Saturday, October 4, 2014

Finishing up

Well, we have been back in Houston for over a year now.  I will always have great memories of the trip to South America.  Many people have said, "that must have been fun." when I tell them of my trip.  I can't say it was "fun" but it was very much an "adventure".

The things I remember the most are the interactions with the many people we met on the way.  Some of the brutal road conditions and riding contrasted with the absolute beauty of many of the places we traveled through.

These are just some of things I will never forget;

Getting ready to ship to Cartegena.  The first hostal in Santa Marta and our two female room mates. The never end paper chase of many of the border crossings,  Especially the first one into Peru where the Equadorian aduana official would not let us out of the country without the proper papers. Galapagos.

The struggles in the mud of Peru.  The $3 room in El Balsa that was overpriced.  The KTM shop in Lima and stay for the first night in a brothel.  The four days spent above 13,000 in La Paz.  Reaching 15,270 feet on a highway.  The Salar de Uyuni salt flats in Boliva. The amazing hostal find in the little town of San Juan Bolivia.  The gasoline/hostal stay in Ollayue, Chile.

The great B&B in Santiago where we spent quite a bit of time.  The desolation and beauty of Ruta 40 especially Bariloche and El Calafate (I will return to these places).  Fixing the fuel filter in the brutal wind at Rio Mayo.  The bus crash near El Boson, the wind through Patagonia.

Finally arriving in Usuhaia.  The Ferry ride past Torre del Paine and finding a much needed chain at Motoadventura in Orsono.  Some of the best steak and the great hospitality in Nuevo de Julio.

Visiting Iguazu Falls and the lovely week in Buenas Aires with my lovely bride, Laura.

Racing with the Dakar support vehicle in Cordoba.  Getting a ticket for passing on a double yellow (right!).  The frog episode in Trinidad, Paraguay, Chuck's concern led to him say "let me go get the woman!"  The great royal reception we got in Rinopolis, Brazil.  Trucks, trucks and more trucks.  The very fine hospitality in Recife, from Chucks friend Mark.

The problems of my bike after we started back in Brazil.  The one day ferry ride across the Amazon.  Crossing the bridge of death, in a rain storm.  Being totally pissed off and amazed by the corruption that led us to take a ferry when the Brazilian / French Guyana governments had built and completed a bridge that the Brazilians would not allow to be opened.

The amazingly modern French Guyana, and the amazingly NOT modern Suriname and Guiana.  The brutal road from Guiana back into Brazil, the Guianese and Venezuelan's have had a conflict over land between them so there are no roads between them.  Having to lift the bikes over two trucks stranded in the mud.  Waiting for hours for the ferry to depart because there were no cars (stuck behind the two trucks.)

The amazing beauty of the Park in south eastern Venezuela and then the poverty of the cities once departing the Park.  Stranded again because of fuel filter on the streets of Cucuta Colombia.  The ride in the rain to Bogota.  Passing through customs and flying the bikes back into Panama.  The race up the Pan American highway.

Staying in Gringoland (Dominical) Costa Rica.  Blowing the rear shock and riding like a '57 Buick the rest of the way back to Houston.  The night we spent on the border of Honduras / El Salvador in what seemed like a drug connection hotel.  How nice Mexico was on the Southern End but how scary it got as we got closer to the US.

Finally reaching the US and riding down the neighborhood road to see my lovely wife on the driveway I had left so many months before.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Traveling South America

Today we leave Brasil for the fourth and last time.  We can't say the entire time has been enjoyable but it has been very memorable.  Brasil, for all it's problems, is a very diverse country.  The northern section here in Boa Vista has been more of the same.

Here is a picture of our Spotwalla travels, until I have proper time to write a post.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


So below is a note I wrote to my wife.  It fairly well explains what has happened, except that our plan was to divide the ride from Campina Grande to Belem (1,360 miles) into three equidistant days.  But on the second day my bike developed a deep loud sound that I thought sounded kinda cool.  But there was something obviously wrong.  The KTM had blown an exhaust gasket between the header and the muffler.

Why it would do this can only be faulty assembly.  We tried a make shift gasket with tin cans but we apparently didn't have enough cans on the wrap.  It was a good temporary fix, but still leaking exhaust.  It needed something more.  In the next sizable town Alto Algre we actually found a motorcycle shop that had many different exhaust gaskets sizes and who did the repair there in their shop.  All in all, they charged my 30 real or $15 US for about 2 hours of work and parts.  I threw in an addition 20 real for Cerveja (beer).  So this necessitated a longer third day.
Header pipe sans Exhaust Gasket

The usual group that gathers to watch the Gigantic Gringos repair their machine

Fixing the exhaust gasket
Group at motorcycle shop
We made it to Belem, but not without trials and tribulations.  It was about 600 miles we rode in 13 hours, to make up for the day before when my bike broke down.  We went through at least four separate rain storms and I think one of them messed up my cruise control because it stopped engaging.  I had to shut it off, turn it back on, reset the speed and every time I hit the brake for a truck or speed bump (lambada) I had to go through it again.  After a while, even shutting it off stopped working.  The problem with that on a motorcycle, especially on long days like yesterday is my right hand starts hurting from holding the throttle open.  BUT, THE GOOD NEWS … another rain storm came along and fixed it.  Ha!  Well for the time being anyway.

Belem, for being a city I had never heard of is remarkably large.  We had bumper to bumper traffic for the last hour into the city.  It was dark by the time we got to a hotel Chuck had found the day before.  Fortunately, it wasn’t like most of our searches for hotels; go here “we’re full”, go there “we’re full too”, end up in some little hotel at the side of the road.  They actually had a room with two beds.  SCORRRRRRRRRE!

Tomorrow we will board the ferry for travel north across the Amazon to Macapa (pronounced “ma ca Pa’” emphasis on the P).  The trip is supposed to be a day and half.  We are going into the downtown area today, to the ferry building.   We need to find out what we will need to bring with us on the ferry; food, water, and of course beer (or what passes for beer here).  Fortunately we have an air conditioned cabin because no matter what time of day it is here, it is HOT and HUMID!  This is like what people think of when they think of the Amazon.   Once we arrive in Macapa we have 400 miles of mostly dirt north to the border with French Guiana.  We have to be at the border by April 22nd when the bikes need to be out of Brazil.

In Macapa, we will cross the equator for the second time.  The first time was in Ecuador, but we were late getting into Quito, it was dark and we didn’t realize we were crossing the Equator.  This time we plan on stopping and taking the perfunctory pictures.

Santo Amaro / Aracaju / Penebo / Maceio

This is more or less a place holder for more information and pictures later.  As I write this we are in Belem, making arrangements for the ferry to cross the Amazon.  We are on our return trip home.  We have been through this drill before, once we turn the corner to head back we are like old stable horses, heading toward the barn.  We have traveled over 18,000 miles and have less 7,000 more to do.  We have been on the road since September 21st, 2012 with a respite of about 2 months to attend to personal matters from February to  April..  

This time would probably be different if we didn't have people at home, or a home to return too.  But we have things to do, and it seems we have reached a point where we have grown tired of "seeing things".  There are few sites we want to see as we return, but in general, we are trying to get home as fast as we can.  For this reason, blog entries may be fewer and less complete.  When I get home, I can come back and edit and add; it will give me something to do.

Santo Amaro
After we left Rinopolis we traveled some of the worst roads of the whole trip.  We choose this route to avoid Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and all the traffic.  On a back road to avoid even this road we ran into Nino riding a CB600.  He stopped us to see what we were riding and where we were going.  He did not speak much English and we spoke no Portuguese.  But somehow we conveyed that we were looking for a hotel.

Santo Amaro was essentially closed for celebration.  But, Nino led us through the streets and talked some of the police into letting us through to a hotel that was the best in the city at the city center.  The hotel staff told us the hotel was full, but again Nino talked them into extending us a room somehow.  We have been very fortunate. 

After getting settled, we invited Nino to dinner.  After food and drink and meeting some of Nino's friends while we sat watching the celebration, there was sudden commotion, someone yelled 'pistola' and Nino and his friends scurried us away to the back of the restaurant for safety.  We are gringo's and very large targets!  Later we heard it was only a fight.  The kind of thing in the states everyone rushes towards instead of away from.

The next day we rode with Nino to Fiera de Santana to met Geraldo.  Geraldo is a professor teaching English literature at one of the colleges.  Geraldo is part of a motorcycle club that Nino belongs too and thinks of Nino as his son.  Geraldo and I have become good friends since meeting and share e-mail on almost a daily basis.  Some day I will try to get back to see Geraldo again.

Geraldo is restoring a 1979 Yamaha RD350.  He has many parts acquired from sources all over the world to rebuild his bike.  He isn't quite sure where he will find the time to finish this lengthy project, since he is still working and has many other interests to pursue as well.  I will post some pictures when I have a little more time.

Aracaju / Penedo / Maceio
We left Santo Amaro and headed for the beach town of Aracaju.  Our plan was to spend a week or so there relaxing and enjoyng the beach, the sun and the culture.  But frankly after a little of all that, it became boring, so we left after five days.  We took some small trips up the coast and stopped at some small communities which was more interesting in one day than everything we did in Aracaju in five.

We started by traveling to Neopolis to catch the ferry across to Penedo.  We were amazed to watch what was probably a 5 ton delivery truck get stuck while trying to board the ferry.  It took two hours of re positioning the ferry, jacking the truck and using wood and stones for leverage to get it unstuck.  This is something I suspect you would never see in the US.  Then it was a wild scramble to get onboard.  Moto's last because they had to get the cars on first.  We were barely able to get a spot on the ferry even though we were first in line, because all the locals knew the process and were scrambling before we got a clue.

Penedo is what you think of when you think of small South American towns on the coastline.  Lots of church steeples, beach side bars and restaurants.  We were there on one day but we had to keep moving on.

North of Maceio we then stopped at a pousada called Arco-Iris.  If you are passing by way of Maceio, I would highly recommend this place.  Clean, not far from the beach, a pool and good food.  

The last day we made it to Jaoa Passoa.  This is where Chuck's friend Marc lives.  We spent a few days there getting our bikes serviced.  Chuck's wife Karen came down and I returned to Houston.  During the time I was in Houston, there was a death in Karen's family.  Chuck and Karen returned home and I changed my return flight to Brazil to be as late as possible and still get the bikes out on time.  Vehicles are only allowed to stay in Brazil for 90 days maximum.  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Iquazu Falls (AGAIN!) / Rinopolis (E' nop o lis)

Because of changes in plans and direction we were passing by Iguazu Falls.  Laura, my beautiful bride and I had already visited Iguazu a week earlier.  But, since we had the time, I thought it only right to stop and let Chuck see this magnificent work of nature.  Here are some pictures from that visit.
Looking into the Devils Throat

The Devils Throat from the power launch

Looking down river from the Devils Throat.  If you could see the boats would be down there.

Chuck getting ready to Jump???

From the Power Launch

Pretty isn't it?

These boats would actually drive right into the water fall, but those pictures don't usually turn out :-)
We crossed into Brasil, from Argentina with little trouble.  The border crossing guard did say that when we originally crossed into Brasil from Uraguay that they didn’t give us the right papers.  There should be four different sheets and not one, like what we had.  But that was quickly cleared up with no problem.  We are getting somewhat cavalier about crossing borders.  When we went into Iguazu we had to go from Paraguay, to Brasil, back into Argentina.  We didn’t even stop at the exit to Brasil and didn’t get much paperwork at the Argentina border.  This proved to be no problem, as the Brasilian police officer said; “we don’t care about that!” 

Rinopolis (pronounced “e” nopolis)
First let me say, that if you are traveling through Brasil, STOP IN RINOPOLIS.  It is a small town of about 10,000 people, who treated us like dignitaries.  We stopped in Rinopolis after a couple days travel into Brasil.  We were told of a nice hotel by the attendant at the gas station, but what we found looked like an alley entrance about 2 feet wide.  But, like so many South American surprises this small entrance opened into a very nicely remodeled hotel, which was just put in service, with nice rooms and facilities.  We did good!
The owners of the Central Hotel with the Bikes.  The Entrance is the tiny alley way under the Hotel Central sign.  
We talked briefly with the owner until he finally raised a finger and took off.  He was gone for five or ten minutes and returned with a young man named Eduardo.  Eduardo is the teacher for a locally operated English school in Rinopolis.  Eduardo was very bright and articulate young man who fortunately had a little time to spend with us Gringo’s because it was summer vacation. 
From L to R: me, Alan, Eduardo, Jorgie, a supervisor from Yamasa and Chuck
Eduardo told us Jorge (pronounced Jor’ gie) and Alan who wanted to do a story and pictures for city newspapers.  They apparently don’t get a lot of Gringos there.  We took photos and had conversation with Jorge and Alan while sitting and having a couple Cervaja (it’s Sir-Vay-Ja in Portuguese). 

That night we had dinner at a local restaurant called Cana’a, Brazilian for Canaan I believe.  While we were there a very nice man came in who spoke great English.  He talked a while and then paid for our dinner and invited us to drive around town with him.  Here is a sequence of e-mail from my phone that what I wrote to my wife about this:

From Joe to Laura;
We are being chauffeured around thus little town of Rainopolis Brazil by somebody named Joseph Robert.  Its been interesting so far.

Sent from my Motorola ATRIX™ 4G on AT&T

From Laura to Joe;
Hello? Imagine if you were me receiving this rather um, barely-intelligible message from South America.
What is your middle name?
La Senora no esta aqui, no tengo dinero ;)
From Joe to Laura;

Sent from my Motorola ATRIX™ 4G on AT&T

From Joe to Laura;
Sorry, I must say I was a little bit nervous and typing on my phone in the back seat
as someone we didn't even know was driving us around in the dark.  I just wanted somebody to know where to start looking for the body.  All is well now; we are back in the room.

By the way your Spanish won't work very well in Brazil, it's Portuguese.

Sent from my Motorola ATRIX™ 4G on AT&T

It turns out that my fears were totally unfounded.  Joseph was the town welcoming agent, very friendly and known by everyone.  We had a very enjoyable tour with Joseph and invited him to join us the following day.  Turns out he had other commitments and could not make it, which I felt was very unfortunate.  I liked Joseph.

The next day we visited the Mayor and the vice Mayor, then a local egg farm, a company (Yamasa) which makes egg washing and sorting machines and sells them worldwide.  We then visited Eduardo’s Fisk language school, he was busy upgrading and adding additional capability for computer training.  Finally we were invited to a traditional Brasilian BBQ dinner at the home of one of the local families.   During dinner the mayor dropped by with his wife to deliver two shirts from the city.  Chuck and I stayed late and ended up leaving the shirts on the counter.  Eduardo promises to send them too us. 
L to R: The Mayor, Eduardo, Chuck, The Vice Mayor and me

L to R: Chuck, The Vice Mayor, The Mayor and me

Chuck and me in front of an Ariel picture of Rinopolis

One of what will 16 "chicken coups" that hold 160,000 chickens each

Alan pointing out one of Chucks relatives?

L to R: me, the owner of Yamasa and Chuck
Daughters, Son and a few of us at the home where the Brazilian BBQ was held.
Jorge was the organizer for all of this.  He was in touch with everyone, the Mayor and vice Mayor, Alan, the family who hosted the BBQ and Joseph.  Jorgie has a passion for Rinopolis.  It is nice to see someone who is so involved in promoting his community.  If anyone ever had a question about one person making a difference, needs to visit Rinopolis and meet Jorgie.   

*** If you pass by Rinopolis without spending a night at the Hotel Central, you are missing a great experience. ***

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I am going to just start posting randomly in order to get caught up.  First let me tell you a little story about Chuck.  He will not like this! :-)

We were in Trinidad and a HUGE frog had come into our room.  I cornered it and was looking for a way to get it out of the room.  He said; "here, wait, let me go get the woman!"  I said, shocked "No! we aren't going to get woman!" and picked up my boot, loaded the frog and threw him outside.  Now, when there is any trouble of course the first comment is; "here, wait, let me go get the woman!"

I am sure he will have something to say ... stay tuned.

The following are excerpts from notes to my wife:

Cordoba: I made it to Rosario, Argentina and found a hotel with a little help from local folks who were very nice.  My Garmin picked today to give up the ghost again, not sure why it does this.  Anyway, it could not find satellites and therefore could not tell me where the hotels were that I had picked this morning.  Oh well, I met some very nice people. 

I hope to get on the road tomorrow but not too early.  It is about a 3 hour ride to Cordoba so leaving early will probably do me no good.  I have some work to do before the Bronco game, so I will just say that I love you very much and I will probably not get on Skype tonight, unless there is something you would like to talk about.  

Dakar: I sent a check in when I got back, but apparently it did not go through.  It was a good day, went out and watched some of the bikers go by.  I stopped at a Shell station to get some gas, and you would have thought that I was a participant.  People crowded around, I let one guy with his kid get on and take pictures while I went to check the gas situation.  When I came back he handed me his kid so he could get a picture of the baby and me on the bike.  Isn't that funny?  At the event, I got my exercise; the parking lot was at least 2 miles from the viewing area, including climbing over two wire fences. 

I came back and got a shower and went and got something to eat, a dried ham and cheese, not so good!  But they had wine and a couple bottles of water, good!  Sorry about no phone call, I came back and crashed.

Today, I am going today to watch the bikes leave.  I don't know if I have a room tonight here or not, just yet.  They said they were full when I asked to extend one more night, but that they expect to have a cancellation.  I don't know, maybe there is something lost in that translation.  :-)

Brazil: Well, we had planned to stop earlier but the town Cascavel was huge and there wasn’t a clear choice on where to stay, so we just went on.  After a little trouble with Chuck’s bike, we made it to a little town called Corbelia in Brazil last night.  Chuck had the same problem as I had a while back where the fuel filter clogged and we spent about two and a half hours on the side of the road (under a shade tree at least!), changing it out.  The internet is pretty good although the power keeps going off and on which brings everything down.  We are going to try to make some longer distances the next few days. 

The country here is very pretty, very pastoral, but after you have seen a few nice green crops and fields, the road just goes on and on.   We don’t see much sense in stopping, there isn’t a lot here to stop and see.  The small towns are much nicer than the big towns in my opinion.  The people seem more friendly and in less of a hurry.  We are running into more police, yesterday right as we came into this town we are, the local policia were on the side of the road and a very impressive electronic system of cameras and radar was mounted on a tripod catching scofflaws.  Fortunately they missed us!  J

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Puerto Natales Ferry

Saturday morning (12/22) we were up and packing.  Leaving Ushuaia and Villa de Valejos Su, was like leaving home all over again.  We had made some real friends.  First Lucas, the proprietor, who let us put our bikes in front of his office blocking his view.  Try that in the states. 
L to R Charlie ILucas's brother) and Lucas
Christian a representative of Johnny Walker in Patagonia from Bariloche (where we had the great steak), working in Ushuaia for a week.  And we met a great couple from Boseman Montana.  Dave (a research professor in Boseman), Sandra (a nurse in Boseman) and Aldo their son. 
Aldo and Sandra
L to R: Dave, Sandra, Lucas and Christian bidding us farewell as we left
Our destination was Cerro Sombrero which is after the last stretch of dirt we will ride for quite some time.  And then from Cerro Sombrero, we will push on to Puerto Natales where we will catch the ferry, for the ride to Puerto Montt, about a third the way up the Chilean coast.

The ride back through the mountain pass from Ushuaia, was quite beautiful, but chilly.  It had snowed, while we were in Ushuaia, and the snow in the mountains actually extended at some points all the way to the road we were riding.  It was also quite chilly, I saw 35 deg F. 
Snow Down to the Road
Sometimes, I envy Chuck knowing he was wearing his electric vest, all warm and toasty.  All it would take would be for me to stop and put mine on, but I guess I am just too lazy.

We rode to Rio Grande about a 130 miles and stopped to fill up with gas.  While I was sitting at the pump a british fellow came up and began talking to me.  He had had a flat tire on the dirt road between San Sebastian and Cerro Sombrero and was stranded there for two days.  This is the stretch of road we were are getting ready to ride ourselves.  Finally, someone stopped and took the tube out of a tire on a motorcycle that they had on a trailer they were towing.  I don’t believe the roads are that untraveled, I am sure there is more to this story, but I didn’t have time.  We gassed up and we were on our way again.

No issues crossing the border again.  We are getting pretty good at this, just a few minutes at each side and we are on our way, riding on dirt and gravel.
Road to Cerro Sombrero
We made good time into Cerro Sombrero and actually arrived before 5pm.  That was good, because at my last stop the electrical for my heated grips, cruise control and GPS had gone out.  To figure out what was going on, involved removing the glove box again, there in the parking lot.  Turns out, with all the shaking, the solenoid that I installed to regulate the power had become disconnected.  Problem solved, and another half hour to reassemble. 

In the meantime, I took a look at my chain.  I had just brought it to the right tension the day before and today it was very loose again.  Something is not right.  As I tried to tighten the chain, I could no longer bring the wheel back, it had reached the maximum extension. 

Oh, this is not good!!!!  The chain was gone.  I was not going to get much more out of this.  And Chucks was not much better.  We had to find chain.  We felt we could make it to Puerto Natales, a fairly large town, but how much further?  The next morning we left Cerro Sombrero for the ride to the ferry.

So, some things don’t always make sense here.  The paved road from Cerro Sombrero extends 8 or 10 kilometers west to the main artery running north and south.  The other paved road from Cerro Sombrero extends north and then turns west again for 6 or  7 kilometers to connect with the same main artery running north and south.  So we had come in on the north road so we decide to take the west road to connect to the main artery for the ferry.

When we get to the main artery, the part of the road extending south is a beautiful paved road, but the part heading north is gravel and deep too in places.  Why would you not pave the whole road.  We rode the 7 or 8 kilometers of gravel and when we reached the other alternative route out of Cerro Sombrero, the road again turn to pavement. 

No issues, just questions why things are done the way they are done here.

We rode pavement the rest of the way to the ferry.  The ride across the ferry was very uneventful, in fact the bikes weren’t even strapped down.  Chuck watched the bikes while I went and paid the fee and took a few pictures of the crossing.
Chuck Guarding the Bikes
Once off the ferry, it was only a couple hundred miles to Puerto Natales.  During our ride to Puerto Natales we crossed several rain showers, nothing large but enough to get us wet.  When we arrived at the Hostel and I removed my boots, they showed signs of leaking.  Great, just what I need leaky boots.  I had spent good money at REI for these things.  They have a gore-tex liner and are guaranteed to not leak.  I will have to deal with this when I get back to the states, but it is no fun having leaky boots.

At the Hostel the first question we asked was; where is there a motorcycle mechanic.  Right up the street and they took us there.  We worked with him a little and he confirmed, the chain is shot, may be another 1,000 kilometers.  Unfortunately, there are no chains the size we need in Puerto Natales.  He helped quite a bit, but in the end we have found two chain sets in Osorno about 100 kilometers north of where we get off the ferry.

Chuck checking out his bike at the Hostel

Everywhere we go the bikes draw a crowd.  We had to check in for the ferry at the hotel near the dock.  While Chuck waited in line (FOR TWO HOURS!!!!), I watched the bikes.  Inevitably, people stop, take pictures of the bikes, talk about our journey and once in a while one of them wants a picture on the bike.

Her, her boyfriend and her father were curious about our journey
After a chase around worse than any border crossing at the dock to get registered and our passport stamped, we waited and finally loaded the bikes on the ferry. 
This is the first time I had to turn sideways and put it on the center stand
I don’t know how I got the camera set on Sepia but in this picture, the owner of the truck (a Hilux) to the left, for some apparent reason set his car alarm.  I have been listening to it beep for almost a day now.

The scenery through the Magellan Straight is beautiful.  Just a few pictures from the ferry.

We are headed for the little gap on the left between the island and the land

Close Up
Looking Back
Looking North

A cruise ship heading the other way (we later met people on this cruise later in Buenos Aires)

A couple shady characters
Sometimes things are lost in the translation.  Somewhere there is a gap between the sewage system and the sea wage system.
So what is a decent Sea Wage? :-)

During the trip, there were a group of us English speaking guys who had kind of hung together.  John and I spent a lot of time discussing arguing philosophy, politics and general perceptions of cultures and in particular the US culture.  Apparently, the perception of many outside countries (according to John) is that the US is a very violent culture, and uncaring of the environment.  The rest of the guys would get tired and wander away after a while.
L to R: me (US), Carl (Germany/Belize), John (Australia/France), Chuck (US), Angle (Argentina)

Chain at maximum adjustment is still a "little" bit loose.