El Salvador and Nicaragua

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I’m writing this in San Juan del Sur Nicaragua which will be our last stop in Nicaragua before heading for Costa Rica. At the end of the last post I thought I would start this one by talking about the border crossing into El Salvador but since then we have crossed into Honduras and Nicaragua and it’s better to summarise a little rather than speak about each one.

Essentially to cross a border with a motorbike you need to get your passport stamped out for country A then go to the customs building in country A and cancel your import permit after that cross the border into country B get your passport stamped and go to country B’s customs building to get an import permit. This all sounds pretty straight forward which it should be but this simple process has been wrapped in so much bureaucracy that on average we spend 3 to 4 hours completing it at each border. Although they punch information into a computer they still ask for three photocopies of things like the vehicle registration, your driving license, your passport (before and after being stamped by immigration!), and then after you receive paperwork from them they want photocopies of that too. Sometimes you might need a stamp on your permit from the police or the guy with a stamp who looks like a normal guy wandering around the border post… oh and don’t forget to make sure and get three copies of the permit before and after the stamp.

We just approach the border crossings with a relaxed attitude and don’t get stressed out by it all. Sometimes you make it to the front of a queue only to have a couple of guys come up and bash their way in on front of you stretching their arm as far as they can into the officials window waving paperwork in their face. These guys are the “helpers”, local guys who offer to do the process on your behalf for a price. They are so persistent when you arrive at a border crossing I can only compare them to a swarm of persistent flies that really want to land on your dinner and make you constantly wave your hand over it. Their main tactic is to tell you that it’s very hard to do the process and the officials will look for bribes. Usually their story also includes telling you that the guys on the border in the country that you’re going to are extremely corrupt, dishonest, and that we will surely get robbed by them too.

Saying no thank you is useless. My tactic now is to disarm them with their own game. When they tell me how dangerous and corrupt the impending border crossing is going to be I repeat the things they say to me with disbelief. They think they’re onto a sale then I tell them that all sounds great because I’m on an adventure and bribes, robbery and corruption are exactly the type of adventurous things I’m looking for and I can’t wait to try the process myself. I’ve managed to stave off a number of these helpers with that approach.

I should add that the only dishonesty or bad behavior we have found at border crossings has come from these helpers or the money changers. Official staff have always been professional and helpful and they do their best with the mess of red tape that their countries border crossing processes have evolved into. Sometimes they have a sense of humour too. We crossed the Nicaraguan border with Dave and Phil, Dave is from Australia and one customs officials (actually he was the guy with the stamp) noticed this. As we were standing at the counter waiting for our permits to be processed by his colleague he pulled up a chair next to her and proceeded to type something into the computer. He suddenly swung the monitor around and pointed at Dave then at the screen. He had gone to Google images and found a picture of a Kangaroo lying down on a beach posing like a woman in a bikini shoot. We all looked at each other and fake laughed not sure how to react. Then he swung the monitor back around typed something else and swung it back to us. Now there was a woman in a bikini with the kangaroo in the same picture. Fake laugh evolved to uneasy chuckle, we were beginning to wonder where this was going. Again the monitor went to him and he started typing. We all looked apprehensively at each other. The monitor was swung around, the official was now pointing at a picture of ABBA and pointing at Dave. We tried to explain that ABBA come from Sweden not Australia but before we made any headway the official had already started playing Fernando over the computer speakers from YouTube. The next hour was spent completing our paperwork to a backdrop of ABBA’s greatest hits.

 

Every time I write something for the blog I realise that it only represents 2% of what we have actually seen and experienced. There are countless more stories like this that I just don’t have time to tell in a blog post.

We had a great time in El Salvador. After crossing the border we drove straight to San Salvador to meet Mario and Fernanda who we ended up staying with for a few days. Months ago on a ferry going to Vancouver Island we met Sara and Dan two other motorcycle travelers who had already been through Central America and they are the ones who put us in contact with Mario and Fernanda. During our stay we visited the San Salvador Volcano and Mario’s coffee plantation. We also went on a couple of rides and I was able to change the oil in my forks at MotoRider San Salvador. Our host’s hospitality went above and beyond, one day Fernanda presented real German Wurst for lunch, she even cooked it in beer as she had checked with a local chef what way she should cook it best. After San Salvador we went to the beach for a few days where we relaxed a bit before heading for Nicaragua via Honduras.

The aim was to leave early and do two borders in one day which we managed to do in the end. It took roughly four hours to do the border crossing into Honduras then two hours to ride across it and another three hours to cross into Nicaragua on the other side of Honduras. Long day! By the time we reached the Nicaraguan border it was getting dark and we still had hours of processing ahead of us. As we were sitting down at customs a man walked over and said Mario’s name (Mario who we stayed with in San Salvador). At first I thought what a coincidence then it dawned on me that this is Bayardo a canyon guide from Nicaragua who Mario had recommended to us. I told Mario we were interested and heading to Nicaragua that day to check out the canyon. What I didn’t know was he had called Bayardo and told him to look out for us. We found out later that Bayardo had been waiting at the border for us for three hours before we arrived, he then waited until we cleared it and led us to his home, fed us and put us up for the night. The next day we hiked through the canyon for over four hours. I think the activity is called canyoning but in canyoning you have a wetsuit and a helmet, neither of which we had. It was a great experience.

We rode to Esteli next, a medium sized town which gave us a positive first impression of Nicaragua. Unfortunately this impression didn’t last. The rest of Nicaragua has a heavily worn tourist trail through the larger cities of Granada, Leon and San Juan del Sur. We didn’t feel like visiting Managua because we didn’t know anyone there and it’s known for having a high crime rate along with San Salvador and Guatemala City. In the end we chose to stop in Granada and San Juan del Sur. Both are disappointingly heavily influenced by American tourism and have no soul left at all. In Esteli when we walked or rode through the streets people acknowledged us with a smile, a thumbs up, or at least something along those lines. In Granada and San Juan the locals look straight through you as if you’re not there. In these tourist centres you feel more like a cash crop than a person. Much like the way a farmer takes care of his crop and harvests it, you don’t feel like you’re in danger in these cities because the locals know you’re a long term source of income but you are constantly being harvested for money when you spend time there. Prices were about double what they were in Esteli and the street sellers are pushy, they harass you to buy their product in English but often if you keep walking the English will turn to a Spanish phrase of which I’m sure is not a pleasant thing to say to somebody. I’m inclined to think that it frustrates them that they have to talk to their cash crop to get money from it. It would be much more convenient for them if they just had to walk up to us and shake us to make money fall out of our pockets.

If we had arrived in Nicaragua without having first visited so many other Central American and Mexican towns and cities we probably wouldn’t be that put off by it but as we have we can see that it completely contrasts what we experienced up to now. On the other hand I’m sure these tourist spots exist in all countries maybe it’s just harder to stay away from them in Nicaragua because it is so small (it looks big on a map but most of that is jungle, El Salvador actually has a larger population).

An odd fact about Nicaragua is that every time a local person approaches us when we’re with the bike they don’t ask where we came from or where we’re going, how long have we been on the road or where do we come from. The first question is always how much did your bike cost? I find it interesting that nobody ever asked that question before especially as a first question until now and pretty much at every encounter.

Although my observations on Granada and San Juan del Sur may seem negative we did encounter a friendly face in Granada in the form of an Irish ex-pat named Gerry. On our day of arrival Franziska was on foot walking around to some hostels looking for a room while I stayed with the bike. Luckily I had chosen to stop outside Casa del Agua which is a small guesthouse that Gerry owns. He was outside and saw the Irish flag sticker on my pannier. The conversation started with are you Irish? I said yes. Are you looking for a room? Yes. I’ll sort ye out. It turned out that he had taken a room off the roster for that day because some tiles in the bathroom needed to be regrouted. The grout was now dry so we got the room. Good investment that Irish flag sticker. Gerry moved to Nicaragua in 2009 during the economic downturn years and has since established Casa del Agua. If you’re in Granada we recommend staying there it is leagues ahead of anything else in the same price range.

Next we’re going into Costa Rica. The overwhelming response from everyone we speak to is that it is expensive there. We’ll check it out and let you know.

Mexico Part 1

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The Mexican border at Nogales from the US side

 

Only for the fact that we decided to hand back our green slips from our passports to US border guards we would have had no reason to stop when crossing the truck route border into Mexico at Nogales. There were gates like you find at a toll plaza but the barriers were up, a little weaving around some obstacles on the other side, a couple of speed bumps and we were on the highway heading for Magdalena. Importing the motorbike and getting our tourist visas was done at the Aduana (customs) building 21km inside Mexico at the side of the road. It might sound odd not to have the import until then but there is a free movement zone up to around 21km inside the Mexican border for foreign vehicles to accommodate people visiting the border towns from the USA. It only took us around 45 minutes to get all of the paperwork done and just before sunset we arrived in Magdalena de Kino. It’s called de Kino because Eusebio Francisco Kino is buried there. He was a Jesuit priest from Italy who established 24 missions throughout the Sonora desert of Northern Mexico and Southern Arizona and he’s a pretty revered guy over here.

We woke up the next day to a new world after spending roughly two months in the US we were both feeling a little culture shock while riding through the streets of Magdalena looking for somewhere to eat breakfast. We stopped at a place on the main square near where Eusebio Kino is buried and during breakfast a man walked over to me and gave me a sticker for the bike, on the sticker was a picture of Eusebio surrounded by the text Magdalena Sonora. The first of many random acts of kindness that we encountered in Mexico.

We hit the road again headed for San Carlos which is situated just north of Guaymas on the west coast. On the way down we passed through Hermosillo where we got our first taste of large city Mexican traffic which isn’t nearly as bad as I had expected. We’ve been in Mexico now for just over two weeks and I can report that motorway and city driving behavior is absolutely no different than you experience in Italy, Greece, Portugal or Spain. Just like in these countries it’s a little more aggressive and emotional but once you’re expecting it, it becomes normal quite quickly.

San Carlos is mostly populated by ex-pats from the US and Canada and we thought it would be a good place to start because it has some nice beaches and most locals speak English giving us the opportunity to have any questions we had answered. When we pulled up to our hotel the first thing we thought was that this looks dodgy but it turned out to be absolutely fine. The staff were friendly and even allowed me to park the bike right up on the porch where the night shift in the office could see it. In hindsight I didn’t really need to do that but as we were fresh in the country I played it safe. By that evening we had already met some of the ex-pat locals, learned some new things about Mexico and been invited to dinner the next day by Richardo, a local resident who retired to San Carlos a couple of years ago from the USA.

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Doug on the left and Richardo on the right. San Carlos

Day two in San Carlos was spent hanging out at the beach by the Soggy Peso bar which incidentally is the beach where the movie Catch 22 was filmed. Later in the evening we met Richardo at his house where he cooked a feast and dished out all of his knowledge on Mexico. His neighbor Doug popped over later and we all had a good laugh polishing off a few bottles of wine.

 

On the way out of town the next day we had stopped at the side of the road to get something from one of the boxes when we had our first police encounter. The police officer waved at us and pulled up behind us to show me his quad bike which he was quite proud of. I think he wanted to show me because we are on a powerful bike by Mexican standards and I therefore must like machines in general. Through the aid of hand signals he told me how the quad can go anywhere up and down the beach and showed me how to put it in 4 wheel drive mode. Nice guy. After I explained through hand signals that I was melting in my motorbike gear and needed to hit the road he shook our hands and we were off. San Carlos definitely delivered, we left feeling pretty well informed about the road ahead.

As we rode further south the population density began to pick up and the landscape started to change. The northern state Sonora is hot and dry very similar to southern Arizona. The place where we were headed is the state of Sinaloa and the city of Los Mochis via Navojoa. As we approached Los Mochis I remember lifting my visor and smelling trees and greenery in the landscape for the first time in weeks. It was a nice change after spending the last few weeks in a desert type climate. The further south you go the more tropical it begins to get too. Los Mochis was just another overnight stop on the way to Mazatlan where we wanted to spend a few nights. When we want to make it to a certain place as quickly as we can we usually take the toll roads. It knocks hours off the same journey taken by free roads and the tolls are reasonable much the same as in France. A lot of people complain about having to pay them but the roads are great, better than highways in the USA, you don’t have to look out for speed bumps, and there are no manhole covers to go missing. Yes that is a thing here, there have been several times I’ve driven past an open manhole on a city road clearing it only by centimetres. I don’t know why but people seem to take manhole covers here and there is no indication that it’s gone until you’re close enough to look down it.

Anyway, after Los Mochis we were riding down the toll road to Mazatlan when we were overtaken by Dave from Australia on his loaded up KLR650. After a couple of kilometres we pulled in for a chat and we ended up riding together for the next 5 days or so. He’s on more or less the same route as us heading south so we’ll probably meet again along the way.

Mazatlan is a tourist port city with a long sandy beach front which rose to prominence in the 60’s and 70’s. During a period in the recent past the cruise ships stopped coming in because Mazatlan had big problems with cartels and violence but that has been cleared up now and the cruise ships have returned. We found a good deal online for a hotel which claimed private beach access and was situation in the golden zone. We found out after we arrived that the golden zone is a densely populated tourist area with its own tourist police force where you have hotels built in the 60’s beside new hotels and several abandoned ones in between. Walking down the street is frustrating because you get hassled by every shop and restaurant owner to part with your Pesos at their establishment and we discovered that beaches in Mexico cannot be private anyone can use them once they do not use private land to gain access. Basically it was a tourist trap. We had booked three nights but couldn’t hack it and canceled the last one to leave early. The biggest reason for choosing to leave was that the Banda music went on all night next to our hotel. Lying there listening to it I kept thinking how it reminded me of the type of music you hear at the Octoberfest although it was definitely Mexican. The next day I looked into it and it turns out that Mazatlan grew industrially thanks to an influx of German immigrants who brought their Bavarian style music with them. Banda is a hybrid of local and Bavarian style music.

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Dave, Franziska, Glen Heggstad, Neil

On the third day we packed our things, left the hotel, and we stopped for breakfast at a place called the Panama Café. We were talking about what to do next when a guy came in and asked us if that was our bike outside, we said yes and he introduced himself as Glen Heggstad. He said that he has been on several motorbike adventures and once around the world and if we wanted we could stay at his place in town. He gave us his card and left because he had an appointment. We thought it would be good to hear his stories and learn a thing or two so I gave him a call later and we stayed with him that night. Up to now it might sound like Mazatlan is not such a nice place but it’s completely the opposite actually. That day before heading over to Glen’s we rode around the city and the beach front beyond the golden zone. It’s another world and much more pleasant, if you’re going to Mazatlan just avoid the golden zone stay somewhere south of it. Glen turned out to be quite the character and a cool guy. On his first trip to South America from California he was taken hostage in Columbia for around 6 weeks by a rebel group. He got out and instead of coming home continued his trip and then went around the world. If you want to see the story you can because National Geographic made a documentary about his Columbian experience in their Locked Up Abroad series. He’s also written two books from which all proceeds go to charity.

Too much has happened in Mexico so far to fit into one post that’s why I’m splitting it into parts. At the moment we’re in Mexico City and staying with Benito Guerra the Production World Rally Car Champion of 2012. Yes there’s a story behind that and more stories too including bullet proof car factories, Mexican kindness, a biker gang, a tequila distillery, Mexican kindness, butterfly sanctuaries up mountain back roads, and more Mexican kindness.

Part two coming soon.

Happy Christmas from Mexico City

 

Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico

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It was a short ride up to the town of Hurricane in Utah from Las Vegas. I for one was excited to enter the mainly Mormon state, wondering if I would notice any major differences. What we found out is, the people are friendly, towns are clean and roads are in good condition nothing supernatural about Utah. In fact it had very impressive landscape for a European to see. Up until now aside from the desert area in California just before Nevada all of the various types of landscape we have seen are similar to different parts of Europe. But when you get to Utah you’ve left the familiar and entered something completely new. It would be like driving to the Middle East and visiting countries like Jordan, that’s how I imagine it anyway. Hurricane was our springboard into Zion National Park, this is a must see park if you’re ever in the region check out the pictures for a better idea. Once out on the other side of the park we had to decide whether or not to drive north to Bryce Canyon or turn south towards the Grand Canyon. Due to the fact that Bryce would be a significant gain in altitude for us and temperatures there had recently been in the 5 to -5 degrees Celsius range we opted to skip it and instead hopefully visit it sometime in the future.

We spent the night in Kanab southern Utah and the next day drove to the Grand Canyon through the worst gusting winds we have encountered on the trip as of yet. Weather was again definitely beginning to play a role in our decisions for where we would head to next. We had failed to notice during our planning that northern Arizona and New Mexico are both quite high in elevation. It’s like a giant plateau averaging out at about 1800m between the Grand Canyon and Albuquerque New Mexico which is where we are now. As a comparison when we were driving through the Canadian Rockies via Jasper the highest elevation that the road reached was only about 900 metres. So everyone knows the higher you go the colder it gets and you feel it on the bike. Therefore we opted for the fastest route to Albuquerque from Flagstaff to visit Elise an old friend of mine who we promised to stop by and say hello to when we are in the area.

Continued below…

It has now been roughly a week and a half since we arrived. We spent the first night in Albuquerque with Bronson and Karl, two lovely people my cousin Asa put us in touch with. But otherwise we’ve spent a lot of time with Elise, her husband Chris, and baby Iris who is 6 months old. I used the time to place some orders online for bike parts and tyres which were then shipped to Elise’s address. I ordered a new front sprocket, front and rear brake pads, a new thermo switch, new front and rear tyres (MEFO Super Explorers) and, heated grips. I didn’t install the sprocket or brake pads as the current ones aren’t worn out yet but I thought it’s better to order them now than try to get them in Central America. Installed the heated grips, changed the oil, changed the o-ring on the gear selector sensor which had been seeping oil for the past 2000km but not enough to warrant a job of its own, and most proudly I changed my first front tyre by hand. It was some job for me though because I chose a tyre with an extra heavy duty side wall, it was not very flexible and quite difficult to get onto the rim. Hopefully this new tyre will last until South America, I haven’t changed the rear one yet because it’s not worn out yet. We’ll carry the new rear one for another 2000km or so before mounting it.

We have been contemplating leaving our camping gear here in Albuquerque. We noticed that in the USA that it costs 25-30 dollars a night for a tent spot in a camp ground when it costs 30-40 dollars for a Motel room and Motel rooms are far more abundant. Not only that but when I say it costs 25-30 dollars for a tent spot that is only when you’re lucky enough to actually find a “campground” that allows tents. Most campgrounds say no tents, RVs (massive campervans) only. It’s a little frustrating that these RV parks call themselves campgrounds online because when you type in a search you get a lot of hits for campgrounds but fact is most won’t allow tents. You can of course camp with your tent in National Parks but most of the time we haven’t been in or near one when we’re looking for somewhere to bed down. This scenario got us thinking and I checked with some others who have travelled through central and south America by motorbike whether they used their camping gear or not. The feedback was unanimous in saying don’t bring it, it’s not necessary. This would work out great for the ride and handling of the bike, dropping 10kg and two cumbersome bags from the side panniers can only be a good thing. Anyway the decision hasn’t been made yet, we’ll see.

Albuquerque is the home of the TV show Breaking Bad and we arrived on the tail end of a huge fan fest. I have to admit I’ve never watched the series but it seems everybody else on the planet has, Elise and Chris used to live just around the corner from the main character Walter White’s house (at least the house where he was supposed to live) so one day we went over and chatted with the owner (see pics). When we arrived Netflix were filming a documentary outside, she told us people come every day and sometimes try to throw pizzas on her roof but all in all she seemed to like the attention.

We have been on several hikes around Albuquerque including one to Tent Rock National Monument about an hour north of the city. Also as we are in New Mexico which is home to the development of the first nuclear bomb there is a museum of Nuclear Science in Albuquerque which was worth the visit. It was pretty strange to walk around it and view all of the various types of nuclear ordinance which has been developed over the years. The Trinity Site which is where the first nuclear detonation took place is about 3 hours south of Albuquerque but its only open to visitors once a year in April.

Next on the schedule is Mexico, we haven’t made our mind up yet where to enter and whether to travel down the east or the west coast. Sometime over the next two weeks we should be crossing the border, if east then through Texas, if west the San Diego or Yuma. Whichever way the wind blows.

Farming in Northern Alberta

For English scroll halfway down and you’ll find the pictures at the end.

German by Franziska

Farmleben in Nord Alberta:

Nun sind wir schon seit 2 1/2 Wochen bei Brad auf der Farm in Peace River und die Zeit vergeht wie im Fluge.

Das Farmleben ist sehr interessant und wir verleben eine schöne Zeit mit Ken, Judy, Curtis, Brad, Jessica and Florine. Unsere Unterkunft für die Zeit hier ist ein abgelegenes Gästehaus mit Blick auf den Peace River.
Jessica, die für die Pferde zuständig ist, hat mir alle 14 vorgestellt und mit Curtis fuhr ich einen alten “International 560 Traktor” auf das Feld der Bisons um sie mit Getreide und Heu zu versorgen – gewaltige Tiere, die wenn sie mit den Hörnern zusammenstoßen, um um den besten Futterplatz zu kämpfen, ganz schön furchteinflößend sein können ( es sind fast 100 Bisons auf der Weide ). Florine aus Frankreich lebt und arbeitet für 4 Monate auf der Farm. Sie absolviert zu Hause ein Landwirtschaftsstudium. Meistens helfe ich Brads Mutter bei allabendlichen Dinnervorbereitungen  ( für 7-9 Personen ) und beim Ausprobieren neuer Rezepte. Besonders gut kamen deutscher Apfelstrudel, Kartoffelpuffer und Pfannkuchentorte ( mit Bolognesesauce ) an. Neil hilft Brad beim Verladen und Transport der ca. 2000 Heuballen, die auf einem Feld, das 1 Fahrstunde entfernt liegt, verteilt sind. Außerdem reparierterte er das ein oder andere Teil auf der Farm ( z. B. defektes Autoschloss, Wasserhahn, Fernseher..).

Eine Bootsfahrt die ist lustig…:

Wir gingen auch auf große Kanu/Kajakfahrt auf dem Peace River, bei der auch Pete, ein Freund von Brad samt Hund Foxy von der Partie waren. Curtis brachte uns gegen Mittag mit dem Pickup Truck und den Booten zur Ablegestelle – was wir zu dem Zeitpunkt noch nicht wussten: die Fahrt würde 14 Stunden (ca.80 km) dauern – puuh!! Zelt ( wir wollten einmal entlang des Flusses übernachten ) Proviant etc. wurden verladen und los ging’s.. Es war eine  sehr friedliche Stimmung auf dem Fluss  und wir trafen während der gesamten Zeit nur ein einziges Jetboot auf dem Wasser. Man hört nur das Schreien der Wildgänse, Kraniche und immer mal wieder ein Platschen – wenn uns ein Biber entdeckt hatte. Foxy ließen wir manchmal an Land ein wenig laufen, während wir weiterpaddelten und sie scheuchte für uns einen Biber aus seinem Bau, der dann nah an unser Kanu heranschwamm und wir ein Foto schießen konnten. Bei Abendeinbruch bauten wir unsere Zelte auf einem netten Plätzchen auf, machten ein Lagerfeuer und brutzelten Würstchen am Stock über dem Lagerfeuer.
Am nächsten Tag ging es dann weiter und wir sahen einige Kojoten am Flussufer ( leider keinen Wolf, die hier auch öfter gesehen werden ). Immer wieder hofften wir einen Elch ( engl. Moose ) zu entdecken, doch wir bekamen nur weidende kKühe zu sehen.. Aber dann, als wir fast am Ziel unseres Ausfluges waren, sahen wir in der Ferne einen großen schwarzen Punkt am Ufer stehen ( “wieder nur Kühe” dachte ich mir ) und Pete der schon näher dran war, rief zu uns herüber: “MOOSE!!!”  Nach und nach sahen wir dann, dass es insgesamt 3 Elche waren: eine ganze Familie 🙂 was für ein Glück wir hatten! Wir genoßen den Anblick der Tiere, sie entdeckten uns erst viel später und trabten dann mit lautem Getrappel in den Wald zurück. Abends gegen 20:00 Uhr  kamen wir dann endlich an und fielen etwas später völlig erschöpft ins Bett.

English by Neil

It’s now near to three week  that we’ve been staying at Wine Glass Ranch in Northern Alberta. I don’t think either of us will ever forget the Albertan farming experience we’ve had here with Judy, Ken, Brad, Curtis, Jessica, and Florine. For me personally it was great to try out all of the various pieces of farm equipment that growing up in and around cities I’ve never had access to before or just having the freedom of acres of land around to go off road on using the motorbike or a quad bike. But the highlight of the three weeks so far has to have been our canoe trip down a section of the Peace River which took us two days  consisting of 14 hours of paddling down an 80km stretch of the river.

On the canoe trip we went with Brad, his friend Pete, and Pete’s dog Foxy. Two kayaks and a canoe were loaded on a trailer and Brad’s brother Curtis drove us one and half hours upstream to Dunvegan where we dropped in. Once we turned the first bend and the road was out of sight we didn’t see any signs of civilization again until we reached our destination the next day. There was a moderately fast moving current so we were able to take regular breaks from paddling and still keep moving. During the whole trip we had our eyes trained on the banks trying to catch a glimpse of bears or moose, up to now the only signs of moose either of us had seen on our 7000km trip through Canada were actual signs at the side of the roadway warning you to watch out for moose.

Unfortunately we didn’t see any that day either but we did see plenty of coyotes, geese, frogs, marauding insects and beavers. Stopping only for a coffee break we paddled for around 5 hours on the first day until it became time to search for a campsite. Spoiled for choice it didn’t take too long before we found one and proceeded to set up camp. The site itself was a dried up section of river bank which the river floods in the spring after the ice has thawed, there were plenty of animal footprints imprinted into the hard mud and an abundance of dried wood which we used  to build a fire with.

As the sun set a herd of cranes roughly 50 in total glided down in a long silent spiraling movement to land and rest for the night on the opposite river bank.  During the night I could hear all sorts of noises but it didn’t bother me, especially when I needed to go to the bathroom at three in the morning. I just started undoing the zips on the tent to get out when while opening the outer zip and my hand was sticking outside,  a wet nose pressed up against it and heavy breathing could be felt coming from it. For a split second the adrenaline pumped but then I remembered Pete’s dog Foxy was with us  and I emerged to her sitting in front of the tent and offering me the paw.

At around eight o’clock next morning everyone was awake and sitting around the fire warming up. It got pretty cold during the night and a cloud of fog hung over the river which didn’t fully burn away until near midday. By nine o ‘clock we were back on the river and paddling downstream. As the day progressed I became more and more aware of basically how I wasn’t really able for this amount of paddling, I was getting pretty tired and so too was Franziska. Pete and Brad were on the other hand well able for it. I thought about it and the last time I’d paddled in a canoe or kayak was over ten years ago and now probably due to a combination of wrong technique and not being fit enough I was beginning to pay the price. We swapped modes of transport with Pete and Brad to change up the movement we were doing, they took the canoe and we took the kayaks. It was a welcome relief for a couple of hours but I eventually switched back to the canoe.

We stopped for lunch and had a couple of coffee breaks during the day and soaked up the silence and the scenery. By five in the evening we were only about 45 minutes from home and the sun was starting to go down when suddenly we saw a cow on the river bank up ahead. As we approached for a closer look another cow four times larger than the first one also walked up to the waters edge. It was apparent when we saw the second one that what we were actually seeing were moose. Finally.. moose and a mother and calf in the wild at that. We tried to paddle silently towards the shore and then let the current take us by so as to not startle them. They began to return to the forest before we were in range to get a good look but the stopped and a male moose joined in and started heading down for a drink while the others waited. We were lucky to see a family all together in the wild like that neither Pete or Brad had ever seen a family of moose before and they’re Canadian. We drifted right past him around twenty metres from the shore carried by the current of the river trying not to make a sound. I’ll never forget the look on father moose’s face when he finely noticed us way way too late. If we were hunters they’d be dead and it looked like he knew it. He stared at us with open mouth and wide eyes, water was dripping from his mouth and his tongue was half sticking out like he was waiting to receive holy communion.  The whole family bolted into the woods, the male was so large that even after he had disappeared out of sight you could still hear and see small trees being knocked down by him as he bulldozed through the woods. After our moose encounter the batteries seemed recharged and before we knew it we had reached the end and were waiting to be picked up by Ken. It was a strange feeling to go back to the guest house that night and enjoy all of our modern luxuries including WiFi.

Alberta is definitely the Texas of Canada, it’s like an engine running off the oil fields in the north. Practically every business has a help wanted sign outside, the locals will tell you business is booming and they just can’t get enough people into the province to fill demand. It;s definitely very different to all of the other provinces we’ve visited so far.

Although it’s supposed to be the richest province, it has the worst roads. I was rarely overtaken on the motorbike by cars or other vehicles across the other provinces but here they overtake me far more often. Everybody seems to be in a rush, I’ve never really experienced anything like it. I can only relate it to the rushing around everywhere mentality you might find in a city like New York but this is the countryside. I heard from a local that this rushing around mentality doesn’t cross over into the action part of the task. People say they have no time and rush everywhere but then when it gets down to completing the actual task at hand they saunter and drag their feet. This was quite frustrating for this local as he had no time and really needed to get things done.

What can I say, Alberta has been a blast so far and it’s not over yet. In a couple of days we’ll begin heading south then west over the Rockies towards British Columbia and Vancouver.  Looking forward to hitting the road again.

 

Halifax and New Brunswick

I tried to make a post yesterday but the wordpress app crashed during upload and ended up just publishing the title without any content so sorry about any automatic notifications that went out for that. Unfortunately the text I wrote also got deleted so I’m writing this for the second time but this time in gmail so it auto saves.
Back to the trip, at the moment we’re at a campsite in the small town of Saint-Jean-Port-Joli about one hour east from Quebec which will probably be our next destination and we’ve covered about 1100km since leaving Halifax. We set out from Halifax last Friday so today will be our sixth day on the road.
Jumping back a week, we arrived in Halifax in the late evening on Tuesday the 5th and took a taxi to the city dumping the original idea of taking public transport as we were so tired. On the flight over which was 7 hours long I personally didn’t sleep and it probably had something to with the Canadian immigration officer in Frankfurt telling me I’d be pulled aside for questioning on the other side. This was mainly due to his skepticism of me not having a return or onward ticket, I don’t know why I was grilled in Frankfurt, Franziska breezed through ahead of me without any questions. Once we reached passport control in Halifax I was tired and not ready for questions which was good because the immigration officer just asked is it your first time here? To which I answered yes and she stamped the passport, smiled and said welcome to Canada. All that worry for nothing.
We arrived at our first nights accommodation in Halifax, we booked Howe Hall which is a student dorms open to the public during summer. It was simple and within walking distance of the city centre. The next day we got up early and the plan was to sort out the paperwork with the freight company and customs so that we could pick up the bike. Secondly I wanted to buy a Canadian prepaid sim so that I could call Sue, who my cousin Asa put me in touch with. He had visited Halifax a number of months ago and bumped into her then, Sue is a former deputy mayor of Halifax so she should know the city quite well. On the way into town that morning we stopped by Canadian Tire to see if they had any motorbike covers and next door was a bank so we opted to test our cards to see if they worked ok. There was one other person in front of us at the ATM frantically searching for something in the end she turned around and said I forgot my debit card, ran outside to her Honda scooter and drove off. We were up, the cards worked, first  Canadian dollars in our pockets.
Twenty minutes later we were in the city centre and bought a money order from the post office to pay the port charges on the bike. It was relatively painless we just went to the freight company’s office then to customs which was just down the road. Customs told us that the bike was here but couldn’t be picked up until tomorrow. Onwards to a mobile phone shop where I  bought a sim card. So far the overall impression is that Nova Scotians are extremely friendly and laid back people I never saw somebody rushing when we were there. Back at Howe Hall I called Sue, she very kindly offered to let us stay at her place until we got on the road which was a hard offer to say no to. Later that day at 5pm she drove by and picked us up.

It was already apparent as we drove through the city that she knew it well as we got an impromptu guided tour on the way to her home. I personally wasn’t aware just how many universities are in Halifax, during the academic year the population almost doubles with the students. As we pulled up to Sue’s house I noticed a Honda scooter parked in the driveway just like the one I had seen that lady jump on early that day when we were at the bank. I thought I’d give it a shot so I asked her if she went to the bank earlier but forgot her debit card to which she answered holy shit that was you guys! What are the odds.
Inside we met Ford the dog and Patio the parrot who later urinated on me while sitting on my shoulder (the parrot not the dog). That evening Sue brought us to the Resolutes Club which is a members bar and her local. It was great to meet the locals, shoot some pool and play shuffle board which is like a miniature version of curling. All in all a very Canadian evening.
The next day Sue drove us to port to collect the bike, I rode it back and parked it in the garage where we would start loading up later. In the mean time Franziska and I used the day to explore Halifax. That evening Sue home cooked and we started organising our gear onto the bike. We didn’t finish until late next morning and we set off on the road at about 1pm after saying our goodbyes and thanking Sue for her hospitality.
About thirty minutes outside Halifax we hit a thunderstorm on the highway with nowhere to take shelter. It was probably the worst rain I’ve ever driven through, the rain drops felt like they were the size of my face and for some strange reason fifty percent of the drivers pulled over onto the hard shoulder and put on their hazard lights. This was very off putting to the foreign driver not used to such customs. Anyway we powered through and stayed in a motel that night due to the weather which luckily lifted the next day and we got to camp for the first time at a town called Woodstock in New Brunswick. We seem to be the only people using a tent to camp with, everybody else seems to have a moveable camping fortress called an RV which are usually larger than the average European family home. It’s quite funny to listen to some of the conversation at night coming from the camping fortresses when your lying in the tent.

To be continued….