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Merry Christmas

December 24, 2011

A short note to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year.

We are in Montañita, Ecuador, a great little beach town with 4 other motorbike travellers; Mark, Andre, Glenn and Chris for the next couple of days. Its nice to have a place to kick back for a little, and even better to have some great friends to share it with.

Will be thinking of you as we have the traditional summer Christmas BBQ.

Colombia – the return

December 22, 2011

We were back in Columbia, we couldn´t import our bikes on a Sunday, so we stayed on the border in Cucuta with plans of doing it tomorrow. It was described in our guide book ¨surprisingly nice for a border town¨, I would concur.

Our usual parking affair of, ride the motorcycles into the hotel lobby

The next day at the import office we met a bunch of Venezuelans riding to Tierra del Fuego as well, almost all on BMW´s, nice guys.

The roads here were quite typical

But still beautiful

Columbia, it was good to be back!

We took our usual array of detours.

Some of the detours more adventurous than others…

Inquiring with the military as to camp spots, they pointed one out. Unfortunately we had to pay a lady for the right to do so, which went completely against our inner frugal principles, but we did it.

It was worth it. The military were camped in the shed in the background of the photo, and we shot the breeze with them all night, stumbled over their machine guns they had left laying on the ground while trying to go to the toilet, and in the morning their commander offered us breakfast, the most amazing arepa, eggs and hot chocolate. Unfortunately no photos, they politely declined.
Also in the morning, the husband of the lady we paid last night came for a chat, he asked what we were doing, and on explaining it he was curious what we thought of Columbia. ¨Beautiful¨was our response. He didn´t seem to care about what we thought of the scenery, and asked ¨what about the people?¨, I found it fascinating that he was interested, and gave us a look of relief when we told him with sincerity that the Columbians had been the friendliest people we had met thus far.
He demanded we accept a refund for our camp fee, and it was not the first or the last time we were taken back with their generosity.

We rode on to Guatape, where a big rock sits

We climbed it.

And took in quite the view.

Tim and I agreed that this was the first place we had been on this trip where we felt we could genuinely live on a permanent basis. It was beautiful.

We arrived in Medellin

met 2 cool dudes from Tennessee who were riding down on 1974 Honda dirt bikes. Only people I have met carrying a spare piston!

Fitted a new chain and sproket to Tim´s bike along with some accessories (Columbian Police Siren)

I really liked Medellin for a city. Reminded me a lot of Melbourne.

We also met a couple of photo journalists from the states, Nish and Todd. THEIR BLOG and rode south with them for a bit

Met a nice couple, who invited us to their farm for coffee, which ended up being an invite for lunch, dinner, a bed and breakfast the next day. We had to head south, but stayed for lunch, and Nish stayed around for the evening.

They had some nice dogs too.

Further south to Salento, where it was really beautiful

with amazing coffee

and decidedly more rural.

and found some more interesting roads

Through coffee fields

Armadillo´s for purchase on the side of the road. Photo time!

And our preferred kind of eating establishments

In Cali we caught up with Glenn, whome we had met previously in Guatemala and decided to ride south together.
Our infamous good luck brought him a flat tire in the first 10 miles

Which we then pinched the tubes when replacing them.
Later in the day, flat number 2

Then flat number 3

Roads and scenery were stunning however

In the morning as we headed for the border, flat number 4 for Glenn arrived… right next to the police.

Who promptly jumped in, picked up some tire levers and started to help.
We rewarded them by letting them go for a spin on our rigs.

Just before the border we stopped by an impressive church

In an impressive location

The usual paperwork, and lines:

brought us to the end of Columbia.
Impressive scenery, amazing roads, but that all pales into insignificance when we look back on the friendliness of the people we encountered there.

Due to laptop malfunctions (its dead from motorcycle travel) here are some photos I couldn´t upload last time.

A coffee truck turns over on the road… what do you do to clear it?

Thats right, burn it.

And cause traffic to back up…

For 10 miles.

Henry doing some weight testing on his motorcycle with his standard kit.

Crossing the Orinoco River was a particular highlight. It is the second largest delta in all of the Americas (behind the Amazon)

With Henry

And some other new friends

We were treated to quite the spectacular sunset

We arrived after an hour and forty five minute trip across the river (yes, its big!) to the other side in darkness. We asked the local military where we could camp. Right here you say?
Sure!

Other campsites consisted of people who offered their farms:

Roadside spots

Beaches with coconut palms

And herds of cows

The price of fuel never got old.

(A little under 10c for almost 10l)

Venezuela, it was pretty nice.

Venezuela Pt. 2

December 17, 2011

Venezuela Pt. 2

On our return from Angel Falls, we were struck with the landscape here, we had to do more. Mount Roraima. A 2800m high mountain, or tepui, that inspired the book, “The Lost World”, and is the corner of Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela was not too far away. Lets climb it!

It commenced… with a day wait… I understood the Venezuelan national sport to be baseball, but my experience suggests that strikes is of higher importance… a 4 day mining strike that blocked the only road from Venezuela to Brazil, and our only way to the mountain.
The road opened, and a 9hr ride in a Landcruiser, our driver doing around 90mph (145kph) through villages at 2am…

We finally got within eyesight of the mountain, and began our 5 day trek.

Lunch was BBQ Chicken, local Indian bread and chilli… made from termites. Was delicious.

Off we went…

The Flora on the way was particularly nice.

And our trail up became more and more ¨adventurous¨

And once we made it to the top, the mystical scenery unfolded.

And the amazing Flora kept up…

With incredible landscape

Cool frogs too.

Pity the views were terrible…

On the hike we also met 3 crazy Brazillian guys, circumnavigating the globe… on bicycles. Cool dudes, hope to see them in Aus in the future!

Local police were hard at it.

We went to the import office as we had 3 days to get our motorbikes out of the country… and discovered that extensions for our permit were not feasible, and if we were caught over-staying them, our bikes would be repossessed! We left Bolivar immediately; with around 1500km´s ahead of us… it was good to be back on the bikes after 10 days off them however…

And we headed through my kind of places, farming areas… you don´t need to be too worried about being shot, kidnapped or having your camera stolen when everyone is bum-up in the fields digging potatoes. The reactions too from the people we spoke to changed, instead of the general look of äwe¨ you frequently get when you are explaining your travels, it is replaced by a general look of confusion, as they are perplexed as to how you spend your time on a motorcycle, and make it back home to shear the sheep for summer.

Roads also progressed to be more enjoyable.

We swung through Merida, a really nice town, as we also discovered that we were crossing the border on Sunday, which apparently is when the office that stamps out our bikes was closed. We didn´t like our chances of staying another day and overstaying our limit just to get our bikes stamped out when the possibility of repossession loomed over our heads… so we didn´t stop at the Venezuelan border post, and just left… not sure I will be allowed back soon. Pity, I really liked the place.

Venezuela Pt. 1

December 12, 2011

I knew little about Venezuela, apart from winning lots of beauty contests and having a president that could be in some circles described as a crazy man I arrived with no expectations. It’s always better that way.

The usual border hoo-hah ensued

That is, until we got to the Venezuelan side. We can’t come in apparently… everyone is on strike. (“everyone” being the people that import our bikes). We push, and push, and after some walking around find a friendly security guard with keys who seems to know what stamps to use.
We enter the very elaborate building, which is shared just by us

And his majesty.

After almost 5hrs, we are in Venezuela
Not long before we hit snag #2, or should I say, strike #2, someone else is on strike, and they are blocking the only bridge from the border. We are stranded for our first night.

After some fine talking from Henry, a lady rides off on a motorcycle, and 30 mins later we are allowed to pass, the locals not.

So far Venezuela has looked very poor, the roads terrible, and they are filled with old 70’s and 80’s American cars. I feel like I should be in the Blues Brothers.

We hit Maracaibo, and things change instantly, there appears to be money here, and a lot of it. Oil.
We also discovered that Venezuela is substantially more expensive than its neighbors, at the official exchange rate cheese is almost $50 a kilo. Which brings me to one of Chavez’s little tricks, the exchange to the currency is pegged at about half what it is actually worth, you have to stock up on US dollars prior to entry, and exchange money with people on the street (almost everyone will)… thanks to Encho for giving us this advice before hand.
His other little trick is gasoline prices.
Less than 1c per litre, or about 3.5c for a gallon… and it has a smell of C16 race gas. I still can’t get over the fact that it would be a $1.50 to fill up my old F350, when often I paid 100 times that.

We find some more “scenic” routes

I am further impressed by Venezuelan’s choice of vehicles, F-Series and Landcruisers (not the soccermomobile ones, the weigh it down to its bump-stops, cross the Sahara 5 times before changing the oil models…).

Do some road side tyre repairs

We found a road north to Puerto Colombia with Henry showing us how to scrape panniers in the corners

We make it to Playa Grande where we make camp on the beach, impressive scenery

And sand flies

Met a crazy guy, 57yrs old, climbs five 35ft+ high coconut palms each day, not sure if his safety gear is Occupational Health and Safety compliant.

We skipped Caracas on accounts of it being a large city, and one where the propensity to be shot and mugged was higher than normal (it is considered the most dangerous city in the world I believe)… and moved onto the beautiful Venezuelan coast line.
Now, this motorcycle caper… often it has been mentioned to me that its dangerous, my response of “well, it isn’t if you don’t crash” I always felt had some solid merit, and up till now my motorcycling crashes had been not much above walking pace.
Not so much now. Coming around this corner, in the patch of shade, was also a patch of oil.

I was doing about 50mph (80kph), but bike and me are fine. Henry also hit the deck in the same patch of oil, fortunately he and bike are also unscathed.

Typical Venezuelan hospitality ensued, a local walked off to get us some banana’s, cold water and some potatoes for us to cook. He accepted no money, or anything in return.

More beautiful beaches followed, I thoroughly recommend this coastline east of Puerto La Cruz, the scenery and roads are just incredible.

Found a good campsite and called it a day.

We headed inland, checked out some impressive caves and stopped at a small town for dinner. We inquired as to local camp spots, and the owner pointed at the floor beneath us, between the local lady selling DVD’s, the blaring Carnival music, and the guys who were drunk on homemade liquor. We inquired if something quieter was available, his garage was next door, we became an instant hit with the local kids.

And slept on the roadside stall owners roof…

We stopped in Cuidad Bolivar, with hopes of seeing Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world. It takes a plane ride in a Cessna, a boat ride, a hike, another boat ride, and another hike to get too… typically taking 3 days in total… Niagara Falls it is not.

Our boat (a canoe with an outboard), which we went up rapids in the dark…

A sleep, and we awake to this…

More walking…

And a closer view…

More waterfalls…

Even some you can walk behind… quite a rush.

More to come…

Columbia Pt. 1

December 11, 2011

From Portabello in Panama, where we even managed to do some off-roading

From Panama to Columbia is impassable (well almost), the US has placed political pressure on Panama to keep the “Darien Gap” closed to restrict drug trafficking from the south, and it is the one break in the Panamerica highway for its entire length. It is now one of the most untouched jungles in the world, filled with wonderful wildlife and Columbian paramilitaries, so even if you can make it through, chances are that you won’t be alive on the otherside. Boat it is then:

Expect the moto boots and shorts look to be in next summer’s catalogue

We shared the boat with a few backpackers, and a bunch of other motorcyclists, Jess and Jesse whome we had met previously, Stefan a Canadian living in Panama and Rogier and his girlfriend riding 2-up.
We had an enjoyable journey, the San Blas islands are gorgeous Caribbean paradises

With some of us enjoying the view

Others…
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Arriving in Columbia, and discovering that Cartagena is one of the most beautiful colonial cities we have visited, albeit touristy, we formed a moto gang and headed to import our bikes.

Jesse taking his role as moto gang member to intimidating heights

We also met Carole and Laurent there whom we had met previously, and Henry, a Polish/Australian who was riding the same bike as ours, and testing the bike to the extreme with his luggage volume.

Cartagena

Venezuela was close, and I didn’t know anyone personally who had been there, which was reason enough for me to go check it out. We headed east.
We had to buy some new rear tyres for the bikes, and in Barranquilla (home of Shakira!!!) we found some for $65 each. Bargain. In Santa Marta, a bit further up the coast we ran into Henry and his bike that he has converted into a truck and agreed to head into Venezuela together.

It seems that since the drug trade has died down, Columbia has had to look to new opportunities to gouge gringo’s of their hard earned, we found it, their national parks. After forking over fifty something dollars for both of us to enter, we were able to enjoy the views

We chanced into Stefan again, who was riding with a wonderful Columbian lady, Natalia, and next day went to check out the local waterfalls

Purchasing some illegal Venezuelan gasoline from a 12yr old, we continued up to the desert area of Columbia

We continued north as a group

We were stopped by what can best be described as “goop” and sent a few of the bikes onto their sides.

Some had more fun in it than others however

We parted ways with Stefan in the morning, and left for the border as they headed south.
Venezuela to come…

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