Crossing the Darién Gap

Fuer Franziskas deutschen Post bitte hier klicken.

We crossed into Panama from Costa Rica via the border crossing on the Caribbean side of the country at Sixaola. Everything on the Caribbean side is more relaxed even the “helpers” at the border crossing, the guy who approached us gave us the usual run around about how it’s difficult and we need his help but when I told him we don’t need his help he said ok and walked off. That’s how easy going things are on the Caribbean side, at first I was skeptical and I thought this must be a tactic but he actually left and didn’t come back! The border crossing was easy enough, the usual cancelling of the motorbike import permit and stamping the passport out of the country. The only extra thing to consider was mandatory insurance which is needed for Panama. A guy on the Costa Rican side wanted to sell me some for 20USD but I declined thinking I’ll get it on the Panamanian side just in case he’s trying to over charge me.

We jumped on the bike and off we rode across a bridge into Panama. First we had to buy a sticker for our passports which cost something like 5USD then I had to buy the insurance. The insurance office was a temporary porta cabin thing which only measured around 3 metres by 3 metres and most of it was taken up by a huge dark skinned Caribbean man sitting behind a desk blaring local music from his computer which he never turned down during our exchange. He spoke only in Spanish but slowly enough for me to understand that was until he wanted 25USD for the insurance. I asked him why it only cost 20USD on the Costa Rican side? His eyes widened momentarily then he held his hands up with his palms towards me and leaned back explaining something in much faster Spanish than he’d been speaking so far. I knew he was taking 5 dollars for himself, he knew it he knew I knew it but there was nothing I could do if I wanted the insurance document, I would have to pay. After the insurance scenario I had my passport stamped into Panama and then started the import permit procedure with customs and a new first for our journey. Even though we’ve passed through genuine well known drug trafficking borders we were never searched until Panama. Yes the Panamanians thought it necessary to search through our luggage including the side boxes and tank bag. I watched the guy doing it and I remember thinking this guy has no idea what he’s doing, he had no method he just rummaged around and didn’t try to replace anything back the way he found it. I just did as he said while talking to a Costa Rican man who was trying to drive back to Costa Rica but was having a problem with the customs guy. He apparently failed to get a particular stamp which was required on entry for his Costa Rican vehicle and now they wouldn’t let him leave Panama and drive across to Costa Rica. He ended up having to go to court later that day to rectify the problem. Watching this I thought it best just to cooperate with “overly serious looking customs man” who was the gateway to getting my import permit. After the search he went into the customs building which was also a porta cabin. It had a small window hatch where the remainder of our communication happened. Through the hatch I could see that there was an official looking woman wearing a customs uniform hiding in the back of the air conditioned porta cabin. I decided that she didn’t want to come outside and deal with the public in the heat and was using this local guy wearing civilian clothes to do the interaction and the searches. It explained why it seemed he had no idea in general what he was doing. After around 40 minutes of waiting the guy came to the hatch and asked for a another copy, I couldn’t understand what he wanted so I held up my neatly ordered stack of copies of documents I might need, about 40 pages in total. I started flicking through it asking this one? This one? Then all of a sudden and arm thrust out of the window and started grabbing at random documents. I wouldn’t mind but he was making a mess of the folder I had taken time to prepare with his cocktail sausage fingers that seemed unable to pick up an individual sheet of paper. In the end he found a pink piece of paper and started tapping on it. I pulled it out and he tried to grab it, I pulled it back and said no. It was a confirmation slip I got in Nicaragua to say my bike had been fumigated. I tried to explain to him that this was nothing to do with Panama which he eventually accepted then disappeared into the hatch again. 20 minutes later I had the import document and we were off.

Between Sixaola and Almirante which is where we stayed the first night in Panama is just bananas. Banana plantations as far as the eye can see. Almirante was founded by the United Fruit Company just over a hundred years ago as a port for exporting bananas. It was an interesting place to see in person, people of all nationalities have immigrated their and found their niche. For example the Chinese seem to own pretty much all of the grocery outlets in town along with the hotels. The majority of the housing is built from whatever was available which gives the place a sort of temporary shanty town feeling even though it’s over a hundred years old.

 

The road between Almirante and David cuts across Panama from the Atlantic side to the Pacific, it winds up into the mountains of the interior and down again on the other side. It was one of the most picturesque rides of the whole trip. We were almost blown off the road by gusting winds at the highest point of the road but luckily stayed upright. We passed a group of cyclists who weren’t so lucky, they were all stopped at the side of the road and I caught a glimpse of two or three of them over the hill holding their bikes over their heads walking back up the slope where they had been blown off the road.

Our goal for Panama was really just to get to Colombia as fast as possible. As you may or may not know there is no road network connecting Panama to Colombia so if you want to cross this area of jungle called the Darien Gap you either have to travel by air or sea. Especially if you have a vehicle. Up until recently the options were air freight, sea freight or sailing on a chartered yacht but since November last year a car ferry has been running twice a week between Colon in Panama and Cartagena in Colombia. This is what we wanted to get, mainly because of the price. It is by far the cheapest option and we had heard that it may stop its service within the coming weeks so our mission was get to Colombia as fast as we could.

We arrived in Panama City two days after leaving Almirante, the heat was incredible. Any sort of traffic jam and the engine was soon over heating. It also didn’t help that we took a few wrong turns and ended up on a toll bridge by accident. I drove up to the booth to pay but there was nobody in the booth. I had accidently driven up to an easy pass booth which you need a special card to pass through. Cars started pulling up behind me so I had no choice but to ride around the barrier. I waited to see if anyone would come over to me but no one did so I continued on. Due to getting lost we were graced with the experience of riding through Panama City’s poorer areas which was an eye opener. In all of the pictures you see of Panama City they show the tall modern buildings of the central business district belonging to banks and Donald Trumps. But Panama City has a huge amount of very poor inhabitants living in dilapidated accommodation. Nowhere else in Central America did we see such a rich / poor divide in such close proximity to each other, you get the impression that the city’s stance on the poor is ignore them and they’ll go away. I can see how a normal visitor wouldn’t get this impression as the tourist destinations of San Blas. Bocas del Toro and the nice parts of Panama City are all linked quite well by bus routes avoiding the hidden truths. As we are on the motorbike we always end up seeing both sides of the story when riding through a country or a city.

We stayed roughly five nights in Panama City because we had bureaucratic hoops to jump through before being able to buy a ferry ticket. Early on Thursday morning we drove to a police station which specialises in vehicle inspections. We arrived at 8:45 but didn’t have the bike inspected until 11:00 even though there were only three cars in front of us. More cars kept arriving and the official would tend to them before us. It looked like he knew the people and was doing them first because of that. We complained and he gave an excuse along the lines of he had to wait for the motorbike’s engine to cool down. Which was not an excuse at all because all he had to do was read the VIN number off the frame and make sure it corresponded to the one on the temporary import permit. Three minutes is all it took. He asked for some copies then told us we had to go to the department of justice building at 2pm to collect a document called a DiJ. We went straight to the Department of Justice Building and waited outside on our camping chairs until 2pm. By 2:30 we had the coveted DiJ and now we were free to buy the ferry ticket. We rode to the Ferry Xpress office in Panama City where they made a copy of the DiJ and sold us our ticket for around 380USD, two passengers and a motorbike for Monday’s sailing. Everything looked good so we kicked back and enjoyed the weekend.

Ferry Xpress requested that we arrive at the port of departure at 8am for a 7:45pm departure. The reason given was “customs procedures”. We left Panama City on Monday morning for the port of Colon but we didn’t bother arriving at 8am we arrived at 10am instead. It didn’t matter as the people who had been there since 8am told us nothing had happened yet. By midday all of the vehicles had arrived, 4 motorbikes, 1 car, and 1 campervan. Not very many when you consider that the ferry can hold around 500 cars. In addition there were a couple of hundred passengers travelling by foot all inside the terminal. We were outside with our vehicles. By midday we had all handed in our initial set of photocopies that the customs staff required. We were told they would need 5 more copies of everything before the day was out and that the vehicle inspection and searching should begin around 3pm.

As 3pm came and went nothing seemed to be happening, by 4pm it was clear something was wrong and our liaison, a woman I’ll call K came to deliver the bad news. The sailing was cancelled due to 6 metre swells out at sea. We would have to wait until the next sailing in two days on Wednesday night. Immediately we asked for accommodation to which the response was no sorry. We asked could we sleep in cabins on the ship and the response was no, we asked could we stay in the car park and she said again no. She eventually offered a room at her house but then retracted the offer an hour later. Many people rushed off straight away to start looking for accommodation thinking logically that a wave of hundreds of people would soon be looking for somewhere to stay in town. We teamed up with some of the other vehicle drivers, a couple from Belgium Matthijs and Gerlinde, and a couple from Brazil Tony and Jane who were in the campervan. Together we went into the terminal building to see what was going on. Soon we realised that we could actually camp for the two days in the carpark. It turns out that our liaison K was giving us answers to questions she wasn’t authorised to answer. We formed a makeshift campsite out of the campervan, a tent and the car Matthijs and Gerlinde were in and prepared to spend the next two nights there. On our way back from food shopping we bumped into some other passengers who informed us that they were now assigning cabins onboard to anyone who wanted one. We rushed back to the terminal and got one plus an upgrade to a cabin with a window for the Wednesday sailing. The whole thing was a complete shambles, this was now 7pm and most of the people had left to search for accommodation themselves. We were lucky we stayed in and around the terminal. Tony and Jane opted to stay in their camper out in the car park instead of taking a cabin. After the first night they told us they heard gunfire coming from the city all night long we asked them how do you know it wasn’t fireworks, they answered “we’re from Brazil”. Colon really isn’t such a nice place.

We made the best of the next two days sleeping on the ferry but spending the days outside in the car park with our new friends by the camper. Tony is a pretty good guitar player and he pulled the guitar out for a few jam sessions a couple of times sometimes accompanied by Jane singing. It wasn’t such a bad experience after all, we even had a small uprising on the ferry on the second day when all of the people on board from Monday’s cancelled sailing signed a petition and went to the person in charge of accommodation in one big group to demand free meals too. In the end we negotiated discounted prices which nobody really availed of because the small restaurants down the road were still cheaper than discounted ferry food. It was funny to see the look on the faces of the new passengers arriving on Wednesday morning as they saw all of us still hanging around since Monday. All went well on Wednesday no cancellations just lots of waiting around, we finally began our 18 hour crossing to Colombia “on time” at 7:45pm.

 

A story of coincidence (again)

If you’ve been following the blog you might remember back in San Salvador we stayed with Mario and Fernanda. Well the day we left their place heading for El Cuco I received an email from a work colleague back in Germany named Ramon. He said he had heard we are in El Salvador (his home country) and wondered if it would be possible to meet as he was flying back for a visit in a few days time. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible because when he landed in San Salvador we were already in Nicaragua. That was it until Mario sent me a picture of himself and Ramon. They didn’t know each other at all but had met at a hospital in San Salvador where a mutual friend of theirs was receiving treatment after a motorbike accident. They got talking and it wasn’t long before they realised they both knew me too. What are the odds of that happening in a country of 6.5 million people. Just thought I’d give it a mention.

 

At the moment we’re in Colombia, we’re in San Gil right now but will move towards Bogota soon then explore to the east and south of the country. We both really like the culture, the people, the slightly lower temperatures, the lower prices, and most of all the fact that motorbikes don’t pay tolls..

Manatoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta

The same procedure as every post. German first, then English, and pictures at the end..

German by Franziska

 

Es liegen nach der Fahrt durch Manatoba und Saskatchewan nun schon 7000 km hinter uns und wir sind inzwischen in Peace River / Grimshaw in Alberta angekommen.

Nachdem wir Wawa hinter uns gelassen hatten, fuhren wir zu unserem nächsten Campingplatz im “Rainbow Falls Nationalpark”. Hier unternahmen wir eine Wanderung entlang des Wasserfalls. Wir sahen viele süße Streifenhörnchen, (chipmunks).
Am nächsten Tag trafen wir uns mit Dwana ( unserer nächsten Couchsurfing-Gastgeberin ) in Rossport. Sie fährt eine Harley und wir fuhren zusammen zu ihrem Haus in Thunder Bay. Auf dem Weg dorthin machten wir Halt und sie zeigte uns den “Ouimet Canyon”, der ca. 100 Meter tief ist. Leider war es ziemlich nebelig. In Thunder Bay angekommen, zeigte uns Sie die Gegend und die riesigen “Grain elevator” : Getreidespeicher am Hafen. Abends gab es Hot Dogs und selbstgebackenen Blaubeerkuchen – lecker!

In Winnipeg konnten wir bei Danielle und ihrem 3 Monate alten Sohn McKinley übernachten. Sie ist eine ehemalige Arbeitskollegin von einem Freund von Neil aus Irland. Ihr kleiner Neffe Tristan war ganz begeistert von unserem Motorrad und setzte immer wieder abwechselnd Meinen oder Neil’s Helm auf.

Als nächstes Ziel hatten wir einen Campingplatz in Lumsden ausgewählt. Auf dem Weg dorthin hielten wir bei einem Supermarkt in Regina, um ein Moskitospray für Neil zu besorgen, den die Mücken besonders lieben. Das mitgebrachte Spray aus Deutschland half nicht so gut. Als wir aus dem Supermarkt kamen, stand Ivan bei unserem Motorrad und erwartete uns schon. Er fährt selber eine BMW und wir erzählten von unserer Reise. Es stellte sich heraus, dass seine Frau Gladis und er in Lumdsen wohnten und wir wurden eingeladen in ihrem Garten zu campen. Gladis hatte einen wunderschönen Garten mit vielen unterschiedlichen Blumen und Gemüse. Abends saßen wir gemütlich zusammen und rösteten Marshmallos über einem Lagerfeuer.
Am nächsten Tag brachen wir gegen Mittag auf um Viktor, Ivans Bruder zu besuchen, der seit 20 Jahren an seinem eigenen “Skybolt Flugzeug” baut, das wir uns anschauen wollten. Er hatte auch eine eigene Start – und Landebahn und ein weiteres Flugzeug in einer Halle daneben, mit dem er Kunstflüge macht. Wir durften beide eine Runde mit ihm über Saskatchewan drehen – ich war vorher noch nie in so einem kleinen Flugzeug geflogen und es war super!!
Da es zu spät wurde, um noch nach einem Campingplatz zu suchen, konnten wir bei ihm übernachten.

Donnas Bruder Doug lebt in Macklin, einem kleinen Ort, der auf unserem Weg lag. Sie hatte für uns Kontakt aufgenommen und wir waren zu ihm
und seiner Frau Petra eingeladen worden. Da es wegen des “Labor Days” ein langes Wochenende war, lernten wir einen Großteil der Familie, die uns herzlich Willkommen hieß, kennen.
Macklin ist für das Spiel “Game of Bones oder Bunnock” bekannt, das wir nach einem leckeren Abendessen spielten. Es wurde von russischen Soldaten erfunden, die im Krieg viele Pferdeknochen hatten und war von Einwanderern nach Saskatchewan gebracht worden ( auf den Bildern sieht man, wie es gespielt wird ). Die Familie hat deutsche Vorfahren, lebt direkt an einem See und abends hörten wir beim Lagerfeier Kojoten heulen und sahen viele Sternschnuppen und sogar einige Nordlichter. Wir unterhielten uns auch mit der 88 jährigen Barbara, die in den 50er Jahren mit ihrem Mann von Köln nach Kanada eingewandert war.

Das Wetter hat sich inzwischen deutlich abgekühlt und manchmal haben wir nachts nur 5°C im Zelt – hoffentlich wird es schnell wieder wärmer!!

In Edmonton konnten wir bei Ivans Sohn Scott übernachten. Zusammen mit seiner Frau und ihm haben wir im Kino “Chefs” angeschaut.
Danach ging es weiter nach Barhead, wo wir Shawn und Penny mit ihren 3 Söhnen, die wir vor ein paar Tagen in einem “Tim Hortons” kennenlernten, besuchen wollten. Neil ging mit Shawn und den 3 Jungs “Dirtbiking” – oder Motocrossfahren und hatte dabei viel Spaß. Penny führte uns über das Grundstück mit dreistöckigem Baumhaus, eigener Eishockeybahn für den Winter und einer lustigen Hühnerbande ( die später zusammen mit Hund Dodge Maiskolben pickten ). Wir bekamen am nächten Tag auch eine Besichtigungstour durch das Chrysler Autohaus der Beiden.

Seit 3 Tagen sind wir jetzt in der Peace River Gegend auf einer Farm bei Brad, einem Freund, den wir aus Deutschland kennen. Hier leben Bisons, Black Angus Rinder, Pferde, Katzen und Hund Cooper. Außerdem werden einige große Getreidefelder bewirtschaftet. Ich bin auf einem der Felder das erste Mal Quad gefahre und wir haben am Wegesrand unseren ersten Bären, einen Elch und einige Kojoten ( die hier manchmal zu einer Pest werden ) gesehen. Neil fuhr einige der großen Maschinen und half bei der Heuballenproduktion mit. Als ich einmal allein auf dem Feld war, ( Neil war mit Brad unterwegs ) kam ein Pickup Truck mit Fahrer Billy vorbei – er hatte gerade einen Schwarzbären geschoßen, den er mir stolz präsentierte – die Jagdsaison hatte Anfang September begonnen und er wollte Bärenwurst machen..

Heute ist es ziemlich kühl und wir hatten sogar etwas Eisregen. Wir werden noch ein paar Tage hierbleiben und uns dann Richtung Nationalparks “Banff – und Jasper” aufmachen..

 

English by Neil

 

After three and half weeks of riding everyday we have finally arrived in northern Alberta eh.

We’ve covered about 7000km so far but we haven’t been pushing ourselves lately due to a sort of burn out point we reached back when we entered Saskatchewan. Up to then we had been riding four to five hours everyday and nerves were fraying. Since then we’ve cut down a lot on the riding time and it’s a good thing we did otherwise we would have ridden right by some great opportunities along the way. As you’ll find out…

Picking up from where we left off last time. After Wawa in Northern Ontario we continued to ride north west around lake Superior. The plan was to get to Thunder Bay where we had set up our next couchsurfing appointment with a lady named Dawna. She knew we were travelling east to west so suggested that we try to rendezvous at a town two hours east of Thunder Bay and ride in together. It worked out pretty well, we stayed in Rainbow Falls provincial park that night after leaving Wawa and the next morning met Dawna at her brothers place in Rossport. We all drank a coffee together and then set out towards Thunder Bay, along the way we stopped at Ouimet canyon for a look which was pretty impressive but a little bit fogged in. Two hours after leaving Rossport we arrived at Dwana’s place where we met her son Cameron and dog Jackie. Dawna gave us a tour of Thunder Bay in her car and we accompanied her on a grocery shopping trip. After a good feed we hit the sack and slept straight through till morning. Breakfast was greasy and sweet at a local breakfast diner themed on a Finnish sauna. We said our goodbyes to Dawna and hit the road headed for Dryden and then finally the boarder of Ontario!

The landscape between Thunder Bay and Dryden was typical of Ontario beyond Parry Sound. Mirror lakes with small islets with a couple of pine trees growing on them and there always seemed to be one pine tree that didn’t get the memo and instead of growing straight up grew at a fourty five degree angle out over the water. Add to these lakes, rolling forested hills and rocky outcrops and you’ve got our scenery for the previous seven days. It’s funny because at first we thought this is beautiful and after seven days we just wanted it to end. Bend after bend and hill after hill often in the rain, I couldn’t wait for this flat prairie promised land on the other side of the Ontario boarder.

On the trip to Dryden that day we almost ran out of fuel because the one and only gas station on the way had run out and only had diesel, luckily we made it on fumes. Due to being soaked we got a motel room to dry off. The most interesting thing about Dryden was a conversation I had with a truck driver who was staying in the same motel. I’d tell it but I’d be afraid in some way it might lead to his crazy ex wife finding him.

The sun rose to another grey and drizzly day and we set off for Kenora the last town in Ontario before the boarder with Manitoba. We took a beating from the wind and rain on the way but made it to the safety of a Tim Hortons a couple of hours later. While queuing up for a coffee and with our ears still ringing we were approached by an inquisitive family who had seen us pull up. After chatting for a short time it became clear that they live right on our route north of Edmonton. They were holidaying in Ontario with their three boys and waiting for the weather to change so they could fly home. Shawn, Penny and the three boys Reed, Jacob, and Reily invited us to stop by when we reached their area. We shared details and got back on the road.

 

At last we rode into Manitoba and the landscape changed to flat great plains, I set the throttle lock sat back and took it all in. After five minutes I’d taken it all in and spent the next two hours feeling like the guy in the movie Tron ridding his bike in a straight line over an endless grid. Just before we arrived at Winnepeg it was possible to see the curvature of the Earth from the road which was an impressive sight to see from a motorbike saddle. In Winnepeg we stayed with Danielle, who we were put in touch with through my friend Alan. She is canadian and they had worked together years ago when she lived in Dublin. She now has a young son and lives in Winnepeg so we were lucky enough once again to experience real canadian life. Danielle’s nephew Tristan is four and took a liking to the motorbike and our equipment, on the morning when we were leaving he borrowed my helmet and gloves and wore them on several missions upstairs somewhere.

Ever since we left Halifax people had been telling us that we would be through Manitoba and Saskatchewan in no time because they were so flat. They were absolutely right, at least for Manitoba. It was just a straight four to five hour drive from Winnepeg to the Saskatchawan boarder only slowing down for parts where the road was under repair. Manitoba received record rain fall in June and much of the road was damaged or washed away.

 

That night we stayed in Moosomin Saskatchewan and decided not to drive for so long the next day due to being a little burnt out. Good thing we did because the original plan was to head straight for Saskatoon but we decided instead to just drive two hours to Regina and camp there. The time flew by and before we knew it we were driving through Regina keeping our eyes open for campsite signs. We didn’t manage to see any so after popping out the other side of the city limits I decided to turn around and head for a Tim Hortons so that we could get a WiFi connection and search online for campsites, the usual procedure. We found a nice looking campsite in a small town called Lumsden about twenty minutes drive north west, finished our coffee and went for something to eat. When we came out of the burrito place I noticed one of those huge Walmart style shops on the other side of the road and remembered that I needed mosquito repellent so we headed over. After picking up mosquito repellent and a couple of other small things we were heading back to the bike which was parked in the car park. As I approached and open one of the boxes a man came over who I’d half noticed lurking over by the trolley bay. We started talking about motorbiking and we explained what we were doing on our trip. After a couple of minutes Ivan went over to his car and gave his wife Gladis the “it’s ok they’re not travelling murderers nod” and she came over too. I mentioned we were headed to Lumsden to a campsite there. It turned out that Ivan and Gladis also live in Lumsden around the corner from the campsite. So Ivan kindly put forward the invitation of camping in their back garden and he would cook dinner for us. An offer we were glad to take. We jumped on the bike and followed them to their home in Lumsden. Once we had set up the tent and settled in we chatted and I found out that they also have a son named Neil, but he lives in Cameroon with his Austrian wife and three children. We actually got to meet him over Skype video chat the next morning when he called. Dinner was wonderful and was followed by the Canadian tradition of lighting a fire and sitting around the fire pit drinking beers. Scott another one of their sons turned up with his friend Pete, they had a bit of a laugh at Pete because earlier that day he had referred to the split highway as a dual carriageway. None of the Canadians had heard that term before. One more addition Victor, Ivan’s brother turned up on his harley, he had just returned from a motorbike trip south into the States. It was interesting to hear about his experience as we would be going through some of the same areas. During the conversation I found out that Victor is building his own aircraft in his garage and that we could have a look at it the next day if we wanted. Scott is the same age as I am and lives in Edmonton so he offered a bed for when when we eventually got there. These are cool people and we would have never met if that perfect combination of Tim Hortons, the Burrito place, and remembering to buy mosquito repellent hadn’t happened.

 

Next morning after skyping with Africa we set off for Victor’s place which was only ten minutes down the road. We were introduced to Victor’s wife Breese and then got to check out his home build aircraft project which he is building from the blueprints so all pieces are made by hand. Victor is an aerobatics fan and it turned out that he has his own grass strip runway and aircraft (a Citabria) just down the road. So we went to check that out too. Once there he asked if we would like to go up for a ride, Franziska went first. She was pretty excited as she had never flown in a small aircraft. We wore parachutes which was also a first for for both of us. When Franziska landed I went up, it was interesting to see that Saskatchawan isn’t really as flat as everyone says it is and towards the end of the flight Victor pulled some lazy eights and rolled the aircraft. During the roll we pulled 2.75G. My first venture into aerobatics and I loved it. When we landed we realised that we weren’t the only ones flying, time had caught up with us. It was 1800 and we were still three hours from Saskatoon. Luckily Victor offered the spare room at his place and we all went to Red Lobster in Regina that evening for food.
Next day we headed for Saskatoon. We had a campsite in mind which had been recommended to us by Ivan but when we got there it was booked out so we ended up in their overflow which is just a field next door with no facilities. We only had to pay 16 dollars so we weren’t too bothered. We took a stroll around Saskatoon and found a nice place to eat. There was a fireworks display that night which we ended up not attending because we were tired and had just seen one about a week previous in Niagra.
We headed for the Alberta boarder the next day where we would stop at a small town called Macklin. Earlier in the trip we had met Donna and Floyd and they had put us in contact with Donna’s brother Doug who lives in Macklin with his family. Once we arrived in Macklin Doug came to pick us up at the petrol station in his pick up truck and we followed him back to the house. Once again we were blown away by super friendly Canadian ultra-hospitality. Doug introduced us to his family, wife Petra, daughter Michaela, and son Tobias. Yep all kinda German names, for good reason. Petra’s parents moved from Köln to Canada and her mother still lived in the house next door. Later we got to talk with her in German, she was quite happy to speak with Franziska as it was a total surprise to meet a fellow Deutsche that day.

 

We ate dinner together with the rest of the crew, Ingrid and Nikki Petra’s sisters, Tobias, his wife Jessica, their daughter and Ingrid’s daughter Katelyn with her fiancé Greg. After dinner we played a game called bones. It’s unique to Macklin, two teams face each other and line up a row of horse ankle bones with a blue coloured bone flanking at each end. The idea is each player has two red coloured ankle bones and has to throw them at the opposing teams line knocking the blue guards down first and then you’re allowed to hit the rest of them. Apparently the game was invented by some russian soldiers who were looking for a way to pass time and had an abundance of horse ankle bones left over from the battle field. If I remember right there is a championship held every year in Macklin, there is even a giant sculptor of a horse ankle bone at the entrance to town. Later we sat around the fire pit and we saw some northern lights for the first time. Before we left the next day we had coffee with Ingrid and she gave us some of her tips for riding in BC and the USA.

 

Next stop Edmonton. We stayed with Scott who met in Lumsden and his wife Havala.  Although Edmonton is supposed to have the largest mall in the world we didn’t bother going to see it. Instead we went to the cinema with Scott and Havala and the next day I helped Scott change the brakes on his VW Golf. After lunch we set off for Barrhead where we would meet up with Penny and Shawn and their three boys who we had met in Kenora Ontario. They have a really nice house off the beaten track and the boys are into dirt biking for which they have the perfect environment there. After an amazing dinner cooked up by Penny I was invited to go dirt biking, luckily I was able to use Shawns bike and leave my 200kg tank in the garage. While the others were getting ready Jacob lead me on a quick tour down to the river bed, as I followed him it became clear to me that these guys were experts compared to me I’d never dirt biked off road properly before. We rode back to the house to meet the others and after quick photo call we were off through the bush and up and down muddy hills. I fell a couple of times but nothing high speed I just got bogged down in some mud or sand every now and then and dirtied up Shawn’s bike, sorry about that Shawn:-) . This ride was definitely a highlight of the trip for me so far. Shawn works at the family business in Barrhead which is the local Chrysler dealership so we were able to have a tour before we left the next day. One thing that was cool was that they collect the oil from vehicles that they do oil changes on and burn it during the winter to heat the premises. Hopefully we’ll get to drop in again when we’re heading back down south in a few weeks.

 

After Barrhead we broke our long driving rule and pushed north towards Peace River. Ever since we left Halifax this has been our interim destination before heading south. My friend Brad lives in this area where the family farm is. They have Bison, cows, horses and various different crops. We arrived at the grass farm about five days ago right on Brad’s girlfriend Roxanne’s birthday and since then we have been helping out where we can. In the past seven days I’ve done a role in an aircraft, dirt biked through the bust and driven a tractor harrowing and baling timothy grass. Not bad for a weeks riding.