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…
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)
Before I move on to the exciting world of Central America, I feel the need to express something. Mexico is an amazing country with stunning landscapes and incredibly diverse natural beauty that is only surpassed by its loving people. It’s obvious that I hold a positive outlook on life and towards the places I travel but the message I feel the need to express goes beyond my attitude. I’ve seen firsthand what the media slander concerning the dangers of Mexico have done to the country and how their tourism is directly affected. I understand a drop in economy has taken a toll however in the first 5 months of our travels all we received were warnings, sometimes absolutely ridiculous, about the concern for personal safety in Mexico and those warnings generally came from people who have never even been to the country. After riding for nearly 2 months around Mexico, we can honestly say we felt just as comfortable on the roads, in the towns, at the bank, in the markets and around the people as we do in our home country of Canada. As long as you are always aware of your surroundings and have a decent amount of common sense then we’d recommend Mexico to everyone as a safe country to travel in.
We entered Guatemala rather easily and I found it strange that I had no anxiety, butterflies or bad thoughts of any kind crossing the border. In my experiences border crossings always seem to hold a certain amount of tension but for some reason there was none. Maybe I had become accustom to the process and realised if you got nothing to hide then you really shouldn’t have any problems. (Upon completion of Central America I will post a Travel Log concerning all the logistics of the border’s we’ve crossed.) Our first night in Guatemala was spent in a small town approximately 30 km’s from the border of which we entered. Upon first impressions Guatemala didn’t feel any different from Mexico but I did feel a sense of accomplishment being in another country. It was like I was one step farther from home and one step closer to achieving my global dream.
As we rode farther and farther Guatemala expanded into dense, humid jungle, covering the mountains and volcanoes. It’s definitely a country visually far different than Mexico. We made our way through a valley following a system of crystal clear rivers and within 30 minutes we found ourselves climbing out on a series of switchbacks passing trucks as they would crawl up the hills and choke us out with their deathly exhaust smoke. Upon my stomachs request we stopped at a beautiful hillside restaurant situated high in the mountains surrounded by pine trees. The air was cool and carried the smell of the pines throughout the restaurant. Our hosts were very generous and brought us more than enough food for two people even though we had ordered one meal to share, explaining that we were on a tight budget. After a couple complimentary Jello cups for dessert and a quick photo shoot of the restaurant owner posing with the bikes we were off again heading to Atitlan Lake.
Atitlan Lake turned out to be an incredible destination surrounded by small towns, mountains, farmlands and Volcanoes. As we descended towards the lakeside town of Panajachel I felt right at home. It has been some time since we’ve visited a lake as impressive as this and my thoughts turned to camping back home. I sat on the shore in the dark near our tent and watched the city lights flicker on the other side of the lake. It was a beautiful night. Not knowing what to expect, Guatemala has really surprised Erin and I. Everyday’s better that the last with excitement and adventure waiting around every turn. Stay tuned for more from Central America…
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.
With parts showing up at our door step everyday work has finally commenced on our motorcycles. Although, its an odd feeling to see your bike, the one you are supposed to be riding around the world, look like this…
I started feeling bad that it had been two weeks since I posted a Travel Log so I thought I should get writing. Texas has been a great experience with awesome food, beautiful weather and best of all family. Erin and I are staying with my father in Amarillo, Texas and feel right at home here getting to know my aunts, uncles, cousins and many other new friends. Our days are filled with preparation for Mexico and South America including ordering spare parts, tires, camera equipment and going over a whole list of things to do. We now have Texas insurance on our bike’s and to our surprise we get to keep our BC plates. Everyone back home will be blow away to hear that a years insurance for BOTH bikes was only $97. Crazy! In Canada they would probably be $97 a month…each!
We get to spend our evenings and weekends with my father Rolly doing all sorts of good things from American 10 pin bowling to a short road trip out to the town of Canadian. We had an awesome day in Canadian and got to enjoy their fall foliage festival, partaking in free wagon rides and the beauty of Autumn.
The temperature has started to drop here in Texas going as low as freezing at night but the signs of their overly dry summer are everywhere. They had temperatures reaching 111F (44C) and it basically lasted all summer with no rain… even in the two weeks we’ve been here we’ve only had one tiny rain overnight. Its nice for Erin and I to be rain free but Texas could really use some…
I’m finding it really rewarding to work on the bikes and take pride in all the money we are saving. Today we changed Erin’s steering head bearings, a job that would cost around $500 to have done, after parts and tools it only cost us about $50. My manual gave this job 4 out of 5 wrenches on the difficulty scale but it only seems to be time consuming rather than difficult. It feels really good to take care of our bikes and doing it ourselves is that much better.
Hey check it out a dog in a tree!! The neighbors dogs are awesome and this one loves to jump.
Erin and I would really like to thank everyone that helped make our stay in New York City unforgettable. The generosity and hospitality we received from our new friends John, Nick and Don allowed us to experience one of the biggest cities in the world. We absolutely enjoyed every second we got to spend in New York City and look forward to the day we can return on more of a vacation budget than our current travel budget. I don’t consider myself to be a city person but I enjoyed NYC so much that I wanted to put together a little video of our time there. It doesn’t have anything to do with motorcycles but I hope it shares some of the beauty and culture that we were able to experience. Erin and I walked all over the city at all times of the day and night and never did we feel unsafe. It truly is a world class city. (This Video and Travel Log took 6 hours!!! to upload on McDonalds Wifi… I hope you enjoy.)
Through some travelers luck and coincidence we hooked up with a retired couple in New Jersey that we had met In British Columbia at the top of the Salmon Glacier three months earlier. Our hosts Kathy and Jimmy treated us to an amazing Chinese Buffet and afterwards insisted on putting us up in a motel for the night. We would have been more than happy to set up our tent on their lawn but were excited for our first motel of the trip. The next morning they picked us up and took us for breakfast and after our excellent meal we headed back to their house where they had kindly stored the bikes in their garage. As we packed up the bikes they loaded us up with 3 days worth of food, t-shirts, soap and a handful of rags. Throughout packing we were discussing our plans of making a BMW motorcycle rally in South West Tennessee and they helped us plan a nice scenic route. As a last act of generosity and kindness they gave us $50 to cover any tolls we may encounter on our route.
Erin and I had originally planned on following the east coast down to the Florida Keys, the southernmost point of the United States, but decided that attending a motorcycle rally would allow us to share our story with so many other passionate BMW riders. This change of direction also frees up more time for us to spend with my father in Amarillo, Texas. It was going to take us many long days of riding to make the rally and on our first day leaving Kathy and Jimmy’s place we managed to ride through 5 different states. I was blown away at the end of the day when I calculated our fuel mileage… 66.48 miles per gallon. This was our best mileage to date and I sat staring at the bikes with a big smile on my face proud of our choice of bike.
Over the next few days we rode some of the best motorcycle rides in the United States including “The Tail of the Dragon”, 318 curves in 11 miles. The weather was fantastic and perfectly accented the picturesque scenery we were winding through in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. We soon found ourselves in Lynchburg, Tennessee, home of the Jack Daniels Whisky distillery. Anyone who knows me is aware of my love for Jack Daniels, it truly was a dream come true for me to experience the tour of the distillery. Excited for our second Couch Surfing experience we enjoyed a short ride to Nashville to meet our hosts Heather and Tyler. Everyday life for them was an awesome night for us and we all partied hard with their friends Brian and Lindsay, two dogs and indoor potbelly pig! These were some of the gnarliest people we have met on our travels and their generosity was outstanding. Our stay in Nashville was way too short but we look forward to the day we can return and slay another night with our new friends.
After a late morning in Nashville we rode south on the Nanchez Trace Parkway heading for the BMW rally in Pickwick, Tennessee. I had no idea what to expect from our first rally and as our headlights lit up the campground I was shocked by the sea of tents and motorcycles. We found a spot amongst the chaos to set up camp and spent the night getting to know a few of our neighbors. Erin and I enjoyed the social aspect of the rally very much but were overly excited to accept a few awards the next day. I received the award for “Long Distance Male” as I had travelled the farthest to make the rally. Erin received two awards, “Youngest Female Rider” and “Long Distance Female”. The word of our travels stirred up a lot of attention for us and we loved telling our story over and over to excited and supportive listeners. The last morning of the rally we stayed to watch the BMW Rams Club meeting, and were absolutely thrilled when they invited us to join their club. They generously waived the entry fees and hooked us up with some awesome patches for our jackets. We are proud to be the only international member of the club and look forward to sharing our adventures with their community.
So the rally for us was a complete success and we are very happy with our decision to change our route and spend some long days on the road. We made so many contacts that will be helpful throughout our travels, anywhere from Mexico to Russia. Now back on the road we are heading for Texas…
Hey everyone, Check out the video of our travels throughout Canada. Erin and I really enjoyed traveling Canada and it feels great to see our home country before traveling the world. If anyone has any questions about where any footage was filmed feel free to email us, we would love to talk to you. I apologize for any imperfections in the video, I had problems with the compatibility between my footage and the editing program. I have solved the problem for future videos. Enjoy
Follow the journey: six continents, two-hundred countries and twenty-four time zones, as I ride my motorcycle around the world to raise funds and awareness for the number one cause of death in the world: Hunger.