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Istvan Szlany, Canada

Alaska to Ushuaia

Ecuador and the Galapagos

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South America

I'm in Quito, which means I'm in South America. Last time I e-mailed I was in pretty bad shape, and thought about returning from Panama City. Well, I didn't. I thought about this a lot, and I realised that my only problem is Chloroquin. Now I take Lariam (=Mefloquine) which is supposed to be stronger and create even more problems. At this time I am already for about 10 days on Lariam, and I don't have any side effects. That's good. Right? ... but let me continue my story where I left the other day: San Jose, Costa Rica.

There were some very nice places in Costa Rica, that I really enjoyed, but because of the country is so tourism-oriented, somehow the whole place was kinda' unattractive to me. It was hard to find hotels in places where tourists don't go, but in tourist areas all the places and eateries were very expensive. The mountain roads on the other hand will take the motorcycle rider to some very nice places. Maybe one day I'll return as a "real" tourist, with gold credit cards and I'll enjoy the luxurious hotels and the expensive services available. I didn't spend much time in Costa Rica, and on Dec. 30th I crossed into Panama.


The border crossing was fairly smooth, although it took about 1 hour on each side. I can't remember the fees I paid, and this morning I gave my diary to a new friend, who will take it to Germany and mail it safely home for me.

This means that this report will be totally based on memories, and might be a little changed since I have not e-mailed for about 3 weeks.

Because it was about 5 PM when I was free to go anywhere in Panama, first I looked for a hotel. I reached David, but still nothing available. I turned towards the city-centre, and because it was already quite dark, I stopped under a light to check my guidebook for a budget hotel address. A guy walked next to me. Blond Rastafari hair, beard and a little weird eyes. He spoke English. We talked for a while, and I learned, that he's from Norway and currently waiting to get better after a hepatitis infection, because he cannot ride his bicycle in this condition. ... and he lives nearby in a hostel. $5/night. That's great! is there one more room for me? We asked, and there was. To make a long story short enough not to bore everybody to death on my e-mail dist. list: we became friends in a very short time, and I decided to spend the new year's eve and day there with this weird Viking fellow. At least neither of us will be alone in this crowded universe.

Terje, I hope you are much better now. Drop me an e-mail, so I know where are you, and what's up with you. Thanks!

I cleaned Csardas very thoroughly to prepare her for the next millennia. I just realised, how nice green my bike is under 3 month of hardened dust and whatever has deposited on her.

I visited Volcan Baru, too, at least as far I could go on that bad road. Guess what? it started to rain, and ... this time we fell really hard on the slippery muddy rocks. Okay, that's it! Looks like I have a real talent for getting myself into trouble, so I just turned around and headed towards Panama City. At that time I already made up my mind to continue the trip in South America, so the first thing I did was to check out how and when can I send Csardas and myself to Colombia. At the beginning I didn't understand why everybody shakes his/her head, when I told them, what do I plan. Copa Airlines would have shipped my bike to Medellin, and I would have had to go with Avianca, because Copa doesn't sell one-way tickets.


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Szlany's Home

Travel Stories

October 2000,

November 2000,
Nevada and
California, USA
via Singapore?

December 2000
in Mexico and
Central America
Screw-ups in
roads, malaria
pill blues,
feeding fish
the hard way

January 2001,
in Ecuador,
South America
An Ecuador
customs saga,
the Galapagos

February 2001,
Peru, Bolivia,
dealing with
unfriendly dogs
crossings and
lessons learned

March 2001,
guide to
Wherein our
hero's tire
reduces him
to hitchhiker

April 2001,
Argentina to
Tao and more
bike trouble

More to come...
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I also dropped in to the Colombian Embassy, to find out whether the ferry between Colon and Cartagena is running again or not. They could not tell me, instead, I got more head shakings. I asked where not to go in Colombia.

"Don't go!" - was the answer. Only Cartagena's and Barranquilla's resorts are safe. Hmmm... I went to the Canadian Embassy: Same answer. I started to think about my chances. That night during dinner I watched TV, and in the news they showed some pictures of people killed in the countryside. I didn't manage to find out why (I don't know enough Spanish to understand very fast talk) Next day I went to IPAT (the Panamanian tourist office), and asked them about all kinds of possibilities on how to get to South America.

Finally, after about 20 phone calls (very kind people everywhere!) I ended up with an agency called AeroServicios. The fastest and cheapest flight was to Quito. Csardas' flight costs 463 USD with KLM and mine 261 with Copa Airlines. One way! At the KLM Cargo again I met a bunch of very good people, very helpful, and Csardas was packaged so well, that she looked like a black mummy tied down on a bunch of aluminum cargo plates. She was safe, but I was still worried.


After I arrived in Quito, late night, tired, I wasn't sure where am I going to go, I even thought about bivouacking at the airport in the waiting room.

"Taxi?" "no, Gracias!" - and I walked across the mass of people in the front of the airport. As I looked up, there was two Suzuki something 650 cc bikes. Very nice DS bikes that I have never seen before. I thought about Csardas again, hoping that she's okay, and I was so lonely at that moment, looking at the two motorcycles.

"You have a shitty helmet" said a voice next to me. I looked that way, and there were two guys dressed in some cool jackets, each holding a Nolan helmet in their hands.

"Well, I like it" - made up slowly an uncertain answer.

We started to talk. They asked me about my story and I told them. I asked them about a cheap hotel nearby, and these two wonderful guys, workers of a security company, took me to a hostal. We changed addresses and warm handshakes. ... sometimes I wonder why am I so special that God takes care of me, silly kid, anywhere I go? Why?


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Next day, Csardas still wasn't anywhere. The only thing I could do is to look around in Quito. Nice city, but the busses are absolutely outrageously stinky! I found a better and much cheaper place to stay. Hostal Marsella, on the edge of the New and Old Town. If you are in Quito, I can recommend this place. $3/night, 0.40 for the bike.

Next day Csardas has arrived. Via Curacao, ha! I tried to get her out from the Customs, but I had to go to an agent (=tramidador) Sr. Manuel A. de la Vega. Old, grey man, in every way you can think of. It took two full days to me/him to do all the paperwork. His service supposed to be free for the customer (me) but at the end he demanded 80 dollars. I told him that I don't have it. Then he started to shout and out loud he demanded his "plata".

At the beginning I was outraged and seeing him so "low" I felt really sorry for him, but there was no way to solve this situation. Or maybe we can do something about it. I bought a fake Rolex watch in Singapore for about 5 USD. I took this watch out of my pocket, very carefully, and I told him, that this is worth 120 USD. Then I felt his very strong grip on that watch, and I've seen the greed in his eyes... poor guy. Csardas and I rode off from the airport without being asked to present any papers. And it rained again.

I looked around for trips to Galapagos. It took me a whole day to find all kinds of offers, and finally I found one. 8 days cruise with GABI I., departure next day (Friday) and the best I could get it for was 500 USD + 329 USD for the flight ticket + 100 USD Nat. Park fee. Steep price! But I dreamed about that place for so long, so ... now or never!

It was the best decision, as it turned out, because I had a great time. The crew was great, the route was great, the food was okay but I always had double portion (thanks to the girls on the boat! I think I managed to put back some of my lost weight) and the best tour-mates that one can wish for.

I have a dozen new friends now and I can't wait to see them again...


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... you see it in Discovery Channel and other such TV channels, but until you are there, you can't even imagine how wonderful that group of islands really is. For days I had that feeling that I'm just watching a very wide screen movie, because this can't be true. The scenery, the climate, the fearless animals, the sun, the water, everything is so unbelievable! I've swam with millions of fishes and many sharks, rays, turtles, penguins. I've learned to "speak" like a male sea lion so well, that one about 200 kg big male came so close to me that his moustache almost touched my mask and tee-shirt (I used it as a "wet suit") to make sure that I am not another intruding male sea lion. It was absolutely amazing! If you haven't seen these wonderful animals up close, swimming underwater, lazing on the beach, and fighting with each other, you can't even imagine the moment. But you can still try it :o)

I could tell many stories about that one heavenly week, but not now. You might be able to read them if I publish them in a book on day. I thought about this, but first I have to ride 5 more months before I get my "normal" life back. RIDE! This is what I missed during that week, nothing else.

No, that's not true, I missed my real wetsuit and fins, too. If you plan to go to the Galapagos, besides mask and snorkel, take these things, too, with you. And clothes pegs, too.

Now I'm back to Quito, and ready to continue my trip further south. Next time perhaps I'll tell you about Lima, Cuzco, the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, the Nazca lines and other wonders of Peru and maybe Bolivia, too. I don't know yet.

I wish you all the bests for the New Year, decade, century and millennia. It is going to be the very best, if you really want it. Take care, and ride safely!

Cheers, Istvan + Csardas


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Story and photos copyright © Istvan Szlany 2001.
All Rights Reserved.
Grant Johnson

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