Thursday 5 September 2013

Boats, Bikes and Beer

It's time to put the woes of central america behind us and move to sunnier climes. We had 5 days booked aboard the Stahlratte. We met Lou Lou, the captain, who had helped acquire transport for us from our breakdown to the boat. Time to load up and the boat came into the dock and using the winch normally reserved for the mainsail they hauled the bike onto the deck where she would sit, unmolested, for 5 days. We covered her with a rain sheet to stop too much salt water getting in and went to meet up with the others.
Loading the bike onto the boat. Was I nervous, not a bit...

Onboard the Stahlratte

In the launch going to the island.

Al, Andi, Ellen, Ron and Gale had arrived before us and were already relaxing on a small island just off the mainland. We were to stay here for the night instead of on the boat. It was a bit of a joke having to pay for accomodation after just handing over $1500 but it was a good experience. A true local island with no setup for tourists, soon after arriving we were shown our rooms. There was a quick scrabble to get the current occupent out. We were to stay in someone elses private room...
This is where we stayed the first night

On the dock meeting Ron and Gale for the first time.
We wandered around the island for a little bit. It was not much more than a patch of sand with houses on it. Every last inch had been built upon using traditional building materials and methods. The ladies walked around in traditional clothing and they cooked for us too. We soon dipped into the bottle of rum we brought with us and spent the night talking about motorbikes. It was a nice experience if a bit unexpected. In the morning I woke up early and got to see the women leaving for work. They all hopped on a long boat and headed off to various islands. One of their main economies is farming and selling coconuts. Most of the islands used to be mangroves but they cut them down and cultivated them. Most of those wonderful islands you see in the pictures are natural formations but the look, palm trees and sandy beaches, is man made. 
Local Kuna lady

Sitting on the dock of the bay watching the tide roll away

View from the crows nest

Around 11am the launch came to pick us up and then picked up the other passengers. Within the hour we were on our way to the San Blas islands aboard a restored fishing vessel over 100 years old. We were lucky enough to get a tour of the engine room and learn about the boat. You can imagine all the excited petrol heads checking everything out.

We arrived in our own personal paradise a couple of hours later and moments after lowering anchor people were jumping off the sides and using the rope swing into the water. It was beautiful, calm blue seas for miles around and we were anchored within a group of three islands. I made my first attempt at climbing the mast but I crapped out at the point where you need to be stretch armstrong to get into the crows nest so down to the rope swing instead. I forgot to mention that Heb had bought a new camera. A BulletHD helmet cam that's also waterproof to 10m. I decided it'd be a brilliant idea to use the rope swing and the camera at the same time. Just as I let go of the rope the camera disconnected from its laynard and plummeted into the water below. This was the first real use of the camera and I lost it. Awesome! The captain and I donned some snorkling gear and tried to find it. I saw it on the bottom and dived down to reach it. My dive computer recorded it as exactly 10m deep which is pretty lucky if you think about it.
Our own little paradise

Heb on a swing. She managed to hold her nose as she went into the water.

Finally made it to the top on the second attempt

The bow of the boat from above

We spent the next couple of days drinking rum, snorkeling and eating ridiculous amounts of amazing food. The Stahlratte is famous for its meals and they did not disappoint. While snorkeling, apart from the sunburn, we got to see stingrays, eels, an octopus and someone saw a turtle. They need an air compressor on board so they can take people diving. It really was beautiful. The first night we headed over to one of the islands and had a great BBQ as the sun set over the island and Heb got some great photos of the boat with stars in the background. The stahlratte was probably the most expensive boat for the trip but it was well worth it for the experience. The staff were great, the captain had some amazing stories and the other passengers were a lot of fun.
Starry night, hard to get the boat to hold still for the long exposure.

Captain, crew and passengars

All too soon it was time to leave, bring on the seasickness! Bigger boats are less likely to cause seasickness but still the swell seemed to be just right for some people and quite a few were getting drugged up to deal with it. We sailed for 24 hours in open ocean with no sight of land before finally arriving in Cartagena. The relief on Ellens face as we pulled into the port was obvious. 

The bikes were to be unloaded the next day so we took the launch to the mainland and found ourselves a hostel for the night before facing the wonderful immigration and customs officers.

Heat, have you ever been too hot? Not like working in a kitchen and getting too hot but heat everywhere with no relief? Cartagena is the definition of too hot! After the first day I was down with a headache and mild sunstroke. Just constant sweat all day and night. To make matters worse I had to drag my wheel halfway around the city to find an innertube and get it fixed up. It was not fun and the night wasn't any better. We were in a dorm room and there was a barely working fan. One girl was sleeping stark naked. I wish I could say this was sexy but the conditions were just horrible for everyone. In the morning it was time to attach the wheel to the bike and unload them from the ship. We found out they would be loading the bikes onto the tiny launch and taking them across the bay before driving them out of the boat. None of us were happy about this. We thought we'd be using the winch again. Andi and Ellens KTM was first to go. To say we were nervous is an understatement as we watched each bike being unloaded and taken across we all sat biting our nails.
Lugging the tire around Cartagena

Loading the bikes onto the launch to take it to the dock. More nerves.

All the bikes got over without incident. The launch did almost sink with Ron's BMW, the largest of the bikes, but everything was good. All the bikes had picked up a bit of rust while at sea but nothing too dramatic so it was time to get the bikes registered. At the customs office, the DIAN, we were to meet Manfred. Manfred is a whale of a man who would lazily and extremely slowly get our bikes through customs. First time through he managed to put the paperwork in with all the bikes being marked as negro/amarillo black and yellow. Only one bike actually was. There were various other problems with the paperwork so Manfred took the paperwork to redo it all and told us to meet him at 4pm. It was Friday and we were getting worried about time so we headed off to buy insurance as Manfred had instructed. You may be getting the feeling we don't like Manfred, you would be right. We arrived at the insurance office where we were promptly informed that we wouldn't be able to insure the bikes without the proper paperwork from the DIAN. Better news, the office closed at 5:30 so we would only have an hour and a half after meeting Manfred to get the bikes through customs and into the insurance office.

We arrived early to meet Manfred who managed to turn up late, and when I say he was a whale of a man I mean it. He was planet sized and always had food somewhere. He turns up with the paperwork and gets angry when we ask to check it all. We check every single detail and its mostly correct. Poor Al has the wrong passport number and so we all have to wait while Manfred slowly walks to the office and takes his time adjusting the papers again. We are all fuming and watching time tick by. Al breaks and yells at Manfred who promptly tells him we should all respect and thank him. Yeah right. We run out the door, jump on the bikes and blast through the streets of Cartagena like men possessed reaching the insurance office at exactly 5:30 where we told they can't do it. A bit of good biker bad biker (Al looked like his head was about to explode) and they finally said they could do it. It was Friday afternoon and they obviously wanted to go home so we all really appreciated them helping us out. Being stuck in Cartagena without the bikes for a long weekend was not a part of the plan.

We stayed a couple of days, checking out the sights and enjoying the food. Everyone was on a different time scale so when Heather and me decided to leave we only had one other bike with us. Andi and Ellen on their KTM, so we loaded up and headed East along the coast towards Taganga. Along the way we passed a volcanic mud bath and so had to stop and enjoy the health benefits of sitting in mud.
MUD BATH! A childhood dream come true.

We climbed this big cone and at the top their was a big square pit with a ladder going down into it. We climbed down the ladder into the mud. It was, to put it simply, gross but also kinda nice. You float on the surface of it and if you go upright you float with the mud level just below your nipples. It's a very weird sensation. We got a nice massage and floated about for a half hour or so before going for a wash in the lake. This treatment back home would probably cost you a months wages, we got it for about $4 each! So a quick lunch and with Andi and Ellen leading the way we rode to Taganga.

We spent just over a week in Taganga, we hoped to scuba dive and even got a job offer from one of the diveshops. We talked about it a lot and after the initial excitement of possibly working for a few months in the caribbean we decided against it. Taganga was nice but it wasn't right for us at the moment. We were more excited to travel than dive so headed off the next day. Andi and Ellen had left a few days before so it was back to a solo adventure.

Time to get away from the heat so we headed south again, this time towards the mountain city of Medellin, known as the city of eternal spring. It took us 3 days in total to reach Medellin. We stopped in a couple of small towns, for the night. It was still bloody hot and kept looking for the mountains that seemed to never come. Finally, on the third day, we saw peaks in the distance and it wasn't long before we were climbing up into the mountains. Along the way we met some other riders from Quebec, Yan and Mary riding a KTM and a BMW so we rode to Medellin with them. The mountains rose quickly and it took very little time to reach 9000feet. The temperature change was so great that Heather had to put on extra layers, I was very excited to be cold. when we stopped for a drink the people were so nice and friendly. It was a completely different culture from the lowlands. Our moods had also changed from being tired, hot and sweaty to suddenly having loads of energy. I love the mountains!
Riding into the mountains with Yan and Marie

We arrived in Medellin in mid afternoon and promptly fell fast asleep in the hostel, it was cold and we were loving it!

I think that's a good point to stop. Lots of bike stuff has happened since. Needless to say it has been expensive but worth it. We're going to get a bike back that we both feel happy riding. It should be finished in a day or two so I'll let you know what needed doing and the end result when that's all finished.

Sunday 1 September 2013

So we left you in Nicaragua and we are in Colombia...

So we left you in Nicaragua and we are in Colombia now so I think we will play some catch up today and try to update you to today....
Volcanoes of Ometepe Island

In Nicaragua we met up again with Andy, visited an island in a lake and saw some more volcanoes. It was nice, we also tried some more surfing which was tiring. Andy advised me on a mechanic in Costa Rica and I got in touch with Aileen who, with Ceri and Mark, were visiting Costa Rica in a few days time. Aileen kindly agreed to bring some parts out for me so I could get the bike fixed up and we got in touch with the mechanic who said it would be no problem getting the bike fixed up. We were quoted $400 for the full job which was cheap but still a blow to our finances.

Mum always said I had a monkey on my back

Sunset in Limon

We left Nicaragua happy and hopeful about the bike. At the border we met Al who is travelling on a Honda Varadero. We had the usual border fun, another fine for being in the C4 for too long and a few hours spent doing nothing. It took a couple of days getting down to Heredia where Dave and Jackie were living and working as english teachers. Dave had kindly offered to let us stay for a few days and it was great to catch up with everyone from back home. In total there were 6 of us from Sully and it was like a home away from home. I unwrapped my new toys from Aileen like a kid at christmas and we talked about old times. We planned to part ways while I got the bike fixed and we would meet them on the caribean coast a few days later. Insert something about the best laid plans of mice and men here....

After the Sullyians left I rode the 100 miles to Nicoya and the mechanic along the pan american highway. Costa Ricas main highway for cargo, people and everything in between. Its single lane and choked with traffic. On reaching Nicoya I met Raul, the mechanic who was supposed to work on the bike but he told me he was too busy but knew a great guy who was going to do it. There should have been alarm bells. He took me to meet Nemo. His garage was dirty, bike parts were everywhere. Should have been more alarm bells. He told me he could finish the work in two days when I was originally quoted 5. More alarm bells. I ignored them all.

There were problems getting the engine out of the bike as some mounting bolts had seized but after the first day the engine was out and taken apart by the second day. New parts in and back together by the third day. I was excited to try out the bike but it was making a strange knocking noise. I was assured it was normal for a bike of higher mileage and the noise stopped when the bike was upright so I promptly rode the bike back to Heredia. About halfway back the bike lost all power, it was vibrating more than usual and I was worried but the power came back and it was easier to continue home than to return. I can only blame myself for this. I should have gone back. By the time I got to Heredia my hands were numb from vibrations. I got back in touch with Raul and we arranged to have the bike shipped back to Nicoya. More money, more worry and plenty of anger. Turns out the new part was slightly smaller than the original and the knocking was not normal. We got that fixed soon enough with a slight modification to the part and I went to pick up the bike again. I was still not happy with the bike as it was vibrating still but I made another mistake and decided to ride back.

By now the Sullyians had returned from their trip and were getting ready to return home. We were sad to have missed out on travelling with them but glad the bike was working and a day or so later we left for the coast. About 60 miles out the clutch stops working so I contact Raul again. He basically told me it wasn't his problem. Super angry now and feeling completely down in the dumps over the whole thing I didnt know what to do next. In the end we found a mechanic in the city who would fix the clutch. Turns out Nemo had added parts to the engine. An extra washer was causing the clutch to slip.
Carrying the bike back to Heredia after the clutch failed

Welsh themed going away party for Dave and Jackie

I'll be honest, even now weeks after I'm fuming about the whole affair. So many ifs and maybes. I wish I had waited until Colombia as I have met some great people here who have been incredibly helpful but I digress. The bike was running again and we had a boat to catch.

For those of you who dont know, there is a big gap between Panama and Colombia with no roads. Its called the Darien Gap and the only way past is by boat. The boat we wanted to travel on was the stahlratte as it is big, comfortable and has experience carrying motorbikes. We had very little time to get from the center of Costa Rica to the bottom of Panama so we hit the road running. Flew through Costa Rica and visited the Sloth Sanctuary where Heather met some new friends. Got through the border with no problems and into Panama. Brilliant.

Once we were in Panama we headed for a town called David. Its the jumping off point for a lot of cool places in Panama. We visited the highlands near there and a town called Boquete. Really beautiful and most importantly, considerably cooler than the lowlands near the coast. We rode some beautiful roads and tried to forget about the drama from the previous three weeks. It was nice not to worry for a bit.
Crossing a rickety bridge in Boquete

Still on a time budget we headed south to visit the town where Panama hats were originally made and a womans artisan group. We found the town but no hats and the artisan group had expanded from the quaint little stalls the guide book had promised us.

We finished the bolt down to Panama City to meet with Al again and get ready for the boat trip. Al had been in town for three weeks and was a wealth of knowledge on the area.

With a day or two spare we visited the Panama Canal and learnt all about its history. An incredible feat of engineering started by the French and finished by the Americans it has only recently been given back to Panama to govern it and they are building an extension to be opened next year. A hugely expensive project expected to bring in billions for the government.
Ships entering the docks at the Panama Canal

We soon recieved an email from Lou Lou, the captain of the stahlratte and got in touch with a few other bikers who were on the boat too. It was here we met Andy and Ellen, a couple from New Zealand travelling two up on a KTM 950. On the 11th it was time to leave for the short ride to the coast and the stahlratte. Hopefully saying goodbye to the woes of Central America. Yet she had one more thing to throw at us. About 30km from the coast we got a flat. Seems the rear was running low and overheated causing the innertube to disintergrate. Luckily we were going fairly slow and only had a small wobble but with no spare tube for the rear we were screwed. We were at the back of the convoy so they didnt realise we had a problem for a few minutes we sat there alone and started to remove the rear wheel. Andy and Ellen turned up and they had a spare tube. Al carried on to inform the boat about our delay. New tube in, inflated and off we go, 1 km later.... bang. We were shifting along this time and it burst mid corner. the bike veared violently to the left as the rear wheel tried to overtake the front. Legs flying everywhere and the bike lurching all over the road I managed to bring it to a stop right side up. Heather was shaking on the back of the bike and we were out. For Heather this was the first real brush with what can happen on a motorbike. The adrenaline and fear left her truely shaken up and I think, even now weeks later, she isn't fully happy on the back of the bike. In all honesty I dont think either of us were enjoying ourselves. With a  few spots of fun along the way the past month or two has been problem after problem. The bike just isn't right and its sapping my energy. I'm not sure how much more of this we can take.

One dead inner tube on the way to the Stahlratte

Andy and Ellen headed to the boat to try and find someone to carry us back on a truck. 4 hours alter, $100 and the pain of having to be carried instead of using our own power and we made it to the boat. For now at least someone else could take the load and we could sit back and relax on the trip to Colombia.
The Stahlratte ready to take us to Colombia

Friday 9 August 2013

Cigars, waves and a reunion

Ahhh, such a fast followup on the last post.... Bike problems problems and more problems since we left Danli but we had a blessed three weeks in Nicaragua where (almost) everything went great.

We left you in Danli with a sick bike and a lot of questions about the immediate future. A big one hanging over our head was could we really afford to carry on with the bike. Was our trip about to change in a fundamental way and give up the bike and just backpack instead. We talked about it a lot with genuine sadness from both of us at the idea of leaving the bike behind. Eventually Heather said to me that we have to try and she meant it. In just a few short weeks she had got attached to travelling on the bike and was really enjoying herself, we weren't going to quit at the first hurdle.

So I headed to the mechanic the next day after researching several possible fixes online. Took the ideas to the mechanic and he basically no'd most of them but we settled on welding the front sprocket onto the output shaft. A temporary fix as the front sprocket needs to be replaced quite frequently and the welding causes it to wear down faster.

Heather and me agreed on a permenant fix being getting parts from the UK and a mechanic around here and getting it done. about $1000 in total but worth it to carry on.

So with that drama mostly out of the way we headed to the border at Las Manos (The Hands) where we faced a trial at the merciless hands of border guards. The bike being in Honduras for 2 years apparently meant it overstayed it's temporary import by about 21 months, oops, so we had a $300 fine which I am pretending is 2 years parking costs at a very reasonable rate. Had to drive back into town to get money and then back to the border to pay and get a stamp and a receipt before finally being allowed to drive across the border where the border guard looked at the wrong page, ignored all the stamps and waved us through.... bastards! What happened to a cigarette and a friendly smile being all you needed to grease the wheels of bureaucracy? It's amazing how countries who can't police their own citizens and have the highest murder rates in the world and extremely capable of getting money from people. I wonder where it all goes?

Finally into Nicaragua and through immigration with very little trouble. We headed for Esteli, a large town near the border on the pan american highway. Instantly you can see a difference between the countries. Nicaragua is significantly poorer than Honduras. Trucks on the road stopped being big 18 wheelers and were just farm trucks with cows or hay. There were more people walking along the road and even the geography seemed to change at the border. More lush green hills and acres of farmland.

Ring Road out of Esteli, the cobbles were surprisingly smooth

We had a bit of a mishap with fuel and ran out about 1k from the next fuel station. Luckily the bike has a reserve. Fuel gets stuck on the right side of the tank so you can lean the bike over to the left so it can reach the fuel tap and carry on for an extra mile or two. In Esteli we found a super cheap hostel for $8, parked the bike inside and made ourselves at home. This is where the nice 3 weeks begins. The next morning we visited a cigar factory and saw cigars being made from scratch. It is all done by hand, from selecting the leaves, removing the veins, rolling the cigar and packaging (They even make the packaging in the factory, by hand, including the decorating) Go out and look at a fancy pack of cigars, the guys are artists. even if you dont smoke you can appreciate the craftsmanship that went into it with each cigar being 100% natural and made purely with tobacco leaves. We also managed to go see a science museum with dinosaurs made from car parts. They used to breath fire or be powered by solar panels but they were old and not cared for. Basically they went the same way the dinosaurs did.

Training for my future employment as a cigar roller.

We soon headed down to Leon where we were reunited with Andy and his girlfriend, Jenia. Andy was one of the first bikers I traveled with at the beginning of the trip. We first met in Iran and met up in various places along the way. It was good to see a friendly face and catch up on old times. We discussed the bikes, obviously, and Andy suggested a mechanic he knows in Costa Rica to fix the bike. We didn't stay long but planned to meet up again at their home in Limon.

Leon was a pretty colonial city with Central Americas largest cathedral. We enjoyed the sites, saw some live music and I showed of my white guy dancing in a small nightclub. I think everyone was, thankfully, a bit too drunk to notice me. Leonians can really dance. It's strange seeing such great dancing in a nightclub when dancing in a club usually means grinding and even then it's not graceful. 

Largest Cathedral in CA, currently under renovation

We left the bright lights of Leon and headed to a small coastal town famous for its waves. We even went so far as to stay in a bamboo eco lodge. Let me tell you what eco means around here. It means you pay more, have to have a bucket of talc next to your toilet, there's not enough electricity to power the fan and the beds are lumpy. The environment loves it though..... But, we were on a beach in Nicaragua so I decided it was time to become an amazing surfer as this was obviously missing from my life. I rented a board, passed on the lessons and ran into the ocean where I was promptly made to feel inadequate. Surfing is hard, and tiring. I tried for about an hour and by the end I was tired upset and broken in many ways. Heb took out a body board and had a lot more fun! We ended the day watching the locals ride and they were amazing. When someone can make something that difficult look that easy then you know they are good!

Me surfing!!! HA, no this is a local guy

It was here that bumped into Jayne and Phil, they are brother and sister and travelling down from Alaska to Argentina. It seems they were supposed to be in Columbia by now but schedules rarely survive more than the first week of any trip. We said hi but didn't have much time to get to know them as they we're dropping a friend at the airport. We've bumped into them a few times since.

We left the beach after a couple of days and headed to meet someone from Horizons Unlimited. Salvador has a house in Managua where he runs his own, rapidly expanding, adventure travel company. When overlanders come through he offers them a place to stay for a few days to recoup and we're going to need it. We met Sal in Matagalpa but didn't know what hotel he was in so panic started to set in as we arrived. We passed one big hotel and it looked like there were some big bikes there so doubled back and there was Sal with Jayne and Phil. Celebrations were had! Sal had a few friends down on a trip and they were offroading their way back to Managua.  The next morning we headed south, Jayne and Phil headed East and Sal headed North West with his group.

The whole group

Sal had given us his address and told us to head on down and he would meet us there a few days later. We headed off and I decided it would be a good time to try some offroading with Heb. See if we could make it work. It was a pretty simple road but I think we'll need a bit more practice before we get good at this 2 up thing. Heb got sick just outside of Managua so we stopped to rest but it wouldn't pass. Turned out it was food poisoning and we both got it. We reached Sals place and spent the night vomiting and shitting. Pleasant for everyone I can assure you. It turned out everyone who met at the hotel in Matagalpa got sick at one point or another but fortunately it passed quickly.


I think I'll leave it there and catch you up again soon. 

Monday 8 July 2013

Brewery, Brains and Bike problems

Regular posts.... This isn't right.... What's happened? What's changed? Oh yeah........

After San Pedro we headed South West to Lago De Yojoa and the D&D Brewery. There's been a small brewery on the site for many years but about two years ago Bobby purchased it and started his own brewing procedures with several different ales being produced. We were there for a couple of days so I made it a mission to try every one. Several times! On the way up we kept on passing these roadside shops selling plastic garden ornaments. They were everywhere and really raised a certain question. Who the hell drives down a busy highway looking exclusively for plastic garden ornaments? Or who, on impulse, stops at a random shop and thinks, that's what my garden is missing, a sombrero wearing frog playing a banjo! 
Who buys this crap? 
When we reached the brewery we had options, camp or stay in a dorm or lodgings. Naturally camping in a rainforest and the first opportunity to use the new tent is the only real option. We picked a campsite and dragged everything from the parking lot to the site to pitch the tent. All in all things went pretty well. Both of us are still alive with only minor injuries and slightly dented pride. It was actually all pretty easy. The tent is easy to put up and Heather had put it up once in the UK. Most of our gear fitted inside and there was an area where we could keep everything that didn't fit. True to form it rained every single night we were there, conveniently it was well timed, it rained at quarter to six every time. Could set your watch by it. The tent stayed mostly dry but a little bit damp, when it did rain it really put in 100% effort. This was not drizzle! The self inflating bed mat is brilliant and makes camping comfortable and having a three man tent makes it spacious enough to be enjoyable. I'm not sure you'd ever want a third person in there though.

The tent in all its rainforesty glory!
The brewery is a "short" walk from Honduras' biggest lake. It took about an hour to walk to the lakeside and the next day we decided to try rowing across it. Walking's quicker!!! We rowed for about 4 hours. It really was beautiful an worth it. We may have overestimated our rowing ability and underestimated the size of the lake.

It'd been Heathers birthday on the 10th, I was not a good boyfriend. I planned to buy a present but got bogged down in bike stuff and then the 10th arrived and I had nothing to give her and no plans either. We ate breakfast and walked along the beach. Luckily saw a guy selling jewelry so told heather she could pick anything she liked. She chose a necklace with a blue stone. It was time to pay so I got out some cash but the guy wouldn't accept it because he didn't have change so Heather had to pay for her own present. Brilliant.

I did manage to win back some brownie points a few days later. I'd emailed the brewery in advance to make sure they had candles and cake and the night we got there I managed to surprise her.
The candle was a bit large
The next day we went to a local river/holiday spot, hiked a bit and visited a waterfall. We even got a guide to take us under the waterfall. You quite literally walk through a wall of water and then along the rock face with water pummeling you the whole time. Eventually you reach a small opening into the cliff and can climb inside a small, dryish chamber. It'd make a brilliant hiding spot for hide n seek.

After the hike through the falls
We left the lake the next morning and headed for Danli near the border. Plugged in some music and rode. As you ride out of the mountains you hit a wall of heat. It just goes from comfortably cool to unbearably hot in moments.and you know it's there to stay. Our gear is summer gear but fully clad in armor and in mid 30s temperatures you melt a little bit. To reach Danli we had to ride into Tegucigalpa, Honduras' notorious capital city. We had thought about staying there one night but had decided against it. As we arrive into the city there is a huge tailback and the one side of the road is closed. We discovered the reason. That morning a car carrying three prison guards and a woman was driving out of the city. They'd been ambushed on the way out and the car completely shot up. It was riddled with bullets and the occupants obviously dead. Some had managed to get out of the car and one of their brains was still lying in the road. The rest of the bodies had been removed but there was a very strong police presence. They had a lot of big guns and were nonchalantly waving them at the crowd that had formed. Hence no photos!

We rode on a bit and both agreed that not staying in Tegucigalpa was probably a good idea.

We got out and continued on our way to Danli, disaster struck about 30 miles before we got there. A screeching noise from somewhere on the bike. It sounded like the front wheel, it was making an awful noise but we just couldn't find the source. at one point I though I fixed it but 10 minutes later the sound returned. I couldn't actually find anything wrong and short of a good shop to look at everything I was at a loss. Eventually we decided to push on. The sound become intermittent and we ere close to Danli.

Big mistake.

Giant fucking mistake!

I don't know if that ride caused all the damage or if it had been building and that was the straw that broke the camels back but the damage is big. Basically the output shaft, which is a rod that comes out of the engine had worn down. It is supposed to have a series of splines along the shaft which you then attach a sprocket (cog) to. that sprocket is like the front gears on a bicycle. A chain attaches to it which turns the back wheel.

When the splines wear out completely the bike output shaft can no longer drive the sprocket so you get no power going from the engine to the rear wheel. The picture below is a mechanic in Danli making a temporary fix. He is welding the front sprocket onto the output shaft. This was a last resort option. It's temporary and the full repair is to replace the output shaft. On some bikes this would be easy. On the Transalp it requires a complete engine teardown. Almost every single last nut n bolt needs to come out (that's the easy part) and be put back together (eep). Reading forums and blogs most people seem to think a replacement engine is in order. One guy took it to the Honda dealer and ended up paying thousands of pounds for the repair.

Christian working on the output shaft, it was a shirt off job!
A lot of decisions need to be made and I really didn't get much sleep for the next few days. I'll update you soon.

Friday 5 July 2013

Oh Tino.....

Tino gets a post all to himself. I met Tino while searching for tires in San Pedro. I'd been to every tire shop I could find multiple times and no-one could help or was trying beyond looking in the computer system for a tire I needed. I was just about to settle on an offroad tire that was too small when Tino poked his nose into my business. He spoke good english and started explaining what I needed to the guy behind the counter. When he saw I wasn't really happy with the offering he dropped what he was doing and told me to follow him. Within 5 minutes of meeting him I was in his truck and driving god knows where.

The whole time this is happening we are chatting away about the trip and the bike and the whole time he is trolling me. In 5 minutes he could say enough things to upset everyone around him but the whole time he is joking, you hope.

We eventually made it to a tire shop where they had a pirelli scorpion which I got for about 60 bucks. Super cheap and an excellent tire. I was ecstatic. I was really starting to think we'd have to wait for one from mexico and pay twice the price. We went to visit his shop where he has a CBR600RR he's been rebuilding. I met some of his family who I am pretty sure were thinking that he'd managed to pick up a stray.

I finally got back to the hotel, said goodbye to Tino thinking that would be the last I see of him..... I was several hours later than I planned, god knows what Heather's been thinking.... Oh she's asleep....

We left the next day for Utila, and spent a few days relaxing and sorting out the bike as best I could. Truth is, she was in a bad way. 2 years of neglect will upset most bikes, the transalp seemed to have taken it especially bad and was refusing to run properly. The carbs were beyond dirty. I cleaned them as best I could. They are complicated parts and even after a good clean things weren't working properly. I decided the best bet was to revisit Tino. Oh Dear...

We took the boat over from Utila to the mainland and Heather got her first real ride on the bike. We had taken some anti seasickness tablets before the crossing and Heather basically fell asleep on the back of the bike. Guess that means she trusts me. It was an uneventful ride, the bike struggled for power over 60mph and was drinking more fuel. Definite carb problem. We stayed a night halfway to San Pedro. Woke up to breakfast on the beach before carrying on, we got into SP the next day and went straight to visit Tino. 

Needless to say Tino continued to rib me when we got there. Joking about throwing the bike out and buying a new one.

The suggested replacement

Tino and his son worked hard on the bike for two days. Concentrating on the carbs but also helping me with other bits n pieces that needed adjusting or replacing. After the first day he took us out to dinner in his favorite local Mexican restaurant. The next day Heather and me went back to the garage to see the progress.   Things were going nicely but there were problems. The carbs were so dirty that the jets were completely blocked and nothing would shift the blockage. Spark plugs were ruined. It took a long time to get the bike running again.

Tino trying to refit the carbs. Getting them in is a complete puzzle.

Finally, with everything back together it was time to refill the tank and try and start her. No problem, started first time. Tinos son took the bike for a quick lap of the block to test everything was ok but as he was pulling in the bike died and wouldn't start again. After a good 15 minutes of panic and the alarm system refusing to allow the bike to start we found the Ignition Control Unit had managed to slip its mounting and the connection had got loose. Simple fix. Plug it back in and away we go.

We went out with Tino again for a meal that night. We paid for the meal this time and Tino dropped us off back home. When I asked how much for the bike he shrugged it off. This was two days of hard work and he didn't ask for a penny. Can't thank you enough Tino.

The next morning we set off for Lago De Yojoa in the mountains. The bike was running great, I had a big smile on my face and heather was probably looking forward to a part of the trip that doesn't center around motorbikes! So naive.

Thursday 13 June 2013

On the road again...

It's been a bit of a while but I'm finally back on the road again. And not alone either. Most of you will know Heather but for those of you that don't a little update. I'd just ridden down through Mexico, Guatemala and was in Honduras. I completed my MSDT, master scuba diver trainer, course and was working in Alton's Dive Center. Happily minding my own business, enjoying sun, sea, diving and along came Heather to ruin it all. She had just finished working on a marine biology project in Belize and was in Utila to do her Advanced, Rescue and Dive Master training. We met, one thing led to another (a chance encounter with a pod of dolphins on our first date might have helped) and we were hooked. We were only together for three weeks and just before she was about to leave I asked her what next. Somehow we both agreed to go to south Korea in the new year and teach English.

After a year of living together, teaching together and generally being around each other a lot things seemed to be going well and I asked her to join me on the motorbike trip the rest of the way down to Argentina. She said yes and so that's where we are. Pretty brief sum up of the last two years but it covers the major points.

Meet Heather (she's the pretty one)
After Korea Heather actually went home for a few months and I headed back to Honduras where I've been working as an instructor again. I made some great new friends there and had a brilliant time. I've had to leave my Utilian family behind now but we were a close group who really cared for each other. I hope to meet all of them along the road again. Utila is a world within a world. It's very hard to describe without actually going but I highly recommend it. The easiest way to describe it are the three lies of Utila. 1. I love you, 2. I'm not drinking tonight, 3. I'm leaving on the morning ferry. Everyone hits one or two of them, most people hit all three. It's a place that's hard to leave and drags you into the lifestyle very quickly. Hard to resist a hammock on the dock all day watching the sun set and then partying until it rises again. Visit if you get the chance.

Heather arrived back in Honduras on the 3rd of June, by this time I was supposed to have the bike mechanically sound and ready to go. Needless to say that didn't happen. She'd been sitting in a dusty garage for a year and taken for occasional rides. The rinse and repeat schedule of my maintenance attempts went something like this: Choose a problem to fix, start work, fix problem and find a bigger problem in the same area, get overwhelmed by problems and halt maintenance. Try again, same again etc. It was impossible to get parts and the local mechanics were freaking useless. One example was a mechanic who was supposed to  change the brake fluid and install new brake pads. When I went to pickup the bike there was brake fluid everywhere including the brake disc and pads. Luckily I was able to get to the pads before they were ruined and clean them up. Anyway the end result was Heather arriving to me stressed out, a very sick motorbike and general chaos.

I went to pick up Heather in San Pedro where we planned to stay one night, head back to Utila and stay in a bit of luxury accommodation for a week. Instead Heather arrived and I dragged her around San Pedro searching for a tyre and various other spare parts. So much for the romantic reunion. Luckily I met a unique individual called Tino. He helped me find everything I needed but more on Tino later.

As a recovery from the dismal start in SP a friend of mine, Rob, offered to let us stay in the Lazy Daze Boat House. We stayed for the week in a bit of air conditioned luxury right across from the Alton's dock and enjoyed every minute of it. Including the shouting and invasions from the old team. Over the week we managed to get a little bit of diving in, a little bit of drinking and just relax and enjoy ourselves. before we really started the trip.

I'll leave you with a couple of Diving photos.

Heather diving

Trumpet fish trying to hide

Inside some coral

Damsel Fish

French Angel Fish

We left Utila on the 10th but that's probably enough for now. Next update coming soon. It might even include some actual motorcycle travel.