After the fun of the great Ruta 40 roads, we spent a few days in Mendoza. The city is fairly modern compared to a lot of the places we have visited on this trip, but still a pleasant place to hang around.
We even stumbled across an old red telephone box….just like being home!!
Of course, the main reason to hang around here is the countless vineyards. It is the largest wine producing area in Latin America so it would have been rude not to sample some of the local Vino.
We took a trip out to the CarinaE vineyard and were given a tour by the French owner.
Naturally we had a tasting session too….none of this taste and spit business, we just drank it :).
Before leaving Mendoza, we bumped into Johnny Depp….
We carried on further south along more of Ruta 40, which although mostly paved, was still an enjoyable ride.
It got pretty windy on our way to the town of Chos Malal. It’s hard to capture just how windy it was in a photo….but I had a go. We had to ride leaning into the wind and big gusts kept pushing us over into the other lane! We had heard that the Patogonian wind was tough on bikers.
When we finally arrived in Chos Malal we checked into a nice little hotel in town for what was supposed to be a one night stop over. Unfortunately when we attempted to leave the following morning, we discovered that both fuel stations in town had run dry.
We had heard about ‘fuel issues’ in Argentina in previous years, but had figured all was now okay. We were told the problem in this town was a one off due to strikes holding up deliveries (mmm, sounds like the UK!!!). After riding around the town making unsuccessful enquiries to try and buy some fuel elsewhere (the problem was that it was Sunday and any mechanics’ or other type of shop that might be able to help were closed 😦 ), we rode back to one of the fuel stations to see if they had any news – still nothing. Oh well, it looks like we’ll have to stay another night.
We met a Argentinian guy who was also stranded so we hung around with him in the plaza for a couple of hours.
On the plus side, we got to try ‘mate’. This is a traditional South American infused drink made from the Yerba plant which is really popular in Argentina. When we first arrived across the border we noticed loads of people wondering around with thermas flasks, wooden cups and metal straws. After some research we found out that Argentinians rarely go anywhere without their ‘mate’. This was proven when Tomas invited us to drink ‘mate’ with him and grabbed all the necessary instruments from his bike. There is an etiquette involved in the drinking, hopefully we didn’t break any of the rules as we passed the drink around!!
Tomas didn’t need as much fuel as we did to get to the next town, so we gave him our spare which meant that at least he could get on his way, there was no point us all being stuck!!
They finally had a delivery towards the end of the day so Dan queued up with the locals for about 50 minutes to get the Transalp filled.
If only we had known that the next day things would be worse!! We rode onto the town of Zapala and then decided maybe we would carry on further – so off to the fuel station. Oh dear, no fuel! Here we go again. After checking into a hotel Dan headed down to fill up at 6pm as they said they were expecting a delivery. By the time he got there the queue was unbelievably long – it took him ages to just find the end as it snaked along blocks and around corners. This time it took 3 hours of queuing, and from chatting to the locals he found out this issue had been going on for 10 days and affected a large area of the country.
There was only one thing for it….super economic riding!! So economic, Dan even had chance to put his feet up :).
We did manage 73 mpg though…amazing work by the Transalp!
Cruising through Patagonia…..
There are a huge number of people who do this trip by bicycle…crazy people, what they need is an engine!! And, believe or not, there is also someone doing this overland trip on a unicycle :).
The views in Argentina’s ‘Lake District’ are pretty awesome!!
This area of Argentina is really amazing, I would love to see it in the winter!
Next up we were heading for the town of Trevelin. This is one of the places that the Welsh settled in after searching for somewhere to start a new Welsh nation in order to protect their language, religion and traditions.
And one tradition they have bought over to Patagonia is ‘tea’. These towns are full of Tearooms and Welsh souvenirs so we bought a Welsh dragon sticker for the bike and ate cake….lots of cake!!
Yes we ate the lot….and drank the best tea we’ve had since leaving the UK :).
Not satisfied with just experiencing one Welsh town, we headed to town of Gaiman – once visited by Princess Diana, she also stopped for afternoon tea.
In the true style of Wales…it rained a lot. We had to get the ponchos out but still got our feet soaked as the only restaurant in town was across the other side of this road!!!
The lady at the guest house we stayed at in Gaiman was 3rd Generation Welsh and spoke the language after being taught by her grandfather and also traveling to Wales to study. She now teaches Welsh to others.
So, Welsh Patagonian is the furthest south that we go. From here it was time to start heading north towards Buenos Aires. After over 43,000 and nearly 300 days the final countdown has begun.
Here’s a pic of what I’ve been staring at almost every day for the last 10 months 🙂
Our first stop on our way north was the coastal town of Las Grutas….our first view of the Atlantic Ocean since way back at the start of the trip….
We’ve got some more places to visit and some more time to enjoy the trip yet….but it is drawing to an end soon!
After drying out and chilling out in Salento for a couple of days with Uli, David and Mike we decided to head to Cali in convoy.
Before we left, the hotel owner helped me relocate the tool box on the Trannie as it had been bashed around too many times by the front wheel hitting it so after a bit of drilling and remounting it, we are now prepared for any pothole that we might encounter.
Trying to merge in with the locals ain’t so easy…
Some of us needed new tyres and other bits and bobs before leaving Colombia as they can be difficult to come by in other places south of Cali.
We had 3 days here, most of which was spent in several bike shops getting a service and spare parts organised.
Midday snack at “Crepes y Waffles” – yummmmm
Bikes now sorted, we rode from Cali to Popayan. It was only around 150kms so should have been an easy day but finding a hotel which had secure parking was a bit more difficult.
When we thought we finally struck lucky, the hotel manager moved sofas around in the lobby to make rooms for the bikes and ran around trying to find planks to get the bikes up the pavement and through the front door – then we realised that the handlebars were too wide for the entrance…eeek
Luckily – the hotel next door had a wider doorway and would let us park inside.
It was a tight squeeze getting past reception!
I wondered around the old town that afternoon, killing time before dinner. Traveling appears to revolve around eating and drinking and as we are on two meals a day – dinner time can’t come soon enough!
As there wasn’t very much to do in Popayan, we carried on to Ipiales which is the border town to Ecuador.
Some pretty nice scenery on the way but we didn’t stop as it’s Farc country and we were advised to keep riding through it.
Just outside of the town of Ipiales sits a unique church that was built in a canyon above the Guáitara River. We stopped off on our way to the border to take some pics.
An old guy walked over and chatted to me for about 5 minutes. Not really sure what he said as my Spanish is still rubbish and he was missing most of his teeth which made it even harder to understand him.
We were then on our way to the Ecuador border. We heard it was easy so didn’t feel the need to rush there early in the morning.
Checking out of Colombia was a breeze and took 5 minutes for both of us and the bike. Unfortunately the lines were down at Ecuador’s Aduana (customs) so they couldn’t grant us a temporary bike permit until their systems were back online.
As we waited, more bikers turned up and joined the queue. It was nice to chat to other travelers and exchange stories.
We had met Hugo from Argentina briefly before on a busy main road just outside of Cartagena. He was traveling around South America with his wife on their 1150 GS.
What to do when waiting around at borders?…..
……get your boots shined of course!
4 hours later and we were back in business – systems were online and they were processing the permits quick smart.
They didn’t even check the bikes and we rode into Ecuador with our stamps and permits although you could have crossed from Colombia into Ecuador without stopping as nobody asked to see our paperwork.
It was amazing how the scenery changed dramatically as soon as we entered a new country. Winding roads around huge mountains made for some good biking!
And petrol is cheap…….US$6 fills the tank!! 😀
We met up with Uli (Triumph Tiger 800) and David (BMW 800GS) again in Otavalo for food and drinks before waving them off as they headed south. It was probably the last time we would catch up with them as they are on a tighter schedule than us and Motomike, and need to get to Chile within a few weeks.
I wondered out the next morning to find an ATM and noticed a lady stood next to 3 goats tied to a lamppost. A guy was kneeling down in front of one goat and filled his bottle before paying the lady some money. Self-serve goats milk. I wish I had the camera on me at the time.
Later we walked around the markets.
I needed a haircut so popped into a barbers around the corner from the hotel. I forgot my Spanish phrasebook and was trying to figure out what I need to ask for when it came to my turn.
Then I realised that the other locals before me just sat down without saying anything and let the barber work his magic – all for $2. Sweet!
Deep fried bugs of some kind….
Mike decided to head south to Baños and we wanted to check out the Amazonian jungle so parted ways for a few days after visiting the Equator. It seems so long ago since we passed over the Tropic of Cancer in Mexico so felt good to finally reach the earth’s half way point.
We were the only tourists there so messed around sporting our best poses until we got bored enough to leave on our way to the jungle.
We arrived pretty cold and wet in Misahualli after riding across a 4100m pass and then through heavy rain for the rest of the journey. We’ve found a nice guest house so think we’ll hang around for while and see what the Amazon has to offer.
After leaving the relaxation of San Juan Del Sur in Nicaragua, we got back on the road towards Panama.
Things didn’t start too well though as I had managed to block my bank card the night before so had to Skype the bank first thing the next morning to get it working before trying to get cash out. I pulled right outside the ATM – probably in a rush as we had got on the road late and realised that there was no ground to put my foot down so dropped the bike in front of a dozen people. It’s amazing how quick you can pick it back up when there are people watching! Plus the ATM security guard gave us a hand 🙂
The border crossing to Costa Rica was quite a long process. Immigration queue’s were pretty long with coaches full of people waiting to have a stamp in their passport. It probably took 3hrs to get us and the bike into the country so it wasn’t too bad.
We didn’t plan on spending too much time in Costa Rica as we had to get to Panama within a few days so spent one night in Jaco. As we arrived late in the evening there was a quick trip to the local supermarket to pick up some food and beer and then settled in for the night watching episodes of The Big Bang Theory in the hotel.
The second night was spent in Golfito which is a bit further down the coast but within easy reach of the Panama border so found a hotel for $50 a night (after discount) – which is cheap in Costa Rica apparently! Lisa asked if the price included breakfast but the manager wasn’t amused.
It felt like we were racing through the borders and were both looking forward to relaxing in Panama for a couple of days before sailing to Colombia.
The Costa Rica-Panama border was another busy and confusing border. It was the only time we have used a helper and he did a sterling job of running around between the different departments to get stamps and signatures on paperwork. It was the best $5 I have spent so far.
After riding all day through a tropical storm, we found a hotel just outside of Santiago called Vista Largo. It was the perfect place to relax and dry out after a tough day on the road.
Panama City…..We made it!!!
Another wet day of riding and we checked into Panama House hostel. Seems pretty popular with bikers…
Drying out paperwork – gotta remember to put this somewhere that it won’t get wet!
We visited The Panama Canal the next day. It is one of the wonders of the modern world and has been open for nearly 100 years. Next year they plan to open a new section that they have been working on since 2007 which will have wider and longer locks. Currently the size of most ships is dictated by the dimensions of the canal so ships are due to get even bigger once the upgrade is complete. Okay history lesson over – here’s some pretty pics…..
Last Friday morning we met up with all the other bikers that were making the trip across the Darién Gap on the Stahlratte sailing ship. It’s pretty much the only way of crossing the land between Central and South America on a bike without flying. There was another boat that overlanders could use called “Fritz The Cat” but it sank earlier this year.
On our way to Carti where we catch a ride across the gap….
The Stahlratte – built in 1903 in Holland, is on a mission to circumnavigate the globe in 3 to 4 years but has no fixed time frame. It runs a 1950’s 80L Volund diesel engine and with a maximum rpm of 280, it sounds really unique and has a great rhythm which will send you to sleep when it’s time to hit your bunk bed.
Everyone had fun loading the bikes….
We spent the first night on a Kuna Island close to Panama. Kuna people are indigenous to this area and live mainly on the islands of San Blas.
It was pretty basic with no electricity and the whole island shares two toilets. Yes, two toilets! Okay, the island was small but still there was no way I was using them. This one was the better out of the two because it had a door on it…..
The Honeymoon suite – this was the “posh” one.
The locals put on a show for us that evening….
After a long night on the island, everyone was ready early the next morning eager to get on to the Stahlratte and start the trip through the San Blas islands in the Caribbean.
This place was beautiful – small uninhabited islands with great snorkeling around the reefs.
After a couple of days eating fresh seafood, we set off to Colombia which would take 30 hours.
Lisa doesn’t travel very well (for a traveler) and spent most of the time in a horizontal position when she wasn’t hanging over the side.
The boat stopped in the middle of the ocean for everyone to have a wash in the sea. It felt great to jump back in the water and those with seasickness were instantly cured (for a few minutes anyway). 3kms deep evidently…..
South America is in sight! Cartagena, Colombia.
Everyone got off the boat and took a taxi to immigration to get the passports stamped before finding somewhere to stay the night and more importantly, a long shower.
It was an early start the next morning at 6am to offload the bikes from the Stahlratte.
They winched the bike from the ship into a dinghy and then headed to shore where four or five guys pulled it on to the pier with rope.
This was the scary bit…..
10 hours later and we finally completed customs to temporarily import all the bikes. I should probably get used to this style of work in Latin America.
The Transalp is now parked up, we smell a lot sweeter after doing a laundry, eating a good meal and drinking some local beer and are ready for some sightseeing in Cartagena tomorrow.