South America

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Chuck and I decided that we needed a more formal plan for traveling to and through South America.  In February, I decided to watch my son play in a baseball tournament in Phoenix.  I decided this the day before it began, so I jumped on the Goldwing and rode 1,222 miles in 19 hours.  After three days of baseball (have I mentioned that this retirement stuff is fantastic), I took a little more leisurely route back.

There is something about traveling through the mountains, at dusk or dark.  And in the dark, the reserve light on the gas gauge is very bright and I rode with it on for a long time.  I found a gas station with about 0.3 gallon left in the tank.

I had suggested to Chuck that we could meet at a condo on the Guadalupe river.  Chuck, being retired too, was able to pack and get to Hunt, Texas post haste.  We rode some and planned some over steaks and beer, adding structure to our basic plan.

At one time we thought we would go to Alaska in June as a shake down run.  In Hunt we decided that may be that was too aggressive and put that off until 2013.  We also decided that we would ship the bikes to Colombia and meet them there, instead of traveling to Panama and shipping across the Darien Gap.  We will return to Colombia after circumnavigating South America, then somehow get to Panama as we travel north through Central America.

We did some basic route planning and found we are looking at around 28,000 miles to make the journey.  That does not include another 10,000 miles when we do Alaska.  If we average about 200 miles a day with some breaks thrown in, it will take about six months.

We have completed the upgrades to the bikes and we have taken some "shake down" rides, such as the TransLabrador highway, see that page for more on that trip.  Have I mentioned this retirement thing is great! :-)

Based on experience we think we can get by on about $3,000 / month.  If necessary we can trim that a little but we think that is in the ball park. I have also been asked several questions about why are we starting in Cartagena, Colombia.  First, it's cheaper and second it's quicker.  No matter what you do, you have to ship or fly across the Darien Gap.  There are no roads between Panama and Colombia, so regardless of how we get there, there will be some form of shipping involved.  There is rumor of a Ferry in the future, but as of now, it is not operational.  Perhaps when we return?

So shipping costs (per bike) from Houston to Colombia:
- freight $1034.00 had to add $199 due to oversized crates
- insurance $150.00 (1% of the value of the bike with $150 minimum)
- crating $370.00
- delivery $190.00 (we decided to do this ourselves)

The best prices we had seen shipping our bikes across the gap from Panama to Colombia was around $500 to $600.  The difference is about $700 to $800 more to ship from Houston to Cartagena.  However, when you consider you will likely add a month of travel to get to Panama (we estimate about $3,000 ea / month in travel cost), the shipping to Cartagena from Houston is much less expensive.

We used Gaston Etchart at email address from references from AdvRider.  He has been great to work, everything so far has been done through e-mail.  Gaston also recommended Stuart Williams with MEI Crating and Rigging for crating the bikes.  We originally thought about crating the bikes ourselves but found out that the crater must be qualified as a certified shipper to ensure that the materials used meet specifications of entry to Colombia.  Not being certified is justification for declining the freight.  We decided not to fool with this.

Always get a tourist visa, business visas are much more complicated and have more requirements.  There are  23 countries in the Americas.  21 if you don't count the US and Canada.

Pre-Arrival Visa required:
- Paraguay 
-  Brazil
- Suriname
Visa on Arrival (VoA):
- Bolivia
- Chile
      - Argentina
      - Panama
      - Nicaragua
      - El Salvador
No Visa Required:
- All the rest – 12 countries

The three countries in South/Central America which require visa's for US Citizens are Brazil, Paraguay and Suriname.  Avoid the visa companies, they will charge you double or more to simply fill out your paperwork and send it in, you can do this yourself.   Brazil has an embassy in Houston and we ended up mailing our documents to Los Angeles for the Paraguay visa.  We haven't completed the Suriname visa but I am sure we will come across somewhere where we can get this done ourselves.

Tourist visas have an entry fee associated; $140 for Brazil, $100 for Paraguay and $25 for a one time tourist card to Suriname.  Most of the tourist visa document requirements include your passport with more than 6 months left before expiration, one or two 2x2 passport pictures, an itinerary (I gave them my flight to Colombia with an explanation of what I was doing, and that seemed to work fine), proof of solvency (bank or credit card statement), copy of a document of US residency (drivers license, utility bill, etc.) and a completed visa application form found on the official website.  By the way to save money, have your passport pictures taken at say a CVS pharmacy, it's almost univerally $10 for two pictures.  Then just have the technician make digital copies on photo stock, 20 copies (40 pictures).  That cost me $2.81 which is much better than the $200 it would have cost for actual passport photos.  I have had no problem with using the pictures.

Many of the other countries in South America are Visa on Arrival (VoA) or no Visa required.  This simply means you have to have your documents in order with copies and pictures, etc then present them on arrival at the border.  VoA countries will stamp your passport with a visa.

1 comment:

  1. Great meeting you guys here at the Casa La Fe in Cartagena while you were waiting over the weekend to get your bikes out of the port. Loved hearing about this adventure and in a small way having a brief appearance in it. Dinner was great - good thing we didn't delve deeper into politics, me being from Boston and you guys from Texas. Dinner was great. Looking forward to hearing about your travels from now until April. By the way, Joe, had the the same clavicular fracture on the same side last year - but on a bicycle. Things happen. Have fun.
    (Dr.) Ed Nardell


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