Welcome Ecuador! - Jan 22, 2009

Border crossings are about - Patience - Patience - Patience...
We got to the Ecuador Border in Tulcan in the afternoon, thinking it could be a quick crossing and a short drive to our next camp.
But it never works that way. Two hours line up to get our Passport stamped. The immigration officer was in no hurry to get things done. While I waited in line, Angela went to take care of our bike papers. Hoping we could get them done at the same time, (normally passport first, then bikes) The good thing about a women, the guys like to flirt! So little flirting get you a long way with Immigration...
She got her bike papers done ( one hour!) Meanwhile I was still waiting in line - but without my passport!!! Angela had my passport to try to get our bikes in together. The line started to move and they let me in the immigration room... but still no sign of Angela, meant I didn't have my passport! I couldn't loose my spot in line to find Angela, so I was getting nervous that my time would come and not have my passport in hand.
Finally Angela was outside the door. Again, a little sweet talks with the guard got her in. We waited another 1/2 hour to get our stamps. But now my bike papers still needed to be done. Back to the office. The man was even in less of a hurry then the immigration officer. Telling us all kinds of uninteresting stories, we just wanted to get it done and leave.
Three ladies come in the office to pay some taxes on a TV they had purchased in Colombia - ( high taxes need to be paid when purchasing goods from Colombia and brought back to Ecuador) A major argument started with the 3 ladies and the Tax man when the ladies didn't want to pay their taxes and started to brag the man for a cheaper price. Angela and I just sat there watching the hole scene and just wanted to get our papers done and get out of there. Time was passing by, now 4:30 pm.
The man finally put his attention to us, still moving at turtle speed, typing on his keyboard one finger at a time. Impatience building in our minds, finally the man says " Listo"
We stepped out in a hurry, put on our helmets, and drove off into the unknown of Ecuador....

Riding the curves of Colombia

Before even getting to Colombia, we were told by many NOT to go! It's Dangerous, you'll get kidnapped by Farc or loose your bike...
We heard all possible negative stories about Colombia.
On our arrival, we were treated with the best service at Moto Mundial bike shop, then a friend of Angela's brother invited us for breakfast in Bogota - also hooked us up in a 4 star hotel for 3 nights! Maybe we were looked at funny in Bogota from several bums on the streets - our blond hair doesn't help! - Never once we felt in any danger.
We finally hit the road after 5 days in Bogota. Once out of the city, the riding was nothing but spectacular scenery in vast green mountains, windy roads of the Panamericana.
After a long day, darkness was coming fast in the deep mountains so we started to look for a camping spot. As we passed by a little house next to the hwy with a big yard, I stopped and told Angela I was going to ask to camp.
It didn't take long for the family to open the gate and let us in with our bikes... " Please, camp anywhere you like!"
We unpacked the bikes, set up the tent and next thing we knew, one of the little boys walks over with 2 cups of coffee and bread. - An our later they wanted to invite us for soup. (we politely refused and warmed up our can of Lentils)
Later in the evening they showed up again to invite us for fresh hot cocoa and cookies.
They woke us next morning with 2 more cups of coffee. Still wired from last night cocoa and coffee, we started to pack our bikes, said our goodbyes to our new friends and set off to the " La Linea" an 80 kms VERY windy mountain pass to Armenia - one of the most beautiful drives in Colombia's Panamerica, reaching a altitude of 3500 meters and a truckers world.

We rode over one thousand Kilometers on the Colombia Panamerica, got stopped only once by a young military guy so he could check out our bikes and practice his english. We met the most hospitable people along the country. Never once had any problems. We camped in 2 family backyards, and stayed in several hostels in the cities. ( highly recommend Casa Blanca in Cali - owned by a fanatic bike rider and very helpful couple, - Thanks Mikey!!)
After 2 weeks riding in Colombia, we were just happy not to have listen to all these scary stories and rumors of how "Dangerous" Colombia is "supposed to be!" We enjoyed every minute of it.
It was the perfect welcome to South America....

Visiting Catedral de Sal - Zipaquira

We rode 30 KMS north of Bogota to visit this Cathedral built in a salt mine. The traffic in Bogota is a nightmare. Buses, taxis and locals who think they are in a race track were passing us left and right. Not far out of the city I was asked to pull over by the police. We were expecting to be pulled over lots in Colombia. This was the first time - day 4 -
The police officer was about 18 years old. Looked at me and my bike.... " Your Title! " he ask, he only wanted to see my papers, not Angela's. I gave him my bike papers, he looked at them confused then hand them back to me. " From Canada" - I said. Ok GO.
Off we went, making our way to Zipaquira.

Curving and twisting tunnels descend into the Roman Catholic church, passing 14 small chapels representing the stations of the cross, which illustrate the events of Jesus' last journey. Each station has a cross and several kneeling platforms carved into the salt structure. The temple at the bottom has three sections, representing the birth, life, and death of Jesus.
The Cathedral was an impressive site. We made our way back to Bogota to find the traffic even worse then it was on the way out. Being stuck in traffic in a city like Bogota sucks!
Diesel trucks and buses will suffocate you with black smoke thick enough to blind you. Angela nearly got ran over when a bus cut her off so close that the rear end of the bus hit her harm! After an hour or so being stuck in heavy traffic, we finally found our hotel. Thank God!!!

We rested for a couple hours before we were asked to bring our bikes to a special overnight parking lot. The streets around the city are mostly one way. The parking lot was only a block away. We couldn't make a left turn to the street we needed to go. Trying to navigate our way to the parking lot was more of an epic then we expected. I got cut off by a bus and was forced to take a wrong turn while Angela was going another way. So there we were both lost.
After a few detours, I found my way back to the hotel to see if Angela was waiting. - No Angela - I decided to make my way to the parking lot and pulled off the " Illegal " left turn.
There was still no signs of Angela. I ran to the hotel to see if she found her way there, but still no signs. Waited at the parking lot... 1/2 hour later, she arrived...
She had been waiting for me at the intersection where the bus cut us off.
We looked at each other.... " It's time to get the Hell out of this city!!!"

Tuning up our Bikes

We arrived in Bogota at 6:30 pm. Jumped in a taxi and went straight to what we tough was a cheap *OK* hostel. Tired from the long day of traveling. We got in our room to find out it was the most uncomfortable bed. Only thing missing, was springs popping out of the mattress. The floor would of been better! Now hungry we went for a walk to find something to eat. Nothing was open except a cheap burger joint. Ordered 2 burgers, they were so disgusting that even a dog would not eat them. Ate the buns and went back to the hostel.

The next morning our bikes arrived at Girag. Took a cab back to the airport anxious to get our bikes before the office closed at noon. Some paper work needed to be done at the * Oficina de Aduanas * They told us that we needed photocopies so we walked back to Girag to get some copies. We then needed to go back to Aduanas to get these copies signed but now the lady that was supposed to sign our copies decided to go for breakfast. Frustrated, since no one else but this lady could sign our papers. We sat outside the office, it was now 11:50 - 10 minutes before Girag were closing. Frustration was building even more. They then told us that the lady will be back in 15 minutes.
I ran back to Girag to tell them our situation with this lady. They said they would wait for us. ( It was a long weekend, if we didn't get our bikes today, we would have to wait until tuesday!! )
I waited at Girag office to make sure they wouldn't close before Angela got back with our papers. Two hours later! - now 2 pm.
Papers were signed. We were very pleased with Girag's service but not to impressed with the *Oficina de Aduanas*

Happy to have our bikes back, we now needed to find a special place to buy these vests with our Plate #'s on them. ( It's a law in Colombia to ride a motorcycle with these vest)
Not far off from the airport, we got directions where we could find them. Happened to be next to some bike shops, so we looked at getting new tires at the same time. My bike needed a few new parts, so I got the hole full deal tune up - oil change, chain, sprokets, brakes, tires. The best service ever. They served us coffee, even shampooed our bikes for 1/2hour!!!
4 hours later. (we closed the shop!) Thanks to Moto Mundial...for the best service, our bikes were ready for the South American roads!

Welcome to Bogota Colombia - Jan 09, 2009

Colombia ... here we come!

It was an early morning start. We packed up the bikes and rode to Panama city international airport. We didn't get lost this time, fairly easy to find the hwy to the airport. We needed to be at Girag Cargo Terminal to leave our bikes by 9 am... (but first, we had to find it!) Time was going by.
Got there at 9:30 am unpacked the bikes. We didn't need to do much except take off our mirrors and some paperwork. - Oh ya... and pay lots of Cash!!
Our flight was at 11:30am. The next mission was to get ourselves to the airport, several miles away. Paying for a taxi was out of the question since we gave all our money to Girag. One of the the staff took us to the airport with his old run down truck. Driving at 15kms / hr we were starting to get nervous about being late to catch our flight. Finally got there, checked in our bags, all went smooth, next thing we knew, we were sitting in our plane about to take off for a new adventure into South America.

Angela got a little nervous when she found out that our plane was nothing but a small twin prop. ( she hates flying!!)
To top things out, we were sitting in the back with a mom and little baby in front of us... when the little guy decided to shit his pants and vomit before take off... the entire plane smelled. A boy next to Angela nearly threw up cause of the smell. Also did we.
Once the plane was air born, the mom could finally change the little man's dippers. Ouff!!!

We sat back, looking out the window over the Pacific ocean. Thinking about all the good memories of the past year. The beautiful places, people, landscapes in 20 000 plus kms thru North & Central America. Excited to see what South America is all about...

Colombia.... here we come!

How did we get to Colombia.... Jan 08, 2009

Along the journey south, many people asked us, " How will you get across the Darien Gap?" Can you ride your bike? - NO!!!
Crossing the Darien Gap would be a death wish, or the craziest adventure you could ask for.
A Gap between the North & South Panamerican Hwy - a 57-mile (92 km) stretch of some of rugged, mountainous jungle terrain, guerrillas, drug smugglers, poachers, and jaguars rule this vast no-mand's land.

But it's been done!!! ...

The first motorcycle crossing was by Robert L. Webb in March 1975. Another four wheel drive crossing was in 1978-1979 by Mark A Smith and his team. Smith and his team drove the 400 km (250 mile) stretch of the gap in 30 days using five stock Jeep CJ-7s. They travelled many miles up the Atrato River via barges. Mark Smith has released his book Driven by a Dream, which documents the crossing.
The first all-land auto crossing was in 1985-1987 by Loren Upton in a CJ-5 Jeep, 741 days to travel 125 miles (201 km) all on land. This crossing is documented in the 1992 Guinness Book of Records. In addition Upton returned in 1995 and became the first to drive a motorcycle, a two-wheel drive Rokon motorcycle, all on land through the Darien Gap, 49 days.

We spend 2 days researching our best options to cross into Colombia. Choice # 1 was to ride to Colon and find out if a boat was going threw the San Blas Islands and eventually to Turbo Colombia or Cartagena. After calling a the *www.hostelwunderbar.com*
to find out if we could get on any boats. They told us that NO boats where going at this time cause of rough ocean in Jan and Feb.
Most captains take these 2 months off holiday. The chances of getting stuck on some islands were high or loosing our bikes and ourselves at sea wasn't inviting.
It was by far the cheapest way to get into Colombia, but not the safest so we started to research and call the *Cargo Flight* option... A way out of the budget way to go, but much faster and safer.

It was disappointing to miss the chance to sail the Caribbean sea and visit with the Kuna Indians in the San Blas - ( one of the last unknown and unspoilt paradises of this world. It consists of hundreds of small tropical islands which are only inhabited by the Kuna people, the local indigenous group - crystal clear waters & untouched beaches)

We called Girag, a shipping company which many bikers use to send their bikes to Colombia by plane. Fast, efficient, safe but also came with a high price of $900 for each bikes! ( cash!)- Angela found tickets for us with Aires.aero for $250 a total of $1150.
It was either bite the bullet or risk our bikes, lives and what could be the end of the trip on some deserted island eating coconuts for the rest of our lives.
So we pulled out the good old visa card and booked our tickets. We now needed to run to a bank machine and get out $1800 for the bike payment. Sometimes the machines don't give you that much. We needed to make 4 transactions of $500 each. Paranoid that someone could be watching us withdraw all this money (in a bad neighborhood of the city) we started walking at full speed back to our Hostel so we could safely put our money away.
Now relieved that we no longer needed to ride to Colon or spend hours finding a way to get to Colombia. I made a killer sheperd's Pie, filled our stomach, watched a movie and called it a night.
Tomorrow will be a long day since we need to ride to the airport without getting lost! - get our bikes to Girag cargo terminal by 9am and catch our flight at 11:30am.

Lost in Panama City - Jan 07, 2009

"What is Panama City like?" - That was one question I asked myself before even leaving Canada. The end of the road before going to South America. The major city of Cargo ships passing threw the Panama Canal.

As we were riding closer to Panama City, we were just anxious to see what it was all about. We knew that the closer we would get to it, the more traffic would become intense. Someone had told us to take "the new bridge" - *Puente Centenario*
So we did. As we rode over the bridge, we got our first view of the famous Panama Canal. Our first stop was to see the Miraflores locks. One of the most impressive locks of the 80 kms long canal and the most visited place in Panama!!

The lock gates at Miraflores are the tallest of the three (the others being Gatun and Pedro Miguel), which is due to the extreme tidal variation that takes place in the Pacific Ocean; the tidal variation on the Atlantic coast is by far less. Miraflores Locks are slightly over one mile long, from beginning to end. It is one of the largest and difficult engineering projects ever undertaken.

Tolls for the canal are decided by the Panama Canal Authority and are based on vessel type, size, and the type of cargo carried.
The most expensive regular toll for canal passage to date was charged on May 16, 2008 to the 964-foot (295 m) Disney Magic cruise liner, which paid just over US$331,200!!! The average toll is around US$54,000.

The site wasn't as impressive as we expected, we saw a few big ships at the entrance and end of the canal. We didn't visit the tourist information viewpoint. Leaving our bikes without view was out of the question, also a line up at the door and a out of the budget cost. We watched a couple ships getting ready to cross the gates while we were also trying to make our mind if we would ride to Colon - 70 kms or to Panama city only 12kms away.

We had heard many stories about Colon, being a nasty, filthy slum city. A place where getting robbed or mugged was high risk! Especially on motorbikes! The reason to *MAYBE go there was to find out about our voyage to Colombia. Potentially by cargo boat to Cartagena, Colombia via the San Blas Island in the Caribbean sea.

After seeing enough of the Canal, we decided to head for the closer and safer option... ride to Panama city.

With a population of just over 1 million people. It sure was a test in our ability of driving in crazy traffic - especially for Angela... she's only been riding her bike for several days!! and got her license 2 months ago!!! ( But she did awesome!!! - a fast learning experience I must say!)
It didn't take us long before we got lost. With only a couple of names of different hostels we found on the internet. We asked around to try to find them, but we still managed to get lost.
The city as few traffic lights, one way streets, too many cars and insane bus drivers.

We finally found one hostel that was recommended to us. While I stayed with the bikes at the gas station, Angela walked to the hostel with a military officer to see if we could get a room. She was then told that ALL hostels that they new were FULL!!! - great! just what we needed to know.
So we decided to make our way to Colon after all, but it didn't take long as we tried to get out of the city....we got lost again. Finally got out of the city to Miraflores (we knew that spot well) asked around if there was any hotels not far (to avoid going back to the city) the few that we checked out at 150$ a night!! was way out of budget!

Exhausted from the traffic and frustration of getting lost several times. We went for some food so we come up with a better plan.
"Lets go back in there", I said. Now we know how to get to the same spot downtown, lets find a hotel in downtown.
It was getting late, so Colon was out of the question.
Back in the nightmare downtown. Now pouring rain!!! we were tired, desperate to find a place.
I pulled in one of the first hotels we drove by. Soaked & tired, I asked the lady at the front desk for a room. She looked at me thinking this poor guy... I even had the guts to ask " any good price cause of the rain???"
she laughed, "Si Senior" The normal price is $140, but for you... $77.
Deal!! -* You don't get if you don't ask!!! *
We unpacked the bikes. Enjoyed the luxury of a warm shower, clean room with AC, cable TV, internet, a couple free drinks on the house.
Our miserable experience in the city was only past. We sat in front of the TV and just happy to not on the road to Colon!