Argentina and…

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Our Argentinian border crossing set us back a day and the border town itself was not the most pleasant place to spend some time so the next morning we were happy to hit the road and leave it behind. It was getting noticeably colder as we headed further south still at high altitude, after roughly four hours we began descending towards the town of Jujuy where we spent the night. Our original plan was to continue south to Salta but as we had been held back by illness and a long border crossing we decided to skip Salta and continue to ride east towards Brazil where we planned to visit Iguazu Falls and spend some time in southern Brazil where the weather should be far more comfortable than the Andes. Soon after leaving Jujuy we returned to a normal altitude of roughly 400m it was a fantastic feeling to breathe oxygen rich air again. It took us several days to cross Argentina from west to east. It reminded me of crossing Canada because in the west you have the Andes like the Rockies in Canada then you cross flat lands just like Saskatchewan and Manitoba after that rolling hills with a lot of greenery similar to Ontario although Ontario had many more small lakes. The cities we stopped at were becoming more and more westernised, brand named shops, fast food big names and the majority of people looked middle class driving relatively new cars. It was a far cry from Peru and Bolivia. We rode through Resistencia and Posadas before turning north towards Iguazu. We spent one night on the Argentinian side of Iguazu and crossed over to the Brazilian side the next day as apparently that is where the better view can be experienced. The Brazilian side of Iguazu looked even more like any other generic western city. We visited a bird sanctuary just before the waterfall which was well worth it even if we had already seen most of the different species while on the road in the wild. To visit Iguazu you have to jump through the tourist hoops, park your car in the carpark, go buy an entrance ticket and then take a bus to the lookout point. The views were spectacular it made Niagra Falls seem like a water feature found in a large mall. I definitely recommend visiting Iguazu if you ever get the chance.

 

That evening after visiting Iguazu our trip took an unexpected turn. We were discussing what we would do in Brazil over the next six weeks and we realised that neither of us were very enthusiastic about six more weeks on the road. Actually ever since we arrived in Argentina a sense of accomplishment begun to sink in as Argentina had always been our final goal since the beginning. Crossing Peru and Bolivia had taken it out of us and we found ourselves in the right mood to end the trip. I rang home that night as it was my birthday and spoke to my parents. During the conversation I learned that they would be going to Portugal on holiday in a few days for two weeks. When I hung up Franziska and I discussed it and decided to spontaneously change plans. We would skip southern Brazil and instead ride straight to Buenos Aires where we would attempt to ship the bike to Spain and then ride from Spain to Portugal and surprise my parents by just rolling up the driveway unannounced. Once there we would take it easy and recuperate a little. After all, I had to start trying to gain back some of the 8kg I had lost in South America.

The next morning was Monday, I called the shipping agent in Buenos Aires and they said it would be no problem to ship the bike on short notice. We set off for the border to cross back into Argentina, which unfortunately took a long time as the Argentinians we searching every vehicle crossing over. Because of this delay we didn’t make it as far as we wanted on Monday and had to put in a long day on Tuesday instead. In total on Tuesday we rode 950km, our longest distance covered in one day since the trip began. On Wednesday morning we only had to ride from the outskirts of Buenos Aires to the city centre to check in with the shipping agent dakarmotos.com, although it was a short distance it took us several hours due to traffic. We made arrangements at Dakar Motos to bring the bike to the airport cargo terminal the next day and pack it onto a pallet. We checked into a hostel downtown ate steak and slept like babies that night. The next morning (Thursday) we arrived at the airport cargo terminal and were waived in the right direction by all of the security staff and airport workers who saw us. I supposed that we were not the first lost looking bikers to have arrived there to ship their bike. Before long we were inside the right building and I was asked to ride the bike up onto a pallet. I had to disconnect the battery, remove the mirrors, let some air out of the tyres, and take off the windscreen. The boxes remained on the bike filled with riding gear, tools and spares, in addition we were able to pack our helmets into a dry bad with some other bits and pieces and lay it on the pallet next to the bike. The staff then started securing the bike to the pallet and wrapping it in plastic. Just before it was wrapped in plastic it was taken off to be inspected by customs. All they did was check the VIN number they weren’t bothered about looking on the boxes. By midday the whole process was over and we left to return to the city. The next step would be to pay for the shipping the next day at the company’s office downtown. That evening we booked our flight to Madrid from Buenos Aires, 600USD each with Boliviana Airlines leaving on Saturday afternoon. On Friday morning we went to the shipping company’s office to find out the final cost that would have to be paid. It came to roughly 1,800USD over all but we would be paying in pasos and that meant we could get the blue dollar rate if we changed dollars for pasos on Florida Street (the main tourist area in Buenos Aires). I had been aware of the blue dollar rate for most of the trip so I had accumulated about 1500USD in cash that I was carrying around in the side boxes since Ecuador. The normal exchange rate is something like 8-9 pasos for a dollar but if you change physical dollars on Florida Street with the exchange touts you get 12 pasos to the dollar. It was easy to find somewhere to exchange them, as you walk down Florida Street people are mumbling cambio cambio cambio in tourist’s direction all of the time. We just selected one that had good English and he brought us to a little office off the main street where we exchanged the dollars for pasos at the blue rate. In the end the shipping only actually cost around 1350USD because of the blue rate. Which is a very good price considering it was air freight and would be delivered immediately. Just under a year ago I had paid 1,200Euro to ship the bike from Germany to Canada by sea and that took two weeks! Something to also consider is that last July 1,200Euro was roughly 1,650USD so no matter what way you look at it we got a good deal for shipping back to Europe. Our contact at the shipping company gave us a bank account number and all we had to do was walk next door to the bank and lodge the payment. We went back to the shipping company showed them the receipt and we received the air waybill with which we could track the shipment online. The bike left for Madrid on a direct flight that night. We relaxed in Buenos Aires for the rest of Friday and celebrated the end of our trip in the Americas with a dinner. The final count was 38,000km traveled since leaving Halifax on the 5th of August last year. On Saturday we took a cab to the airport and started our 17 hour trip to Madrid via Santa Cruz in Bolivia.

We arrived in Madrid on Sunday afternoon and went to collect the bike on Monday morning. The cargo handling agent Swissport was very helpful but Spanish customs was a bit of a pain. Even though my bike is European registered they wanted to see a print out of my insurance policy from Germany. I had a credit card sized card with my details and insurance policy number on it but it wasn’t good enough for them they wanted to see the full policy. In the end my insurance company had to email a copy of the insurance policy to the lady at Spanish customs. Once that was done the rest was easy, they stamped the required paperwork and Swissport delivered the bike to us in the carpark at their warehouse. It took about an hour to unpack it and get it road worthy, by two o’clock we were on the road. At this time seven days ago we were in Brazil at the border crossing to Argentina now we were in Spain heading for Portugal. We stopped at KTM in Madrid to pick up a new air filter, oil filter, fuel filter and rear sprocket as I planned to do some much needed maintenance on the bike once we arrived at my parents place. It was too far to reach southern Portugal on Monday so we stayed one night in Trujillo in a hotel called Hotel Peru. Kind of funny because two months ago we were in Trujillo in Peru. On Tuesday we set off early and rode to the Algarve region of Portugal via Seville in Spain. At around two in the afternoon we arrived at my parents place, they heard the bike but didn’t think much of it so we were able to walk all the way to the rear and straight into the kitchen where they were sitting. Well needless to say, they got quite a shock.

We have been here now for a week and are thoroughly enjoying ourselves, we are especially enjoying the food. No more chicken and rice!! The plan for the moment is to stay here for another week or so then start making our way back to Germany through Spain and France hopefully arriving in Hamburg around the 26th of July. We also intend to make one or two more blog posts on the way but for now we’re having a break.

 

Mexico Part 3

On the 25th of December we rode towards the city of Oaxaca via Tehuacan. It took two days to get there and on the way we passed a Belgian couple Carina and Marc who are traveling two up on a Honda Transalp. We stopped for a chat and some pictures, we’ll more than likely end up meeting again at some point as Central America narrows down into a bottle neck in Panama and everybody is heading for the same ferry to Columbia.

Benny put us in touch with Chris a friend of his in Oaxaca city. Eugenio had sent the fuel filter to Chris’s address so that when we arrived in Oaxaca it was there waiting for us. Chris welcomed us and introduced us to his family including his dog Argus who supervises what is going on in the garage area at all times. With some help from Chris I changed the fuel filter in around and hour put some fuel in, fired it up and it sounded great. However the next morning when I was clearing up the area I realised that I had forgotten to reinstall a small o-ring on the fuel pump assembly. So I had to take it all apart and do it again by myself. Only problem was that when I was pushing the fuel pump back into the fuel tank I broke the large o-ring on the fuel pump. Dismayed I went online to check how much a new one costs. KTM wanted 45 dollars for it as a kit with one other o-ring and not only was it expensive but it would take a minimum seven days to get. Needless to say I wasn’t very happy at that point. Later when Chris came home I showed him the broken o-ring and he said “oh don’t worry my Uncle has an o-ring and drive belt distribution company next door to the house here, we can go in tomorrow morning I’m sure they’ll have one”. What are the odds of that!! Next morning we went into the shop and found the right size. I bought 5 for 20 cent each and very carefully installed the fuel pump again.

Since arrival in Oaxaca Franziska had begun to feel ill and unfortunately had to spend the whole three days that we were there in bed. I on the other hand enjoyed several information filled days led around by Chris who is very knowledgeable and proud of Oaxaca. Amongst other things we visited the ruins of Mt Alban, saw the widest tree in the world which is beside a small chapel in Santa Maria del Tule, and had a city tour through all of the local areas and markets. Mt Alban was very interesting, the ruins are situated on an artificial plateau on top of a mountain. The top of the mountain was cut away to create the flat area for the structures and nobody knows who did it, how they did it or where the earth from the top of the mountain was moved to. By modern estimates the logistics and technology to achieve the movement of such a large amount of earth should not have been available to the builders of Mt Alban.

As the 31st of December was approaching we wanted to start making our way to the coast to ring in the New Year. Chris accompanied us on his Suzuki, actually he led the way as he knew the roads much better than we did. We took the 175 between Oaxaca and Zipolite but we left quite late in the day I think it was around 4pm and at 6pm the sun had set. The next four hours consisted of extremely windy high altitude mountain roads shared with kamikaze mini bus drivers in darkness. Plus every now and then we would turn a corner and the opposite lane of the road was just gone. A chunk had just disappeared into the valley below. Probably from erosion. These holes in the road weren’t marked either. The Mexican drivers just seemed to have a sixth sense for where they were.

We finally arrived in Zipolite where the climate had changed to tropical. It was like being in a botanical greenhouse, hot and very humid. The air felt thick to breathe. We searched for some accommodation but everywhere was full due to the time of year. Luckily Chris’s uncle Saul lives in Zipolite and he offered us a bed outdoors on a terrace with a mosquito net over it. This was perfect and we stayed around three nights there. Chris hung out for another day then went back to Oaxaca to plan a long multi country motorbike trip of his own. We stayed in Zipolite with Saul until Jan 2nd and during this time met up with Dave again who was camping at the other end of Zipolite beach with some other bikers John, Mirko, and Claudia. On the 31st we attended the traditional Zipolite beach celebration that the locals attend. Most people wear white and surround a large fire. Dancers performed around the fire to drum beats while wearing Aztec style head dresses and people wearing white joined in every now and then to throw things into the fire or just do a lap of it while flailing their arms around. At midnight there were fireworks and hundreds of lanterns were released into the sky.

When we left Zipolite we rode south with the other bikers Dave was camping with so we were in a group of five bikes which was a novelty. Even more so when we picked up two more riders in Salina Cruz the next day who are also heading to South America, Anders and Petra from Sweden. Unfortunately we didn’t get to ride the full day with the group because Franziska was feeling ill again and the weather was unbearable hot especially if you didn’t feel well. The air felt like the air that rushes out of the oven when you go to check the turkey. When riding through it you feel super-heated even when you stop and find shade you can’t escape the warm air. We figured later that it must have been worse for Franziska because I block a lot of the wind from her which was cooling to extent for me but she was in a mini oven behind me. Anyway we stopped and waited until just before sunset when it was cooler to continue and catch up with the others in Tuxtla. As fate would have it we did make it to Tuxtla but couldn’t find them so we stayed one night there and met again in San Cristobal two days later.

Both of us came down with pretty nasty colds in San Cristobal so we waited a few days there until we felt better, which we are now by the way. It also gave us time to contemplate what to do next, we had two choices either go east to the Yucatan and visit some Mayan ruins and Caribbean beaches or head for Guatemala. In the end the decision was easy because heavy rain forecast in the highlands around Palenque which is on the way to the Yucatan and thunderstorms forecast for the coastal region. We said at the end of the trip if we really feel we missed something in the Yucatan then we’ll fly back and visit it, But for now… Guatemala.

California

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Pictures at the end…

We’re camping tonight just at the edge of Death Valley, the weather is mild enough to sit outside after dark and use the time to catch up on the blog. That’s all there is to do here actually other than sit and listen to distant camper’s conversations. Needless to say there is no WiFi or phone signal here but it hasn’t stopped the elderly woman a few tents over from searching for her ‘Android’  she is sure she brought it into the tent but can’t find it, the husband is helping now I’m sure they’ll find it soon. This is nothing compared to the drama going on over at the tent spot to the left. From the darkness I’ve listened to a five minute moan from the husband to the wife about how he can’t wait to get back to civilization away from this rubbish food and finally order a good quality hotdog. He went into a very detailed description of the perfect hotdog and now I feel hungry too. Ok, back to motorbike travel stuff.

We drove through a section of Death Valley today, officially now we’re out of it as far as the map is concerned but the scenery and environment is exactly the same. Speaking of the scenery, it is the most impressive scenery I’ve seen on the trip so far. It might have something to do with the fact that I have never been in a desert before but still it is absolutely breathtaking. It’s pretty cool to think that right now I’m sitting on my fold out camping chair on the bottom of an ancient ocean writing this.

It’s not a standard sand covered desert but here and there you can see huge dunes in the distance. They’re often labeled recreation areas, which are areas where people can bring their quad bikes or dune buggies and rip around for a small fee. After passing a few we decided to turn off the main road and check out one of these areas. We had to drive offroad for a few miles to reach the dunes but weren’t disappointed when we got there. They were an impressive sight, so impressive that I didn’t notice the road under us had gradually turned into deeper sand and the bike did what all overloaded adventure bikes at slow speeds in sand do, it dug in and flopped on its side. No injuries or damage as we were driving quite slowly, it was just an inconvenience. Heavy lifting in Death Valley heat is not the ideal pastime either but luckily two guys came our way from different directions who had seen me drop the bike, one was in a truck and the other on a quad. We had it up in no time and the two of us were on the way again. As we drove back out to join the main road I kind of felt like I’d been spanked by the dunes for being over ambitious as I watched them stare me down and mock me through my rear view mirror.

It is more or less two weeks ago that we were in Oregon visiting the Spruce Goose at Evergreen Aviation Centre. The day after that we joined the 101 coastal highway in Oregon and continued our trip south towards California. The Oregon coastline reminded me a lot of the coastline of the West of Ireland from the Dingle peninsula southwards. In fact to best describe the drive along the Pacific coastal highway in the USA to Europeans I would say imagine driving on a road hugging the coast starting on the west coast of Ireland in Dingle and driving continuously south around to Cork then jump over to Northern France and keep going all the way along the coast until the Algarve in Portugal. Oregon has a section of dunes, just like the ones you see in Bordeaux, the area of California known as Big Sur is extremely similar to parts of Portugal especially the lower part of the country in the Aljezur area.

All that is just to give an idea of what it’s like to ride the 101 and 1 in general. The fact is that Europe doesn’t have a road hugging the coast for the distance that the Pacific highway does so to ride it was an experience we’ll never forget. Also in keeping with our experiences up to now we met some great people along the way too.

About an hour into our day we randomly decided to stop in Bandon Oregon and walk down to the harbor to check it out. We ended up talking to Ray and his friend Rich along with Ray’s son and brother who were crab fishing from one of the jetties, they ended up inviting us to eat their catch with them later that evening so we checked into the same guesthouse and took them up on their offer. It’s one of the perks of not having to stick to a set schedule. Later that evening Ray showed us how to dismantle a crab, pointing out what to eat and what not to eat. It was interesting but I found out I don’t really like to eat crab, Franziska however couldn’t be dragged away from the crab feast.

We burnt rubber the next day riding away from a rainstorm and soon enough we entered California. Things changed almost immediately, most noticeably a sales tax was being added to everything but more importantly the climate changed, warm and dry… finally!

Over the next days we rode through various towns and scenic routes, one of which was the Avenue of the Giants where we saw some Redwoods up close which were quite impressive. We opted to leave the coastal highway and head inland just before San Francisco to drive through the Sonoma and Napa Valley regions where most of California’s wine production takes place. When we arrived in San Fransico we looked up Jeff who we had met in Ontario months before. We ended up staying with him, his wife Tracy, and daughter Sam for two nights. During breakfast on the first morning we met Tracy’s mother who told me how much she liked to watch the Inspector Morse series but was disappointed now because she had watched them all. I told her to check out Inspector Wexford of Ruth Rendell Mysteries and David Jason in A Touch of Frost. The next day she had a spring in her step and told me that she’d downloaded the entire Ruth Rendell series last night and couldn’t wait to get stuck into it.

We did the tourist thing in San Francisco including meeting Stefan a friend of mine for dinner in Chinatown. On our departure day Jeff joined us for a ride up to Alice’s Restaurant on Skyline Boulevard in the hills west of San Jose which is a hot spot for Californian bikers. People approached us asking how the hell we found it, we just told them “the best way”, by asking a local. A quick detour through Silicon Valley and we spent the night in Santa Cruz.

Next we headed down highway 1 again right along the coast through Big Sur, epic scenery and curving roads ensued for the rest of that day until we stopped to find a campsite. Like always we could have stopped anywhere but we ended up at a restaurant where I got talking to an interesting guy called Geary who teaches people how to perform Shiatsu massage on Horses. He joined us for dinner and we talked about non horse related subjects. After we finished he said we could stay at his ranch if we wanted but that it was about 10 miles inland and off-road to get there (he was on a Suzuki V-Strom which was parked outside). Due to the fact it was late and the sun was setting I opted out of the 10 mile drive as it would have been dark soon and I didn’t know the road. As a conciliation Geary showed us a nice spot to camp around the corner which was only about one mile off-road inland, we followed him and got our tent up just in time before darkness set in. Although the site was good and free! It was hard to get any sleep mainly because of the wind, all night it felt like there were four guys on each corner of the tent shaking it in unison. But also because when we unpacked the camping gear we found one of the sleeping bags was soaking wet. We had no idea how this happened but we were left with one sleeping bag that night. All I had was my inflatable pillow, I blew it up and lay down, 30 seconds later my head was touching the ground. My pillow had a hole it. No pillow now either, typical. Took me 4 days to find a replacement.

Fast forward to Los Angeles. Los Angeles traffic is suicidal, 40% of people are either texting or talking on their phone at the same time as driving. That’s not an exaggeration. At one stage I had to pull over on the highway and stop to let the engine cool down because it was overheating in 30 degrees Celsius heat in a traffic jam caused by a crash and probably by somebody not paying attention to what they were doing. After driving roughly 15,000km so far through North America I can safely say that LA drivers pay the least attention to what’s going on around them. Other than that we enjoyed LA, we stayed one night in Santa Monica, checked out the beaches and Hollywood before getting the hell out of there and riding for the desert.

Edit

Obviously I couldn’t upload this out in the desert because I had no connection but I can now because we’re in Las Vegas! We’ve decided to take a few days “off” and treat ourselves to a nice hotel room. We rode here via the Old Spanish Trail and visited the China Ranch along the way.

Next: We’ll be heading East / North East. We’d like to visit it Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley before ending up in Albuquerque New Mexico. Not sure in what order we’ll do them but we’ll figure it out along the way.

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Leaving the China Ranch and heading back to the Old Spanish Trail

Click to enlarge