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Posts Tagged ‘ Brazil ’

December 16th, 2012 - Touring Brazil on Motorcycle – Santos

Curitiba-second10With two useless shocks, leaking fork seals, broken swingarm bearings, and a leaky transmission; the possibilities of going further into Brazil was growing dim, but you just have to keep fixing and rolling. After a few visits to different shops with Renato, we finally located the bearings and the oil seal. The problem was that we couldn’t find the right bearings as the original bearings had built-in rubber dust caps and the ones we found didn’t. Since Renato taught a machining course at the Curitiba Read the rest of the story…

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Curitiba14I know I’ve been away for an eternity but I’ll try to catch-up with the back stories as best as I can. My laptop took its last breath and finally gave up and left me hanging. I ordered the best mobile workstation I could find which took over a month to build and 40 days to ship down to South America. Now that I have no excuses, here is the rest of the story.

After the ignition switch repair, it was time to pack up and leave the beautiful Florianópolis but Read the rest of the story…

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Once out of Bolivia, there was much work to be done. First the expedition funds were dwindling to oblivion so I had to design a few websites and write a couple of programs to get the ball rolling again. Then there were my troubling teeth which took a few painful visits to the dentist to dig, cut, dress and fill. Then it was the bike that needed a few maintenance such as beefing up the camera box, fixing a few leaks here and there, and a good tune-up – not counting the painstaking job of getting the Bolivian dust and mud out of every hole of the bike. Read the rest of the story…

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July 3rd, 2012 - Brazil

As usual I apologize for the lack of updates…  As you may have heard we are back in Canada for a visit and have left our motorcycles in Montevideo, Uruguay. Originally we had planned to stay in South America to work and live in a major city while waiting for the summer season so we can travel to the southern tip of Argentina, however many things were compelling us to return to Canada. I had to return for my good friends wedding and the cost of flying home for such a short period of time wasn’t a very logical decision. We then read that our Russian Visa’s would be easier to obtain on Canadian soil and the more we thought about it, spending 6 months in Canada just seemed to make sense. We could enjoy the beautiful Canadian summer with our friends and family, attend our friends wedding and earn some extra money. So here we are back at work and loving it. Crazy I know… but we have purpose and direction so come Dec. 1st we will be on a plane heading back to South America to pick up where we left off.

Simply put, Brazil is HUGE. After riding so many relatively small countries over a long period of time, entering Brazil was quite a shock and the fact that the spoken language is Portuguese also didn’t help. Despite our new found language barrier the people were as friendly and hospitable as ever. The first town we stopped in, Boa Vista, we were taken in, fed and entertained for days by an amazing couple. Even though our communication was lacking we still managed to enjoy each other’s company as they took us hiking and out for dinners. It was a wonderful introduction to Brazil.

South of Boa Vista my bike ran into some trouble at a construction site. I had shut it off while waiting and when I went to restart it she wouldn’t go. It was turning over but no ignition. I spent the evening stripping it down and diagnosing the problem. It was not getting spark and that was due to the Starter Interlock System, a system of safety switches that prevent the bike from starting if it’s in gear unless the clutch is pulled in and the side stand is up. I tested all the switches in the system and they all tested in good working order so it had to be in the wiring or the relays in the system. I have said it before that electrical is not my forte so before hacking apart wiring harnesses and hunting down the problem I decided it was better for a professional electrical mechanic to do it. The city of Manaus was only 450km’s away and it had a BMW dealership so that’s where we headed.

BMW got to work right away on my bike but I admit that I was a little sceptical in the beginning. I had told them what the problem was and that all they had to do was trace the fault or short but the mechanic kept coming in and telling me my battery’s water was low and my front brake pads were very thin. I know he was just doing his job and inspecting all possible problems but all I could see was dollar signs. Brazil is an expensive country and the shop rate is nearly equal to that in North America so the more time they spent on my bike the bigger the bill. We sat in their lounge on nice couches drinking fancy espresso while my frustrations grew… How much was this going to cost me?!? Before I let it get the best of me the service representative called us into the back. We walked through the shop to find my bike on the operating table wide open with multiple people probing and prodding in every nook and cranny. All of a sudden one of the guys hit the ignition and my bike fired up, ahh what a sweet sound. Any concerns and frustration I had felt were now gone, I was so happy to hear my bike running again. The mechanics explained they had found the problem in the Starter Interlock System but it would not be finished today. Relieved by the day’s outcome Erin and I headed back to our Hotel for the night.

They next morning we returned to BMW and enjoyed some more fancy coffee. We shared a couple laughs with one of the salesmen who had spent part of his evening on our website watching some of our videos. It was a comfortable atmosphere filled with great staff so we continued our wait on the couch losing track of time. Around mid day I spotted a bike ride by the window.

“That was my bike! He’s taking it for a test ride!” I said with excitement in my voice.

When the technician returned they sat us down and explained what they had done and drew me a diagram for future reference. Then there was a small awkward pause. It’s time for the bill… In a mix of English, Spanish and Portuguese the head of service manages to spit out:

“Now it is not time to pay.”

Erin and I look confused at each other. That must have come out wrong. We’re sure he meant to say “It’s time to pay” but then in perfect English he says:

“It’s a gift for your travels.”

We were ecstatic and jumped up smiling, laughing and shaking hands. All this time we had been dreading charges worth a day and a half’s work at a dealership and now we had no bill. It’s times like these that really blow your mind at how generous people can be. It also felt great to be riding a BMW and to be backed by such a great company and group of people. We thanked our new friend’s over and over then rode away absolutely overwhelmed by their kindness.

Stay tuned for more on our travels through the Amazon and an amazing new video.

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Entering Venezuela was an exhausting and time consuming task. Even with the help of our Colombian friends Alex and Carolina the whole process took over 5 hours. It was an absolutely ridiculous procedure that was lengthened even more by the poor and extremely slow work ethics of the Venezuelans. It’s a fact that things take longer in Latin America but the Venezuelans took it to a whole new level of slow. We were sent on a wild goose chase all over the city to get insurance, photo copies and to collect numerous stamps and signatures. Every document needed approval and each one had to be in a different building. At one point we were even taken into an office where one of the officials made a really poor attempt at asking for a bribe. Needless to say we played dumb and paid him nothing. Finally in the late afternoon as the office was closing a young lady slides our permits across the counter. “Yay! We’re finished!” Nope. As one final act of insanity we had to take the permits down to the police station and have them stamped.

We were so happy to be finished with the border formalities and so thankful for Alex and Carolina’s help that we treated them to dinner. I could only imagine how long that process would have taken if they hadn’t been there. Trying to figure out where to go, asking for directions and then figuring out what to do when you got there, all would have been extremely difficult without fluent Spanish. After dinner Alex and Carolina escorted us to a hotel on the outskirts of town and went over our route through Venezuela before saying good bye.

For months we had been receiving warnings about Venezuela and how it’s not safe due to its current political status and increasing gorilla activity. This was nothing new for us, we receive warnings about every country we visit but something felt different about Venezuela. My gut feeling was telling me to pass through Venezuela as quick as possible and when travelling the best thing you can do is to follow your gut feelings. Our Colombian friends had invested a lot of time researching a safe route through Venezuela for us and we intended to follow it and hammer out as many kilometers a day as possible. Luckily for us the price of gas made riding longer days extremely affordable.

On our first day riding in Venezuela we were finding it difficult to purchase gas. We had been to a couple gas stations that had no gas and when I asked where I could get gas they would just point down the road. Eventually we came to a gas station packed with cars and I knew they had gas. We were waved from one pump to the next as the attendant would shake his head. Finally one attendant took the time to explain that we needed an electronic chip in our vehicle to activate the pump and without one we couldn’t buy gas. This was a vain effort by the government to try and stop Colombians from buying cheap gas in Venezuela or to try and stop Venezuelans from selling their gas to Colombians for a nice profit. Just as we were about to leave the attendant waved us over and said that a man has offered to use the chip on his van to pump us some gas. We pulled our bikes close to the van and when the van was full the attendant topped up our motorcycle. The man in the van paid for everything and wouldn’t accept any money from us. We thanked him and were overwhelmed by what we thought at the time was generosity.

Only Venezuela’s neighboring state to Colombia requires vehicles to have an electronic chip to purchase gas so after half a days ride on the pristine pavement of the Autopista we pulled into a gas station to fill the bikes. It all happened so fast and before I knew it the bikes were full, I had paid and we were rolling away very confused. “Was that right?” I said. We stopped and started working the conversion in our heads which soon lead to laughter…  we had just purchased 22.7 Liters (6 Gal) of gas for $0.22USD. That’s right it’s not a typo, we purchased gas for 1 cent per Liter! I ran the calculations and conversions over and over… I couldn’t believe it! How is that even possible? Venezuela is a country rich with oil but it doesn’t come out of the ground as gasoline! There is a lot of processing and transport involved in making gasoline and then on top of all that someone has to pay the attendant standing at the pump all day filling vehicles. The only answer I got was “It’s subsidized by the government” and however much that hurt my brain to try and comprehend the truth was I really didn’t care because I was getting gas for 1 cent a Liter!!! We later figured out that the man with the van that had “generously” purchased gas for us had paid $0.60USD to fill his van and both our bikes…

Since gas is basically free the people of Venezuela drive around in the biggest and shittiest cars and trucks possible. We’d see them racing down the road spewing out retched smoke, most likely getting an amazing fuel economy of 1 inch per gallon. The taxis were the best and I wish I could have captured some better photos of them. They seemed to be in competition with each other to see who could have the biggest and crappiest car loaded with the most stickers. The doors and panels would be all miss matched and the bumper, if it had one, would be a solid chunk of rust. In an attempt to “pimp” out their ride and give their taxi the upper hand they would jack up the back end and install super wide drag racing tires. Most of the taxis didn’t even have the word taxi anywhere on the car but they were easy enough to spot, just wave down the biggest piece of junk on the road sporting a huge “NOS” sticker.

The riding was long, flat, hot and dry with nothing to see so we didn’t feel bad about more or less skipping Venezuela. On our last day riding in Venezuela the terrain changed and we found ourselves on a magnificent highway rolling over lush green hills surrounded by mountains. The area was stunning with camping opportunities everywhere and it reminded me of Northern Canada but my strange gut feeling still lingered inside me. I had no desire to camp or explore any of the beautiful gravel roads that stretched off into the mountains and I found this extremely unsettling. We had been treated with kindness and respect throughout Venezuela and had never felt in any kind of danger but I still couldn’t shake my awkward feelings towards this country. The feeling followed me all the way to the border and it wasn’t until we entered Brazil that the knots and butterflies in my stomach went away. We rode a total of 5 days in Venezuela covering 2111 km’s… total money spent on gas for BOTH motorcycles including filling up before heading into Brazil… $2.08USD.   That has to be the cheapest gas in the world…

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May 1st, 2012 - Colombia II

Despite our lack of direction without our friends Karin and Dave, I felt as if I had regained a certain amount freedom. All the decisions were back in our hands and we could now decide whether or not to ride 500 km’s or 500 ft. A peaceful night in our tent left me feeling extremely relaxed and I found myself simply enjoying the beauty of the days ride.  We stopped constantly, first to (finally!) have our front tires changed, second for a freshly made juice at one of the many fruit stands and then to take photo’s and enjoy the views throughout the day. I hadn’t felt that carefree in a long time and it was at one incredible view point that I spotted a beautifully paved road winding its way along the edge of the mountain in the valley below us. “I don’t know where that road goes but that’s where I want to go.”

We soon spotted the turn off and the road immediately began descending down the mountain with a series of switch backs. The road continued to impress me as we crossed a river at the bottom of one mountain and started up another on the other side. I really didn’t know where the road led to but as long as I was enjoying it, it didn’t matter. We entered the town of Manzanares with the idea of passing right through it but the beauty of the area and its welcoming people convinced us to stay. We ended up making friends and spending an entire weekend having fun and enjoying life in the mountains. With more and more friends, Colombia was shaping up to be a country that will forever be a part of my life.

For the next several days we rode, covering a lot of ground and exploring as much of Colombia as we could. Back in San Gil we had been invited by our friend Omar to come visit him in Villavicencio, a city 2 hours south of Bogota city. We made it a part of our plan to eventually visit Omar and with a few days left to kill before our Brazilian Visa’s were ready it worked out perfect to be in a city so close to Bogota. We spent a great weekend with Omar being introduced to more friends and taking in the sights of Villavicencio. We felt the warm hospitality of Colombia once again as we were treated to food, drinks, live music and even a trip to the zoo. Unfortunately our time with Omar was cut short when we discovered the permits for our motorcycles were going to expire sooner that we had thought, forcing us to race to Bogota and try to extend our permits. When we entered Colombia we were asked how long we needed permits for and I had said 30 days thinking that would be lots of time… lesson learned. When getting permits for your motorcycle always request the maximum amount of time allowed just in case you want or need to stay longer than you thought. With heavy rains and flooding in the streets of Bogota we managed to make it to the permit office 9 minutes before closing which for most of Latin America means “You aren’t getting anything done.” I managed to get the paperwork handed in and was told to return the next day at 2 pm to pick up my extended permits. I returned the next day on time expecting to receive my permits but that would have been too easy. “The man who needs to sign your documents didn’t come into work today so you’ll have to come back tomorrow.” Thankfully the man showed up for work the next day and I was able to pick up the new permits. Then it was over to the Brazilian Embassy where I was amazed to find our passports waiting for us, both containing Brazilian Visa’s.

Free from Bogota once again we headed for Venezuela taking the scenic route on Highway 55 from Tunja to Pamplona which has now become one of my favourite rides. The road has it all, beautifully paved sweeping curves, magnificent views and an adventurous 100 km section of gravel and dirt in the high mountain plains. There were a few challenging sections due to past heavy rains and landslides but thanks to our new tires even Erin plowed through them with confidence. As we neared Venezuela I actually felt kind of sad. Usually I get excited to enter a new country but I had fallen head over heels for Colombia and felt it still had so much to offer me. Luckily our time in Colombia wasn’t over yet; we still had to pay our friends Yuri and Patricia a visit in Cucuta, a city located next to the border of Venezuela.

We arrived in Cucuta later than expected and as it got dark we searched to streets for an internet café so I could retrieve Yuri’s phone number from my email. After a shockingly expensive 3 minutes on the internet and the use of a local man’s cell phone Yuri was on his way. We could hear him coming from blocks away on his 1000cc custom motorcycle, arriving loud and proud with a smile on his face ready to escort us to his home. We were taken in by his whole family, given a room of our own and offered all the food we could handle. Excited to have a whole kitchen to work with Erin and I gladly treated our hosts to a few of our favourite meals many of which turned into quite the party as more and more friends showed up to feast. In fact every day is a party in Cucuta. We spent the evenings visiting with friends, enjoying live music and frequenting our favourite bar in town Sofi Sport Cocktails which serves up awesome frozen cocktails that are perfect for Cucuta’s hot weather. Somewhere between all the fiestas we even managed to get some maintenance done on the motorcycles, changing the oil and rear brake pads.

From one great excuse to another our stay in Cucuta continued to extend itself from our original plan of 3 days to what seemed like a short 9 days. We managed to hang around long enough to enjoy our friend Alex’s birthday and my own birthday the day after. For whatever reason I’m really not much of a birthday person but getting to spend my birthday in Colombia with good friends was pretty cool.

Sadly it was time for Erin and I to leave Colombia so we said good bye to our friends and assured them we would meet again soon. With our bikes ready to rock another country and our friends Alex and Carolina as escorts, we headed off to Venezuela for what turned out to be our longest border crossing yet…

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December 10th, 2011 - Broke down in Vallarta

Finally ready to leave the town of Sayulita, we loaded up the bikes and headed south once again. Having taken 6 days off we were eager to ride and decided to go straight through Puerto Vallarta and continue down the coast. Just as we cleared the metropolis that is Puerto Vallarta my bike died. It’s rather depressing to sit on the side of the road with your trusty motorcycle which was now nothing more than an oversized luggage rack.

With the help of a Mexican mechanic we quickly identified that one of my coils was beginning to fail and therefore continually blowing my main engine fuse. The mechanic charged me eight dollars which I gladly paid as electrical problems are not my specialty. This was a steal of a deal for two reasons: 1) a shop in Canada/US wouldn’t even look at the bike for less than $60 if not more and 2) the man worked ridiculously fast unlike some mechanics that seem to work on their own time. After a half a dozen phone calls my new coils are on route to Puerto Vallarta and Erin and I now have some time to explore this beautiful ocean front jungle.

Free of the initial negativity of the situation we realised that we had broken down in a perfect location and in fact my lifeless bike was a blessing in disguise. We continue to meet amazing people who truly reflect the kindness and the spirit of Mexico. We have been given a wonderful place to stay, so far for free, and have been invited to join their family for an outstanding chicken dinner. The city and the area surrounding Puerto Vallarta also has a lot of beauty and culture to offer which we would have missed had my bike continued to carry me south. We’ve also come to the realisation that we won’t be making it to the southern tip of Argentina this season.  With high mountain passes some above 15,000ft and the southern geographical location of Argentina, the summer months for a motorcycle are only Dec-Mar. So instead of trying to rush we are going to keep our focus on where we are and enjoy the moment.

Our freed up time in Puerto Vallarta has also given us a chance to look into some of the not so distant logistical hurdles like our choices for crossing the Darien Gap from Panama into Columbia as well as the seemingly overwhelming task of obtaining our Brazilian visas. I feel completely relaxed and stress free about the whole situation, I mean what’s the bad side? We have to spend yet another year travelling and exploring beautiful cultures before our window of opportunity opens up again in southern Argentina… it’s a hard life.

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