2 Wheels To Adventure

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Alaska/Canada Trip--2006
Two "Adventure" Bikes

Ride boldly, Lad,  fear not the spills! (From "The Man From Snowy River," by Banjo Paterson) 
I'm not the man I used to think I was. (RBW)
"Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!"
(William Butler Yeats)

For a looong discussion on motorcyling in general and Adventure riding in particular, see the archives (or scroll down) for the first post on September 28, 2006.
It gives some opinions and ideas, along with a bit of philosophy; one (old) man's view of the world of 2 wheels.

New Scooter---2014 R1200RT
Cap'n Ron in the Straits of Georgia
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Friday, March 30, 2007

It Ain't Over Till It's Over

Friday, March 30, 2007 Day 137 MIAMI, FLORIDA

OK, so it is America, but there are more Spanish Speakers hereabouts than I have seen since leaving South America. Nearly everyone is an ESL person, and nearly any communication begins in Spanish.

Today started out just peachy. I took a cab to the DHL Freight Building, where I was informed that I first had to go to Customs for a release. I had foolishly presumed US Customs to be somewhere close to where goods are received, but found that it is in fact a long walk away from Building 716G where the bike was. I arrived at Customs to be advised that I had to show proof of citizenship. I had, of course, left my passport in the hotel, but was saved by the copy of my passport made by Sr. Richard McCoulley of Royco Air Freight in Caracas before I left. It was a narrow escape from a $15 cab ride back to the hotel.

Back at DHL, I found Der Klunkenschiffter on her pallet, still gailey wrapped in clear plastic with yellow paint trimming. I got her unwrapped, connected the battery, and poured in a half gallon of gas. When I turned on the ignition, it activated the fuel pump, and fuel sprayed out of one of the quick-disconnect fittings. I had apparently broken it somehow when I took the tank off in Caracas to empty it before shipping. I tried to splice in a piece of clear plastic hose after cutting off the quick-connect fittings, but the pressure was too great, and fuel once again sprayed out in a good stream.

Foiled, I called BMW Roadside Emergency Service, but of course my coverage is no longer in effect because I have far exceeded the mileage limits. They did however, provide assistance in reaching a towing company, informed me that the tow charge would be $65, and said the service would be there within 60 minutes. Two hours later, I gave up. I approached one of the many trucks coming and going from the loading docks. The driver spoke only Spanish, and quickly agreed to take the bike to the Beemer Shop for $50. He had a hydraulic loader on the back of his truck, and we quickly loaded her on and got to the shop over on 36th Street. Oh yes, the trucker is a Peruvian, and lived for about 6 months in Phoenix before coming to Miami.

Alec Pereira (I spent a night in his namesake town in Colombia), the Beemer Service Manager at BMW Motorcycles of Miami, told me that he could probably get the tires changed along with oil and filter, but the rest of the service would be nearly impossible, since they would have to order some parts, and besides, he was down to only one technician and lots of bikes waiting for work. He would be able to fix the quick-disconnect fittings, and maybe check the brake pads, but that was it. He was quite accomodating, but I recognize that his capability is severely limited. You take what you can get.

I returned to the showroom, and they called me a cab. Well, they didn't really call me a cab, at least not to my face, but they did call a taxi company for me. Forty minutes later, I asked them to please try it again. A cab appeared in 3 minutes, and the cabbie told me he had been just up the street a few blocks for quite some time, waiting for dispatch to send him on a call. Ah, me, ain't life grand.

As Scarlet said, "Tomorrow is another day." Yes, indeedy do it are. 

The bike should be as ready as it is going to get by closing time tomorrow evening, and I will plan to spend yet another night here, and depart Sunday morning for Key West. I might as well take a spin down there to watch the sunset over the pier before striking out for the West and home.


3:41 pm mdt          Comments

Thursday, March 29, 2007

There's No Place Like Home, There's No Place Like Home...

Thursday, March 29, 2007 Day 136 MIAMI FLORIDA, THE GOOD OLD YEW ESS OF AY

Yes, Dorothy was right. There really is no place like home. I arrived here last evening on TACA Flight 690 from San Jose, Costa Rica, right on time. Furthermore, my baggage came off the loader among the first, and I was through immigration and customs in minutes and on the way to a hotel almost before I knew it.

Der Klunkenschiffter is due to arrive this evening, and I hope to have her out of customs and in the Beemer shop before noon tomorrow. If this comes off without a hitch, I shall be not only amazed, but thrilled and grateful as well.

Yesterday, the last day of foreign adventure, was a whirlwind. Aki Navarro and his friend German arrived at the hotel about 0930, and we took off on a ride around Caracas, with me on Aki's Africa Twin, German on a Suzy 260, and Aki on his ancient Triumph Daytona, of about 1966 vintage. We streaked through freeway traffic, riding between lanes at breakneck speed, took a side road to the top of one of the numerous mountains around town for a fog-obscurred view, and then raced madly back to the hotel, where Aki negotiated a cab ride of 100,000 Bolivianos to the airport. I was getting pretty nervous about the time, as it was then noon, and the ride from there the day before was three hours, but not to worry, the cabby got me there in less than two, and I was in line for check-in before 1400. Then, another line for immigration, and a third for security, or, was it the other way around?

I discovered, to my surprise, that Bolivianos are not redeemable in other currency. You bought them here, you sped them here, seems to be theme. It is illegal to sell Bolivianos in Venezuela, and they are not redeemable outside the country either, so, there I was, walking through Duty Free with almost half a million worth of bills stuffed in my pockets. I passed a kiosk selling watches, and having recently lost my Cassio, I bought one, which, along with a pair of silver hoop earrings for my Sweetie, curiously cost exactly the same as the amount of Bolivianos I had. Strange but true!

The trip is almost over, and it has been a great one. But, it is quite nice to be home here in America, the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. I will continue this blog to Phoenix, and have expectations that the rest of the trip will be boring and uneventful. Sorry about that...

Pictures to follow: 

2:38 pm mdt          Comments

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Things Continue Apace
Wednesday, March 28, 2007 Day 135 CARACAS, VENEZUELA
I located a flight to Miami with a search on expedia.com. This is high season here, and many people are booking flights to the states before Semana Santa, the week before Easter. All of the non-stop flights are full until the 3rd of April, and I am not in a mood to wait, so I booked a flight on TACA (Take-A-Chance-Airlines) through San Jose, Costa Rica. It is a 35 minute connection to their flight from there to MIA, so I will have cramped fingers and toes from keeping them crossed to make the connection.
I spent all day yesterday, Tuesday, the 27th, getting the bike paper-work done, seeing it put on the pallet, having it inspected by customs, and then getting a ride back from the airport to the hotel, which took three hours due to traffic and construction. The driver said it is that way every day. The distance is about 25 miles, but there was a bridge failure 15 months ago, and the route is still down to one lane across the bridge area, and traffic is at a crawl all day and half the night, he told me. The ride from or to the airport usually costs around $75 US, but I got a break from one of the workers at the freight office, and only had to pay half that amount.
David and Ian got off toward Colombia yesterday morning as we all departed the hotel together, and then we waved goodbye as they took one freeway route, and I took the other toward the International Airport. They are probably going to have the same kind of trouble booking a flight from Bogota to Panama City, due to the Semana Santa traffic. It is about a three day ride from here to Bogota, so they might arrive in time on Thursday to get the bikes shipped before the weekend. I hope they make it.
Aki Navarro, the Venezuelan gent we met when we arrived in Caracas, has been extremely kind and helpful, and has gone out of his way to do anything he can to help. He offered to let me stay at his apartment while waiting for a flight to Miami, and has offered to take me to the airport this afternoon to catch my flight. The people in this part of the world are, without doubt, among the most friendly and kind I have ever encountered, the thugs in Puno, Peru included (they mugged me gently and only took money and easily used items). Aki and two of his friends took me to dinner last night at a nice Chinese restaurant here in the Altamira District of Caracas, and insisted on paying the check. I do hope I have a chance to reciprocate someday.
Returning to the shipping of the bike, it was interesting to see them load it onto a pallet, then strap it down. I had to empty the gas tank, and I removed it and inverted it to get all the gas out, the replaced it, disconnected the battery, and let the air out of the tires. They got it onto the pallet, strapped it with metal straps, and fork-lifted it onto the loading ramp. It weighed, pallet included, 367 Kilos! Big bike! I had to return at 1400 for inspection by the customs agents. That slipped to 1500, and they had me take everything out of the panniers and tail box, take the seat off, and then they poked and prodded every nook and cranny, looking for contraband or drugs, I suppose. After that, the bike was wrapped in clear plastic, top to bottom. They then spray painted the wrapping with streaks of yellow paint, including a couple of hand prints, so that there was no way anything could be taken off or put onto or into the bike without disturbing the paint markings. Pretty clever, eh?
Oh, yes, they did discover a one litre plastic bottle of gas I had been carrying ever since Chile when John Hillman ran out of gas three times in as many days. It was in the bottom of the left pannier, and I had forgotten about it, but they spotted it, shook their fingers at me, and made me leave it behind. Oh well...
7:06 am mdt          Comments

Monday, March 26, 2007

Changing Plans, Or, Flexibility Is The Word Of The Day
Monday, March 26, 2007, Day 132 CARACAS, VENEZUELA
I have been noticing that my passport is filling up. It is the emergency issued in Buenos Aires, and it has just a few pages for holding visa stamps. I called the US Embassy here this morning, and discovered that when a passport fills, the issuing countries will no longer issue visas, as they will not stamp over old markings. Mine now only has room for one or two more stamps, and I have 8 more countries to stamp into and out of. The alternative is to get a new passport! This, as I found before, takes time. I am running out of same, so I have hit upon an alternate plan. I now plan to ship the motorcycle from here to Miami by air freight. It will go out, if all goes according to this new plan, on Wednesday, and with luck, I will book a passenger flight and go along in the same time frame.
Arriving in Miami, I will take it to the Beemer Dealer for new tires and servicing, along with some tender and loving care, then ride home to Phoenix. This takes the pressure off for arriving in Boise in time to wave goodbye to my Dear Son when he deploys to Iraq.
The cost will probably only be a little more than had I continued the ride all the way home, as I calculate I spend nearly $75/day, including gas, and the bike shipment plus my airfare will only be a couple of thousand US, plus the cost of riding from Miami to Phoenix.
That is the plan of the hour. It could change, but in any case, Ian and David got new tires and oil change today, and will depart tomorrow morning for Bogota. The saga continues, at least for a little while...
4:54 pm mdt          Comments

On Getting Lost, Crossing The Rubicon, and Other Delights

Monday, March 26, 2007 Day 132 CARACAS, VENEZUELA
We left Manaus late on Wednesday, March 21 due to heavy rain. It rained all morning, and we waited until noon, then deciding to ride north toward Presidente Fedueiredo, some 170 Km away, since there was no way we were going to make it to Boa Vista in the remaining daylight.
All went well, and the rain let up shortly after departure about 1130. We rode north and presently conditions changed from wet to humid and hot. After a couple of hours we discovered that we were on the wrong road and had gone some 80 miles out of the way, necessitating a back-track of those same 80 miles, almost all the way to Manaus to find the turn-off. It was eventually found, and could have benefitted from a sign to mark the turn. Who knew?
During the back-track, my clutch quit working. There was no pressure on the lever, and it was no longer dis-engaging properly. I feared the worst, then realized it was the same symptom as on a previous occasion when fluid was low. When we stopped to ask directions for the turn-off, I had time to fill the reservoir from the stash of fluid I had in my tool box, left over from the brake fiasco back there in Cuzco long, long ago.
So, all in all, it was another good day, or I should say, a very good day, because there was no major mechanical problem, and the back-track did not cost us any time, as we made it to Presidente Figueiredo anyway.
Thursday we made Boa Vista, but the hotel´s wireless internet was inoperative, and blogs were impossible. The money problems continued, as we were unable to locate an ATM that would honor any of our bank cards. I paid for our rooms on my credit card, and Fernando repaid me in cash, which gave us some gas money which we hoped would get us into Venezuela where we could find ATMs that worked.
Friday, March 23 beamed clear and sunny and we crossed the border with the usual hassles and then some, as the officials clearing us out of Brazil determined that the officials who cleared us into Brazil had not put the time our bikes were to stay in the country, and they had to redo the entire paperwork on all 4 bikes (Fernando´s included). This took the better part of 2 hours, but the Venezuelan side was quick and easy, although the did check our shot records for Yellow Fever innoculations. Fortunately, we all had them.
We arrived in Santa Elena, full of hope for good ATMs, but were foiled again. Ian and I found a bank that would advance money on a Visa card, but Ian`s was suspended because it expires on the end of March, so I was the only one to get money. I acquired 2,400,000 Bolivares, worth around $800 or so, I hope enough to get me through Venezuela and have cash left over for shipping the bike out of Bogota ($350), as they do not accept credit cards. To get the cash, Ian had to dash to a copy store to get photocopies of passports and credit cards, but dash he did, and we made it before the bank closed at 1530 for the weekend. Whew!
We made it another 100 or so miles before dark, and stopped at Rapidos Kalmeiros, a nice little pension beside the highway, where we got rooms for cheap, and a pretty good dinner to boot.
Next day, it was Ciudad Bolivar, where Ian managed to break an ATM for about $500 US, and solvency once again.
On Sunday we headed for El Tigre, expecting to turn west and miss Caracas altogether, going toward Bogota, but checking the tires, we found that they were wearing thin, and decided to come into Caracas where there are BMW shops and we hope, tires and other service.
By the way, we crossed the Equator north of Boa Vista, and duly noted the crossing with pictures I will try to get posted sometime down the road when there is a better opportunity to load.
This morning, we called some Beemer shops, but still are not having much luck finding tires. The frustration level is climbing once again, and we are bumping into more impenetrable walls with our limited Spanish. Life is not always easy...

7:15 am mdt          Comments

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Night (Day) At The Opera

Tuesday, March 20, 2007 Day 127 MANAUS, AMAZONA, BRASIL

We took a tour of the Famous Manaus Opera Theater this morning, followed by a tour of the Palace of Justice, now a museum since the move last year to new digs.

The Opera House is quite impressive, both inside and out. Designed by a famous Brazilian, the name of whom I do not recall, and was completed in 1896. It was the site of many productions imported from Europe and staged by Opera Companies from that continent during the 19th Century, and has been host for at least 10 years of Opera Festivals during recent times. It stood largely unused for several years earlier in the 20th Century, following the depression brought about by the failure of rubber markets here, but was refurbished at least twice in the last 70 years, and now is very well-maintained in and out.

In the latter part of the 19th Century, people of means here were accustomed to sending their laundry 1500 miles down the Amazon and then to Europe by ship, for laundry service. Their clothing came back clean, starched, and nicely pressed in a few months, ready for the next wearing and cycle. Apparently it was thought that the water here was not clean enough for good laundry, perhaps due to the Rio Negro which flows at the edge of town, named for its black waters. But, when rubber production moved to Malaysia and the Far East, the town fell upon hard times, and that was the end of the Bell Epoque of Manaus.

Now the city, with a population of around a million-and-a-half, is home to several large industries, including auto and motorcycle assembly plants, oil refineries, chemical plants, and of course shipping which comes up and down river with great frequency.

Here are a couple of tips for travel in Brazil: Get a couple of money sources; bank cards of different sources, credit and debit cards, and the like, because the bank ATMs here are chary about giving out money. We have all had difficulties at times extracting money from ATMs. This evening, David accompanied me to a HSBC Bank nearby, and it came up Lemons for me. No dinero, hombre! So, caught by the evening rain, we sloshed our way back to the hotel and holed up to dry out for tomorrow's run toward Boa Vista, some 500 miles up the road toward Venezuela. We hope to be off and running, the 4 of us, by 0630. We shall see...

Oh yes, in the times of the Opera House Heyday, most men chewed tobacco and smoked cigars, so spitoons were rife, and hereabouts were made of ceramics. When full, instead of cleaning them out, they were smashed and new ones placed about for use. The Opera House Museum had some survivors, and they are handsome pieces indeed, and entirely too well made and embossed for breaking. Affluence was the word of the day, and they apparently couldn't be bothered by the appearance of waste. 

9:35 pm mdt          Comments

Monday, March 19, 2007

Slip Sliding Away

Monday, March 19, 2007 Day 126 MANAUS, AMAZONA, BRASIL
We arrived in Manaus almost on schedule, at 2030, this evening. The unloading was not quite as simple as it appeared. The boat moored at a floating dock, and the ramp from boat to dock was almost level, but the dock surface was smooth steel, and there was a considerable ramp up from said dock to the pier. Fernando, our Mexican amigo, rode up almost without trouble, along with a little assistance from the sides. I was next, and was counseled to be sure to ride right up without stalling. I gave it the gas, and the rear wheel immediately slid sideways, and down I went, headed for the side of the dock and the briny deep. The bike stopped with the front wheel partly over the edge, but all was saved, and many hands helped put Der Klunkenschiffter back on the rubber. We then pushed her up the ramp to the pier. The gas tank took a major bash, but is not leaking, so no real damage done regarding the continuation of the trip homeward.

The boat trip was enjoyable, if a bit long, and we got lots of rest, and some interesting acquaintances, among them, Ferdinando Mango, from Guadalajara. He is an engineer, and has been touring SA on his BMW for the past 4 months. He is now riding part way with us, although he will likely split off when we turn toward Bogota, as he is headed for Caracas and Isla Margarita. He and I are rooming together tonight in the hotel here in Manaus. He is a very gregarious fellow, and gets along well with everyone he meets. He is an accomplished rider, and an asset for as long as he stays with us.

We will take a quick look at Manaus tomorrow, and its famous Opera House, and probably cut northward towards Boa Vista and the Venezuelan border, about 600 miles away.

We enjoyed good weather the entire boat trip, with very little rain, and some nice cloudy days that kept the temperature and accompanying humidities low. As a matter of fact, on one occasion I donned a windbreaker to cut the cool wind from the speed of the boat.

We were pleased to arrive at a nice hotel here in Manaus and treat ourselves to a change of diet. I rewarded myself with a nice Chef's Salad, and even though it was from a different chef than I have run into before, I did enjoy the fresh greens and veggies. Beans and rice, even when interspersed with meat and chicken, get pretty old. I was surprised at how much meat was served at the boat mess. There were always at least two kinds of meat, chicken, or beef, and usually a stew of some kind with meat also. And, of course, rice and beans.  

10:13 pm mdt          Comments

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Saturday, March 17,2007 Day 123 SANTAREM, BRASIL
We arrived at the dock in plenty of time, and supervised the loading of the bikes with great trepidation, as they put ropes on them, one at a time, and threw the line over an upper rail, then lowered the bike by sheer manpower; no pulleys nor block and tackle. But, the job was done without damage, and the bikes lashed down properly on the lower cargo deck, about four feet below the concrete dock level.
The boat is called the "Clivia," and is about 120 feet in length, with a beam of around 15 feet. She has three decks: the lower is cargo, galley, engine room (the engine rests below on the keel), and assorted storage areas. The second deck is the main passenger deck, open on the sides except for plastic they drape to keep out the rain. It houses up to a couple of hundred passengers, who bring hammocks with them, and string them up hip to hip across the beam of the boat. There are a couple of cabins forward on this level, probably crew quarters (officers, I presume). The upper deck has the pilot house forward, and behind are the cabins, 10 on each side, with a head at the aft of this structure. The cabins are about 4X8, with bunks on one side. There is a light and an inlet for the A/C, and that is it, save for the life jackets stowed to one side. The door has a lock, as does the head on that side of the cabins. There is a shower in the head that provides ambient temperature water in profusion, enough to take a nice shower each morning and exit refreshed and clean, if for only the moment.
Aft of the cabins is a bar, located transverse across the beam of the boat,and behind that a lounge area, with chairs and a plastic covering offering protection from the rain. The fantail is open, and comprises an area of about 100 square feet.
All in all, it is a tight little ship, and well-suited for river travel.
Cabin passengers are afforded three meals a day, and we eat on the lower deck, aft, and just forward of the galley, directly behind the engine room. The diesel engine is very loud, and I have taken to bringing my earplugs along for every meal, which affords me a bit more protection, and conversation is nil anyway. Pointing gets you what you want after some trial and error, and the food is plentiful and good. We have rice, beans, meats of several different types, salad, and vegetables for the two main meals. We even had a dessert on one occasion.
Yesterday at lunch, we had guests. As we entered the "dining room" we were greeted with 7 sides of beef hanging on the starboard side, glistening in glorious crimson technicolor, swaying gently to the movement of the boat. One of our cabin passengers, a young Dutch woman, only managed a couple of forkfuls of lunch before bursting out of the room to return to her cabin, somewhat put off by the bloody companion swinging at her right elbow.
We departed Belem almost on schedule, around 1900 on Wednesday, the 14th. As Belem is not on the Amazon, but on the Para (accent on the final "a"), we headed up that river for over a night and day until we made it onto the main Amazon yesterday about 1000 hrs. The boat moves right along, and makes maybe 10 knots against the current. They keep to the sides of the river to avoid the stronger currents, and this gives us some good views of the passing scenery, which is pure jungle most of the time, interspersed with savannah grasslands. At times the growth looks almost impenetrable, and comes right into the water, as this is the high water season, and the river is quite swollen. The banks are very low, as is most of the surrounding territory. It appears that much of it is flooded by the encroaching waters. Speaking of waters, the river is a rich tan color, about that of your morning cup if you take it with milk.
We have seen no wildlife except for a few pink dolfins that approached the boat at a dock last evening in Pariahm (spelling?). They broke the surface a few times, and we clearly saw their white skin with pinkish overtones. I understand that these mammals are endangered.
The Amazon is the mightiest river in the world, if not the longest. That title is held by the Nile, although the issue is in dispute. Some claim the headwaters of the Amazon give it more length, up to 4500 miles, but the matter of its size is not questioned. This river system puts our more water than all the rivers of Europe combined, some 6 million Cusecs (whatever that is).I suspect it is cubic somethings per second.
We are now on a stop-over in Santarem, which is an estimated 500 miles upriver from Belem, and some 800 or so miles from Manaus. We are here in this fairly large city for about 3 hours before shoving off.
A word about the cabin. The A/C works! As a matter of fact, since there is no top sheet, nor is there a blanket, I have been sleeping in my warm-up pants and top, with socks on. I brought along a Hostel Sheet, which is a sheet sewn on three sides, like a mummy sleeping bag, and that makes sleeping comfortable. I taped over the inlet duct for the night, and that cuts down the cool air that comes abundantly into my little cell.
We expect to arrive in Manaus on Monday evening, and the Captain has graciously allowed us to stay aboard for the night, so we should be able to get a fairly early start on Tuesday morning for Boa Vista, and then the Venezuelan border. It looks like we will get no shipping out of Caracas, so will avoid it, and head as directly as possible for Bogota, shipping bikes and selves from there to Panama City.
8:46 am mdt          Comments

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Another Goal Attained
Tuesday, March 13, 2007 Day 120 BELEM, PARA, BRAZIL
I left the bike parked conspicuously in front of the hotel, and David and Ian spotted it and pulled in. The following morning, I had something of an upset stomach, which dogged me all day, but we saddled up and rode hard, making Belem just about dark on Monday evening, a distance of about 520 miles. The ride was most pleasant, with only a bit of rain enroute. Once into Belem, we tooled around for almost 2 hours before finding a suitable hotel, and were caught in a pretty heavy shower that lasted for 30 minutes or so. I was beat, and took a nice shower and hit the sack early, while I. & D. went for dinner. All I had all day was a cup of coffee and a bottle of mineral water with gas, and by evening, food still did not appeal. When they came back from dinner, I was deeply into dreamland, and slept well until 0630. That reminds me, for some reason, of a "fighter pilot´s breakfast": a cup of coffee, a cigarette, and a puke.
This morning we headed down to the docks and booked passage on tomorrow´s sailing for Manaus. We have cabins, which are supposed to be air conditioned, and deck space for the bikes, and the cost is $300 each, bike and rider. The boat departs at 1800 tomorrow evening, and, as reported, it is 5 days upriver to Manaus. By the way, my March 13 estimate for Belem was pretty close.
We also made the trek to the Federal Police Establishment to obtain extensions for our Brazilian Visas, in the event there is another delay of some sort. Our original visas expire on the 25th, and we hear the officials can be very fussy if you let one run out, so we went through the drill: First you find the Federal Police Station, no mean trick, as the building is not marked. Alexandro, our cab driver knew just about where it is, but even he had to look a bit to locate it. Then, we filled out the papers, presented them, and had a printout made there in the office, which cost 7 Reales for the three of us. We took those back to the official, and were informed that we had to pay 67 Reales each for the extension, but you do not pay at the Police Station. We assumed you pay at a bank, but Alexandro took us to a pharmacy! The first place did not accept payment, but the second did, and we paid our dues, got a print-out, and returned to the police station, where the officials were at lunch. No surprise here. After a surprisingly short wait, we were ushered back into the office, where the unsmiling agent entered all the pertinent information, stamped and re-stamped our passports, signed, presented our applications for our signatures, and we were out of there and on the way back to the hotel. As in so many other things, once it was over, it was easy.
This is still not the Amazon, proper. We are in another state, the name of which I am not certain, but think it is Para, accent on the final "a". Belem is not on the Amazon River itself, but on a large tributary or connecting waterway. It is a city of a million and-a-half people, and quite modern and bustling. We are looking forward to the boat trip, and anticipate the first 12 to 18 hours will be very interesting, followed by 4 days of steamy, sweaty boredom.
Ian has a line on a freight forwarder out of Caracas, and we will e-mail them to find out about shipping out of there, but it is beginning to look like the best bet will be to ride to Bogota and ship from there to Panama City. There are good reports on the service from there, and the price is not bad. I have contacted another forwarder about Caracas, and I get the impression that it is more involved and complicated than it should be, not to mention the estimated cost, which I have yet to receive.
If we are not going to ship out of Caracas, we will avoid that mess altogether, and cut for Bogota as directly as possible.
Other than a possible entry tomorrow, I expect to be out of blog contact for several days while on the boat trip upriver. I do hope the boat report will not be too exciting.
12:17 pm mdt          Comments

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Inching For(Up?)ward
Sunday, March 11, 2007 Day 118 CAXIAS, BRASIL
I arrived here about noon, ahead of the Canadians, who came by a different route. I took a hotel room in a place right alongside the highway so they would see my bike prominently parked there, and so they did. They arrived about 1430, and we are reunited.
Is honesty always the best policy? Maybe not, but I ascribe to the belief that it is, and here is a little vignette to illustrate how it not only is the best policy, but the benefits are sometimes unusual.
When I arrived at my hotel last night, the desk clerk indicated that I could pay the 30 Reales room bill in the morning when I left. I went to town, a couple of blocks away, found an iternet cafe, answered e-mails, and blogged a bit, then returned to the restaurant at the hotel for dinner.
They often show dishes on the menu here for two people, and that seemed to be the case for a fish offering. I thought I made it clear to the waiter that I only wanted a half order, but when the food came, it was enough for three. There were two platters of rice, one white and one mixed with vegetables, a salad of veggies in mayonnaise, an omelette (looked like three eggs, with ham, cheese, and veggies), and a platter with two large pieces of fish, battered and fried. Along with the meal, I had a couple of tonic waters. The waiter asked if I wanted ice, and I answered yes, so along he came with a tall glass of ice, repeated for the second can of tonic.
When the bill came, I was stunned:51 Reales! I asked, but got a lot of blah blah, or whatever blah blah is in Portuguese, and it seemed that somewhere in there was something about ice being extra. Well, I guess! So, I shrugged, and figured that I had been served the whole dish instead of half, got extra charge for ice, and it came to 51 Reales. The bill was somewhat itemized, but I could only read the numbers, not the items themselves, so I signed the bill, and indicated that I would pay when I paid in the morning.
Morning came, as is its custom, and I packed, had the included breakfast, and went to pay the bill. There was a different clerk, and she brought out the dinner chit for 51 Reales. I paid that, and then waited for the room bill. Nada. I asked. Nada. I tried to explain that I had not yet paid for the room, but there was clearly no clear communication. She did not understand, and I could not explain.
I went back to my room, thinking that maybe I regained some of the ripped-off 51 Reales dinner. I suited up, but then, just before leaving, guilt took charge, and I went back to the desk for one more try. I brought out 30 Reales and waved it, trying in my best Spanish-English to explain that I still owed for the room. Nada. About then the clerk from the evening before came out from the back room. I tried to explain to him, but he too was puzzled. What could I be trying to tell him. Then, the light bulb. He got it. He took out the dinner chit, and showed me a charge for 30 Reales, that the waiter had added to the dinner bill, making a total of 51 Reales. I had already paid for the room!
So, you ask, what benefit was there from my somewhat belated effort to pay a bill that had already been paid? Three things come to mind. First, the waiter did not do a number on me and overcharge me for the dinner. Second, the people at the desk had a fine chance to bilk me of 30 Reales, but they were honest people, as, I truly believe, are most people in the world, no matter what their status, race, or whatever. Third, by going back and finding out that I had in fact paid the bill, I was not a cheat in my own eyes. Had I just ridden off, I would always have to acknowledge that I had "cheated" for $15 even though in fact there was no cheating. It would have been in my mind, and on my conscience. Now, however, I can pat myself on the back and say, "what an honest fellow am I." Honesty pays, if not always, almost always.
Gasoline is high here. It is around $5 a gallon, and I think it is part of the Brazilian Government´s attempts to convert the country to alcohol. Alcohol burning cars are in abundance here, and alcohol is at every gas station, along with diesel and gasoline, but alcohol is the cheapest, followed by diesel, and then gasoline. Alcohol and diesel are nearly 1 real, or slightly more than 1 cheaper than regular gasoline. I filled up this morning, putting in 21 litres, and it cost 50 Reales (about $25) for about 5 gallons. These days are running over $50/day just for gas. We hear that gas in Venezuela is about 15 Cents a gallon (might be per liter, I will let you know).
The point here is that the Brazilians saw the handwriting about 20 years ago, and began a program to convert to alcohol, which I believe, takes some different technology in the family car. There is a huge amount of sugar cane grown here, and it is mostly for alcohol fuel. One also sees many trucks filled with vegetable oil, presumably for biodiesel, which is also abundant here.
Why has our government, Democrat or Republican, not pushed for a program to get us off the oil teat?
1:45 pm mdt          Comments

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Pushing Northward
Saturday, March 10, 2007 Day 117 PATOS TO VALENCA DO PIAUI, BRAZIL
I got an early start, and stopped off at the Inglesa Cultura School, which is run by John Medcraft, his wife, and his two daughters, Debra and Lynn. They were extraordinarily nice to me, letting me use their computer, calling the hotel to see if I needed anything, and offering whatever assistance they could. I used their computer this morning at 0700 to check, and Ian had sent a message telling what had happened. To make a long story short and simple, it was another case of mis-communication, and we speak the same language!
They were in some town up towards Forteleza, and hoped to make it to Sobral this evening. Sobral looks to be about 200 miles or more from Teresina, a town that we both would have to go through to get to Belem, whatever routes we took.
I found a good map yesterday, and scoped out a route due west for a couple of hundred miles,and then northwest toward Teresina. I took that route, and it turned out to be a great one. The roads were mostly excellent (BR 230 for most of the way), and there was almost no traffic. The pavement was rough in several short stretches but nothing that caused slowing much below 60 MPH. The rest of the road was excellent to good, and I made 70 to 75 most of the day, never having to slow much for the occasional car or truck, only for the towns and their ubiquitous speed bumps.
I made nearly 500 miles in just under 9 hours. There was no rain, although it threatened once,and I suited up, but it turned out to be mere sprinkles as the main shower moved off before I got there.
I am just 200 Km short of Teresina, much farther than I had estimated I would get, and, farther than Ian and David, although they had several hours lead on me yesterday. The route they (David) picked turned out to be farther than mine, and I expect they ran into more traffic when they once again took BR101.
Ian e-mailed that they are now in Sobral, and he will let me know what they estimate for tomorrow, so we should be joined up sooner rather than later. The distance from where I am to Belem is just about 700 miles, or two to three days. Towns northwest of Teresina are sparse, and we will have to plan a stop where there are accomodations.
2:29 pm mst          Comments

Friday, March 9, 2007

Friday, March 9, 2007 Day 116 PATOS, BRAZIL
I still don´t know what happened. We left our beach hotel at about 0800, and departed from the coast, as David didn´t like the traffic on BR101, and  thought it might be better to take an inland route. We headed west, and had a pleasant ride. We stopped for lunch after about 180 miles, and then took off, still west-northwest bound. After a very short while, David pulled over, and Ian and I followed. He said he had a loose windshield bolt, and that we should go on. Ian took off, and after determining that David didn´t need baling wire or other help from me, I did likewise. Only a short way up the road, Ian had pulled over, and he waved me on, the signal that he had no problem, but only stopped to adjust something or make some minor change. I went merrily on my way for about 40 minutes, staying on BR 230, which was the road we were taking toward Fortaleza. We did not expect to make that stop tonight, as it was nearly 500 miles from our starting point, but we did expect to make it another couple of hundred miles before stopping for dark.
As I approached a turnoff to Patos, I stopped alongside the highway and called my Dear Wife on my Sat Phone, which worked, for once, but only for awhile, and then the call was dropped. I could not reestablish contact, and I waited for the other two to come along. I waited an hour. Some chaps from a Chevvy dealership called me over, and I walked to their side of the road to chat, leaving the bike in plain sight beside the road.
Finally, one of them called to one of the women working there, and she called her friend, a British woman who runs a large English Language School here in Patos, called Inglesa Cultura. She came over in her car, and offered to help. I said I was just going to wait, as I imagined they were trying to locate a bolt for the windshield, and would be along as soon as it was in place.
She said that she and her girlfriend had friends in the Federal Highway Police, and they would call back and see if they had seen Ian and David. The police said they stopped at one of the police control check points about 20 kilometers before Patos and asked directions. The police told them of a short-cut to Fortaleza that was another 20 kilomters behind that point, and that they had turned around and headed in that direction. They described David, his yellow coat and yellow bike, but I said there must be some mistake, as they wouldn´t leave me out front like that without a clue as to what was going on.
I decided to come into Patos and take a room, because it was not too long before dark, and I didn´t want to get caught out on the road in the dark.
The British woman was extremely helpful, and took me the 20 K back to the Police Checkpoint to talk to the police and be sure that they had seen the two, and that they had not proceeded toward Patos on BR230.
She also led me to the language school to use their computer, which I am now on, to try to make contact with D & I. I have yet to hear from them, and it is now 1900. I expect they are still bedding down for the night, and I hope to hear from them before I head back to the hotel for the night. Debra also found a nice hotel for me, and was more than kind. I do appreciate her assistance, because everywhere I turn is Portuguese, and it is mere gibberish to me.
I did manage to find a reasonably good roadmap of this area, and it should get me on the road tomorrow, depending upon the contact (or not) with Ian and David. I may just cut across and head for Teresina, some 400 or more miles away, and cut the corner, not going to Fortaleza at all.
I have few options other than to press on, either alone, or trying to rejoin my benefactors from Canada.
We shall see...

3:11 pm mst          Comments

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Inching Upward

We rode about 300 miles today, but a lot of it was East-West to the coast and back from BR 101, which pretty much stays inland. We took a side trip to Pto Gallinha (Port Rooster) for lunch---no chicken, but some pretty good salmon.
We skirted Recife, which is very large, and proceeded up 101, fighting the traffic, until about 30 clicks south of Joao Pessoa, where we cut back east to the coast road, then turned north for a a resort on the coast just a ways east of Pessoa.
I calculate we still have a bit over 1400 miles to go to Belem, and I guess it at 5 days, due to increasing truck traffic on this main route, which is mostly two lane road. We were on a divided 4 lane today, and came upon a speed bump in the road, which I  found puzzling. Why would they put a speed bump on what is essentially a relatively high speed highway?
To add a little to the bent rim affair, I failed to report that David also suffered a pretty bent rim, but his did not lose air, and there was no crack. My front wheel on Der Klunkenschiffter is a wire wheel with steel rim, and is pretty stout, but it did sustain a slight bend, something I will have to take care of when I get home and give her a going over. But, this is a testimonial to wire wheels as opposed to cast aluminum, which David and Ian have on their 1200s. They look pretty sharp, and are a lot easier to keep clean (David is washing his bike in the dark in the hotel parking lot right now), but they don´t take the punishment the wire ones do.
The day after the rim incident, Ian stopped at a bike shop along the way to purchase a tube to put in the tire in the event that the weld does not hold. I had left home with both a front and a rear inner tube, but the front was in a carry pouch strapped to the front mud guard, and it disappeared somewhere in Peru or Chile, either dropped due to vibration and pounding, or perhaps stolen at a stop of some kind or other.
We had some trouble communicating with the nice people in the bike shop, as no one there spoke Spanish or English, and neither David nor I knew the word for "inner tube" in Spanish anyway. Finally a guy came along who knew a bit of Spanish, but we were having trouble until I went to my bike and came back with the spare tube for my rear tire. Then the only problem was making them understand that we just wished to purchase the tube and not have it installed, but only to carry it for emergency. Then there was a problem, because they wanted to sell us a 17 inch tube, which is the size of the rear, shown on the tube itself. No, we wanted a front tube, which is 19 inches. Finally the Spanish-speaker called his wife on his cell, and her English was good enough to get the thing cleared up, and we left with a 19 inch tube that is much too small in diameter, but may do if that rim starts to leak somewhere up the road.
We might as well be listening to people speak Chinese, because almost everything said is completely unintelligible to us, mainly due to local dialects, I was told by a Greek who owns a sandwich shop where we had dinner last night. Well, dialects make it harder, but we are without any skill in Portuguese, no matter how it is pronounced.

3:46 pm mst          Comments

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Above The Fold
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 Day 114 MACEIO, BRAZIL
I carry a large South America Map along with me. It has the continent divided into north and south, with one on each side of the paper. The entire map is about three by four, and for some time now, we have been back on the north side, but until today, we were below the fold. We are now in Maceio, about 150 miles below Recife, which is located at about the easternmost point on the continent. As one of my readers puts it, we are now only six inches from Belem, and that goal is almost in sight. In miles, it is about 1600 to go, and just around the bend, so to speak.
As to previous events, Sunday in Vitorio was uneventful, other than bathing the bikes. Ian and David are compulsive bike washers, and have shamed me into washing mine from time to time. I follow the Oliver Fischer philosophy, "Why wash it, as it is just going to get dirty again, and they always wash it when you have it serviced." Herr Fischer is the German Bob and I met in Alaska a couple of summers ago, who is on a protracted two year trip through the Americas.
So, I ride on unwashed most of the time, between the two shiny Canadians´ spotless bikes (for a couple of miles before the first rainshower hits).
We departed Vitorio on (re)schedule, right after springing my clean clothes from the laundry-jail where they had spent the weekend. All went well for 250 or so miles, and then, well, we were warned. Our Vitorio hosts had told us that although BR101 is a main artery, there are bad spots, and they defined "bad" as potholes, bad potholes, some "as big as a cow."
We were cruising in a loose three-ship formation, making about 70 per, when we came around a corner to the sight of a car stalled just off the pavement on the right, and a woman placing warning cones in the street behind it. She moved toward the middle of the street just as we bore down on her, and Ian in the lead was forced to swerve to his left, toward the oncoming lane, and thereby causing David and me likewise. Then he hit his pothole, a hole about three feet in diameter and at least 3 inches deep. It looked like a small bomb crater in the middle of a runway, and the thump was audible. David and I, in quick sequence, followed suit, each smacking his own personal pothole a sharp whack as we whizzed through. Der Klunkenschiffter seemed OK, and barely missed a beat, but, as I pulled up behind Ian, who had slowed to about 20, I could see that his front tire was flat, flat, flat.
We pulled to the side of the road on another curve, the only place to get out of traffic, and inspected the situation. His rim was badly bent, and not only that, it was cracked for several inches. We tried my electric pump, but the bead was broken and in addition, air was escaping from the crack.
We took the front wheel off, and just about then, two Federal Policia pulled up and asked it they could be of assistance. Could they! They took David, the tire and wheel about 20 clicks to town and spent a couple of hours driving him from shop to shop until they found a place where the crack could be welded and the bent rim straightened. The mechanic even painted the rim with silver spray paint when he was done! Tire repaired, the returned to where Ian and I sat beside the road, now in the dark and stewing about robbers and the like, watching the three bikes. All was well that ended well. No real damage, no one hurt, and  we were back on the road with only a three hour delay. Thes two policemen were real gentlemen, and went way out of their way to be of assistance to three gringo biker guys.
The next two days progressed with little incident other than today when Ian, leading out of a gas station, went the wrong way, and we lost a half an hour before he came back and asked what we were waiting for. At least this time it wasn´t me that got lost.
6:42 pm mst          Comments

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Busman's Holiday

Saturday, March 3, 2007 Day 111 VITORIA, ESPIRITU SANTO, BRAZIL

The fellow on the Harley who led us to the Suzuki Dealership for rainsuits, etc., turned out to be Salvador Manno, a local businessman. He found us a nice hotel and made reservations, led us there, and then invited us all out in the evening. I declined, as I was beat and needed sleep (and a bit of a blog), but Ian and David went, and had a very nice time.

My phone rang at 0630. It was Ian calling to cut me off from loading my bike for the trip north, as Salvador had invited us for a local ride with a group of his MC friends. He and his wife, riding 2-up behind, arrived at 0930 and off we went to a local service station where the rest of his crew waited. They were five, riding 4 Harleys, a BMW R1100GS, and a Yamaha (or Suzuki) 650. The riders were a doctor, two engineers, a businessman, and a coffee exporter, definitely an upwardly mobile group.

The three of us had no idea where we were going, and very soon no idea where we were. But, no matter, because we had a very nice day riding between mountains (OK, hills) and seashore, with a bit of rain (tested the new rain suit), some sun, curvy roads, good rest stops (yummy fresh cheese and cooked sausage) and lots of them, plus some conversations! Several of the riders spoke passable Spanish, and one gets by pretty well with English. All in all, it was a good day.

Before we left, I seized the opportunity to get some laundry done. I went to the lavenderia across from the hotel and left a big load. The lady said they would be ready after 5. Late in the afternoon, I mentioned to Salvador that I needed to get back before they closed, and I wasn't sure when that was. He took the laundry slip and called. They told him they close at 9. Fine No problemo.

After the ride, we got to the hotel at about 5:30. One of the guys suggested we whip around the corner to their favorite coffee shop. Would I like to pick up my laundry first? No. No problemo, because they close at 9.

We lolly-gagged over coffee for a couple of hours, and had a great time, as nearly every rider in the city congregated, and soon there were bikes parked everywhere, with all kinds of both bikes and riders assembled to swap stories and tell lies. Too bad we couldn't understand most of it due to our non-existent Portuguese and limited interpreters.

We got back to the hotel at about 7:15. Are you with me here, or have you leapt ahead? Yes, the laundry was closed. Closed at 7. Closed for the weekend. Closed until Monday morning. No one, but no one in the area knows where the laundress lives, what her phone is, nada.

I have not ever wondered what Sunday is like in Vitoria, Espiritu Santo, Brazil is like, not having heard of it before a couple of days ago, but now, I am wondering that very thing. Just what is Sunday like in Vitoria? I shall wonder but a short time longer, because I will be spending Sunday in Vitoria, Brazil.

Come Monday, I shall have clean clothes, and we will depart for the north and Belem, a short 3000 miles away. That is not significantly different from a long 3000 miles, however.

So, a very good day turned into merely a good one... 

7:42 pm mst          Comments

Friday, March 2, 2007

Cruising Up The Coast

Friday, March 2, 2007 Day 110 RIO TO VITORIA, BRAZIL
We made it out of Rio in pretty good time this morning, missing most of the traffic, which was inbound to town. We headed up BR 101, and had a nice ride. The rain has still not come hereabouts. A taxi driver yesterday told us that Rio has had over 20 days of sun and high temps, and he thought it was about to end, but today was warm and dry, except for the sweat that bursts forth every time you stop for gas, cokes, or the like.

We rode up alongside a fellow on a big shiny Harley as we entered Vitoria, and he led us to a Suzuki shop where David and I tried on and bought rain suits, as he had lost his somewhere, and my trusty Aerostich has failed, due to the washing it got and a failed application of repellent. I will have to send it in for re-conditioning when I get back. I also bought a cheapie rain suit from a little shop along the way, expecting we would not find better suits up the road---another mistake, but it will come in handy if I have to do work on the bike in wet conditions, saving the better rainsuit for riding. The problem with the impermeable ones is that you sweat under them, and there is condensation inside that makes you wetter than the rain you are trying to avoid.

Riding along on a long trip like this, one has these moments of deja vu. You ride along, and there along the side of the road is a man, woman, dog, horse, boy, girl, cow, or some such creature that you swear you have seen along the identical piece of road before. They all begin to look alike, and you have to blink to realize that it only seems they are identical. It is like a cross between deja vu and "Groundhog Day." It just keeps replaying, over and over, the same scenes again and again.

But, the ride is the thing. You ride along, thinking about all sorts of things, and have to continually bring yourself back to the moment, ordering yourself to pay attention and keep focused on the road. It is like a tunnel you are hurtling through, sometimes green---lined with  trees, and at other times like riding between vertical walls, with the cuts looming alongside. The faster you go, the more you concentrate on what is in the tunnel---what is alongide the roadway is out of your interest, or it should be. At 75 or  80, you have no time for sight-seeing, and have to maintain the focus down the tunnel.

It is hot, it is cold, it is wet, it is dry, it all comes sooner or later, and does become stressful, but you keep telling yourself that the ride is the thing, and that the moment is to be enjoyed, because the day is coming when it will no longer be an option. One has finite days left, and enjoying each one, come whatever may come, is the thing. They will not come again. Roll on the throttle, roll on down the road.

6:27 pm mst          Comments

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Girl From Ipanema
Thursday, March 1, 2007 Day 109 RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL: IPANEMA
Maybe you remember Bossa Nova and Antonio Carlos Jobim. He wrote "The Girl From Ipanema" that was so very popular some years ago, among other beautiful Brazilian music.
We are now at Ipanema, the famous beach, just down from equally famous Copacabana, and that is the original and only Copacabana.
This is a glittering town, and the views from either the Jesus the Redeemer Statue on one hilltop or from Sugarloaf at the other end of town, are spectacular. You may remember the gondola scenes from one of the James Bond Movies, wherein the intrepid Brit swung bravely from the  gondola and other appurtenances, defying death and all that. We had no such experience, but the car did sway ever so slightly when docking at the top. Ooooh! What a thrill that was!
We are still incommunicado with most of the citizens hereabouts, the sellers ands shills along the waterfront not included, as they have multiple languages at their disposal as a mark of their success or failure peddling their wares. Other than them, it is point-point-point, and throw in an obrigado" (thank you) every so often.
They say that if you speak Spanish, you can get by in Portuguese. Let me tell you, that if they are right, we cannot speak Spanish, because we are unable to understand more than a word here and there, and that is enough to be completely without any communication at all. David is quite the chatter, and he is about to have a nervous breakdown, because he cannot chat with anyone, and Ian and I are all chatted out.
David´s experience with his broken motorcycle and the trucker and the ride into Sao Paulo was without bad incidence. The truck driver was the caretaker for a very nice house owned by a famous Sao Paulo chef, and David stayed in that house for the night before they trucked the bike to S P.
It appeared that the new battery he got in Santiago was bad, so warranty got him a new one, but the cost of the trucking ($250) and the aggravation were not charming. This is the second battery he has had go bad on this trip, along with the three almost exactly alike fuel pump problems he and Ian have had on their identical bikes. Not good adverts for BMW, folks. I had considered replacing my 1150 (Der Klunkenschiffter) with one of the new 1200s after this trip, but I am thinking it might be better to just have it gone over, replacing things as necessary, and maybe having the engine overhauled when the miles dictate. Right now it is running very well, and I am happy with the performance. I just turned 87000 miles, and have my fingers XXXed.
"Brazil" is still ringing in my head. How about yours? "Brazil, da da da da da da." Well, I never could carry a tune...
1:53 pm mst          Comments

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For future use

Our New Best Friend, TRES

My Hero, Uncle Pete, two days short of his 90th birthday.

Meet Mort--- Mortem "mors me cum equitat"
The view from 50 feet up the mast
The Old Guy At The Helm Of "OH MISS"
Adventure Bound
The Old Guy, Back Home Unscathed
2005 BMW K1200LT, long gone to bike heaven
"Der Klunkenschiffter" at age 4, 102,000 miles