My last message was from Utila on the Caribbean
coast of Honduras. Between there and here (Baños, a very
pleasant spa town about 200 clicks south of Ecuador's capital Quito),
much has happened. Most of it not worth mentioning. The wife and
I travelled through the rest of Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica
and Panama, before making a flying visit (sans femme) to Colombia
and meeting up again in the Ecuadorian coastal port of Guayaquil.
A few more thousand clicks driven, many pleasant people met and
one or two gun pointing policemen and a rabid crowd fled from. All
in a day's work.
It rains a lot in Honduras. A bit like Blighty really,
except here it is hot and sweaty. The sort of place you visit and
have no desire to return to. If I have the choice between the humidity
of the jungle or the chilled sharp air of the mountains, a committee
is not required to make the decision: Mountains and motorbikes and
Brightskin are made for each other.
A few laughs were had leaving Honduras. If you recall
from the last report, we (Volkmar and I) entered the country across
a little used border point and received no vehicle-importation papers.
The customs lady upon our departure (into Nicaragua) became positively
pale as she whooshed us out. We could easily have sold our bikes
in Honduras and not paid the 200-odd % import tax. A normal border
crossing involves dealing with immigration, customs and police (amongst
others). The polices occifer had gone AWOL, so our little 10 year
old 'tramitador' (helper) climbed over the counter of the police
station, took the 2 stamps required and completed the formalities
Dodgy Diego Maradona drug taker looking
I really liked Nicaragua. As such, the place doesn't
have any particularly eye-catching landmarks. The people are just
so friendly and 'uncommercialisedly' (sic) laid back. I do fear
that in 10 or 15 years it will be like Guatemala. Glad I visited
it now. The Spanish colonial town of Grenada was great and I got
my bike boots re-soled by the most dodgy Diego Maradona drug taker
looking geezer. You wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley...
Not much chance, mind. He's most likely to be comatosed drunk come
Central America in general and Nicaragua in particular is full
of pool halls and Volkmar was a great opponent. A worse player than
me and if there was the chance of him winning, he'd oblige by fouling
on the black! Keep it up chief! As the 7 year round the world biker,
Sam Manicom said, the sunsets at San Juan del Sur on the Pacific
coast are 'ahhhhhhh superbbbbbb'. Thanks for the tip. Nicaraguan
postage stamps are great too. They cover virtually the whole side
of a postcard and hence you don't have to write a more than a few
In the past I may have criticised certain peoples'
lack of geographical knowledge. Former Communist countries (El Salvador,
Nicaragua) seem to suffer less than most from this 'I don't know,
I flew' phenomenon. One gas-station attendant pointed at the map
on my pannier and informed me where Moscow (Russia, not Idaho) was
situated. I asked him how he knew. He had been a 'student' there
for 2 years. Fortunately or unfortunately -depending on your politics
- I didn't know the Spanish for 'what did you study?' I have a PhD
in BMW. He in AK47? He was a very pleasant fellow.
Costa Rica was like the US. In fact it is the US.
They boast of not having an army. Why not? Well, if Nicaragua or
Panama (unlikely as they are the US too) fancied invading, a group
of gentlemen sporting 'US-Army' badges might appear and ask the
uninvited guests to leave forthwith. The people from the BMW Club
of Costa Rica showed us wonderful hospitality, despite the 'wife'
looking like a beaten up old slapper compared to their shiney steeds
(of the 8 bikes that came to meet us in Fortuna, 2 were less than
a month old!) and Volki being on a Yamaha. The dealer in San Jose
even tuned my carbs for free aided by a laptop-computer!!!
Panama was a non-event and David, the first town
after the border is a contestant for 'Crappiest town in Central
America'. The Hotel Central in the San Filipe suburb of Panama City
was, 100 years ago, THE place to stop. Not a great deal has been
done since and it showed. One floor had collapsed a while ago and
instead of 4 storeys, it now has 3. Normally hotel lobbies are a
bit of a squeeze to get bikes in (I always park off the street),
but here you could have driven a car in the front door! Great view
of the cathedral opposite from the balcony.
The Clash's 'Shall I go'
A great deal (probably too much) thought went into
deciding whether or not to go to Colombia. The Clash's 'Shall I
go Colombia or shall I go to straight to Ecuador; If I go to the
former, there will be trouble and if I choose the later, there will
be double', in hindsight, might have proved correct. The reasons
why I chose to ship straight to Ecuador was:
a.) We met Bernie, a German/American (now there's
a combo...) who was shipping his Landcruiser to Ecuador and had
space in his container.
b.) Ricardo, my Ecuadorian biker friend WAS kidnapped - not while
wandering around a coca plantation wearing a pink T-shirt saying
'I blew Bill'- but in fact, driving his motorcycle at 9.30 in the
morning on the Panamerican Highway south of Cali.
c.) Since Bill appeared in Cartagena on Colombia's northern coast
at the end of August detailing his 'Plan Colombia' (basically a
1.6 billion buck cash injection into the American arms industry)
the local pooh has majorly hit the fan.
I really do wish Bill would briskly go back to where he came from
and stop messing up my travel plans (remember Sudan last year?).
After checking the airfreight options to both Bogota,
Colombia and Quito, Ecuador, we bump into Bernie at the passenger
terminal. The 100 bucks Volki and I each ended up saving by sea
freighting to Guayaquil was not really worth the hassle and bull****.
I live and learn.
While the wife was in transit a quick visit was
made to the Panama Canal and then it was off to Cartagena in DAAAAAAAANGEROUS
Colombia. Considering the rave reviews the place gets, I was a tad
disappointed. Santa Marta, a short hop eastwards along the coast
was much more pleasant. We stayed with a Swiss friend of Bernie's
called Christian. Never a dull moment. I even got in a couple of
scuba dives. The last time I did a wallowing walrus impression was
13 years ago in Oz. The first couple of minutes were underpants-browning,
but after that it was great. Some pretty coral and a fair few fish.
You all know that Colombia is a net-exporter of
'Beechams'. The local newspaper reported that a plan to use an old
Russian submarine to ship 'el snowy powder' north was scuppered!
In secluded Santa Marta the power occasionally fails at night and
when it comes on again, there are a lot less ships in the harbour...
Gone fishing? Of course, officer!
I feel I have a great friend in Ricardo Rocco. He
has already ridden around South America promoting world peace (make
love, not war...:-)) ) and preaching his anti-drug message. If you
would like to be on his mailing list, write to him at RIC’S
URL. He was a great help in many ways, not just getting the container
unloaded in double quick time (i.e. one day rather than 3 or 4),
sorting the aftermath of my police experience or getting the wife
tarted up. Thank you, friend!
...REQUIRING Customs to stop messing around
I won't bore you with the details of the saga of Guayaquil Container
harbour, except to put forward a few titbits: the agent in Panama
had to be phoned 8 times in order for him to get the paperwork in
order; a letter from the Ecuadorian Minister for Tourism - personally
- was organised by Ricardo, REQUIRING Customs to stop messing around
and do their job; Ecuadorian customs are as p*ss-poor as their counterparts
in Egypt. I wonder if India can be worse? Probably! We even had
to leave a deposit for the container and a pay a trucker to drive
the full container half a mile out of the dockyard gates in order
to unload it!
The Quilotoa Circuit, a 200km dirt road through
some incredibly beautiful snow-capped-peak lined countryside was
most enjoyable. The day started with a visit to Saquisili market.
Not a tourist to be seen and many people in
their traditional atire going about their business.
During the course of the day I took 2 1/2 rolls of film, although
the best image I captured, was a cow's head in the meat market.
The coldest blue eyes ever and a moist, but inquisitive nose. Shame
there was no torso or scalp! Upon my return to Quito, Ricardo seemed
most impressed that I had driven a fully loaded Beemer with a bald
back tyre around a route he would normally take a light weight dirt
bike. I obviously did learn one or two things in Africa...
Riding off road (this time without luggage and with
a new back tyre) to the Saturday Indian market at Otavalo with Ric's
friend Antonio on his Yamaha WR400 was excellent too. The only similarity
between his and my bike is that both have 2 wheels! Some 'bikers'
residing north of the Rio Grande claim that 'loud pipes save lives'.
Well boys, you want to fit the silencer that Antonio has on his
bike. It is louder that anything you have to offer.
Ahhhh Caymen Caymen
I spent a week wifeless in the Amazonian jungle
in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. It wasn't bad - not much wildlife-
but being a fair skinned soul, any plan I may have had of crossing
the Amazon on a bike (or any other mode of transport, for that matter)
has been permanently shelved. The highlight was doing Crocodile-eyes-at-night
impressions with 2 Maglite torches and 2 Coke bottle caps. Ahhhh
Caymen Caymen… An excessive amount of rum may have been involved
in conjuring up this little cunning stunt.
So folks, I'll be in Peru in a couple of days to
check out where Paddington Bear (or was it Basil Brush?) spent his