Sunday, 9 February 2014

Motorcycle not included, a post about the Galapagos from Heather


I'm usually pretty adamant about just contributing photos to this blog but seeing as Oli wasn't around for the Galapagos bit I'll do the writing thing too. Hear it goes...

I WENT TO THE GALAPAGOS AND IT WAS AWESOME!

Knowing I'd be in the right part of the world to visit these islands it had been at the back of my mind to try and get there during the trip. But since it's such an expensive place to go and our trip isn't exactly a brief one I assumed it wouldn't happen. When Oli announced his ideas to rebuild Janelle's engine in Quito himself, the idea of waiting in a hostel room for that to happen immediately sent me to the travel agents.

The money involved was still a worry. At this point it would be the difference between going home with some level of financial independence or going home flat broke to live with the parents indefinitely. So being a biologist and it being the Galapagos I obviously opted for the latter (hi mum).

I'll tell you how I did the trip and then give you some top tips for things I hadn't considered when doing the Galapagos on a budget. After asking around numerous travel agents I came to the consensus that they do generally all offer the same things. it's always worth asking around a few but there was no huge variation. I wanted a trip that would leave within the week and be a budget option. All travel agents came back to me with the same boat tour options and hotels for the same price so it was just a case of choosing the people I liked best. I chose Shine Galapagos, a small company with two very nice ladies sat in a office doing all their work over the phone rather than online. I don't know why but I found them endearing and they clearly wanted to find the best trip for me.

On the Tuesday I went shopping for a holiday, booked on Wednesday and left on Friday. I would say that in general it rarely pays to book in advance in Latin America. We've never been unable to do an activity because it's been overbooked but we have met people who have payed up to double the price for booking in advance. That being said if you have a limited time on holiday you're quite right to get your time organised in advance.

I booked a 5 day tour on a small boat (10 passengers) called The Flamingo. Flights to the Galapagos from Quito are a standard $480 for foreigners (cheaper for citizens of Ecuador) and the park entrance fee is $100. So before you leave the airport you've spent $600 that can't be avoided. The 5 day boat tour with meals included set me back another $700.
Escaping the mechanical worries
On arrival in San Cristobal it turns out the airport hasn't actually been built yet, so after showing my passport to a nice man sat on a bench and handing over my $100 entrance fee I was greeted by Alfonso, The Flamingo's tour guide. We went quickly to the boat where the rest of the passengers were waiting, on the way passing about 20 sea lions lounging around on steps/boats/pavements in the harbor area. I was utterly amazed by what nobody else batted an eye to.
Chillin' on the boat

We boarded the Flamingo, a modest sized boat but with well kept cabins for 10 and a tiny kitchen that the chef managed to dish 3 full meals a day out of (lunch and dinner being 3 courses) despite the fact that he himself was about the width of the kitchen. I was instantly impressed with the friendly service and also enjoying the company of the other passengers on the boat. We were a very international group coming from Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada and the UK and instantly got on well (half of us as it turns out were biology graduates!). Following lunch we set sail for Kicker Rock, a renowned spot for snorkeling with hammerheads. After about a 3 hour boat ride we were ready to get in the water having donned our snorkel gear and hopped on to the small dingy. We arrived before other boat groups and so at first had the place to ourselves. We all jumped in to the water and were first in shock from the cold and then from the sheer number of sharks swimming below us! It was an incredible view of reef sharks and fish swimming through the channel created by the rock formation. we followed them through and were greeted on the other side by sea turtles! Just hanging out and floating around not going anywhere. After about half an hour I was shivering pretty badly and even the sharks couldn't distract me anymore so I got back on the dinghy and we drove a bit further round the rock. I said if anyone saw a hammerhead I'd be straight back in and sure enough just I was warming up I heard the call and got straight back in. Five hammerheads at about two metres a piece swam directly below us. SO COOL!



To finish off the day we took a sunset tour around Isla lobo (sea lion island) and saw the colonies and pups as the sun set. It was hard to believe that morning I'd been in Quito.
Sunset on Isla Lobos

The next morning we headed onto Santa Fe to walk among yet more sea lions and take a tour spotting my first blue footed boobies, iguanas, frigates and Galapagon hawks. Having worked with seabirds previously I was blown away with how tame everything was! The zoom on my camera is pants so any close up photos I took are testament to how unbothered all the animals were to our presence. After lunch we set out for some more snorkeling, this time close to sea lion colonies. Under the instruction from Alfonso to blow bubbles for the sea lions we had a few playful encounters.


My new puppy


Chillin' on the beach

Star of the show

Each day followed the same general pattern of onshore exploration in the morning followed by snorkeling in the afternoon. More sea lions, sharks, frigates, flamingos, boobies, turtles and the occasional stingray entertained us each day. It's hard to get bored of these close encounters but after 5 days I was definitely tired. I particularly suffered from the cold water more than the others in the group and had to remind myself not to push it for the sake of a sea lion, even though i was tempted!
Blue Footed Booby (stop giggling Oliver)
Iguana and Flamingos

Hawk, needs no introduction
A Frigate feeding its young

A marine Iguana poses for the camera


Flamingos, they're pink from something in the water




Iguana

The last night we spent near shore. Chef cooked us an amazing chocolate cake wishing us happy travels and the boat crew were allowed a night on land to stay with their families. Early the next morning we headed to the Charles Darwin research station to see the giant land Tortoises. Sadly lonesome George is no more after his passing in 2012 but the new guy on the block is "Super Diego", a tortoise with over 80 descendants who frequently tries to procreate with anything and everything including the males in his enclosure and rocks. So no way he's gonna let his species die out. It was a miserable rainy morning and soon we were saying our farewells and I was back on a plane to Quito.
Giant Tortoise survival meeting
Everyone from the boat

I absolutely loved my short trip to the Galapagos and it is something I will remember for a long time to come. If you want to visit the islands but aren't Angelina Jolie or Bradd Pitt who recently visited, here are some money saving tips:

1. Fly from Guayaquil.
Flights from Quito are about $200 more expensive so if your travel plans take you to Guayaquil, it's worth flying from there.

2. Book a cruise when you get to the Galapagos.
Don't be afraid to fly to the Galapagos without having booked a boat trip. Others on my cruise had done just this and it turns out there are very reasonable hostels on the Galapagos (some for $10) so not only will you get to explore the islands at your own pace but also you can get better boat trip deals from within the islands.

3. GO NOW!
I went in October 2013 when flights from Quito are $500 and the park entrance fee is $100. Both are set to go up, according to Alfonso they want to double the park entrance fee this year.  Also there is increasing pressure from the 'galapagon mafia' to do away with small affordable tour boats and just allow the wealthy Jacuzzi clad cruise ships permission to tour the islands. It would be a shame to limit this amazing place to the wealthy retired and Hollywood superstars but that is the direction it's heading with full support of the people with power on the Galapagos.

I hope you have enjoyed my brief detour from the mechanical turmoils of motorcycle travel, I certainly did!

Friday, 31 January 2014

This title purposefully left blank (Colombia to Ecuador)

writing this one from a campsite in Chile, turns out Chile is damn expensive, paying $20 a night just to camp, don't even talk about the food!! Quite a shock after Bolivia where a meal cost a buck fifty and a room wasn't much more!

So yeah, it's been a while but I'll fill you in from Colombia, sorry if I go over old ground.

We spent 2 months waiting in Medellin for parts, piston rings and gaskets. Who knew the local mechanic would lie about it only taking 3 days? We decided to go camping early in the wait and headed up to a national park where we stayed for 3 nights but only paid for one. It was an organised camp ground and there was some kind of relationship seminar going on. The tents had nice soft mattresses and rose pettles scattered on them. a big bonfire was setup in the middle of the tents and everyone got drunk, played with fire and I assume had sex although who would want to do it with the neighbours 2 feet and a thin plastic sheet away I don't know.
View from the cablecar over Medellin
"wild" camping with our nice BBQ area and lots of wood!
When we returned to the city we called into the mechanic who informed us that it'd be another day or two so we didn't wait around and visited another town. We'd repeat this several times over the next two months. I'll save you the surprise and explain what happened now. The address in Miami I was told to send the parts to was abandoned. It took us a week or two to find this out with the parts sitting all alone in a mailbox, finally got them redirected to the correct address. It then turned out the mechanic had not ordered the parts he said he would so they took even more time. Finally with everything in Miami they were sent to Medellin as part of a larger shipment of which someone forgot to fill in the import papers so we had to wait even longer. Most of the time we waited in Medellin in a small hostel where the owners got to know us and we became part time nannies for their daughter. Fun times!
Just another pretty street in Guatape
Anyway, the parts arrived and they installed them, rebuilt the whole engine and when I turned up to pick it up the engine was making a clunking noise. At this point I was beyond angry. 2 months and they put the damn thing together wrong. We left anyway, Our visas and bike import were running out so we had no choice.
We left with a churning feeling in my stomach and headed south towards Ecuador. The noise persisted but we tried to ignore it. I've kinda taken to hiding problems a bit from Heather. I've put her through hell with this bike and she deserved to enjoy the trip considering the time, effort and money she's put in. So we headed to Tatacoa desert in the south. Nice roads most of the way, we slipped off the main road onto a dirt track into the desert. At least with the rough ground I couldn't hear the noise from the engine. After several miles and wrong turnings we eventually found a campsite and pitched our tent looking out over a multicoloured, wind shapped landscape. It was beautiful, we watched the sunset and when it was totally dark we visited the observatory for a lecture on the stars and some moon viewing. We were even lucky enough to see a huge meteorite. Someone else saw a plane and thought it was another meteorite. We tried not to laugh too much.
The next day we headed south running for the border. The GPS showed lovely tarmac the whole way. It lied. We've posted the video already but there's another copy here. It took us two days to reach the border, a couple of close calls with trucks and general amazement at the condition of the road we finally made it with a day to spare on our visas. Phew.
Parked overlooking the Tatacoa Desert (the roadmap is Heathers artwork)
My future career path (Americans please research what fanny means in english!)
this sign is always reduntent. If you don't realise you're on a twisty road then you probably shouldn't be driving!
Borders seem to be getting easier as we head south. This one was simple enough, they barely looked at our papers. One more country off the list, 5 to go. That's half of them for those who are counting.
And into Ecuador, another easy entrance, show papers, get stamps, buy insurance. Worthy of note, the insurance here actually covers you in an accident as well as whoever you hit. $25 for the month and you're covered for $2,500, enough to get things started while someone sorts out your own insurance. We stopped in Otovalo for a couple of days, bought all our christmas presents (sorry they were so small but we had a serious weight limit), Got my waterproofs fixed (we burnt them on the tailpipe, you think I'd learn) and welded a shield over the exhaust so it wont happen again. All in all one of our more productive cities. We soon headed south for the Equator. A big moment in the trip yet the actual equator we crossed was not marked in any way. I marked it on the GPS and as we approached I walked the bike to the "line" and drew an actual line on the road for future travellers. What's the point in crossing the equator if you don't mark it somehow?
forward a bit, forward a bit wait wait back a bit... That's it. The moment we crossed the equator 0.0N
the "line is right under my foot, honest guv.

And the "real" equator, monument and everything. Honestly if you're an equatorial country and you don't draw a thick red line across the whole damn place then you've failed as a government.
We carried on down into Quito and then back up to the equator monument which just so happens to be in completely the wrong place. We can thank the french for that. We watched the usual gimicks and got the photos anyway! We're also lighter at the equator, I call it the equatorial diet and it has nothing to do with the suspicious food. Aparently the world is wider at the equator so you are further from the center so gravity has less of an effect. Photos taken, gimicks bought we headed back to Quito and the motorbikes salvation.
ME. Ok not only me but after months of shite mechanics and dodgy work the only choice was to try again. We found Diego online and I visited him the next day. We talked about the bike and he was clearly unhappy with the sound but also informed me that he no longer works on engines. One look in his garage and I was convinced he knew what he was doing so with his supervision I was to do my own engine rebuild. Talked about it with Heb and we both agreed that while I slaved away she should take a vacation. For five days she would be in the Galapagos (which I am pursuading her to blog about) and I worked on the engine. Day one and the engine was out, day two torn down and problem found. I wish it was something crazy difficult but it was glaringly obvious. I'd followed the haynes manual through the whole teardown and when I got to the output shaft I carefully checked how it was built against the manual. They put a washer in the wrong place. This started with the mechanic in Costa Rica who installed the new output shaft, it was continued by the second mechanic in CR who took it apart again, looked at it and rebuilt it WITH AN EXTRA WASHER! This is not just absurd, it's beyond that! They even had the damn haynes manual with a diagram of how to build the damn thing! I cannot express my hate for those mechanics in words. I trusted them and paid good money to have it fixed only to be left with a bike that made me sick to ride. I'd lost alot of enjoyment and still not back to 100% even now. The next mechanic, in Medellin, also with the haynes manual took the whole thing apart and reassembled it incorrectly AGAIN. In a slight defense of the mechanic he would have reassembled it the same way as he saw it when it came out BUT I told him of the problem and he should have looked at the damn picture.
Engine disassembled, clutch in the top box, alternator on the right and some parts that are probably important on the left.

Motorcycle gears, input shaft on the right (takes power from the pistons) and output on the left (turns that power into some mean torque and spins the rear wheel) a precise and incredible piece of engineering

at the top is the 5th gear, then a static washer (it can't move along the shaft) and a free washer. They are the wrong way round. this is the difference between silky smooth gear changing perfection and engine failure.

engine going back together

Anyway, problem found we took it to a gears specialist who examined it and even before looking told us that the gear pinion would have wear if the washer was in the wrong place, it did, we corrected it, tested it and rebuilt it. There were a couple of other problems that we fixed as well and put the engine back in, wired everything up, hit the starter motor... Nothing. Long story short we started to panic about a broken CDi unit, a part you cannot fix and is essential and is expensive. We tried everything, brought in other mechanics, nothing worked. We eventually took the bike to an eletrician out of town, he couldn't find the problem, said it was the CDi as well but we pursuaded him to keep looking. Eventually Diego decided to try changing one of the wire connectors and bingo it worked. A full day of worry and it was simply me wiring shit up wrong. In my defense it was pretty ambiguous which plug connected to which connector. A happy ending? this bike? Not on your life! Everything back together and guess what, is that a crack in the break disc? Of course it is! We got a new one modified to fit and left. the next day and headed for the amazon. Needless to say I was nervous about the bike but she is running beautifully now. Apart from the problems the insides are in great condition which is a testiment to Honda. Inspite of bad mechanics she is running beautifully.

Ok, I'll leave you there. Next post will be from Heb about the Galapagos trip and then back on the road.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Boats, Bikes and Beer

It's time to put the woes of central america behind us and move to sunnier climes. We had 5 days booked aboard the Stahlratte. We met Lou Lou, the captain, who had helped acquire transport for us from our breakdown to the boat. Time to load up and the boat came into the dock and using the winch normally reserved for the mainsail they hauled the bike onto the deck where she would sit, unmolested, for 5 days. We covered her with a rain sheet to stop too much salt water getting in and went to meet up with the others.
Loading the bike onto the boat. Was I nervous, not a bit...

Onboard the Stahlratte

In the launch going to the island.

Al, Andi, Ellen, Ron and Gale had arrived before us and were already relaxing on a small island just off the mainland. We were to stay here for the night instead of on the boat. It was a bit of a joke having to pay for accomodation after just handing over $1500 but it was a good experience. A true local island with no setup for tourists, soon after arriving we were shown our rooms. There was a quick scrabble to get the current occupent out. We were to stay in someone elses private room...
 
This is where we stayed the first night

On the dock meeting Ron and Gale for the first time.
We wandered around the island for a little bit. It was not much more than a patch of sand with houses on it. Every last inch had been built upon using traditional building materials and methods. The ladies walked around in traditional clothing and they cooked for us too. We soon dipped into the bottle of rum we brought with us and spent the night talking about motorbikes. It was a nice experience if a bit unexpected. In the morning I woke up early and got to see the women leaving for work. They all hopped on a long boat and headed off to various islands. One of their main economies is farming and selling coconuts. Most of the islands used to be mangroves but they cut them down and cultivated them. Most of those wonderful islands you see in the pictures are natural formations but the look, palm trees and sandy beaches, is man made. 
Local Kuna lady

Sitting on the dock of the bay watching the tide roll away

View from the crows nest

Around 11am the launch came to pick us up and then picked up the other passengers. Within the hour we were on our way to the San Blas islands aboard a restored fishing vessel over 100 years old. We were lucky enough to get a tour of the engine room and learn about the boat. You can imagine all the excited petrol heads checking everything out.

We arrived in our own personal paradise a couple of hours later and moments after lowering anchor people were jumping off the sides and using the rope swing into the water. It was beautiful, calm blue seas for miles around and we were anchored within a group of three islands. I made my first attempt at climbing the mast but I crapped out at the point where you need to be stretch armstrong to get into the crows nest so down to the rope swing instead. I forgot to mention that Heb had bought a new camera. A BulletHD helmet cam that's also waterproof to 10m. I decided it'd be a brilliant idea to use the rope swing and the camera at the same time. Just as I let go of the rope the camera disconnected from its laynard and plummeted into the water below. This was the first real use of the camera and I lost it. Awesome! The captain and I donned some snorkling gear and tried to find it. I saw it on the bottom and dived down to reach it. My dive computer recorded it as exactly 10m deep which is pretty lucky if you think about it.
Our own little paradise

Heb on a swing. She managed to hold her nose as she went into the water.

Finally made it to the top on the second attempt

The bow of the boat from above


We spent the next couple of days drinking rum, snorkeling and eating ridiculous amounts of amazing food. The Stahlratte is famous for its meals and they did not disappoint. While snorkeling, apart from the sunburn, we got to see stingrays, eels, an octopus and someone saw a turtle. They need an air compressor on board so they can take people diving. It really was beautiful. The first night we headed over to one of the islands and had a great BBQ as the sun set over the island and Heb got some great photos of the boat with stars in the background. The stahlratte was probably the most expensive boat for the trip but it was well worth it for the experience. The staff were great, the captain had some amazing stories and the other passengers were a lot of fun.
Starry night, hard to get the boat to hold still for the long exposure.

Captain, crew and passengars

All too soon it was time to leave, bring on the seasickness! Bigger boats are less likely to cause seasickness but still the swell seemed to be just right for some people and quite a few were getting drugged up to deal with it. We sailed for 24 hours in open ocean with no sight of land before finally arriving in Cartagena. The relief on Ellens face as we pulled into the port was obvious. 

The bikes were to be unloaded the next day so we took the launch to the mainland and found ourselves a hostel for the night before facing the wonderful immigration and customs officers.

Heat, have you ever been too hot? Not like working in a kitchen and getting too hot but heat everywhere with no relief? Cartagena is the definition of too hot! After the first day I was down with a headache and mild sunstroke. Just constant sweat all day and night. To make matters worse I had to drag my wheel halfway around the city to find an innertube and get it fixed up. It was not fun and the night wasn't any better. We were in a dorm room and there was a barely working fan. One girl was sleeping stark naked. I wish I could say this was sexy but the conditions were just horrible for everyone. In the morning it was time to attach the wheel to the bike and unload them from the ship. We found out they would be loading the bikes onto the tiny launch and taking them across the bay before driving them out of the boat. None of us were happy about this. We thought we'd be using the winch again. Andi and Ellens KTM was first to go. To say we were nervous is an understatement as we watched each bike being unloaded and taken across we all sat biting our nails.
Lugging the tire around Cartagena

Loading the bikes onto the launch to take it to the dock. More nerves.

All the bikes got over without incident. The launch did almost sink with Ron's BMW, the largest of the bikes, but everything was good. All the bikes had picked up a bit of rust while at sea but nothing too dramatic so it was time to get the bikes registered. At the customs office, the DIAN, we were to meet Manfred. Manfred is a whale of a man who would lazily and extremely slowly get our bikes through customs. First time through he managed to put the paperwork in with all the bikes being marked as negro/amarillo black and yellow. Only one bike actually was. There were various other problems with the paperwork so Manfred took the paperwork to redo it all and told us to meet him at 4pm. It was Friday and we were getting worried about time so we headed off to buy insurance as Manfred had instructed. You may be getting the feeling we don't like Manfred, you would be right. We arrived at the insurance office where we were promptly informed that we wouldn't be able to insure the bikes without the proper paperwork from the DIAN. Better news, the office closed at 5:30 so we would only have an hour and a half after meeting Manfred to get the bikes through customs and into the insurance office.

We arrived early to meet Manfred who managed to turn up late, and when I say he was a whale of a man I mean it. He was planet sized and always had food somewhere. He turns up with the paperwork and gets angry when we ask to check it all. We check every single detail and its mostly correct. Poor Al has the wrong passport number and so we all have to wait while Manfred slowly walks to the office and takes his time adjusting the papers again. We are all fuming and watching time tick by. Al breaks and yells at Manfred who promptly tells him we should all respect and thank him. Yeah right. We run out the door, jump on the bikes and blast through the streets of Cartagena like men possessed reaching the insurance office at exactly 5:30 where we told they can't do it. A bit of good biker bad biker (Al looked like his head was about to explode) and they finally said they could do it. It was Friday afternoon and they obviously wanted to go home so we all really appreciated them helping us out. Being stuck in Cartagena without the bikes for a long weekend was not a part of the plan.

We stayed a couple of days, checking out the sights and enjoying the food. Everyone was on a different time scale so when Heather and me decided to leave we only had one other bike with us. Andi and Ellen on their KTM, so we loaded up and headed East along the coast towards Taganga. Along the way we passed a volcanic mud bath and so had to stop and enjoy the health benefits of sitting in mud.
MUD BATH! A childhood dream come true.

We climbed this big cone and at the top their was a big square pit with a ladder going down into it. We climbed down the ladder into the mud. It was, to put it simply, gross but also kinda nice. You float on the surface of it and if you go upright you float with the mud level just below your nipples. It's a very weird sensation. We got a nice massage and floated about for a half hour or so before going for a wash in the lake. This treatment back home would probably cost you a months wages, we got it for about $4 each! So a quick lunch and with Andi and Ellen leading the way we rode to Taganga.

We spent just over a week in Taganga, we hoped to scuba dive and even got a job offer from one of the diveshops. We talked about it a lot and after the initial excitement of possibly working for a few months in the caribbean we decided against it. Taganga was nice but it wasn't right for us at the moment. We were more excited to travel than dive so headed off the next day. Andi and Ellen had left a few days before so it was back to a solo adventure.

Time to get away from the heat so we headed south again, this time towards the mountain city of Medellin, known as the city of eternal spring. It took us 3 days in total to reach Medellin. We stopped in a couple of small towns, for the night. It was still bloody hot and kept looking for the mountains that seemed to never come. Finally, on the third day, we saw peaks in the distance and it wasn't long before we were climbing up into the mountains. Along the way we met some other riders from Quebec, Yan and Mary riding a KTM and a BMW so we rode to Medellin with them. The mountains rose quickly and it took very little time to reach 9000feet. The temperature change was so great that Heather had to put on extra layers, I was very excited to be cold. when we stopped for a drink the people were so nice and friendly. It was a completely different culture from the lowlands. Our moods had also changed from being tired, hot and sweaty to suddenly having loads of energy. I love the mountains!
Riding into the mountains with Yan and Marie

We arrived in Medellin in mid afternoon and promptly fell fast asleep in the hostel, it was cold and we were loving it!

I think that's a good point to stop. Lots of bike stuff has happened since. Needless to say it has been expensive but worth it. We're going to get a bike back that we both feel happy riding. It should be finished in a day or two so I'll let you know what needed doing and the end result when that's all finished.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

So we left you in Nicaragua and we are in Colombia...

So we left you in Nicaragua and we are in Colombia now so I think we will play some catch up today and try to update you to today....
Volcanoes of Ometepe Island

In Nicaragua we met up again with Andy, visited an island in a lake and saw some more volcanoes. It was nice, we also tried some more surfing which was tiring. Andy advised me on a mechanic in Costa Rica and I got in touch with Aileen who, with Ceri and Mark, were visiting Costa Rica in a few days time. Aileen kindly agreed to bring some parts out for me so I could get the bike fixed up and we got in touch with the mechanic who said it would be no problem getting the bike fixed up. We were quoted $400 for the full job which was cheap but still a blow to our finances.


Mum always said I had a monkey on my back

Sunset in Limon

We left Nicaragua happy and hopeful about the bike. At the border we met Al who is travelling on a Honda Varadero. We had the usual border fun, another fine for being in the C4 for too long and a few hours spent doing nothing. It took a couple of days getting down to Heredia where Dave and Jackie were living and working as english teachers. Dave had kindly offered to let us stay for a few days and it was great to catch up with everyone from back home. In total there were 6 of us from Sully and it was like a home away from home. I unwrapped my new toys from Aileen like a kid at christmas and we talked about old times. We planned to part ways while I got the bike fixed and we would meet them on the caribean coast a few days later. Insert something about the best laid plans of mice and men here....


After the Sullyians left I rode the 100 miles to Nicoya and the mechanic along the pan american highway. Costa Ricas main highway for cargo, people and everything in between. Its single lane and choked with traffic. On reaching Nicoya I met Raul, the mechanic who was supposed to work on the bike but he told me he was too busy but knew a great guy who was going to do it. There should have been alarm bells. He took me to meet Nemo. His garage was dirty, bike parts were everywhere. Should have been more alarm bells. He told me he could finish the work in two days when I was originally quoted 5. More alarm bells. I ignored them all.

There were problems getting the engine out of the bike as some mounting bolts had seized but after the first day the engine was out and taken apart by the second day. New parts in and back together by the third day. I was excited to try out the bike but it was making a strange knocking noise. I was assured it was normal for a bike of higher mileage and the noise stopped when the bike was upright so I promptly rode the bike back to Heredia. About halfway back the bike lost all power, it was vibrating more than usual and I was worried but the power came back and it was easier to continue home than to return. I can only blame myself for this. I should have gone back. By the time I got to Heredia my hands were numb from vibrations. I got back in touch with Raul and we arranged to have the bike shipped back to Nicoya. More money, more worry and plenty of anger. Turns out the new part was slightly smaller than the original and the knocking was not normal. We got that fixed soon enough with a slight modification to the part and I went to pick up the bike again. I was still not happy with the bike as it was vibrating still but I made another mistake and decided to ride back.

By now the Sullyians had returned from their trip and were getting ready to return home. We were sad to have missed out on travelling with them but glad the bike was working and a day or so later we left for the coast. About 60 miles out the clutch stops working so I contact Raul again. He basically told me it wasn't his problem. Super angry now and feeling completely down in the dumps over the whole thing I didnt know what to do next. In the end we found a mechanic in the city who would fix the clutch. Turns out Nemo had added parts to the engine. An extra washer was causing the clutch to slip.
Carrying the bike back to Heredia after the clutch failed

Welsh themed going away party for Dave and Jackie

I'll be honest, even now weeks after I'm fuming about the whole affair. So many ifs and maybes. I wish I had waited until Colombia as I have met some great people here who have been incredibly helpful but I digress. The bike was running again and we had a boat to catch.

For those of you who dont know, there is a big gap between Panama and Colombia with no roads. Its called the Darien Gap and the only way past is by boat. The boat we wanted to travel on was the stahlratte as it is big, comfortable and has experience carrying motorbikes. We had very little time to get from the center of Costa Rica to the bottom of Panama so we hit the road running. Flew through Costa Rica and visited the Sloth Sanctuary where Heather met some new friends. Got through the border with no problems and into Panama. Brilliant.
Sloth

Once we were in Panama we headed for a town called David. Its the jumping off point for a lot of cool places in Panama. We visited the highlands near there and a town called Boquete. Really beautiful and most importantly, considerably cooler than the lowlands near the coast. We rode some beautiful roads and tried to forget about the drama from the previous three weeks. It was nice not to worry for a bit.
Crossing a rickety bridge in Boquete

Still on a time budget we headed south to visit the town where Panama hats were originally made and a womans artisan group. We found the town but no hats and the artisan group had expanded from the quaint little stalls the guide book had promised us.

We finished the bolt down to Panama City to meet with Al again and get ready for the boat trip. Al had been in town for three weeks and was a wealth of knowledge on the area.

With a day or two spare we visited the Panama Canal and learnt all about its history. An incredible feat of engineering started by the French and finished by the Americans it has only recently been given back to Panama to govern it and they are building an extension to be opened next year. A hugely expensive project expected to bring in billions for the government.
Ships entering the docks at the Panama Canal


We soon recieved an email from Lou Lou, the captain of the stahlratte and got in touch with a few other bikers who were on the boat too. It was here we met Andy and Ellen, a couple from New Zealand travelling two up on a KTM 950. On the 11th it was time to leave for the short ride to the coast and the stahlratte. Hopefully saying goodbye to the woes of Central America. Yet she had one more thing to throw at us. About 30km from the coast we got a flat. Seems the rear was running low and overheated causing the innertube to disintergrate. Luckily we were going fairly slow and only had a small wobble but with no spare tube for the rear we were screwed. We were at the back of the convoy so they didnt realise we had a problem for a few minutes we sat there alone and started to remove the rear wheel. Andy and Ellen turned up and they had a spare tube. Al carried on to inform the boat about our delay. New tube in, inflated and off we go, 1 km later.... bang. We were shifting along this time and it burst mid corner. the bike veared violently to the left as the rear wheel tried to overtake the front. Legs flying everywhere and the bike lurching all over the road I managed to bring it to a stop right side up. Heather was shaking on the back of the bike and we were out. For Heather this was the first real brush with what can happen on a motorbike. The adrenaline and fear left her truely shaken up and I think, even now weeks later, she isn't fully happy on the back of the bike. In all honesty I dont think either of us were enjoying ourselves. With a  few spots of fun along the way the past month or two has been problem after problem. The bike just isn't right and its sapping my energy. I'm not sure how much more of this we can take.

One dead inner tube on the way to the Stahlratte

Andy and Ellen headed to the boat to try and find someone to carry us back on a truck. 4 hours alter, $100 and the pain of having to be carried instead of using our own power and we made it to the boat. For now at least someone else could take the load and we could sit back and relax on the trip to Colombia.
The Stahlratte ready to take us to Colombia


 
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