Round the world on a DR-z400

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by peteFoulkes, Apr 7, 2012.

  1. peteFoulkes

    peteFoulkes Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 30, 2011
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    157
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    London
    After leaving San Fran, Los Angeles was the next major stop but not before a nights camp in Big Sur. We’d heard rumors of there being some decent off road tracks around this region so we spoke to everybody we could trying to plan the best route for the following day. Everybody had hyped up the South Coast Ridge Trail and promised it would offer 38 miles of off road action with mountain views on one side and the Big Sur coast line on the other. After turning off Highway 1 on to the trail we were sliding the back ends out on the loose gravel gravel surface whilst climbing in altitude. Our tyres were pretty shot by this time so handling the bikes on the dusty surface proved a little trickier than normal adding to the excitement. Within minutes, as standard, we found ourselves racing each other up to the first pass.

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    Unfortunately, when we arrived at the beginning of the path to take us right to the top, the forestry commission had sealed it shut for a reason unknown to us. We were clearly not the only guys a little disappointing to discover this…

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    We continued round the loop enjoying the lose surface before rejoining Highway one to continue south bound hugging the coast and pushed on southbound making it to Hollywood just in time for sunset. After checking in to a hostel on Hollywood Boulevard and paying the extortionate parking fee to keep the bikes safe for a couple of days, we kicked back and checked out the sights, bars and restaurants and awaited our meeting at the Suzuki U.S.A. headquarters, a moment both of us had been excited about since we realised it was really happening. Hollywood is a massively popular tourist spot comparable to Leicester Square only with blistering heat and the legendary Hooters restaurants. As we sat relaxing in our hostel that night, look what the cat dragged in…

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    You may remember Junior Skipper for his performance at the Koran BBQ a couple of months ago in Seoul. Well, he was back in the U.S. awaiting the start of his next semester at Uni and we thought it was only fair for us to give him a second chance in selecting the restaurant for that evening. Well, he certainly lived up to his reputation and had us walking the streets of Hollywood for close to an hour trying to locate a damn hot dog store. Bearing in mind there are hot dog vendors every 10 meters on Hollywood Boulevard, once finally arriving at ‘Pinks’ hot dog store, we couldn’t contain our disappointment when we realised it was quite literally just a hot dog stall, identical to the countless other fast food joints we passed on route. He’d done it again! Despite it being an absolute pleasure having him back on board, without any haste, Junior Skipper was stripped of his title with immediate effect.

    Unfortunately the drinking age restrictions in the U.S. prevented Matt from coming out to a bar that evening so we headed off to meet some other backpackers from the hostel in a bar called ‘Rainbow’. Given it’s name I started to question whether the lads from the hostel had got the wrong end of the stick and had invited us to a gay bar but it turned out to be a local hang out for the celebrities of Hollywood. My lack of celebrity knowledge preventing me from recognising the stars everybody was pointing out however, the one Jon and I did recognise was Ron Jeremy propping up the bar. Inspired by the big man himself, Brookbanks didn’t waste any time and after a couple of Cuba Libres took the opportunity to work on the other, not so famous punters.

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    Although we still had a few days to kill before our meeting with Suzuki, Hollywood’s tourist scene and fierce heat all got too much us after a couple of days so we headed further south to Venice for some beach time. Wearing motorcycle gear generally keeps us out of the sun so you can picture the scene when two pasty English men who have spent the previous few weeks eating burgers and fried food strip down to a pair of board shorts on the infamous muscle beach. The ladies couldn’t keep away. It was nice to have a few days off the bikes and offered an opportunity to meet up with Victoria, the girl I mentioned in the previous blog. Whilst in Venice, we were also lucky enough to meet up with a chap called Mike Praise, the author of the excellent series of guide books, The Surfers Guide. Mike’s experience of riding the Baja California peninsular made him the perfect aid in assisting us to plan the best route down the Mexican peninsular.

    On day 156, 20th September we were packed up and ready to head over to Brea, for our visit to the Suzuki H.Q. We didn’t know what really expect from our meeting with the guys there but within minutes the cameras were rolling and the probing questions were extracting tales from our trip to date. The clip below offers a closer look at the modifications we made to the bikes.

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    We both felt genuinely privileged to have been invited to the Suzuki H.Q. and the guys took care of us well by insisting we joined them for lunch. We were fed like kings whilst sharing our experiences over the course of a couple of hours.

    We’d been lucky enough to use the Suzuki H.Q. as an address to have new tyres, Mefo Explorers, shipped to so that afternoon we continued south along the coast to Oceanside where we had arranged to stop in to visit the guys at the Just Gas Tanks office. Typically we’ve fitted tyres ourselves throughout this trip but for a change we weren’t out in the middle of nowhere so we decided to treat ourselves and get some assistance from someone with more adequate equipment. As we stood there chatting to the mechanic, out walked the owner of the shop, English Tony. Unbelievably we had stumbled across a workshop run by a guy originally from no more than a few miles from where we live in London. Another stroke of Tough Miles good fortune. Hearing his accent made us feel right at home and once he’d heard our story he insisted we stopped in with him overnight. Tony is a straight up wheeler dealer geezer. He’s a no bull s*** kind of guy and we knew he genuinely meant it when he offered up a trailer camper he was selling in his shops forecourt as a base for the night. Incredible hospitality. We all went out that evening for a decent session on the sauce. Here is Tony and Fred testing out a Harley.

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    The following day, we stopped in to meet the guys at Just Gas Tanks, the U.S. distributor of the Safari 28 liter fuel tank we’ve been using on this trip. Core Racing, the U.K. distributor of the tanks proved an awesome knowledge-base for us during the preparation stage of this trip so we were keen to stop in and meet their American equivalent. The tanks have been critical to date and have held up seriously well despite the bikes being dropped off road on numerous occasions. It was excellent to meet the guys there and take a look around the shop. On return to English Tony’s place, his hospitality had another little treat in store for us. He had a couple of Harley’s lined up for us to have a ride on. Neither of us had ever ridden a Harley before so it was an exciting moment for both of us.

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    After saying our good byes to everybody at English Tony’s place, we headed slightly further south to camp up in a place called Chula Vista. After all the horror stories we had heard about this border crossing, we wanted to be as close to the Mexico border as we possibly could be to allow us to cross at first light.

    Next stop Central America.
  2. peteFoulkes

    peteFoulkes Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 30, 2011
    Oddometer:
    157
    Location:
    London
    Thanks to Jon for writing this update from the Baja peninsula...

    Our journey through Central America was about to begin, and whilst camping just outside of San Diego the dreaded border crossing into Mexico was looming over us like a dark cloud. Through out the west coast of America countless people had warned us about the dangers of the surrounding towns. Neither of us knew what to expect. Carrying two laptops, an SLR camera, Sat Nav equipment, and various other expensive electronic devices, we decided this wasn’t a day to be wearing the Go Pro.

    On Monday the 24th September we set the alarm for 6.15am, packed up camp and hit the road by 7. Our plan was to cross into Mexico at Tijuana and head straight down the Baja peninsula. A quick google search didn’t exactly make me feel any better: “Tijuana is well known for being the birthplace and base of the Tijuana Cartel, with a high level of violent crime related to gang violence, in part derived from the Mexican drug war and human trafficking”. Neverthless, there was no turning back now, and we are both well aware that this kind of activity is often over-hyped by the media.

    On route we stopped at a bank to withdraw some dollars. With little idea of what lay ahead, and not knowing when we would next have the opportunity to source an ATM, we decided to each carry $600 dollars and load up on fuel. Paranoid about being mugged I cunningly stashed $400 inside my boot, $160 in my motorcycle jacket, and $40 in my wallet for any potential bribes. Unsurprisingly Pete seemed a little more careless and wedged the whole lot in his money belt, tucked in his pocket.

    Much to my amazement, upon reaching the border there was no delay, and we didn’t even have to stop to show our passports! There was not even a luggage check as we were casualy waved through by an armed official. This is clearly not the process when heading in the opposite driection, evident by a huge queue at 8am. Directly after the border we pulled into a layby with various tourist offices. Neither of us were particularly impressed with the look of these make shift shacks, so we made a decision to push on a little further with the hope of finding a more legit looking operation. When entering Mexico it is entirely your responsibility to purchase a tourist visa and motor insurance. At this particular border corssing there is no-one to guide you or make sure you have the necessary paperwork for travelling through the country.

    Needless to say before long we found ourselves on route to Ensenada, having seemingly missed our chance to organise the required documentation. It was a tense time over the intercom as we discussed the option of turning around, and feeling tired added to my anxiety. Everyone had told us “don’t stop, just keep riding”, and here we were looking for the next availabale opportunity to do a u-turn and fight our way through the chaotic rush hour traffic. Fortunately we narrowly avoided the queue heading back into the States, and finally found the vehicle ‘Temporary Importation Office’. Thankfully with Petes Spanish skills we were able to fumble our way through the process, each paying a $300 deposit for the bike, a $50 admin fee, and $24 for a tourist visa. Struggling to find somehwere to buy insurance, we located the nearest McDonalds and used their wi-fi to organise a policy online through a company called ‘Discover Baja Club’, costing us another $110 each. A stressful and expensive morning, but a very nice breakfast.

    The change in scenery as you cross the border is incredible. Suddenly you have landed in a developing 3rd world country, with many rough looking cars, makeshift houses, hectic traffic and street vendors. Heading directly east towards Ensenada, the road follows a huge border fence, offset by a steep embankment and then a deep valley. This makes for quite a dramatic view, especially with the eerie morning mist.

    The ride towards El Rosario was fairly uneventful, and soon the weather became so hot that riding in just a t-shirt was the only option. This makes for a cracking riding tan, and the trademark two-tone arm of an adventure rider. Punta Baja, a small fishing village on the west coast, recommended by Mike Parise during our meeting in Venice, was the planned destination for our first night in Mexico.

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    Reaching this remote spot was a fairly tricky ride through some deep sand and muddy pools, and soon made us wonder whether we had time to risk any off-road routes whilst travelling down the Baja. It seemed a shame to stick to the highways, but with 10 countries still to cover, the Panama crossing, less than 3 months to complete the trip, and news of Hurricane Miriam coming in from the Pacific, we reluctantly agreed to stick to the tarmac from here on. In any case, we’d had our fair share of tackling deep sand in Mongolia.


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    Highway 1 runs from top to bottom of the Baja, and besides a few boring stretches many parts are without doubt some of the best roads I have ever ridden. The surface quality is generally excellent, and sections of tight twisty bends feel more like a race track with white painted curbs guiding you from apex to apex. The Mefo Explorers we had fitted in Oceanside certainly proved a great road tyre, giving plenty of grip and confidence when leaning into a corner. Some of the scenery is spectacular, with huge boulder formations, and vast hills of sand and dry earth that stretch for miles with little sign of life besides desert Cacti.

    Although now ‘only’ a tropical storm, 40km outside of La Paz Hurricane Miriam hit hard. The sky turned a dark menacing grey, almost black, and shortly after a military check point the heavens opened.

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    A flash flood formed deep rivers crossing the road, and we had no option but to wait for the rain to ease and the water levels to drop. Despite being completely drenched, it was funny to watch family cars attempt to drive through the deep streams, only to get stuck in the middle, having to then open their doors and push the car out! It was amazing to see how quickly a tropical flash flood could disable the road network, and we were both glad not to have taken an off-road route! Despite the floods we pushed on as soon as we could, eager to reach La Paz before it got any worse.

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    Upon arriving in La Paz, the final destination before catching the Baja ferry across to the mainland, we stumbled across Dave, a fellow adventure rider on a yet another BMW 800 GS kitted up to the max. Dave is 65, retired, and on a solo mission from Canada to Argentina. Brave, or Stupid? Either way an incredible character and a top bloke! Carrying more luggage than a local minibus, he was in admiration of our light load and tidy pack up. He stood there and watched as we unloaded into the hotel, shaking his head saying “I’ve got to give it to you boys, the pack up is an art, one that you’ve certainly mastered”. Despite having ditched his camping gear and having large hard panniers, his bike was fully loaded. Pete and I never did work out what he was carrying, although it soon became clear he wasn’t shy of collecting a souvenir or two along the way. By the end of his trip I’m guessing his bike will look more like a world tour Christmas tree.

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    On one particular ride Dave was in his usual position at the back, acting as the Tough Miles sweeper. Upon approaching a small village Pete and I spotted a copper up ahead, so waited in line with the rest of the traffic. Dave on the other hand swerved to the inside and blasted straight up the verge directly towards the policeman! God knows how he got away with that one, but from there on we named the old boy ‘MadDog Dave’. A title he was more than happy to adopt even on his own blog! Little did we know that MadDog would become our new riding partner from La Paz, Mexico, to the border of Guatemala. His surprising past and mis-spent youth travelling the world as a hippie made for some interesting stories, and we shared many enjoyable evenings discussing our plans over dinner.

    After one night in La Paz, obviously treating ourselves to a few beers, we didn’t waste any time and managed to book ourselves onto the next ferry over to Mazatlan. Leaving this to the last minute meant there were no cabins left, but we were grateful to even get a ticket. The crossing was expected to take 16 hours, but due to unfavourable weather conditions the ship was unable to enter the dock as scheduled, resulting in an 8 hour delay out at sea. Things soon got worse, as shortly after settling into our designated seats MadDog decided to remove his riding boots, and within minutes the smell cleared the room, with people at the back even spraying cans of deodrant. I retreated to the canteen and spent the night sleeping on the deck, using my hoody as a blanket and a travel guide as a pillow. Despite a rough night and very little sleep, in the morning we found ourselves sinking a few of the good ones with two Irish lads named James and Colly, placing bets on how long we would be stuck on this stinking ferry!

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    After finally managing to disembark, it was a great relief to see the bikes were still upright, and within minutes we were checked in to the nearest hotel. The evening was young, so that night we hit the main plaza for a skin full with the Irish boys and another guy named Stither. Stither is a small Indian lad riding an air-cooled Suzuki 250cc, also heading towards South America. Drinking litre glasses of the local beer and sinking copious amounts of tequila shots soon had James and Colly tearing up the dancefloor, with some hilarious moves seeming to attract a lot of attention from the locals. It would have been fun to spend some more time with these guys, but the Tough Miles schedule is tight, so despite a savage hangover Pete and I loaded the bikes whilst dripping in sweat and hit the road the following morning.

    With only 2 months left and 6 countries to cover we really need your help to reach our fund raising target, so please if you are enjoying our blog and can spare a few pennies, click here to donate towards our Just Giving Cancer Research page. We really appreciate all the support.
  3. Doogle

    Doogle Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
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    Ohio-Cincinnati
    What I found to be a good place to hide money was in my riding pants where the pads were.I took the pads out because they were too tight.I also stored backup credit cards and drivers license there.Always with me,and always safe.

    I found going through Central America to be the most uncomfortable,as far as feeling safety.I was never robbed.But I was concerned a lot.Especially in Honduras.Good luck with the rest of your trip. 6 months from now you will be reading others ride reports-wishing you were back on the road.
  4. peteFoulkes

    peteFoulkes Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 30, 2011
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    London
    Jon here:

    For our route through Mainland Mexico we decided to head inland from Mazatlan, stopping at San Blas, Guanajuato, Teotihuacan, Minatitlan and finally San Cristobal. The 250km ride down the coast from Mazatlan to San Blas should have been a straight forward afternoon, but 20km down the road I realised I was missing my headphones and a hoody, yet another loss. I guess that’s the result of packing up on a hangover, and sleeping somewhere different almost everyday! Recently I have been listening to music whilst riding, so the thought of not having any tunes during long days on the bike was a big hit. It was a tough decision, but I decided to leave Pete in a petrol station cafe and head back to the hotel. Fortunately the solo mission was a success, and my mood was lifted for the ride ahead. After my morning recovery, the afternoon dealt me with another misfortune. My collection of caps, purchased and carefully carried from California had fallen off the back of my bike. This may not sound like a big deal, but maintaining a cap on a biking trip is a tricky task, and a decent new one could be hard to come by as we head through Latin America. Hopefully they will go to a good home, and some local Mexican kids will be donning Volcom flat peaks.

    There’s not much to report from San Blas, it’s a small colonial fishing village with a relaxed vibe and some nice restaurants on the edge of a vibrant square. The road in and out is quite spectacular, winding through dense jungle and local farm land. It was here I saw my first tarantula, so I now take more care checking my boots before getting dressed for a ride!

    The main cities of Mexico are well connected via Toll-roads, but these can get very expensive even on a motorbike. For our ride to Guanajuato we decided to pick our way through the free-roads, or ‘Libre’ as they are labelled out here. This adds a huge amount of time onto the journey, as the speed limits are much lower, and the route passes through countless small villages. Despite the use of Sat Nav and intercom, having to navigate our way through Guadalajara was tough, and we soon found ourselves stuck in heavy traffic heading in the wrong direction. It was a long day, but we managed to reach Guanajauto by sunset.

    Guanajauto is a fairly large colonial city located in a deep valley. The streets are extremely narrow and winding, and it has an amazing network of underground tunnels connecting the different areas. These can be a nightmare for a motorcyclist, as they are poorly lit with very slippery wet cobbles. Both Dave and I nearly dropped the bikes whilst navigating our way through the maze! Colourful buildings cover the mountainsides for miles around, and using the motorbikes we were able to reach a stunning view point.

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    After a night in Guanajauto our next stop was San Juan Teotihuacan, just north of Mexico city. After realising how tricky and time consuming the free-roads are to navigate, we decided to break the bank and stick to the Toll-roads. Despite this decision we found ourselves behind schedule, and towards the end of our ride the sun had gone down. One of the main rules of travelling through Mexico is to never ride at night, and here we were limping along a busy pot-hole road in the pitch black, with no idea of where we would be staying. The DRZ headlight seems worse than the ‘Cat Eye’ battery torch I have on my bicycle, so finding our way was a difficult task. It was quite a relief to finally reach our destination, and after finding a hotel, nailing a few street tacos, it was time to hit the hay.

    Teotihaucan is famous for its Pyramids, so in the morning we climbed the largest one named ‘the Sun’.

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    To be honest, I must admit pyramids or ruins don’t particularly excite me, especially when all you can do is climb the outside. I would have more incentive to struggle up 250 steps if there was a giant water slide on the other side, or a base jump down the center! Nevertheless, it was a nice day off the bikes, and MadDog Dave had me in stitches walking around blowing his eagle whistle. God knows what other tat he would have bought if it wasn’t for me and Pete dragging him away from all the market stalls.

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    The bus journey back into town was probably the most exciting part of the day. As we hurtled down a hill on the wrong side of the road towards on coming traffic, it became apparent that we no longer had any brakes. Pete and I could see what was happening, and both braced ourselves for impact. Dave on the other hand was facing the opposite direction, and with a look of confusion he began to panic. As the driver crunched down the gears, the front seat passenger was lent over his lap pumping the brake pedal with her hand! Thankfully we somehow avoided a collision, and eventually rolled to a stop. Needless to say we decided to bail out and walk the remainder of the distance.

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    With the tourist attractions out of the way it was time to drop the hammer and aim for San Cristobal, the final stop in Mexico before crossing into Guatemala. The distance from Teotihaucan to San Cris was too great to complete in one day. To split the journey we chose to spend a night in Minatitlan, roughly the halfway point on the east coast. It was here we found an excellent ‘Love Hotel’, where each room has a private garage, perfect for the motorbikes! Oh, and I forgot to mention the shower, which conveniently has a large window into the bedroom, not so ideal when sharing a room with Pete. The staff looked over and laughed as we each waited outside for the other to freshen up before heading out for a few beers. Tough Miles, that’s for sure.

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    You might have also noticed the tissue dispenser above the bed, and the ‘wipe clean’ leather sofa, classy. The bedroom wall even has a small metal rotunda for paying without showing your face, with the option of either 5 hours or 1 night. Admittedly the time options seem a bit limited, but all in all this place seemed well thought out for a night of passion. It certainly didn’t feel right sharing a room with Pete in such an establishment, but the budget is tight so needs must!

    The following day we had a cracking end to our ride through Mexico. For the last 60km we followed a twisty mountain road, climbing 3000m into the clouds of Chiapas. The bikes struggle for power at this kind of altitude, but the lack of visibilty, and the risk of a stray animal running into our path should be the limiting factor for our pace.

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    Upon reaching San Cristobal the typical afternoon tropical shower caught us out yet again as we battled our way through heavy traffic, a hectic one way system, and flooded streets, whilst trying to find a suitable hotel. Finally settling on one with a nice courtyard, it soon became clear that the entrance was slightly too narrow for MadDog Daves wide load. After almost dropping the bike, he planned to do a lap of the block and unload before reattempting to get through the gate. Unsurprisingly he never made it back, and we later heard he had opted for a different hotel elsewhere in the area.

    Our evening in San Cristobal was spent drinking Cuba Libres with a local Mexican, which funnily enough eventually led us to a dubstep/reggae club. Pete headed home before me that night, and when I finally made tracks back to the hotel I found myself completely locked out of the premises. Despite my best efforts to wake anyone, I eventually admitted defeat and found a nearby after party. At 6am I decided to call it a night and attempted to make my way home for a second time. This seemed slightly more complicated than I first anticipated, and I subsequently spent 3 hours wandering the narrow cobble lanes from one end of the city to the other. Every street looked the same, I can’t speak Spanish, and I couldn’t for the life of me remember the name of the hotel. It was 9am by the time I finally made it to bed. Needless to say the rest of the day was a write-off. These things happen though, and the following day it was business as usual. Sunday the 7th October, we had an early start and made our way to the border of Guatemala.

    We are getting close, but we still really need your help to reach our fund raising target, so please if you are enjoying our blog and can spare a few pennies, click here to donate towards our Just Giving Cancer Research page. We really appreciate all the support.
  5. peteFoulkes

    peteFoulkes Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    Day 169, the 7th October had us up at the crack of dawn knowing we had our second of many Central American border crossings in store. Due to his lack of Spanish at the time, Mad Dog Dave was keen to stick with us for the crossing. After all the horror stories we had read online about crossing Central American borders with a motorcycle, it was nice for us knowing we were going in 3 strong to what had been described by some as utter carnage. We knew we would eventually shake the old boy off when he settled in Guatemala for a week or so of language school so happily obliged.

    Approaching the border post at La Mesilla, I was all set to be fighting off the ‘fixers’ so many people had warned us about and I was rehearsing our story in my basic Spanish over and over in my helmet hoping it would be sufficient to clear customs. We’d previously been warned that the ‘fixers’ are talented scam artists that mange to have you over in one way or another should you accept their assistance. Between the stories of those guys and the heavy bribes we had been told to expect to be charged by the customs officials, the entire situation was quite a menacing thought. Add 35 degree heat into the mixer whilst dressed in full riding gear and you start to wonder why the hell you’re bothering dealing with all this shit and you’re not spending all this free time you have out of the office getting off your nut in Ibiza.

    The reality of this crossing, at least for us, was very different to the horror stories we’d read from other riders online. The young guys we did come across seemed quite happy to walk away when I insisted we didn’t need any assistance and the border officials seemed as straight as an arrow. Exiting Mexico was over with in less than 20 mins and we found ourselves about to enter Guatemala where we had the opportunity to change up the remainder of our Mexican Pesos at a competitive rate. The first step whilst entering Guatemala is to have the bikes sprayed down with some sort of disinfectant solution in order to prevent the spread of disease. Very effective I’m sure. If only they knew how bad Mad Dog’s boots smelt by this stage they may have made him leave them at the border as well. Once sprayed down and we had acquired the necessary customs documents we were on our merry way. All in all, the entry process cost us just short of $20 U.S.D a piece and less than 40 minutes. No complaints there.

    Whilst on the Mexican side, we bumped into two riders from Holland, Marj and Chris or, for the purpose of this blog, Team BMW. They were on two beefy 1000cc Beamers both built in 1992. Chris would later adopt the name of ‘Big Dog’ for no other reason than he hit a rather big stray dog. It felt good to be riding in a crew, the sunshine was out and we were all headed in the direction of Lago Atitlan. It didn’t take long for the weather to turn and before we knew it we were searching for a small town next to the lake in the pitch black whilst in the depths of a tropical downpour and riding on a loose gravel country back lane. We’d lost Mad Dog on route as he sensibly decided to skip having a bite to eat to avoid the downpour so we were now down to four and the GPS had it’s head firmly planted somewhere up it’s own arse. When we finally did arrive, the only hotel we could find was on the lake side itself meaning we had to cart all the luggage down what must have been 250 moss-covered steps. A few cheeky beers that evening and waking to a view of the lake’s volcano made everything seem all fine and dandy again until I remembered we had to cart the luggage up those moss-covered steps again before donning the soaking wet riding gear. I’m not moaning, merely supplying an honest account.

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    We rode on the following morning to the town of Antigua. A nice little colonial spot ideal to kick back and take some Spanish lessons. Unfortunately the Tough Miles mission wasn’t giving way for that. We were here for a purpose and that was to visit the active Volcano Payaca. When I realised the jokes of this not being a riding an experience where in fact not jokes at all and I had to physically climb the damn thing I started to think twice.

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    It turned out to be a unique day trip to an errie volcanic environment and thankfully the pace of the 3 miserable Israeli girls at the back meant that it wasn’t me and Brookbanks holding up the athletic group kitted out with Lycra and walking boots. Although the lava we had been promised at the top wasn’t actually present, we did manage to bake some Marshmallows on the hot rocks at the top. Big Dog couldn’t contain his excitement and was wondering off in all sorts of directions.

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    The Cuba Libres we sunk that evening didn’t stop another early rise the following morning and all four of us headed north to a place called Semuc Chapmey, famous for its limestone pools and caving experience. We’d sourced some local maps from a bookshop in Antigua but they threw us well off course and instead of heading northbound on the relatively decent highways of Guatemala, we found ourselves on a muddy off-road trail.

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    Team BMW found themselves ill-equipped for such terrain and with minimal grip from their road tyres, the Tough Miles boys found themselves getting dirty picking their very posh, very heavy BMW’s out of the mud. Another fine reminder of why the light weight Suzuki DRz is an excellent choice for such an expedition.

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    Once clearing the mud stage we managed to re-join what felt like the main highway again. We’d been told to expect a rough road for the 30km or so leading into Semuc Champey itself and the exposure we had earlier in the day was sufficient to make Team BMW think twice about taking it on. We parted ways after stopping for fuel in Coban by which stage it was already late afternoon and the daily downpours were well on their way. We had no more than two hours before sunset and thick black clouds were rolling in. We both questioned if we’d made the right call but there was no turning back now. The trail started off relatively well, loose rocks and gravel but within minutes both of us were struggling for grip. I was cursing the tyre choice swearing at myself in my helmet for choosing such a hard compound of rubber but we later came to realise it had nothing to do with the Mefo Exploeres and was in fact the responsibility of the wet limestone rocks we were riding over. The bikes were literally all over the place. It was like riding on ice. Despite crossing remote parts of Siberia, Mongolia and clearing the BAM road, we’d found ourselves riding one of the most challenging trails to date. The hill climbs were so steep it was literally a case of getting up on the pegs, keeping the throttle pinned open and picking the best route. I was leading on this trail and a good 20 or so minutes into it, Brookbanks disappeared from behind me. You inevitably fear the worst when you no longer see your mate behind you. I had to turn back but the trail was so steep and so slippery there was no way I’d be able to stop where I was never mind even consider turning around. I pushed on until a flatter patch where I could stand the bike up right and sprinted back down the hill. Running on this surface in a pair of motocross boots proved even more challenging than riding on the damn thing and I managed to fall flat on my arse twice before turning a corner and seeing Brookbanks struggling to pick up his bike. He’d managed to plant his bike awkwardly in a ditch where his wheels were higher than his bars making it a tricky one to pull out. Despite both of us slipping all over the place we managed to eventually get the bike upright to asses any damage. Thankfully it was a slow speed off which caused no obvious damage.

    That evening we had a drink with the boys from the hostel partly in celebration that we had made it into Semuc without any damage to us and the bikes but mainly in an attempt to forget our concerns of having to ride the same bastard trail out again. These boys were not shy of a rum and coke.

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    The morning after that heavy session began nicely with a gentle trek through the humid jungle to a view-point to see the stunning limestone pools we would later be swimming around in. I’m by no means a writer so I’m not going to attempt to describe the beauty of this place with words but we genuinely did feel like we’d stumbled across paradise.

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    I’ve done my fair share of backpacking before this trip and seen some shoddy operations running tours without any health and safety concerns but what took place that afternoon in Semuc Champey is something that is likely to stick with me for quite some time. When I knew we were about to walk into a cave I was looking forward to donning my helmet, head torch and whistle. I didn’t realise I’d be doggy paddling in the pitch black trying my hardest to keep my right arm out the water to keep my candle, my only light source alight. There was no sign of the helmets and certainly no sign of any battery operated light instruments. The lunatic guide took us into the depths of a cave, had us climbing up ropes, sliding down naturally formed limestone flumes and jumping off huge rocks in an attempt to, ‘get the adrenalin pumping’. You quite frankly have no way of finding your way out if you don’t keep up with the group and not a hope in hell of being able to abort the mission if the fear gets too much for you. There was only one way in and one way out and it was your responsibility to keep up with the guy in front of you. It was awesome! One of the most exciting tours we’ve done on this trip to date.

    Despite the fact that Jon and I have more interest in Latin Americas rum than its archaeological ruins, it’s important to occasionally step back from this round the world bar crawl and appreciate the foundations of the countries we are visiting. The ruins of Tikal in northern Guatemala are described as Central Americas finest and as they were conveniently located on the main highway out of Guatemala we decided to head on up there to see what all the fuss was about.

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    We managed to clear that nasty limestone trail with nothing worse than a slow speed drop of my bike before finding ourselves on a very long, very straight, very humid road up to Tikal. We stopped for a bite to eat in the town of Sayaxche where we managed to locate a street vendor selling plates of fries. When you stop in remote areas dressed like you are ready for a mission to mars riding a bike that looks like it’s been pulled from a Mad Max set, it’s inevitable that you attract the attention of the locals. By the time we’d finished eating and were packed up for departure we had a full crowd waiting to wave us off. As I looked in my mirror I noticed Brookbanks drop his bike as he tried to turn on a steep hill. I felt his pain as the street vendors rushed over to help him pick it up. When the locals are riding past 4 up on a 125cc all in shorts and t-shirts and your bike is on the floor, it’s moments like that you feel like a couple of over-equipped gringos that have no idea what you are doing. Still, it’s the nature of the beast and further south we later came to realise why we bother donning all this protective gear every time we board the bikes. More on that later.

    Still drifting south bound. Next stop, Honduras.

    We are now less than £1k from our target for Cancer Research now guys. If you've enjoyed following our blogs and can spare a few pounds for an excellent cause, please click here to help us reach our target. A huge thanks to all of you who have already donated.
  6. woodly1069

    woodly1069 Long timer

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    Louisville, KY...really too far from the hills!
    Fantastic read!
  7. pdedse

    pdedse paraelamigosincero

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    Very fun to follow along with you. Thanks for taking the time to post fotos and stories...
  8. chekamus

    chekamus Adventurer

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    Was england now new Zealand!
    Great following your trip, look forward to the next up dates!
  9. Scribe

    Scribe £Bob£

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    In my natural state
    Thanks for brightening a dreary New Year's Day here in the States. Fantastic read. All the best as you finish up.
  10. RoninMoto

    RoninMoto Wanderer

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    In the mountains?
    :clap:clap:clap:clap:clap
    Subscribed!

    I'm looking forward to Russia next spring. Rubber side down!
  11. Tgpatrsn

    Tgpatrsn Adventurer

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    SF Bay Area
    Awesome read!!
  12. MTKNZ

    MTKNZ Touring Kiwi

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    Texas right now....
    Keep up the good work, love reading of your adventures.
  13. WilsonGermany

    WilsonGermany Been here awhile

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    cool stuff!:D
  14. peteFoulkes

    peteFoulkes Been here awhile

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    London
    Thanks again to Jon for writing this update...

    Jon here:

    Ahhh the blog duties strike again. Guatemala was certainly a highlight, and Pete did a cracking job of documenting that experience. I’ve been lumbered with the rest of Central America, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles I guess. I just had a rummage through my wash bag looking for Imodium, no joy on that front, but I did find the 32mm socket we bought for adjusting the headsets next to my toothbrush, WTF is that doing in there?! In the words of Michael McHugh, that’s biking.

    Have you ever participated in a shared budget? Well, on this trip old Foulkesy and I are living almost identical lifestyles, so it made sense to setup some kind of joint funds. Pete's Nationwide account seemed to give us the most preferable rates when withdrawing from an ATM, so that has become the card of choice. This certainly has its benefits when paying for fuel, hostels and rounds of drinks on a night out, but certain luxuries have caused some controversy. Hair products are a good example. A basic block of soap seems to be adequate for Proud Peter, whereas I am shamefully partial to a dash of shampoo and conditioner. Food is another one. Besides the classic Burger and Chips, Pete is generally happy with a seriously minimal ham and cheese sandwich. I rarely dare suggesting to add some kind of chutney or salad. Then there is drinking. If one of us doesn't feel up to a night out, then the other will still have free rein of the budget. This might sound tough for the light-weight staying in, but I guess it’s all swings and roundabouts! Life is simple on the bikes, so button up your helmet, switch off the intercom and keep drifting.


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    After our busy schedule in Guatemala we decided to make up some ground and ride quickly through Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, before reaching Panama, our final destination in Central America. How quickly you ride obviously depends on your talent, as Pete would later find out…..

    On Sunday 14th October, day 176, we had another early start with Team BMW, BigDog and Marj. From Tikal in Guatemala we headed south-east towards Honduras, aiming to cross the border at Corinto. Upon arriving at the border it was very quiet, and once again we had timed it perfectly as the office swiftly shut for lunch. The long morning ride soon took it’s toll as we lay on the pavement, removed our sweaty boots, and shut our eyes for an hour or so.


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    After waiting for the office to re-open we had the usual struggle of getting countless photocopies of all our documents. It always amazes me how these offices, which require so many photocopies, don’t actually have a photocopier. Infuriating. I usually leave Pete to do the hard work using his Spanish skills, until I get called to sign the paperwork, much like our business will run in the future I guess.

    Once finally in Honduras we decided to treat ourselves to an early finish, and found a nice place to stay on the beach.

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    A large group of girls, all English teachers living abroad, were also staying in the same hostel. It seemed to be Petes lucky night, as they led us to the nearest Burger joint for a spot of dinner. Team BMW also seemed happy with the choice of restaurant, and as usual “If Big Dog is happy, then we’re all happy”.

    The following day we practically cleared Honduras, and on Tuesday 16th October we crossed into Nicaragua at Las Manos. That afternoon we rode to a small city called Granada, where Pete and I decided to spend a couple of nights at the Bearded Monkey. To be honest this hostel wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs; it felt more like a care home, with various old eccentric men voicing their obscene opinion about local women. Nevertheless, having worn the same pair of boxers 3 days running, our desperate laundry situation needed addressing, and the network speed was adequate for a new blog upload. Good times.


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    Team BMW had some agricultural business to attend to in Nicaragua, which funnily enough wasn’t related to their bikes. So on Thursday 18th October, Tough Miles hit the road alone and crossed into Costa Rica. After getting mugged off buying insurance from a small makeshift shack, mainly to keep my mum happy, we landed at the very back of a bus load of gringos. Despite a lengthy queue, this border crossing was fairly straight forward, and by late afternoon we successfully made it to Hostel Costa Rica. From the outside it looked more like a prison, but inside it was nicely kitted out with hammocks, a small bar and a tidy swimming pool!

    [​IMG]


    After a couple of nights relaxing in Hostel Costa Rica, we decided to crack on towards Panama city. I think it’s fair to say that recently we have been pushing our luck slightly, and after countless days of riding in all weather conditions our growing confidence led to an inevitable accident. Despite numerous slow speed off-road falls, and various clumsy drops, neither Pete nor I had ever had a road-crash.

    It was a crazy morning as we rode towards the border of Panama. Not long after getting out of San Jose I had a big moment coming into a tight right-hander. The road surface was rougher than I expected, and I felt like I was carrying to much speed. After spotting a large run-off area on the outside of the bend, I made a late decision to bail out of the turn, pick the bike up, and cut across oncoming traffic. It was a near miss, and Pete was shocked as he watched from behind. I wasn’t really shaken, but grateful to have found enough space to recover.

    Shortly after my first incident, I found my heart in my mouth again as I almost lost the front end on another tight right-hander. This time the road surface was smooth and damp, and a patch of oil almost caught me out. Pete was following, and during this ride we were not connected via the intercom. There was nothing I could do but watch in my mirrors to see if Pete would make it around the corner safely. Despite knowing he would inevitably encounter the same slippery patch, I was shocked as he came into view, sliding across the road with his bike on its side. Thankfully there was no oncoming traffic, and a large bush on the verge of the bend brought him gently to a halt.


    [​IMG]

    Pete was bruised and shaken, but luckily he was straight back on his feet with no serious injuries. After dragging the bike out of the foliage we took a few minutes to check it over. Besides a slight tear in the RHS Wolfman, and a few more scratches on the Safari tank, the bike looked fine. The Barkbusters once again saving the levers from any damage wahtsoever. It doesn’t bare thinking about the ‘what-ifs’. This incident could have easily had catastrophic consequences had there been any oncoming traffic, or if the side of the road was lined with a metal armco barrier, or even worse a cliff drop. We both thanked our lucky stars and agreed to take it easy from there on.

    In the afternoon we fumbled our way through our last Central America border crossing. Unsurprisingly the printed paperwork for entering Panama was a shambles, with numerous errors for our motorcycle VIN numbers, reg plates and nationalities etc.

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    We went back to express our concerns, at which point the ‘border official’ just laughed and adjusted the mistakes by hand. Despite not being entirely happy with the hand-written corrections, we decided we had wasted enough time and effort on the endless paperwork, and thus continued our journey into Panama. That evening we stayed at the Purple House Hostel in a small city called David. Before we could even get our boots off the lady running the hostel was banging on about all the house rules. To say she was intense is an understatement, and all we could think about was getting that first beer in to celebrate Pete and his bike still being alive after his first proper crash.

    On Sunday 21st October we left the Purple House Hostel in David and rode to Panama city. Having a 6-pack of beers left from the previous evening, I decided to strap them on top of my luggage.

    [​IMG]


    Little did I know there would be a strong police presence during this ride, and that we would be pulled over twice for speeding! Amazingly on both occasions the police officer wrote out the ticket, had a look around the bikes and then proceeded to say “I have to give you this ticket as this is my job, but if you are leaving Panama then don’t bother paying it”. At least this is how Pete translated what he was trying to say, and who was I to argue. The first copper even spotted the 6-pack of beers strapped to the bike. He looked at me and shook his head, but I quickly explained that they were only in case of an emergency. He laughed and waved us on our way.

    In Panama city we stayed at a belter of a hostel called Lunas Castle. This is a huge colonial mansion, hosting an inside table tennis table, conveniently placed next to a fridge full of beer, and an on-sight bar which is popular with the young Panamanians. It also has a huge basement movie house and a cracking group of staff.

    [​IMG]

    The outside courtyard is surrounded by flats, which seem to have a great community spirit and a bad-ass ghetto sound system. All of this meant we found little reason to venture much further than the local Pizza house on the corner of the street, but we sure had an excellent time relaxing off the bikes. Also, during our stay in Panama the government threatened to sell land in the duty-free zone of Colon, which subsequently led to heavy handed violent protests, which was a good excuse for staying inside the hostel!

    Oh, actually we did manage one tourist attraction….a visit to the Panama Canal. This happens to be in the middle of nowhere, so one has to be careful not to get mugged off by the ruthless taxi drivers. Upon arrival our driver tried to double the price. We said no chance, to which he surprisingly replied in English “get the f*ck out of my car”. Nice, what a jerk. The canal itself was interesting to see; it’s a huge engineering feat and a massive money maker, with some of the huge cargo ships paying up to something like $375,000 to pass through. I was amazed at how many tourists go to visit the canal. Hundreds of people using their phones to record a ship travelling through the locks, must make a fantastic video to show friends and family, errr yeah. Personally I think a photo is more appropriate.

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    At this stage I’m sure everyone reading this is wondering “How did they get from Panama to Colombia?”. Well that’s a good question. The Darien Gap, although measuring approximately only 30miles wide, is a large swarth of undeveloped swampland and forest, with no apparent roads or tracks to connect Central America with South America. To make matters worse, the area is populated with groups of guerillas involved with drug trafficking, who are known to have committed countless assassinations, kidnappings and human rights violations. Needless to say on this trip we did not attempt to ride across the gap. Our options were to either get a boat or fly. After hearing many horror stories regarding stupidly drunk captains and long delays out at sea, we decided to go for the more expensive, but quick and reliable option of flying ourselves and the bikes from Panama to Bogota. This process cost $900 per bike, plus our own tickets. It could potentially buy us weeks in South America, so we deemed it acceptable value. After all, as Pete says “You can’t put a price on finding a Colombian Princess”.

    Struggling to communicate with ‘Girag’ over the phone, on Wednesday 24th October we decided to ride to the airport and find their office. Much to our surprise, upon arrival they explained there was a flight leaving tomorrow. At this point we raced back to the hostel, loaded the bikes with our luggage and shot back to the airport, making it to the customs office just in time to get an exit stamp. Despite being in a frantic rush, the customs lady insisted on telling us how beautiful SHE was. “Look at my beautiful dark skin, very very nice, and my beautiful dark eyes, very very nice”. I think she wanted to join us for the rest of the trip, and I began to worry that Pete was weighing up the possibility. As soon as we could we bolted to the Girag office, emptied the fuel and disconnected the batteries, the bikes were ready to go!


    [​IMG]

    It’s always a strange discomforting feeling leaving your bike in the hands of some strangers. At least it’s not an expensive shiny BMW. The DRz can take a drop or two, so we can only hope to see them in one piece on the other side.

    The following day we found out that due to the demonstrations in Panama the flight had not left. We started worrying how long this delay might be. Thankfully on Friday 26th October we received good news, the bikes had landed in Bogota. With this now sorted we decided to stay in Lunas Castle for one last ‘Halloween’ blow-out, before heading to the airport to catch a flight to Colombia.

    [​IMG]


    On Saturday 27th October we caught a taxi to the airport, hoping to bag a bargain last minute flight. Not sure we got ‘deal of the century’, but we managed to get 2 seats on the next available flight, leaving us with a mere 3 hour wait at the airport. Just enough time to sink a bucket of fried chicken. Dreams.
  15. peteFoulkes

    peteFoulkes Been here awhile

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  16. rtwpaul

    rtwpaul out riding...

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    Feb 7, 2011
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    3,351
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    round the world
    thats funny they did the exact same thing to me, Ireland, thats where all gringos come from right??? :rofl:rofl
  17. peteFoulkes

    peteFoulkes Been here awhile

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    hahah. Comical! And we thought we were special.
  18. peteFoulkes

    peteFoulkes Been here awhile

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    May 30, 2011
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    With every new city comes a new objective. Bogotá, Colombia&#8217;s capital brought two. The first of which was to regain possession of our bikes from Colombian customs. The second, remain focused and do not get trapped in Colombia&#8217;s outstanding party scene. Neither of which proved as easy as we had initially hoped. Landing in Bogotá just 10 minutes before our hostel&#8217;s party bus was due to leave for some Saturday night carnage got our Colombian experience off to a very nice start indeed. We quickly realised objective two was almost an impossibility.

    6 years ago I traveled Colombia extensively when backpacking around South America and since then I&#8217;ve not stopped dreaming about returning on my own motorcycle. The time had finally arrived&#8230;

    The bikes were being held by Girag, the freight company we used to fly them over the Darian Gap from Panama City and before they could release them, we had to acquire the necessary paperwork from Colombian customs to prove that everything was fine and dandy. For some reason the &#8216;Coffee Break Espanol&#8217; podcasts I listened to in an attempt to learn some Spanish before arriving in Latin America didn&#8217;t cover clearing a motorcycle through customs, so this process always tends to be a little stressful for me. It took two full working days at the airport&#8217;s cargo office and so much photocopying that I could physically see the impact my visit to Colombia was having upon the Amazon before the bikes were released. Customs procedures have been the same the world over. What on earth can be done with all those sheets of paper and will they really ever be referenced again? Bizarre procedures I&#8217;ve come to realise I will never understand.

    It&#8217;s important you buy insurance for your bike whilst entering a new country in Latin America. We&#8217;ll hopefully never know its actual worth but our main reason for doing so is to not give any bent coppers an opportunity to request bribes for not possessing the correct paper work. Locating the office in smog filled Bogotá on a rainy day proved a real pain in the ass but thankfully we managed to enlist the assistance of a very knowledgeable local who was happy to help. Step up to the stage Miss Andrea Herrera, otherwise known to us as &#8216;Senorita Leyenda

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    Andrea pretty much single-handedly runs the show at the hostel we stayed at as well organising all of the hostel party events. She adopted the name of La Leyenda because of her eagerness to go the extra mile to help us out whenever we needed her. Her excellent sense of humour made her great company and her willingness to speak perfectly clear and slow Spanish made her the ideal Spanish teacher. We&#8217;d landed in Bogotá in the depths of the Halloween celebrations, a festival these guys appear to take very seriously and costume parties seemed to be taking place every day for an entire week. We always knew we were at risk to losing valuable time to nursing hangovers in Bogotá but we managed to escape after 7 nights and began the 500km ride North West to Medellin.

    Although her busy schedule in the hostel meant that we couldn&#8217;t spend a huge amount of time with her during our time in Bogotá, we were lucky enough to be blessed with the company of La Leyenda during our time in Medellin as we had conveniently timed our visit there with her vacation from work. It was excellent to spend time with her.

    As far as I&#8217;m concerned, Medellin really can be classified as one of the greatest cities this world has to offer. It&#8217;s fusion of European style squares and restaurants with the vibrant Latin American characters of its people make it a place I would choose to live at the drop of a hat. Another outstanding party scene meant that one week later we were questioning what on earth had just happened for the previous 7 days. Words will never do as good a job as this video clip below to explain how we managed to lose that week in Medellin. This Sergio Mendes track quite literally set every single Colombian dance floor on fire every time it was dropped.

    <iframe width="620" height="515" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/2h53gXHgBHA" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
  19. peteFoulkes

    peteFoulkes Been here awhile

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    Not too shabby eh? A nice little taster of the film we hope to compile on our return to London. Seriously, if you’re planning a trip around this region at least double the amount of time you have already given yourself for Colombia. You will not regret it. The one morning we did manage to wake without too much of a painful hangover, Senorita Leyenda insisted that we visited Guantape, a unique rock formation offering some incredible views.

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    The hostels in Central and South America have always been good enough to find a safe place for us to park the bikes during our stay. Our hostel in Medellin was no exception and we rode the bikes in to the locked compound and parked the bikes up on the football court out the back. Despite believing that everything was fully secure, every single tool that we owned was stolen off the back of Jon’s bike during our first nights stay. It was a gutting moment when we discovered what had happened but despite there being a sign up stating that the hostel will not be responsible for any stolen goods, the Irish owner of the hostel was genuinely disappointed when he realised this had taken place from within his own hostel. He insisted that he took us out the following day and replaced absolutely everything that had been taken. He also refused to charge us for the nights we spent in his hostel. A very kind gesture that will never be forgotten.

    Fearing that nowhere could possibly top Medellin, on the 13th November we reluctantly packed up and said our goodbyes to Andrea and the others we had met there and headed south to the Ecuador border. During the pack-up I found a bag of Daz washing powder I’d bagged up weeks earlier and completely forgot about right at the bottom of my bag. I don’t know how this made it through the Colombian customs checks without raising any questions.

    [​IMG]

    We knew it would be at least a two-day ride given our late departure after saying our goodbyes, with a stop over wherever we found ourselves shortly before sunset. The first day was relatively uneventful with little to report although progress was painfully slow due to the volume of traffic on the mountain roads. We ended up sleeping in a tiny little mountain town, which judging by the reaction of the locals had seen very few foreign riders pass through.

    Reluctant to cross the border late in the afternoon, we’d agreed to aim for a town called Pasto that day and cross at first light the following morning. We’d been having a decent day. The traffic was much lighter than the previous day and the road provided some excellent views. We were no more than 80km short of our destination when the afternoon took a nasty turn and I had a high-speed off. I can’t be sure what happened during the moments before it occurred, perhaps my mind had slipped back to the girls of Medellin as it had done so many times previously that day but I found myself in a deep water ditch on the side of the road at around 60 or 70mph. As I was just about feeling like I had re-gained control again, I hit a huge concrete block which sent me and the bike flying. It was the only concrete block in sight so it was an unfortunate place for me to find myself wrestling with the ditch. It was a big old drop on the right hand side so thankfully the barrier stopped me from going any further.

    [​IMG]

    After picking myself and the bike up, it was obvious that the damage to the bike was severe. There was oil and water all over the place. My sump guard had been completely ripped off and the block had penetrated all the way through the frame and the crank case. It really wasn’t looking good. The Forcefield body Armour took the brunt of the impact for me and short of a few cuts and bruises and being a little shaken up, I was OK. I had no idea what to do. My bike seemed to be a complete write-off and there was minimal passing traffic to offer any assistance. I was absolutely gutted and convinced it was the end of the line for the bike which had very nearly taken me around the whole world. All the work that had gone in to it, all the support we had received from Suzuki and various other companies and it was all completely over in an incident lasting no more than a few seconds. I was devastated.

    We flagged down all of the passing trucks and large vans that passed by to see if they were able to stick me and the bike in the back to get us to Pasto but they all seemed to be full of goods which they were taking over the border to Ecuador. I pushed the bike further up the mountain to a group of 3 small shacks where we sat for hours just hoping that someone would turn up. Sun was setting and we were discussing our options. The locals we sat with made it clear that it’s not a safe place to be after dark and the chance of somebody passing after sun set who will be able to help was minimal. The options we were left with were to ride two up on Jon’s bike to Pasto where we knew we could get checked in to a hotel and perhaps find somebody to return with us the following day to pick up the bike. That is of course, if the bike was still there. There was no way we could put two lots of luggage plus two people on one bike so we would only be able to take the valuable stuff with us and hope that the other stuff was there on our return. Far from ideal.

    Our only other option at that stage was to sleep next to the bike and wait for sunrise to see if we could get help then. Again, far from ideal but at that stage, it looked like the best option. We’d pretty much given up hope on finding help that night and had resided to the fact that we would be pitching up the tents next to the road when we heard the noise of an engine climbing up the steep hill towards us. When we realised it was a pickup truck with no load in the back I jumped out in front of it and explained my story to the driver, a character who was about to play a key role in the success of this Tough Miles mission, Ariel Moran!

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    Despite the bike still heavily leaking oil and water, once Ariel heard about my situation he was more than happy to get it strapped up in the back and cleared a space for me in the passenger seat. Yet another incredible stroke of Tough Miles good fortune.

    [​IMG]
  20. peteFoulkes

    peteFoulkes Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    157
    Location:
    London
    After driving a good 20km or so with Brookbanks following behind, it was clear that Ariel was a genuinely nice chap who was going to do everything he could to help us out. He knew we had a long day and insisted that we stopped for a bite to eat and explained how a Colombian coffee could make the situation much better. In fairness, he wasn’t wrong. After we’d finished up in a restaurant on the side of the road, he drove us to the center of Pasto and directly to a mechanic known locally as the Maestro. Ariel was not wasting any time. He knew we needed to get back on the road and was going to do everything he could within his control to make sure that happened as soon as possible. The Maestro’s workshop was no bigger than my old bedroom in London but he seemed confident that he was able to help. He parked my bike up in the car park opposite and told me to be back at first light. Ariel then drove us on to a hotel just further down the road were we both passed out pretty much immediately. First thing the following morning, The Maestro was hard at work seeing what was possible with the damaged bike.

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    It was clear that the crank case had taken a major impact and Jon and I really couldn’t see that bike leaving Pasto any time soon. The Maestro made it clear that sourcing parts for a DRz in Colombia was difficult at the best of times never mind from the small town of Pasto but he did also make it very clear that he was confident he could work with the damaged parts to get the bike up and running. I liked his optimism but the task we had set him was no minor job. Despite having full confidence in his ability, I really wasn’t sure if the damage was repairable without sourcing new parts.

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    We’d contacted our Suzuki lifeline who immediately jumped on grouping the parts we needed together in the UK but from what we had read online, Colombian customs were likely to hold on to the parts for up to 20 days. After all the time we had spent partying in Bogotá and Medellin, that was time we simply did not have. We also looked at the option of buying a new engine or even a new bike in Colombia but again, from the info we had found online, registering the bike in my name could be a lengthy process in itself and that was only after we had found a suitable bike. Without the necessary paperwork crossing the other South American borders would no doubt either involve hefty bribes or may not even be possible at all.

    It was important at least one of us made it all the way down to the bottom of Argentina to complete the mission so we decided to give it until the 25th November before Jon would have to ride on solo. I would then do everything I could to get back on the road and see if I could eventually catch him. This option was far from ideal. Jon doesn’t speak any Spanish and the risk of him having an accident or major break down in the middle of nowhere alone was clearly not a nice thought.

    During the course of the next 7 days, we watched the Maestro perform some wizardry neither of us believed would ever be possible. Within hours on the first morning the bike was on its side and the damaged part of the frame was cut out. The next job was to repair the magnesium clutch housing cover. He had it sent to a local specialist whilst he worked on a fix for the crank case itself. Without welding equipment in his workshop, Maestro relied on a welder further down the road to botch up the crank case. The welder requested that the engine was dropped out of the frame before any welding could take place. Maestro quickly got to work and within no more than an hour or so the engine was out and in between his legs on his scooter as he tootled off down the road to hand it over to the welder. Unfortunately, due to a backlog of work, it was the welder who held up this process and my engine was simply dumped in a queue.

    Pasto had little on offer for us to kill time whilst we waited for the welder to jump to it and we found ourselves eating in the same chicken restaurant, Mister Pollo, twice a day everyday we were in town. It rained every day and the Tough Miles spirits were at an all time low. This, however, is where Ariel stepped up to the challenge of being a Tough Miles Skipper remarkably well. Before we knew it he had us out nailing bottles of rum until the early hours of the morning and looking like a couple of idiots trying to dance salsa in an attempt to forget about the situation with my engine. Just what the doctor ordered.

    After waiting the course of a weekend, bearing in mind EVERYTHING shuts on Sundays in Latin America, the welder then dropped more bad news on us. He was unable to weld the crank housing up whilst the engine was still in one piece as the vapors from the oil were effecting the quality of the weld. He insisted that the engine was completely stripped before he could attempt another weld. It was yet another wet afternoon in cold and windy Pasto when we received this news and we both really started to doubt if a fix was possible. We would be relying on Maestro to completely pull the engine apart, then relying on the welder to seal the crank case and then back to the Maestro to completely rebuild the engine.

    We had no choice so we had to agree to it. Within minutes Maestro had his apprentices step to it. Like lions to a kill my engine was torn into a hundred pieces and spread all over the workshop floor. I could barely watch. I thought that was officially the nail in the coffin and my DRz was officially over. The crank case was then back between the Maestro’s legs on his scooter and straight to the back of the queue at the welders yard.

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    When we finally received the parts back the results looked reasonably promising and the Maestro was absolutely adamant he could have the engine rebuilt in no time.

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    The damaged part of the frame had been replaced by welding in a new piece which had been bent to the perfect shape and even included an engine mount which exactly mirrored that of the original and within an afternoon the engine was completely rebuilt. It seemed the guys had really managed what they promised they would do.

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    Maestro and his team had performed an incredible job and by day 215, Thursday 22nd November the bike was up and running and ready for its first test ride to make sure everything felt OK. Other than the kick-start spring being seated in the incorrect position causing a nasty noise, the bike felt as good as new. Once this had been addressed, the following morning we were packed up and ready to give it its first serious ride. After our goodbyes to the Maestro and his team it was onwards to Ecuador to see how far this repair job really would make it. Maestro and his team had turned a bike around which in the U.K. would be dismissed by an insurance company as a complete write-off. All this labour came in at just £170 GBP. Unbelievable.

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    We owe so much to Ariel for pulling over and offering to help us that day. Without him my trip could have ended right there and then in Pasto. Other than the promise that I would send him a Beatles CD on my return to the U.K., Ariel wanted absolutely nothing in return. Ariel, thank you so much!

    Whilst on the Baja California peninsula in Mexico, we met up with two other riders from the States known as the Enduro Bros. They were also on a mission to Argentina on a similar time scale and after they stopped for a short stint of volunteering their plan was to catch us up so we could ride four strong. Just 7 days after we had left Pasto with the newly repaired bike we received a Skype call from one of the brothers, Aaron informing us that his brother Nathan had had a serious fall and completely shattered his leg. Unbelievably we later realised that he crashed in pretty much exactly the same place as I had just outside of Pasto. They too had to endure day after day of Mister Pollo whilst Nathan underwent serious surgery to insert metal pins into his leg. It was only at that point I realised just how grateful I am that this trip can go on.

    The bikes feeling good. Time to keep drifting. Next stop Ecuador.