The Lakes District

Adrian walking along the bank of a lake with a local stray dog

Adrian picked up a new friend while we were walking around Pucon…

15 November – Day 116

Pucon, Chile
Distance: 0kms

There is a giant, active, snow-covered volcano standing guard over the city of Pucon. It sort of reminds me of pictures of Japan’s Mt Fuji in advertising brochures – only in the flesh, it’s more impressive.

We’re in the Chilean Lakes District, an area considered one of the most beautiful in Chile not only because of the volcanoes, but also the azure lakes and the emerald forests. I have to say, it’s pretty spectacular. Pretty, and spectacular. It reminds me of a cross between Switzerland, New Zealand and the southern parts of Germany.

The weather has also improved – it was lovely and sunny today… which made the lakes and the volcano all the more impressive. It’s amazing how the sun does that.. a bit of bright light, and nature just sparkles.

Helpfully, there’s also good coffee and a vegetarian restaurant here… so in addition to natural beauty we’ve got our creature comforts sorted!

We walked around the various lakes looking for somewhere renting out sail boats so we could get out onto the lake, but they only had very uncomfortable looking manual paddle/pedal boats which didn’t really excite us. So instead we read our books while eating icecream in the sun on the lake’s foreshore.

 

Santiago, Chile to Pucon, Chile

14 November – Day 115
Distance: 756kms

Over 700+ kms today we went from warm (hot!) sunny weather where getting sunburnt was a strong possibility to a little town by a big lake where everyone seems to be wearing a beanie. And it’s for good reason – it’s freezing!!!

Today was the longest day in terms of distance travelled that we’ve had on the bike (although it wasn’t the longest day in terms of hours spent with bums in seat). We’ll be here by the lake for a few days… hopefully it gets warmer tomorrow!!!

And now – Peru!

One of the many mobs of locals who surround us when we stop!

One of the many mobs of locals who surround us when we stop!

17 October – Day 87

Loja, Ecuador to Piura, Peru
Distance: 340kms
One thing I haven’t mentioned about Ecuador yet was the extent to which we were – regularly – mobbed in the streets. In a positive, rockstar kind of way. People wanted to look at the bikes, touch the bikes, have their photos taken with us and the bikes etc etc. It was like nothing I’ve experienced before. Even when we weren’t with the bikes – ie just walking around – I had women walk up and give me their baby to hold while they positioned an older child/ren next to me for a photo. It all felt very surreal. Anyway.. that was Ecuador… and now…

Border crossings are back! And.. still long and somewhat trying. Our exit from Ecuador was a dream…. Really fast, friendly officials – I think the whole thing took less than 10 minutes. However getting into Peru… wowsers. We got ourselves in and our passports stamped without issue. Then, to get the bikes in, we needed a photocopy of the Peru entrance stamp in Adrian and Jeremy’s passports. Unfortunately, there was no photocopier on the Peru side of the border. Well… there was, but the customs guy refused to let us use it, saying it was just a printer and not a photocopier. Adrian even offered him a bribe, but no cigar. You can’t photocopy with a printer. Mr customs directed us back to Ecuador to a photocopy stand apparently located at the Ecuadorian side of the border (about 400m away). So Jeremy took all the papers etc and walked, in blazing sun, over the bridge and back into Ecuador… only to be told that there wasn’t a photocopier there and he’d have to go back into the last town before the border to find one, which was a good 10 minute drive away. But… we’d already left Ecuador – including exporting the bikes… so there was no way we could legally just ride back over without re-importing the bikes etc. Luckily, Jeremy convinced the Ecuadorians to let him ride to the town and back, so again he was off with all documents in search of a photocopier. It took about an hour, during which time Adrian and I tried to entertain each other with games of eye spy, scissors paper rock and thumb wars. It wasn’t really all that entertaining!! However watching a couple of customs officials solicit ‘donations’ from almost every ute that went past actually was quite interesting. We saw a few utes go back and forth multiple times and so put it down to fuel in Peru being 3-4 times more expensive than in Ecuador… it makes it worthwhile to cross the border for a petrol run, that’s for sure!

Eventually, we made it across the border – after the unhelpful Peruvian was somehow able to keep a straight face as he made photocopies of the bike import forms. Photocopies! On the Peru side of the border! Not just a printer after all..!?

By this time, we were racing sunset to reach Piura. My first impression of northern Peru is that it is dry.. much drier than Ecuador. Possibly because of this, the poverty seems starker; without irrigation it looks like it would be difficult to even grow food for the family. Yet clearly there’s a wet season here at some point – or wealthier people/corporations have access to significant underground water sources – as we past a number of very large fruit farms.

Piura is really just an overnight rest stop; we plan to be on the road straight after breakfast in the morning.

 

On the Caribbean coast now!

24 September – Day 64

Siquirres, Costa Rica to Puerto Viaje, Costa Rica
Distance: 119kms

Today I dipped my toes in the Caribbean.  It was lovely! You can tell we’re on the Caribbean and not the Pacific ocean side of the country, because all of a sudden there seem to be Rastafarians, reggae music and Bob Marley t-shirts everywhere. In no more than a couple of hundred kilometres – the country has changed! We got in early and took our time finding some accommodation…  although it’s low season, quite a few of the places aren’t prepared to negotiate on their prices at all. It’s strange really – we saw afterwards that one of the cabana places Adrian went to is offering a 30% discount for bookings over the internet… but wasn’t prepared to offer a real life, here right now potential guest any discount at all!! The plan is to have a couple of days here before heading into Panama and then shipping the bike across the Darien Gap to Columbia.

Puerto Viaje is mostly a ‘hippie tourist’ town with lots of yoga studios, retreat centres etc. Happily, that means they have yoga classes – and soy milk! It is very, very hot and they are low on water here… so low, that in the toilet cubicle at a cafe where we first stopped, the owner had put up a sign urging people to flush only when really, truly necessary.

Toad Hall

View of Toad Hall Costa Rica including pool and house - and tropical jungle

This motorcycling caper ain’t half bad! Our accommodation at Toad Hall

21 September – Day 61

Samara, Costa Rica to Fortuna, Costa Rica
Distance: 200kms

It took us a looong time to get going this morning! We started our day with what was a fairly average breakfast and then a fantastic swim. The water was the perfect temperature, with lovely, glassy rolling waves big enough that it was fun to float over them and not so big that you thought you might get smashed. Sensational. It was hot early, so we procrastinated and just faffed about, delaying the inevitable. I’m not sure if you’ve ever worn heavy, baggy jeans in hot and humid weather? I can tell you that the jeans stick to your legs, making it hard to pull them on – the kind of stickiness that’s like a wet plastic bag. It can also be hard to even bend your leg at the knee, as the denim stuck to your skin acts as a sort of brace. So yes, we were putting off putting on our bike jeans for as long as possible.

Eventually, we got going and it was actually pretty nice riding. It wasn’t as hot on the bike as it was off the bike, there were some windy parts for Adrian and not much traffic. We stopped for lunch by a lake by a volcano which was pretty impressive… and we decided to find some accommodation nearby.

Enter Toad Hall. We’d been seeing signs for it for several kilometres, including “world’s best guacamole” (a VERY big call), “shoes”, “wine”, “great accommodation”, “pub”. After we decided against the first place we stopped at, we made the call to find this Toad Hall. And – it was excellent!! For many reasons, including that the moment we pulled up outside, it started to absolutely bucket down with rain. I think it was a sign.

In a role reversal, I did the room checking/price negotiating – and I did a fantastic job, if I do say so myself! We’re in the “Jungle Suite” which is actually more like an apartment than a suite and has an amazing, 180 degree view of the lake and surrounding tropical rainforest, from the floor to ceiling windows that form one wall of the suite. There are some rescue birds in aviaries just below our room, including parrots that whistle, cackle like Dr Claw at the end of an Inspector Gadget episode and also a wicked witch sort of a cackle, and call out ‘hola, hola’ on a regular basis. It’s hilarious. And so nice.

Oh and the guac? It was very good!

 

20 September – Day 60

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua to Samara, Costa Rica
Distance: 267kms

If ever there was a bureaucratic process in need of improvement, it’s the process to cross the border from Nicaragua into Costa Rica with a vehicle. And I’m saying this as someone who has experienced more than her fair share of bureaucratic processes in the past! Wow. Talk about long and convoluted…  to get the bike in, we (well, Adrian) had to go from immigration, to customs, then back to immigration and then back to customs. No biggie, as often there are different offices involved. It’s just that for some unknown reason, in Costa Rica these two offices are 400m away from each other – which means walking over 1km just to get in to the country! In hot, humid conditions. In full bike gear!

Anyway, we got through in the end and made our way to Samara. The roads were pretty good… fewer speed bumps and chickens than previous countries.. and more horses. We were stopped at one checkpoint not too far from the border and the police officer took down Adrian’s details and then waved us through. Not sure what it was about….maybe to cross reference with immigration that we’d entered the country legally?

Samara is a little beachy town with a relatively high proportion of westerners… which means it’s reasonably expensive for Central America; prices are pretty close to Australian prices. Still, the beach is lovely!

 

Mud running in Mexico

Muddy track with a car on it

So.. this was the first part of the detour, where the mud was dry and firm and I could ride on the bike rather than have to run behind it. Then it turned to slush. Oh – and there were cars going both ways on this track…

28 August – Day 37

Zihuatanejo, Mexico to Playa Ventura, Mexico
Distance: 399kms (time on bike = nine hours, excluding one hour for lunch)

The further south we travel, the better the beaches get. In equal yet opposite proportions, the roads get worse. I don’t want to harp on about the roads.. suffice to say that they are terrible, in every sense of the word. I’m so grateful that I don’t have to drive, that’s for sure. It’s hot, sweaty and at times stressful work just being a passenger! Today’s travel included at least 50 speed bumps – including several on highways, where we’re generally not travelling at a speed bump friendly speed. At one point, we paid for the privilege of a toll road / tunnel through a city of over 2 million people… only to have the tunnel – three lanes of smoothly tarred road with actual lane markings – disgorge us abruptly, like an unexpected and surprisingly juicy burp, out onto a two-lane dirt road. Chaos. It was utter chaos.

The day’s journey also included an unexplained and total road blockage just short of our final destination for the day. Based on the number of lorries queued up, the road had clearly been closed all day. In both directions…

It was hot and we were tired and not at all excited about the prospect of a night camped next to the bike in a queue of trucks on the road. So when a couple of locals pointed out a way around the blockage through backstreets (and, as we subsequently found out, ankle deep mud, bog, sand and pretty much any other un-motorbike friendly surface you can imagine!) – we thought it was worth a shot… especially when a couple of other smaller cars seemed to be taking it, too.

And – we did make it around the jam… but not without several extended patches with Adrian riding the bike solo and me, dressed in full motorbike regalia including boots and helmet, running (yes, running!) along behind the bike, through the mud, in the heat, trying to keep up. It would have looked hilarious – a couple of gringos traipsing through the back country, massively overdressed by Mexican standards, with this girl running and sliding along behind a guy riding and sliding what was possibly the biggest motorbike they’d ever seen. It was not our happiest moment on the bike (or off the bike, in my case)!!!

[hmm – the above possibly does count as harping on about the roads… oops. It’s actually hard to avoid on days like today, when the roads essentially are the story of the day!]

Anyway. Onwards and upwards.. or, to be more accurate, southwards.

We’re in Playa Ventura. It’s apparently an ‘it’ destination… in December, January and February. In August, I can vouch from first-hand experience that there are very few tourists in the town. We were the only ones at our hotel – and possibly the only ones in the town at all. And we were definitely the only non-Mexicans.

The beach is very rough and rocky so there was no swimming for us… and almost no dinner, too… by the time we ventured out for some food, around 8pm, pretty much anywhere that was actually open at all had closed… and it took one local taking us to his brother’s cousin’s place (or something like that) where a lady took pity on us and ceased watching what appeared to be a Mexican soapie to make us (a very nice) dinner. A good end to a long day.

Adrian standing on the beach framed by palm trees

Quite a nice place to stop for lunch!

tope or speed bump on the road

Topes – this is just one example of the many, many types of speed bumps they have here.

A four avocado day!!

Avocado burrito

Breakfast!

22 August – Day 31

Mazatlan, Mexico to Sayulita, Mexico
Distance: 396kms

Last night we experienced a monsoon storm of the kind I’ve not seen for quite a while. Torrential rain – I’m talking rain so heavy, so steady, buffeted by wind so strong, it was impossible to tell where the water was coming from; like being inside a spa bath with the jets on full and the water raging around us. Thunder so loud it didn’t just fill our ears, but also our minds; each raging, stomping thwak drowning us in sharp bursts of sound so loud that thinking was impossible. Lightening like strobe lights at the biggest Mexican disco you could possibly imagine. The electricity went out. The street flooded. And still the storm raged. We watched, for a while – until the lone, foolhardy traveller who had camped on the beach ceased struggling in the wind and in the sea of water now surrounding, him from the sky, and sought refuge in a lifeguard’s hut.

In the morning, Adrian hurried down to check the bike was ok. Beamsky was fine! Although we’d again parked inside the hotel, in this case ‘inside’ meant through the lobby to the open, roofless atrium in the centre of the building. The bike seat was oozing water, but the bike was fine.

The café we’d picked out for brekky was closed due to storm damage – the stormwater pipes in the old town couldn’t cope and overflowed, and the restaurant was flooded; not from the sky, but literally from the ground up. The owner recommended a nearby restaurant, so off we went – only to see him there a short time thereafter. He did a similar trip to ours a few years ago, so we had a bit of a chat with him about the route etc. He made an interesting observation that – so far at least – is proving correct: in every country, locals will tell you to be careful of the people/places in the next country, but that their country is fine. For example in the US, people couldn’t believe that we were actually riding through Mexico, and more than one person checked to confirm that we were taking a gun with us for protection (ah – no).

As we head further south, there’s a price to pay for a leisurely brekky and it’s not measured in pesos…  the later start means a long hot sweaty ride on the bike through the middle of the day. And we paid dearly today; it was the most humid it’s been so far. After 5.5 hours on the bike and $20 in tolls, we made it to our yoga retreat (!!) in Sayulita, on Mexico’s coast. Yup, you read that right – a yoga retreat, where they offer classes twice daily – yay!

It’s the low season here; so low that several hotels and restaurants aren’t even open. That said, there still seems to be a throng of people about… so I’m glad we’re not here in the middle of peak tourist season.

Adrian crashed out about 6pm – a bit dehydrated from being on the bike in the heat of the day I think; plus he had some mean hayfever – and so I took myself off for dinner; my third avocado-focussed meal today! I would have eaten the equivalent of at least four avocadoes today… they were a, if not the, key ingredient in every meal I’ve had, plus I feasted on a massive bowl of guacamole as a snack. So good!

Also good is the fact we’re staying here for three nights… our first three-night stop on the trip so far.

Mercury rising…

Lauren, Adrian and the owner of BMW Tucson

With John Cartwright, owner of Ironhorse BMW Tucson

14 August – Day 23

Flagstaff, Arizona to Tucson, Arizona
Distance: 481 kms

It was hot today. Really hot.

Imagine going outside in the middle of one of Sydney’s sweltering summer heat waves. You’re wearing socks, pulled up to mid-calf. Jeans – really heavy, Kevlar-lined jeans. A tshirt. A solid black jacket with inbuilt armour at your back, elbows and forearms. Feet encircled in calf-length leather boots. Head encircled by a full face helmet. Hands being smothered in gloves. Now, while outside, stand in front of a blow heater switched to the hottest possible temperature, on high fan.

That’s pretty much what riding today was like. The mercury topped 44.5 degrees C (that’s just over 112 degF) and riding on the bike meant we were also dealing with ‘wind heat factor’ (not sure if that’s a real thing – the opposite of wind chill?!).

At every stop, I poured cold water down my back, doing the ‘ooh it’s cold’ dance while icecubs shimmied down my spine. I then started to pour water down both of our jackets while riding… which was great, at first, while the water was still cold. It didn’t take long for the water in my drink bottle to become so warm it was more like someone was peeing down the front of my shirt rather than anything remotely cooling.

It was so hot, that Adrian was only half-joking when he said he hoped Beamsky’s* tyres wouldn’t melt on the asphalt.

And – it’s going to get hotter from here!

The heat meant it was a pretty slow day of riding – or at least, it felt that way. There was some lovely scenery south of Flagstaff, through Oak Gorge and a couple of other smaller towns… and then it was mostly highway riding to Tuscon. It was the first day that I’ve seen cacti in the desert – so it definitely felt like we were in Arizona. Some of the cacti we rode past were taller than telegraph poles, with long skinny cacti fingers. A few looked like they were flipping us the bird – in a ‘ha ha – take-that-Aussies-with-all-your-protective-gear-on-riding-through-the-desert-in-summer-ha-ha-in-YOUR-face!’ kind of way.

Anyway.. we made it into town and went straight to Ironhorse BMW dealership (http://www.ironhorsemotorcycles.com/) where Adrian was planning on getting new tyres and also needed to replace the globe in the front headlight, which had been out for a few days. Although we hadn’t booked or called ahead, they were able to sort us out on the spot which was just great.  All of the staff were super friendly and helpful – down to even googling and printing out local restaurant recommendations for us while we were waiting for the bike!

And then it was time for dinner at a fantastic vegetarian/vegan restaurant close to where we are staying. Wow – so good! 75% of all food they serve is from local, organic farms. Definitely my kind of food. And meat-eating Adrian also really enjoyed it… you know veggo food is good when a meat-eater is into it.

We’re in Tucson for two nights and have a heap of things to do tomorrow before we cross the border into Mexico and continue heading south… it’s hard to believe that the North American part of the trip is nearly over!

*Note that the use of the name ‘Beamsky’ to refer to the bike, a BMW, has not in any way been endorsed by Adrian.