be off to a flying start until we realise they are on lunch for an hour, What a surprise!!


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The boomgates are closed. The Bolivian side is on lunch.

We park the bikes up and have a chat, David is on a 5 month trip from Guatamala to Brazil, and has just had his wife join him in Cusco for a week to see the sights of the Sacred Valley. He is continuing on solo.

Eventually the Bolivian side is open and we are processed reasonably quickly, the boys get the temporary imports done with little fuss and no question of a bribe. Maybe having two people and a fluent Spanish speaker (ie; David) made a difference. Anyway we are off and travel the 10 kms to Copacabana where we park in the square while I try to find Hotel Utama, this is an Antje and Ingolf recommendation (travellers we met in southern Argentina).

No luck, but while I am away, Martin our Swiss van driving friend makes an appearance for the third time on this trip, I am always amazed at the way you can run into the same people so randomly. If you tried to organise it you would never do it. At this point we have an hours chat on the footpath before David decides he will join us at our accomodation and not push on to La Paz. We say good bye to Martin, find the lovely Hotel Utama and check into a room with a view over the Lake.

It is then out for a walk, and a couple of beers by the Lake, before an early dinner, a long chat, and a reasonably late evening.

Next day we spend a lazy day in Copacabana, walking along Lake Titicaca. The shores of the Lake are lined with literally 100s of swan pedalos, obviously someone thought it would be a good business venture, and everyone hopped on the bandwagon however we did not see one single one in use, we did however discuss the idea of a swan Grand Prix.


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Two of the two hundred swan pedalos

Copacabana is a small town with not a lot happening, most tourists are here to visit Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca, while many locals are here to have their cars blessed, a ritual where car and truck owners line up outside the cathedral with their vehicles decorated with flowers, ribbons and glittery top hats??? and ask the Virgen de Copacabana to protect them. While this is all well and good, perhaps a little bit of defensive driver training might actually be of more use.


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Decorated car, which has just been blessed

We decide not to take a tour out to the Isla del Sol as we did our tour from Puno on the Peru side a month or so ago, sometimes you cannot manage to do everything.

The following day, I am not feeling particularly well, I am suffering from a bad headache/mild migraine but after a slow start I am feeling a tad better so we make the break for the Lake Titicaca Ferry. Thankfully Copacabana is a small town and we manage to find our way out easily because as usual there is not one single sign to La Paz until you are actually on the road to La Paz. The ride to the ferry is a very stunning series of twists and turns over the mountains never losing sight of the highest navigable Lake in the world – Lake Titicaca.

The ferry (well that is a bit of an over statement) are actually wooden punts tied together with wire and duct tape by the look of them. After a five minute wait we ride on, carefully negotiating the large cracks in the wood with views to the Lake below, then it is a 15 minute ride across the Lake where we get chatting to a lovely group of French lads who help us unload at the other end, you have to reverse off uphill, not the easiest thing on an overloaded bike. Backing the bike off is a bit of a challenge but between the 6 of us we manage not to land in the drink.


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The Lake Titicaca Ferries


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Loading the Bike onto the Ferry


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Bike on the Lake Titicaca Ferry

We continue the ride to La Paz, for a while it is really enjoyable but the closer we get to the capital the more trafficked it becomes and the slower and harder the ride. We manage to negotiate El Alto's crazy traffic without incident and then begin the hunt for the elusive Bolivian fuel, an hour later after our fourth gasoline station, still not feeling well, I lose it big time. It is not only the fact that they won't serve you, it is the fact that you line up for ten or more minutes, you get to the bowser, take the tank bag off, open the fuel tank and they absolutely and totally ignore you for another ten minutes, before very smugly saying NO or bald-facely lie to you and tell you there is no fuel.

By this time I am seething and tell Skill NOT to move the bike so we are creating a huge queue and I am having my say in Spanglish and creating a scene. I am not haggling over paying the foreigner price, I just want fuel. It didn't get us fuel but at least I had my say. The next service station also refuses us fuel but at least he does point us to a station that will sell to foreigners, so finally we can refuel after one and a half hours! Did we mention that the ridiculous fuel situation in Bolivia shits us to tears? AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

The ride to Oruro is actually backtracking for us and we take it fairly steady as the road is not in great condition and Skill knows I am not feeling great. It is on this road we see our first police radar at the entrance to a small town. As we are being overtaken by nearly every vehicle on the road and the police already have a number of cars pulled over we continue on without incident. However it is only ten minutes down the road that we are overtaken by the same said vehicles, obviously they have learnt their lesson.............. no ..............obviously they have paid the police off and are on their speeding way again.

About 15 kms out of Oruro we are discussing our hotel options and what we feel like for dinner when Skill looks down at the instrument panel and says to me “The bike is about to conk out”. What do you mean conk out? Skill says “The instrument panel just died, the bike is spluttering and has lost power, the battery is dead”.

Fortunately we spy a small track off to the side and take that as the bike dies. Hmmmm, what to do.

It was the same problem that Skill had when he went to the Snowy Mountains a couple of years ago with Dave Longy, the problem that we had TWO electrical guys look at before we left on the trip and was deemed to be within specifications and satisfactory.

Anyway we are now stuck on the roadside in a not so desirable part of Bolivia, Oruro is not the most inspiring place in Bolivia, in fact it would have to rate up there with the worst place we have been in Bolivia. Unfortunately we find out that Bolivians are very reticent to stop to help anyone broken down and after nearly 45 minutes we finally get a small ute (pick up) to stop, only because in sheer desperation we put ourselves on the road in front of him. After a quick chat, much measuring and consternation it is pretty obvious the bike is too heavy for us to lift onto the pick-up and is not going to fit in the small tray anyway. Skill manages to ask him to phone someone who can help us. After a few minutes he has phoned a tow/hoist truck and told us it would be an hour (all in Spanish, so I guess our Spanish is getting slightly better). This lovely man wishes us luck and continues on his way. Unfortunately the sun has just dipped below the horizon and at over 4000m altitude in winter it is already very cold and will be pitch black and much colder by the time the rescue truck arrives in an hour.


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Broken down on the Oruro La Paz road


We get out our winter woollies, rain gear and headlights and stand around to wait it out. Well an hour and a half later it is now pitch black with occasional light rain/mist with temps around or below freezing, every time we see a truck approaching we illuminate the bike with our headlights but to no avail. Interestingly in the hours we have been standing by the road side no one else stops, we must really look like misfits. After an hour and a half, we have given up hope of seeing our rescue truck and are about to resort to putting up the tent on a rocky 30 degree slope a few metres from this quite busy highway.

We discuss the fact that we haven't eaten since breakfast (skipped lunch), are both feeling quite dehydrated and we barely have half a litre of water remaining, so we can't cook our emergency pasta or noodles, can't even make a hot cuppa. It would have to be about the only day of the whole trip we haven't been carrying our usual mandatory 2 litres of water with us. Guess that means no breakfast either. Bugger!

We were still contemplating our circumstances, when out of the darkness our truck appears, it looked like an angelic apparition to me. The two guys jump out and set to work.


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The bike ready to be hoisted onto the truck


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The bike is hoisted onto the truck


It takes a long while to organise the harness to hoist the bike up in the dark and cold, but this is eventually accomplished. We then load our gear and ourselves into the truck and drive to the hotel where we stayed last time we were in Oruro, thank goodness we knew of a hotel with parking. I unload our gear, check into the hotel and lug some of the stuff upstairs to the top floor while Skill and the guys unload the bike in the main square of Oruro to the amazement of the locals. We were charged gringo prices for the rescue service but to be honest I would have paid them triple.


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The bike is unloaded


We manage to get only a barely tepid shower (some days are just not meant to be easy), I am still not feeling that well, and am absolutely exhausted, dehydrated, and slightly nauseous, I fall into bed thanking my lucky stars I am in a warm hotel and not on a rock strewn roadside in my tent. Skill bless his cotton socks, phones Cory then hunts down some street food chicken & chips, beer, lemonade and water. It has been quite a day.

The following day I don't get out of bed until after midday, although I am a bit groggy I am feeling so much better. Skill has been busy getting the battery charged, emailing contacts and organising a rendezvous point with Cory and Paola who will be on their way back to Cochabamba from La Paz tomorrow and have have kindly offered to pick up the bike.

As our close friend Kath Finn once said to us “You two were whacked in the arse by a rainbow”. It probably didn't feel like it last night by the road side but what are the chances that Cory and Paolo were in La Paz and were coming home in the next day or two. Cory is probably one of the few people in Bolivia who has a vehicle set up for carrying bikes, complete with ramp and tie downs.

We arrange to meet the Rowdens at 9.30 am at Caracolla, 30 minutes out of Oruro on the road we came in on (or didn't come in on) the night before last. Riding on freshly recharged battery power alone with the headlights disconnected, we hold our breath as we ride the 35km out of Oruro. Fortunately we make it. It is so nice to see these guys again. Friendly, familiar faces go a long way to making insurmountable problems seem small. It takes a fair bit of reorganisation to load the bike and reload all the gear. We put Cory's new tailgate and loading ramp to the ultimate test, all goes well except for the undersized wire cables on the tailgate which snap under the immense weight. Oops, sorry Cory. The pick-up is really loaded up by the time we pack all our gear and repack their gear.


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Loading the bike into the Rowden's ute.


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Isaac and friend help out


After some discussion we decide we should take a bus to Cochabamba as no room for us in the ute (pick-up). We farewell the Rowdens and the bike and try our hand at catching a bus. We are told buses stop here, but none do in the next hour, so we try to hail one from the road side. No luck with the first 4 or 5 just ignoring us. Seems we are not good with public transport, but eventually a coach stops on the roadside. The attendant confirms they are indeed going to Cochabamba and welcomes us aboard and explains something in a volley of Spanish. We understand none of it but soon find that there is actually only one seat available but one of us can sit on a little stool at the back, beside the toilet. Oh well it wasn't that bad, compared to a certain Moroccan bus ride complete with goat and chickens several years ago, it was sheer luxury.

About 2 hours later, half way to Cochabamaba, we are both beckoned to some recently vacated very comfortable seats near the front. You cannot complain considering it cost us $5.00 each for a 4 hour journey. As luck would have it, the driver was a really good one, not executing any of the usual dangerous stunt manoeuvres that Bolivian truck and bus drivers are famous for. He was a really safe driver. We arrive in Cochabamba and manage to hail a car-wreck masquerading as a taxi and arrive safely on Cory, Paola, Hugo, Liam and Isaac's doorstep AGAIN. The generosity of these people knows no bounds.

Between us all we manage to unload the ute (pick up), we get ourselves organised and then join the family for dinner, drinks and a lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnng chat. Once again we fall into bed exhausted.

The following day, Skill diagnoses the problem being the “stator” (ie; part of the alternator – tests indicated it was open circuit with zero voltage being produced – you can tell Skill wrote that). Skill then removes the engine case complete with stuffed stator assembly. It is then off to Cory's auto-electrician in the Cancha (walled Market Area). On first impression, the electrical shop doesn't inspire confidence wedged between junk shops with fruit sellers lining the street outside, the shop is a roller-door wide and about the same depth with one work bench about the size of a kitchen table and junk stacked everywhere. Cory discusses the problem with the electrician and apparently Skill didn't understand a word of the technical discussion in Spanish. The electrician uses his meters to check the stator and comes to the same conclusion as Skill – the stator needs repair/rewiring and then immediately points to at least one of the burnt through wires. Yes he can rewind the stator, but it will take a few days. Cory assures us he is very good, so we agree the price and leave the stator with him.

As it is now Thursday and the stator won't be ready until Tuesday, we try and make ourselves useful around the house and in the bike workshop, I am not sure how successful we are but at least we are doing something. Skill does the mowing and strimming (whipper-snipping) and helps with some oil changes, tyre and wheel bearing changes on some of Cory's bikes.

On Sunday morning Paola and I venture out to the Cancha to do the monthly shop. For Paola it is hard work but I have a ball, it is such an eye opener and sure beats a day at “The Plaza” - our sanitised shopping mall at home. We buy heaps of fresh fruit and veges, the most amazing variety of lentils, quinoa, and rice. Then it is off to get some materials, plates and bowls, some new legins before we buy a new stool and lastly 10 kgs of potatoes. Exhausted by our shopping and lugging expedition we opt for a sugary black nescafe in the bowels of the cancha. For some reason, it is a pinch me, I can't believe I am here moment. The hardest part of our expedition is driving home, the streets around the cancha are packed with people, animals vendors, buses, taxis and traffic, to be honest I don't know how Paola negotiated it.

On Tuesday morning Skill and Cory are off on a round of jobs including picking up our repaired stator, parts for Cory's motorcycles, much stronger wire to repair Cory's tailgate wire that our bike broke and also the 2 ducklings that are to spend the school holidays at the Rowden household.

The last week passes in a blurr, once again we enjoy being in a family environment, however we are very aware that time is ticking away on our visa, we only have 19 days left. Once we have the newly rewound stator in our hot little hands, Skill reinstalls it and we hold our breathe, everything seems to go back together well and the bike is again charging as it should and all electrical readings are within specifications.

The following day we decide to take the bike for a test run, we are invited to Nathan and Kate Spies for Lunch (good friends of Cory and Paolas and our Lake friends from our last trip to Cochabamba) we ride the bike over to their place, enjoy a lovely afternoon with this great family before we say goodbye and take the bike for a bit more of a run. Everything seems to be working as it should. Later that afternoon we do a big pack up and get ourselves organised to leave next morning.

We don't get away early (so what's new), Cory helps us refuel by jerry can and we fill our trusty extra bottle at their local gasoline station, it is then more sad goodbyes and finally we can leave this poor family in peace. We have to say it, if it were not for their kindness to virtual strangers, we would probably still be scratching our heads wondering what to do. Once again they welcomed us into their home and Cory's knowledge of local motorcycle mechanics and electricians was amazing, and we just could not have done it without his help with translations. We cannot thank them enough. For more information about Cory and Paola's Bolivian motorcycle touring and hire business check out www.boliviabound.net

As we get away late and we take it easy on the road (which we are riding/driving for the fourth time) we arrive in Oruro around 2.30pm. We decide it is too late to push on to Potosi so we go back to the same hotel for the 3rd time. Once again we unpack, lug everything up to the top floor and just about die of breathlessness. Skill spends an hour going over the bike making sure it is all still ok and then begins the hunt for fuel, he walks to a couple of gasoline stations where he is again refused fuel. Feeling slightly fed up, he opts for a shower, beer, chicken and chips, with a scotch chaser. We wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Well tomorrow brings the great Bolivian hunt for fuel AGAIN, we have to try five service stations before we find one that will fill the bike and our bottle even at the foreigner price. Finally we can set off and enjoy the ride to Potosi and even manage to find another service station to refuel our bottle. Once in Potosi we get lost again, this is the 3rd time we have ridden through this city with no signs and the 3rd time we have ended up lost, it's just a maze. We end up on what we believe is one of the main roads out of town which deteriorates into a very steep single-lane rock strewn dirt 4WD track running along side a new under-construction concrete road with about half a metre lip. We can see the T-intersection with the road we want to Tupiza, but with a traffic jam of cars and vans in front all stuck on this steep rock strewn track, we cannot move. I eventually move some rocks and concrete to build a ramp and Skill artfully jumps the bike up onto the concrete road and we ride past the vehicles trying to free themselves, yeah!! So this is apparently one of the main roads through Potosi! We are finally on the highway out of town but not before dodging a few on-coming trucks doing crazy overtaking manoeuvrers. Life is never dull in Bolivia.

By this time it is quite late but we are happy to push on to Tupiza, it is a beautiful ride and thankfully we manage to dodge another police radar, luckily there was a speeding taxi in front of us and we also find a service station that will sell us some fuel! Amazing!

We arrive in Tupiza just on dark, after nine hours on the bike, find the Hotel Mitru as we know it has easy parking. We are unpacked, showered and out to dinner by 7.00pm. However after waiting an hour and a half for a pizza, we cut our losses, leave and go to another establishment. Bed was very welcome that night.

Today was our last day in Bolivia, we used up as many bolivianos as we could and changed the rest to US dollars, it was then a lovely 90 km ride to the border. For some reason it was a remarkably easy border crossing this time, the Argentinian Aduana guys were so helpful. One young man spoke great English and was a Wallabies Rugby fan. He helped smooth our way and did a very cursory glance over the bike. We had been warned that coming from Boliva they sometimes take everything off to check for drugs. However once he discovered our left over pizza in the topbox and I had offered him some, (he declined and explained that they had an asado on the go at the back of the Aduana offices – you got to love Argentina) he wasn't that interested in checking anything else.


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We cross back into Argentina and look it's only 5121 km back to Ushuaia!

As we are quite early we refuel (hooray we can easily buy fuel again in Argentina, but you do have to queue for it!) and decide to push on to Purmamarka, it is an absolutely beautiful 250 km ride through the most stunning mountainous countryside, we stop roadside near this Gaucho Gil roadside shrine for our leftover pizza lunch,


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Gaucho Gil (See footnote)


before reaching Purmamarka where we find the town packed and accommodation prices double what we paid last time we were here a couple of months ago. Apparently it is Argentinian school holidays and there is a festival of some sort in progress. We decide to backtrack the 20 kms to Tilcara where we eventually find the lovely Waira hostel and camp ground. It is dinner, bed and a deep wonderful 12 hour sleep.

While we have loved Bolivia, it's natural beauty, it's sites and people, and we treasure the new friends we have made here, the fuel saga is really starting to become a major headache and pain-in-the-a***, at least it is for us.

When we started our tour around Bolivia over 3 months ago we had the occasional service station refuse to fill our five litre bottle but as time has progressed more and more service stations are refusing to fill the five litre bottle and trying to get the bike filled is a nightmare even at the foreigner price, there is no negotiation, it is just a straight out NO, it doesn't seem to matter how much money you offer them. On average we will be refused 3 to 4 times before we will find a service station that will serve us fuel. And while you can sometimes pay off a hapless taxi driver, or fellow motorist or find black market fuel, it really has become a painful exercise, adding at least an extra hour and a half or more to the daily journey, not to mention the niggling worry of running out of fuel.

We were hoping to leave Bolivia via Tarija but decided to cut our losses and leave by the shortest route, Tupiza. It is a shame that Bolivia government has made such a mountain out of a molehill. Even the blockades are not as frustrating as the fuel situation. It borders on the ridiculous. There is just no consistency of rules or their implementation.

In fact the last few overlanders in vehicles we have met have bought black market fake Bolivian number plates just to get around the fuel problem.

We really hope that the fuel issue for foreign, independent travellers gets sorted out as it is the one thing that seriously detracts from adventure travel in this amazingly beautiful country. Other than the fuel issue, Bolivia is really worth the effort. You really HAVE to see this spectacular country

Cheers,
John and Lan

Footnote:
All through Argentina, you will see red shrines of all shapes and sizes or red flags on the roadsides. They are everywhere. These are affectionate shrines to Gaucho Gil. Apparently Gaucho Gil is not an official saint in the church, he is a “pseudo saint” who is much revered throughout the country. There are many mysteries surrounding this man, fact and fiction have become blurred, however, it is known his name was Antonio Mamerto Gil Nuñez, he was born in the 1840's and died on January 8, 1878.

Apparently he was a deserter from the Argentine military who evaded capture for many years. During that time, he became the "Robin Hood" of Argentina, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.

When he was eventually captured and sentenced to death, he was strung up from a tree. As the executioner was preparing to behead him, Gaucho's final words were "Don't kill me - my pardon is coming. If you do kill me, your son will be stricken with a deadly illness, and the only way to save him will be to give my body a proper burial."

The executioner obviously proceeded with his task, but when he arrived home he discovered that his son was dying. He returned to the site of the execution and buried Gaucho's body. His son was miraculously cured and so a legend was born.
Now, the superstitious Argentinians have built shrines throughout the country to celebrate the memory of Gaucho Gil. It is also where they bring offerings in the hope that their prayers will be answered.

Posted by John Skillington at 04:03 PM GMT
August 13, 2013 GMT
Tilcara (Argentina) to Trindade (Brazil)

We awake next morning to find that we have indeed slept for twelve hours, it must be the aging process, whatever happened to the couple that used to party Friday night, drive 800 km to a party Saturday night and return the 800 km home Sunday and front work on Monday. I fear they are extinct.

For some reason we feel completely exhausted so decide we will just chill in Tilcara for a few days, although cold at night it is beautiful, sunny and warm during the day.

As it is Saturday the hostel and it's inhabitants are in Asado (BBQ) mode, we ask if we can join in the meat mayhem and proceed to eat ½ a cow and drink two bottles of wine in the sun while listening to a great eclectic mix of music. We are joined by Helena, a Swedish expat now living in BA and 2 Aussie girls, it is a lovely day and although we feel lazy, our batteries have been recharged.

We spend another day at the hostel before going out for a league of nations dinner, 3 Mexicans, 4 Aussies, One Swedish, 2 Americans, it is nice to be amongst young happy souls and we enjoy a late, loud evening.

Next day we eventually pack up and are about to get on the road, we think we will head to Salta to get insurance as we have been told the police in the Northern parts of Argentina are a little more corrupt than in the South (we have never had a problem with the police in Argentina) and will take no insurance as a sure fire way to extort some money. Just as we are leaving we are talking to Fernando (the BMW riding owner) telling him what we are up to, he explains that we can easily buy insurance here in Tilcara, so that is exactly what we do. Of course this means we don't get out of Tilcara until sometime after lunch, but now with valid third-party insurance.

We head off making our way 250km and end up at the very non touristed village of Metan where we spend the night at the most beautiful hotel of our entire journey, it is very posh (and cheap) and we are in the middle of nowhere.

The following few days we intend to head to Puerto Iguazu, a 714 km straight road to Resistencia before we have another 628kms to Puerto de Iguazu.

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How's this for a straight road


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On our way to Presidencia Roque Saenz Pena, as they say in India “Just go straight, sir”


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100 kms further on, and we are still going straight


The first days ride from Metan to Presidencia Roque Saenz Pena (yes that is truly the name of the place) is unexceptional and we make good time, for the first time in ages I am riding without my wet weather pants on (they keep me warm), hooray, the temperature is warming up. The following day is a horrible one, it takes us 6 hours to do less than 300 km, firstly the traffic is quite heavy, then the police make us detour off the main road into Resistencia, and unfortunately after that there are no detour signs, we just follow the traffic along dirt roads for about 40 km in 1st gear with no idea where we are going, eventually when we are back on a paved road at a set of lights I ask the guys in the pick-up beside us “Resistencia?”, “Si” they say and intimate for us to follow them which we gratefully do. Once in Resistencia we then have to backtrack to the main road which is completely jammed with traffic. We crawl along for over an hour until we reach a roundabout that has people, police and burning tyres everywhere. Not sure what was going on.

We eventually make our way over the huge river Parana and out of the twin city of Corientes.

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Up and over the huge Rio Parana

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Not the best of photos but shows the scale of this river

We are very grateful to be out of the cities and on country roads again. As we are riding along we pass 100s of gypsy (not sure if this is PC) wagons and horseman, a sight we have not seen anywhere else on our travels. Maybe it was a meeting as there were literally 100s and 100s of people.

However, we only get to enjoy the ride for about half an hour when out of nowhere come gale force winds, we are talking Patagonian style wind and it turns very cold again, grrrr. We battle on for an hour, not only is Skill having to battle the wind, the bitumen has also recently had a bitumen road scraper over it, making a horrible and deeply grooved surface. It is tough going.

After an hour and a half we refuel in Ita Ibate, Skill is talking about pushing on to the next major town about 80 kms away. “Are you mad?” I ask. I then ask the fuel attendant if there is a hotel in town to which he responds “Yes” . We ride into the one horse town of Ita Ibate to find a lovely country/fishing hotel on the huge River Parana. We spend the afternoon here sheltering from the raging cold wind and to our surprise we enjoy one of the nicest meals we have had in Argentina, at this little hotel.

We awake to the noise of strong wind still in the trees and after breakfast we donn our wet weather gear (it is now freezing) and do battle with the wind for the next couple of hours, fortunately just before lunch we ride off the plains and the wind lets up, however the temperature is only 11 degrees at midday. We stop at a fuel station to refuel both the bike and ourselves, and have our thermos of hot chocolate and sandwiches in the vain hope we will warm up.

It is a long, cold, but pretty ride to Puerto de Iguauzu. We arrive late and after a couple of hostels telling us they are “Completo” we find one with parking (albeit in a doored narrow alleyway) but they only have a room for one night. We are tired, frozen and bit over it, so we check in. We find an Asian style restaurant with a fire place and enjoy a lovely dinner and a beer, in warmth, the first time I have felt warm all day. Back in our room we turn on the heater. Oh my goodness a heater in our room - Sheer Luxury!!!

Next morning we pack up and are about to load the bike when the owner of the hostel (another BMW rider and friend of the Tilcara Hostel owner over 1000 km away) comes and asks us if we are leaving (in Spanish), we tell him “Yes we have to leave, there are no rooms”. He asks for us to wait and comes back to tell us we can have a different room for the next few nights. “Ok” we say. He also tells us to ride the bike through the foyer into the courtyard, which we do. Just as we get all the gear back inside our new room, secretly commandeer the heater from our last room and get the cover on the bike, it buckets down, not only does it rain, it also hails. We are now so pleased we are not looking for a room in this weather.

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Pleased we are not looking for a new room in this weather

As it rains on and off the whole day and the temperature doesn't get to more than 8 degrees celsius we spend the day in our room with only a quick outing for a take away empanada lunch and to buy some vino tinto. For dinner we manage to ferrret out what must be Argentina's best pasta place at a tiny take away spot called “Mamas Pastas & Salsas”

The following day the weather is no better, the temperatures don't improve so again we don't venture far, we wander the streets to orientate ourselves and find the Brazilian embassy so we know where to come tomorrow to start our Brazilian visa process.

Monday, the weather is vaguely better, and after breakfast we head to the Brazilian embassy to see what we have to do to get a visa, simple, fill out a form online, come back here with online receipt, a passport photo, photocopies of return airline ticket and proof of sufficient funds and of course a fee. “If you have it back before midday your visa will be ready tomorrow” we are told. We are flawed, no visa is ever this quick. We don't argue, bolt back to the hostel and get everything together by 11.00 am.


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Skill fills out our Brazilian visas online

Just as we are about to head to the embassy the girl at reception tells us that we need to move out of our room today as they are full tonight. “What??, do you think you could have told us this a little earlier?”. Oh well not to worry, off to the embassy and then to “The Garden Stone Hostel” around the corner. Yes they do have rooms for two nights but we will have to change rooms the following morning. No problems, we are now getting used to that.

We pack up and move the half a block to the new hostel, bloody hell they don't have a heater in the room and it is still freezing. We buy a bottle of red wine and huddle in our room under about 5 blankets for the rest of the day.

Hooray, Tuesday arrives and finally the sun is out, breakfast, move rooms and then down to the bus station to catch the bus to Iguazu Falls. (we were a little hesitant to ride and park out at the Falls as this is where our friends Ken and Carol had their helmets stolen a few years ago) The bus ride is short and efficient and at the entrance we queue with what seems like 100s of people to get our tickets. Did I mention it is Argentinian school holidays?

Once inside we catch the little train and begin our walk around the top part of the falls.

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We catch the little train

To be honest the experience was a little tainted by the sheer volume of people and Argentinians are not known for their patience so there was way too much jostling, pushing and shoving on the board walks, the place was packed. The other problem (if you can call it a problem) was that there had been heavy rains so many of the tracks were closed, as were a few of the boat trips.


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Iguazu Falls


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Iguazu Falls


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Iguazu Falls


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Skill at Iguazu Falls


We managed to find a quieter grassy spot to eat our picnic lunch with the very naughty raccoon like Coati, which have become a bit of a pest, only because people feed them.


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The very naughty Coati

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The very naughty Coati

We then walked the lower tracks which was much quieter.

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Iguazu Falls


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Iguazu Falls

There is no doubt about it, the Falls are magnificent in their magnitude, but by three o'clock we had had enough of the crowds so we caught the bus back to Puerto Iguazu and then decided we should go to the lookout from where we could see the three countries of Brazil/Paraguay/Argentina. The hours walk was enjoyable but once at the monument we were a tad underwhelmed by a decaying 3 sided concrete column surrounded by a construction site and rubbish. Hmmmm. I manage to find a place to take a photo of Skill without rubbish, but the view is obscured by bushes.

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Apparently from here you can see the two countries of Brazil, Paraguay, and of course we are standing in Argentina

Next day we arrive at the Brazilian embassy at the appointed time of 11.00 am to pick up our passports, which were ready. We then we make the 15 minute ride to the border, are processed in 10 minutes out of Argentina and then a 5 minute ride to Brazilian immigration, where we were processed in 5 minutes. Our quickest border crossing ever.

NEW RULES FOR FOREIGN VEHICLES ENTERING BRAZIL AS OF JUNE 2013. You are no longer required to get a temporary import document. Fortunately I had read this information posted by Rod at Iguazu Motorcycle Travellers Hostel, however we did ask two different people at the border and this was confirmed, we were told “No it is not necessary” so we ride off, no one knows our bike is here.

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Our quickest ever border crossing – Welcome to Brazil

Foz de Iguacu does not look that exciting but we want to stay at Iguacu Motorcycle Travellers Hostel so we track down Adolfo and Rod's house/hostel. Fortunately Adolfo was home so we got ourselves sorted before going out to find a money machine as the first few we try don't like our card. We then go shopping, our first Brazilian supermarket, hmmm we have not one single word of Portuguese, we are back to Square One, Bugger. That evening Rod calls in for a long chat (in English) and we share dinner with Adolfo, who although does not speak English, we can communicate with, with our dodgy Spanglish.

We decide to spend another day in Foz de Iguacu, we get our washing done, and played with the dogs. That evening we again share dinner with Adolfo and his girlfriend and Rod calls in for another long chat.

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Skill having breakfast with Adolfo's lovely boxer dogs

We really enjoy our time with Rod and Adolfo, but we really need to get on the road. A late start and we are on the road to Curitiba by 11.00.


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We say goodbye to Adolfo

It is a pleasant ride but the tolls for the bike in this particular state in Brazil are very expensive (about $2 or $3 every 50 to 80 km), after 11 months of no tolls, it is a bit of a shock to the system. We stop for lunch on a farm track off the main highway, we can't believe how much like Australia this spot is. Check out the plantation of gum trees!

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Lunch stop by the roadside

By four thirty we have had enough so start to look for a hotel. One of the things we have learnt about South American Hotels/Hostels, you can never judge a book by its cover. We see a sign for a hotel and pull into the car park, it all looks pretty dodgy and we almost leave without going inside.

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Dodgy carpark, dodgy hotel????

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Don't judge a book by its cover

However I go into the reception and am amazed, it is a beautiful clean, well appointed and quite new hotel for about $50 per night, and they serve dinner and breakfast is included. So this is where we spend the night, by late evening the hotel is nearly full.

We get away just before 10.00 the following day and don't get that far before we clock over the magic 100 000 km on the odometer.

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The poor old bike clocks over 100 000 km


However the 100 000 km mark also marks the beginning of a day marred by bike running problems. To be honest the bike has not been running that well since we entered Argentina but today the problem is more pronounced. We stop at a service station and Skill pulls the bike to bits to see if the fuel filter is dirty which it is.

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Skill starts to pull the bike to bits yet again

With the bike back together we continue on to Curitiba where we manage to buy a new fuel filter (on a Saturday afternoon), pull the bike apart again and install it. While Skill is off hunting for a fuel filter, and I am waiting on the side of the road, 3 motorcyclists pull over to see if I am OK. Amazing!!!!! As it is only 3.00 pm, we decide we will get clear the city of Curitiba and find a hotel further on. Big mistake!!!

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The bike comes apart again and our new fuel filter goes in

The traffic out of Curitiba is pretty heavy and then when we are ready to stop, there is no hotel for the next 200 km, in fact there are no decent sized towns at all. We finally arrive in the very dodgy small town of Cajati just after dark and find an equally dodgy hotel, but it has wifi, hot water, parking and a supermarket around the corner, so all is not lost.

It is at this point we decide that we will have to go right into Sao Paulo to get the bike's problem diagnosed and fixed, so do some research on bike shops and hostels, we also email our BMW riding friend Marlo who we met in San Pedro de Atacama, he is from Sao Paulo.

We are up and on the bike early. The bike is still running terribly and we are apparently riding one of Brazils most accident prone and highly trafficked roads, however it is a two lane freeway. There are very few cars on the road, just 100s and 100s of trucks. We make good time until we reach a high range where the trucks are clogging both lanes, there is nowhere to pull over and with the bike running like a hairy goat it is a very difficult hour and a half of more stop than start. Eventually the traffic frees up and we see the cause of the traffic congestion.

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Big Problemo

We are very nervous about riding into Sao Paulo, a city of 20 million people, (that is nearly the population of Australia living in one city) however we needn't have worried, it is Sunday afternoon, and for some reason the bike suddenly decides to behave itself. It takes only an hour to get into the city and we ride straight to the Hostel with only one minor wrong turn. Feeling slightly dazed by our good fortune we check into the very busy Pousada de Franceses.

We had chosen this hostel after finding they had parking and it was not that far from the motorcycle shops. Of course as usual we hadn't booked and they were full, but the amazing staff here pulled strings, reorganised guests and found us a room, they then proceeded to back out all the cars and managed to squeeze the bike into the small crowded car park. Nothing is too much trouble. And so begins the generosity of the people from Sao Paulo. (Paulitanos)

There is also another bike parked in the parking area, we later get a knock on the door and Rainer introduces himself. He is a lovely, young German guy travelling on a really old DR 650. The sole purpose of his journey is surfing, he had ridden from Mexico to Brazil with his surfboard seeking out the best surf beaches.

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Rainer and Skill

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Rainer, his bike and his surfboard

Later that evening we get an email back from Marlon saying he is out of Sao Paulo on business but he has posted a message on his motorcycle group's website to ask for some assistance for us. We are then inundated with offers of help, we cannot believe it.

On Monday morning Skill goes off to the Suzuki shop closest to the Hostel but they are really busy so kindly redirect him to another Suzuki shop, they also get someone to pilot him there. As all this is going on I have been emailed by Taz (a complete stranger) saying he is worried about us and is sending a friend to help us at the Suzuki shop. Padu (Taz's friend) manages to track Skill down at the second motorbike shop and then spends the whole day (until 7.00pm) helping Skill out.

We knew the chain was badly stretched in one part and tight in another meaning proper adjustment was becoming impossible, but thought maybe it would last awhile longer and we could replace it after we return from our trip home to Australia. Anyway we didn't think the chain could be causing our current problems. WRONG.

After all day at various bike shops with numerous diagnostic checks of engine management, fuel pressure and a number of test rides by various mechanics, the decision was we should replace chain, sprockets and sprocket bearing to eliminate this obvious problem that was complicating the engine diagnosis. Skill could not believe what a difference replacing the chain/sprockets/bearing had on the rough running at low speed, it was so smooth now. So all the problems seemed to be fixed, or so it seemed at the time. The badly stretched chain was definitely our main problem but as is often the case, there was another intermittent engine problem that has plagued us for many months and of course this problem was not showing itself at this moment.

The bike definitely seemed to be running a lot better so we spend the next two days playing tourist in Sao Paulo.

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Parque Ibirapuera – Sao Paulo

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Parque Ibirapuera – Sao Paulo

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Huge sculpture in the middle of a huge roundabout – Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo is a foodies delight, we are staying in Bella Vista the Italian part of the city, but we also visit China town which is also where a large proportion of the Japanese community live so we eat as much sushi as we possibly can. We have a bit of a laugh one day, we are sitting in a Japanese restaurant in China town, Sao Paulo, Brazil listening to a Men at Work song “I come form the Land Down Under”, how's that for a multicultural moment?

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Skill at a Japanese restaurant, Sao Paulo and yes he does come from the Land down Under.

We also get invited for dinner with all the motorcycling people who have helped us out. Taz and Karin pick us up and give us a tour of the city before we enjoy a lovely evening with these amazingly friendly and charitable people.

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Dinner with new friends

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Dinner with new friends

Over dinner Taz and Padu have a discussion, they are worried about us getting out of Sao Paulo onto the coast road to Rio, so Taz decides he will meet us at the Hostel at 7.30 am the following day and pilot us out of Sao Paulo, and that is exactly what happens.

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Taz pilots us out of Sao Paulo.

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The road out of Sao Paulo (Reservoir for Sao Paulos drinking water)


Once on the Coast road to Rio we say farewell to Taz and we enjoy a beautiful ride (except for the speed bumps, there are over 130 of them between Sao Paulo and Rio) to Ubatuba where we call it a day and relax in a hostel with their very friendly cat.

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We say good bye to Taz

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Brazil's beautiful coastline

That evening we head to a beach side cafe and enjoy our first Moqueca, (an amazingly delicious fish stew) and some caipirinhas (national drink of Brazil). After dinner and 2 of these very yummy, very alcoholic drinks each we are feeling very, very, mellow and wend our way back to the hostel.


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The Hostel's resident cat makes himself at home on our bed

Next morning we head out and about 50 kms down the road our original intermittent fault on the bike returns, all of a sudden it won't idle and is running on one cylinder. We stop, Skill turns the bike off and on 3 or 4 times and although it is not running perfectly, it is a lot better. Twenty kilometres further down the road we see the turn off to Trindade, we remember that Lisa and Jarrod (the Aussie guys we spent a week with in Sucre, Bolivia) had talked about this place so we decide to check it out. What a find, thanks guys!!!!!

We stop and wait for the bike to cool down as it is running badly again. I go for a walk and check out some camping places right on the beach, we decide on Pousada/ Camping Brisa do Mer (Sea Breeze) and ride in, but after finding out that camping costs $20 and we can have a brand new room, less than 15 metres from the water, with fridge and fan for $40, we opt for a room. We spend two days in Trindade, just chilling, we will let the pictures do the talking. It is an idyllic paradise.

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View from outside our room

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Trindade Beach

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Looking back towards Trindade Village

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Trindade Beach

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Afternoon sunset

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Afternoon sunset

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Lan chilling back

I know I often say this but we really DO NOT want to leave here, however we have booked a hostel in Rio from Sunday night so it is onwards and upwards - next stop is Rio Baby!!!!

Posted by John Skillington at 06:22 PM GMT
September 06, 2013 GMT
Brazil - Trindade to Rio and Foz do Iguacu

On leaving our oasis in Trindade we follow the coast road to the uninspiring outskirts of Rio, the closer we get to Rio the warmer it gets and you guessed it the bikes starts to misbehave really badly.

As it is a Sunday the traffic into Rio is not too bad which is a God send as the bike will hardly run at all, in the stop start traffic. We make it to within a km of the hostel but cannot quite work out the one way road system to get to our street, so pull over and turn the bike off for a while, while we check out the GPS. Once we are sorted we head off again and the bike decides it will run perfectly (it is so bloody annoying), and we arrive at the hostel 5 minutes later.

We have the number of the hostel but cannot find a sign, mainly because there isn't one. I eventually find the door while Skill is being entertained by the motorcycle couriers who invite him to park with them and give me encouraging hints on how to get into the hostel.

After a ten minute check in, filling in various pieces of paper, being told that I have to pay the balance owed now and having a series of rules foisted upon me I tell them that “we need to get the bike off the street and unpacked, I will then deal with the other things”. It is then they tell me that yes they do have parking (the only reason we booked this hostel) but it is at an unsecured parking lot at their twin hotel some blocks away or we can park it on the street.

Instead of arguing, I go out for a chat with Skill. Over the years we have learnt to be polite but firm about bike parking, Skill tells them that he really thinks it will be better for us and them if we bring it in through the door and park it beside the entrance. We get a 'suppose that will be OK' answer and have to squeeze the bike through a doorway that is narrower than the handlebars of the bike, but at least it is inside and secure. There is a big roller gate but the tracks are covered in dirt, rubble and rubbish so it is impossible to open.

After the friendliness and cleanliness of the beautiful Pousada de Franceses in Sao Paulo this place is a shambles, while our room is starkly prison like, a double bed and a huge flat screen tv (which we didn't even turn on) it is at least moderately clean, the bathroom looks newly tiled but the door is a bit mouldy and there is no mirror - strange. The cleanliness of the rest of the hostel leaves a bit to be desired with discarded cigarette butts seemingly everywhere, smoked mostly by the staff. It is also at his point that I discover we have no towels (they are an optional extra which I have to pay for, so we use our own) and I also have to pay a $50 Real deposit for the key and sheets. Bloody Hell, do I look like I have space to pack a set of double size sheets in my pannier, I can't even fit in another pair of undies! This hostel just gets stranger and stranger...

We unload the bike, get out of our motorcycle gear, pay the rest of our account and go to the bar for a drink. Slight problem, the bar man is missing in action, OK can we at least get a beer from reception because as per rule 301, I am not permitted to bring alcohol onto the premises. (Too bad about the bottle of vodka upstairs in our room) Hmmm after 10 minutes of procrastination we get a beer, we then go for a wander and find some dinner. The hostel is in a great spot, lots of local bars and eating places.

Next morning we sleep in and venture down to breakfast, which looks fine except we can't find a table to sit at or get to the food as the staff are busy having their breakfast, we eventually get our breakfast and sit outside. A pattern emerges, this Hostel was actually built for the convenience of the staff, not the paying guests (and we are paying, the most expensive place we have stayed at on our whole journey)

It is very overcast and lightly misting but we decide we will go for a walk anyway as we are only staying here for a few days we need to make the most of our time. We head out to the underground and catch a train to Copacabana beach. When we get there its raining, so we walk in the rain anyway. There is not a person to be seen anywhere on the beach that is usually packed in all the tourist photos. We also go for a wander along Ipanema Beach and apart from a few surfers, this famous beach is also deserted. So we return to a beach side cafe with shelter and plonk ourselves down for the afternoon and do what we do best, eat and drink.


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Lan in the rain at Copacabana Beach


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Lan in the rain at Copacabana Beach


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Caipirinhas and prawns on Copacabana Beach


We take the underground back to the hostel and get a lovely take away sushi dinner and decide we would like a beer with dinner. Guess what, the bar man is missing in action so we have a repeat of the last nights scenario.

The following day, we walk to the cog train that takes you to the Cristo Redentor (the famous statue of Jesus that overlooks the city), it is a nice day and we get to enjoy our train ride and the views from Rio's most iconic tourist attraction. The place is absolutely packed but we enjoy the views none the less, how can you not, it is Rio.


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The start of our train ride up the mountain


Apparently the Cristo is over 30 metres high and weighs over 1000 tons, it was scheduled for completion in1922 as part of Brazil's centenary independence celebrations but it wasn't completed until nearly ten years later, 1931. Some things will never change!!!!!!


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Panorama of Rio

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The Cristo

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Lan and Skill at Cristo Redentor

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Lan having a beer beneath the Cristo Redentor

We head back to the Fawlty Towers Hostel after a great day out. On entering our room I am surprised to see a huge mirror in our bathroom, nice of them to let us know they would have people in our supposedly private room, but the bonus is now I don't have to use the television (as a mirror) to do my hair.

The following morning after fighting the staff for a table and enjoying breakfast we head off to the underground and take the Free Walking Tour which we thoroughly enjoy. Although Rio is not a particularly beautiful architectural city, it is still interesting.


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Rio's famous bakery, housed in a beautiful building. Apparently the Queen has taken tea here.

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Left over graffiti and damage from the big riots in Rio a month ago


After the official part of the tour is over we head out for lunch with Luana (our tour guide) and have feijoada (Brazil's national dish of black beans and pork) and a few caipirinhas. Afterwards we visit Escardia de Selaron, a set of 215 steps connecting Santa Teresa to Lapa. The stairs have been covered with donated tiles (from 120 countries) by the eccentric artist Selaron. He started the project in 1990 and had worked on it every day since. Sadly he passed away late last year.

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The Escardia de Selaron

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The Escardia de Selaron

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Any guesses where this yellow tile is from?

It is well after three when we arrive back, the receptionist sees Skill and beckons him to stop saying “problem, problem”. I go on ahead and on entering our room I can see all is not well, our bathroom is chaotic, with no warning to us this morning, they have today installed a new shower screen while we have been out. There is ground tile dust and silastic everywhere, not only that but they have used our personal bathmat/cleaning cloth to try and wipe up dust and silastic, Skill's shampoo bottle has been knocked over and has a smashed lid and is oozing shampoo and our soap has gone missing in action. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm downstairs …....... “guys you need to clean my bathroom”, Response “We can't clean it until tomorrow, until the glue is dry”. “Oh yes you can, don't worry about the shower screen, but you need to come and clean the floor, shower and basin and get the silastic off everything else so we can use the expensive bathroom we paid for”. The attitude was “oh well if we must”, eventually we have a half hearted attempt to clean up.

I find a broom and finish the clean up job myself before we lay down for a read and rest, then comes the next insult they start jack-hammering in the rooms next door and then about half an hour later they bring up a pressure cleaner to clean the shared bathrooms all the while yelling back and forth from upstairs to downstairs. The din is deafening and goes on for 2 hours. We are just about to go insane. We head downstairs as it is quieter and try for a drink at the bar before we go out, ….................. oh what a surprise, no barman that's 4 nights out of 4. We just give up and put it down to “one of those places we will never recommend”, its not the worst place we have stayed by a long way, but for the price you expect better. So we head out again to Ipanema as we have arranged to join David (the biker we met in Peru/Bolivia) and Yasbell (his wife) for dinner. They have just arrived in Rio on the bike, and we enjoy a lovely evening together.

Next morning we check out of the “hostel from hell” and are invited to write on their wall of fame in the bar. I don't bother. I don't think they want to hear what I have to say. Although we really enjoyed Rio, there is a feeling of “This is Rio, give us your money, we don't have to actually provide you with any service, there are plenty more tourists behind you” However it could have been the fact that they were slightly jaded from the 3 million tourists that flooded the city the previous week for El Papa's (The Pope) visit.

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El Papa was here!!!

Carmen (the Garmin) does a great job of getting us out of Rio without a wrong turn However when you are riding underneath a concrete freeway, satellite reception can be dodgy and we have to stay in the right hand lane to keep reception. No No No, now is not the time to lose reception and have the GPS die.

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Now is not the time to lose satellite reception

It is now Thursday and we are heading back to Sao Paulo as the bike is still not running as it should be and we have booked it in at Alex's workshop for Monday. We retrace our beautiful beach ride to Paraty where we stop for a couple of hours to check out this quaint city and email Taz to tell him we will meet him on Saturday afternoon near Guarapava. And of course in the heat the bike is running really badly. AGHHHHHHHH!!!!

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The cobblestoned streets Paraty

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Pastel coloured boats Paraty Harbour

It is then a short ride back to Trindade where we revisit the same Pousada as last time and sink our toes into the sand and drink caipirinhas for the next two days.

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Skill sinks his feet into the sand

After our all too short beach side chillout, we ride the 300 km back to the police checkpoint where Taz dropped us off ten days ago and meet Taz and Karin who are waiting for us. Taz's uncle owns a holiday apartment in Guarapava and has kindly let us stay there for the night, Karin and Taz take us out to a very famous Pasteleria and buy us dinner. We also try the local freshly sqeezed sugar cane drink as well, yumo.

Next Day we have a feast for breakfast that Taz has prepared. Then we get a short guided tour of the area and find a rather cold and windy beach to sit on for a few hours.

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Chilling on the beach with Taz and Karen

Late Sunday afternoon we ride the road back to Sao Paulo, once again Taz (and Karin) pilot us all the way back to the Pousada Franceses where we will spend the next four nights

The difference between the two hostels (Rio and Sao Paulo) is like chalk and cheese. We so enjoy our time in this little hostel, it doesn't matter that none of us speak the same language, we all mange to communicate, at dinner time everyone is happy to share beers, wine and caipirinhas, and also their dinners, it is like having an extended family.

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The friendliest staff in the world

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BBQ at Pousada de Franceses

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BBQ at Pousada de Franceses

While in Sao Paulo again I get the usual gear maintenance and blog update jobs done while Skill seeks out Alex to see if we can finally get the bike's problems diagnosed.

Skill writes: I arrive at Alex's workshop at the arranged time of 10am and the bike has been running OK so far this morning, which is not what you want when you take it to the mechanic. The bike goes onto the work stand and when started, starts running badly – hooray. At least I don't have to do charades to explain the problem. The bike is connected to all sorts of electronics and a laptop to check the bike computer. Only one error has been recorded previously with a sensor and its not showing up as a current problem. So the guys pull the plug to the offending sensor, clean and reinstall it a few times but its continues to read OK. So now it gets harder. Half of the bike gets pulled apart over the next hour or two.

When the spark plugs come out they look like they have been in a two-stroke engine they are so black. Alex asks me how long since the fuel injectors were cleaned, I reply 'never'. Alex thinks his English is not so good, so he asks me again and when I again reply 'never' then 'when it left the factory', he says 'no, no we clean them every 15 or 20 thousand kilometres in Brazil, the fuel is very bad here'. So off come the throttle bodies and out come the fuel injectors for cleaning. It turns out that the injectors are badly blocked.

With the injectors cleaned and with new spark plugs and air filter installed, the bike gets a good tune-up and is running very sweetly in the workshop. So I take it for a short ride and it continues to run perfectly. Woohoo, finally fixed I hope, just have to hope it stays that way when we take it on a longer ride when fully loaded.

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The bike at Alex's workshop

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Alex at work

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Alex at work

While the bike was in bits in the workshop, two Bombeiros (fire-fighters and friends of Alex's) dropped in on their fully kitted official motorcycles. These guys are trained for this special job and are actually police, fire fighter and emergency trauma first response team all in one. They get called as first response to all sorts of emergencies including vehicle accidents because they can get through the grid locked Sao Paulo traffic much quicker than any other emergency response vehicles.

Edson could speak very good English and spent quite a while translating for me at the workshop. He then he asked if I would like to have lunch and tour at the fire station. Hell yes!

But my bike is in bits - no problem take Alex's 250 run about. Now make sure you keep up. Haha easier said than done, you really can't believe the way the bikes split the car lanes at 2 or 3 times the speed of the cars and buses here in Sao Paulo. No wonder there are so many accidents. So the Bombeiros put on their flashing lights for me, one in front and one behind me so the traffic made a little more room for us than usual and I did keep up (just) and had a great couple of hours with the fire fighters and touring the fire trucks and equipment! Lunch was great too! Thank you so much Edson and all the fire crew.

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Edson at work

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Edson and his rescue bike

Lan writes: On our last night in Sao Paulo we go out to dinner with our Brazilian family and enjoy a beautiful (but cold) evening at a great Pizza place, once again we enjoy the hospitality of these amazing people.

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Padu and Alex

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The Boys from Brazil Padu, Alex, Skill, Taz and Zeca

After Skill and I have had a few caipirinha fuelled discussions, we decide as our time is starting to run short we will ride the 1000 km ride (via) back to Foz de Igaucu, thinking we will leave the bike stored there while we return to Australia.

Once again we leave Sao Paulo without any problems and the bike appears to finally be running really well. The first day is a relatively short one, it is blowing a gale but for the first time we can remember, it is coming from behind us so the ride is actually very nice, we head to the the town of Ourinhos for a non eventful overnight stay before hitting the road quite early the next day. Once again it was a pleasant ride through open countryside and farming land, with only a few larger towns to negotiate. Around 3.30 pm as we are riding through large swathes of farming land, we spy a hotel, come service station, come restaurant so decide to turn around and check it out. It has everything we need, a comfortable cabin room with fridge and air conditioning, wifi, beer and the restaurant has an all you can eat buffet for 15 Reals each. (about $8 AUD) Bargain, the only downside is we are on the main highway and the trucks are a bit noisy. Earplugs solve that problem.

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Hotel Madeiria in the middle of nowhere (note the giant dove)

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Our cabin room at Hotel Madeiria

The following day it is a relatively short ride to Foz de Iguaucu where we book into a good cheap hotel for a couple of nights to organise ourselves and meet up with Taz who has driven with a friend from Sao Paulo to pick up a bike from Puerto Iguazu in Argentina. Although we only get to spend a short time with Taz it is nice to see him again, and to meet his friends.


We begin once again to research our bike storage options, along with our transport back to Santiago. Being a typical engineer type Skill puts it all onto a spreadsheet, but he is still undecided until he discovers flights are very expensive and buses take over 48 hours. I tell him there is to be not one word of complaint if we take the bus. This is the clincher and he decides we will instead ride back to San Rafael (where we can organise bike storage), visit John and Annette at their Finca, then make the much shorter bus trip to Santiago for our flight to Australia.

Decision made we move back to the Igaucu Motorcycle Travellers Hostel as we want to see Rod and Adolfo again, and we also need to tell them that we won't be storing the bike with them. Once again the helpfulness and friendliness of these two guys is amazing. Instead of being annoyed at us for changing our mind on the storage matter they help us get a new front tyre from Paraguay, then Rod rides with us to the border to help us with translation and secure us an 8 month temporary import for Argentina. We cannot thank him enough.

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Adriano gets us a new tyre

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Rod helps us at the Argentinian Border

On reflection Brazil has been amazing and to think we were considering not coming to this country. It has been the people that have made Brazil a motorcyclist travellers dream. They have been incredibly generous with their time, I would say the kindness and the hospitality we have been shown in this country rates up there with Iran on our last overland trip. The Brazilians have paid for our dinner and groceries, fixed our bike, given us gifts ridden 100s of km out of their way, have organised accommodation for us, helped us obtain cheap tyres. The list goes on and on. We have forged friendships that will last a long, long time. We cannot thank them enough for their generosity and kindness of heart.

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The amazing Sao Paulo motorcycling community

So dear friends, family and the HU community Taz and Karin are coming to Australia for a short 3 week holiday over Christmas/New Year. I would love for them to be shown the same hospitality in Australia, so will let you know if they are coming to a town near you.

Cheers,
John and Lan

Posted by John Skillington at 09:30 PM GMT
March 18, 2014 GMT
Iguacu to San Rafael

We make the decision we will ride as quickly as possible back to San Rafael so this is a pretty boring account of the weeks ride …...................................

After crossing the border back into Argentina we ride into Puerto de Iguazu where we manage to find a place to change money, well to be honest they find us. As Skill gets off the bike he is approached and asked does he want to change money and is ushered inside a pharmacy – 5 minutes later we have success. Now we have cash we need to photocopy our temporary import documents, while looking for a photocopy place we are parked outside an optometrists beside two large bikes, the optometrist and his friend are the owners of the motorcycles and emerge to chat to us, they offer to do our photocopying free of charge – fantastic.

Finally we get on the road and backtrack to San Ignacio where we call it quits for the day, we seek out a pretty non descript hotel, find beer and ice for our gin and tonic (we are a travelling bar) turn on the fan (that sounds like a helicopter) and chill out for the afternoon, the weather has really warmed up.

We are up and at em early next day and have a nice ride on some back roads before we hit Ruta 14 South. About 100 km further on the weather starts to close in, it is getting colder and colder and thick black storm clouds loom in front of us, we stop at a rubbish strewn bus shelter and don the wet weather gear.


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Storm clouds ahead, time for wet weather gear


We continue on and run into a fierce thunder storm about 20km down the road, so we shelter at a service station, and decide on empanadas and dodgy coffee for lunch. By this time the storm has passed over and we continue on, but the day just grows colder and colder. As we continue South, closer to Paso de Los Libres the conditions are horrible, we are frozen, the wind is buffeting us from every direction, and it is now hailing and raining.

Skill asks me “Do you think we should ride on to the next town” “How far is it?” I ask “About 150 km” is his response. I won't subject you to my somewhat terse answer. Needless to say we ride into Paso de Los Libres an Argentinian/Brazilian border town, easily find a nice little hotel, hot shower, hot cup of tea and all is right in the world. We wander the town, find a good restaurant (that is actually open at 8.30pm – amazing) and retire early to bed.

The next day is really pleasant, bright sunshine and light winds, we continue South before turning off the main highway (before the infamous KM 341 corrupt Police Checkpoint) and ride some mostly paved (but incredibly rough and broken roads) through rural farming land before arriving in the twin cities of Parana / Santa Fe, negotiate the tunnel under the Parana river and ride South West to the uninspiring town of San Francisco. It is at this point the bike decides it will have a bit of a cough and a splutter and Skill comments the fuel consumption today is higher than normal. Oh no, not more bike problems, AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

After 5 or 6 goes we find a hotel that has parking and just veg out. It has been a long day. We use the hotel restaurant for dinner and I eat the worst lasagne I have ever eaten in my life. Just think of copious amounts of broiled mince (with no tomato sauce or flavouring of any sort) between layers of ham (instead of pasta) and topped with tasteless cheese, never seen or tasted anything less like Lasagne in my life! Truly awful.

Once again the next day is a long riding day. We ride through great swathes of farming land, and tiny country towns before hitting the main freeway that runs all the way to Mendoza. As we are doing 110 km along the highway the bike decides it is not going to run properly. Skill manages to keep going until we get to a police checkpoint about 30 km out of San Luis where it decides it will just die as we slow to 60kph and we coast to a stop. Bloody hell what now!!!! As we sit on the bike contemplating our next move, Skill turns the ignition and kill switches on/off a couple of times, then restarts the bike and it runs as if there is absolutely nothing wrong, all less than a minute later. We then have trouble free run into San Luis where we collapse into a cheap motel and hunker down for the night after hunting and gathering beer and dinner. At this point the temperature is about 1 degree. We text John and Annette letting them know we will arrive at the farm after lunch tomorrow. Nearly there.

We awake to a temperature of 3 degrees, Skill checks the temp in San Rafael minus 6 degrees, so we wait awhile for it to warm up, which it doesn't, then make the 300 km ride across the pampa (keeping our fingers crossed the bike doesn't play up across this isolated area) to San Rafael. When we arrive in San Rafael at midday it is still 3 degrees.

We arrive at the farm just after lunch, the bike has run like a dream thankfully, but fuel consumption is still higher than normal so we are sure something is still wrong. But intermittent bike problems will just have to be sorted out later. We are met by John and Annette, the dogs, the cat and the ducks. It is at this point I discover I am so cold that I cannot physically get off the bike and Annette has to help me off. We are treated to a warm fire and pumpkin soup for lunch. Annette is an angel.

We spend a week at the farm, travelling backwards and forwards to San Rafael to buy our bus tickets to Santiago, buy a bag to take our gear home in and also organise our bike storage at the back of the barn. All goes according to plan and in early September John delivers us to the San Rafael bus station where we make a 3 ½ hour bus trip to Mendoza. It is then a 10 hour bus trip back across the Andes to Santiago. After jostling for position we get our luggage, find the underground and get to our hostel where we check in and walk around the corner to our apartment block. Unfortunately they have given us the wrong key so back to the hostel, acquire the right key and collapse in a heap in a really lovely little bedsit apartment. Fortunately there is a big supermarket underneath the apartment block so we shop for dinner and breakfast. It is now 11.00 pm. It has been a long day.


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Our lovely little apartment in Santiago


For the next two days we get a few jobs done, such as washing the tent in the bath tub so we can get it back in through Australian customs along with other organisational matters.


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We wash the tent in the bathtub.


Finally on the 9th September 2013 we catch a cab to the Santiago airport and board our QANTAS flight home.


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Skill having breakfast at Santiago Airport

We are both looking forward to seeing all our friends and family. The flight home is great except for the four hours of turbulence after take off, thus delaying our lunch until dinner, however the staff were great as was the constant supply of food. After 13 hours we touch down in Sydney before a quick connection to Brisbane. At 10.45pm we are back on Queensland soil. Welcome home!!!!!


Once home in Australia we continue our travel epic (about 10 000 km), we visit with family and friends, attend the Australian HU Meeting, travel as far south as Victoria for a special wedding, then North to Gladstone to see John's family. We spend most of our time between Toowoomba, the Sunshine Coast and Kingaroy where my Mum and Dad are based. We also make a road trip to Sydney to catch up with our dear friends Kath and Sean, we then have a quick visit to Sydney to organise US visas. We planned to spend only three months at home in Australia but when looking to return around Christmas time we could not bring ourselves to pay $3500.00 for a one way ticket back to South America so spend Christmas and New Year with friends and family and make the return journey in February. Below are a few happy snaps of our time at home in Australia


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Our home away from home, Sliprail Cottage - Kingaroy

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Storms build at my parent's farm - Kingaroy

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The Great Ocean Road Victoria
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The Great Ocean Road Victoria

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Koala - on friend's farm in Victoria

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Pelicans at sunset - camped out on a road trip

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Lan chilling out at a beautiful campsite in Victoria

Posted by John Skillington at 09:30 PM GMT
San Rafael (Argentina) to Elqui Valley (Chile)

Well here we go again The Americas Part 2 ….................................................

On a hot February morning we say sad goodbyes to my mum and dad and we drive our trusty old ute (pick up) from Kingaroy to Brisbane to our hotel of choice. Later in the afternoon we are joined by my sisters family and Wally-roo (my sister cares for young orphaned kangaroo joeys). We head over to the new Brisbane cruise ship terminal for a farewell family lunch (Wally stays in his pouch in the air conditioned comfort of our room) before it is more sad goodbyes for yet another year. Schell, Tys and the kids drive away in the two vehicles and that is the family gone.


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Grace (Our neice) and Wally chilling out in our hotel room

The following morning we board the shuttle bus at 5.30 am and arrive shortly afterwards at the Brisbane International Terminal where we check in. However on check in there appears to be some sort of problem that we are travelling on a one way ticket, but after producing our Argentinian temporary import for the bike and a few backwards and forwards discussions with supervisors we have our boarding passes all the way through to Mendoza, Argentina.


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Waiting for the shuttle bus and yes all that luggage is ours, filled with mostly papadums for John and Annette


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Our plane to Sydney


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Happy chappies – we are on our way

A short flight later (with no in-flight media working, poor buggers who had come all the way from Dallas on this flight) we are in Sydney, where we have a 2 and a half hour wait, we kill time people watching, buying a few magazines and have a feed of sushi rolls for breakfast..... who knows when we will get to eat sushi again. The flight to Santiago is cramped and downright uncomfortable. On our return flight home to Australia I was impressed with the QANTAS service. Not so this time, the staff were very abrupt and to be honest unhelpful, my tray table was broken and they could not possibly bring me a extra tray to rest my food on, a great deal of balancing and shuffling on my lap was required. You had to beg for a drink and heaven help you if you rang the service bell, glares all round. Hmmmm, QANTAS staff - not happy campers, me thinks.

While I do manage to catch a cat nap here and there Skill has a 12 hour “Breaking Bad” viewing marathon. No interruptions from me are tolerated or appreciated. Our arrival in Santiago is uneventful and we make our connecting flight onto the LAN plane across the Andes to Mendoza. This flight takes a short 35 minutes but what a spectacular view of the Andes and then suddenly we are back in what feels like our second home, Argentina.


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We cross the Andes to Mendoza

We clear immigration and customs quickly without any problems and find a cab. We luck in with a delightful young man who takes us into Mendoza Centro to change money. This transaction takes less than 1 minute, we don't even leave the cab, the guys come to us, the deal is done and we are off to the bus station. We buy our bus tickets to San Rafael and veg out in a cafe for an hour. After our 24 hour travel epic we deserve a beer or two. While downing a refreshing ale we reflect that although our Spanish is still absolutely woeful we are far better equipped to deal with life in the Spanish speaking South America than we were 18 months ago, we can understand most of what is being asked of us and deal with everyday life in our dreadful but effective Spanglish.


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Lan at Mendoza Bus Station, 24 hours later, we deserve a beer!!!


We board our bus and we are off to San Rafael. I would like to tell you we engaged in intellectual conversation and admired the passing scenery but that would be a big fat lie. We have travelled this road twice on the bike and once on the bus so we were both sound asleep before we had left the outskirts of Mendoza. I woke at each of the three stops just to check our luggage wasn't being offloaded but quickly went back to sleep. Three and half hours later (it feels like 10 minutes to us) we arrive in San Rafael where we are met by John Green. It is wonderful to see him again, he is a sight for sore eyes. A short drive to the farm and we are back where we left off. It is great to see Annette, all the pets and also we meet two other long term motorcycle travellers Mark (an Aussie) and Sena (a Danish Aussie) who are spending the month at the farm with John and Annette. After a superb roast beef dinner and countless drinks later we hit the wall, it is now after midnight Argentinian time, we have been awake for over 30 hours, we cannot string a sentence together, we fall into a long uninterrupted 12 hour sleep.

Next day we mooch around but don't seem to suffer too much from jet lag. We even pick a few plums in the afternoon. This sets the mood for the next two weeks we are all in plum harvest mode. When we left John and Annettes at harvest time last year (March 2013) we had picked 3 tonnes of plums just off the ground before the full harvest began, with a total harvest that year of about 40 tonnes and another 10 tonnes that didn't get picked.

This year we only picked 4.5 tonnes all up as they had a very late frost in September which wiped out most of the floration. Consequently very few plums, but there is some good news, because of the lack of plums world wide prices are up to 3 times what they were last year.


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Plum Harvest


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Plum Harvest


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Plum Harvest


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Plum Harvest

During those couple of weeks Skill manages to get the bike out of mothballs (it goes first time, thanks to John for starting it a few times while we were away) and replace bits and pieces, we have brought a few new parts with us, new fuel filters go in as does the new volt meter (Thanks Buzz). We also attach our new fuel bottle holder and drink bottle holders to the top box (They look good and work well Lachy) We take a few short rides into San Rafael, do some shopping and seek out third party insurance.

All the while there are jobs and fun to be had on the farm, when we are not harvesting we are cooking or preparing feasts, or braving San Rafael to do the shopping, the boys also manage to dismantle and reassemble John and Annette's carport in under two days. We seem to have a mixture of weather, it is quite hot and we get a few storms in the afternoon, we even witness a famous San Rafael hail storm (grineso), fortunately it is short and sharp causing no damage. Then we have 2 days of rain, the weather turns cold and miserable, so we are trapped indoors with everyone except me (Lan) suffering from a cold brought to the farm by yet another Aussie biker. Luckily he had fled the scene of the crime on the day of our arrival otherwise her may not have lived.

It is always social on the farm and we once again get to share a celebratory asado with John and Annette to celebrate the anniversary of their arrival on the farm. 2014 sees them mark 8 years in Argentina. On another day we join Mike and Vicki an Argentine couple and their work-away tenant Nicki (also Australian), we take a picnic up into the mountains behind San Rafael, it is a lovely relaxing day. We end the day back at Mike and Vicki's gorgeous old home for coffee.


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Mike and Vicki's home

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Mike and Vicki's home

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Mike and Vicki's home

We spend just shy of three weeks at the farm in San Rafael, we are loathe to leave, as these good people have become close friends and this time we know we will not return for a long time. But leave we do, emotional goodbyes and we head off towards Mendoza (again) and after a quick lunch-stop and an easy negotiation of Mendoza, we are on the road to San Juan, it is a blisteringly hot day and we arrive in San Juan a lather of sweat. After three goes at finding a hotel/hostel with parking we finally pitch up in a old non-descript hotel. As usual we are on the top floor, so after switching on the air conditioning and grabbing a shower, we head downstairs for a beer and a bit of internet time. With a bit of difficulty (we have to wait till the usual Argentine 10.30 pm for the cafe across the road to open) we find somewhere to eat and have possibly the worst hamburger we have ever eaten for dinner.

Next day we are off on perhaps one of the most beautiful and exhilarating rides we have had. The road out of San Juan to the Paso Agua Negra border post at Flores is a wonderful paved road with countless twists and turns, we refuel in Flores (we leave Argentina with 30 pesos, about $3US) and leave Argentina for the last time on this trip, we have crossed in and out of this country no less than 15 times. This border crossing is delightful, everyone is so happy and friendly.

While Skill is doing the bike paperwork, I return to the bike, stare up at the mountains and reflect on our time in Argentina …........................ we have loved this country that has welcomed us so warmly and let us come and go as we wish, we have loved the people, the asados, the scenery, the camping. And despite the bad press that Argentinian police and officials receive we have found them to be mostly very friendly and always beyond reproach.

However it would be naïve to pretend all is rosy in Argentina, it is not. Inflation is rampant, corruption is rife and everyday life for an Argentinian is difficult. Poverty is lurking everywhere. Violent armed robberies are becoming common place even in rural San Rafael. Queuing is a way of life, you queue for the bank, you queue for fuel, you queue for the supermarket, you queue at every shop and service you enter. It should be such a wealthy nation, it has huge quantities of natural resources, it produces vast amounts of food, and it has fantastic untapped tourism potential. Life should be good for the people of this beautiful country, but it is not, infrastructure is decaying, there is no foreign investment, everything just looks old and tired, like it is somehow trapped in a time warp, with no money spent on it since the late 70s.

But when all is said and done, we have treasured our time here and it is with a heavy heart we leave Argentina for the last time – on this trip at least.

Skill reappears, it is now 12.20, and we head off towards the beautiful towering Andes. It is a glorious day and we enjoy the last 40 km of paved surface before we hit the dirt. It is at this point we hand over our last bit of paperwork to yet another Argentinian policeman and then we are on our own for the 130 km of dirt road over the pass to the Chile border post. We enjoy the ride for about 30km when Skill suddenly stops the bike. “Is there a problem” I ask. “The bike is running very hot” he replies. “Hmm” is my response, “here we go again, bloody gremlins”. It is at this point I also report that I can hear an odd noise at the rear of the bike.

We stop for 5 minutes, wait for it to cool down and continue on. All appears to be OK although Skill keeps a very close eye on it for the rest of the journey which is not easy to do considering the state of the dirt road and amazing scenery. It is a long bone shaking journey that takes us over the Agua Negra Pass at an altitude of 4775metres. (according to the guide book) It is in a word, stunning. Huge desolate peaks, enormous glaciers, melted ice sculptures and scree slopes everywhere you look.


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Paso Agua Negra


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Paso Agua Negra


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Paso Agua Negra


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Paso Agua Negra


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Paso Agua Negra

The last 20km into Juntas is a bit of a nightmare, roadworks of thick deep rolly gravel on a hard packed surface, not what you want at the end of a long day on a heavily laden bike. Sometimes I really don't know how Skill keeps the space shuttle also know as a Vstrom (so named because of it's size and non-manoeuvrability, not it's speed or sleek good looks) upright. We arrive at Juntas, the Chilean border 4 ½ hours after leaving the Argentinian border with only a quick 10 minute stop for food, it is now 4.50pm and the border post closes at 5.00pm. Phew just made it, by the skin of our teeth. We are processed pretty quickly although everything has to come off the bike and be scanned for food and other contraband.

Hooray we hit the paved surface and it is a nice easy 100 km ride into Vicuna, through the pisco-grape growing Elqui Valley. We find a money machine that dispenses us some Chilean pesos easily but the camping ground listed proves to be more elusive. After an hour we give up and opt for a lovely hostel run by a gorgeous host and her bike loving brother. Shower, dinner and sleep in salubrious surroundings, it has been a long day.


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The courtyard of the lovely Valle Hermose Hostal, Vicuna


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Look who else is staying here, Mr Google

Next morning after a breakfast to die for, we ask our gracious host where the camping ground is, apparently it is just around the corner, unnamed and behind a huge wall. We pack up and check it out, it is OK but they cannot find the key to open the gates. During this time we get chatting to a young Chilean couple awaiting the arrival of the key to let them out and us in. They tell us of a nice camping ground in Pisco Elqui and draw us directions. OK time for plan B. That is till I remind Skill of the noise I can still hear at the back of the bike.

He finally checks it out and finds that the chain guard has come adrift and is completely stuffed, an hour later after a bodge job with a bolt, washer and wire we are under way, refueled and backtracking towards Pisco Elqui. After a pleasant ride through lots of vineyards that seem to cling to the sides of the mountains we arrive in the tiny village of Pisco Elqui where we manage to find the picturesque Refugio del Angel. We set up camp and luxuriate in the size of our new tent.

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The vineyards in the Elqui Valley

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Campsite at Pisco Elqui

We spend a relaxing two days here, doing very little but wandering the town in search of empanadas, food and beer. We also manage to have a fire each night and cook a BBQ dinner. It is nice to be camping again.


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Skill stokes the campfire

On leaving our quiet refuge we head towards La Serena, a beachside city with a large port, it is not an inspiring city but we need to stay and catch up on some internet jobs, after 4 attempts we do find a nice clean family run hostal with a pretty garden. Once again we have to negotiate a gutter, steps via a ramp, and a very tight left hand turn between the reception desk and lounge suite before we finally park inside beside another lounge suite. Very secure parking.


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Parked beside the lounge

Tomorrow we join the Pan American Highway and begin the journey North. I keep humming “North to Alaska”, whether we actually make it that far this trip remains to be seen, but I will keep humming the tune.

Cheers and Beers,
John and Lan

Posted by John Skillington at 09:46 PM GMT
March 28, 2014 GMT
La Serena (Chile) to Lima (Peru)

We leave La Serena after a lovely breakfast beside the bike, then comes the task of actually getting it out through the reception, which we manage to do after yet again rearranging the furniture.

We refuel and join the Pan American for the long desert trek North.


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Breakfast with the bike


We ride the 120 kms to Vallenar, have a picnic lunch, refuel and check the tyres only to find they are down a bit and there are no working air compressors at either of the service stations. What to do?? Out comes the dodgy, cheap Chinese/Argentinian air compressor which seems to do the trick. We are also treated to a peculiarity of some Chilean service stations. Women (all with babies, it is obligatory) that descend on you begging for money. Not speaking Spanish we are unsure if they also offer services to the truck drivers, but I suspect so. While we are parked we are amazed at the number of big Chilean motorcycles coming in to refuel, there seem to be a lot of bikes on the road.

We continue on to the small beachside town of Bahai Inglesa near Caldera. After checking out a few very expensive hotel/cabana options we opt for some windy, beachside camping. Skill ducks back into town for a few essential supplies and we are set.


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Camping at Bahia Inglesa


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Camping at Bahia Inglesa


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Camping at Bahia Inglesa


Just before we go to sleep I say to Skill “I hope there are no tsunamis tonight”, to which he replies “Don't you think the tent will protect us”. Ha ha. However my statement is somewhat prophetic as the next few days will show.

Next morning the wind has died down so we manage tea and toast for brekky, pack up, refuel and head out riding along the coast to the uninspiring city of Chanaral. Then beyond to Agua Verde (there is not a drop of water anywhere, let alone green water) where we refuel in the middle of nowhere. As we attempt to have lunch in this windblown, rubbish strewn dustbowl we are joined by a charming Brazilian rider, a quick chat and we are both on our way.


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Our Brazilian friend


Once again we ride, and ride, and ride through the desert, not a tree, not a bush, not a blade of grass to be seen.


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Riding the desolate Pan American Highway


About 75km before the Antofagasta turnoff we stop to admire the huge hand in the desert sculptured by Mario Irarrázabal. This part of the world is in a word “desolate”, it appears lifeless, devoid of any vegetation, it looks like a lunar landscape and having ridden it for two days we are quite happy to see this odd sculpture in the middle of nowhere, it breaks the monotony.


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The big hand in the desert near Antofagasta


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The big hand in the desert near Antofagasta


As an Australian we are used to BIG things, in fact we live quite close to the BIG Pineapple and on our travels we have visited the BIG Banana, the BIG Cow, the BIG Merino, the BIG Prawn, the BIG Gumboot and the BIG Trout . Proudly we can now add the BIG Hand (Mano de Desierto) to our list of conquests.

Onto Antofagasta, and so begins the elusive accommodation hunt, a couple of hours later after looking at several awful places we opt for the expensive Ibis Hotel for the night. We take full advantage of every service on offer including the little trolley to get all our gear upstairs in the lift. We don't have to lug it up stairs - LUXURY!!!!

Next morning we enjoy a huge breakfast, pilfer enough food for lunch, pack up and we are on our way, following the coast road to Tocopilla (an awful, awful looking town) and then onto Iquique. At one point there is a small forest of cacti, they have managed to catch enough sea mist to survive in this climate where it almost never rains, one of the driest places on earth. Then we marvel at the huge dunes that seem to spill into the sea.


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Huge sand dunes


We stop for a late lunch on the beach near the little fishing village of San Marcos. Riding along the coast has been beautiful but the amount of rubbish is staggering, 300 km of rubbish strewn beaches is beyond comprehension.


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Lunch on the beach near San Marcos


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Lunch on the beach near San Marcos

Arriving in Iquique we check out a dodgy, expensive old hotel but it does have parking and is close to the supermarket. We unload the bike and Skill goes to park the bike minus his helmet.

SKILL WRTES: I got caught by the police for not wearing a helmet! It's not quite as dumb as it sounds, we had just unpacked the bike at the foyer of the hotel and the garage was a few doors down a one way street the wrong way. No problem, do the right thing and just go round the block, don't need the helmet it's only a few hundred metres. Got half way round when sirens and loud speaker blare out “moto.... moto....”, oh shit.
Officer gets out of car, one hand on gun and in the other his infringement book, then starts speaking rapid fire Spanish at me.
Me - “no entiendo, no habla espanol” Play dumb that should do the trick.
Officer – in fluent english “do you speak English?”
Me - “oh shit, I mean yes”
Officer - “you cannot ride motorcycle in Chile without helmet, were are you going?”
Me - “I was just going round the block to the hotel garage”
Officer - “doesn't matter how far, it's not allowed, now you must park the moto, walk to the hotel get your helmet ok, now you park here”
Me - “yes yes officer, just as you say”
I park and the police drive off, then I notice some dodgy looking dudes hanging around and decide not to follow the police instructions, ride the last 50m to the garage entrance but I am sure the police will be waiting for me and this time give me a fine. I feel like a criminal, but luckily I escape police detection, however Alanna goes nuts when I tell her – some people have no sense of adventure.

Iquique isn't really a scenic city so we go to the supermarket buy drinks and a tapas dinner and return to our room which we don't leave till the following morning. I also have a lead on a hostel in Arica so I email them and book in for three nights.


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Tapas dinner in our dodgy hotel room Iquique


We pack up the next day, refuel at a service station where they try to charge us the litres and not the peso amount, we have had a few fuel attendants in Chile try this trick, however Skill is on the ball and points out their mistake and gives me a wink. Chastened they charge us the correct amount. The 300 km ride to Arica is once again through the desert but it is still stunning. Once we join the Pan American it is a long straight road on a great paved surface. Later in the day we climb up and up and up onto high desert plateaus before zig zaging our way back down to the green fertile valley floor, this happened repeatedly until we finally arrive on the outskirts of Arica


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Heading back down to the Valley Floor


We find the Kiwi/Chilean run Hotal Sunny Days and check in around 3.00pm. After eating some of our leftovers from the night before (we had a fridge/freezer in Iquique) for lunch, we chill back before heading out to the supermarket to buy something for dinner. Later that evening a man knocks on our door asking if we own the motorcycle. We get chatting to “John” whose son has ridden across Africa on a bike. John is also an intrepid traveller and has worked and travelled in some of the most remote and challenging countries in the world. He is a really interesting man.

Later in the evening Ross the owner of the hostel appears to inform us that there has been an earthquake and tsunami evacuation orders are in place, with most shops in town closing as well. He feels it is an over reaction as the predicted wave is 0.7 to 1 metre, won't even get to the top of the beach let alone over the road. We were walking back from the supermarket and didn't notice the quake at all!

Funnily enough I recall my somewhat flippant words of three nights ago and am grateful I am not camping on the beach. The predicted wave fails to appear and we hit the hay about midnight. For some reason I am completely exhausted so shove in my ear plugs and go to sleep really quickly. About an hour later Skill wakes me as the windows rattle and the building sways (aftershocks). In my half awake but alert state I pull a shirt on over my Pjs, grab my bag and stand at the door ready to make a run for it. No need. Things settle down and we return to bed. For the rest of the night we have aftershocks almost every hour on the hour. Once again I sleep through most of it while Skill keeps one eye open for the rest of the night. It is not the most restful of nights for him. However this is normal life for Chileans.

Next morning things have settled down and there are no more rumbles so we have a day catching up on the mundane chores such as washing and jacket repairs, then it is our usual hunt and gather, chatting to fellow travellers and dinner, Day over.

Arica is not the most scenic of cities but we do head out to the markets and check out the beach.


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Aricas Beach


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The Mooloolaba Surf Club it is not....


On our last day in Arica we decide to do a day ride up and back to the small town of Putre near the Bolivian border. It is a lovely day and we enjoy the twisty ride up into the mountains. Once again the desert scenery is spectacular. The huge valleys where there is water are fertile and green, a stark contrast to the surrounding mountains and sand dunes.


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The ride down from Putre


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Just add water …...Fertile valley


Putre itself is a lovely little village and is in party mode, there is a parade and band playing in the square. However the whole place is seething with American tourists, which seems a little odd until we later discover there is a cruise ship moored in Arica.


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Skill having lunch in the square at Putre


Copy and paste the following address to see a short video of the ride down from Putre
http://youtu.be/BEntSR5s2HQ


We enjoy our last night in Arica at the hostel chatting with Ross and John about Arica, Chile and South America in general, both men are married to Chileans and have lived here for years.

Next day before we leave Arica, we change our Chilean pesos at the bus station, refuel, give all our left over Chilean coins to the young girl serving us fuel and head towards Tacna.

Although not arduous, the crossing out of Chile into Peru takes a reasonable amount of time, there is a bit of different paperwork at this crossing compared to other Chile/Peru border crossings. Then the Peruvian guy doing the temporary imports is incredibly slow. While Skill is doing this I am chatting to a young Aduana guy who lived in the States for two years and has excellent English. Skill returns and after about an hour and a half we are ready to go. Welcome back to Peru.

We ride quickly through the border town of Tacna and have a nice easy short day to Moquegua as we know there is not much accommodation between there and Camana.


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More desert riding on the Pan American - Southern Peru


After 4 goes at trying to find a reasonable hotel we luck in on a little local place we happen to see as we are riding around. It is quite gorgeous, the rooms are incredibly ornate and very clean. They do have parking but it is at the owner 's (of the hotel) house compound just up the road. The day is very hot so after we unload, shower and change we feel semi human again but as it is now 3.00pm (5.00pm Chilean time, we gained two hours when we crossed the border) we need food. We luck in on a tiny cafe just around the corner where we enjoy a delicious 2 course menu del dia for 7 sols each. That is $3.50 Australian. We are also back in the land of Inka Cola (which tastes like Creaming Soda) so of course we partake.

Later in the evening we manage to find a couple of cold beers and a packet of potato crisps, that is dinner done and dusted (still full from lunch) ….......sleep.

We manage to be on the bike by 8.30 am and then begins the hunt for an automatic teller machine, we need some Peruvian cash (Soles). After about an hour and 5 banks we finally have success and we hit the road. Once again it is a pleasant, untrafficed ride to the Arequipa – Camana road and we enjoy the desert landscape. We stop in the small town La Joya (not joyful at all) at a service station for lunch before continuing on. About 35 kms down the road at El Alto our hearts sink as we see a huge line of trucks and traffic, we know what this means. A blockade. Bugger!!!!! We ride up past all the traffic to the front and after checking out he situation and chatting to a few of the protesters we decide to brave it as they are telling us to come on through. It is only a small blockade and we manage to pick our way along the side of it and then past a few rocks and people. It only take a few minutes to ride through and then it is up past all the banked up traffic on the other side and we are away.

However we know, where there is one blockade there are usually more. As we are riding along there is no traffic at all, hmm this does not bode well, but thankfully we make it to the seaside town of Camana without further incident. We easily find a very dodgy (and somewhat grotty) hotel with parking. Once again it is very hot so we unpack, shower and go for a walk around the town, find a supermarket and a bakery where we buy supplies for breakfast. That evening we find a Chifa (Chinese restaurant) and enjoy a beautiful meal along with all the locals, this town is definitely not on the gringo trail. We retire early and are just about asleep when we hear loud music (think of Mr Whippy ice cream van music, only in Spanish) so we look out the window down to the road, and there is a modern looking rubbish truck with 2 huge speakers on top of it blaring out music. It is 10.30 at night, but I guess it is the signal to bring out your rubbish. It is funny little moments like this that I get a fit of the giggles and remember why I love to travel so much.

The next morning we have our lovely ham and cheese croissants, make a picnic lunch, refuel and we are on our way. We enjoy the 70 km ride along the coast to Atico where we hit the first snag of the day. Huge amounts of traffic (mainly trucks) banked up as far as the eye can see. We employ our usual strategy and ride up to the front. This blockade is very large and impenetrable so we park up behind a Danish plated Land Rover and introduce ourselves to Mai Brit and Marlen, two Danish overlanders who surprisingly had done similar journeys to ours over the years.

Mai Brit and Marlen have already been here for two hours so we settle down to chatting and entertaining the bored local miners who are protesting over legal issues. That is the government wants the miners to be registered and pay taxes which of course they do not want to do. There are also issues with unauthorised gold mining and environmental degradation.

The bike seems to draw a large amount of attention and we entertain them with our Spanglish answering the usual questions. Where are you from? How big is the bike? How much does it cost? How much fuel does the tank hold? As we keep answering the rapid fire questions we are conscious of the police helicopter circling above us and the 4 army trucks and bus that have arrived at the service station across the road. Our entourage of miners jokingly tell us “Rambo”.


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The Blockade


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Skill entertaining the miners


We four gringos are keeping a close eye on things knowing we will have to retreat if the army move in. Fortunately they don't, they form a parade at the service station where they stay for the next hour before getting back in the trucks and bus and driving off back towards Camana.


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The Peruvian army on parade at the service station


About an hour after this the protest leaders come over to the queue of traffic and tell us that we can go at 12.00 o'clock. As the miners are now dispersing we are once again the centre of attention, I probably don't help matters as I hand out a few Australian stickers, suddenly I am mobbed and hand out at least 80 of our very cheap Aussie stickers. The boys are pretty chuffed and pose for photos.

At about 11.50 everyone has started their motors and are jockeying for positions, we jump on the bike and while we are backing up, a pick up and a collectivo (taxi) try to push into the tiny space in front of us all the while arguing with each other, even throwing food at each others cars. Eventually we can move and off we go, the miners have disbanded and there is mostly a jovial feel although we do worry a bit about the guys with spray cans.

Copy and paste the following address to see a short video of the riding through the blockade area.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiFteDtyhRM


Once on the road there is the usual stunt overtaking manoeuvres which we stay clear off until it is safe to over take and off we go, what a glorious ride it is, as we have the next 140 km of road to ourselves.


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Riding the coast on the Pan American


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Riding the coast on the Pan American


However all good things must come to an end, and about 10 km out of Atico we hit our next snag of the day, a line of trucks that goes on forever, we ride up the wrong side of the road past the first kilometre of trucks where we meet the police who tell us Lento (Slowly) and off we go at a snails pace. It takes us an hour and a half to negotiate the next 10 kilometres of trucks and buses. At some points the road is jammed as both sides of the road have vehicles on them. At points like this we have to squeeze in front of the parked trucks, ride up the very narrow verge and then squeeze back in front of the trucks, then onto the other side where the road is clear again. A couple of times it is such a tight fit that I have to take the panniers off.

When we get to the blockade you can tell it is much more heated than the last one. We listen to the locals who show us where to go along some back streets. A very kind man on a motorcycle then befriends us and guides us along a dirt road, across some gullys and finally across a dry river crossing before we pop back onto the highway having bypassed the blockade. After effusive thanks, a koala and a pen as poor recompense we take another hour to negotiate the 12 kilometres of trucks on the Northern side of town. At one point we follow a police car who is trying to get the trucks and buses to stay on one side of the road.

Eventually after close to three hours we are through.


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It is difficult to see but you can just see the line of trucks off into the horizon.

We are now on tenter hooks and know that there has to be another blockade as once again there is absolutely no traffic. We are also a bit concerned about our new found Danish friends, we hope they will make it through. The next 90 km to Chala is an easy ride but about 10km before the town huge volumes of traffic start coming towards us. As we come over the hill into the town we can see a lot of smoke and also a huge line of trucks snaking there way up the hill on the Northern side of the town. Chala looks like a war zone, the blockade has disbanded but there are large numbers of protesters still on the streets, burning tyres, broken glass, grafitti, old overturned car bodies, and huge boulders everywhere. We listen to some locals and take some back streets but still have to negotiate burning tyres and huge rocks. There are riot police everywhere. Once on the Northern outskirts of town we look for fuel but every service station is closed down and guarded by riot police, we wait for a while and I notice that one car has been allowed into the service station so I go and do my best “woman in distress act” and they lower the tape and let us in.

Refuelled we get out of there as quickly as we can and head out of town to Puerto Inka (where we stayed last year). The trucks coming into town are doing crazy things and we have to take evasive action many times in the short 5 kms to the turn off. We arrive at the resort a little shell shocked but also incredibly grateful that we have made it through and have not had to camp out with 1000s of truck drivers, or worse, been stuck in Chala.

We park up, go to the restaurant and have a couple of beers that do not even touch the sides. The young girl at the reception speaks English and tells us that 4 people in Chala have died during the protests. We do not know how the deaths occurred or whether they were a direct result of the protest or not.

We set up our tent just before sunset and are very happy to see the Land Rover drive over the hill, Mai Brit and Marlen have made it. They were hoping to get to Nazca but we had told them of this place as a back up plan. We clean up, order a fantastic fish dinner and pisco sours and have a long, long chat on the days events. It really has been quite a challenging day.


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Recompense for such a long day, the view from our tent


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Mai Brit and Marlen

We awake to the comforting sound of the ocean quite early, and get ourselves packed up. We join Mai Brit and Marlen for breakfast then we both get going together. At every town we hold our breath waiting to see what will happen but today luck is on our side and we make it to Nasca, although there are huge volumes of trucks on the road we arrive quite early, however there are miner protest marches all around Nasca so we had to do a few detours. We return to the same hostel that we stayed in last year, they remember us and we are greeted like long lost family. Such lovely people.

We don't even get off the bike before we are hit with a barrage of questions from most of the backpackers staying at the hostel. Which way have you come? Were there any blockades? How bad were they? Were the buses getting through? ….............................. “from the South”, “Yes”, “Quite bad”, and “No”. Now I can take my helmet off.

The blockades are the only topic of conversation in Nasca. Locals and travellers alike. Many travellers had been trapped here for a few days, while others have to be in Cusco to make the “Inca trail” treks. Many of them were in a quandry as to what they should do, go back to Lima and fly to Cusco or wait it out.

Once checked in we go for a walk into town, most of the shops are closed (as they are worried about looting from the protesters) but we find a local cafe open and have a great local lunch, before heading back to the hostel. That evening most of the shops have opened up and all the locals are out on the Plaze de Armes. We meet up with our new found Danish friends and enjoy a nice evening together, although the town seems to be out of beer due to the blockades and fuel is also running low so we decide to leave the following day if we can.

Next morning, Skill braves the protesters and goes out to look for fuel, after 5 service stations he finally finds some and returns triumphant. We decide that we will try for Ica today but if we get onto the Pan American and there is no traffic we will know there are more blockades ahead and we will return to Nasca. As we ride out of town there seems to be a fair volume of traffic on the road. The service stations also seem to have fuel. Skill is slightly annoyed that he has wasted time riding around Nasca looking for fuel when we could have just got it here on the highway. My response is “Yes, but you just never know do you?” We have a very easy, trouble free ride to Ica, and ride out to Huacachina, a small oasis village amongst huge sand dunes. There is a small green, smelly pond at the base of the dunes which the village is built around, despite my unflattering description, it really is quite amazing.

We end up in a very upmarket, expensive hotel with lovely rooms overlooking a pool, bar and restaurant, it has views up to the sand dunes. The bike is securely parked in amongst the dune buggies, used to take tourists out on thrill seeking sand dune adventures. It really is very, very hot so we opt for the pool then lunch. We manage to score a sort of Thai curry at a little cafe close by. It is then a quick walk around town and back to the pool. Bliss!!!


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Our posh hotel


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Our bike parked with the dune buggies


That evening we eat at the hotel restaurant, it takes us 45 minutes to get two beers and a further 45 minutes to get our hamburgers. But as we say “I guess we are in no rush”.

With our funds severely depleted we decide we need to move on to Lima. At breakfast I email the Hitchhikers hostel in Miraflores, Lima booking 4 nights. We leave before we have a response but as we have GPS co-ordinates for the hostel we decide we will wing it and hope they have room. We also have a date at Touratech Lima as Skill has a new tyre waiting there.

We have a reasonably trouble free ride to Chincha Alta although we do notice that the drivers are becoming more chaotic and are quite happy to pull out and overtake expecting us to get out of their way and run us off the road. I am becoming quite good at sign language - #@%^^. After Chincha Alta we hit the Autopista (Freeway) and it is an easy ride. We stop to refuel and have lunch at a very nice, new service station about 50 kms from Lima. They also have wifi so we check our emails, thankfully the Hitchhikers Hostel has room for us. That will make our day so much easier. As we are about to leave we see a huge motorhome with an Aussie flag on it, refueling. We ride over and have a long chat with Gary and Liz, two Tasmanians touring around South America.


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Liz and Gary, intrepid overlanders


After half an hour we head off up the freeway before exiting towards Miraflores to our hostel. And so begins the crazy, aggressive Lima traffic, after 45 minutes of doing battle with taxis, buses, ambulances and trucks we arrive a little hot and bothered but unscathed. The hostel is a nice, calm oasis but filled to the brim with overland vehicles, mainly Dutch and Germans. Once parked and unloaded we have a beer and a chat with fellow travellers before going out for a walk to find a bank and supermarket. Success on both fronts.

It is now Wednesday and we have to be at Touratech at 2.00pm. With trepidation we don our helmets and riding gear and set off out into the Lima traffic. Fortunately it is not too bad and we arrive at Touratech at around 1.45 pm. We are met by really friendly guys (who speak a little English) who proudly show us their brand new facilities. Fortunately our new tyre is there waiting. Unfortunately there is no one to fit it and they tell us we will have to come back tomorrow. After a little bit of a gripe from Skill and a long conversation with many telephone calls, we are eventually told that the tyre fitting guy can come at 4.00pm. No problems we say and wait it out. Skill gets them to wash the bike (for 20 soles, about $8.00). They have a brand new washing area complete with pressure cleaner. A lovely young kid spends over an hour cleaning, polishing and detailing the bike, it is pristine.


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Bike washing about to start