Friday, December 31, 2010

Feliz Aňo Nuevo!

We are safe and sound and are in Peru now.  We have been going non-stop for the last few days and hence no blog update since Quito.  Planning on stopping for a few days this weekend, so will bring everyone up to speed of what we have been up to.

Wishing everyone everything of the best for the New Year and wish we could be with you celebrating.
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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere

Daryll writes:

We had a fairly short ride from Ibarra, Ecuador to Quito where we were going to spend Christmas.  On the way to Quito we crossed a milestone in our journey – the Equator, moving from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere so we had to stop off at one of the monuments in Ecuador – apparently there are 3 in total.  We got to the monument around 9am, and were fortunate as we were the only ones there so had the entire place to ourselves and the young lady was nice enough to let us take our bikes in for a few photo’s.  The next time we will cross the Equator back into the Northern Hemisphere will be in Africa.  Even though we are now in the Southern Hemisphere, we are still high up in the Andes and the last few days have been a bit chilly in the mornings and evenings.  The sun comes out during the day, and without fail, it pours every afternoon for a few hours.

Angela (northern) & Daryll (southern) hemisphere
We wandered around the Old Town of Quito on Christmas day and the city was buzzing with people with most of the stores open.  Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 24th, so everyone was out shopping and enjoying the brilliant sunshine.  Just to make those in Canada jealous, it was a balmy 24°C.  The two churches we stumbled upon before getting to the square had a very much gothic feel to it and reminded me of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Basillica in Quito
It was almost lunch time, and we weren’t sure on whether we wanted to have a large Christmas lunch or Christmas dinner, so wondered around till we found something that we saw locals eating at.  Those are the best restaurants and we were in luck, they had a special of the day that included a soup, main and a cold drink of some sort for all of $2 p/p; we couldn’t resist and for dessert we found some ice cream in the Square.

Ice cream in the Square on Christmas Day
Before arriving in Quito, I had been communicating with a local rider in the area, Daniel and we had arranged to meet up later that afternoon at our hostel and decided to go to a local pub for a few beers.  Daniel and his girlfriend on a Kawaski Versys was leaving the next day on a 3 week trip to Colombia and Mario had just returned from a 3 week trip to Peru on his F650GS, so we had a lot to talk about.  On the way to the pub, we met up with another two riders, Paul Kage and Shane Kost.  Paul is from Germany and riding a R100GS and Shane is from the US riding a F650GS.  We all ended up spending the evening together over a few beers and later Paul, Shane and us decided to go out for Christmas dinner.  Even though we had all just met, we shared a common passion and it was like spending the evening with family.
By the way, Paul used to work for BMW Corporate and is kind of semi-retired at the moment and gets a new BMW 1200GS every season to ride and returns it during the off season only to get another new bike the following season.  Tough, I know. 

Daniel & Mario - Quito riders
Christmas dinner with Shane & Paul

New photos added to the Ecuador photo album.
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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Riding the Colombian Highlands

Daryll writes:

A short clip of our police escort out of Manizales.

Riding the Colombian Highlands from Daryll Naidu on Vimeo.

We stayed at the Casa Blanca Hostel in Cali, a well visited hostel by bike travelers; so much so they have their very own Wall of Fame of photos of many of the bike travelers that have passed through here.  Three doors down from the hostel, was a bike shop where I had the rear tire on Angela’s bike replaced and a new set of brake pads put on my bike.  Bikes are almost ready to go for South America, an oil change is due in another 2K km.  We also met Sammy, another biker from Montreal that is finishing off a year motoring around South America before heading back home.  Sammy joined us to the grocery store where we had something quick to eat.  Our favorite food in Colombia has been Empenada de Pollo, so that’s what we had and Sammy ordered a 1/4 chicken and instead of cutlery got a pair of plastic gloves to eat the chicken with.

As we were leaving Cali, a local biker pulled up alongside us and went through the usual questions (where are you from, where are you going, what bikes are those etc.)  He then offered to lead us out of the city.  We talked whilst in traffic and he mentioned that he owned a bike shop and if we needed anything done to the bikes.  I thanked him for the offer but declined, however he took us by his shop and offered us breakfast.  We had just eaten, so had some freshly squeezed orange juice instead.  That’s Colombian hospitality for you.  It was on to Popayan and we went through some breathtaking scenery once again.  Colombia’s roads are well maintained as many of the roads are tolled and fortunate for us, motorcycles don’t have to pay and ride straight through on the side.  As usual, it rained for the morning, but dried out in the afternoon. 

Chasing Colombian Police from Daryll Naidu on Vimeo.

On the way into Popayan, we stopped at a gas station to get some directions to our Hostel and Darren an Australian guy with his partner Alexandria pull up and start chatting.  Darren did a trip around South America 2 years ago so we chatted about bikes for a bit.  Popayan is an interesting little town – all of the buildings around the Centro are all painted white, with the odd beige building thrown in.  Christmas shopping was in full swing and the square was buzzing with life.  After dinner, we wondered around to get a bit of the festive feel.

Church in Popayan
In Cali we had learnt that the road between Popayan and Pasto (our next destination) was closed for several days due to a landslide but light vehicles were able to get through.  We would only know for sure, once we got there and saw for ourselves if we could pass.  As we road out of Pasto that morning, there was a long line up of trucks on the highway.  The police were stopping heavy vehicles from entering the windy mountain pass where the landslide occurred.  As we got closer, we understood why, there were about 100 heavy trucks, bus’s and mini-vans all at a stand-still going up the mountain and people everywhere.  The odd vehicle came down the mountain, however the left side was taken up my motorcycles running people up to the landslide area, where they would walk across a mud pit where other motorcycles would take them down again on the other side.  We had to maneuver the bikes between all the people milling around, their holiday luggage lying all over the place and the trucks parked at odd angles.  Angela at one point starting yelling at a guy in English to get out of the way so that she could pass – guess he just heard yelling and moved (Angela's edit: My exact words were "Excuse me please! Can you move?  I have a really big box!! lol).  Once at the top, we were stopped as the crew was busy fixing the road adding more sand to the mix and a grader was trying to compact it down.  We waited for about 30mins before only letting small vehicles through.  This was going to make for an interesting crossing.  There were a few large rocks in a small section, but it wasn’t too bad after all.  I just felt bad for all the mothers that had to carry their babies through the mud pit to cross this section.

Playing in mud
Before leaving Colombia, there was one more item on our sightseeing list – the Sanctuary de Las Lajas.  The cathedral is of Gothic architecture and was built from 1916 to 1949 and built into the side of a canyon.  This was definitely a feat of engineering in the day and one of the most gorgeous churches I’ve seen.  As we got into the parking lot, getting our stuff ready to walk down to the church, we met two Colombian riders from Bogota on their 1200GS’s who were headed to Peru for the holidays to meet their family who where flying in.

Las Lajas

New photos added to the Colombia photo album.
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas

Daryll writes:

We crossed into Ecuador today and will be heading to Quito to spend Christmas.  We’ve had a few big riding days thus far and hence haven’t had time to put everything down onto the blog.  We have a few free days in Quito, so will get back on track.  We wanted to wish all our family and friends and ardent followers a Merry Christmas and everything of the best for the New Year.  Hope you enjoy the turkey.
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Monday, December 20, 2010

“Let me see you move like you come from Colombia….”

Angela writes:

It was sad to say goodbye to our new friends (Beatriz & family, Andre) and to our “old” friends (Naomi & Alberto heading North) in Bogota after such intense days filled with side-splitting laughter and fun. We went to bed laughing in our sleep and believed that even our toes were smiling for these photos. We were however eager to start riding again and to explore the great outdoors of Colombia.

So far Colombia seems like “bike heaven”.  There are so many motorcycles here and not just small 150cc bikes but big, beautiful, powerful bikes. Yesterday we met a cardiologist and his shiny new Yamaha Super Tenere – a hot new 1200cc not yet available in North America. Everyone in Colombia  so far have been wearing helmets (unlike Mexico & Central America) and most seem to wear gear. In the last couple days of riding we have encountered about 10 toll roads but the fees do not apply for motorcyclists and there are convenient little alleyways built up the right hand side of the toll booths to escape any lineup or obligation.  According to law your license plate number needs to appear in stickers on the back of your motorcycle helmet and most people also wear vests with these numbers imprinted on it as well. 

It came as no surprise to us then when on our way out of Bogota we were stopped on the side of the highway by a motorcycle traffic police officer.  He was super nice and pointed out that we did not have our numbers on the back of our helmets.  When Daryll cheerfully explained that we were tourists and didn’t have numbers the officer just smiled, and tilted his head like he had no arguments (especially with us poor-Spanish speaking foreigners) and motioned us on our way. At the next gas station Daryll pulled out our dollar store stickers (which we used previously to “extend” the date on our license plates) and added our license plate numbers to the back of our helmets. It will at least give police one less reason to pull us over.

We had a long, windy, painfully slow but beautiful, full-day ride to Manizales.  There was a great deal of construction on the roads and clean up from recent mud slides. The roads were always climbing or descending huge green mountains and we often got stuck behind semi trailers and dump trucks.  I bustled up my courage several times to pass these mammoth vehicles on yellow solid-line curves, starting while barely moving forward in first gear. Likewise traffic coming in the opposite direction would do the same thing and a couple of times I rounded a corner only to find a bus or semi trailer coming towards me, in my lane, passing another vehicle. Only once did I have to come to a complete stop to give a truck enough space to finish it’s pass and I always focused on finding the bit of pavement to the outside of the truck. “Where you look is where you go” and I did not want to become part of the truck.  Just to ease the potential heart attacks my parents may have while reading this, it wasn’t actually all that dangerous as we were mostly moving in slower speeds 20 – 40 km in these situations and it was all very “controlled”. I think we rode through every type of climate and temperature that day.  Several times throughout the day I had to turn on my heated grips to keep warm in the dense mountain mist and then on the flip side sometimes the sun beat down so hard I had to open every vent in my gear and looked for more layers of clothing to remove.  The mountainous scenery was absolutely spectacular.  The height of the mountains and the depth of the valleys were unbelievable and I often couldn’t see to the bottom - kind of like Avatar in 3D.

Coffee Plantations as far as the eye can see
 During the day we also passed by numerous police check points which we rode through without incident. I attribute our good fortune to the fact that upon approach to these traffic stations, I pretend to be invisible (I recently watched the movie “Men Who Stare At Goats).  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it but my strategy failed upon approaching the city of Manizales where about 8 bored police officers decided to pull us over.  Everyone in Colombia has been so super friendly and interested in us so I was not overly concerned about this stop and when the young man asked me for my papers I directed him to Daryll. He announced to the other officers standing by that “HER HUSBAND has their paperwork” like he was revealing to them the plot of some scandalous drama. Another officer approached me to ask where I was from, where I was going, and asked to try on my sunglasses which he kindly returned to me afterwards, much to my relief.  When they hovered curiously around Daryll asking for paperwork he showed them our bike import documents and our international drivers licenses and since they seemed to simply be looking to us as a source of entertainment, Daryll just brushed them off when they asked for our passports and then we were allowed to continue. 

When we arrived in Manizales Daryll had to stop at a Tour, Travel & Logistics company called Colombia57 so that he could pick up some replacement parts he had had shipped to them and we had to locate their office before they closed for the weekend. This is where we met Simon who graciously offered to let us park our bikes at his condo for the night, reserved us a room at a local hostel and organized a cab to whisk us away for some much needed showers, a solid sleep and some hot food.  For dinner I had the best Hawaiian pizza I have ever consumed (I attribute it to the fresh yummy pineapple here) and for breakfast delicious coffee and a pastry-like, light cheese bagel. When we returned the next morning to pick up our bikes, we took photos of the snow covered mountains that surrounded Simon’s condo in the distance.

On our way out of Manizales we stopped for gas and air and confirmed with the attendant the direction we needed to travel to reach our next destination. When three motorcycle police officers on 2 bikes pulled into the gas station, I tried to act invisible again because I didn’t want any hassle about not wearing proper vests or having unofficial stickers on our helmets.  The gas guy mentioned to the cops that we were heading towards Cali and they came over and offered to show us out of town!  We began to snake our way down the switch-backed highway through the middle of the city, weaving in and out of traffic and whirling through traffic circles. I felt rather lawless and reckless as the posted speed limit was 40 km/hr, we traveled at about 60 km/hr and the officers were at least doing 80 km/hr.  Suddenly I looked in my rear-view mirror and noticed flashing red and blue lights coming from another motorcycle cop behind me, and I frantically pointed to the police bike in the distance in front of me.  I got a “thumbs up” from the officer with the flashing lights behind me and then realized one of the original police bikes had dropped back behind me and wasn’t trying to pull me over but instead created a little speeding parade!  We swerved down the mountains, slowing only for construction detours to the other side of the highway and  gravel patches.  I felt like we were a political convoy riding straight into the middle of the earth as we were traveling down so far.  I thought the officers were going to ride us all the way to Cali and realized why they had offered to take us out of town – because the road leading there was so much fun!  After 25 km they stopped at a gas station and pointed us in the right direction. We thanked them immensely for their lead and their curved highway and they explained that the road to Cali was straight from there on out. I guess that’s why they decided to “get back to work”.  I was so impressed with their kindness.

Once reaching the PanAm highway the officers were right about it being straight to Cali but since the road was pot-hole and animal free the speed limits went all the way up to 100 km/hr. We definitely took advantage and liberated our throttles with some speed since we had been so constrained in our last few countries and clearly in Colombia police did not take issue with speed.

When we arrived in Cali we navigated our way, thanks to Daryll’s GPS, to the infamous biker hostel of Casa Blanca where Daryll was whisked away by cliental of the adjacent motorcycle mechanic shop, and made appointments to change my reaR tire and replace both brake pads on his bike. We decided to chill here for 3 days, catch up on our blog, make some future travel plans and Skype with some dear friends and family. At night we had dinner at the neighbouring motorcycle themed restaurant called Roosters where for the first time in Colombia we were disappointed by the food.  Our order of nachos literally turned out to be a handful of Doritos with melted cheese on top.  The 2 for 1 beer however did make up for this minor disappointment.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Riding on a New Continent

Daryll writes:

It has been a week since our last update and we are now safely in Colombia, South America.  After the failed attempts on reaching our boat, we had decided to fly the bikes and ourselves from Panama City to Bogota, Colombia.  Flying is the most expensive option of getting the bikes across the Darien Gap.  We always had budgeted to fly and if we managed to get a sail boat, the saving was going to be a bonus for our budget; however it is always good to have a Plan B.

As we had only decided to fly both the bikes and ourselves at the last minute, we hadn’t made any arrangements for the bikes or booked flights for ourselves.  The four of us (Naomi, Alberto included) were literally going to wing it.  I had read that in order to have the bikes air shipped, one would have to drain the gas and disconnect the battery.  So on the day before, I decided to drain some gas out of both bikes and thought that I had left a sufficient amount to get us to the air cargo terminal, close to the airport.  Well you know were this is going.  On the way to the airport, Angela’s bike runs out of gas and she pulls over into a bus stop area.  Naomi had given her gas away that she had in the jerry can that she carries, so I borrow the jerry can and go back a few km’s to the gas station that we just past and fill up $1.00 worth of gas.  The attendant looked strangely at me for filling up a $1.00 and wished I had filled up $2.00 worth.  So back I go and empty the gas into Ang’s bike and leave a bit in the jerry can as I had a nagging feeling that I was going to need it soon.  We only went a few km’s further when my bike stops.  Yup, that 35L gas tank of mine was now out.  So I empty the few milliliters from the jerry can into my tank and prey that we make it to the Girag offices.  Lesson to oneself – drain gas at the shipping place instead of prior.  Once there, the waiting game began.  We had to wait for the lady that takes care of shipping bikes to arrive.

Patiently waiting
Once she arrived, we got confirmation that the bikes will be able to be shipped the next day (Tuesday) and will arrive later that afternoon.  That was a relief.  I didn’t bother disconnecting the battery, but we did take some time shrink wrapping everything that was strapped to the bikes, removing the mirrors and windscreen, filled out some paperwork and left the bikes in their hands.  While we were taking care of all of this, another biker arrived.  André was from Quebec and riding a 1150GS, and had pre-booked his bike for Tuesday already.  He left home 6 weeks ago and once in Bogota, he was going to store his bike for a month, fly back home later in the week for xmas and return mid-January to continue his ride south.  He also had a flight booked for Tuesday, however was going to join us to the airport to see if he could get on an early flight with us.  On the way out, we had to stop at the Customs booth to have the bikes stamped out the country and once that formality was done, we tried to get a cab to the airport, about a km away.  Remember there are five of us now and we didn’t want to take 2 separate cabs, so tried to get a cab driver to take 5 passengers and it was not happening.  In the mean time, André managed to stop a cargo van and they offered to take us, so we pile into the back.
Angela shrink wrapping her bike
Once at the airport, we tried at the different airline service desks and weren’t able to get confirmation for a flight out for the Monday.  It was about 2pm by now and there were flights leaving around 3pm, 7pm and 8pm and the best we could get would be stand-by tickets for those flights.  We were all determined to get on a flight that same day/night so Alberto and I tried via the internet to see if we could book on Expedia as it was showing availability.  We were using free Wi-Fi, and it was painstakingly slow, while our new friend André was going to use his French charm on the lady at the Copa Airlines counter to convince her to get us on one of those flights.  It seemed like we were on the Amazing Race all frantically trying to book flights at the last minute.  In the end, the French charisma paid off and we were on two separate flights (three on the 7:20pm flight and Ang and I on the 8:20pm flight).  Now we have a few hours to kill and what better way to relieve the stress’s of the day by sampling different liquors'.

Killing time with alcohol
Alberto had a friend in Bogota who had offered them an empty apartment for their stay in Bogota and he generously extended that offer to all of us as well.  It was a life-saver as both our flights were delayed and Ang and I got into Bogota close to 11pm that night; historically not a city where you want to be trying to find a hotel that late at night.  Beatriz and her bother Felipe (Alberto’s friends) met us at the airport and took us to their aunt’s empty apartment.  Even though we slept on the floor that first night as all our camping gear was still on the bikes, it was a god-sent.  Our bikes were to arrive mid-morning the next day so we took a cab to the Girag offices and arrived by 11:30am the following day, only to learn that our bikes hadn’t arrived and would arrive about 3pm that afternoon.  We really wanted to get our bikes so none of us wanted to leave and come back, so we just hung around waiting for the next few hours.

Once we had confirmation that the bikes had landed, we had to have them cleared through customs and finally we were able to get them ready to leave which was an ordeal in itself.  Cargo warehouses are set-up for cargo going from a loading dock directly onto the back of a truck and not for motorcycles.  The staff set-up a make shift ramp for us to ride down to get onto street level.  Clip courtesy of André - I ride both our bikes down the ramp.

Exiting Air Cargo Terminal from Daryll Naidu on Vimeo.

Our bikes were totally out of gas, so André headed off in the dark to find us a gas station and bring us a gallon of gas in the jerry can.  He had gone a long time but finally returned with some gas for us to get going again.  We were all really worried as it was now dark.  While waiting at the terminal, another gentleman was also waiting for his goods and offered to lead us back to our apartment as Bogota traffic is a nightmare, let alone trying to navigate in the dark. 

We decided to stay for a few more days in Bogota to recover from the last week and managed to visit the Plaza and Palace area.  Xmas is in full swing and there is an ice-rink set up in the Plaza.  Colombia has a reputation, however whilst walking around, we never felt threatened or in fear of our safety.  The downtown core was bustling and the comfort of police officers and army officers on every corner put us at ease.  As we wondered around the Palace, we came across a bomb explosive guy with his golden retriever and we couldn’t help ourselves but stop and take photos of the two of them.  Beatriz and her family were extremely generous and hospitable and her cousin Alejandro took me to a bike shop where I had the brake pads on Ang’s bike replaced one of our free days.  Following him through traffic was insane as he weaved his Honda Veradero through downtown Bogota traffic.  Beatriz, her brother Felipe and her sister Virginia also took us to an upscale mall where we walked through one of the famous restaurants Andres de Res.  It was on 4 floors with each floor decorated in a different theme and all the fittings were hand-made at their own workshop.  We ended up having dinner at a market place and it was the most amazing meal I’ve had.  Colombian food is amazing and it is about the best so we’ve had so far.

A well trained Golden
New photos added to the Panama and Colombia photo albums.

P.S.  If anyone reading this has a Cardo Scala Q2 bike-to-bike communicator or can help us, we need some help.  One of our units isn’t taking a charge and therefore cannot be used.  Communication with each other is so vital for us and we cannot do without it.
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Saturday, December 11, 2010

San Blas Boat Take Two

Angela writes:

After receiving confirmation and encouragement from our boat captain that we would be able to ride unobstructed all the way to Carti, the four of us Daryll, Naomi, Alberto and I set off at 7 am to catch our boat.  Seventy-five kilometers later we arrived at the same Police blockade controlling the road that we had encountered the day before. This time we were not taking no for an answer. Alberto, in his fluent Spanish and swift strategy, decided to tell the officers that we were going to visit a motorcycle friend just past the blockade and that our “friend” was going to meet us to take us to his “non-flooded ranch”.  The police bought our story and let us pass through the blockade.

The four of us had agreed earlier that before we maneuvered our motorcycles through any potentially hazardous situations that we would stop and assess the situation, and definitely not put ourselves in any danger. We however did not want to be stopped by a fickle road blockade and by people who had not actually experienced the road conditions themselves and who were simply reporting on hearsay. After the blockade the road swiftly became full of potholes and while we stopped to put on our rain gear, we noticed the flooded forest beside us.

About 25 km past the road block we came upon our challenge. It was a standing river, flooded over the road, about 2 feet deep, mid-thigh level. After we watched a small 4 x 4 truck drive straight through, we discussed the possibility of pot-holes and getting water in the exhaust, and then Alberto jumped on his bike and started to drive through the river.

 photo by Naomi

Three quarters of the way through he purposely killed his engine as he was losing power, and did not want to risk sucking up water. Daryll and I splashed through the river to help him push his bike up the small hill on the other side. Although we were tired from the effort, and our boots and motorcycle gear were full of water, we realized it wasn’t that bad (kind of fun actually for 9:15 am on a Friday) so we were willing to do the same with the other three bikes. The only problem we had was that Alberto’s bike was having trouble starting again now that we got it to the other side. We decided to simply push the other 3 bikes all the way through the river and give Alberto’s spark plugs time to dry out.  We covered our exhausts with plastic bags and Daryll pushed and steered our bikes through the river while Naomi and I pushed from behind. In the water we noticed spiders walking along the surface and snakes swimming to the top. We tried not to think about the potential of disease as clearly Naomi and I were having a good time (compared to Daryll and Alberto).
 photos by Alberto

We were quiet ecstatic when all four bikes were on the other side of the river as we emptied our boots and tried to assist Alberto in getting his bike running again.

We were concerned about the condition of the up-hill dirt road through the mountains to the coast that we still had to encounter but we inquired with the emergency vehicles and police trucks that passed and everyone seemed to confirm that our particular road would be passable but the mud may take us 3 hours or so to get through. Everyone we met were super supportive and encouraging and nobody seemed to question our presence in the area other than to inquire if we needed any help. One police officer pulled out a string of about 30 little connected packages, I thought he was handing me condoms at first (ha, ha), but then I realized they were water purification tablets. He went on to explain how to obtain 10 liters of safe drinking water from each package and asked me to share them with my friends. I was quite touched by his gesture.  I took them but pictured myself leaving this valuable resource with one of the locals as we boarded our boat.  As we worked to drain Alberto’s spark plugs and jump start his bike, we watched trucks loaded with people and possessions drive to the other side of the river. We saw men, women and children fleeing with live chickens and TVs and an emergency pontoon boat was dispatched on our side of the river to help with the crossing, as crew distributed candy. It seemed a bit crazy that we were working so hard to get deeper into a community evacuated due to flooding, but in order for us to cross the Darien Gap with our 4 motorcycles we were adamantly pursuing one of only two options. When a 4 x 4 private vehicle coming in the opposite direction stopped to tell us that the port was closed, the San Blas Islands were under an evacuation order, and that Fitz the boat captain had canceled our sailing, our whole plan changed. The lady kindly let us borrow her cell phone and Naomi confirmed with Fitz that we should return to Panama City as presently it was too rough to sail and he had actually damaged his rudder under the sever weather conditions and it would take a week to fix.

As we were digesting this new information and continuing repairs on Alberto’s dead bike, we realized the river we had to turn around and re-cross had actually risen significantly – about half a foot higher than our last crossing. And then it began to rain again. Besides Alberto’s dead bike, my bike was of the next concern as it is the lowest of all the bikes. During this re-cross we were no longer worried about getting water into my exhaust but the concern was now getting water in my air intake, located just below the bike’s seat. To test the depth of the rising water, we pushed Daryll’s bike back across the river first and the water just about engulfed the height of his entire wheel. As the water continued to rise and the rain continued to fall even harder, the urgency of getting the bikes back across the river increased. Smaller trucks that were crossing the river began to stall in the middle of it and some of them had their front fenders bent due to the force of the water they were pushing. Daryll and Naomi brought my bike back across the river next and we tested their efforts by starting my bike which purred to life effortlessly. As Alberto took apart his bike under a tarp, Daryll moved our gear back across the water. Since the emergency personal and boat was not actively being used to move evacuees at that moment they happily agreed to ferry our stuff across the water.

The emergency people were so amazingly kind, they offered to feed us lunch and even apologized for the weather!

Once Naomi and then Alberto crossed their bikes back over the river, the volunteer mechanics which were standing by, agreed to help Alberto jump-start his bike. The issue with his bike was not the spark plugs as when he reached them, they were bone dry.  First they tried pushing Alberto’s bike down a hill, which we had tried earlier on the opposite side of the river without success.  Then the mechanics offered to pull Alberto behind a moving vehicle while he popped the clutch and started the bike.  On the second attempt, in first gear, Alberto’s bike roared to life. The bike actually crashed once it got started but Alberto managed to stay on bike and pull in the clutch as it hit the ground so that his bike would not stall again. Now that’s commitment.  By this time it was about 4 pm so we were so thankful that his bike was running again so we could all ride back to Panama City before night fall. We have now returned to our same hotel in Panama City – Residential Alameda which is beginning to feel like home. Our bodies are sore and we are tired but we have now been inspired to look into the option of flying to Colombia.

**Special shout out to Naomi’s parents reading our blog for the photos – welcome, we’re having a great time!

New photos added to the Panama photo album.  Marked photos courtesy of Naomi and Alberto.

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Failed Attempt

Daryll writes:

The fact that we have internet access must say something already. 
We awoke to some nice warm weather for a change this morning and had high hope for the day to come as the sun poked through the cloud cover.  We got our bikes packed and hit the Pan-American Hwy towards the Darien.  Our friends Naomi and Alberto needed to go to the bank and change some money so we arranged to meet them at the boat pick-up point.  We took the toll road out of Panama City towards the airport and beyond.  About an hour into the ride, it started to rain and didn’t look good in the distance. 

As usual, we pull over to the side of the road, put our rain gear on and continue, but only for another few minutes till we get to a police blockade.  There are a few police officers milling around and several people out of their vehicles looking distressed.  I check with the one officer and he says that the road to Carti has been closed for a day and he isn’t letting anyone through.  In the mean time, he takes down the license of other drivers and lets them pass.  Apparently these people are going to towns before out turn-off and the road is fine till then.  I ask a few people standing around when they think the road will re-open and they all shrug their shoulders.  This isn’t looking good.

Stopped in our tracks
Some meaning looking Police
We wait for about 20mins and our friends show up.  Spanish is Alberto’s first language, so he starts to chat to a few of the police officers while Ang and Naomi get friendly with another.  Apparently these officers were given strict instructions not to let anyone through; however not 30mins prior to our arrival, the one officer says he was letting people pass.  We called the Captain of the boat we were going to take and he suggested that we go back to Panama City and hope that the road re-opens soon and after seeing most other people leave, decided that we call it a day and head back to the City and to the Hotel we left a few hours ago.

Angela, Jose & Naomi
Once we unpack and settle into the same room - we asked for it as it was one of the few larger rooms, we try to come up with a plan.  There is 4 of us and 4 bikes, that is almost half of the revenue this Captain is going to be generating of this sailing, so he is sure to come up with an alternate pick-up point.  We are way too valuable to him and he is definitely not sailing without us. 

About an hour ago, we received an email from Fritz (the Captain) letting us know that we should meet at the same point tomorrow and the road was re-opened this afternoon, probably a few hours after we turned around and headed back.  Damn!  We will try again tomorrow.
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Canal Traffic Suspended due to Heavy Rain

Daryll writes:

No, I don’t have an obsession with the Panama Canal, however wanted to illustrate the amount of rain that we have encountered over the last few days.  While working on the last Blog post, Ang was watching the News and learnt that Canal traffic was halted for the first time since 1989 due to the heavy rains that have made it too dangerous for ships to navigate though the waterway. The main river and lake that the ships use to traverse the waterway reached record levels and forced authorities to cease operations today. The last time the Canal was closed was after the US invaded Panama to oust president Manuel Noriega.

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Casco Viejo on Panamanian Mother’s Day

Daryll writes:

Yup that’s right, today (Wed. Dec 8th) is Mother’s Day in Panama.  It is a holiday with the city shutting down with only restaurants and corner stores open.  There was a torrential down pour last night so we wondered across the street from our Hotel for dinner.  Food and beer are cheap, be it in a grocery store or a restaurant; however still all relative.  “Note to self, need to take more pictures of our meals”.

We got up this morning to more rain and it hasn’t stopped all day.  A visit to Panama City wasn’t going to be complete without a visit to Casco Viejo; so despite the rain, we donned our rain gear and took a taxi over.  Being Mother’s Day and combined with the rain, there were very few people out and the streets seemed almost deserted except for the police on almost every corner which made us feel that much safer. Ang and I asked politely to have our pictures taken with two different police officers and I only noticed this after the fact and once we went through the photos we had taken during the course of the day – during our initial conversation with the police officers, they were extremely friendly, smiling and talkative, but once we pointed the camera at them, their facial expressions changed becoming more serious and their hand on their firearm.  Not sure what that was about.

Trigger Happy I

Trigger Happy II
Casco Viejo is the historic part of the city, established after the settlement of Panama Viejo was destroyed. Together they form one UNESCO World heritage site. Many old houses and buildings are already restored or in the process of being restored, but there are several old derelict buildings with just the facade standing with metal supports with an empty shell. Architectural beautiful buildings, the city combines old with new that seems weird at first glance, but makes for some great photos.

Old with New
As we wondered around the shoreline, it gave us a great vantage point of the “Bridge of the America’s”, the line of cargo ships waiting their turn to enter the Canal and the sprawling skyline of Panama City.  Passage through the Canal is based on weight and costs anywhere between $300K to $500K per vessel, so you can imagine the amount of revenue that is being generated on a daily basis.  I was surprised on the amount of development that is going on, on the waterfront of the city.  There are skyscrapers as far as the eye can see and the new Trump Tower is very evident amongst all the new buildings.

Bridge of the America's
The Trump Tower is the curved building that towers above the others
Due to the time it takes to load the bikes, we load them tomorrow afternoon and spend one night on board together with the Captain prior to the other passengers arriving on Dec. 10th when we set sail.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it stops raining by then. 

We’ll be out of contact for the next 6 days and hope to have another update once in Colombia.

New photos of Panama added to the photo album.
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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Panama Canal

Daryll writes:

Coming into Panama City, we were awe-struck with the towering “Bridge of the America’s” that spans the Panama Canal and leads into downtown Panama City. After checking out a few hostels and hotels, we finally found one that was affordable, yet decent with secure parking.  Together with our friends Naomi and Alberto, we ran around the next morning trying to figure out how we get the bikes stamped out and learnt that it was an all day affair, so finally gave up and decided to take a cab to the Canal to spend the rest of the afternoon.  As always, it rained on us the entire time we were out there.

Taking cover

Miraflores Locks

A yacht & a Panamax fast approaching
Construction on the canal began in 1880 by the French, who had just successfully completed the Suez canal in Egypt. However, conditions in the dense, mountainous jungles of Panama proved far harsher than the flat, sandy desert of Egypt. Brutal working conditions, yellow fever and malaria claimed an estimated 22,000 lives before the project finally went bankrupt in 1889. In 1904, the project was taken over by the United States under Theodore Roosevelt, after orchestrating Panama's move for independence from Colombia the previous year. The discovery of mosquitoes as the carriers of yellow fever and malaria allowed for disease prevention, and work moved quickly under improved conditions, although it would claim another 5000 lives before completion. By 1914, the Canal (77km in length), a complex system of dams and locks, was open for transit, and ships that once were forced to travel to the southernmost tip of South America cut 12,500 kilometers (7,800 miles) from their voyages. It remained under full US administration until 1977, when a treaty was signed to hand over control of the Canal to Panama by 1999, with the US reserving the perpetual right to military intervention to protect its economic interests in the key shipping route. In 1999, all responsibility for the Canal was transferred to the government of Panama.

Yacht through
The Canal has three sets of locks – Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores – each of which has two lanes. These locks serve as lifts, elevating vessels 85 feet above sea level from the lock’s chambers through a system of drains that extend under every lock chamber from the center and side walls. An average of 55 million gallons of fresh water is used, and takes about eight minutes to fill each chamber. After sailing through the Continental Divide, vessels are again lowered to sea level on the opposite side of the Isthmus of Panama.

Grand Diamond (a Panamax)
A proposal to expand the Canal to accommodate larger shipping vessels was put to a referendum in September 2006, and approved by an 80% majority. The expansion, set to be completed in 2014, will double the waterway's capacity, with a third set of locks added to loosen congestion in the busy canal and make room for the latest generation of colossal container ships. .

On to the next chamber
This was definitely a highlight of being in Panama thus far.  A feat of engineering that has stood the test of time and the concept seems so simple.  Using hydraulics, open and close a series of gates that fills and empties a series of chambers that either lifts or lowers the largest cargo vessels in the world. We visited the museum prior to seeing the two cargo ships come through the canal, hence all the history.  The silver locomotives that run alongside the vessel acts as a brake and keeps the vessel in the center of the canal and the vessel is under it's own power while going through. 

New photos added to the Panama photo album.
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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Coronado, Panama

Daryll writes:

“Pura Vida” is the unofficial motto of Costa Rica and the Tico’s use it to describe their lifestyle and way of life.  However, after just a few days in Panama, the term “pure life” or “just life” seems to better describe the lifestyle in Panama more aptly than it does Costa Rica based on our experiences.

Our next destination was to be Coronado, a coastal town about 90mins before Panama City.  Our aim was to get on the road early and arrive at our destination before being soaked by the afternoon deluge that we had witnessed for the past few days.  The Pan-American Highway from David to Coronado was something that you would find in North America, a smooth, double lane highway for most of the way.  There was only one stretch with bad potholes and it happened to be the section of road that was done in concrete as compared to asphalt.  What stood out was the number of police officers with radar guns that we noticed immediately after a reduction in speed sign posting  They were not targeting foreigners in particular and were stopping all drivers that were over the speed limit in that section.  Whether a ticket was involved, I’m not sure, but it was a good sign nonetheless.  It was a long riding day.  We did a total of 383km, our second longest riding day since leaving home.  The sun was out for most of the morning and we were just thankful that it did not rain on us.  It was the first day in over a week that it hadn’t rained whilst riding.  It was a good day.

A friend of mine from Vancouver (Meaghan) had offered us her family vacation home to stay at in Coronado.  Her step-brother (Jeff) and his girlfriend (Tania) had decided to move to Panama for a year and graciously hosted us at their family home. It was an unbelievable experience spending the last few days with them and hearing about their past travel experience, their decision to come to Panama and their future travel plans.  They are both an amazing couple that pretty much know what they want and are getting out there and living their dream.  Jeff used to be a chef in Toronto and has turned to his other passion of writing and is now a screen-writer, author and director.  He has worked on a couple of music videos and made a western movie that was released on DVD.  He also bought a Suzuki GN125 as a little run-about bike while in Panama and wants to do a trip across eastern Canada.  So we spent a lot of time talking about bikes and going over his bike.  Tania is also an artist and is an interior designer and writer and writes for several online publications.  We had an amazing few days with them and cannot thank them enough for their generosity and hospitality.  Thanks Meg for hooking us up.

It's tough at times

Tania & Jeff
One afternoon, we decided to take a walk along the beach to take in the coastline and admire some of the million-dollar homes on the beach.  The homes were breath-taking with an un-obstructed view of the ocean.  There were however, some abandoned homes along the coast which I found surprising.  There is a law in Panama, that makes the squatter on property after a certain length of time the legal owner of the property.  Sweet!  I am going to set up my tent here. 

Tania & Angela checking out possible tent spots
I later found out that it was just for the locals and does not include foreigners.  We are off to Panama City tomorrow, our last capital city of Central America for a few days before we go sailing.

Coronado coastline

New photos added to the Panama photo album.
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