July 14, 2004 GMT
Viva South America

After 7 long winter months teaching back in the UK at last I am can start the second part of the adventure. Bring it on!!

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Besse getting felt up, all for $5!

There is nothing like abscence to make the heart grow fonder. I couldn't wait to get back to the trip. The break was good for me, I earned some more travel tokens and got to see and hang out with the people I missed while travelling. But on June 30th I left Heathrow bound for Costa Rica. The flight along with the usual delays was tedious, I arrived three hours late at 11.30pm in San Jose to find my friends Oscar and Marghi wating for me. In the morning I dug the bike out of Oscars garage and got to work making it run again. To cut a long story short, after about 14 hours of work over 2 days it finally ran. I had stripped all the electrics and carb many times to find what turned out to be a simple mistake I had made on the first day. On sunday I headed out for the Costa Rican border. I was sad to leave Oscar and his family, their friendship and hospitality were second to none. I hope to see them again in the UK.

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Oscar, The Bike and Me Ready To Roll

The ride to the border took me over the central cordillara at an altitude of over 3000m. The views I had hoped for were hidden by more bloody jungle. I had other things on my mind however. My vehicle permit for Costa Rica had run out 4 months ago. Worst case senario was a $500 fine plus import tax for the bike, altogether worth more than the bike itself. I was aiming for a border crossing at the end of a dirt road where I hope i could cross and if neccessary pay the border gaurd a small "fine" to get out. I rode through 2 checkpoints before reaching the dirt road, bumped my way through 8kms and then these shacks appeared, no barriers at all so I just rode on into Panama, and stopped by there Migacion office. They couldn't process my papers for me there but had no problems with me riding down the Panamanian side of the border to go to the main crossing to get the correct stamps. I couldn't believe my luck getting through with not a single cent in fines, I even had the expired permit left as a souvenier. The main border at Paso Canoas was hectic but no agro, a long day but a tidy hotel and a six pack sorted all that out.
I rode 500kms to Panama City the next day, a good road but hot. My body not used to sitting on the bike yet and got some quality bum blisters to remind me not to ride long miles too quick. Panama City was mad and just as I found a possible hotel the bike refused to start again. That was me done for the day. I had ended up in a red light disrict but sod it I needed rest. That evening I hooked up with Appie, an Austrian biker who had had a similar border stress and had also ridden from Costa Rica that day. We ended up sharing a hotel for the next three days and exploring the delights of Panama City. We got pissed lots and had a good laugh. Panama City although dirty and caotic was really enjoyable, I felt it wasn't the safest place but good fun.

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Appie and the local parking security crew.

On the last day I headed out to the Panama Canal which was big and impressive but I had gone with this idea that supertankers would be going through it and was a little dissapointed with the Panamax sized boats.

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Tiny Boats!

I had organised my air freight to Quito, Ecuador while in Panama City which was surprisingly too easy, I kept looking for the catch but there wasn't one. Just ride the bike to the airport, take off the mirrors, tell them there is very little fuel in it and you have disconnected the battery, pay the 600 odd bucks and off you go. No making a crate for the bike or any of the ather faffing I did in the UK. Appie in the meantime had freighted his bike to Bogota, Colombia. I looked at the map, why the hell hadn't I done this. It was half the price and only 600Kms ride down to Quito. I had heard so many stories that if I went to Colombia I would be kidnapped and held hostage that I believed them. I now know there are many bikes that go through with no more hassle than the roadblocks by the police and military. This is not to say it can't happen but the chances are slim. I had been sucked in again by media bullshit! The next day I just managed to get on the Quito flight , I was on stand-by and got the last seat on the plane.
Well three weeks ago I landed at Quito excited by the prospect of my first visit to South America. Three weeks and Jess and me are still stuck in Quito. Not so much of a love /hate relationship, just lots of the hate! Anyhow what has happened in those three weeks and why are we still here.
The first week involved extracting the bike from the ever oficious customs at the airport. I tried to do it my self but armed with what most would consider a piss poor lack of spanish I faltered at the first hurdle, only 2 hours into the process. $50 later I had me a genuine Ecuadorian, spanish speaking customs agent. What took place after this was another day and a half of visiting office after office, shaking everyones hand and standing next to my customs agent like a spare part as he jabbered away at various officials. The highlight!! of the whole process was meeting the main man himself, the Commandant who graciously signed a piece of paper. I was then free to go get the bike, discover it had been dropped a bit and had the stand snapped clean off the frame. A great start to Ecuador! $5 to weld the stand and lots more spent on beer drinking with a retired Austrian biker, Klaus, as I hiberated the week away waiting for Jess. During this time I also met Ricardo Rocco. This guy is the main man of bikers in Ecuador. He meets most people who come through and bikes and is always willing to help. He was the one who gave me the contacts at the airport and has been helping me since with the mechanical troubles.
In the meantime Jess was having her own little epic getting here. Her flight went to Fankfurt, Caracas, Bogota (unbeknown to her and me) and then finnaly Quito. The connection in Caracas was with the local airline, Avianca (susequently renamed Aviwanker) They got the plane to Bogota ok but then decided it was broken and cancelled the flight. Great, midnight stuck in Bogota, swarming with military with big guns, presumably cos it is a tad dangerous to be there. Did she see the fabled ELN or Fach gurrelias, did she hell. They gave her a physco taxi ride into town and put her up at a five star hotel. Next morning I camped down again at Quito airport to await her arrival. After only three delays and no cancelled flights she arrived. It was great to see each other again and we spent the day exploring, Quito. The old town was fantastic, lots to see and climb. Pay $2 and you could climb all over a disused cathedral. no joke. At the top of the bell fry a little hole in the tower led you straight out onto the ledge next to the gargoyles.

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Chilling With The Gods

We had afforded ourselves the luxury of a $22/night hotel, The Amazonas Inn. Queen sized bed, 2 balconies, silk sheets and superb service. Unfortunately this was a flash in the pan, 4 days later we downgraded to $10/night, in the middle of slapper land where they only empty your toilet paper bin once a week.
Buying a bike for Jess in Ecuador was muy costoco and we had been in contact with another brit couple coming up from Argentina. We now plan to buy their bike off them in Lima, Peru. In the meantime I went to prepare the bike for 2 up travel. This is where the problems started and today may end. I discovered that I had bent the rear shock absorber as well as blowing it up. Great cos as you may have guessed there are lots of shops here that sell shocks for european model bikes. It would have to come from the UK. I rang the company who makes it, Hagon, and much to my surprise they said they would warranty it and UPS a replacement out to me. 5 days was the time it would take to get here.
So what did we do while we waited? Tried spanish school, not for us. Drank coffee, wandered around Quito, drank beer, got on the internet, read books, drank beer, drank coffee, wandered more, got on the internet, read some more, drank coffee, read in a park, interenet and on, and on, and on. Get the picture. On the upside we hooked up with some fellow bikers , Maarten and Meg. Maarten has been going for two years around the world and Meg, fresh out of uni is planning the same. It was good to swap stories over beers and helped ease the boredom. These guys have the wacky plan to build a raft from oil drums, put a propeller on it powered by one of the bikes and raft the Amazon. Once again we were taking easy street by sticking to only the roads.

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Meg, Maarten and Us.

We have ventured out of Quito three times. The thought of the shock breaking in 2 and inserting itself through the seat and up my jacksie does not make for relaxed cruising. Our first venture was to a hot springs up in the Andes at 4000m. This was also Jess`s birthday. We had a really chilled time out there, lounging in the springs taking in the rainforest views.

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The Birthday Girl!

The next trip was to Mitad del Mundo (the equator to you and me) We went to a little museum where we saw genuine water going different ways either side of the equator, saw a shrunken head which was practiced by an indigenous amazon tribe as a post war trophy ritual. We also saw the skin of an Anaconda which was at least 10m long and got to shoot blow darts at a cactus bush. Very good and not too cheesy.

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Her in the south, Me in the north.

Now the official government monument was very dull and bland and to add to that was 200m south of the actual line. Our last venture out yesterday was to go see Cotapaxi, the highest active volcanoe in the world. Quito is a long town in a velley. It is full of diesel belching busses (imagine the worst bus you have seen and times it by five) It is incredible how much crap is in the air in this city, also the noise. Every one bips the horn at least once a minute and drives into any space that presents itself. Relaxed driving it aint. Anyway after 50 minutes of this type of driving we exited the city to find that Cotopaxi had decided to get covered by cloud and add to that the bike broke down (it has subsequently started to work again but only on the basis of when it wants to. I guess talking to it may help!). Great another bike problem to solve, another UK only part to try to find and we havn`t even seen the bloody volcanoe. Just as we thought the day was another right-off a guy in 4wd pulls up next to us and invites us back to his house to meet his family and have lunch. A really pleasant afternoon spent trying to hablo espanyol and recieving 1st class hospitality. The day was saved!
Today, friday, we get the new shock. It arrived 4 days ago but can you guess who has been looking after it for me since then, yep those bastards at customs have once again put a spanner in the works. On sunday, for better or worse we leave this town for good, head up to the coast to lounge for a few days on the playa. On 8th August after agressive shopping around we have booked ourselves onto a Galapogas Islands trip. We got a bargain !?! price of 750 quid each for eight days on a luxury boat which every day visits a new sight with wacky animals to see.
Hope its worth it!
Quito is good for a few days but three weeks. We are going mad, must escape soon if not, who knows. Tune into the next episode of Jess and Ozīs South American adventure to find out if customs give us the shock, if the bike decides to work and see if we get out of Quito. Yeah and dont be shy to mail us or leave comments on this blog.
Hasta la luego, baby!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Peter Slarke at 10:16 PM GMT
 


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