Belize: (5th to 8th February)

The night before I left Tikal it started raining and did not stop for 3 days. So I left Tikal riding in the rain but it was just heavy drizzle not hard torrential rain, so I got wet (even with my rain suit) but it was ok. It only took a couple of hours to ride to San Ignacio, plus 2 hours for the border crossing which was quite easy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA San Ignacio

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I had decided to spend 2 nights in San Ignacio so that I could go down to Caracol to see the Mayan runes. However unfortunately day tours to the site cost usd 95 and the companies will only do the tours with a minimum of 2 people or I had to pay double, and no tour companies had tours going for the next 3 days. I was also warned about the bad road (I know a bike group that turned back due to rain and mud conditions on this road) so decided not to go on my own. My second option was to go to the sites a bit closer to town, one a 45min walk away and another 15 mins by bus. However I also decided against these due to the heavy rain, I mean how much fun can traipsing around Mayan sites in the rain be. Since I am planning on seeing 3 top sites in Mexico and the weather forecast in Mexico is excellent, I decided to wait until I go to Mexico to see more Mayan runes. So I spent the day in San Ignacio sitting in coffee shops on the internet, eating cheesecake and drinking coffee. However I did have an awesome afternoon at the Iguana Rescue centre. These are lovely animals and the numbers have been declining rapidly due to deforestation and the fact that people eat them in Central America. The Iguana project tries to educate people about them and breeds them for release. It was only an hour but I did enjoy seeing them and the guide was very good and knowledgeable.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA ”uggghhh more tourists”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The Iguanas as the rescue centre

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The following day I rode out, in the rain again but feeling happy as I was heading to the dry north where temperatures are between 25 and 28 degrees c, PERFECT :)

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The Belize north coast I believe it is stunning down south but I didn’t have an opportunity to ride south to see for myself

I spent the night in a nice hotel in Corozal near the border in anticipation of finally getting to Mexico where I would spend 3 weeks and boy was I looking forward to it. So my trip to Belize was very short but nice, it is a nice country with nice people. I cannot say however that San Ignacio is a great town but it is okay, I have seen worse.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA One of the baby Iguanas

 

 

Guatemala: (1st to 5th February)

Another enjoyable early morning ride down the Route de Flores to the Guatemala border. I am not an early morning person so usually avoid getting up early like one would avoid the plague. However I enjoy these early morning rides so much I think I might start doing this when I am back home.

The El Salvador border was quiet and I was the only person in both the immigration and customs queue, easy peezy and finished in 15 minutes. Entering Guatemala took the usual silly paperwork process. It is not difficult just time consuming and totally inefficient something that drives me crazy. I grin and bear it and being a small border I am done in an hour, photocopies and all.

The first thing I notice about Guatemala is that it is far more populated than any Central America country I have visited so far. There is also a lot of litter on the roads, but the roads themselves are okay. Some are in very good conditions others not excellent but not too bad either. Things go well for the first hour until I hit traffic. I guess this comes with an increase in population. It took me 6 hours to do 200kms and most of that was bumper to bumper traffic. There is only so much lane splitting you can do with panniers on your bike. Door to door, traffic jams and border crossing all included it took me 10 hours to get to Lake Atilan from Apaneca.  By time I arrived in Panajachel at Lake Atilan, I have to admit I was in a less than savoury mood. However the gorgeous hostel I was staying in, a hot shower and a good meal soon put me right.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Lake Atilan

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Playing can be such hard work

Panajachel is a typical tourist town full of local arts and crafts, some tourist tat, a lot of tour companies and many restaurants. I have to admit though I enjoyed walking around it and got some good advice about the route to San Agustin Lanquin from an extremely nice and helpful man at one of the tour companies. Despite knowing I was not going to take one of his tours, as I was on my own bike, he still spent a good 30 mins with me talking about the route and biking through Central America. Lake Atilan is also quite beautiful. Sadly it was quite hazy so my photos are not great.

After seeing Lake Atilan I headed out to San Agustin Lanquin, this area is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in Central America and the scenery certainly is spectacular. Since it was only 287kms away I thought I’d be there by lunch and have the afternoon to visit the natural sites. Hmmm this was wishful thinking. My GPS does not work in Central America but with my map and asking directions I have had no issues on any of the roads in any of the countries … until Guatemala. I made a couple of bad assumptions with regards the roads I thought I was on and got badly lost twice. Plus each village you pass has a number of those darn speed bumps and Guatemala is fairy densely populated so you pass village after village. The main roads also go straight through the towns which are not on grid system and have these infernal one way systems, so every town was like a maze to me. The great thing is that the Guatemalan people are lovely, very friendly and helpful, so asking directions was never a problem even with no Spanish. The amusing thing though is that the answer is always ‘directo’ with fingers pointing as to which road to go ‘directo’ on. It took me a little while to realise that it was only ‘directo’ to the next intersection. Some people gave me great and detailed instructions but in Spanish. I’d usually understand the ‘directo 4 quadrant’ bit and then get lost after that. Once I realised the pattern I simply stopped and asked directions at every intersection and often simply in the middle of a long stretch of road to confirm that I was going the right way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA One more Guatemalan traffic jam

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One things about traffic jams in small towns is that you get to watch the world around you. I spent quite a few minutes mesmerised by these ladies making Tortillas

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Gorgeous Guatemala

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A dirt road somewhere in the centre of Guatemala but who knows where I was.

All this took time, especially since I had gotten lost and got myself on a secondary dirt road. I still got to where I was going but only at 5pm, 10 hours on the road and I was exhausted. So no natural sites for me, I showered, ate and had an early night. However not before meeting Claire, another solo female biker. What are the odds? We were literally in a hostel in this tiny little village town and bumped into each other. What a nice and interesting lady. Claire is from the UK but lives in Australia and is riding through South and Central America on a Honda 250. She had been on the road for a year when we met and will soon be going back to Oz to find work (she is an archaeologist) while storing her bike in Mexico so that she can return and keep travelling.

Knowing now that travelling in Guatemala takes longer than anticipated I got up early and left the hostel at 7:30am. The first 55kms from Lanquin to Chipam is dirt so I was prepared for it, but boy this was no simple dirt road, this was steep up and down rocky tracks. At some point I felt like I was riding on a road made of marbles and bricks. Funny enough I was enjoying it, it had been a long time since my knobblies had been on dirt and gadget is just an awesome litter bike to ride off road. However just as I was settling into enjoying myself and not wanting the dirt to end, things went wrong.

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I stopped to ask these kids directions and they were just so funny and kept laughing at my English pronunciation of the Spanish town names

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The best thing about dirt roads is that they are usually in the most stunning areas of the country

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Seeing the people and how hard they work truly makes me appreciate my life. This man was carrying a sack of grain for miles and yet still greeted me with  a lovely warm smile and Buenos Dias like everyeon in the rural areas do.

In Guatemala instead of begging many people fix the potholes on the road and then stand next to them and ask for money. On many occasion I have stopped and given the people a few Quetzal. I do this only if I think they have made a real effort and a difference which I find the old people and women often do. Contrary to the young teenagers and kids who just fill a hole or two with stones and dirt but don’t really do a good job and I won’t stop and give them anything. I will also only do this on tarmac as potholes are just rubbish. On dirt roads I don’t really care about the road as I’m on a dirt bike, and to make matters worse the people who fix them put a rope across the road to stop you and demand money. This is just extortion and I won’t pay anything, also if I stopped and gave everyone money I’d whip through my budget in no time. So the road rope thieves, as I call them, get a few choice words from me and let me pass.

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Gadget before reached the step road and I unceremoniously dropped him

Going down a rather steep slippery rocky spot I came across a road rope thief. Seriously what a dumb place to put a rope, I mean never mind engine breaking, this particular stretch had me engine braking and constantly touching both my front and back breaks. So when I saw him I waved to get out the way and shouted ‘no move’ as loud as I could. He didn’t and so I had to slam on brakes and promptly dropped the bike. I swore like a trooper and extremely loudly, he came rushing over apologetically and helped me get the bike upright. I was furious; however hope that in future he will not stop bikers and only cars, which would benefit from his fixing efforts. I was fine the bike was okay ish… I had snapped the front brake almost clean off, it was just not usable and guess which spare part I don’t have (you can’t carry everything) Damn I was doubly incensed, but got back on happy to continue just on my back brake. This was nearly impossible on these steep rocky roads. I tried going really slowly but after dropping the bike a second time I realised that I needed to do something.

So out came the toolbox and all I could find was a flattish steel pipe that fitted over the broken stump of the brake. I thought this was a good find and a great fix but sadly it was too long and did not give me the leverage I need to brake fully. I eventually resorted to duct taping the broken piece as far across the stump as possible and as tight as possible. This only gave me about a 2cm piece to use as a brake, but enough to get me down the mountain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I have never been so happy to see tarmac before

Fortunately once down (about 8kms from the repair site) the road was flat all the way to Tikal. This was good as I could use my back brake and also the duct tape had started to stretch, so my temp fix wasn’t very effective anymore. I knew I had to find a permanent fix but decided I’d do so in Belize as Tikal is a tiny town with no bike dealers.

All in all it took me 3.5 hours to do the first 55kms of the day and I had almost 300 more to go. The scenery at the start of the day was fantastic just breathtaking but soon got flat and boring. However the road was good so the rest of the day was uneventful, just long. It ended up being another 10 hour day and I arrived at the hotel in Tikal park at 4:30pm. I had now had 3 x 10 hours days in a row even though the distance was only between 275 and 355 kms, but with traffic, border crossings, dirt roads, getting lost and breaking the bike the days took forever. So I arrived in Tikal exhausted and was very glad to have 2 days there plus another 2 days in San Ignacio in Belize. I was looking forward to taking it a little easier.

I could not wait to see the Tikal Mayan runes so had decided to take the 4am sunrise tour. Getting up at 3:30am was no easy task but it was well worth it, not so much the sunrise as it was totally overcast so we saw no sunrise at all. However the guide was fantastic and getting to the site so early and sitting on top of a huge Mayan temple listening to the jungle slowly wake up is totally awesome. We walked for an hour and climbed the Mayan temple and waited for another hour for the sunrise. During this time we first heard a large bird flex and flap its wings with no sound, then for almost an hour a ground pheasant grunting. This honestly sounds like a dull throaty snore (as opposed to nasal snore, and apparently jaguars sound the same) Then the monkeys start, the howler monkeys make the creepiest sound but it’s fantastic to hear this cacophony kick off one monkey at a time. It is only the alpha male in the group that howls but the alpha males from the other groups will reply one after another building into the amazing symphony of sound. After the monkeys the parrots wake up, or are perhaps woken by the monkeys, no wonder the screech so much.

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Watching the jungle slowly wake up

I saw more wildlife in Tikal in one morning than during all my forest / jungle walks over the last 6 months put together. We saw a toad, coatis, a grey fox, howler and squirrel monkeys and so many birds I cannot name them all but includes a large ground crested pheasant, small peregrine falcon and many toucans and parrots and a beautiful red headed woodpecker. The guide had a small bird watching telescope so we go to see the birds up close, it was simply amazing. Wildlife aside, Tikal is spectacular, the Mayan runes, of which we only saw a handful, are unbelievably impressive. One of the best things about going so early is that our group of 6 was only one of 3 groups in the park. However even when I went back later in the afternoon to walk around on my own there were relatively few people on the site. Unlike Machu Pichu and Angkor Wat where it is near impossible to get a picture without people in it, Tikal has relatively few visitors.

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Tikal beautiful and very interesting

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I have wanted to see Mayan ruins for a long long time and was definitely not disappointed. I cannot wait to see more sites in Belize and Mexico.

After the early tour and before I went back to see more of Tikal I returned to the hotel and had breakfast with an America couple Judy and Kevin from Seattle. What a lovely couple, they are both fire-fighters and paramedics and we had a really interesting chat about Donald Trump, politics, big corporate companies, their jobs and many other things. They were so interesting and I learnt a lot, I was also glad to hear that they are not Donald Trump fans.

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I was so happy to see Tikal and cannot wait to see the Mayan site in Mexico

El Salvador: (29th January to 1st February)

Arriving in El Salvador, after my good but tiring day, I just went directly to the hotel, had a hot shower and very good meal. I was just too shattered to go anywhere and San Miguel is a big busy city and I am not a huge city fan.

I like El Salvador however have noticed two things. The first is that there is a lot more garbage littering the roads and the drivers are not as good as those in the other Central American counties I have visited so far. Generally I have had no issues with the drivers in Central America they are nothing like a lot of countries in South America, but so far the ones in El Salvador are my least favourite.

 Lake Coatepeque (pic borrowed off net as my battery died)

Since Central American counties are so small there is no need to get up early to travel from one end to the other unless you have a border crossing as it pays to get to the borders early.  So I slept in and left for Apaneca at 9:30 am. I took it easy stopping to take pictures and visit Lago Coatepeque which is stunning, just as my camera battery died – NOTE to self always CHARGE the camera battery. Shortly after the lake I stopped to fill up and get a drink and think I found one reason the El Salvadorian drivers are not that great. There was a covered eating area just next to the petrol station and a car park with about 6 to 8 cars and a couple of bikes. The seating area was almost full of guys who would go to the shop at the petrol station buy a six pack and sit and drink. It seemed to be the social Saturday thing to do and I am damn sure there were no designated non drinking drivers. They were relaxed not falling over drunk and a few of them greeted me when I sat down at one of the tables. It was all quite chilled but I was still a bit shocked coming from a no tolerance country.

 Santa Ana Volcano (pic borrowed off net as my battery died)

The road to Apaneca is along the ‘route de Flores’ and it is quite lovely, I also passed the Santa Ana Volcano. Another enjoyable riding day completed successfully.

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Apaneca must be one of the smallest towns I have stayed it, it is extremely quiet but very quaint. Some of the streets are cobbled and many of the buildings are painted with nice pictures. I’m staying in a lovely family run place with cabanas and have decided to stay for 2 nights. I feel like I need to slow down and smell the roses. The Central American countries are so small it is easy to just shoot through them when you are used to riding 400 to 500kms a day so a 250km day is nothing. Most days I just ride in the morning and spend the afternoons exploring or chilling. However I think I need to do more sightseeing and am seriously looking forward to seeing the Mayan ruins at Tikal in Guatemala.

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Sitting having a coffee in the hotel restaurant and this little cutie puts his paws on the windowsill and barks at me demanding some of my cake. He nearly got cake and a new home.

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The hotels had the most beautiful gardens full of unusual statues.

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Apenaca

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On my rest day in Apaneca other than just strolling around, taking in the scenery and watching a couple of squirrels play in a tree, I went to Juayua. Juyua is another small town in the area just a little bigger than Apeneca and it hosts a Sunday market and food festival. It was great, packed with locals and lots of local food. The market had your usual cheap tat but also a lot of nice fresh fruit and veggies and local arts and crafts. There was music playing and it was very festive, I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon there. I have liked visiting El Salvador and am looking forward to seeing what Guatemala has to offer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Juayua

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Juayua food festival. One of the many tents filled with people and good food

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Sitting in a coffee shop just watching the world go round, it’s amazing the interesting things you see. The dress flapping in the breeze was somehow just poetic.

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I got another cute visitor on my last night in the cottage at Las Cabanas hotel, prior to the kitten I had two squirrels playing outside my window. They wee camera shy so I sadly could not get  a good picture of them.

Honduras: (29th January)

Chinandega is about 70kms from Guasaule border crossing to Honduras and the border opens at 6am. So in order to get there as early as possible I got up at 5 am uugghhh way too early for me. However riding out of town at 6am and seeing the sunrise was actually very nice. It is a lovely time of day the early morning, something I don’t get to see very often.

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Beautiful sunrise, just perfect for a border crossing

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Exiting Nicaragua and entering Honduras took me exactly 1hr 5min to the time I first parked my bike to the time I got on and left in Honduras.  It was in fact my best border experience so far.  Before I did this crossing I had really got myself in a tizzy as I had read far too many negative things about it and am not a huge fan of border crossing anyway.  This was yet one more reminder NOT to read / or to just ignore negative stuff on the internet. I had literally read about a couple being chased by a car load of fixers. To people being scammed and having to ”fire” their fixer etc

Since I knew Honduras was less than savoury I also opted to cross to El Salvador in one day which meant two notoriously bad border crossing. Well I was sure surprised as they were great. No fixers bothered me. One came up to me and very politely asked if I speak Spanish and if not did I want help with the border process. I just said no and that was it. He did offer to watch my bike and since he was such a nice and polite young guy I said sure. When I came out he walked towards me eating and said ‘’ah miss Lorena I watched your bike ’’I laughed and said ‘’you can’t be watching my bike you are eating’’ (of course I was joking) we had a bit of a giggle as he assured me he could multitask and I gave him usd2.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Just an ordinary road in Honduras

The people at all the borders were fantastic so friendly and helpful, no need for a fixer and no need for any photocopies they just did them all in the office. The ride through Honduras was great (my GPS isn’t working so I am using a map and stop a lot to ask if I am on the right road) everyone I asked for directions was just so lovely, a couple of people even patted me on the back and wished me ‘’ viaje bueno’’ (good journey). I stopped for a coke in a small suburb of someplace, can’t remember where now but it was nice and I felt good. I am now a bit sad that I rushed through Honduras so quickly and didn’t spend more time there as, like all Central American countries, it seems to be nice with lovely people. If I was Latin American I’d be so proud because they really are the most genuinely nice people in the world. I have never once got the feeling that people are nice because they want something or see me as a walking wallet or because it is their job. The friendly warm smiles and greetings are genuine.

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I think I made a mistake rushing through this country so fast I think there is a lot to see here, it certainly looks beautiful.

Exiting Honduras was as simple as anything and the minute the customs lady saw my passports she told me that Lorraine is Lorena in Spanish and her name was Lorena and she was pleased to meet me … COOOOOOOOOOOL. Doing the immigration at the border of El Salvador also took only 15 minutes. So all together it was 35 minutes and I was on the road to the El Salvador customs office which is about 5kms past the border. This is where things got SLOW, thank goodness there were a few friendly and funny truckers there to keep me company as the whole process took 2 hours.

Plus I got to watch a police sniffer dog search luggage and trucks for drugs, it was interesting. The one policeman also waved and greeted me like a long lost friend and wished me ’ viaje bueno’’. Sometimes at customs offices they have a huge pile of documents to process for the truckers and so when a tourist arrives they just put you on top of the pile. This sounds unfair but the truckers are paid to wait at borders and are often there for days while their good gets processed so it makes sense. Some borders have a separate customs for the actual import of goods as opposed to the temporary import of transit vehicles. Well not this customs office. I was sent to the full on trucker importing goods customs office (the only one at the El Salvador border) and it was full of trucks, literally rows and rows of them. I fortunately could jump the truck queue and went to the front but there was no jumping the paperwork. Well maybe they jumped me a little, I’m not sure.

They were super nice and friendly and helpful. I had to fill out a lot of paperwork, which the security guard helped me with as it was all in Spanish. I did not understand a lot of it as it had to do with good importing. He could not speak English but with my limited Spanish, hand signals and a few drawings we go the paperwork done, but had a few giggles in the process over my charades. Then I just had to sit … and sit … and sit, 1.5 hours later they called me and went through the actual customs process. They were pretty thorough with all the numbers etc but I was glad when it was over.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The truck drivers know how to wait at a border

From the border it was a simple 50 or so kms to San Miguel, which is a busy ugly city but I was so tired I just headed straight to the hotel for a nice shower and a good meal.

All in all a very good day, tiring but good :)

Nicaragua: (27th to 29th January)

I am not a huge fan of border crossings so was not looking forward to this one and was quite pleasantly surprised. Although it took 2 hours and the process is just silly complicated everyone was extremely nice, helpful and friendly. This put me in a good mood for the day as nothing spoils your day more than a bad border crossing.

I arrived at the border at 7am and was the second person in the immigration line to get stamped out of Costa Rica. I had paid the exit fee in the hotel the night before and they had given me the correct paperwork so that was great. The immigration lady then told me where the customs building was however I had trouble finding it and was riding past lines and lines of lorries looking lost when a lorry driver hooted at me and pointed to building and gave me a double thumbs up, I guess he knew exactly what I was looking for. I had to wait until 8am for the customs people to arrive and when they did the lady who served me spent the entire time on her cell phone. However this was not a bad thing as she simply stamped the form and never bothered to come and inspect the bike to if I was taking the right one out the country. No problem for me the less time wasted the better.

Everyone I spoke to was very pleasant and answered my questions in a very friendly way. The questions were mostly where is xy&z. The Nicaragua immigration went smoothly as well and then on to Customs. The customs lady got very flustered because I did not speak Spanish, not in a mean way just worried. She asked me where I was going and I said Nicaragua Granada but she kept asking. Eventually she called a fixer over and he translated, asking me in English where I was going to which I answered Nicaragua Granada and all was okay. She then gave me the form to fill our and the fixer took me to the insurance people. I asked Charlie the fixer how much he would charge me for this help (which I had not asked for) and he said no it is a favour but you can give me a tip if you like. In the end he saved me a ton of time as the Nicaraguan custom process sucks so I gave him usd5.

Heading out of the border control about 5kms down the road I hit an army road block and they wanted me to open my luggage. I took my time pretention I had lost my keys and got all flustered about it, so in the end they just said okay go :) This was the only road block I came across and the roads in Nicaragua are excellent. The drivers are not bad, no hooting and going nuts like in Bolivia or Panama.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Cathedral in Granada

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I arrived in Granada at about 11am had a shower and went to see the city. I like Nicaragua and Granada is nice. The country is certainly a lot poorer than Costa Rica but feels good. Granada is a touristy place but not overly so that it irritates me and there are a fare few excellent restaurants.

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There are loads of working horses in Granada which I really hated to see

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The renovated and the not so renevated

I left Granada and headed off to Chinandega where I would be staying the night before the border push crossing Honduras in one day so doing 2 border crossings hmmm not looking forward to it.

On the way to Chinandega I stopped in at Leon and it is a nice town. I just stopped for a quick look and a drink as I wanted to get to Chinandega and chill by the hotel pool. I had spoilt myself and booked into a very nice hotel, making the most of the cheap Nicaraguan prices.

Chinandega

church in Chinandega (I had to borrow this off the net as my one was very blurred)

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Passing cerro negro volcano

In the evening I was reminded that I was in Central America when I was sitting relaxing in the hotel garden and I heard gunshots down the road. I am hoping it was the police doing away with some idiot criminal and not an idiot criminal hurting an innocent person. It’s funny that it did not bother me at all, it was just one of those things. However I did decide to have dinner in the hotel and not go out :)

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There is no shortage of fruit in Central America and it is so yummy

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Costa Rica: (23rd to 27th January)

I liked Costa Rica instantly. Isn’t it funny how you can enter a country and get a feeling, I think every country has its own feeling. I am sure a lot of that is pre-conceived ideas but I’ve had moments where I have been apprehensive about a country and then loved it and also had the opposite. I like that each place has its own feel, a bit like a personality.

 Beautiful sunset from a restaurant with squirrel monkeys playing in the trees and macaques flying overhead .. paradise

Costa Rica, although also being in the dry season is a lot greener than Panama and it is also hotter.  However I love riding through the lush green forest where you can smell that damp earthy smell. This is definitely my favourite kind of scenery. The roads are good and the people are so nice. I stop to get petrol and am immediately greeted with a lovely warm smile and a few friendly words from the petrol attendant. I also meet a fellow biker, who is from Costa Rica and riding around for a few days with his nephew both on GSs. We talk roads and he tells me how I will enjoy the route I have chosen and that he has no suggestions that I should change anything.

I had a short ride from the border to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio but just loved every minute of it, especially when I started getting glimpses of the ocean through the trees.

The Brother of the owner of the hostel I stayed in was a biker and had just ridden a GS800 down from California for his brother. So we got to spend lot of time talking bikes and central American routes and it was great. The place was amazing and I certainly could have stayed longer which happens to me quite often but I just itch to be on the road. Only staying one night and wanting to make the most of it so I did a rain forest night tour and it was so worth it.

The guide was fantastic and I learned a lot, it is more about the reptiles, insect and arachnids you see than any fluffy things but we did her a good few birds and saw a really cute yellow one sleeping in his nest.  We saw a few toads, frogs and a Jesus lizard. The highlight of the reptile sightings was a tree frog and a fleu de lance, the most poisonous snake in Costa Rica. It was a baby but the guide made sure we were very far from it as it was curled up and poised to strike. He explained that the babies were more dangerous than the adults as they have not learned to only inject partial amounts of venom so deliver the full load that can kill a human in a few hours. We saw some interesting insects and spiders (smallish ones) including one eating a teeny tiny frog. Although that would have freaked me out a year ago I now find spiders fascinating, not that I’d get very close but this was a particularly interesting sighting. That afternoon I had seen two squirrel monkeys playing in a tree outside the restaurant and also a racoon running across the road so I did get my fair share of the fluffies as well.

snake1 picture of a fleur de lance exactly the same as the baby we saw

scorpion

fluorescent scorpions, apparently all scorpions glow if you shine an ultraviolet light on them, interesting

the spider eating a tiny frog, well not eating it yet just injecting the venom as the frog was still moving

the guide with the cat-eye snake

The next day I rode up to La Fortuna to see the Volcano Arenal and to get into the cool mountains after the heat of Panama. Cool I got, it rained and rained and then rained some more. It was not a particularly freezing rain and not a torrential downpour but it was a hard enough drizzle that I got soaked just walking to the store. I didn’t mind actually after all it is a rain forest. I was just sad that I did not get to see the Volcano that was shrouded in clouds or even do a small hike. I had booked for two nights so just made the most of it and relaxed and drank chocolate milkshakes.

 all I could see on the road to La Fortuna

volcano1  what Volcano Arenal looks like

imagesX0GCMW51 what lake Arenal looks like

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when the rain cleared I thought I had been transported home as not only did the countryside look like Switzerland but so did many of the houses including a small Swiss village

Back on the road I passed Lake Arenal of which I could not see much due to the cloud and rain. However an hour later I got to see a piece of what I had missed and it was stunning, and I was rewarded with the biggest fattest rainbow I’ve seen in a long time. I had a great day riding and it made me sorry that I was leaving Costa Rica although I had heard wonderful things about Nicaragua.

Since the Central American border crossings are a nightmare I wanted to get as close to the border as possible so that I could get to it early. So I decided to stay in an eco hostel just north of La Cruz and once again was really disappointed that I was not staying longer. Fortunately I had got up very early so got to Casa Castilla by mid day so had the whole afternoon to do the little hikes around the rather large grounds. On the hikes I saw a lot of birds a rather large crocodile sunning itself on a rock.The place is just gorgeous and I had the cutest cottage so when I wasn’t walking I lay in the hammock and just chilled … I do a lot of chilling on this trip.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the crocodile at Casa Castilla

I was sad to leave Costa Rica but am extremely determined to come back with Joern as he would love it.

frog

picture of a cute tree frog exactly like the one we saw on the forest night walk

Panama: (17th to 23rd January)

The two best things about Panama were collecting my bike and seeing a sloth. I arrived in Panama City on Sunday the 17.01.2016 and collected my bike the following day. It always feels good to have ones bike back, like seeing an old friend again. After dropping him off at the mechanic for a full service before we start our 12000km trip to Florida I went to explore Panama City. It is big, it is modern and it is okay … just very hot. It is the dry season now (thank goodness as I’d hate to travel in the wet season which is hot, humid and rainy) The only unfortunately thing about it being the dry season is that Panama is not as green and lush as one would expect (I think I’ll live with this J and rather have no rain while I am travelling on my bike) The locals do not talk in summer and winter seasons but wet and dry season although they call the dry season summer. I found this strange as Panama is in the northern hemisphere where every other country is having winter … weird.

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While the mechanic had gadget I went hiking with a young Swiss couple Ramon and Alex, and Chuck a retired school teacher from the US, all who were staying at the hostel, such nice people. We went to one of the national parks near the city and it was great. We did 2 hikes in two different areas of the park. Other than seeing a couple of birds, (we heard loads of them but only spotted a few) and a few beautiful butterflies all we saw were two ring tailed coatis and a sloth, oh and a lizard and frog. I was ecstatic at seeing the sloth as I have wanted to see one in the wild for the last 6 months but they kept eluding me. They are very hard to spot and sleep for 18 hours a day, so the fact that we saw one moving from one branch to another was even better. Then to top it all she had a baby with her well my Latin American wildlife spotting was now complete, nothing could top this :)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Mommy Sloth and her baby

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One of the many beautiful butterflies we saw, and the only one that would sit still long enough for me to get a picture.

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Cutter ants, this guys fascinate me and I have learned that they follow each other by following pheromones. I also learned that the women do everything for the colony. The males are born, mate once with the queen and then die.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I love these huge trees

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Alex, Ramona and Chuck

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We finished our hike only to find we hate one flat tire and one half flat tire. Alex made quick work of changing the flat and we drove to a nearby hotel to wait to road side assistance to bring us some air.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA View from the hotel … nice

In total I spent 4 nights in Panama City and enjoyed it but was itching to get on the road. Once I left the city I headed to Miraflora lock to see the Panama Canal. It was interesting but sadly no boats were going through the lock. I would have liked to see that. From Miraflora I headed to Playa Farallon for the night. I wanted to be at the coast but to be honest it was not very exceptional and I hear the Atlantic side is far more beautiful. After Farallon I headed straight to David for the night before crossing the border into Costa Rica on the 23.01.2016

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Panama is easy the roads are good, the petrol is CHEAP, man 60 cents a litre, damn pity I can’t send some home. The people in Panama are very nice and it is modern, clean place. I would have liked to spend more time exploring and seeing the other parts of the country but I am just so damn eager to get to Costa Rica.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The beach at Playa Farallon

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Just mucking about on the beach

I arrived at the border early but not early enough sadly 2 bus loads of people were ahead of me. I was surprisingly apprehensive about crossing the border as I had heard so much about the Central America border crossing and although I knew this would be one of the easier ones I still did not know what to expect. It wasn’t too bad just hot. I asked one of the guards if I go to immigration or customs first, he told me customs.  I stood in a long queue and the lady stamped my customs forms and told me to go see a customs officer to inspect my bike. I found one and waited until he had finished inspecting 2 cars and asked him to inspect my bike. He could not have been more gruff and unhelpful like I had asked him to please wash it while he was looking it over. He reluctantly did his job and then sent me to immigration. I stood in an even longer queue and FINALLY got my exit stamp. I then had to go back to customs to get my customs form signed again so that I could leave … bear in mind this is the easiest border crossing in Central America :(

Glad it is over I hope on my bike and head to Costa Rica. The border post is 200m away and the queues are already around the block. I ask someone if I need to go to immigration or customs first at this border. He says customs. I stand in the customs queue and get told I need to go to immigration first. I stand in the immigration queue …. To cut a long long story short I get my passport stamped and return to customs. I stand in the customs queue. The lady gives me a form to fill out and tells me I need photocopy of my entry stamp to the country. I have the copies of my bike papers and passport which I knew in advance I needed. I look at the photocopier behind her and say ‘’oh can I get them here’’ no she says outside across the street.

I go to the photocopy place and meet the most unfriendly man I have ever met in my life. I am paying 1usd to get a photocopy and he acts like I asked him to climb Everest just for fun. I return to the customs office, with the copy and the required 3rd party insurance. I stand in the customs queue and FINALLY get to the front and a different person servers me, I fill in a different customs form.

Now you will not believe this but I swear it is true. He looks at the photocopies I have, picks up my documents walks to the back of the room and COPIES THEM and tears up the 3 photos copies I gave him …. I KID you NOT. I just stand there with my jaw open – erm well okay then. I learnt many years ago while crossing borders to just smile and act as if life is wonderful and not show the slightest hint of anger or frustration, but I am dumbfounded.

Passport stamped, customs papers safely stashed away, I enter Costs Rica :)

South America Summary: about 33000kms

South America is amazing, the people, the scenery, I just loved it. It is so interesting and easy to travel there.  I can’t pick the best things I’ve seen because there have been so many.

Group Tour

I started my trip in Colombia which I can highly recommend as a travel destination. It is beautiful and the people are wonderful. It is not the same Colombia of 30 years ago and quite safe to visit. It was there that I joined the tour group for the Amazon challenge.

   11895939_793453660722651_9064897214693988622_n Colombia

 Crossing the equator in Ecuador

A 06 group tour peru 4 Beautiful Peru

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Highest pass of the trip in Peru

I really made a mistake signing up for this tour, besides having the worst roommate ever, and I mean a real nightmare roommate who complained about everything. I am a solo traveller and don’t enjoying tour groups or even riding in groups. The only reason I would join a tour is if there is somewhere I want to go that I cannot go alone for example the BAM in Russia. I was led to believe the Amazon would be like the BAM i.e. off-road technically challenging. I was told that you had to have a support vehicle as it was not very populated so petrol and water were very scarce. This could not have been further from the truth. The Amazonian highway is an extremely bad dirt road but that is it, it is not technically very difficult, just slow going. The worse part of it is the number of huge trucks, the way they drive and the dust they cause. Petrol, water, food and accommodation can be found everywhere, there are plenty of towns even a couple of cities. The only challenge was that the tour was not that well organised so they had designed the route for us to ride 400 to 600kms on some days. Sorry but only an idiot would create a schedule for 13 riders to ride up to 600kms on an extremely bad dirt road. This meant that we arrived in some towns after dark, not a very safe idea.

Images of the Amazonian Highway in Brazil

A 12 group tour brazil 11 A 13 group tour 1 brazil 12 A 14 group tour brazil 5 A 15 group tour brazil OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Yup the bull dust got the better of me too

Other than the bad organisation the tour was just not my kind of tour. When I rode across Asia in a group we were given GPS waypoints and everyone rode at their own speed. Stopping when they wanted to take pictures, for a coffee, lunch etc. It was far more relaxed and even though we ended up spending a lot of time riding together we did not have to be ‘’nannied’’ by a guide and sweeper rider.  I am a slow rider but across Asia was not always the slowest as people stopped quite frequently (and we did some 700km days).  This tour was completely different since we had to ride as a group there was always this race to be first behind the guide, and I was ”nannied” at the back as I was always 5 mins behind the group. It was just not my style.

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Sadly many thousands of hectares of the Amazon have been destroyed

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One of the beautiful butterflies we saw

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The infamous Amazon ferry from Belem to Macapa 

I honestly regret taking the tour and spending the money and won’t do that in a hurry again. The best thing about the trip though was the people. Other than my roommate the group were wonderful and I made some really good friends who I had a blast with. On the tour we travelled though Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana.

A 19 FG 1 One of the gorgeous Amazon trees in French Guyana

A 23 group tour suriname 3Dolphin watching in Suriname

A 26 group tour guyana 3The stunning Kai falls, Guyana

I can say the worst country I went to was Guyana. It really is a dive, the population is only 800 thousand but most of these people live along the cost where it is phenomenally polluted with garbage everywhere and not very safe. Nothing bad happened to me but I just didn’t feel good when I was there and was happy to ride out of it. The most beautiful part of Guyana is the Amazon but sadly the government is not looking after it very well allowing logging and mines with very little control. Guyana’s  next door neighbour Suriname on the other hand is fantastic with wonderful people and scenery.

Solo from Guyana to Argentina

We were supposed to go through Venezuela on the tour but could not due to political unrest. Because of this I flew to Venezuela and stopped off at Curacao on the way, what a great place I enjoyed it a lot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Curacao

B1 solovenezuela 1 Venezuela

After leaving the group I then rode solo back through Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana. Then I rode north to south through Brazil and onto Buenos Aires, Argentina. While in Brazil I also did a quick detour to Paraguay as I wanted to see it, not very great I have to say.

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my favourite plant in Guyana, the tin cacti (I don’t know it’s Latin name)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The wonderful friendly police in Suriname

ring-tailed coati Ring-tailed coati French Guyana

People wise Brazil, hands down, wins the best people award. I have never met such wonderful, friendly generous and hospitable people during all my travels. I will never forget the wonderful time I had in Brazil or the people I met who are all very special to me.

B3 solo brazil 3 Rubem and Cristina

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Crossing the equator in Macapa

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The Asquerosos MC

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One of the many many straight boring roads on the Brazilian Highway. I somehow got to really enjoy these roads and the solitude they gave me, it really became like meditation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Marcia and Junior

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The wonderful L.A.M.A members with Jean-paul

12042871_772361926209355_3891586448098682907_n Rui and Sinomar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The beautiful Iguacu falls, nice even in the rain

Argentina, Chile and Bolivia with Joern

Once in Argentina I rushed through to Buenos Aires to meet Joern and of course get married. For our honeymoon Joern and I travelled through Argentina, Chile and then Argentina again by bike and Bolivia in a 4×4.  I have therefore travelled to every country in South America, including Uruguay which was on a previous trip a few years ago. Although I love travelling alone, I will admit it is even better with Joern as we travel so well together.

Memories of Argentina

rodriguezmansilla.com My wonderful simple wedding

C 03 Joern argentina 2 

Our ”Lord of the rings” rings. I still get such a kick out of them.

 C 04 Joern argentina 3 My just married sign :)

C 05 Joern argentina 6 The beautiful Argentinean coast

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One of the many surreal Argentinean sights

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The crazy Patagonian wind which has to be experienced to be believed 

Memories of Chile

C 01 Joern chile 01 Chilling in chilly Chile

C 02 Joern chile 03 Stunning Patagonia

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The Patagonian wind finally got us where it wanted us

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Mai, Christians Dad, Christian and Francisca at Casa Matte hostel

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Lorraine Chittoch and her wonderful dogs

C 15 Joern chile 12 The Atacama at it’s best

C 17 Joern CHile 17 According to Joern one of the best roads ever

C 20 Joern Atacama The Atacama

C 23 Joern Chile 19 The Atacama flamingos

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Zulu gets sick and then even sicker which leads us to leaving him behind in Argentina and hiring a 4×4 to travel through Bolivia for the last 3 weeks of our honeymoon

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One of the many many street dogs we made friends with and wanted to take home

Scenery wise my favourite country has to be Chile it is just simple stunning (although Bolivia comes in a close second), from Patagonia to the Atacama. I never realised just how beautiful a desert could be or that there are so many shades of brown.

C Joern argentina 18 Breath-taking Atacama

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Not only did we stay in a couple of one horse towns in Chile and one Lama towns in Argentina but we met the horse and the lama.

Memories of Bolivia

D 01 Bolivia 1

I have never seen so many butterflies in my life

D 02 Bolivia 3 Beautiful Bolivia

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 D 06 Bolivia 9 Our little Suzuki 4×4

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Catching up with Stewart, Will and NatalieD 21 Bolivia 14 Having fun on the salt flats of Uyuni

D 22 Bolivia 16

The Bolivian people are very nice contrary to what a lot of people told us. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America which is sad considering it has so much mineral wealth.

 D 30a Bolivia 27 Lake Titicaca

D 31 Bolivia 22 D 33 Bolivia 26 

In a nutshell I just loved South America. Even though I was there for 6 months I really think I only scratched the surface of and I know that I need to come back :)

From the dust of the Amazonian highway to the best, sweetest juiciest fruit I have ever eaten I will never forget South America.

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Argentina: Salta to Buenos Aires (5th to 16th January)

salta-cathedral-salta-argentina Salta Cathedral

I arrived in Salta with mixed feeling on one hand itching to see my bike and get back on the road on the other missing Joern like crazy. I had gotten quite used to not being on the road alone. I always loved travelling alone preferring it to being in a group, but with Joern it was different as we travel so well together.

Once I was on the road though and heading out of Salta my spirits just soared it was so awesome to be back on Gadget. Even though we got incredibly wet the first 2 days nothing could get me down. I gave myself 4 easy riding days to get to Buenos Aires and enjoyed every minute of them.

Tucuman San Miguel de Tucumán

cordoba2 Cordoba

350px-Rosario_y_el_Parana 28Argentina~500Rosario~10Argentina_Flag_Memorial_1 Rosario

I arrived in BA on the 10th and had rented a lovely sunny little one bedroom flat for the week. I needed to be there a week as this is how long it would take to get Gadget packed up and flown to Panama City, after his one day stopover in Bogotá, he would arrive in Panama 1 day before me but on a Saturday so I cannot get him out until Monday. I flew to Panama on Sunday the 17th Jan.

Being back in BA was great it is such a nice city with amazing restaurants. Spending the week in the little flat was also great it gave me a break from travelling and living out of a suitcase and I liked the ’’normalcy’ of it all. I needed this time to just sit and reflect on South America before starting phase 4 of my trip riding through Central America from Panama to Florida.

 The Obelisk in Buenos Aires

While in BA I got to have coffee with Leti who arranged Joern and my wedding and met her awesome parents, Claudine and Philippe. What interesting, fun and just downright lovely people. We went to lunch together and I heard all about their lives they had lived in France, Hong Kong, Canada and the USA, they had also travelled to more countries than most people have. They were in Hong Kong in the 1950s imagine how interesting that must have been.

IMG_8190 Claudine Letis mom and me in Buenos Aires

I’ve love travelling in South America but am now looking forward to moving on to Central America.

Bolivia: Villa Tunami and Santa Cruz ( 2nd January to 5th January ) – by Joern

We leave Cochabamba at around 10:00 and head for Santa Cruz. There are two routes to get there. The southern is the old one which is no longer being maintained. Good for adventure, bad if you are actually trying to get somewhere. We are, so we have decided on the northern route which is the newest and paved and maintained all the way. And how much traffic can there be on the 1st of January, right?

P1020768 Beautiful Bolivia

We figure we can make the 160km to Villa Tunari in maximum three hours so we have time for an afternoon visit in the national park. If it is open that is…Mother Nature had other plans.

The first 40 or so kilometres go as planned until we have to stop behind a long line of cars. There is a checkpoint a few hundred meters ahead. Probably a small congestion due to just one person with a hangover in the booth. After 15 minutes of not moving even a centimetre we figure something must be wrong and one of the locals in the car in front of us comes over. He speaks perfect English and explains the situation. This is the beginning of the tropical part of the country and with that comes the rain. It has rained so heavily that part of the road has been blocked by mudslides for the last two days. Traffic now only flows in one direction at a time. That explains why there is a steady flow of cars coming towards us, but we are not moving. He has spoken to the police at the checkpoint, and they will open the road in our direction in one hour.

P1020779 Biggest traffic jam I have ever experienced

There are more one-way restrictions further up and he tells us to be patient. His brother came this way yesterday and it took him 17 hours to get to Santa Cruz. A car going in the other directions stops in front of our helpful friend, there is a quick exchange of words and he moves on. “He says, just don´t go that way.” we are told. Well, we kind of have to, so we go over to the food stands that are very conveniently located across the street and stock up on water, crackers and whatever “road food” we can find.

An hour later we are let through. After the checkpoint the road is perfect and we move at normal speed for another 20km feeling relieved. What chaos? We thought and agreed that the guy was full of shit.

Well No he wasn´t. We get stuck at another roadblock for two hours and after that another one just for good measure which is where we pass the worst bit. The road is not blocked by a mudslide here, half of it is plain and simple missing, washed away by massive amounts of water. Once past there we start moving again. First slowly and then back to normal. The amount of traffic, especially trucks, lined up is insane. The line is several kilometres long. Luckily the trucks have comfortable cabins with a bed in it because the ones at the rear are going to need it.

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Parts of the road have simply been washed away

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While in other areas parts of the mountain have been washed onto the road

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We have done the last 40km in about 8 hours and it is getting dark with 40km to go to Villa Tunari. Just to finish off the day in good spirits it starts to rain. A proper tropical storm. Rain is coming down in ropes accompanied by loud and close strikes of lightning.

I do not miss my bike right now.

We arrive in complete darkness and pouring rain to Villa Tunari and manage to find a cheap hotel. The first one we found shamelessly tried to take advantage of the bad weather and figured they could ask desperate strangers for 100USD for a simple room. Forget it. We would rather sleep in the car.

The next morning the rain has stopped and the last 320km to Santa Cruz de la Sierra are uneventful. Apart from Lorraine almost adopting a street dog (again) it was incredibly cute, I will give her that :-)

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The Villa Tunari street dogs having breakfast together

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Some of the rather surreal sights in Bolivia

This is our last stop before we part ways and I fly home, so we have booked a room at a nice hotel with a pool. Turns out it is inside a gated community. This is apparently the nice part of town and on this road alone there are five gated communities. This is clearly where the money is. This type of settlement is getting more and more common and causing lots of debates about societies being divided into the “haves” and the “have not’s”. I understand the concern, but if you have had your house broken into five times in a year, what are you to do?

Being a biker the sure sign that we are inside the gates, is the bikes that I notice parked in front of some of the houses. The most popular bikes in Bolivia are 125 and 250cc Chinese bikes that are just everywhere. I go for a walk in the community and spot a K1200R, a R6 and a Fazer 1000. They most likely don´t park those on the street down town.

We don´t see much of Santa Cruz as we are busy packing all our stuff for the flights and also just want to relax together. In two days it is time to say goodbye for two months. We do find time to go to the local malls cinema multiplex centre and watch the new Starwars movie. Like hotels and airports these places are alike everywhere. If I had been beamed here I could not tell you if I was in Bolivia or Boston or Rome. Just one more reason why we prefer overland travel, because that is where the diversity is.

It has been an amazing trip / honeymoon and neither of us want it to end, but reality has a nasty habit of catching up to you. Lorraine will go back to Salta and get her bike and continue through Central America, but I am going home. I have to be in the office Monday morning. Work. This thing that pays for all this. Remember that.

I choose to focus on the positive aspects of going home, like being able to choose between more than two pairs of pants to wear or going shopping in the local supermarket where they have all the stuff I like and I have a big fridge to put it in. Besides I enjoy the privileged of actually liking my job and the company I work for. I just had the longest holiday off of my life, got married to the woman of my dreams and had a fantastic honeymoon, met lots of awesome people and saw some of the planets most extreme and beautiful places. I went to the biggest salt flat in the world, the driest place in the world, the highest located lake in the world, drove past volcanoes, at some point on one, watched pink flamingos fly by right above my head in formation, rode a motorcycle over a mountain pass as high as the peak of Mont Blanc, watched sunsets over the Pacific and Lake Titicaca and the Atacama desert, chewed coca leaves for breakfast, got blown of my bike in Patagonia and loads more that I will remember in little bits and it will make me smile every time for years to come, so who am I to complain.

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Life is good.