The Pack Track - RTW with our dogs

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by ThePackTrack, Sep 23, 2015.

  1. ThePackTrack

    ThePackTrack The Pack Track | Pillion Pooch

    Joined:
    May 22, 2015
    Oddometer:
    155
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    BORDER DELUGE
    May 17, 2014

    Never do a border crossing on an empty stomach. We've done it a few times now and it makes a hot and slow process so much worse. Crossing in to Mexico we were lucky to have two experienced travellers with us, who both spoke Spanish. The countries that have followed – Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua – have progressively got hotter and slower. These border crossings have taken between 1.5 hours to 5.5 hours.

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    Janell handles border crossings for The Pack Track. She is the most organised out of the three when it comes to paperwork and is picking up Spanish phrases a little faster than Stu and Skyla. To cross a border (a bridge over a river in most cases) we have tourist visas, motorbike permits and live animal import/export (that's Skyla). The process involves moving from the immigration and customs queues in one country to get stamps and permit, then moving to the administration buildings of the next country to get more stamps and permits. Sometimes you pay some money. Interestingly not all countries require insurance so when its not mandatory we don't get it. Oh, travelling in a group is handy as someone can always be watching the bikes. Belize is a very small country in both population and area; the population is about the size of Newcastle in NSW at 340,000. Another interesting fact is that its an English speaking country so it was a good first border crossing for us on our own. Everything was fairly straightforward except that we had not completed the online form to import Skyla. A $50 'fine' quickly sorted this problem out and we were on our way. Belize city, located on the east coast used to be the capital of the country but the coastal area is prone to flooding and tsunami's therefore was strategically moved inland to Balmopan but Belize city remains the commercial centre of the country. We spent our one night in Balmopan. Visiting the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich was a major highlight of our trip so far...to our surprise, Skyla was allowed in with us and we had great fun climbing up and down the ruins taking silly photo's.

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    Janell came down with a cold leaving Belize so we stayed two nights in Guatemala in a more resort style accommodation (still within our budget); when you're sick on the road you really want the creature comforts around you. Unfortunately we didn't do any exploring but we stayed in the vicinity of the Tikal ruins in a very pretty town called El Remate, about 30km out of Santa Elena. Janell described the area as a great place for a honey moon; peaceful and pretty.

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    To Be Cont.
    #21
  2. ThePackTrack

    ThePackTrack The Pack Track | Pillion Pooch

    Joined:
    May 22, 2015
    Oddometer:
    155
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    From Guatemala we spent two nights travelling across El Salvador and then one night in Honduras. Our entry into Honduras was dramatic to say the least. Our research suggested the only payment required for entry was USD$15 for Skyla. We had tried to withdraw money from 5 ATM's in El Salvador unsuccessfully so rocked up to Honduras with only $50 thinking this would be fine and we'd have better luck with ATM's in Honduras. After a lot of running around, very vocal arguments between the immigration officer and Chief, USD$91 and 5.5 hot, sweaty hours of standing around we were allowed into Honduras. Initial arguments with the Honduras immigration officer began when he said entry required a fee of $35 per bike. Janell had paid for Skyla which left us with $35 only. As we couldn't pay we wanted to return to El Salvador but the immigration officer had taken our passports and registration paperwork before telling us about the $35 fee per bike ($70 in total for both of us). We explained we didn't have enough money and he wouldn't give us back our documents to re-enter El Salvador. A local 'fixer' got involved translating for us and took Stu back in to El Salvador to find an ATM that did work and we got the money out but on returning, an officer from the El Salvador immigration took Stu away from the 'fixer' and explained that entry into Honduras is free and the fixers work with the immigration officer to take money from people. The problem is when they have your documents you have no choice but to pay. And lets face it, once you reach 4 hours of standing around in the sun (there is no shade to park and wait) you just want to pay and get out of there. It doesn't seem fair to judge a country based on one experience. We will certainly be back to Honduras one day to spend quality time visiting the Copan ruins and other sites it has to offer.

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    Nicaragua was a delight after Honduras. Easy border crossing and lush green country side as soon as you leave the customs buildings. We both wanted to just stop and spend a week in Leon and another week San Juan del Sur. Leon reminded us of San Miguelle de Allende in Mexico. We stayed at a hotel with a pool owned by a charming French family. To top it off, they had a brand new puppy running around with Janell running around after it when no-one was looking. Shhhhh, don't tell Skyla!!! San Juan del Sur is described as Bali 20 years ago. We haven't been to Bali but its a great beach destination with a lot of surf shops, restaurants, bars and cheap decent accommodation. Sunset over the Pacific Ocean with a Nicaraguan beer in hand is a must.

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    A bit about the riding for those interested. The main roads through Central America have been really good, much better than we expected; only a few patches of compacted gravel/dirt but at this time of year its not raining so they are just a bit dusty if you're following another vehicle. The difficulty for us has been rushing of coarse. Often the roads are single lane and have a lot of truck movement transporting freight. Through the mountains this can be a slow and tiring ride in first gear going up hills and trying to hop around the semi's at any opportunity. We work well as a team in these situation and the helmet comms have been fantastic as the person in front is able to tell the person behind when its clear to move around the traffic. To put our journey so far in perspective, we have put around 6000 miles on each bike since leaving Dallas, Texas, about 7 weeks ago. We would however suggest around 12 weeks just for the route we've taken. We missed seeing the Pacific Ocean in Mexico which could easily have added another two weeks on the timeline. Coming up next is Costa Rica and coffee!!! Our bikes are in need of a service and some minor repair work. We are also in need of a few days off to give our muscles a break and stretch our legs before heading to Panama and figuring out how to get The Pack Track into South America.

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    We very randomly crossed paths with a very famous riding couple that have been on the road for over 10 years; Lisa and Simon. We pulled in to a coastal town in Belize just after the border crossing for lunch and were packing up to hit the road when they pulled up to us to say hello. We instantly recognised who it was and were a little awestruck. Lisa and Simon very graciously spent a couple of hours with us looking over our bikes and maps to give us some help and feedback on on the next series in our trip...South America.
    #22
  3. ThePackTrack

    ThePackTrack The Pack Track | Pillion Pooch

    Joined:
    May 22, 2015
    Oddometer:
    155
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    COSTA RICA
    May 29, 2014

    By the time we reached Costa Rice we had put around 6000 miles (10,000km) on our bikes since leaving Texas. That means its time for a service. Luckily, back in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, we met Ricardo by chance. Janell was standing on the balcony of our hostel in San Miguel checking out the view with Skyla when a gentlemen yelled from bellow “Are you going to Manaus?” followed by “come downstairs” so we did and introduced ourselves to Ricardo. He invited us to take a walk around San Miguel during which time we exchanged stories and he sold us on spending a few days in San Jose, Costa Rica, where he knew a good mechanic if we needed any work done.

    We arrived in San Jose late on 14 May 2014. In fact it had been dark for some time and lightly raining. We had only a street name to find our accommodation and after riding around for some time with no luck, decided to go to McDonald’s to get wifi and contact the owner for more specific directions. A somewhat ironic situation unfolded as Janell got lost, missing a turn that Stu had taken. Without any navigation and a spaghetti of one-way streets she gave up trying to backtrack and went in search of the McDonald’s. No luck there either, she stumbled upon a Pizza Hut. No-one spoke any English but they seemed to understand "lost" and "McDonald’s" so one of the delivery guys very kindly hopped on his motorbike, beckoning Janell to follow, and escorted her all the way to the nearest McDonald’s. He even blocked 2 lanes of traffic so she could get in to the very challenging car park. It was not the McDonalds Stu and Skyla were at but both ends had wifi and were able to use google+ locations to see each other on a map and work from there.

    At 10pm, wet and weary, we finally pulled in to our accommodation that we had arranged through airbnb. We stayed in a family home in Heredia with a lovely lady who works at the university teaching cooking. Over breakfast the next morning we discovered that she usually rents rooms out for two to three week periods to adults who want to come to Costa Rica, take Spanish lessons and do some sight seeing. Opportunities like this are out there if you're brave enough to try something different. Some Spanish lessons definitely wouldn't go astray if you're travelling through Central and South America.

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    While our stay in Heredia was lovely it was a little out of our usual budget and not central so for the next three nights we stayed at the top of a mountain at Hotel Paradise Costa Rica, $35 a night total including breakfast. Check out the view we got to enjoy...

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    Costa Rica has a very interesting modern history which has resulted in a prosperous country that is quite different to its neighbours. In 1948/49 there was a civil war in Costa Rica that resulted in the abolishment of its military and today, there is still no military. San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica and remnants of the war are visible if you go looking. We were told that San Jose also had the first McDonalds outside of America. We counted 9 MacDonalds during our transiting around the city with a population around 300,000.

    First on our Costa Rica to-do list was getting the bikes serviced. Work before pleasure is really important on a trip like this. Ricardo met us at Hector Bujan's motorbike workshop (HLBujan Taller de Motorcicletas - hlbujan@yahoo.com) at 8am and it took all day non-stop for Hector to get all the work done for us. Ricardo had given Hector a heads-up about us prior to arriving in Costa Rica so he put all his work aside for the day to get our bikes done asap. To speed things along even more and keep the cost down, Ricardo drove us around to different shops to get various parts for the bikes.

    So Janells bike had:
      • oil change
      • new chain and sprocket
      • replaced factory air filter with a K&M filter guaranteed to last 1 000 000 miles (that should make it around the world)
      • new right blinker, not a BMW part but does the job
      • new front steering bearings

    Stus bike had:
      • oil change
      • air filter clean (Stu's bike had a K&M air filter already so it just needed a clean)
      • new right blinker, also not a BMW part


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    With the 'work' out the way, the next day Ricardo took the three of us to see a volcano, Parque Nacional Volcan Irazu, at an altitude of 3432m. Skyla really enjoyed the car ride and it was cold on top of the mountain so she was happy to stay in the car while we took a walk around. It was a perfect day thanks to Ricardo. Had a coffee at the top of the volcano and bought some local coffee liqueur, stopped at a unique restaurant with business cards everywhere for lunch on the way down, bought some local produce to munch on and took lots of photo's.

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    To Be Cont.
    #23
  4. ThePackTrack

    ThePackTrack The Pack Track | Pillion Pooch

    Joined:
    May 22, 2015
    Oddometer:
    155
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
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    On a clear day, from the top of the volcano you can see the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. We didn't have a clear day, in fact we had lots and lots of clouds but it was just as spectacular standing on the mouth of the volcano above the clouds. Before returning us to our hotel Ricardo took us for a drive around San Jose to seem some of the highlights including a Church that his great grandmother funded.

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    Our three days in Costa Rica were so productive and enjoyable thanks to Ricardo. We accomplished a lot and could not have done it without his help. Thanks again Ricardo

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    Coming up next we have to get from Panama to South America.
    #24
  5. ThePackTrack

    ThePackTrack The Pack Track | Pillion Pooch

    Joined:
    May 22, 2015
    Oddometer:
    155
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    PANAMANIA
    June 10, 2014

    You'd think we'd we pretty good at border crossings by now, having done more than a handful and so fresh in our minds. Well the Costa Rica to Panama border crossing was an absolute shocker for The Pack Track.

    Everything had been going so well when we left San Jose, Costa Rica. We took the stunning mountain pass rather than the fast ocean road to the border of Panama. This road is the reason you ride a bike. The distance is about 100km shorter than the ocean highway but because of the terrain it takes about the same amount of time, roughly fours hours.

    It was around 5:30m when we arrived at the border crossing. The plan was to get through the border and then ride to David to spend our first night in Panama, only an hour past the border so not to worry. Wrong! Complications hit us straight away. The only machine to swipe passports for the exit of Costa Rica was broken. With no way around the process we had to sit and wait...and wait...and wait until it worked again. At around 8pm it started working and we proceeded to exit Costa Rica.

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    Now to our second problem. As it was late we decided to stay at a hotel between the borders; no mans land. This seemed like the sensible thing to do and kind of cool so we found a good place for $24 a night with secure parking for the bikes. We were all really tired so straight to bed and after a good nights sleep we leisurely made our way over to the Panama border only to be told that we couldn't enter Panama because the exit date on our passport for Costa Rica had to be the same as the entrance date to Panama. We tried to get around it but they wouldn't budge so back to lining up in Costa Rica to exit for the second time. The lines were long and the weather was hot. After what seemed like forever we had all the paperwork and stamps for us and the bikes to exit Costa Rica and enter Panama. Now we just had to sort out Skyla.

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    Our third obstacle. We followed the very lengthy process to import Skyla into Panama to the T, moving among four different buildings getting forms filled and signed. finally, around 4pm when we thought it was nearly over, we were told we had to pay $130 (an unusually costly import for a pet) at the bank which closed at 3pm. OMG!!! Back to no mans land to our $24 a night hotel to wait until the bank opened the next morning. Next morning we were at the bank early, paid our $130 and now 2 days behind schedule, hit the road for Panama City.

    Riding into Panama City was a real eye opener. Its huge, modern and with some beautiful architecture. We were really excited about staying a couple of nights and seeing the Panama Canal but firstly we had to figure how to get to South America. Over the past few weeks Stu had been studiously researching and emailing different companies that could fly or sail us all. For those not familiar with this part of the world, there is no road connecting the two continents so you either have to travel by sea or air.

    Time and cost were our priorities for getting to South America. Stuarts dad, Alan, is flying into Manaus on 06 June to join us for the World Cup so we wanted to be there to pick him up from the airport. We arrived in Panama City on 21 May and checked in to a hotel known to assist motorbike travellers with organising transport to South America. We made some enquiries and the staff were very helpful, they had a sail boat leaving on 29 May. Unfortunately this would be too late for us. Later that night however we received confirmation from Seablass Ferry that they could get us on a ferry departing the next day, 22 May but we had to transfer a deposit to secure our position. This was a big decision in a short period of time. We would miss Panama city completely and Janell really wanted to see the Panama canal but we had the commitment of the World Cup so we accepted the position.

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    To Be Cont.
    #25
  6. ThePackTrack

    ThePackTrack The Pack Track | Pillion Pooch

    Joined:
    May 22, 2015
    Oddometer:
    155
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    After paying the deposit we got more detailed information about our voyage to Colombia. Turns out we weren't travelling on a ferry but on a catamaran with a crew of 2 and around 20 other travellers that would take 5 days to reach our destination. Staying positive we rocked up to the wharf ready to board the boat. The bikes were strapped on to the deck of the catamaran, Jacqueline, and off we went. The first few days were relaxing, we stayed around the islands and went swimming and snorkling. The Captain, Jose, took us over to the islands so Skyla could go to the toilet which was a big relief. Skyla had a pretty good time really but got a little vocal when people were splashing around in the water and she wasn't, she did get plenty of time swimming.

    The actual voyage to Colombia was not so pleasant. The seas were quite rough and the boat wasn't in the best condition. Ropes were snapping, we ran out of water and also fuel. During the night the structure of the boat sounded like it was going to snap in two. By the time we reached Cartagena (25 May) everyone on board was well and truly over sailing and couldn't wait to get onto land and have a shower. It was an interesting experience and definitely an adventure we won't forget any time soon!

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    #26
  7. ThePackTrack

    ThePackTrack The Pack Track | Pillion Pooch

    Joined:
    May 22, 2015
    Oddometer:
    155
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    Whoops, this one is out of order!!!

    GEARED UP & RIDING
    July 10, 2014

    The Pack Track slowly packed up the tent in torrential rain in San Antonio, the next destination only an hour away in a little town called Dilley. Our intention was to stay a few days with Hank of Motohank, a friend of a friend from Dallas. We were advised that Hank had extensive experience with adventure motorbike travel through South America and as a bonus for us, is also a BMW Motorcycle Tech with over 20 years experience. Our short extended to a very worthwhile two weeks as Hank shared his travel experiences with us and made some improvements to our bikes, most importantly, replacing the factory shocks with the 'over engineered' Touratech shocks, which are well suited to a trip such as ours.

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    Waiting for the parts and installation also gave us time to visit the old Missions in San Antonio, ride the much talked about Hill Country and pick Hank's brains about what to expect, what tools and spares to bring and how to reduce our load. Hank culled our tools to the bare essentials, quite rightly pointing out that if we got in real trouble, we'll always find a truck to put the bikes on and have it driven to the nearest mechanic where we can borrow tools or just get them to do the work for a reasonable price while we enjoy the locally brewed beers. He also took a look at our clothes recommending light weight materials that dry easily and ordering us Touratech Pannier Liners for our clothes insisting it would make life easier. After weeks on the road now we can confidently say that the liners make life much easier when transferring our necessities to a hotel room; the liners just slip in and out of the panniers and after a hard days ride, this can make all the difference.

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    An added benefit of staying in Texas was meeting Jochen, a very good friend of Hanks. Jochen was also heading to the World Cup, and Hank was looking after a bike for him that he had purchased and used a year ealrier on a trip to Mexico and Guatamala. Having everyone around seemed to give Hank the travel bug, and he quickly offered to ride with us into Mexico to help with the border crossing and introduce us to Mexico. Hank allowed 3 days to be away from the shop, and on a sunny Wednesday morning, we all set off.

    The border crossing was far easier then expected, having someone with border crossing experience and who spoke Spanish was more than helpful. The biggest surprise though was that no attention was paid to Skyla! We got the required stamps for our passports and the bikes and when we enquired about Skyla, they just said to make sure we had her vaccination record and with the required paperwork we could proceed. Three weeks and multiple checkpoints later and we still haven't been asked to show this paperwork!!

    The roads in Mexico were not at all as bad as we had imagined. We'd been given mixed reviews of what to expect, but to be honest, all the negative comments were from people that had not ventured beyond the border themselves. You do need to concentrate a little more then you would in Australia or the US as not every hazard is signposted (including Topes, Mexican speed bumps) and sharp curves often don't have crash barriers, even if the drop is a couple of hundred meters to certain death.

    Our initial route was to head directly towards Monterrey, Mexico's 3rd largest city. Due to time constraints, we opted to drive through the city rather then take a bypass and this was an experience in itself. Hank instructed us to remain very close, he said he wanted us to be able to touch each other the whole time. This was a constant combination of high speed merges with centimetres to spare, fast acceleration and braking, entering fast speed traffic with split second gaps, changing multiple lanes quickly to make short notice turns and trying not to lose anyone along the way. Thankfully we all got through to the other side without issue.

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    Our first night in Mexico was in the small town of Santiago, a short scenic ride south of Monterrey. This took us part way over the mountain and made for some very awe inspiring riding. We found a good little cabin for the 4 of us with dinner provided. While dinner was being prepared we took the opportunity to walk to the nearby shops to grab some beers and take photo's of the mountain surrounding and local architecture. Before long we were back in the cabin eating authentic Mexican food, drinking Corona's and discussing the days experience.

    The next day we started up the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range and on to Real de Catorce or simply Real. Real is an old silver mining town which was all but abandoned during the Mexican Revolution and now gaining popularity as a tourist destination due to its rustic buildings and authentic culture. The roads into Real and throughout are all coble stone and from a riding perspective very challenging. When coble stone roads age, the sand between erode leaving polished rounded rocks of varying sizes that can be as slippery as ice. Add this to the fact that Real is on the side of a mountain with steep roads and you end up with some difficult riding conditions. The town itself was lovely, old buildings converted into hotels and shops, deteriorating on the outside but completely renovated on the inside. We took a leisurely 2 hour horse ride to one of the mines and learnt of the history dating back to 1700 and the decline of the silver value. Being at nearly 3000m, the atmosphere was thin, with the beating midday sun we all got our share of sunburn, even with hat and sunscreen. We stayed in Real for 2 nights during which time Hank headed back to Dilley to return to his shop and work. On the morning we left, we also said farewell to Jochen, who decided to stay another night, we knew it wouldn't be long before we run into him again.

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    To Be Cont.
    #27
  8. ThePackTrack

    ThePackTrack The Pack Track | Pillion Pooch

    Joined:
    May 22, 2015
    Oddometer:
    155
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
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    The ride out of Real we very eventful, both of us took a fall on the steep coble stone roads. Luckily there was only minor damage to the bikes and the three of us were fine, Skyla came out of her tent wagging her tail as if to say lets do it again. With the bikes safely at the bottom of the mountain, we headed off for our next adventure, San Miguel.
    We spent 3 nights in San Miguel at the start of the Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter). This was a very special time to be in town as the celebrations were everywhere. On Palm Sunday, we watched a parade through town with day time fireworks (just big explosions that set off car alarms to add to the ambience). These fireworks were used throughout the Easter period and every one of them startled Skyla, which set off a chain reaction of barking dogs throughout whichever street we happened to be in. San Miguel is an expensive town by Mexico standards, this is due to a very large US Citizen presence, many retired American's move to San Miguel and this brings money and a more western culture, art galleries here were well worth the visit.

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    #28
    roadcapDen likes this.
  9. ThePackTrack

    ThePackTrack The Pack Track | Pillion Pooch

    Joined:
    May 22, 2015
    Oddometer:
    155
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    FALL AT 3000 M
    July 15, 2014

    Janell lay there upside-down screaming for help, head resting on a concrete beam which ran along the bottom of the deep gutter, her legs sticking up the steep incline holding up 250kg of bike. The bike was also upside-down with fuel pouring out of the breathing tube. Stuart quickly pulled his bike up and ran to her assistance. He took the weight, enough for Janell to slip out from under the bike and then allow it to fall about 1.5m to the bottom of the gutter. Luckily there was no signs of injury, although Janell was in a bit of shock, holding her broken rear-view mirror and cursing Skyla who was the reason for the emergency stop.

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    The road was through the mountain pass to the north of Oaxaca, a lovely city we had spent the Easter weekend at getting involved in the festivities and visiting local ruins and craft towns. We had been expecting some paperwork to arrive and so waited 2 days longer then anticipated; this time of course is never wasted as there is always more to see. We did however have the added pressure of meeting up with Greg (Stu's brother) in Cancun about 1500km away, so with 3 days til this appointment, we decided we could no longer wait for the paperwork and had to get going. It occurred to us that a simple return flight for Janell would be all that would be required to solve our dilemma, a reminder that you need to keep thinking outside the box while travelling.

    So we decided on the Wednesday morning to take off. We packed up the bikes and checked the mail one more time, which involved a trip into the town centre to a hotel the paperwork had been addressed to. It was after lunch by the time all this was done but we had been held up too long and needed to make some progress for the day. We punched the destination into the GPS and started on our way. The initial GPS route was going to take us well around the mountains which would add an extra 400km to the trip compared to the much shorter mountain pass. We realised this just as we entered the motorway and pulled over to rectify. Stuart manually changed the route to head over the mountain but since we had entered the motorway we would need to perform a u turn. Unfortunately the next opportunity to do this was 30km down the road, so roughly an hour later we returned to Oaxaca. By this stage we still hadn't had lunch, so decided to find somewhere to stop and recharge before heading off on what we knew would be a challenging road ahead.

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    Its now roughly 4pm getting back on the road after a late lunch and we quickly discovered that the streets of Oaxaca had become the site of a protest. Taxi's had blocked roads all over Oaxaca, for most parts we could squeeze through but in others areas there were police redirecting us and massive traffic jams. We followed the police directions as given and rode around the cars as far as we could but found the most concentrated blockage to be at the intersection with the main road out of town and over the mountain pass. The traffic was unbelievable, cars were lined up every which way only to be turning around and coming back. We squeezed through to the front, but found that the width of our bikes was too much to fit where most other bikes could. We only had to cross 6 lanes of traffic and we would be free, so we dismounted and looked for a way through. A taxi driver approached us and advised us on a possible way though, but it involved riding over the medium strip and with Janell only just reaching the ground on her tiptoes, was not an ideal situation. However, we had little choice, so over Stu's bike went and clear of the taxi blockade. He dismounted and came back to help Janell. Janell was very hesitant about proceeding, Stuart offered to ride over for her but she wanted to do it herself and there was no reason she shouldn't be able to, she was a good rider and it was only misguided lack of confidence that was stopping her. So with Stu standing alongside and a few of the taxi drivers ready to catch Janell if her bike were to fall, Janell went for it. She powered up and got her front tyre onto the medium strip. Now with the shorter distance to the medium strip she was able to get both feet firmly on the ground, she quickly attempted to get the rear wheel over, but lost traction as the tyre began to slip, before anyone could lend a hand, she rolled back just enough and let it rip. Up she went and over the other side without a problem and very much to her surprise, proof of just how far she had come as a rider of these bigger bikes in the past few months.

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    Up the mountain we headed, Oaxaca had been a pleasant 35C and we were riding without any liners in our pants or jackets. Heading up the mountain the weather quickly changed and the temperature dropped. Before long if was raining and our thermometer was reading 9C; we were all wet, cold and miserable. Now, Skyla being the little princess she is, wouldn't put up with discomfort for long before letting the whole world know. From within her tent Stu heard the most distressing sound, not being a sound he had heard before, he quickly let Janell know (she was riding in front) that he needed to stop to check on her. The roads were windlng and undulating, a safe spot was hard to find. Janell was getting anxious and decided to stop on a slight bend which seemed to have good visibility in both directions. The road was narrow with a cliff on the far side of the road and a deep gutter to the right. Janell pulled up as close to the edge as she deemed safe and put her foot down. Although sealed this section of road was covered in light gravel that was not clearly visible with the setting sun. Janell planted her foot and slipped on the loose surface and over she went, bike and all, down the steep slope and into the gutter, leading with her head which bounced on the concrete beam. The bike quickly following and came to rest being held up by Janell's inverted legs. Stuart at this point had a very important decision to make, run straight to her aid or grab the camera, not sure of Janell's true condition, he decided to get to her first, was this the right decision??

    With Janell's safety assured, we set about getting the bike back on the road. Stuart's bike was still up on the road with hazard lights on, and within minutes a passing truck stopped to assist. Two men jumped out and among the four of us, we dragged Janell's bike back onto the road. Once on the road we turned the key and pressed the ignition, not expecting too much after what the bike had been through, but very much to our surprise the bike started first time. Stu threw around some ideas of how we could continue without Janell having to ride any more for the day but Janell being Janell jumped straight back on the bike and said "lets go, we have a lot of riding to do before Friday".

    We stopped for coffee about half an hour later at the highest point on the pass, 3000m!! As we warmed up over a coffee and bread, Janell was laughing at the situation and what had happened. Some other drivers at the coffee shop gave us warning about the road we had just come along, we assured them that we were well aware of the dangers and were now heading in the other direction and they indicated it was not much better. As we left the coffee shop we took a quick walk over to a nearby lookout and it was as if we were in a cloud, a great spot for some photos before attempting the steep descent out of the mountains and towards the Gulf of Mexico.

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    The remainder of the ride was not without drama, we rode down very steep and windy slopes, rain, through thick fog where visibility was less then the width of the road and our speed was reduced to 10km/hr to remain safe. It got dark very soon after we left the coffee shop and partway down the mountain, in the middle of nowhere, there was a random man lying across the road on a bend. His eye's were looking straight at us as we passed, appearing conscious and seeing no signs of distress we continued, not wanting to be caught in some hijack or kidnapping. Around 9pm we eventually found a town and went looking for the nearest hotel. We had covered a little over 100km in 5 hours! We settled into a lovely hotel with hot water, a luxury in these parts, and Stu went for a walk to find food. That night we all slept very well, and even after the events of that day, were still able to rise for dawn on ANZAC day, possibly the only ones awake at that time but we still did our bit to commemorate.
    #29
    UKbri likes this.
  10. ThePackTrack

    ThePackTrack The Pack Track | Pillion Pooch

    Joined:
    May 22, 2015
    Oddometer:
    155
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    I need to sort out the order before I post any more here, I'll be back soon with plenty more.

    Meanwhile please consider the following, thanks.

    We support World Animal Protection and raise money and awareness for their cause, if you enjoy this article please consider donating at ThePackTrack.com/WAP or see how else you can get involved at www.worldanimalprotection.org.au.

    Be part of our journey.
    #30
    UKbri likes this.
  11. ThePackTrack

    ThePackTrack The Pack Track | Pillion Pooch

    Joined:
    May 22, 2015
    Oddometer:
    155
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    SUNBURNT & SEASICK
    July 22, 2014

    The Darien Gap! A 50km stretch of jungle separating Panama in North America from Colombia in South America. The jungle is so thick that it isolated the Mayan civilisation from the Inca's. Although a few well equipped adventurers have had success in navigating through the harsh environment, most attempts have failed. Plans to join Panama to Colombia by road through the Darien Gap have never eventuated mainly because of the terrain but also because of the poor relations between the two countries.

    How then would The Pack Track get from North to South America? There are essentially two options, fly or sail, each with its pros and cons. Flying can be done in a day whereas sailing takes 5 days. The price is very similar with flying only fractionally more expensive than sailing but our main concern was Skyla's comfort and well-being as we didn't want to put her in a crate again if we could avoid it.

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    The sailing options include the traditional single hull or catamaran sail boats. However, at the Panama - Costa Rica border we met a fellow adventure rider who told us of a new ferry service called the San Blas Ferry. A quick google search hi-lighted some bad reviews about this service from its maiden voyage (also the only voyage) about 6 months ago where the owner failed to obtain landing rights in Colombia. What should have taken 24 hours to get from Panama to Colombia took 5 days. We contacted the owner hopeful that the ferry was now operating and he quickly responded saying he could have us on his next voyage and was happy to accommodate Skyla. We couldn't believe our luck and quickly paid the deposit to secure our spots. Once the payment was cleared, he sent us the details of the transit...it would be a five day voyage through the San Blas islands on his catamaran with 20 other guests. Our hearts sank. With little time now to reach Brazil for the World Cup we had no choice but to take the adventure on the high seas. Really, how bad could it be?

    Our sailing instructions were at least very clear, be at the wharf by 11am. The ride was around 100km and we were told by Captain Fritz that due to the road conditions we would need 2 hours. We checked this information at the hostel and they told us they allow 3 hours and take it slow so we followed their advice. The first 60kms was good road, a bit of traffic but easy to pass. After the turnoff towards the San Blas islands we were heading across the country from the Pacific Coast to the Caribbean. The first hill was immense, and quickly took us to over 1000m but instead of plateauing off to a nice easy ride, it became a continuous series of undulating hills, with the road snaking through the landscape. This might seem like a riders dream, but the twists were tight, the hills were steep and the road was unpredictable with no warning signs and loads of pot holes and gravel patches; every metre of road required intense concentration and resulted in a slow paced ride. This 40km stretch took us well over an hour and had us a little worried about the time.

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    As we followed the signs to the Wharf the road turned in to a gravel trail, Janell was so stoked about that (Not). Then, at about 1km from the wharf (according to the Garmin GPS) we came across a water crossing with no way round. It actually looked like part of a wetland and a dead-end to the road we were on. We hoped we'd taken a wrong turn and started to turn around when a couple of locals walking by assured us that we were on the right route. Janell didn't hesitate (mainly because she'd freak out if she thought about it too long) and before Stuart could say a word she was into the 30m wide crossing maintaining constant speed while trying to keep her bike upright. The crossing was murky but luckily it had a fairly solid bottom so traction was not a problem. Janell reached the other side, took a big sigh of relief, and passed back some good advice to Stu and Skyla on which bits to avoid but mainly to follow her tracks. Stu and Skyla, following all the advice, entered the water maintaining a constant speed, but clearly not enough revs and at about midway Stuart stalls the engine!!! The bike rapidly slowed as Stuart grabbed the clutch and pressed the ignition, desperate not to go down in the middle of this murky water. The bike started immediately and while trying hard to balance on two wheels he applied throttle and powered back up in speed, 'Thank god' he thought as he rode up the other side and on to dry ground.

    So we arrived at the wharf with wet boots and muddy tyres but most importantly on time. We could see the Jacqueline (our home for the next 5 days) waiting for us in the bay. We did as instructed and unloaded the bikes to allow for an easy transfer onto the sailboat. Then we waited, and waited, and waited. We grabbed a quick bite on the wharf, a plate of beans and rice which is typical in this part of Central America. Finally the Jacqueline started to move our way, our bikes parked at the end of the wharf with luggage stacked neatly along side. The Jacqueline approached but surely too fast, then giving us great confidence in the crew she rammed into the wharf. What had we gotten ourselves in for? Luckily no damage to either the wharf or the Jacqueline. With the help of some of the locals and a few other passengers (all backpackers including a number of Australian's) we manhandled the bikes onto the boat and lashed them to the deck.

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    Finally it was time to relax. We had been allocated the captains cabin so that Skyla could be contained (Thanks Capt Fritz), we had a double bed, a 12v fan, an en-suit and best of all some privacy. We changed into our swimmers and headed to the upper decks to meet the rest of the passengers. We took a slow 90 minute transit through benign seas to a picturesque location amongst the islands to drop anchor. The afternoon was spent in and out of the water, including Skyla who was having a great time splashing around. During dinner Captain Jose (a retired Colombian naval officer, Capt Fritz was just the boat owner and did not sail the boat himself) told us of a wreck which we would be able to free dive. The next morning after breakfast we grabbed the snorkelling gear and boarded the dingy, the captain dropped us roughly in location and told us to look for a sail boat sitting at about 8m below the surface. It turned out we weren't that close but after about half an hour of separating and searching we finally found the 40 foot yacht among the lovely coral reef. For the next half hour we all took turns swimming down to check it out, but even with good diving fins, it was a challenge to reach the depth and have time to explore before needing to return to the surface for air. The key was to reach the boat, relax and gain ones composure before entering through the main door. We ventured inside the wreck, swimming through the cabins and exiting through the large tear in the side of the boat. Once we'd had enough of looking around the wreck we slowly made our way back to the Jacqueline passing some nice reef on the way. Having now spent around two hours in the water we were feeling the effects of the sun, the sun screen we'd used hadn't been as affective as we'd hoped, being stored in our hot tank bags for the last couple of months had caused the fluid to separate into a lumpy solution, but it was all we had so we took our chances as opposed to missing this great opportunity. With everyone back on the boat lunch was served and we all sat around and talked about how amazing the wreck dive had been.

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    After lunch we set sail again, this time it was a very short run to another set of islands only a few kilometres away. We dropped anchor again and were taken to one of the islands for a game of volleyball; more time in the sun, fortunately it was late afternoon by this time. Even before the volleyball had kicked off the beer was flowing freely. After the game the mood quickly changed to a party atmosphere, with the locals selling cold beer from their purpose built hut and everyone becoming very merry.

    The following morning there were a lot of sore heads and sore skin as everyone woke to sun burn and hangovers. The breakfast plater was put out but hardly touched, a bit of swimming helped relieve some of the pain but otherwise mostly rest. Late in the afternoon we set sail for our final destination, Cartegena, Colombia. This was to be a 30 hour transit in the open sea! Out came the sails for the first time and into open waters we went. Nearly straight away the seas picked up and the small catamaran was being thrown all over the place, water was being sprayed over the decks and the bikes were getting covered in salt water :eek:(.

    Even with Stuart's 12 years of Naval service, he was still prone to sea sickness and quickly retired to his bed. Janell and Skyla seemed unaffected by the inclement seas and Janell read a book while Skyla relaxed by the kitchen waiting for the next meal to be prepared. For those maritime aware readers we were in sea state 5 waters and the Captain said it was the biggest seas he had seen on this boat. Finally we were sailing the Caribbean, and we felt horrible. All the hatches had to be closed to stop water from flooding into the cabins. This meant that none of the bunks had ventilation and with the lack of air conditioning it was unbearable for most below decks (apart from the lucky ones with the captains cabin). Every comfortable spot on the upper decks was occupied with one person or another, all sick, either still from the hang over, sun stroke or now from the sea sickness. The boat had turned into a cesspit with food and alcohol spilt everywhere, patches of vomit and sea water leaking into cabins all over. It wasn't long before we just wanted off the boat!!

    Through the night, the seas picked up even more and the boat was making some terrible noises. The Pack Track lay in our bed wondering if the boat was able to make the journey, the cracking noises were horrendous and Skyla was clearly distressed as she cuddled up very closely all night hoping we'd keep her safe. The second day saw the biggest seas, the deck was constantly being washed with sea water and the hatch above the captains cabin bed was leaking resulting in a wet bed. The day dragged on and we kept thinking about reaching land and getting back on the bikes. When we went to bed for the last night we were expecting to get in to port by 3am the next morning. Through the night the line holding the main sail broke on two separate occasions, again our confidence in the boat reduced. We got out of bed at around 7am having had a very broken and wet sleep but excited about getting off the boat. Our hearts sank again as we discovered we were still at sea, moving very slowly now and with no land in sight. The captain explained that we had run out of fuel and were now relying on sail power alone. The seas were now much smaller and we were comfortably able to sit on the upper decks, all wondering if we'd make it to Colombia that day. We'd run out of food and fresh water by this point, luckily Capt Fritz had the forethought to provide some emergency jerry cans of water, but this wasn't going to last long. By midday we could finally see land, but at the speed we were going it was going to be another two or three hours before reaching our anchorage.

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    On arriving in Catargena, all passengers were taken ashore to the local DIAN (immigration) office and passports processed but no preparations had been made for our bikes. After some fussing about we were told that the bikes had to remain on the boat until the next day and then taken directly to customs. We needed something nice to get our spirits up so booked into a luxury hotel (still within our budget) and got some rest ready to deal with drama of importing the bikes into Colombia. To be honest the process turned out to be very straight forward, not really any different to what we'd come to expect at any other border crossing.

    After three nights resting and exploring Cartegena it was back on the road with 4000km to cover across Venezuela to Manaus, Brazil!

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    #31
  12. ThePackTrack

    ThePackTrack The Pack Track | Pillion Pooch

    Joined:
    May 22, 2015
    Oddometer:
    155
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    WONDERLAND
    July 26, 2014

    Imagine if you will, a land where petrol is free, a night in a luxury hotel costs $5 and $10 gets you a room in a fully equipped resort, a good meal is under a dollar and a first class road network connects cities with practically no traffic, wouldn't this be an adventure riders heaven. Would you believe us if we told you that such a place did exist? Well it does and it really is a riders paradise. As well as costing peanuts to live, it has some of the most amazing scenery and ecological sights in the world; prehistoric plateaus, beautiful waterfalls (the tallest in the world, Angel Falls, among them), the Amazon, the foot hills to the Andes mountain range and picturesque beaches. Where is this place? The beautiful Venezuela.

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    The first thing you need to know about Venezuela is that there is a parallel currency exchange market (i.e. black market). Its actually illegal in Venezuela and there have been crack downs, however, the price of everything in the country is set on this black market rate and we learned this the hard way. At the Colombian border we were offered an exchange rate from the money changers (20:1). Border crossing money changers give notoriously poor rates, so as usual, we turned them down. In hindsight we probably should have changed a little money here and negotiated a fair rate, but this would have required some knowledge of the current black market exchange rate which changes as regularly as any other. Stuart experienced a similar black market exchange rate in South Sudan and from this experience was weary about changing money so as not to blow large amounts of money on a poor exchange.

    With no Bolivar (Venezuelan currency) we made our way to a hotel just outside Maracaibo, near the Colombia border. The rate for a room was 200Blv. Stuart showed the owner USD$20 and he took us to his best room. By this time it was late and it had started to rain. With no internet and no idea about the current exchange rate we accepted the room which we later would learn was far too much to pay for a hotel such as this in Venezuela. Unfortunately there were no restaurants nearby, no open convenience stores and the hotel didn't serve food so we went to bed hungry and thirsty.

    The next morning we set about changing the Colombian Peso's (currency) we had brought into the country. On the Internet we read that the interstate bus terminal was a good place to change money at black market rates and that we could expect a rate of up to 90:1. Google maps directed us to the supposed bus terminal which turned out to be a large market. This seemed like another good place to change money so we asked around but all that was offered was the official exchange rate of 6:1. We were left wondering if the black market exchange rate was real or just an Internet rumour. If we could locate a 90:1 rate, our money would last us 15 times longer so we decided it was well worth persevering. After leaving the market with no joy we decided to try the local hotels but again no luck. Everyone gave us directions to a bank where we knew we would only get the official exchange rate. By this stage we were extremely hungry and had used up our US Dollars for the hotel so stopped in at a MacDonald's where we knew our credit card would be taken. We purchased a muffin and a small juice each, a value meal on the menu, and cost us over USD$20. This was reassurance that the black market exchange rate must exist and is the recognised rate used for business within the country.

    After our minimal breakfast, we passed a pharmacy and decided to check if someone there could help us out. We had no luck within the pharmacy but outside a man approaches us, interested in Skyla of coarse, and we explained our dilemma to him. He was able to give us directions to the bus terminal we had originally been searching. We put the coordinates into the GPS and headed off. Unfortunately the bus terminal didn't stand out along the road he had sent us. We started following signs towards the shipping wharf thinking sailors would want to change money as soon as they landed and they would demand the best rate. The wharf was a mass of people moving goods every which way. Stuart was about to turn off into the busy wharf, but Janell stopped him, she was concerned that the crowds would draw pick pockets and with the amount of money we were carrying it wouldn't be a good idea to enter, even with our little security guard dog...good thinking Janell.

    We had all but given up and decided to skip through Venezuela as quickly as possible eating once a day and camping on road reserves. Just as we had come to this decision, Stuart saw a Taxi depot out of the corner of his eye and asked Janell to follow him. He went in and spoke to the radio operator/dispatcher and asked if he could help with changing some money. He called a few drivers in who were happy to change a small amount, but did not have anything substantial. Eventually one of the drivers took Stuart for a drive to change the bulk of the money back at the bus terminal which we had missed. Stuart had to swear not disclose the details of the transaction.

    During this whole ordeal, we had been operating in situations and places we were not overly comfortable with so it was extremely reassuring to know that we had with us a dog that everyone called a Pit-bull and seemed to fear. She's always been protective of both us and the bikes and has a good bark to scare people off if they're loitering. As to how affective she would be against real aggression, well that's something we hope not to test.

    So finally we had local currency which we had changed at 60:1 (we later learned that 65:1 was a good rate so we had done well). Immediately after the exchange we went to the nearest restaurant and ordered a feast. The best advice we can give anyone in a similar situation is to know the exchange rate before entering the country. This is information we already knew from all our previous borders, but lack of Internet prior to crossing and our rushed schedule had pushed it to the bottom of our priority list.

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    The next thing you need to know about Venezuela is that there is a socialist government that has been in power for the past 10 years. One of the first actions of the government was to make fuel free to the people; it does have a price but it is effectively nothing. At our first stop we filled both bikes and extended range fuel tanks (60 litres in total) and it cost 7c - not 7c per litre – 7c total and that's what they call “free fuel” in Venezuela!!!

    Obviously before leaving Venezuela and entering Brazil we wanted to fill up all our tanks, plus there isn't really anything until you get to Boa Vista which is a big city about two hours south into Brazil. To prevent non-Venezuelans from taking advantage of the “free fuel” outside the country, the fuel stations near the border all have a military presence and the attendants at the bowsers are reluctant to give out too much fuel. We queued up at one of the fuel stations and after waiting in line for over 40 minutes, were told that we could only fill our main tanks, not the extended range tanks. Even though we wouldn't have been taking any more than an average car and with copious amounts of begging we were asked to move on. So we went to the next fuel station and luckily found someone willing to fill us up to capacity, we just had to wait in line again.

    As well as “free fuel”, the socialist government passed a similar motion for “free electricity”. This concept of giving resources (fuel and electricity) back to the people is understandable, even admirable, but it has one huge drawback...there is little consideration for the environment, evident by the excessive use of appliances and abundance of fuel guzzling cars. But who are we to judge given our history.

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    The third thing you need to know about Venezuela is that its politically unstable. News reports and travel advisory websites warn of occasional protests against the government which often turn to violent riots and areas that are not adequately controlled by the government where bandits will try and stop you at gun point. These situation can be avoided. The bandits are most active at night and are concentrated around known areas. We were stopped by the police just before entering one such area and given very good advice...don't stop!!! The police seemed concerned about us and were very helpful, they encouraged us to find a hotel well before night fall and start travelling again early the next morning to get most of the riding out of the way before lunch. This was confirmed by a local adventure riding couple we met a little while later, Carlos and Maria. They were able to give us clear advice on which roads to watch out for. They assured us that the stretch from where we'd met them to the next major town was safe, so even though it had started to get dark, we accompanied them. They said that it would be best to do the following part as early as possible since it was known to be patrolled by bandits. So we continued with them and found a nice place for dinner and a hotel for the night. The next morning we got up and out at a reasonable time, found somewhere on the road for a quick coffee and breakfast and maintained a steady 120km/hr all the way to their home where we were invited to spend the night. As for avoiding violent protests, the key is simple, stay away from demonstrations and large mobs, its the government they have issues with, and in general they're not interested in harming tourists but if you get too close you can easily get caught in the cross fire.

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    All in all, Venezuela is a great place to visit. The scenery is truly beautiful, even by Australian standards, the road network is of a very high standard, travel is by far the cheapest you will find in Latin America (possibly the world) and the people could not be nicer. If you are considering travel to Venezuela, or any other potentially dangerous country, you seem to hear all the negatives but in the end you have to decide. Do your research, decide what sources provide good information and which don't, government travel advisory websites are always very cautious, they need to cover themselves, which tends to make them unreliable. A good idea is to read other nations advisory sites, Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA all have good travel advisory websites in English and between them you can get a better picture (be advised though that travel insurance is affected by the advised status).

    Even if a place is considered dangerous, doesn't mean it should not be considered, read the fine print, it may be just a particular area or situation that needs avoiding. We all have different risk appetites and the risk is yours to accept or not, no one else's. Do however, make sure you understand the risk and are happy with it. If you believe a 10% chance of being kidnapped is alright, then go for it, we might think you a little nuts but sobeit, if a one in a million chance of tripping while you walk down the road is too much risk, then that's your choice too. Most of us are somewhere in between and which ever end of the spectrum you are is up to you. Every time you walk out the front door you are putting yourself at risk, so don't let others judge you on your choices.

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    We support World Animal Protection and raise money and awareness for their cause, if you enjoy this article please consider donating at ThePackTrack.com/WAP or see how else you can get involved at www.worldanimalprotection.org.au.


    Be part of our journey.
    #32
  13. ThePackTrack

    ThePackTrack The Pack Track | Pillion Pooch

    Joined:
    May 22, 2015
    Oddometer:
    155
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    CROSSING THE EQUATOR
    August 03, 2014

    Colombia and Venezuela were also a rush on our way to Brazil for the World Cup. We spent three nights in Cartagena after our dramatic sailing experience from Panama. The plan was to only spend two nights to get some washing done, sort out paperwork and do a bit of site seeing but Janell was having trouble with her steering so we lost a day while her bike was at a mechanics workshop being repaired.

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    The route we planned from Cartagena to Manaus was approximately 3500km. It was a tiring ride as we now had only 9 days to get to Manaus so we only stopped to eat and sleep. This is a list of the towns/cities in which we stayed:

    • Santa Marta, Colombia
    • Maracaibo, Venezuela
    • Barquisimeto, Venezuela
    • El Tigre, Venezuela
    • El Callao, Venezuela
    • Santa Elena de Uairen, Venezuela
    • Boa Vista, Brazil
    • Vila Novo Colina, Brazil
    • Manaus, Brazil :eek:)

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    Venezuela was a pleasant surprise. Its quite a big country and therefore has the diversity of climate, terrain, landscape and infrastructure you'd expect. What we didn't expect were first class roads but we didn't hit these until after Maracaibo. Up to this point the road was single lane undivided road, littered with potholes and beat up fuel guzzling American muscle cars from the 70's. It honestly felt like we were in the set of a movie, one car we passed even had two bullet holes! We thought perhaps the people liked the look of these old cars and had restored the insides so we took a peep inside a few but the insides were most definitely the original, very worn and old fashioned.

    The currency of Venezuela is the Bolivar. For tourists, the current operation of the Bolivar is a little confusing at first. Officially, US$1 is worth around 6 Bolivar. There is however an unofficial or blackmarket rate where US$1 is worth 60 Bolivar. If you, as a tourist, withdraw money from an ATM or pay with credit card you'll get the official rate. The problem with this is that the prices throughout Venezuela are based on the black market rate so for a breakfast at McDonalds costing 600 Bolivar, instead of spending the equivalent of US$10, as a tourist you'll actually spend nearly US$100 on the official rate. We spent half a day trying to find somewhere to exchange our US and Colombian cash to Bolivars on the blackmarket. Its all very covert as the Venezuelan Government is cracking down on the blackmarket money change in an attempt to strengthen the Bolivar on the world market.

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    We met a lovely couple on the road in Venezuela, Carlos and Maria. We told them where we were headed (Manaus, Brazil) and they insisted we ride to their house in Upata (2 days riding) for safety as some roads we were travelling on are notorious for bandit activity. Unfortunately where they wanted to stop for the night required riding for a few hours in the dark and Janell had no headlights. The roads had been good up to this point so she agreed to continue but was not entirely comfortable with the situation. She put on her hazards and sat about 2m from Stu's rear wheel to try and utilise the light his bike was casting on the road. There was a stretch of road, about 60km, that had terrible pot-holes. We all slowed down to 80 km/h because Janell was riding blind and completely dependant on Stu telling her to “go left...keep centre...go right” to avoid some potentially catastrophic pot-holes. It was a stressful and dangerous ride and when we finally got in to a bed around 10:30pm we were asleep before our heads hit the pillow.

    The next day we were all up and on the road early, eager to get to Upata. As we rode in to Upata we took a detour to a mechanic and good friend of Carlos who fixed Janells headlight; replaced the fuse and globe. It's always fun hanging out in a motorbike mechanics workshop, always lots to see and learn about. Finally Carlos and Maria are home, we meet their beautiful family and they set us up in their guest room for the night.

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    The road to Manaus was excellent, another pleasant surprise. It was surreal riding through the Amazon, you see it in documentaries and learn about it at school but never think you're going to really see it. There was no mistaking it with its dense, green, lush, rainforest vegetation. Informative new signs had recently been placed along the side of the road to excite tourists with pictures of Anacondas, Jaguars, monkeys, birds and crocodiles. We were flying along at around 110 km/h (70 mph) so unfortunately we didn't spot any native wildlife. Later in Manaus we spoke to some backpackers who had a very enjoyable Amazon experience taking a 3 day bus tour stopping through indigenous settlements, eating local food and swimming in the Rio Negro (black river).

    Our first night in Brazil was spent in the city of Boa Vista. As usual, we pulled in to a fast food joint to grab a quick bite to eat and use the wifi to look for accommodation. Just after ordering our food the sky went very dark and the heavens opened, the rain looked like it was in no hurry to move on. We attempted to call a few hotels to inquire about accommodation but no-one spoke English and our Spanish wasn't getting us anywhere either; Portugese is spoken in Brazil. A lady sitting beside us overheard our troubles, introduced herself as Yana, and in almost perfect English, offered to escourt us to some nearby hotels and translate for us. The first hotel she took us to was perfect. Yana stayed until we were settled in our room and then directed us to some local shops for supplies.

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    On the road the next day we made it to a very peaceful little town about 14km south of the equator. Actually, crossing the equator was almost a non-event because there was no signage and a fairly camouflaged landmark which Janell flew past as the lead rider. Stuart had the advantage of the Garmin GPS so knew when to look out. It took Janell a few minutes to realise no-one was following and she turned around to see where the rest of The Pack Track had disappeared to and on closer inspection saw the clearing and monument to the equator.

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    The next day we arrived in Manaus and we had the biggest smiles on our faces. What a relief and the buzz of the World Cup was everywhere. A member of the Almas Livres motorclub, and now a very good friend of ours, Elvis met us outside the stadium on his sparkling new BMW 800GS and lead us to the motorclub clubhouse which was our home for the next (nearly) three weeks. Accomodation in Manaus was expensive because of the World Cup and very difficult to find with a pet so we are very grateful to the motorclub for welcoming us and letting us use their facilities.

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    We support World Animal Protection and raise money and awareness for their cause, if you enjoy this article please consider donating at ThePackTrack.com/WAP or see how else you can get involved at www.worldanimalprotection.org.au.


    Be part of our journey.
    #33
  14. BELSTAFF

    BELSTAFF ADV NOMAD

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2009
    Oddometer:
    9,249
    Location:
    Arizona--Semper Vestibulum
    I'm in for this.
    #34
    ThePackTrack likes this.
  15. ThePackTrack

    ThePackTrack The Pack Track | Pillion Pooch

    Joined:
    May 22, 2015
    Oddometer:
    155
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    FIFA WORLD CUP - BRAZIL 2014
    August 08, 2014

    We did the hard yards to get to Brazil and it was definitely worth it. Being in a football nation such as Brazil, following world cup games with people from all over the world and to top it off attending games in top class stadiums was an extraordinary experience that we will never forget.

    The day after we arrived in Manaus, Stuart's dad (Alan) flew in from Australia. He landed at around 10:30pm and travelling with him was our new Heidenau K60 Adventure Touring Tyres and 21 valuable tickets to world cup games. Tyres can be very expensive and timely to receive in South America so Stuart cleverly devised a plan to order them on ebay, have them delivered to Alan's home in Australia and make sure Alan packed light so the weight of the tyres would be within his baggage limit. It was a great plan for everyone except Alan who had to lug the tyres around in transit to and from airports and flight transfers. We did really appreciate the effort and it was a big cost saving for us – thanks Alan.

    Alan got a day to adjust to the weather and get over his jet lag before some serious discussions began; how were three people and a dog going to travel across Brazil to the following major cities totalling around 9000 km in 4 weeks:
    • Manaus
    • Cuiaba
    • Brasilia
    • Salvador
    • Belo Horizonte
    • Brasilia
    • Manaus
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    Alan rides a 250cc Yamaha Virago back in Sydney so was keen to either buy or rent a motorbike to ride with us to the games. He packed his helmut and riding gear plus a tent in preparation for this plan. When he got to Brazil we quickly discovered there were two problems with this plan; getting a suitable bike to do such a trip and getting from Manaus to the rest of Brazil. It just wasn't possible to rent a bike suitable so Alan and Stu had a look at a few bikes up for sale. Unfortunately motorbikes, new and used, were outside his budget and getting one suitable for adventure riding that could travel at high speeds was proving impossible at short notice. We had to start thinking outside the box. If we hired a car we could economise on fuel (1 car as opposed to 3 motorbikes) and effort (alternating drivers). This seemed like the logical way forward.

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    There is a good road from Venezuela in the north to Manaus but for some reason unknown to us, its very difficult to get from Manaus to the rest of Brazil by road. There is a 'road' from Manaus to the next big town Porto Velho but it hasn't been maintained since the 1960's and being the wet season, its basically a no go for anyone in a rush so we left our bikes with a friend (Elvis) and flew to Porto Velho.

    Stuart booked a car online which required the total payment upfront so that someone would be waiting for us at the Porto Velho airport with the car and we could hop in and get moving. When we landed there was no one waiting for us. We spent three hours at the airport trying to chase up our car. By now it was getting late and we needed to be on the road so had no choice but to approach another car hire company at the airport in Porto Velho and hope that we could resolve the problem later and get out money back for the no show (we're still chasing the money).

    So what type of car did we hire? Maybe you're thinking we got a beefy 4WD to match our adventure profiles?? That would have been awesome but instead we got a 1L bottom of the range VW Gol. Its a Brazilian built mini shopping cart that runs on ethanol. It had 1300km on the odometer when we collected it and 10300km when we returned it. Cosy is a positive way of describing the four of us with all our luggage sitting in the VW Gol. It did have air-conditioning which was a luxury and great for Skyla. It didn't have cruise control and no radio so Alan very graciously serenaded us. Alan sings and plays a Ukelele and harmonica. He came prepared with a repertoire of 7 songs which we listened to for four weeks. We can't leave out of the story that he also practised these 7 songs every morning outside our room and made impromptu performances in hotel lobbies and public spaces which put smiles on peoples faces.

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    For the next four weeks we lived and breathed football. If we weren't at a game we were watching games in restaurants, hotels and bars or driving to a city for our next game. We did manage a couple of tourist stops including a couple of waterfalls and two nights in the Chapada region (Mato Grosso) on our way out of Cuiaba. We took the car on a ferry ride in Salvador but this was to save us driving around the harbour, it was still fun and a great photo opportunity.

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    We took two large Australian flags to every game hoping to get them on TV. We didn't manage that but better than that, people everywhere would approach us to have a group photo with their country flag, it was fantastic!!! by chance, we bumped in to a lady from Fox Sports Brazil and after chatting, arranged a time to interview us with our bikes and Skyla to be aired on TV.

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    On our way back to Manaus we dropped Alan at an interstate bus terminal in Brasilia for his return to Oz. The very next day The Pack Track drove back to Porto Velho and boarded a plane to Manaus. It was good to see our bikes again although we had left them in a bit of state when we rushed out. Janells gloves were completely ruined, covered in mold and her bike wouldn't start so we had to get the jumper leads out. Once on the road we quickly found out that she also had a flat rear tyre. It was getting late so we couldn't do much about it until the next day. First thing we pulled in to a gas station to put air in it to make riding a little easier. The gas station didn't have air but the tyre store opposite did. As a man was putting the air in the tyres we enquired about somewhere we could get our new tyres fitted. The manager came out of his office, hopped in his car and we followed him to a motorbike mechanic. What luck!! They were so helpful and it only cost the equivalent of US$25 to fit the four tyres.

    We spent five nights back in Manaus sorting ourselves out. A highlight was taking a boat trip on the river (Rio Negro) to see the meeting of the black and yellow rivers. You really need to do some sort of boat trip if you get to Manaus. Ours included swimming with pink dolphins, visiting a traditional village, local fishing and checking out local arts and crafts. The boat left at 9am, returned at 6pm, included a fantastic buffet for lunch and cost US$75 per person. It was a really enjoyable day with around 40 other tourists and locals.

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    Saying goodbye to Manaus and Brazil we were headed for Guyana 'land of many waters'.

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    We support World Animal Protection and raise money and awareness for their cause, if you enjoy this article please consider donating at ThePackTrack.com/WAP or see how else you can get involved at www.worldanimalprotection.org.au.


    Be part of our journey.
    #35
  16. ThePackTrack

    ThePackTrack The Pack Track | Pillion Pooch

    Joined:
    May 22, 2015
    Oddometer:
    155
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    REMISSION
    August 10, 2014

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    We've had a few questions about Skyla's condition so thought it best to provide an update via our blog.

    Around September last year we noticed that Skyla's lymph nodes on her neck had significantly enlarged. It occured at the same time a rash appeared on her belly. Skyla often gets a rash on her belly when she gets in to long grass so we treated the rash and thought the enlarged lymph nodes was due to her body fighting the rash. After a few days the rash went away and instead of the lumps decreasing they got bigger so we took her to the vet.

    Skyla was quickly diagnosed as having Lymphoma, a cancer of the blood, and was referred to the Sydney's Animal Referral Hospital (ARH). We were given the following heartbreaking options:
    • leave her untreated with a life expectancy of only 30 days;
    • put her on steroids to possibly get 90 days;
    • treat her with chemotherapy and get 12-14 months; or
    • try the new and very expensive bone marrow transplant treatment with a 30% chance of success but a potential cure.
    We didn't need to discuss the options. We both agreed that we would throw everything we could at the cancer and try the bone marrow transplant. Skyla had been there for us when we needed her, all the times Stuart was away with the Navy, whenever either of us had been sick or upset, all of our big driving adventures around Australia and the list goes on. She is an incredible dog and a massive part of our lives so if there was something we could do for her then we were going to do it.

    Skylas treatment started immediately and we went about postponing our trip for 3 months (our original departure date was 14 December 2013), which it turns out was a positive as Dallas gets pretty cold in the winter months. The course of chemotherapy and the bone marrow transplant took 5 months and it was tough going for the little girl but being the little trooper she is she always bounced back. She went into remission within 2 weeks, a great initial sign, and from then on she continued to impress the vets with great results to all their tests and showed great resilience after every procedure.

    The month prior to our departure was very busy for Skyla. She had the bone marrow transplant and was at the ARH 2-3 times a week for check-ups. She also had to get her usual yearly vaccinations as well as rabies. Everything had been successful, the cancer had completely disappeared, and we were ready to travel with every hope in the world it would be the last we ever saw of cancer.

    There are just some things in this world you can't control and no amount of money can buy. Signs of Skyla's cancer returned only days after entering Mexico. We contacted the vets at ARH and they put together a treatment plan for us on the road. Skyla went back on a chemotherapy drug as well as a steroid to reduce the size of the lumps that returned. This worked well for about two months but unfortunately the cancer was too strong so she was taken off the chemotherapy drugs which weren't helping her any more. Since then its been a waiting and hoping game. The lumps have been slowly getting bigger until a week ago when they enlarged dramatically. A local Brazilian vet gave her an injection to make her more comfortable and the vets at ARH have advised us that so long as she is happy and comfortable she is okay but we need to be prepared and assess her wellness day by day.

    Maybe its just that she's our dog but she's been a truly remarkable companion. Every day on our bikes she brings smiles to peoples faces as they point and giggle at a dog on a motorbike riding past them.

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    We support World Animal Protection and raise money and awareness for their cause, if you enjoy this article please consider donating at ThePackTrack.com/WAP or see how else you can get involved at www.worldanimalprotection.org.au.


    Be part of our journey.
    #36
  17. ThePackTrack

    ThePackTrack The Pack Track | Pillion Pooch

    Joined:
    May 22, 2015
    Oddometer:
    155
    Location:
    Sydney, Australia
    LETHEM TO LINDEN ROUTE REPORT - GUYANA
    August 11, 2014

    This is the route report for the road from Lethem on the Guyanese side of the Guyana/Brazil border to Linden near Georgetown in Guyana (the road from Linden to Georgetown is sealed). Our travel occured at the end of July, towards the end of the wet season so includes some of the worse conditions you could face along this route. We were advised at the border that this route could be done in a day. I'm sure this is possible for someone experienced and knowledgeable of the road, but we were neither and had plenty of time.

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    The total distance is around 450km of unsealed road, a combination of dirt, mud and sand, through some very beautiful jungle. The terrain was mostly flat, with a few low gradient hills as you approached Linden but accompanied with better road surface due to the logging companies in that region.

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    In no rush, we rode a little over 100km a day. This worked out really well with camping locations (see below for further information). Adjacent to the road is thick jungle which makes camping 'just anywhere' a little tricky as the only clearing to pitch a tent, outside the little towns, is on the road itself. For those of you thinking of pitching a tent on the road, consider there are plenty of large Unimog trucks, usually with intoxicated drivers, travelling along this road at all times of the day and night so this is a very bad idea. There are also jaguar along the route and although you'd be lucky to see one during the day, at night you need to keep a fire lit to keep them away. So with this knowledge, we decided to ride until there was a good opportunity to camp in the early afternoon as you just don't know when another site would pop up or if darkness comes around sooner than you expect.

    DAY ONE


    On the first day, we packed up the bikes in Lethem and returned to the immigration office at the border. We needed to finalise some paperwork for the bikes entering Guyana which we were unable to do on a Sunday. This didn't take long and we were soon on our way. Within 5km the road changed to gravel, at this point however it was mostly compacted with a few loose rocks on the surface, nothing too challenging. The countryside for this section was savannah, very similar to what we'd experienced in Venezuela and Northern Brazil but very flat. We passed a couple of hills but the road remained flat. The road was slightly elevated from the surrounding grassland which becomes marshy during the rain.

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    It took us about 4 hours to ride 130km, taking a few stops for photos and walking the odd bridge that we felt suspicious about, this had us arrive in the town of Annai around 5pm. About 2 kms out of Annai we hit some serious mud and on occasion we both nearly stacked it, this was the first time we'd faced anything challenging and so we stopped to assess.

    Having been mostly on sealed roads since leaving Texas we had not experienced any offroad. However, we were experienced 4x4 drivers having travelled all over Australia in our Nissan Patrol including mountain mud in the south, desert sand in the interior and west and plenty of gravel everywhere in between, so we did know a thing or two about these conditions. First thing we considered was the advise we had been given to prolong the life of the tyres by having them run at 40PSI. This was fine on sealed highways but was causing us to slide all over the place in the mud, so we quickly reduced the pressure to a much more manageable 16PSI. What a difference this made, instead of sliding all over the road we were able to grip the rocks within the mud and maintain traction. We also needed to make a few changes to our riding technique, but this would come in the following days as we faced more challenges and learned to handle the bikes in harder conditions.

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    At Annai we found a nice hotel called Oasis. Oasis had good facilities for campers as well as cabins for rent. Their kitchen also served a good dinner so we slept sound with our bellies full and breakfast the next day had us leaving satisfied.

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    DAY TWO

    It turned out the mud we'd experienced as we approached Annai was just the beginning of the next phase of the journey. On the second day we entered the jungle, the road became wet, very wet. Mud was a common challenge but nothing we couldn't handle with our tyres still at 16PSI. We also found a few deep puddles which at times had the water nearing the top of our panniers. This had us very wet and a little worried but oddly enjoying the experience.

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    We each dropped our bike on occasion, but luckily not in any of the puddles. The worst damage was a broken indicator, something that is not ideally designed on this bike but would be easily replaced by a generic part. We crossed a lot of bridges on the second day, some of them needing repairs before we would venture across, usually just lining up planks of wood to fill in gaps. Although some bridges seemed to slope dangerously to one side, we were reassured in the knowledge that the large Unimog trucks used the same bridges so they should take our weight no problem.

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    At Iwokrama river there is a police check point and all the bike and dog paperwork was checked. This took a long time as the police officer did not know what to do about Skyla and needed to check with Georgetown. We waited for about 2 hours for someone to call back before we were finally let pass. We used this time to fill up our tanks at the nearby Jungle research centre which also had cabins for rent. By this stage we had travelled around 100km and were just looking to get across the river to look for a hotel or camp site. The police officer assured us we wouldn't find much on the other side of the river and suggested we stay at the research facility. We took his advice and booked into a room.

    DAY THREE


    First thing we needed to do in the morning was cross the Iwokrama river. A ferry service was available in the morning until 9am and then not again until 5pm. We didn't want to be waiting around all day so we planned to get there well before 9. We arrived at about 7:55 thinking we'd get the 8am ferry, but no, maybe they decided it wasn't worth their effort for 2 motorbikes. Come 8am the ferry simply stayed put on the other side of the river. Thankfully at 9am a fully loaded ferry left the bank on the other side of the river and we crossed, a little later then we hoped but still out pretty early. Breakfast in the town on the other side was limited and hotels more so, good thing we'd taken the police officers advice.

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    If mud had been the theme of the previous day, today it was sand. Of course there was plenty of mud too, but this day introduced us to long patches of dry sand which we hadn't experienced before. This was the most challenging part of the whole route, we both dropped our bikes time and time again.

    Let us explain the problem with some physics, feel free to skip over this section if we are boring you. The bike centre of mass is somewhere between the front and rear wheels, it is irrelevant where exactly, the important thing is it lies between the wheels. Your centre of thrust comes from the rear wheel, so from behind the centre of mass. Finally your centre of drag is either at the front wheel, rear wheel or somewhere in between depending on whether you use the front brake, rear brake or a combination of both (neglecting the drag due to wind resistance which is negligible for our conditions).

    Now, the stability of the bike is dependant on the position of these centres. Having the centre of thrust lie behind the centre of mass is an unstable state, under normal conditions this is fine as traction on the road keeps everything aligned, but on a low traction surface the slightest misalignment of your thrust and mass centres will send the rear of the bike sideways. Correction with steering is possible but as speed increases this becomes much harder. In mud this isn't such a problem as you will most likely (but not always) find a solid surface within the mud, such as a rock, to gain traction on a again retain stability.

    There are 2 approaches we came up with to compensate this effect. First, ride painfully slowly, we call this the Janell approach. Second, ride as normal or slightly reduced in speed for the conditions, as soon as the rear wheel becomes unstable, apply the clutch and rear brake simultaneously, this replaces the centre of thrust at the rear wheel with a centre of drag and immediately makes the bike stabe, this we call the Stu approach.

    OK enough physics. Using these approaches meant we were falling over a lot less, although sometimes we were taken by surprise and hit patches a little faster than we would have liked. While crossing the river in the morning, we met a Guyanese man named Asif, he was on his way home to Georgetown after working a few months in the diamond mines. We ran in to Asif a few times throughout the day. He was travelling with his crew in a Unimog truck which had no problems with the road.

    Asif strongly suggested we stop at 58 Miles, a road stop with a restaurant, fuel and bathrooms (including shower). About 10kms before reaching 58 we passed through a small logging village, Asif told us to ride straight through as it had nothing to offer and we were much better off at 58 Miles. He was certainly correct. At 58 Asif showed us some excellent hospitality, he paid for our dinner and bought us multiple drinks. He also made sure the showers were operating and introduced us to the owner incase we needed any assistance.

    Asif and his crew left us at 58 to drive through the night to Georgetown. We would be meeting up with him again to be shown around Georgetown.

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    DAY FOUR


    On the fourth day there was a fairly equal mix of all the challenges we had been introduced to the previous three days, as if it were a final test of our competency. The only addition was the slight gradients as the terrain became hilly. Between the challenges were compacted stretches of road which was also new. The road was somewhat maintained by the logging companies that operated in the area. The impact of the logging trucks on the road surface dramatically increased the number of pot holes; our suspension got a real workout.

    We were able to travel a little faster due to experience and the slightly better road conditions and reached Linden before lunch. Linden is a small city with almost all the necessities; it does not have ATM's that accept international cards nor do the fuel stations except credit card. This would have been nice to know before we filled up at the fuel station!! Janell went running around to test the ATM's but we were assured she was wasting her time. We had Brazilian Reais still and the fuel station manager really had no choice but to accept this at a rate of his choice. He was very reasonable and we got a rate very close to that at the border, he then gave us advice on hotels in Georgetown and things to see.

    From here we rode the short distance to Georgetown arriving in time for lunch. This gave us all afternoon to search for dog friendly accommodation.

    At the end of the trip we were extremely happy with our achievement, we had not expected the road to be such a challenge and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. We highly recommend this route to anyone riding through South America.
    We support World Animal Protection and raise money and awareness for their cause, if you enjoy this article please consider donating at ThePackTrack.com/WAP or see how else you can get involved at www.worldanimalprotection.org.au.


    Be part of our journey.
    #37
    OnTheWay likes this.
  18. OnTheWay

    OnTheWay Rock Liu

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2014
    Oddometer:
    1,537
    Location:
    Shenzhen, China
    Outsanding RR!!I enjoyed it tremendously.:lol2Thanks for so many details.
    #38
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  19. jmcg

    jmcg Turpinated..

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2011
    Oddometer:
    494
    Location:
    The Dandenong Ranges, Vic
    Fantastic RR + pics.

    :thumb

    Enjoying reading about your travels.

    Thanks,

    JM.
    #39
    ThePackTrack likes this.
  20. Xtremjeepn

    Xtremjeepn Motorhead!

    Joined:
    May 31, 2008
    Oddometer:
    2,202
    Location:
    Castle Pines, Colorado
    :clap
    #40
    ThePackTrack likes this.