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Posts Tagged ‘ south america ’

May 12th, 2013 - Bolivia II

After our second visit to Sucre we were headed for Northern Chile via Oruro. The road to Oruro turned out to be quite a little adventure as most roads in Bolivia seem to be. It was some beautiful high mountain riding with breath taking views as we climbed to the cold mountain town of Colquechaca. We found a super cheap place to stay which was under $3 a person and we went into the shop next door to find some cold beer to end the day’s long ride. I looked around disappointedly, only seeing beer on a shelf and none in a fridge. I asked the lady in the store if she had any cold beer and she laughed at me as she handed me a bottle off the shelf… it was ice cold. Colquechaca is the highest city in Bolivia at 4180m (13,710ft) in elevation and everything is cold including beer sitting on a shelf.

From Colquechaca to Oruro there were a lot of construction zones due to major landslides, some of which were closed at certain times but thanks to our nice motorcycle we got to pass through most of the closures. The construction foreman, guys in white hardhats that look very clean, dress nicely and drive around in a nice pick-up’s, liked our travels and our motorcycles and let us follow them through the closures. The “road” was extremely rough and it was hard to keep up with a 4×4 truck, often getting us stuck waiting for machines as they dropped huge rocks and debris onto the road from high above on a cliff. At one point we even had to ride up a muddy river for a kilometer or so which was the replacement for the road buried by a landslide… yes up the river not across.

In our opinion Oruro had nothing to offer and was a very dirty and industrial city. We spent one night there and quickly left the next morning. The border crossing heading into Colchane, Chile was very easy for stamping in and out of each country and completing the motorcycle paperwork. However, Chile held true to its strict scrutinising of luggage and had us un-strap our bags and send them through an x-ray machine. The Altiplano of Northern Chile is part of the widest section of the Andes and is some of the highest plateau on earth. It’s a very beautiful yet barren place with massive open expanses between mountains and snow capped volcanos which make for some amazing scenery while riding. Besides a few indigenous tribes who mainly raise sheep and llama’s there really isn’t any form of civilization which may sound nice but makes it extremely difficult to buy anything. Luckily we had filled our gas tanks with cheap gas from Bolivia before crossing which would give us enough fuel to head north across the wide expanse.

Our first night back in Chile we camped at 4300m above sea level and it was absolutely freezing. The next day due to our lack of food and water and to avoid another cold night camping we pushed hard to reach the town of Putre. The road had some bad sections of washboard and patches of deep sand which any biker hates but Erin seemed to hate the sand just a little more. The road took us up over 5000m and past salt flats and small ponds with pink flamingos. It was beautiful and exhausting at the same time. After an amazing hot shower and a great sleep in Putre we had used up our left over Chilean money from our previous travels in Chile and decided to head back to Bolivia where things are cheap. Back in Bolivia we rode past Volcano Sajama, the highest peak in Bolivia at an amazing 6542m (21,463ft). It is spectacular and I couldn’t keep my eyes off it.

We made our way into La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, and I was rather disappointed I must say. The city has engulfed an entire valley and it’s in a chaotic state of disrepair. The once beautiful historic center is falling apart and peoples disregard for proper management of waste and garbage has turned the city into a dump. When it rains the city’s waste drains downhill to the center of the city where the curbs and drains flood with the lovely smell of sewage. Also, due to the fact that the city is in a downhill valley, whether you walk or drive 75% of the time you’re going uphill and when you’re stuck in the cities terrible traffic uphill sucks (My poor clutch…). Despite my obvious “love” for La Paz we managed to find a nice hostel and get some things done that had been recently neglected including patching a massive hole on the bottom of my right boot. I don’t like carrying tires while traveling but even more so I don’t like buying expensive tires… which means I’m often carrying tires. We figured tires would be cheaper in Bolivia so we picked up a couple new rear tires to take with us into Peru as our current tires have about a month left on them.

Our next stop was Yungas Rd or as it more commonly know, the Death Highway. With a new paved highway built just to the west of Yungas Rd the old Death Highway is now nothing more than a tourist attraction. With all the traffic taking the new paved highway, Route 3, the Death Highway really doesn’t possess any danger unless you’re skilled enough to drive off the edge of the road and down a sheer cliff. Despite dodging a hundred people on mountain bike tours rolling down the road, Yungas Rd is actually a very beautiful ride and one I would definitely recommend. The road is in very good condition for the most part and has some great views and spectacular waterfalls. In fact, I was kind of jealous of the people effortlessly flying down the road on a mountain bikes.

Continuing north towards Caranavi the road was unfortunately closed during the day for construction and opened to traffic late in the afternoon which forced us to ride in the dark. The road was in poor condition with rough rocky sections and slick muddy sections. Ofcourse to make things worse the drivers who had been waiting all day for the road to open were now recklessly impatient and driving like mad. They would race up behind us in the dark to within inches of our bikes and flash there high beams and honk constantly trying to get us to move out of the way. We are on a tight single lane muddy road with nowhere to pull over except off the cliff and into the river below. Where is it they expect us to move to? When the slightest opening would appear Erin and I would pull over and the car would race past us only to confront the vehicle in front of us and repeat its ludicrous process of high beaming and honking. To make matters worse the traffic from the opposite direction was now racing through as well which meant things would constantly come to a standstill as both directions would meet in a narrow section of road and have a honking competition. The side with a big truck or bus always won, forcing the others to very awkwardly reverse. This was more of a death highway than the Death Highway itself, as were most roads in Bolivia.

We then undertook a long route through the mountainous jungle on the roughest road we have ever ridden. Luckily for us it was almost devoid of any traffic which meant it was only us against the road. I absolutely loved the ride despite dropping my bike in one of the many river crossings. Fortunately I was quick enough to hit the kill switch on the bike before hitting the water and therefore avoided sucking water into the engine. It was the challenge that drove me and I felt like we were truly exploring Bolivia. It took us 3 days to ride from Caranavi to Sorata via Mapiri and everyday was new and exciting with its own set of challenges and rewarding scenery and experiences. I would love to have spent more time in this area and I know it’s a place I will ride again one day but for now it was the perfect way to end Bolivia. We spent a few nights in a good bed in Sorata watching movies before packing up and heading to Peru to meet our good friend Karl who is flying in from Canada to ride with us for 3 weeks.

We loved travelling in Bolivia and for us its one of the best countries so far for adventure motorcycling. That doesn’t just mean it has bad roads but that it has exciting places to go and is cheap enough that you can go and do just about anything and not have to worry about sticking to a strict budget. Our daily budget for travelling is $25 per person which in some countries can be tight as that’s supposed to cover everything, food, fuel, lodging etc. We honestly did whatever we wanted in Bolivia without thinking of money and in the end our daily average was only $18.44 per person. That’s everything including all the fuel for the motorcycles! Bolivia is cheap! It is true that Bolivia tries to make all foreign plates pay a lot more for fuel however if you plan it right and have a little patience you can get your fuel cheap. Bolivians pay approximately $0.53 per liter for gasoline while they try and charge any foreign plate, including other South American countries, $1.32 per liter. This really pissed me off and I can proudly say that I never paid their ridiculous foreign price. Small towns with old gas stations didn’t know about the foreign plate rule as they rarely get tourists so that’s where we would buy most of our gasoline. When the price was high we would go around and try to buy it in a plastic jug or sometimes try buying it without a receipt and we could get it for a little less than the foreign price. It took a lot of work sometimes but in the end I’m happy to say that our average fuel price for Bolivia was $0.77 per liter. That’s much better than $1.32…

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January 23rd, 2013 - Argentina – South on the 40

Patagonia is infamous for its winds but what you don’t hear about is that it’s not just Patagonia it’s all of Argentina! Since day one entering Argentina from Uruguay we have been in constant winds. It’s absolutely relentless and is driving Erin and me crazy. For the most part it’s not overly powerful but it always manages to be a head wind working against you. I think my neck is permanently kinked to one side from riding for a month everyday in these winds. For once we would like to set up our tent in peace without the winds trying to blow it away before we can nail it down. We would like to sit outside and enjoy a meal without dust being whipped in our eyes and food. Don’t get me wrong I love sand in my eggs just not every day.

After days of crossing Argentina East to West over flat dry fields the Andes Mountains were a sight for sore, dry, wind whipped eyes. First chance I got I headed off road down an old section of Ruta 40 heading towards Laguna Diamonte, a nature reserve up in the mountains. The road was bad changing from hard packed ground to sand or loose gravel without warning but that wasn’t the worst part. It had corrugation like I’ve never seen before, a wicked wash board-like pattern that was unavoidable. The ruts were deep and vibrated the bike so hard I thought every bolt in it would snap leaving me with a thousand pieces of BMW to fit back together. Erin hadn’t been expecting an off road excursion at all so with a road like this she was unhappy to say the least. We pushed on vibrating our way closer to the mountains and the closer we got the less I cared about the condition of the road. It was beautiful with just a few lingering patches of snow on the mountains and cold fresh air being carried down by the constant and ever so “loved” wind. We arrived at the park gate and to my utter and complete disappointment it was closed. The ranged told us that we were too early in the season and that the park opened in 5 days. 5 Days! Come on! So we ate lunch outside the gate then continued on our way heading south. It ended up being a long 326km day of which over 230km’s were off road with long sections of terrible vibrating corrugation.

One of the next stops on my list was Valle Hermoso, only 25km’s outside the town of Las Lenas. In the winter Las Lenas is a ski resort but in the summer it’s pretty quiet and is surrounded by the jagged rock faces of the towering Andes. The road into Las Lenas was pavement in poor condition, most likely due to the harsh winters but still a very enjoyable and scenic ride. After the town the road narrowed and turned into an awesome gravel road that wound its way into my personal classification of paradise. To date this is one my favourite places I have visited in Argentina. Unfortunately we avoided camping there due to the forecast of rain the next day but we did have a long relaxing lunch. Here’s a little video I had made to say hello to everyone.

The farther south we got on Ruta 40 the more motorcycles we saw and I was surprised that almost all of them were BMW. I can recall specifically the handful of other bikes I’ve seen in Argentina just because they stuck out so much. For the most part I didn’t understand the attraction of Ruta 40. Sure it had its moments in the mountains but for the most part it is long and flat with not much to see other than the occasional view of the Andes way off in the distance. Okay, I understand it spans the whole country North to South but come on… We tried to detour on side roads when we could which led us to some truly great places in the mountains and amazing camping spots.  One side road detour failed after running into a National park that wanted $10US per person just to pass through. It was significantly cheaper to back track and take the highway… I think the old days when Ruta 40 was an adventure are over. It’s almost completely paved now and the sections that are still gravel have a brand new paved road sitting beside them just waiting to be completed and opened. We would often hop the useless barrier and ride the new pavement instead of riding on the pulverising corrugation of the gravel road. The uncertainty of gasoline also used to add to the adventure. How many kilometers was it until the next service station? Even then, will they have gas today? Now, if you wanted, the longest section without fuel is only about 220km’s… even a gas guzzling Harley Davidson could make that stretch. However Ruta 40 still lived up to its reputation and gave me my first puncture flat in 57,000 km’s. Thanks for that one. Here’s the video of the flat tire just in case you haven’t seen it yet.

Even if Ruta 40 itself isn’t much of an adventure anymore there are always going to be places that branch off of it where you can find some adventure and natural beauty. For New Years we decided to head into Perito Moreno National Park which is an amazing destination and is rarely visited by anyone. I had a real feeling of excitement as we prepared for this adventure getting food and water ready for the days to come. The park has no glaciers or spectacular waterfalls to attract tourists and is a long off road detour without gasoline which meant we had the park to ourselves. Out of 115,000 hectares we were the only visitors in the park. We enjoyed the abundance of wildlife and turquoise lakes surrounded by snow capped mountains while camping for 2 days. This is also one of my favourite places I have visited in Argentina and did I mention it was all FREE. No park fees and no camping fees, just us, the animals, beautiful landscapes and our good friend the wind J

Perito Moreno National Park was our longest stretch without fuel so far, 430km’s, not bad for 16 liters of gasoline. Over a year travelling on our bikes and they still impress me with their ridiculous fuel economy. Argentina is an expensive country to travel in but its saving grace is camping. It has been one of the best countries so far for camping next to Canada.  As we continued south we were camping more and more wherever we felt like, we even camped beside a gas station. Why not? Free is free. The only downside was our showers were fewer and farther in between but more appreciated when we got them.

The two major attractions in southwest Argentina are El Chalten with the world famous Mt. Fitz Roy and El Calafate with the world famous Perito Moreno Glacier. First up was El Chalten. We battled our way through the head winds towards Mt. Fitz Roy which stole our attention from all the other beauty in the area including Glacier Viedma off to the south. We rolled into town and were not surprised to find it infested with tourists. Literally hundreds of backpackers roamed the streets like zombies moving from one hostel to the next searching for the best “deal”. Deal doesn’t exist anymore in a town like El Chalten so you better bring a fat wallet. Even the prices of gas and bread were jacked up… We attempted to take a gravel road out of town roughly 30 km’s to look for camping at a nearby lake. Unfortunately so did every other car in town, so 4 km’s in we stopped and had lunch on the side of the road then packed up and left. El Chalten is not a biker town, it’s a hiker town. If hiking or mountain climbing is your thing and you have money to spend then El Chalten is for you, if not then it’s still worth a ride in just to see Mt. Fitz Roy towering over you in all its glory.

Last on the chopping block today is El Calafate which much like El Chalten has been raped by tourism but for some reason I didn’t mind it. We managed to find free camping just outside town on a river which was great for the first night, then we rode around town and found a campground with hot showers and excellent wifi for $7 a person. I was blown away with the amount of bikers, cyclists, and backpackers in the next campground over, which was almost full and charged $20 a person! Every day we would attempt to ride to Perito Moreno Glacier but every time it would be engulfed in dark, thick clouds and rain even though it was sunny in El Calafate. Finally on our third day we just went for it and endured the misty rain. We knew it was going to leave a hole in our wallet but the real piss off was the fact that residents of the province paid $3 while everyone else paid $20. I went in telling myself to ignore the tourist factor and just enjoy the glacier but I couldn’t. It felt as though we were a part of a tiny ant farm with little walk ways and the constant jabbering of people and whining of kids just ruined everything. The rain didn’t help either. I tried to take photos but it felt like I was taking a photo of a photo, it didn’t seem special. If you have never seen a large glacier before then I highly recommend Perito Moreno but for Erin and I we had seen them before and in much better circumstances. Back in June 2011 at the start of our trip we stopped at the Salmon Glacier which is one of the largest in North America. We camped beside the glacier by ourselves for 2 days and could enjoy it in peace. Still to this day it was one of my favourite places I have ever been. Perito Moreno Glacier is an impressive piece of ice but its beauty and intimacy were stolen when it was turned into a cash cow.

Stay tuned, next week hear how Ride The World Together becomes Ride The World Closer Together as we are down to one bike…

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December 16th, 2012 - Argentina Insurance

At first glance Argentina is a fairly modern country with Wi-Fi pretty much everywhere, consumerism in full effect and a police force that is actually equipped with photo radar. Despite its progress into the modern world it is without a doubt just as much a part of Latin America as any of the lesser developed countries that we’ve travelled through. Now I don’t just mean that in a Spanish speaking kind of way, I mean it in an ass backwards, drawn out, take all day or days to do just about everything.

When we entered Argentina I asked a customs officer if it was mandatory to have insurance on our motorcycle. He said yes insurance is required and told me that we could purchase it in the next town. By the time we entered the town, changed our money and found a hostel it was too late to purchase insurance. The next morning was Sunday and this is where Latin America started to show her face. Throughout Latin America Sundays are days of rest, basically to nurse their massive hangovers, so nothing is open. In fact sometimes finding a super market just to get some food is a challenge. So when the party was bumping till 6 am in the street beside our hostel (slept through most of it) we knew we weren’t getting any insurance. Besides the rest of the guests being bikers the hostel was really just an overpriced dump. That combined with me itching to get on the road and explore Argentina meant we were riding on down the road with no insurance. We put in a good 400km day and were thankfully not stopped by any of the numerous police check points or speed traps. I guess the police are the only people that have to work on Sundays…

We spent the next morning in a small town trying to get insurance but despite all efforts their company couldn’t insure foreign motorcycles. So down the road we went again passing too many police for our current lack of insurance. The next city was fairly large with big car dealerships and huge well known super markets but once again Latin America rears her horns. In previous countries visited it was common practice for stores to close for an hour to eat lunch and most likely take a nap (siesta). Now all of a sudden stores are closed for 2 hours plus. We even rode by places that we closed from 12:30 to 6:30! In our case the insurance places seemed to be closed from 12:30 to 3:30 and of course we arrived right around 12:30… We needed insurance so we figured we would just relax and have a really long lunch. By the time 5 o’clock rolled around we had visited 4 different insurance agencies all unable to insure foreign motorcycles. We were now hot, sweaty and pissed off that we had wasted an entire day with nothing to show for it. With increasing winds and dark clouds on the horizon we called it a day and got an overpriced hotel for the night. I don’t see how anyone could afford to travel in Argentina without camping…

We had heard from another biker that a company called ATM Seguros, which is a motorcycle specific insurance company, could insure our bikes. The problem was they are only in capital cities… So off we go again with no insurance this time heading for Cordoba city, the capital of Cordoba. We covered 520 km’s of hot flat terrain past many more police officers to arrive at ATM Seguros right as they’re closing. Lucky for us the lady working there was very helpful and stayed late to process our insurance. But hey, this was Latin America things couldn’t be that simple… The actual insurance papers and card had to be received from the head office in Buenos Aires and would take 48hrs. We told her that we did not want to stay in Cordoba, so to alleviate any potential police problems she filled out a manual copy of our insurance. She stamped it, signed it, stapled her card to it and put it in a plastic sleeve with the company logo. She said if it looked official enough the police would leave us alone. She then explained that she could mail us our real documents anywhere in Argentina.

With our insurance problem somewhat solved we took off out of Cordoba city and into the nearby hills. We spent a few days camping and exploring the beautiful mountain roads. Thanks to the higher altitudes the air was cool and with the sun shining it made for the perfect riding conditions. Now heading in the right direction, south, we were in search of a camping spot on a lake to relax for a day. After riding down Ruta 9, one of the most spectacular tiny mountain highways, we finally arrived at an awesome lakeside FREE campsite. We had put in some long hot days in our attempts to find insurance and this lakeside camping was our reward. We cooled off in the water and lazed around in the shade all day. Then, when the stars came out we shared a cold beer and called it a day.

There’s more to come from Argentina as we start exploring the Andes Mountains.

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May 16th, 2012 - Colombia Video

Colombia was great and we felt it deserved a video. I wish the video could have been 10 times longer… cramming 45 days of footage into 4 minutes isn’t that easy. The video is short and fun. Hope you enjoy it.

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April 12th, 2012 - Central America Video

Finally!! The Central America video is finished!

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March 22nd, 2012 - The Boat

We arrived early morning in Cartagena, Colombia and as we emerged from the rusty belly of our sailboat we were all surprised by Cartagena’s modern appearance. Skyscrapers surrounded the bay reflecting the light of the sun which was beginning to rise over the container docks with an ambient orange glow. It was a beautiful morning spent drinking coffee, eating breakfast and discussing with our shipmates plans for Cartagena. The ten bikers on board, Erin and I included, seemed to radiate with excitement. We had all been through our own adventures to get here and where the road will take us no one knows but one thing is for sure… We’re in South America!

Back in Panama, Erin and I were the first motorcyclists to arrive at the dock in Carti and quickly spotted our ship, the Stahlratte, anchored next to a nearby island. It wasn’t long before the rest of the motorcycles showed up and the ship took position next to the dock. One by one the bikes were ridden to the end of the dock and loaded by winch onto the boat. We all seemed to have complete faith in the crew and their methods of loading the bikes but as you watch your motorcycle being lifted out over the ocean you can’t help but shiver. The loading process was surprisingly fast and soon we were onboard and anchored next to the small island where we had originally spotted the Stahlratte. We spent the afternoon swimming, eating and enjoying the culture of the local Kuna Indians while the crew was hard at work wrapping up and securing our bikes for voyage ahead.

The next morning we loaded the rest of the passengers and headed out to explore the beautiful San Blas Islands. With a total of 24 people and 8 motorcycles on board I was pleasantly surprised at the level of comfort and space the ship maintained. The personal areas below deck were spacious with comfortable beds, reading lights and plugs. The upper levels of the ship had plenty of comfortable seating options and even with 24 people sharing one toilet there was never a problem. The food served on board was truly amazing and the crew even tried to cater to vegetarian needs. If you plan on sailing with the Stahlratte I guarantee you will not go hungry.

We stopped at a picturesque Caribbean island where we snorkelled in the incredibly clear blue water and walked the white sand beach of our tiny deserted island. In the evening a BBQ was set up on the beach and we ate another great meal followed by cold drinks and a bonfire. I quickly fell in love with that tiny island and knew that I had to make the effort to sleep on the island rather than the ship. The captain had no problem with the idea and many of the adventurous bikers were interested as well so we made a quick trip to the ship and grabbed supplies. Seven of us returned to the island and spent the evening telling stories of our travels around the bonfire before passing out on the beach. It was a perfect night and a great accomplishment for an avid camper like me to spend a night on a tiny deserted tropical island.

The voyage to Cartagena was not an easy one for many of us on board. As we cleared the reefs surrounding our tropical paradise and sailed out into open waters things got rough. We were told to expect 3 to 5 meter waves and I thought that was going to be an exaggeration but it wasn’t… As the waves started to toss the ship around Erin grabbed hold of my arm scared the ship was going to flip. My eyes turned to the captain who was whistling, smiling and making jokes with people. I assured Erin that if we were in any real danger he would probably have a more serious look on his face. For us land lubbers the 15 ft waves were relentless and within the first hour, half the people on board were extremely sea sink and puking over board while holding on for dear life, Erin and myself included. With an empty stomach I soon figured out that I could avoid most of the sea sickness by sleeping so I spent the rest of the sailing time comatose in bed. However I still managed to eat three meals a day, when I would hear or smell the food I would awake and emerge from my berth, eat a quick meal and return to bed before getting nauseous.

Overall Erin and I had a great experience of which the best part was the people. Everyone on board got along really well and we have made some great new friends. Would I recommend the Stahlratte as passage between Panama and Colombia? Yes. Would I do it again? No. They took very good care of the motorcycles as well as the customs paperwork. I would not hesitate to put my bike on board the Stahlratte again but for myself I would fly. Even back on land my body continued to feel the motions of the boat, causing nausea and headaches.  It took 3 full days back on land before I felt normal again… So with new friends to ride with and the beauty of Colombia to explore we start our journey through South America.

PS. Keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming Central America video…almost done… I know it’s always “almost done” (we’re on Colombian time now)

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September 23rd, 2011 - The bees, trees, and a dead cow

When I find a road that is not on the map, my first reaction is to always roll on the throttle and ride straight for it. This time I found a road that was not charted, was reasonably short, and from the GPS Topo maps, it seemed to be passing through some beautiful landscape. Little did I know that this 50km section would prove to be one of the most isolated, hottest, and sandiest roads in entire Argentina. Read the rest of the story…

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