It’s been a while…

… since I last posted anything to this blog, so I thought I’d better explain why.

Since returning from South America almost a year ago, Tracy and I have been rather busy setting up a new business. We have finally managed to find some suitable premises and in May this year (2014) we opened our own motorcycle training school. For full details of the school and what we’ve been up to it’s best to head over to our new website at www.innercicletraining.co.uk

In the future there may be more travels that see me reaching for the keyboard to record them, in which case, this is where you’ll find them. However, don’t hold your breath as we took a phenomenally good trip to Kenya where we went on safari for 2 weeks, all of which Tracy arranged without my knowledge and I didn’t blog about that!!

In the meantime, stay safe and stay happy. Paul

To Buenos Aires and the end of the journey

Back in 2009 when I did the full Trans-Americas trip there was one loose end I deliberately left just in case I ever came this way again. Those who were subjected to my blog will remember the disturbing images of my bare arse as I skinny-dipped in the Arctic Ocean at the start of the trip, the Pacific and Atlantic in the middle, the naked-run round the glazier at Stewart, and the naked run round the desert in Peru. North, West, East, Up and Down but no nakedness in the South. Some of the group did go skinny dipping in the Southern Ocean as is traditional on these trips, but I wanted a reason to return. Well, I can proudly(!) report that I closed that particular loop the morning of our departure from Ushuaia. Taking the van with Boonie, Bal and Dave, we all submerged ourselves in the freezing waters, colouring the air of the national park a deep shade of red with screams of expletives that would make a drunken sailor blush. Yes, it was very, very, cold! The ride back to the hotel in the back of the van wasn’t much warmer, either. Nor was the initial part of the ride out of Ushuaia and over the Paso Garibaldi either, dressed once again in my bike gear, the sleet and snow made colder by a biting wind.

Heading North after so long heading south is a strange feeling, the sun directly ahead when it finally showed up and the skies cleared. Our run up took us first to Rio Grande on Tierra del Fuego, a small town from where the Argentine forces were launched back in 1982 when they took the Falklands before being sent back home again. It’s home to a large army base and some memorials to those killed in the conflict, as well as signs proclaiming “Los Malvinas son Argentinas” – despite the obvious fact that they remain under British rule. Our stopover was simply a matter of convenience, the run up to the town of Rio Gallegos, the next town on the mainland requiring 2 border crossings and a ferry crossing as well as a distance that is too great to do in one hit. The wind on the way north was exceptional and when we arrived in Rio Grande it was a full-on gale. Standing up in the street was difficult, never mind riding a bike! The following day was windy again as we rode back up past Cerro Sombrero via the 70-mile dirt road, the final stretch of which was very challenging in a very strong crosswind. Once again the group coped admirably with this challenge, only to discover a problem with the ferry. On arrival we could see a large tailback of lorries and cars queuing and we knew there was a problem. Due to the high winds, strong currents and decidedly choppy waters in the Straights of Magellan the ferry wasn’t running! We rode to the front of the queue (as bikes always do) and enquired when it might restart, getting answers of anything from 5-8pm. It was now 11am.

Another bought of waiting then ensued, before the group was told by a policeman that we’d jumped the queue and had to move the bikes to a car park and we wouldn’t be allowed on the first few boats when the ferry restarted. Then more waiting before at around 6pm we were told by another policeman to move them back to the head of the queue as the ferries were about to restart running! By the time we boarded it was getting on for 7.30pm, but we made it across and then the race to the final border crossing began. Once across we rode in the dark to our hotel in Rio Gallegos. Kevin and I headed out for dinner at the British Club, the rest of the group either eating in the hotel or retiring to bed exhausted. Now here’s an interesting fact not many people know – it was the British that first settled in southern Patagonia, including establishing the town of Ushuaia. They were mostly sheep farmers who first settled in the Falklands during the 19th century before moving to Argentina, and hence the British club (est. 1911) which has a large brass plaque with the names of around 200 settlers proudly displayed on the wall.

The next day we continued our ride North, again accompanied by a strong wind, although now it was blowing from the south-west so much less of a problem. After a night in Comodoro Riverdavia, another small town useful for breaking up the journey but not that inspiring, we moved on to Puerto Madryn, via the penguin colony at Punto Tombo and the Welsh village of Gaiman. Again, a little explanation – first the penguin colony, which is on the Atlantic Ocean and accessed via a 40-mile gravel road, the final dirt road of the trip. Here there are around 400,000 Magellanic Penguins, which makes it a great place to break up the journey north and while away a few hours simply watching these lovely creatures bask in the sun or swim in the ocean, or waddle up and down. Gaiman is famous for being a Welsh settlement (the Welsh settling in a band across the continent from east to west whilst the Scots and English settled further South). As well as being a place where the Welsh settled, it’s also where the current Welsh government sends a lot of its official documents to be translated into Welsh, as here the language remains purer than in much of Wales! It’s also home to some spectacularly beautiful tea houses, including one we visited by a small river, with a lovely garden (including a large, Alice-in-Wonderland style teapot) and house where waitresses dressed in all their finery served afternoon tea and welsh cakes. No sooner had I ordered and sat down than my phone beeped with a message Kevin had sent earlier asking me to sort out the details of the whale-watching trip for the group later. I managed to rush down a few cups of tea (I really miss a good cuppa when travelling!) before racing on to the hotel, getting stopped by the police on the way. Not for speeding, though (I was), but for a roadside drugs check – they were just pulling over random vehicles for checks and had no interest in my attempts to set a new land-speed record on a GS without a screen.

Puerta Madryn is a lovely town on the ocean which at this time of year serves as a great place to go whale watching in the bay. I sorted the trip out for the group and the following day they went off, seeing a mother and calf as I had done 4 years ago, whilst Boonie and I attended to various jobs on the bikes. I also arranged a special excursion for 2 of the more adventurous members of the group to go snorkelling/scuba diving with sea lions the following morning. Unfortunately, as this would mean they would be several hours behind the group, I couldn’t join them – their stories and photos were something special!

From Puerta Madryn we continued North to Viedma, where there was a big protest/demonstration going on right outside our hotel. With lots of police cars and bikes making most of the noise with their sirens and with the policemen joining in the rhythmic drumming it was an unusual sight – but just one of many protest across Argentina by the police themselves who are angry about their very poor level of pay, which with rampant inflation is a real issue. Fortunately we didn’t experience any of the looting and violence that has accompanied the police strikes further north, this protest being good-natured and obviously supported by the local population.

Whilst in Viedma we discovered some issues that meant one of us needed to high-tail it to Buenos Aires ahead of the group, so the following morning that’s exactly what I did, riding over 700 miles but resolving the problem quickly. This meant I didn’t get to ride into the final city with the group, as I was at the freight agent’s office, which was a pity, but I still got to ride with them the final 4 miles to drop the bikes off a couple of days later. Once in BA we took the group to complete the documentation formalities, getting the power of attorney paperwork notarised and then giving them a free day on Wednesday whilst we sorted out the route to the drop-off point and tied up a few other loose ends. On Thursday we rode the last 4 miles, getting the group a minibus back to the hotel so we could deal with the customs processes and ride the bikes the final few yards into the bonded warehouse from where the freight agent will deal with them. That evening was the final group meal of the trip, at the excellent Carlos Gardel Tango Show, which was every bit as good as I remembered from ’09.

And so to today, Friday, which has been a day of goodbyes as several of the group head home, and the final job for me to ride Chad’s KTM (his paperwork not complete as we need a further PoA fedexing from the US) to another warehouse across town. With that done there’s nothing left to do but pack, eat a final Argentine steak and drink a final glass or two of Malbec then catch the flight home tomorrow.

It’s been a great journey – very different in many ways to that in ’09 – and a great experience. Working as a guide is a full-time job as there is always something to think about or sort out and you are always at a state of readiness in case you’re needed. But it’s very satisfying seeing the group achieve their goals. The better you do your job the less the clients realise it, as the smoother their trip goes, but it’s immensely satisfying when you get it right (and immensely disappointing when you don’t!!).

I just hope I get the chance to guide more trips in the future. It sure as hell beats working in an office!

To the end of the world. Again.

It’s odd how not writing a daily blog means that I struggle to remember what we’ve been doing since I last put fingers to keyboard. My last entry was written on the day Steve tipped over on the run down the Carretera Austral to Puyuhuapi, but that seems like an eternity ago. Since then we endured a wet ride south to Coyhaique and some more fantastic scenery as we followed the dirt road that is the Carretera Austral down to Puerto Guadal. Our accommodation varied from the usual hotels and lodges, with Boonie and I sharing a small cabin with a kitchen and log-burner as there was no room for us in the modern casino hotel the group stayed in. That allowed us to buy some milk from the supermarket and make use of the PG Tips he’d brought over in the van to have our first cup of tea since leaving the UK. It wasn’t quite as good as back home but it was most welcome!

In Puerto Guadal we stayed in another lodge, this one larger and with 3 rooms, one for Kevin, one for Darran and Dave and one for Boonie and me. Another log burner also afforded us chance to sit and chat a while in comfort whilst the rain fell outside. That evening we took the screen off my bike and fitted it to James’, as the replacement screen we had delivered from Motoaventura turned out to be for the wrong model and wouldn’t fit. So from now on I’m riding a “street-fighter” style GS!

The following morning dawned bright and sunny and we had a spectacular ride through truly phenomenal scenery back to the Argentine border and on to the estancia. The first part of the ride took us along a huge lake, with snow-capped mountains in the distance. The photos (on my photostream) do not capture even half of the beauty of this part of the world. The final section of road turned from tarmac to soft gravel and dirt, particularly challenging given the recent rain which had turned it very soft in places. Once again the group coped admirably and we didn’t have anyone fall. That night on the estancia we had a group meal of traditional Argentina parilla (BBQ) the lamb split and cooked in front of a wood fire, then hacked up and served to us with chorizo sausage and salad. It was simply delicious, the best meal of the trip so far, steak in Bariloche included.

From the estancia we rode on Ruta 40 once more to El Calafate, where we had a rest day. Back in 09 this was a gravel road and caused me some grief as I was riding with a broken rib, but this year it was mostly tarmac and I am fully fit, so it was much easier. With little maintenance on the bikes to do, I spent the rest day relaxing and walking round the town, then meeting up with Kevin and Boonie to buy bubbly and snacks for when we reach the end of the world. Leaving El Calafate to cross back into Chile once more proved very challenging, the wind picking up significantly (it had been blowing hard when we arrived). The sailor in our group estimated it was at gale force 8 – so strong that it was impossible to stand up without being blown about. A short section of around 40 miles of dirt road was interesting to say the least, riding with such a strong cross-wind. To try and keep the bike on a straight line required constant pressure on the bars, steering the bike to the right and leaning it into the wind. Several times the surface turned to looser gravel, meaning there was insufficient grip for the level of steering input required, resulting in being blown across the road until the surface improved enough to allow the bike to be hauled back on line. At one stage I came very close to crashing, the front and rear wheels slipping on the gravel and the bike dropping down, only my instinctive reactions to stand it up saved me from embarrassment. At the fuel stop at the end of the dirt road the group slowly came in with similar tales of near misses, the riders buzzing with excitement at having conquered riding in a true Patagonian wind. A few had taken the longer tarmac route to skip the dirt road, but had equal tales of battling the wind. From there to close to the border was tarmac which made the riding easer, but the dirt road to the border was a further challenge as the wind was relentless. But the Argentine border formalities were simple and quick and it was only a short ride to the Chilean side, where I arrived just before 1pm ahead of most of the group. Only to discover the customs guy was on strike and only working for 2 hours each day – from 12-1pm and 5pm-6pm. As he’d closed up just before I got there, I had no choice but to sit and wait, explaining to the group as they arrived that we’d be here some time! Fortunately just past the border is a cafe, and as we were checked in (immigration and SAG processing us despite the customs strike), at least we could get a coffee and some snacks. At 5pm the customs guy resumed work and we got the group their permits fairly quickly (I’d managed to get a stack of blank forms to speed things up) and we made the short journey to the hotel at Tres Pasos. Once again Boonie and I had different accommodation to the group, this time sleeping in bunk beds in a small wooden caravan in the garden – supplied with clean towels, soap and shampoo despite not having a bathroom! The first of the 2 nights we slept there was very windy, the caravan rocking from side to side as we slept – and with no curtains we were both up earlier than normal (which is early anyway!). Quite an experience…

On the rest day at Tres Pasos we were called out to fix a puncture only to find one of the group had plugged it by the time we caught up with the affected rider, then Boonie and I took a ride out to the entrance of the park, not wanting to pay the fee to go in and ride the loop, which turned out to be a good decision as a landslide had blocked the route anyway.

From Tres Pasos we made our way onto Tierra del Fuego, taking the small ferry across the Straights of Magellan accompanied by a pod of Commerson’s dolphins. A night at the gas drilling town of Cerro Sombrero was followed by another dirt road ride to the border and back into Argentina before finishing up on Lago Fagnano just 62 miles short of Ushuaia and the end of the road. That night we managed to convince Angelica, whose 1150 was too badly damaged to continue and sent home from Bariloche, and who had been riding pillion with Dave since El Calafate, to ride my bike the final few miles to the end of the road. Which meant I got to ride in the van with Boonie, snapping pictures of the group and reminiscing about my own journey to the famous sign. Once we arrived, we took lots of photos and managed to get a couple of the bikes next to the sign before the warden turned up and reprimanded us. A toast of bubbly and lots of congratulations later we made our way back out of the park – me now back on my bike again – stopping for a coffee before returning to the hotel.

That evening we shared a bottle of Johnnie Walker Green Label whisky, bought by one of the group, before heading out for the group meal. A few toasts, a few drinks and some good food before retiring to the Dublin Irish bar for a couple of beers and then bed at midnight was the order of the day.

It’s been a great experience so far, helping get the group to the most southerly point, and tomorrow we turn round and start to head North again, 8 days until we arrive in Buenos Aires and the final part of the journey. I’m looking forward to the ride, and hoping the wind will abate and the sun comes out as here in Ushuaia, the most southerly city in the world, it’s blowing a fair bit and sleeting!

Santiago and the start of the final leg of the Trans AM

Another couple of weeks have passed and it’s been a busy old time for the GlobeBusters crew.

Following the afternoon’s singing practice in Cafayate we continued south, through more beautiful scenery towards our rendezvous with the Chilean police for the ride-in to Santiago. Before then, though, we had a night in the ski resort of Uspallata where the problems with the F800GS I mentioned in my last post came to a head. Now I should explain that this bike is exactly the same model as mine – a 2009 grey one – only it has done some 12,000 miles less. But. It’s not been very well looked after to say the least, and when it joined the trip in Tucson it was evident that it hadn’t been serviced since it completed a trip in Africa the summer before. It even had the same tyres fitted. During this trip it has caused numerous problems, and Boonie the van-man has spent a good few days trying desperately to get it into some form of shape. But the neglect and the massively over-loaded wiring system proved too much and it failed to start once arriving in Uspallata and so was put in the van for the last day into Santiago. Here all the bikes were sent to BMW for a service, where the mechanic managed to get the bike started only to immediately switch it off due to the horrendous noise from the engine, declaring it officially dead. So the rider has now hired an F800GS from Sonia at Motoaventura and we’ve shipped the dead one home…

Santiago is a lovely city, but we didn’t get to see much of it, what with 3 (now 4) bikes to ship home, 6 new people arriving and 5 bikes to clear through customs. We arrived Monday, got the bikes to BMW and 2 to Motoaventura for new tyres, then on Tuesday managed to clear 3 bikes into the country (the riders needing to be present to sign their permits). Wednesday we took the dead bike to the freight point and drained the fuel from the others and disconnected their batteries (something we were only told about after we’d dropped them off!), then Customs went on strike for 2 days meaning we couldn’t get the other 2 bikes out until Friday. Thursday was another day of rushing here and there, sorting out bikes and also trying to get my haircut and riding suit repaired as the zip broke and my trousers split! On Friday we managed to get the remaining 2 bikes out (after just 6 hours at customs) and so were all set to leave again on Saturday.

Saturday’s ride was straightforward, a 300-mile run down the main pan-am south, and on arrviing at Salta de Laja I had the job of changing all 4 tyres on the GlobeBusters bikes for knobblies – under the supervision of Kevin and Boonie, who sat on the step outside our room drinking red wine and taking the mickey of my feeble efforts. But I succeeded, and despite a few marks on the rims (unavoidable as we don’t have any rim protectors).

Then on Sunday we hit the dirt roads up into the hills again. And that’s when the trip started to go a tad pear-shaped for some. First, one of the riders crashed in the loose gravel, severely damaging the R1150GS by bending the handlebars and smashing the clutch lever assembly and switchgear. After putting the bike in the van I continued to the lunch stop to discover several other riders had also had spills but with nothing more serious than a broken screen. After lunch I rode with one of the new guys who wanted to improve his confidence on the dirt, and then we ended up on a detour due to a road layout change. This was no ordinary detour, though, as we first rode up a hill that turned into a lava field and I got my bike stuck as the rear wheel sank up to the axle, then we rode through the national park on a narrow and quite technical trail. It was gone 8pm by the time we rolled up to the hotel, but he’d enjoyed the ride and the scenery was simply stunning (see my photostream for a few pictures).

Monday was also a challenging day, with some beautiful riding on more dirt roads by lakes, and we had another rider go down only this time he didn’t get away with it as he snapped his cruciate ligaments and so had to be repatriated from Bariloche. He wasn’t in any pain, thankfully, and it could have been much worse given the nature of the spill. So on our “day off” in Bariloche we had plenty to do, chasing paperwork to repatriate his bike and trying to repair the 1150. Unfortunately when our local mechanic contact came to look at it so we could sort out spare parts, he explained that the hydraulic clutch hose attaches to the back of the engine and to get to it requires stripping the entire rear of the bike down, a 2-day job in a workshop. So that bike is unrepairable, meaning we had to send both of them to Buenos Aires via truck before they get shipped back when we arrive. Sadly the rider of the 1150, who is completely uninjured couldn’t get a hire bike as they are all booked and so is now going to travel south by plane and bus, meeting up with the group next in El Calafate.

It also appears that the guy who dropped his bike and broke his screen has cracked a bone in his foot but is able to continue, opting to ride in the van on the days we have a lot of dirt riding to do in order to avoid further risk of injury.

When I started typing this we were in Bariloche and since then we’ve had 2 more days of riding on mixed roads, the first of which passed without incident. Today another rider has gone down, fortunately without injury or terminal damage to the bike – just another broken screen! So we’ve some more work to do when Boonie gets here with the van…

Peru, Chile and Argentina – altitude, scenery and fantastic roads

As seems to the be norm now, it’s been a good week and a half since I last put hands on keyboard and committed my thoughts to the Internet, but again there have been mitigating circumstances for this particular lapse.

First, we had a couple of days of dealing with the altitude of riding to Puno and then relaxing by Lake Titicaca, visiting the reed islands of Uros and generally soaking up the lack of atmosphere. Altitude is a funny thing, and does odd things to a person. First there is the undeniable shortage of breath. Not as in the “I can’t breathe, I’m suffocating” variety, but the “I need to take 2 breaths when 1 would normally do” kind. Simple tasks, like stopping to take pictures and then pulling the bike upright off the side-stand can result in several minutes where each breath seems inadequate, and has to be followed by a supplementary second one just to maintain a sense of equilibrium. Then there’s sleeping. Or not. At altitude, each breath doesn’t contain enough oxygen, so when you fall asleep and your breathing becomes shallower and more rhythmic, the lack of oxygen starves the brain, until you wake up gasping for air. A bit like snoring too badly after way too much beer and waking up with a a start. The lack of sleep that results eventually becomes a bigger problem after several days, the resulting tiredness affecting almost every aspect of life. But I’m not complaining, not in the least, because the visit to the island people of Uros, who live on reed islands in the shallows of Lake Titicaca was as memorable as last time – perhaps even more so this time as our local guide spoke the islander’s native language and we got a real insight into their simple lives. I almost wanted to abandon the journey for a while to live in their peaceful world, devoid of pollution and stress but the call of my motorcycle is too strong…

After Puno we headed back into the mountains, over spectacular 4,800m high passes with distant views of smoking volcanos, to Chivay, a small insignificant town that serves the tourists heading up Colca canyon to see the massive Andean Condors. This was one of many highlights of 2009, the dirt-road ride up to the mirador (viewpoint) seriously good fun. This time was no different, although part of the road has now been asphalted, reducing the fun factor and increasing the number of tourists in buses. Perhaps the increased numbers of people were responsible for the absence of condors – this year we didn’t see a single one, the huge birds (with a wingspan of over 11ft they are truly a sight to behold) staying away. Disappointed, the group moved on to the beautiful city of Arequipa, a personal favourite of mine with spectacular white walled building and a massive square with a huge cathedral spanning the whole of one side. And we arrived on Halloween. Which meant that the whole town came out to party – not wild, booze-and-fight UK-style party, but laid-back, chilled, friendly, latin-American-style good-time party. After dinner a few of us wandered through the throngs to the main square, where more than 3,500 people were gathered, seeing and being seen. Many dressed in fancy dress, all happy and relaxed, young and old, children and adults. It was quite something, and Boonie and I made it our mission to get our photographs taken with as many young women in costume as possible – our favourite was the very attractive traffic policewoman who stole herself away from whistle-blowing and directing traffic to pose for a picture with us!

Whilst in Arequipa we also did some “work”, changing tyres and generally sorting out a few minor niggles with the bikes. No real dramas, just basic maintenance.

On leaving Arequipa, though, we had to deal with 4 of the group being unwell, the water/ice/food not agreeing with them. James had to resort to the van, whilst Sir Charles battled on alone (as is his want), and I rode with Darren & Dave to offer moral support (that is, not piss-taking until they felt better!).

We all crossed the border to Chile without issue, and spent a lovely night recovering in the seaside town of Arica before heading on to Iquique and then back up into the mountains close to the Argentine border, staying in San Pedro de Atacama. This, of course, meant crossing the Atacama desert, one of the driest places on Earth. In ’09 the route we took was over Paso de San Francisco, where I had my big accident – thankfully this year the route brings us to San Pedro. Just outside this hippy-backpacker town in the middle of the desert is Valle de Luna (Valley of the moon), a spectacular landscape where the sunsets are particularly awesome (a word I seldom use, but is justified on this occasion). On arrival I rode up the dirt road leading to the valley only to find it closed – a further exploratory 15-mile dirt ride failed to reveal an alternate entrance, so I was not expecting much when I finally rode into town at the tail end of the group. But it seems that whilst the Northern entrance is now closed, the main eastern entrance isn’t. So that evening I led a small group up the dirt road into the valley, where we walked up a small hill and were rewarded with a truly spectacular sunset.

From San Pedro we crossed into Argentina over Paso de Jama, a truly spectacular ride over very high (and cold!) passes, with barely another vehicle in sight. With thoughts of my accident in ’09 very much in the fore-front of my mind, the tarmac road was most welcome, the day passing without incident (except for a minor issue getting John’s ex-GlobeBusters bike into Argentina, the computer insisting it was already there from a previous trip!). Our destination after crossing the border was Purmamarca, a small town with a lovely hotel in a valley surrounded by hills of the most amazing colours and geology. Red hills next to bright green, with yellows and browns all around – no wonder it is known locally as “the valley of 7 colours”. Simply beautiful.

I didn’t think it could get any better – the decent from the high mountain to the valley had instantly made my top-10 riding roads – but it did. As we continued on to the Argentinian wine region via Salta and on to Cafayate the scenery and roads turned the dial up to 11. Ruta 9 or the Cloud Forest road a particular delight, the size of a normal road shrunk by 50%, all tight and twisting and with views to die for (literally – taking eyes off the road for more than a second or two was risky!). And then Cafayate itself. A small wine-growing town with a lovely plaza and spectacular wine. So spectacular in fact, that as I type this I’m being “serenaded” by a small subset of the group “singing” American Pie in the courtyard of the hotel having been drinking the local produce since lunchtime… but that’s my fault too, as I organised a trip to the local Bodega (vineyard) for a tour that then didn’t happen as despite the reassurances of the staff in the hotel, the tours don’t run anymore! Rumours that I can’t organise a piss-up in a winery are now proven!!

And so the trip continues. There’s more going on behind the scenes I’ll discuss in a later post – particularly with regards to one of the bikes and charging system problems made worse by the rider failing to listen to the expert advice of our mechanic, not to mention planning for our arrival in Santiago when we lose 3 of our riders/bikes and gain 6 more people and 5 more bikes, but more of that later. I think perhaps I should rejoin the party downstairs and teach them how to sing – “Got my first real 6-string, played it at the 5-and-dime…”

Peru – deserts and ice storms…

Since I last wrote the group has continued its epic journey south, passing from Ecuador into Peru and covering over 2,000 miles. Reading the blog I wrote in 2009 it strikes me that very little has changed on this part of the journey, with the notable exception that a few of the hotels are of a higher standard, the route remaining very similar.

Leaving Quito we headed to the World Heritage town of Cuenca, where we once again forewarned the group of the “interesting” stopover in Macara close to the Peruvian border. Back in ’09 the ride down to Macara was spectacular but the road was in a very poor state, all broken up and potholed with loose gravel on several corners. During the ride a couple of guys went down, one quite hard breaking his screen and leaving himself somewhat battered and bruised. This time, the road was simply perfect for most of the way, all resurfaced and with no nasty surprises – so much so that it now ranks as one of the best days riding I’ve ever experienced. Whilst much of the route is familiar and leaves me with a sense of deja-vu, Ecuador has proven to be far more spectacular that I remembered. Not only for the roads which are vastly improved as the country invests heavily in its infrastructure, but also for the wonderful views of fields being cultivated on every patch of land possible, from the flat plains to the high mountains. Simply beautiful.

Macara was its usual crappy self, a small border town with a distinctive wild-west feel to it. I had to leave the group early to get there and ensure the rooms in the 2 hotels were secured (they have a habit of re-allocating them, despite bookings, should other people show up). This proved to be an experience in itself as my Spanish is still not good enough to communicate effectively, and it took some while for either receptionist to understand my request to see each of the rooms they’d allocated to us so I could draw up a room list, giving the rooms with most beds to the couples, those with double beds to the larger gentlemen on the trip and generally trying to strike the right balance across the group. I managed eventually, and as both hotels are right next door to each other soon had my list drawn up before I popped round the corner to one of the few “restaurants” (the term “cafe” would be more appropriate) for a spot of lunch. Which proved just as interesting as trying to sort the rooms out, as I became the town spectacle sat eating my soup whilst being stared at by the locals who don’t see many gringos here. Once the group arrived and we had the bikes parked up outside the hotels though, the feeling of being an alien in a foreign land was at least shared with others. We even attracted the attention of the local TV news who came out to film an interview with Kevin and Baltasar (as he speaks fluent Spanish and so could translate the questions). During our daily meeting, held on the street as there are no suitable rooms, we even had a young woman stop her car and come over for photos, interrupting the meeting as she sat and posed on one of the bikes!

The following day we rode to the border in two groups again, Kevin taking the first batch and me the second. Back in ’09 this was one of the easiest and most photogenic of borders, the group able to pose for photos on a bridge under a big Peru flag, but now there’s a new bridge which lacks the aesthetic appeal of the old. Getting out of Ecuador was easy, but entering Peru wasn’t. Once we’d checked ourselves in and received our tourist entry ticket, then had this stamped by the police we had to check the bikes in, and this is where things got tricky. First, the border guard wanted a photocopy of the usual – passport, V5 (title document), and driving licence, but he also wanted a copy of the tourist entry ticket we’d just received. Only there were no copiers at the border (which is unusual). Kevin finally managed to convince him that it was impossible to get these and so he proceeded to use his printer to make copies instead. Slowly the group processed their bikes into the country, whilst I ensured that they double-checked everything and waited for my turn. Once they’d all been processed and entered Peru, it was my turn, and then the border guard’s computer crashed. It took a further hour before it was working again, by which time the group was long gone and so it was a lonely ride for the first few miles in Peru! At the border I did meet and get chatting to a few other travellers, including a family (mum, dad and 3 young kids) from Chicago travelling in a 4×4 with trailer, a couple from New Zealand on a bike riding down to Ushuaia on the same route as us and a lone Frenchman doing the same but also heading into Bolivia.

That night we were in Chiclayo, which those of you who read my 09 blog will recall is the scene of the first Pisco Sours debacle. This time I was much more restrained, old age and common sense seeming to have finally reduced my tendency to over indulge. The Pisco Sours were still delicious, and very, very strong, and the chinese across the road was just as good as I remembered. With a day off the following day for the group to visit The Lord of Sipan museum, I tended to some jobs and kept myself busy. The following day we rode down to the coastal town of Huanchaco, home of the reed boats and South America’s no.1 surfing destination. Unlike last time the weather was very kind with clear skies and sunshine. I even visited the ruins at Chan Chan, which I skipped in 09 due to an excessive hangover – seems my new-found restraint is already paying dividends.

It was whilst here that we got further news of Boonie and the van. Following a change in customs procedure in Ecuador, the van had been shipped instead to Colombia, where it had proven incredibly difficult to get it back again. Boonie had already spent 3 weeks trying to get the van released before succeeding and was now speeding his way southward to try and catch us up. Just short of Popayan, Colombia, his luck turned sour again, as an uprising by the indigenous peoples resulted in him being trapped in a roadblock as they systematically blockaded the Pan American at several points across the country. They basically created a roadblock, then when they had sufficient vehicles trapped – something like 20-30, including Boonie and the van – they cut down trees with chainsaws to prevent them turning round and escaping. They also overpowered the soldiers and police who were on the scene, disarming them and holding them hostage too. Boonie and the others had to spend an uncomfortable night in their vehicles whislt the UN negotiated for the release of the soldiers & policemen. When he was finally free to go it was only back North as they continued to blockade the road south. Then the army went in to try and resolve the matter (God only knows what really happened then). It took a further couple of days before Boonie was on the move again, further delaying him joining the group and necessitating Jairo continuing his journey further away from home to Nasca. Boonie had been expected to catch us up in Huanchaco, but we now knew that wasn’t going to happen and at this stage we weren’t sure when we’d see him again!

But the group still had riding to do. Leaving Huanchaco we headed across more desert before turning off and into the mountains to ride the spectacular Canon del Pato (duck canyon). This was one of the many highlights of 09, and it was still as stunningly beautiful as I remembered it. This time, instead of charging up the dirt road, I stayed at the back of the group, riding with Angelica to ensure she made it successfully and with Julia for additional company. The road surface was much better than in 09, now being fairly smooth and nowhere near as rocky as in 09. We stopped several times to admire the view and take photos (see my photostream, details in an earlier post). Julia was trying to get the perfect brochure front-page shot, so who knows, maybe I’ll make the cover! One thing that did strike me strongly this time was the amazing geological structures of the rock walls of the canyon. One particular stretch clearly showing how the mountain had risen and twisted, the lines of the different layers of rock forming beautiful arches. On arrival at our hostel in Caraz we counted up the bikes and discovered that for the first time ever the entire group had got through the canyon without a single bike being dropped. Testament to the improved conditions on the road as well as the skill level of the group.

From Caraz we rode back down to the coastal town of Barranca, another town off the tourist route, but accessed via spectacular riding roads. This was very much like 09, the ride fantastic and the hotel at the end of it basic. From here it was a day of pounding south past Lima to Nasca, a day of making the miles through the desert on the Pan Am. The ride round Lima was crazy to say the least, the traffic darting for gaps with no warning, making it necessary to once again adopt a “combat motorcycling” riding style, which I thoroughly enjoyed but wouldn’t want to do on a daily basis. Bryan and Kelly witnessed an accident, as dropping into lane 1 to slow and rest his clutch hand a driver in lane 2 was so fascinated with the bike and the stickers on the panniers that he failed to notice the traffic in front had stopped, promptly ploughing into the stationary vehicle in front at around 40mph! Scary stuff indeed…

At Nasca we stayed in town as opposed to outside as we had in 09, which worked much better, enabling us to walk to the Rico Pollo for roast chicken and chips. Here I also sorted out flights over the Nasca lines for the group and arranged a bit of combined culture and fun with a dune-buggy ride into the desert the following afternoon. The Nasca lines flight should have gone smoothly, with the travel agent arranging for a 12-seater plane to take the group of 10 up in one go. Only the flight is planned on an average passenger weight of 80Kg, and with our group predominantly male and with several of them being gentlemen who enjoy the finer things in life (that is, a tad on the large side), they had to split the group with 2 taking an alternative later flight. But they all got to see the lines as I had in 09, and most managed not to get too air-sick, itself surprising given how much the plane banks to afford the passengers a clear view. The afternoon dune-buggy ride, though, went very well, as I joined a subset of the group and we drove off into the desert, taking in the circular aqueducts built in ancient times to provide filtered water for crop irrigation, the spectacular pyramids at Cahuachi and some open graveyards where there were scattered human remains (including mummified corpses) all over the desert. After the cultural part we drove into the desert proper to play on the sand dunes, first driving around on a roller-coaster ride up and down the dunes, then using snowboards to sledge down the dunes, getting sand firmly in every conceivable place. Then we witnessed the sun setting rapidly over the desert before driving back to the hotel. Shortly after we got back Boonie also arrived, having driven almost constantly since being freed of the hold ups in Colombia – so now the team was complete once more, and we said a fond goodbye to Jairo who could now head back home to his family.

Leaving Nasca and the desert heat the following morning we rode up into the mountains proper, gaining over 4,000m of altitude in just 60 miles as the road twisted upwards in spectacular fashion. Crossing the high altiplano we had to be extra vigilant, watching out for the very well camouflaged and skittish vicunia, as well as Llamas and alpacas. Whilst gaining height the temperature dropped dramatically until at one stage at 4,500m it dropped to 0.5 degrees, and started to sleet. The road was covered with a thin layer of ice, and the first corner provided a serious squeeky-bum moment as gently leaning the bike in to the turn both tyres started to slide across the road! I brought the bike vertical and slid a good foot before managing to find sufficient grip to get round. After a couple more corners like that I stopped in the pouring sleet and biting wind to turn round and warn the riders following of the hazardous conditions. We all got through without issue, though, but once again that evening in Tampumayu Boonie had the best story to tell. He’d been following in the van and on noticing the sleet on the windscreen had slowed to about 25mph whilst the VW Tiguan 4×4 in front continued at pace. As it reached the first treacherous corner, the brake lights came on, followed by obvious signs of the ABS attempting to control things before it left the road and slammed front-first them sideways into the solid rock face, airbags deploying and the car “exploding into a thousand pieces” in Boonies’ own words. He stopped to help the shaken and slightly injured driver and rear seat passenger, convinced had it not been for the side-impact airbags they’d be dead. Scary stuff indeed…

After a very relaxing evening in the lodge at Tempumayu (so much better then the hotel in Abancay we stayed at in 09), and an early morning alarm call by the resident peacock, we rode once more up into the mountains and down into Cusco. This was all very familiar to me, the sense of deju-vu strong as I found my way to the hotel without difficulty. Which is more than can be said of my route to the car park a few blocks away – I was told the road was blocked so using my memory headed up the hill to approach from the top, only to discover it was the top of the road that was blocked. This resulted in an interesting ride round the back streets of Cusco, most of which are cobbled, narrow and with a wide drainage channel in the centre! But it was no drama as I simply worked my way round and back to the parking lot using my sense of direction and the GPS.

Yesterday was our first of two days off in Cusco, the group heading off to see Machu Picchu, as I had in 09. I used the day to wander aimlessly around Cusco, admiring the architecture and generally enjoying myself. I had planned to eat lunch at a curry house I’d found in San Blas on the hill, so found it early morning before returning to the hotel then heading back later. Half way there I got a text from Kevin asking me if I could sort out Joachim’s boots which needed taking to a cobblers. Kevin had done similar a few years back and gave vague directions to where he thought it might be, so I set off to take the boots for a walk round Cusco. I did find the cobblers after about 40 minutes, and they did a sterling job of repairing them whilst I waited, the 5 cobblers working in the tiny back room surrounded by old dusty shoes and boots, whilst I sat on a chair with them, breathing in the strong glue vapours which combined with the thin air (we’re at altitude here, Cusco being at 3310m) making me glad I’m not a cobbler! With the jobs done I wandered back up the hill to San Blas to discover the curry house only opens in the evening, so wandered back down again to the Cross Keys English pub, where I enjoyed a chicken curry and a pint of draught Abbot ale whilst watching Manchester United beat Liverpool on the telly. With the pub being just like a real English pub (it’s run by a Mancunian, after all), it was a surreal experience, and had the beer been any good (it wasn’t) I could perhaps have stayed longer.

That night in Cusco we had an almighty storm, with torrential rain, hail, sleet as well as thunder and lightning. Truly spectacular to watch as the streets flooded and the large number of tourists and locals huddled under the archways. When the rain cleared we also had a spectacular fireworks display in the main square, the noise easily the equal of the earlier thunderstorm. I bought an empanada from the bakery and spent a happy half-hour watching the display and wandering round the square before retiring to my room and trying to sleep.

This morning I was woken around 6am by yet more fireworks – it’s a bit like trying to sleep in a war zone (I imagine, I’ve never tried and don’t want to!). But now the rain appears to be finally easing up, so I’m going to head out once more for a wander round this beautiful city. Tomorrow we head off up into the mountains once more and on to Lake Titicaca and Puno, which at 3,855m is the highest point we’ll sleep at on this trip. After 2 days of not riding, I’m really looking forward to getting back on the bike – I just hope the rain stays away!

Crossing the Equator

It’s amazing just how different this trip is from the one I did back in 2009, despite much of the route and many of the hotels being the same. For a start, I’m not writing a daily blog, and that in itself means I’m not as reflective as I was back then – now I’m constantly looking forwards to the next few days, anticipating what may need doing and trying to ensure that I can help keep the group informed on what is happening.

So now I’m in Quito and have a few minutes to spare, I’ll get all reflective again and look back over the past week or so since the trip started for real.

It already seems a long time ago that we left Bogota for the long ride to Medellin, which was every bit as enjoyable a journey as I remember it being in 2009. We rode out of Bogota as a group, the journey taking much less time than it did in 09 as it was a Sunday and the traffic very light. Once at a peage out of town Kevin pulled the group over and let them off the leash, something he refers to as “emptying the bucket of frogs” for very good reason! I hung back with Bryan and Kelly whilst they fixed their intercom, leaving me at the back of the group and on I went, riding on my own through the small towns on the outskirts of Bogota and into the hills. The road soon became as twisty as a twisty thing and once more my love affair with Colombia was well under way. Every now and then I’d encounter a slow-moving truck belching thick acrid black smoke into the crisp air, providing me with ample opportunity to hone my overtaking skills. Back in 2009 it was dark before we reached the outskirts of Medellin and the fantastic winding 2-lane dual carriageway that provides a spectacular entrance to the city. This time I arrived mid-afternoon, but missed the turn-off marked in the route notes and so ended up at the far Northern end of the city, a journey through which to the hotel was nowhere near as beautiful as the official route!

We had a day off in Medellin, and put it to good use, as I organised a mini city-tour for a few of the team (Alex, John & James) and we caught the metro downtown. We visited the Plaza Botero where a large number of statues by the city’s most famous artist were scattered among the trees, before strolling through the streets for a while, then catching a tiny taxi to the Pueblito Paisa, a small reproduction of a traditional colonial village high on the hill near the hotel. It was being renovated which was a shame, but the views over the city made up for the parts of the town covered in tarpaulin and the crashing sounds of workmen restoring buildings. Rather than catch another taxi back, Alex and I opted to walk, taking a path down the hill towards the main road back to the hotel. Near the bottom we encountered a perimeter fence with no sign of an exit and a disused fairground. Looking past one of the attractions I saw and open gate leading to another downhill path, so hopped over the first fence to explore. I discovered a few small buildings in one of which a young woman with a pierced nose was washing up – she was most surprised when I knocked on the door and asked for “Salida” (exit). Nevertheless, she showed me to the main gate, which was padlocked and said she’d go and get the key (in Spanish, of course). I got Alex and we both walked through the remaining circus buildings to the gate, which was duly opened allowing us out onto the open road. The story now goes that we ran away to the circus…

After our day off in Medellin we road south once more, on some truly spectacular roads through the mountains to Alcala, where we stayed in a beautiful coffee plantation. After an enjoyable evening and a good night’s sleep we hit the twisty Colombian roads once more, heading to the white city of Popayan and our hotel in an old monastery near the centre of town. That night we had a very large meal in a local Italian restaurant before another relatively early night. The following day was a late departure, with a short-ish ride to the town of Pasto, a small uninteresting town close to the Ecuadorian border. Back in ’09 we rode all the way from Popayan, across the border to Otovalo, a trip that resulted in all of us arriving after dark and some not until after 10:30pm! Keen to avoid the same, the stop-over in Pasto was a good idea, even if it wasn’t very memorable.

The following day Kevin took half the group to the border early, departing at 7am, whilst I led the 2nd group, leaving at 8am. A short 50-mile ride to the border was straightforward, despite a bit of confusion due to a new road layout and some roadworks diverting traffic through town. The border was very familiar and it didn’t take long to get my half of the group out of Colombia and to the start point of checking in to Ecuador. Now in 09, this border was the slowest of the trip, but this time they had 2 customs guys working the aduana, allowing for a slightly quicker entry. I was last through the border having taken just 2 hours to get through, much quicker than last time! Once clear of the border the ride to the outskirts of Otovalo and the wonderful 300-year old Hosteria Pinsaqui, where we were welcomed by a senior member of the owner’s family with a local liquor that tasted remotely of aniseed. Our evening meal was in the hosteria’s restaurant whilst a thunderstorm raged outside. When we got back to our room we discovered a lovely real fire crackling in the fireplace and hot water bottles in our beds! Bliss!

Following a night in the spectacular Hosteria Pinsaqui, we rode as a group to the Quitsato Sundial monument on the Equator, where we rode the bikes onto the cobbled sundial, lining them up straddling the equator itself – very cool! After lots of photos the group once again dispersed as we headed into Quito city and to our hotel, another wonderful eclectic building called Cafe Cultura, which was once the French Embassy. Here the parking was interesting, to say the least, as we rode our bikes over the pavement and through the front gate, parking the bikes on the small front and side gardens!

With a couple of days off in Quito, it seemed only fitting that a small group should revisit the scene of one of the many parties from ’09, the infamous Tapas y Vino restaurant where a single price ($27) gets you all the tapas you can eat and as much wine as you can drink. Which would have been just fine, had Dave not insisted that on the way back to the hotel, having consumed more than our money’s worth, we should visit the micro-brewery for a beer nightcap. A litre of beer nightcap. It will come as no surprise, therefore, that the following day was more of a rest day than perhaps I’d intended. That day was also a group meal to celebrate Kevin’s birthday (which is actually today but we’ve a long ride tomorrow). Needless to say a few of us were not celebrating with our customary gusto…

Which brings me up to date. Today is our last day in Quito, and I took a couple of the group to the Mitad del Mundo, another equator monument and one more frequently visited by tourists. It’s a lot more touristy than the sundial, with countless souvenir shops, a big monument and a yellow line marking the equator. Only it doesn’t, as it’s in the wrong place, being some 240 metres away from the real thing!

Now, if you’re wondering why there are no photos of all these wonderful sights, then you need to read the previous blog entry. All the photos from this trip are being loaded onto a photo stream, which you can subscribe to and comment on.

Busy in Bogota

For those of you that were expecting a daily blog like last time, if this week is anything to go by, you’re going to be sorely disappointed! I’ve simply not had the time to sit down and compose my thoughts since we arrived in Bogota on Monday. And I’ve probably only got a few minutes now before I need to meet up with Kevin and Jairo (pronounced Hi-Ro) to discuss tomorrow and run through what’s in the support vehicle.

So a quick run through what I’ve been up to.

Julia and I left the hotel for Heathrow at 3am, only to discover that it was in night-time mode and we couldn’t check in until 4.30. Then we had the worst long haul flight of my life with Iberia, via Madrid. The food was inedible, the entertainment consisted of a few small screens down the centre of the fuselage showing rubbish films and the toilet door didn’t lock. The cabin crew we inattentive and within minutes of the seat belt sign being switched on the toilets resembled those in Nepal during the mani-rimdu festival (see an earlier blog for gruesome details). Just before landing in Bogota we had to complete the customs declaration forms, on the back of which was a stern warning that it is illegal to bring in automotive parts, which was a minor concern as I now had a rocker cover, engine bars, screen support, spotlights and various other bits and bobs needed for the bikes that are already on the trip stowed in my luggage!

Customs was a doddle, though and we were met at the airport by Jairo who drove us into the traffic jam that is Bogota, weaving in and out of the lanes and dodging the tiny yellow taxis and motorcycles that buzz along like pinballs bouncing across the wide roads. We got to the hotel safely, showered and changed and then drove back to the airport to pick up our first arrival, Alex the Austrian photo-journalist and motorcycle instructor. We finally got back to the hotel at 9pm, had one beer and then off to bed, ready for the next morning’s jobs.

Tuesday morning was customs day as we tried, unsuccessfully, to get our bikes out of the bonded warehouse they’d been moved to when they arrived. We were unsuccessful only because the customs inspector needed confirmation all our paperwork was lodged correctly and this hadn’t been given before he left his office to come to the warehouse. Still, we had an entertaining few hours uncrating the 6 bikes that had flown in from around the world – for Julia, John and me from the UK, Alex and Joachim from Germany and James from Canada. Most of the bikes were in the same crates that they get delivered to the dealer in when new, but James’ bike was housed in a wooden box that was several levels of quality higher than the poor families’ tarpaulin home that we saw just round the corner from the warehouse.

With the morning’s work complete, the afternoon was spent meeting the other arrivals – James from Canada, then the group from Panama arriving with Kevin (Angelica, Baltasar, Bryan and his wife Kelly, Sir Charles, Darren, Dave and Tim). We then ferried them back to the hotel before I went back to the airport once more to pick up Joachim who arrived at 7:30pm. Another busy day done, I collapsed into bed, reflecting that I need to ensure I eat as I’d had nothing but a small empanada since breakfast.

Wednesday was back to the warehouse in a rush as we weren’t expecting the customs inspector to go to the warehouse at 9 – we found out at 8:30 and the warehouse was a 45 minute drive away! But all was good and after several hours of form filling we managed to get all 6 bikes out, including John’s despite him not being present, something we were repeatedly told was a mandatory requirement! Having ridden them back to the hotel, our first taste of riding in South America being Bogota in rush hour (eek!), I went back to the airport yet again to collect the final arrival, John. Meanwhile, the rest of the group were dropped off at customs to start the clearance of their bikes, something they’d hoped they could do in the morning but were told they couldn’t until 4pm – it was 9pm by the time they were back at the hotel. At least I managed a trip out to a restaurant with James, Joachim and Alex to get some food inside me.

Thursday and it was bikes to the dealership day for those arriving from Panama, and a day for me to try to arrange a city tour, which turned out to be non-viable as it cost over $60 per person for just 4 hours!! In the afternoon I led a small group (John & Alex) out to see the salt cathedral at Zipaquira some 45 Kms north of Bogota. This wasn’t as challenging as it sounds, as we simply followed Jairo in his pickup!

Thursday evening was a quick meeting and Kelly’s birthday presentation followed by a trip to the Bogota Beer Company, where, because it started pouring with rain, we also ate. Now I know what you’re thinking, “here he goes again, the p*sshead”, well, you’d be wrong because I only had 3 beers.

Friday was pretty much free, although I did spend the morning trying to sort a few things out before John and I caught a cab to the old town for some sightseeing, including the excellent free Museum Botero and the Musea de Oro (Gold Museum). Friday evening was a group meal in a very good steak restaurant and again I was sensible, returning to the hotel with the 2nd taxi and into bed by 10pm.

That was because of the early start this morning to take Alex and Charles’ bikes to the dealership and to pick mine up which was being fitted with road tyres (it had inexplicably been sent out with full on knobblies on, not ideal for the lovely Colombian roads), Alex’ bike had been knocked over in the hotel car park by another guest in a 4×4 and had a dented tank, broken screen and twisted hand controls whereas Charles’ had been overheating on the way back from its service. So I skipped breakfast expecting to be back quickly (I’d been told my bike was ready, it wasn’t), and then spent all morning at the dealers making sure the various tasks were completed, missing out on the pre-departure briefing Kevin was holding for the team.

Which pretty much brings us up to date, just in time for me to head off for another meeting. Just like work, really!

Oh, and if you are wondering about photos, I’ve not worked out how to upload them here yet and don’t have time to sort it now, but if you follow this link, it will take you to my photo stream… PHOTOS

Here we go again!

I’m currently sat in a hotel room, having watched the MotoGP race, with my bike boots and gear spread all over every flat surface, ready to be repacked before my early morning flight tomorrow. Once again I’ve had to say “Adios” to my darling wife, Tracy, who dropped me off outside a few hours ago and is now slogging her way back up the motorway home. I won’t see her again for 11 weeks, and I know that’s going to be the hardest part of this latest adventure.

At least we managed to grab some quality time together yesterday, when we drove down to the Cotswolds to stay at The Gate Hangs High and Hook Norton. It was a really nice pub with friendly staff and we had a nice room, albeit with the noisiest plumbing I’ve ever heard. Every time our neighbours used the toilet in their room we had to raise our voices to be heard! The food and beer was very good, though, as was the bottle of champers we bought at Tesco and snuck into the room!

The other news worth reporting at this stage is that the sale of my mum’s house has still not completed, which is a right royal pain in the a*rse. It seems that the solicitor’s attempts to get 2 charges that were recorded on the title deeds, but long since cleared, removed failed. There really is no excuse for this type of incompetence, as they’ve had the deeds for over 2 months (I sent them early so this sort of thing could be done sooner). So now that will have to get finalised whist I’m away, which is not ideal as I’m sure there will be further issues arising until it’s all over.

But enough of this, it’s now time for me to chill out for a while as I suspect tomorrow is going to be a long day. Julia and I will be going to the airport very early for our 6:20 flight via Madrid to Bogota. Then the real fun begins!

Six months later…

Way back in the dim and distant past, I used to maintain this blog regularly, daily even, pouring out my inner-most thoughts in a rambling diatribe that kept my faithful readers (both of them) entertained as they relaxed in their padded cells.

Nowadays, it’s rare for me to update it twice in a year, but all that is about to change. Yes, shortly I’ll be heading off on another adventure and so the blog will once again be called in to action to record my musings for posterity.

So I’d better bring things up to date first. In my last post I noted that I’d been asked to guide a portion of the epic TransAmericas route by my friends at GlobeBusters. That is still the plan, although as a consequence of a couple of riders being forced to change their plans (seems the business world still calls the shots for many folk), I’m now starting in Bogota, Columbia and not Tucson. Which is just as well, as otherwise I’d be out there now and starting the blog too late!

Preparations for the trip are fairly well advanced, and just today I’ve put my bike jacket and trousers in the wash so I look presentable on arrival. I’ve also been to the doctors and got a prescription for all the medications I need to keep me alive these days. It’s surely a sign of advancing years when half my luggage space is taken up by pills I need to live!

In addition to starting to dig out the gear I need to take with me, I’ve been running through the route and trying to remember all the fantastic places I visited in 2009 when last out there. It’s a good job I kept the blog so up to date back then, as I’d be lost without it. Re-reading sections of the trip brings back so many happy memories and has me positively brimming with excitement at the prospect of sharing the trip with a new group. It will be fascinating to see how things have changed too, as it will be 4 years since I last rode there. Whilst I will be trying to maintain a blog of my thoughts, don’t expect it to be as detailed or as regularly updated as last time as this time I’ll have work to do, but I now have a keyboard for my iPad and an app that lets me connect to the blog, so hopefully I’ll get a few minutes free now and then to jot my thoughts down. If it’s anything like it was last time, so much will be going on that the only way I’ll remember even half of it is to have done so!

With regards to other news, well, I should perhaps report that Tracy finally got the compensation claim from the accident back in 2007 settled. The end of the sorry saga happened a couple of months ago now, when we went down to London for a meeting with our solicitor and she had a meeting with the other side. Whilst the settlement itself in no way compensates Tracy for the pain, suffering and ongoing difficulties, especially as several “heads of loss” that would have been recoverable under UK law were not under Slovakian law, she was delighted to have finally got it sorted. After all this time the amount seems somewhat pitiful, but we will put it to good use over the coming years to ensure she has as good a standard of living as she can.

As for other news, there’s not much, really. Life and work has continued in much the same way as when I last wrote. Having nothing to report is good news, as it means we’re all healthy and happy. Which is a good note to leave this entry on – I’ll try and post something next week before the big adventure begins, so watch this space!