Wild Dog Adventure Riding

General => Africa Info & other International Travels => Topic started by: wolfandzebra on January 22, 2014, 09:17:41 pm

Title: Wolf and Zebra's adventure: San Francisco to Ushuaia
Post by: wolfandzebra on January 22, 2014, 09:17:41 pm
Howzit Wild Dogs!

We are a South African (Zebra) and a Frenchman (Wolf) who met in California and are now going to ride down to the Southern tip of Argentina.  :ricky:


We both share a great passion for travel and motorcycles, and ever since we met at Thunderhill raceway we've been dreaming of traveling the world on two wheels. This February we're starting with South America on a pair of DR650s. We've been planning for months: working on the bikes, packing up the apartment, figuring out the route and now we are *almost* ready to go.

We'll post updates here every so often, but please feel free to follow our blog or like us on social media too!

blog: http://www.wolfandzebra.com/ (http://www.wolfandzebra.com/)
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wolfandzebra (https://www.facebook.com/wolfandzebra)
instagram: http://instagram.com/wolfandzebra (http://instagram.com/wolfandzebra)
Title: Re: Wolf and Zebra's adventure: San Francisco to Ushuaia
Post by: Halfadog on January 25, 2014, 12:56:16 pm
Looking forward to following your adventure - hope to see you on the road
Title: Re: Wolf and Zebra's adventure: San Francisco to Ushuaia
Post by: wolfandzebra on February 07, 2014, 05:07:41 am
We are almost down to 2 weeks to departure date!   :eek7:

This week has been the first week where we have both been funemployed and able to focus 100% of our time on trip preparation. This has helped reduce the panicky feeling that we might not get it all done. Some of the key decisions we made this week include:

- The locator beacon we will take: ACR PLB (http://"http://www.amazon.com/ACR-PLB-375-ResQLink-Personal-Locating/dp/B006JXY0CQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1390948664&sr=1-1&keywords=plb")  (You can read why we chose this over the delorme or spot here (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/trip-prep/health-and-safety/"))
- The health insurance I will buy for the next 12-18 months on the road - IMG Long Term Medical plan (http://"http://www.imglobal.com/img-insurance/international-health-insurance/global-medical-insurance.aspx") I researched this topic very thoroughly, and this plan offers coverage in the US as well as abroad, has emergency evacuation coverage and does not exclude motorcycle riders as long as the motorcycle is for transportation and you are not riding in any professional capacity. I read all 25 pages of the plan to verify this information. The US has the most expensive healthcare system, so the fact that I will be covered in the US is helpful, even though I don't actually plan on being here for a while. There are some specific eligibility requirements depending on your citizenship but I was able to meet them easily (for me it was to be outside of the US for 6 months out of the next year)
- Chosing a second camera to document the adventure: Sony RX-100 (http://"http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/sony-cybershot-dsc-rx100")  It always surprises me how long it takes to research these things, especially if you want to be thorough about it.

We also have the Wolfmobile and the Zebramobile both running after all our work on the wiring harness to hook up all our extras - cigarette chargers, battery meters, heated grips and euroswitches so we can turn off our headlights if we want to. The last orders have been placed at Amazon for all the items we still need. Now we're just going to have to figure out how we fit it all into our luggage! We'll post pics next week when we attempt some trial packs...   :hello2:
Title: Re: Wolf and Zebra's adventure: San Francisco to Ushuaia
Post by: Camino Cerdo on February 08, 2014, 06:08:50 am
Wishing you a great ride

Have 2 cents of advice on your route, which is most likely all it is worth. From Paraguay go south in Argentina for a ways then cross over into Brazil.  You will find the most beautiful farms and friendly people, (will need to get visa in Paraguay). I also see you missed most of Chile, the coast of Chile is a great ride so you could head west south of BA, cross the mountains on any pass is a great ride. Then south to some point where you can cross back to Argentina and south to "fin del Mundo"

Role on
Title: Re: Wolf and Zebra's adventure: San Francisco to Ushuaia
Post by: wolfandzebra on February 08, 2014, 07:30:39 am
Wishing you a great ride
Have 2 cents of advice on your route, which is most likely all it is worth. From Paraguay go south in Argentina for a ways then cross over into Brazil.  You will find the most beautiful farms and friendly people, (will need to get visa in Paraguay). I also see you missed most of Chile, the coast of Chile is a great ride so you could head west south of BA, cross the mountains on any pass is a great ride. Then south to some point where you can cross back to Argentina and south to "fin del Mundo"

Thanks very much Bob - we still haven't finalised the route far down south yet...the map is... rough... :ricky:  so we will definitely take your tips into consideration. We have to sit down with the GPS this weekend and add some more waypoints.  :sip:
Title: Re: Wolf and Zebra's adventure: San Francisco to Ushuaia
Post by: wolfandzebra on March 04, 2014, 07:20:23 pm
We finally got every last little thing out of the apartment, and all the things coming with us for the next year or so packed on the bikes. The apartment looked very empty, and the bikes looked very loaded up. The Zebra and Wolfmobile have become the Donkey and Mulemobile. After packing, repacking and rearranging, we have convinced ourselves that it's not actually so bad, once you take the tire-pile out of the equation. We'll use up what's left of our stock tires as we pound the California asphalt down to Mexico and once we hit Baja, we'll change tires... and neither of us can wait to lose the extra load.

We spent the first night camping in Big Sur and thanks to the storm that has been following us from San Francisco, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to test the waterproofing of our tent. We have decided that we need to buy a new tent. The wind howled all night long and we did not get much sleep. Determined to salvage the Big Sur leg of the trip, the Wolf convinced me to attempt the dirt road option to get back to highway 1. My limited dirt-riding skills were tested very hard by slippery conditions, and I ran out of talent on a few occasions sending the Zebramobile nose first into the mud. The Wolf would come running to my rescue, but the wind was so strong, it often blew the Wolfmobile over while he was helping me. Fun times!

Our soggy campsite >>

The views on 1 were amazing >>

We eventually made it back to highway 1 after almost 5 hours of mucking about in rain and mud. Coffee and sun revived our spirits in Cayucos (thanks for the recommendation Dana) but they were dashed again by a massive downpour on 101 near Pismo Beach, so we decided to find a hotel and hang everything we own hanging out to dry. Most of the stuff that was wet was from the camping fiasco or had been stored in our non-waterproof backpacks. We were very happy to see our rollbags and saddlebags kept their contents nice and dry. Thanks Michnus and All Terrain Gear (http://"http://www.atgear.co.za/3-atg-multi-activity-bags")

The next two nights were spent visiting friends in SoCal as we approach the border and thankfully the rain has let up and we've even seen some sun here and there. Everywhere we go we have been told how it hasn't rained here for over a year, so I guess we just got lucky  :eek7:. We'll take one more day to plan our Baja route then we'll cross over into Mexico tomorrow  :thumleft:

(a few more pics here (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/on-the-road-at-last/"))
Title: Re: Wolf and Zebra's adventure: San Francisco to Ushuaia
Post by: alli on March 11, 2014, 12:07:20 pm
Great stuff.

love reading epic ride reports.

Keep us posted
Title: Re: Wolf and Zebra's adventure: San Francisco to Ushuaia
Post by: wolfandzebra on March 18, 2014, 09:04:27 pm
The days leading to our departure from the US were mostly soggy so we comforted ourselves with some pancakes in Solvang and motorcycle porn at the Solvang motorcycle museum.

Everyone we encountered marvelled at how it was the first rain in those parts in over 18 months – of course. After a fun sunset jaunt on Mulholland Drive, we reached Rancho Santa Margarita where the Heys family brought some much needed warmth and sun to our lives. Ryan serenaded us over lunch after a trip to REI for a critical tent upgrade, while boots and gloves were drying out in the sun. Afterwards we headed to Carlsbad to see our good friends Rowan, Erin and Petunia and I was finally united with my Rev’It riding gear that had been shipped there. It was at this point that we realised our time had been completely monopolised by wrapping up our lives and setting up the bikes, and we’d done very little planning for the days ahead. We imposed ourselves on our hosts for 2 extra days so we could wrestle our GPS software into submission and figure out where to aim once we crossed the border at Tecate.

The border crossing was smooth and easy, but still took a couple of hours, so we found ourselves riding the La Rumorosa mountain pass after dark. Our destination for the night was Cañon Guadalupe and so that meant navigating the dirt road in the dark, which would not have presented any problems it it wasn’t for the sand. The sand that would become the bane of my existence for the next week or so. It was a long few hours, but the night sky was spectacular, and the Wolf was mostly patient, so we eventually found the entrance to the hot springs and picked a spot to test out our fancy new tent for the first time.
The next morning Oscar, who owns the land, set us up with our own private campsite, palapa and hot tub fed by the natural hot spring. Imagine a personal paradise, nestled amongst rocks and palm trees, with a perfectly flat, tent-sized piece of ground right next to a natural rock pool filled with water heated by the heart of the earth. There is nothing like a day of waterfalls followed by an evening of soaking in a hot tub in the moonlight to recover from a long night of riding sand.

After a full recovery, we faced the sand and dirt once again to get to San Felipe.
As we arrived we spotted a herd of dirt bikes at a beachfront restaurant and decided to stop for a beer. It turned out the dirt bikes belonged to a bunch of guys from Reno who were on a weeklong tour of Baja. They showered us with advice, recommendations and even donated a AAA map of Baja to our cause. Special thanks for the juice recommendation guys, Gabriel’s jugos were amazing! Armed with our new-to-us map we boldly aimed at Bahia San Luis Gonzaga were we planned to spend the next night. (We felt the recommendation from The Reno crew to ride all the way from San Felipe to San Ignazio was poquito loco!) Some time after the pavement had ended and turned into dirt, which just happens to be part of the Baja 1000 route, we spotted some sparkles in the distance. To our great surprise the sparkles turned out to be the multitude of cans decorating the surrounds of the renowned Coco’s Corner. We had apparently missed Gonzaga entirely.
Coco is an amazing old character who spends his days manning his little cantina where he sells beer and sodas to passing drivers and riders and regales them with stories. Over the years, he’s lost both his legs, but this has not stopped him from running his operation accessible only by dirt roads. Coco gruffly greeted us, and told us in no uncertain terms that we should not ride any further, but stay in one of his trailers. No charge he assured us, we just needed to buy a couple of beers or cokes and that would be that. He asked us if we’d like meat or potatoes and the next thing we knew the Wolf and I were making tacos in Coco’s kitchen as he barked directions at us. 3 Alaskan guys, immediately dubbed “Chupa Cabras”, “Nalga Seca” and “Espanto Pajaro” by Coco, joined the party and we spent the evening around the fire while the Wolf shared pilot stories with Nalga Seca.

The next day was once again a late start after waiting for Coco to get back with some extra gas for us, since we missed the Pemex in Gonzaga… Doh! I cruised along the road from Coco’s to Chapala and began to feel cocky about my off roading skills. This would not last long. After a quick taco in Bahia de Los Angeles we embarked on what I will now refer to as the death ride to Bahia San Rafael, which is the same road as the Baja 200 race.
It might not have been so bad, but since we had to wait on gas in the morning, we once again found ourselves riding by moonlight. Then the gravel began. And the rock gardens. And, of course, more sand. For many miles, there was a 15cm wide path of packed dirt lined with a foot of gravel on either side threatening to swallow the Zebramobile’s front tire at every opportunity and throw him down to the ground. We battled along for 6 hours to cover the 50 miles. Yup, that is embarrassingly less than 10 miles per hour, and probably some kind of record for that stretch of road. The Wolf could have killed that road in 2 hours flat, but he patiently picked up my bike for me the countless times I crashed and coached me through all the obstacles. We finally arrived and Pancho’s beach and threw up our tent. I was beyond grateful we had bought the tent that was easy to erect.

The next day once again called for a recovery day.
Pancho welcomed us with coffee, and proceeded to tell us he would make us some lunch. In his youth Pancho apparently had a penchant for gambling but when his good fortune ended he found himself cooking on fishing boats for a living. 24 years ago he planted himself down on this small slice of paradise, now known as Pancho’s beach and frequented by about 1000 tourists annually. Lunch preparation turned in to a private cooking lesson on how to make flour tortillas, and the cooking lesson turned into a Spanish lesson. Needless to say, the tortillas were amazing and the fish stew was the best thing we’ve eaten on the trip so far. We capped off the day with a nap in Pancho’s palapa on the beach. It was a good thing the day was so perfectly relaxing, because the road to get to Vizcaíno would once again test my resolve and every ounce of skill I do and do not have. 100 miles of sand, punctuated with treacherous rocky mounting passes and steep cliff drop offs, and 14 hours later, I had only crashed twice (Progress!) but I had cried a few fearful tears, a few despondent tears and a few tears of exhaustion. Morale was very low. On our arrival in Vizcaíno we booked ourselves into a nice hotel, showered, fed ourselves and passed out after agreeing to stick to pavement for a little while. Morale had improved a bit by morning.

We set off for Mulege at around 10am and had a very relaxed ride, albeit on sore backsides; one doesn’t recover from 14 hours in the saddle overnight. A lemonade in San Ignacio and an ice-cream in Santa Rosalia later, we found ourselves in the charming town of Mulege, where we are now finally updating the blog and doing some bike maintenance in the courtyard of Hotel Hacienda, shaded by a giant lemon tree and the most impressive magenta bougainvillaea I have ever seen.

More pictures online here (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/not-quite-the-baja-1000-but-close/")
Title: From sand to sea in Baja
Post by: wolfandzebra on March 30, 2014, 03:06:33 am
A Thai jungle in the middle of the Baja desert
We stayed an extra day in Mulege to enjoy the breathtaking views the oasis town has to offer. The Mission Santa Rosalía de Mulegé was founded in 1702 and is flanked by giant cacti, but a few steps away is a view point with vistas resembling luscious South East Asia rather than the dry arid Baja we had come to expect

The Zebra is introduced to a baby whale
Next it was off to A. Lopez Mateo to do some whale watching. The Grey Whales come to the west coast of Baja every year to calve their little ones and raise them in the protected lagoons until they are strong enough to face the open oceans. While the Wolf and I were at first reluctant to bother mothering whales, the government supervision, eco friendly motors and apparent desire of the calves to interact with our small boat put us at ease, so off we went with a few other couples to see if we could find some ballenas. We were successful and spent an enchanting hour with a mother whale and her playfully curious three month old baby.

A windy ride to the windy town
We faced a long, straight and very gusty ride down to La Ventana, a known kitesurfing mecca on the Sea of Cortez. A dust storm kept our bikes at lean even on the straights of Mex 1. We reached Baja Joe's 5 hours later where kiters were also struggling with the 40kn gusts. It was no wonder we almost blew off the road! A few tequilas later, we had the pleasant surprise to see our Alaskan buddies from Coco's corner pop in. It was a lovely and long night at Playa Central exchanging tales from the trails and promises of future adventures together....maybe in Alaska?

1st World kite foil race
Another good surprise was us catching the final rounds of the first Kite Foil Gold Cup racing (http://"http://www.surfertoday.com/kiteboarding/10076-maxime-nocher-dominates-the-la-ventana-kite-foil-gold-cup-2014"). Some familiar faces from San Francisco, John and Jon, were rubbing elbows with some young and wicked fast young French racers. In the end Maxime Nocher won an impressive first place well ahead of John Heineken.
We spent a large part of Monday relaxing on the beach and marvelling at how damn fast those guys are on the foils (although, hilariously, there is no graceful was to dismount the things) The Wolf even managed to squeeze in a kite session of his own before the wind died down for the evening.

Mechanical hickups
Our third and least favorite surprise was to discover that the Zebramobile's FMF exhaust was falling apart. Specifically the rivets holding the exhaust tip to the exhaust body had started to elongate their holes. It should have been an easy fix unfortunately the intermediate flange is made of a rather soft alloy making it hard to fit the parts tightly.
FMF tech support informed us that we were out of luck and suggested we bought their new model, which is allegedly stronger.
Needless to say we won't.

A long ferry ride to Mazatlan
It's on a massive ship from Baja Ferries (http://"http://www.bajaferries.com/") that we turned the page of this Baja chapter. We left the Zebra and Wolf mobiles huddled between semi-trucks and loaded cars, strapped to the boat railing to do our own huddling with 50 other passengers. Despite the reclining seats, it was a long night punctuated by the screams of toddlers and the special audio effects of American blockbusters dubbed in Español. Cross-eyed and fuzzy, we woke up in Mazatlan not quite ready to tackle mainland Mexico. But we boldly proceeded forward nonetheless.

We tried to insert smaller images here per request. More pictures can be found here (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/from-sand-to-sea-in-baja/")
Title: A shot of Tequila and a drop of spring water
Post by: wolfandzebra on April 25, 2014, 05:16:48 pm
11 States and counting
Mainland Mexico has been keeping us very busy so we're behind on the blog but we have now managed to set foot in Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, Guanajuato, Queretaro, Hidalgo, Mexico, Puebla and Oaxaca. Yesterday we arrived in the town of Oaxaca just in time for the Viernes Santo (or Good Friday) parade. Easter is a big deal around here, but not in the way we are used to. There are no bunnies or eggs but rather countless representations of Jesus in various states of demise or resurrection. Mary is everywhere too, in her signature colours for these parts: purple and white. It's all very serious and rather fascinating. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, we last left you in Mazatlan, so let's pick up from there.

Kayaks and cobblestones
After landing in Mazatlan we made a bee line across Sinaloa state to get to the seaside town of San Blas. The scenery changed dramatically as we approached the coast becoming a lush jungle which was a very welcome change from the hot dry ride through Sinaloa. We treated ourselves to a nice hotel on the beach after the sleepless ferry night. The next day we exchanged our bikes for a pair of kayaks and went to explore the local mangrove forests. The Wolf found himself already missing the Baja sands, so we took advantage of low season and almost no other tourists, to play in the sand dunes and catch the sunset. Our next stop was Tequila and the Wolf, in his constant quest to get us lost, decided we should take a road that was not on the GPS. It did look paved and sort of legit, so I didn't fight him too hard. The road ended up being under construction and blocked off. Of course, instead of turning around, the Wolf spotted a dirt road down the hill, so off we went to see if that would lead us nearer to the town of the famed Agave alcohol. The dirt path eventually turned into a delightful cobblestone road, that I was unable to fully appreciate as I was still nursing lingering fears of finding myself on a road beyond my skill level... again. We made it safely to Tequila, albeit after dark, and found ourselves a dodgy hotel for the night. Lesson we learned: if they show you pictures of the room instead of taking you to see it, that's a bad sign.
Where the Wolf fell in love with cobblestone streets

Jose Cuervo and more cobblestones
Tequila is a town that seems to be completely dominated by Jose Cuervo. There are other brands represented, but most of the center is taken up by a gigantic compound dedicated to the the Cuervo crow and the tequila they make. We took a tour of the factory, ate some of the agave miel and tasted various kinds of the wicked brew at different stages of production. Some of them almost blew our heads off, and some were gently sippable. On our way out of town, the Wolf spotted another cobblestone road. He had formed a deep affinity for cobblestones the previous day, so we once again followed the road. This time it was lined with the oak trees that produce the barrels the and led us a few kilometers up the Tequila volcano before we decided it was going to be a dead end and turned around to get back on track. We couldn't leave the Wolf- and Zebramobile out of all the tequila fun so we took them into a field of agave plants to pose for some photos.
The Wolf & Zebramobile keeping their distance from Blue Aguave

The first traffic jam since California
As we approached Guadalajara on a Thursday afternoon, the dense traffic and busy city grid made it clear that we were dealing with our first real city since Los Angeles. Following our temperamental GPS, we reached the hotel we had found online to discover an interesting trick, historical facades and Spanish courtyards hiding a maze of stairs, hallways and tiny windowless rooms. Trying to follow the Wolf on the hunt for a new place to stay, I found myself blocked on the Cathedral's plaza by a threatening flight of stairs. A perfect excuse to stop, wait and admire the Cathedral while the Wolf jumped curbs and split lanes towards our next hotel. We landed a block from the YMCA and were greeted by a 1972 Ironhead Harley and a BMW GS belonging to two American brothers retired here. With the help of their suggestions we discovered the very posh Providencia district and the hype pubs of Terranova Ave. We enjoyed chill brunches under the Jacarandas of old Colonial homes around Libertad and bounced at Chacal, a cool new club that put many San Francisco acts to shame.
Chacal, our first good tunes in a long, long while

A Spanish cubist dream
Our next stop was Guanajuato, a city whose world renown had not reached our ears. Unable to find a decent dusty path through the plain, The Wolf reluctantly agreed to wear our knobbies down on the "Cuota", the express tollway. We swallowed 300 kms in a few hours to discover a city of imbricated cubes of color precariously hanging from the steep slopes of convergent canyons. To add to our amazement, Guanajuato is served by two layers of streets, one underground originally conceived as a way to channel waters from the surrounding mountains. The other overground neatly weaving stairs and inclines to adapt to the demanding relief. The silver rich earth kept Spain's attention until the 18th century, they left an indelible mark on the city, the brighter aspect of which can be admired in the University, theater and palaces. We spent hours marvelling at the man facets of Guanajuato, from its many plazas shaded by topiary trees to the ever changing colors of its buildings around sunset.

A week of rest
Only 60 kms away lay another gorgeous colonial town, San Miguel de Allende, home to the largest colonies of retired Americans that we have seen so far. We took advantage of the hospitality of a local friend, Linda, and thoroughly enjoyed her company for a full week. My inner artist led us to join an art walk of "La Fabrica la Aurora", a rather impressive Art & Design center, kindly referred to an adult summer camp by our host. Our stay allowed us to finally change our bikes' oil that overheated in Baja and rid the Wolfmobile's fuel filter of unknown debris that had choked his performance since San Francisco. We then turned our attention to route planning, devised new ways to coerce OSM, Garmin and Google maps to collaborate and mapped our way to the Guatemalan border. Itching for more dirt, The Wolf took some time to scout out the local dirt tracks, collecting a variety of cactus thorns in the process. Once he'd gotten all the crazy riding out of his system, he took me to one of the river beds he'd found for some long overdue Zebra training. We practiced balance, clutch control and manoeuvring the bike through rocks. All these drills should make it easier to follow the Wolf when the wilderness calls.
Majestic San Miguel de Allende

The first split
Wilderness was already knocking on the door, as the Wolf found some trails and back roads to the Tolantongo hotsprings, our last stop before Mexico City. To the wolf's despair, the first day's back roads were all paved. He was close to calling a cliff a trail when we saw a 2 km detour on the dirt. Things started out easy enough but the small gravel soon turned into large, loose rocks, that once again had me down on the ground. My frustration gave way to awe once we discovered that our campsite for the night would be the front porch of a unoccupied villa at the mouth of a canyon. The view made our cactus-thorns-on-rubber breakfast the next morning slightly less indigestible and wielding tire irons is a good warm-up for a day of adventure.

This was the occasion to finally put on the new Heidenau tire we'd carried since San Francisco. Then we started riding. My crash from the previous day left me without enough confidence to tackle 60 kms of unknown roads. For the first time I left the Wolf to enjoy the mountain trails while I found my way to Tolantongo on pavement.
He was able to try all the crazy things his Wolfy heart desired, which included a crazy stair climb at the end (I have video to post later) He's totally badass. This gave me time to set up camp next to the azure waters of the Tolantongo river, in a nice isolated spot. This was without counting on "Semana Santa" that drove an uninterrupted flow of tourists to our camp throughout the night. We woke up surrounded by screaming kids and tents secured to the Wolfmobile tires. While it felt very disruptive, this chaos turned out to be excellent preparation for our next stop: Mexico City.

We woke up surrounded. The Wolfmobile was lucky not to get a tent peg in his front tire

More pictures here (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/a-shot-of-tequila-and-a-drop-of-spring-water/")
Title: Re: Wolf and Zebra's adventure: San Francisco to Ushuaia
Post by: westfrogger on April 25, 2014, 05:37:24 pm
Title: Re: Wolf and Zebra's adventure: San Francisco to Ushuaia
Post by: ZA on April 25, 2014, 05:46:58 pm
Great adventure and great bikes! Safe travels  :ricky:
Title: Mexico D.F.ctuoso
Post by: wolfandzebra on May 09, 2014, 09:48:33 pm
A city of 8.8 million people
After meeting a few hundred mexican tourists in the small campground at Tolantongo we decided things might be more peaceful in Mexico City. We broke down the camp and left the hotsprings as early as we could. The Wolf's reconnaissance of the area's trails paid off and he assessed that I ought to manage the dirts trails out of the canyon. It was a fun ride, perfectly suited to test my newly acquired skills, and I was rewarded with breathtaking views of mountains, switchbacks and the bright turquoise waters far below. Once we were out of the mountains we once again hit the tollway toward our next stop, Mexico D.F. I was feeling intimidated by tackling the world renowned traffic of the country's capital and bribed the Wolf to ride a little slower than usual to make sure I did not get lost in the melee. The time spent wrestling the GPS into submission at Linda's house paid off and it obediently led us to a charming love hotel aptly named: "MaxIntimo"

A city full of wonders
Just a sample of the dramatic architecture around Mexico City
Mexico D.F. or just "D.F." as it's known locally, is spectacular in the grandeur of it's dramatic and opulent historical buildings and also in the dilapidation and deterioration of others. A city so steeped in history has more to see than can be managed in a week, so we had to be very selective. We spent a full day meandering around the Bosque de Chapultepec with it's museums, castles and monuments and even managed to find the hidden auditorium garden. It's a shady cove with a some benches where you can come sit peacefully while listening to classical music pouring from the speakers hidden amongst the trees.

A city under police supervision
The police in D.F. have an atrocious reputation, which we quickly learned is well deserved. On a quest to find the one ferreteria in town selling German crafted Knipex pliers, we got intercepted by Municipal cops in a flashy Dodge Charger. A series of interactional missteps stood in the way of a liberating bribe. Instead, the poor Zebramobile was ridden to the impound by a smirky cop, Zebra hanging to the back seat for fear our steed would disappear on its way. There, a bogus charge taught us how creative cops can be. With the help of US$130 and the assistance of an unforgettably kind taxi driver, the Zebramobile was back on the streets determined to stay clear of any red/blue lights. A visit to the Frida Kahlo museum, a lovely brunch at Maque Pasticeria in Condesa, a few 25 Pesos tostadas at Coyoacan market and 500 pesos sushi on the desperately chic deck of the Condesa DF hotel, sufficed to rekindle us with D.F.

Semana Santa in Oaxaca
Viernes Santa (Good Friday) parade in Oaxaca.
With a blessing of the Angel of the Independence and our lungs full of smog, we escaped the city's traffic on our way to Oaxaca. We stopped for a night in Tehuacan to catch up with the Amazing Spiderman, in English, and felt the tremor of a distant Nicaraguan earthquake.
For our arrival on Viernes Santo, at the end of la Semana Santa, bleeding christs and Klansmen hoods animated the streets of the otherwise peaceful Oaxaca. A Wolf on a horse was the other unusual event that happened that week! At Rancho Pitaya (http://"http://www.horsebackmexico.com/") we traded our DRs for champion endurance horses and trotted the hills around Mitla marvelling at the Nueve Puntas mountain in the horizon. An excellent warmup for the next leg of our trip.

More pictures here. (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/mexico-d-f-ctuoso/")
Title: On the Zapatista Trail
Post by: wolfandzebra on June 02, 2014, 06:18:41 pm
Escaping the asphalt
We left you guys as we were exploring the region east of Oaxaca with Centurion and Spirit, our two endurance champion horses. Our plan for the next couple of days called for a 150km detour through the indigenous Mixe mountains of the Sierra Juarez. Our prospective route included several gaps neither Google maps nor our GPS was able to fill. To soothe the Zebra nerves, tense at the thought of pulling our DRs out of unexpected cliffs, we stopped by Hierve el Agua to take a dip in its mineral pools with breathtaking views.
There we were lucky enough to meet Azael, a native from Quetzaltepec, one of the main Mixe villages, who was not only able to confirm the existence of decent trails but also recommend us to his cousin Gaspar, owner of the only hotel in town. His directions would be something we were going to hear a lot: "ask for Gaspar to anyone in town, they'll be able to point you to his house!"
We then begun a long climb. Our GPS elevation plot showed a steep curve, 1000m, 2000m, and we found ourselves in the clouds, with the kind of visibility a Londoner would not laugh about. It was an odd thing to find ourselves sweating in the sun then shivering in the clouds within a short hour.  Soon the pavement ended and we begun traversing tiny villages hanging on the mountainside where villagers would stare at us in disbelief, unsure of what was most incredible, our fierce DRs or the Zebra ponytail flailing in the wind. We eventually reached Quetzaltepec and were indeed pointed to Gaspar's house without hesitation. We never saw Gaspar but the hotel was real: it's called Hotel Dos Mille and for 100 pesos we were able to drop our bags in a spartan, but clean, room.
Entering the cloud

Playing Postman Pat
At sunset we took a stroll through town to hunt for some food. Instead we bumped into Hector, a very friendly minibus driver we had passed earlier. Despite our limited Spanish, we explained we were heading East through the mountains. Hector immediately informed us we would be driving through his parents's town, he then entrusted us with a letter for his dad and invited us to share dinner at his house with his lovely wife and family. We had a wonderful evening.
Some 150kms of mountain roads were on the menu for the next day. The views were sublime, and the Wolf was in his element as we wound our way up and down the mountainsides from town to town. In the afternoon we arrived unannounced at Fausto Perez's door. We were given a warn welcome, delicious tamales and a cup of coffee. As the day drew to a close we melted our way into Ixtepec, exhausted and thirsty. It was a far cry from the peaceful mountain towns in every way, and sticker shock drove us to opt for a room with a fan instead of coughing up for an air-conditioning. We would not repeat that mistake.
A very happy mountain Wolf

Crocs in murky waters
From Ixtepec we hit the asphalt towards Tuxtla Gutiérrez, some 275km away,  with the hope of camping at Cañon de Sumidero. Hundreds of windmills did not manage to make the coastal segment of Hwy 200 exciting. The turnoff to the mountains of Chiapas provided a much needed relief. Cooling off with an ice-cream, we met a friendly security guard who informed us that no camping was allowed at the Cañon. We promptly found an hotel with air con in the city.
In the morning, between two bites of Barbacoa, we met Jolman. A character with fantastic stories from the other side of the border. He suggested we explore the Canon by boat from Chiapa de Corzo. We spent the rest of the day marvelling at the 1000m high cliffs, the trees decorated with monkeys and at the impressive crocodiles that guard the waters,  sadly powerless against the tons of garbage floating around them.
Did you know there were mexican crocodiles? We didn't.
A short 70kms and a steep 2000m climb later, we entered San Cristobal de Las Casas, where a free night convinced us to stay at Gringo Trail favourite; Rossco Backpackers. A gaggle of loud Danish girls aside, we had a lovely time there and took full advantage of the garden to plan the Chiapas - Guatemala leg of our trip. We even indulged in the excellent Shiatsu massages of Kentaro, a reformed Tokyoite in search of Latin tranquility.

Piping hot pyramids
Trying not to melt in the heat at the Palenque ruins
So much comfort soon threw the Wolf into severe dirt withdrawal. Oblivious to accounts of recent Zapatista road blocks, we once again aimed towards the mountains to look for some more roads that google maps has not yet discovered. We rode through Tenejapa, San Juan Cancuc and Guaquitepec to land on Hwy 199 just North of Ocosingo. The further we descended toward Palenque the higher the temperature rose and by the time we arrived we were very close to evaporating.
After a night spent cooling down in air con, we set foot for the majestic Mayan pyramids of Palenque, home, or shall I say tomb of the famous Pakal. A bit of negotiation even got us a guide for $16 instead of the initially quoted $80. The site is striking and it was provocative to hear our guide opine about why the mayan civilisation degenerated all those years ago.

Closing the Mexican chapter
After much map analysis, we had elected to cross into Guatemala at the tiny "El Ceibo" border. We theorized that our chances of surviving the administrative process required to check our bikes out of Mexico and into Guatemala would be improved if we showed up at the crack of dawn. Part of the plan called for spending our last night in beautiful Tenosique in the scalding state of Tobasco, Despite its location on the banks of the river Usumacinta, we must confess the city failed to impress us. Noticing locals fishing at the mouth of sewage pipes undoubtedly did not help. After a delicious vegetarian meal, we got our paperwork in order and found once again refugee in a blissfully cold air con room.
The green fields enlacing each curve of the road to the boarder made us feel optimistic, rightfully so as we discover El Ceibo as the custom offices were opening. The whole process went remarkably smoothly with the officials on both sides getting out of their way to help. A short hour later our wheels were treading the Guatemalan soil.

More photos here (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/on-the-zapatista-trail/")
Title: Guatever
Post by: wolfandzebra on July 05, 2014, 01:05:02 am
Thundershowers in Tikal
Our first destination in Guatemala was the famed site of the Tikal ruins, where some of the highest mayan temples can be found poking their heads up above forests alive with the sounds of howler monkeys and birdsong. After a refreshing dive in the crystal clear waters of Lago Peten-itza, we reached the park entrance and found a closed gate. An enthusiastic guide informed us that if we entered after 3:30pm, our ticket would be valid until the next day. Flashing his official guide card and receipt book, he convinced us to book a sunrise tour at 4:30am the following day.
Majestic Tikal!

We woke up at 4:15am to find the heavens had opened the sluice gates. The beam of our flashlights revealed the absence of our guide and we happily returned to bed, determined to sort out matters later. And we tried hard. At 8am we were dragged into the maze of guide politics and learned that only Union registered guides worked inside Tikal. Other guides, although duly registered with the Guide Authority were barred from recruiting tourists inside the park. We nevertheless squeezed out of the Union leader the name of the town our guide lived in. After a self guided trip around the ruins, and attempting the road to Uaxactun - which was too muddy for Zebras - we decided to ride the North shore of Lago Peten-itza and pay a visit to our guide, whose village was conveniently located on our way. Everyone knows everyone in those small villages and we soon found ourselves knocking at his door. Surprise does not adequately describe the look on his face when he saw us. He promptly regained composure and served us a rather credible story justifying his absence that morning. He was reluctant to give us a full refund at first, but the Wolf can be convincing, and soon we were on our way, with our deposit and an apology for the experience.

The Zebra's rocky breakthrough
The Hostal Las Marias in Semuc-Champey. Next time we might give a shot at Las Portal down the road

Next up, the strikingly turquoise waters of Semuc Champey. Our GPS confidently pointed us to a fairly direct route, which much to the Wolf's delight, included about 40kms of rocky dirt roads, winding through the mountains. The views of green valleys, nestling between endless rolling mountains, were breathtaking. It was also a break through moment for the Zebra, who, after some goading from the Wolf about being passed by local guys on a crappy bikes with no helmets, decided to just gas it through the rocks, with good success. Since then she has been much happier riding more advanced terrain. Semuc Champey provided us with a chance to hike up to miradors and soak in the pools afterwards - a very nice relief from the heat we had been experiencing for weeks.

Wolf and Zebra in the mist
Relaxing at Georgina Fuentes, a few kms South of Chichicastenango.

We left Semuc Champey in the rain and continued to traverse Guatemala along dirt roads, navigating mudslides and fully experiencing the 'wet season' in Central America. We rode through Uspantan and Cunen leaving the indigenous villages of Chajul and Nebal behind us to reach Chichicastenango and its famed Sunday market. Our route then took us South-east towards Quetzaltenango to check out the nearby hot springs called Fuentes Georgina. They are so named because President Jorge Ubico frequently visited Quetzaltenango, during his government, only to bathe in these thermo waters. He made caravans with his wife Georgina, protected by his police. The hot springs are shrouded by mist and create a very ethereal atmosphere to rest and restore weary muscles. After our soothing bath we were ready to ride the 200 odd kilometers to Antigua to start our 2 weeks of Spanish school.

A Spanish Immersion
With our host family in Antigua. Thanks so much for the wonderful experience

We had attempted to evaluate the many, many Spanish language schools in Antigua online, but in the end we made our decision to study at Antigueña (http://"http://www.spanishacademyantiguena.com/") by walking into the schools, meeting the people and evaluating things in person. Within an hour of signing up with Julio, we were introduced to the family that would host us for our home stay and had moved into our new home. How wonderful it was to unpack things for more than 24 hours! The following two weeks allowed us to greatly improve our Spanish, fix the Zebramobile's subframe that fell victim to the 500,000 or so topes (speedbumps) conquered since Mexico and reinforce the Wolfmobile against a similar fate! We also managed to catch up on a few movies and blogposts at the Bagel Barn's (http://"http://thebagelbarn.com/"). Isabelle, the owner, plays free nightly movies including some interesting documentaries on Guatemala's history, highly recommended! On our first weekend, we climbed Pacaya, one of the 3 volcanoes surrounding the town, and discovered steaming 4 month old lava in a lunar landscape. After two weeks of a very early schedule - up at 6:30am every day - we decided to take a weekend off and take a little spin around Lake Atitlan. We left most of our luggage with our family, grabbed a single backpack and set off, two-up, on the Zebramobile. You can read about our Atitlan Antics in this post (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/venturing-on-atitlan-south-shore-with-motopasaran")

More photos here (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/?p=2981")
Title: Deeper into Central America
Post by: wolfandzebra on July 18, 2014, 02:27:29 am
Salvatruchas for a week
It was with a bit of sadness that we left Antigua and our host family. To cheer us up Zebra's friend from University, Rodrigo, was waiting for us in El Salvador. After the usual 3 infernal hours of immigration-custom-copy shop loop, we entered El Salvador at Las Chinamas and begun climbing towards "La Ruta de las Flores". The road winds through the numerous coffee plantations of the region. Once a year, usually in May, the coffee plants blossom into millions of white flowers, giving this road its name. As luck would have it, the bloom was late but rain was on time. Wet to the bone, we cut our sightseeing short (there were no flowers to see anyway) and rushed towards the Capital and dry towels.
A view of El Salvador from the restaurant La Pampa"

Rodrigo and his lovely wife met us at the Cumbres del Volcan (http://"http://www.cumbresdelvolcan.com/") Hostal, our refuge for the next few days, and took us for a fancy dinner at La Pampa. The restaurant is perched on the side of the San Salvador Volcano, offering breathtaking views of San Salvador. On the menu for us the next day, our friend had planned some relaxation at the "Circulo Deportivo Internacional", a very shi shi member-only club located in the heart of the Capital, boasting tennis courts, squash courts, an Olympic pool, a gym and a couple of restaurants. Needless to say we found it very difficult to end an afternoon of such luxury after almost 3 months on the road. In a vain attempt to top that experience and enjoy a rare sunny day, we rode down to the coast to check "El Sunzal" a known surf spot. Paddling started to feel like a lot of work, so we settled for a swim and cocktails at the "Hotel Kayu (http://"http://www.kayuresort.com/")" instead. Eager to explore the mountains behind the coast, we returned along a narrow road climbing to "Chiltiupan" and to our delight the road, still under construction, traces the mountain ridge offering a fun ride and sweeping views on both sides of nearby valleys and the ocean. A turn to "Comasagua" lead us back to San Salvador and to "Paseo El Carmen", the popular bar district West of the city, for a few locally brewed cervezas with Rodrigo. Thoroughly rested, and finally dry, we got back on the road to explore the Northern part of the country heading toward Perquin.

Lago Suchitlan
The road North toward Lake Suchitlan allowed us to fulfil our never-ending quest to always stay the hell away from the PanAmerican highway. Our plan was to spend the night as close to the Honduras border as possible. With any luck, we could drag ourselves (mostly me) out of bed early and cross 2 borders in one day, minimise our time in Honduras and get to Nicaragua. But more of that later. Perquin, a small mountain village with a gloomy history, met our requirements. Despite Google Maps' protests, we followed the Hwy CA3 in an attempt to cut through rivers and bushes to get us to Perquin. A bit to my disappointment (and the Zebra's relief), instead of bushes, we found a recently paved highway offering beautiful views onto the lake Suchitlan. After a long days ride, a friendly military checkpoint and a few more downpours, we dragged our soggy selves into Perquin. The night proved too short to dry our clothes, and in waterlogged boots, we prepared for our border crossing Marathon. It started at at El Amatillo around 8am and by 11am we were in Honduras and speeding along CA1 towards the El Espino border. Finally at 3pm we entered Nicaragua eager to find a spot to relax.

Somoto Canyon
Such a campsite was surely worth getting wet for

As it turned out our friends at Moto Pasaran (http://"http://motopasaran.com/") had recommended the Somoto Canyon (http://"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somoto_Canyon_National_Monument"), a recent world heritage site thanks to its random discovery in 2004. Following our (ocassionally) trusted GPS through a rock garden and a difficult river crossing (read, I went down twice), we reached a small beach at the mouth of the canyon. There we met Eddie Jimenez. His family has owned part of the canyon for generations and he and his son now run small tours and tubing expeditions there. He gave us his thumbs up to camp on the beach, so we proceeded to spend the next couple of days thoroughly enjoying ourselves exploring canyons and lazying by the riverside.

More pictures here (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/deeper-in-central-america/")
Title: Melting from Nicaragua to Costa Rica
Post by: wolfandzebra on July 26, 2014, 10:37:37 pm
Somoto Canyon, Nicaragua to Lake Arenal, Costa Rica
June 1 to June 25, 2014

Kings of Leon
After a very pleasant introduction to Nicaragua, our GPS once again led us unknowingly to the dirty route down to Leon via El Sauce. The views were vast and beautiful and the stones manageable (my skills are continually improving) but since we were not expecting to find ourselves off the beaten path we were low on gas. I began to nag the Wolf to stop and ask someone to sell us some, but in his ever-confident and unflappable manner he said he thought we would be fine, and of course, as always, we were as we bumped into a gasolinera about 5 miles before the Wolfmobile choked. With a sigh of relief and the last fractions of daylight we rolled into Leon and checked in at the Lazybones hostel. It lived up to it's name as we found ourselves to be remarkably lethargic while there. The fact that the hostel had a swimming pool, combined with Leon being a special kind of sticky and hot, meant we never left hostel for more than an hour or two at a time, and the majority of our exploring was done after dark. In our nocturnal wanderings we bumped into a remarkable French restaurant named "Le Turon" managed by Yann and his associate, two French castaways. The food was the best we had in a long time bringing a touch of luxury to our rough travels.
The brilliant landscape from Somoto to El Sauce

A tale of two volcanoes
Once we had come to the conclusion that we were incapable of being effective in the heat of Leon, we loaded up the bikes and headed for the heat of Ometepe island instead, bypassing Managua and Granda in the process. We didn't know that the island heat would come with a generous topping of miggies (South African for midges) When we arrived at the ferry dock, I thought it was raining at first, until I opened my visor a crack and found my nose, mouth and eyes full of the foul little flies. They were blowing past in veritable clouds, and despite my optimistic hopes, they were all over the island as well. We eventually got used to the plague and even managed to relax in Playa Santo Domingo for a day with our books before taking a tour on the dodgy dirt road around the volcan Maderas. After we had our fill of volcano views (we never mustered the motivation to actually climb one, which would have taken at least 8 hours!) we headed back to the dock to ferry ourselves back to the mainland and the road to San Juan del Sur. The schedules were confusing and prices seemed to change based on who you asked, so we eventually found ourselves to be the sole tourists on a ferry that had been chartered by the church. It was more of a chicken-ferry than anything else and the Wolf and I looked at each other incredulously as chickens, pigs and parrots boarded with thousands of people and soon all parts of the Zebra and Wolfmobiles were footrests, bag holders and everything short of chairs.
The twin volcanoes of Concepción and Maderas that make up Ometepe Island

A plush pause
In San Juan del Sur we were determined to find a cheap beach spot to stay, but we also wanted it to be nice. As a result we entered our usual loop of try to make the other one decide and looked at about 8 places to stay before saying: "screw it" and checking in to the slightly pricey (although they gave us a deal!) and super plush Hotel Liri (http://"http://www.hclirihotel.com/"). Managed by a family from Barcelona, it's on the beach, with a swimming pool, and most importantly after our past few stays, air-conditioning. I used to be one of those people that was mildly opposed to air-conditioning, arguing that it was better to just adjust to the temperature. That was before I traveled Central America by motorcycle. We enjoyed a few days of carefree swimming in the ocean and exploring the coastline - at least the parts that were not closed due to the latest episode of Survivor being filmed in the area.
The crescent bay of San Juan del Sur

Cruising into Costa Rica
When the time arrived to finally cross into Costa Rica we took the coastal road, that is supposed to turn up and head to the border at Penas Blancas. The road does indeed do what we expected, but what Google or our GPS didn't tell us is that a military camp is in the spot where the road turns. It might not have been a problem if an exercise was not taking place that same day so we were firmly but kindly turned around by two Nicaraguan army guys and forced to take the normal road to the border. The poor Wolf was shattered. After the usual border crossing saga, we bombed down to Bahia Salinas - another spectacular crescent bay. You can read more about what happened next in this post (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/mud-bath-bent-sprocket/"). After our bundu bashing (http://"http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bundu%20bash") in the hills of Costa Rica we stopped in to see Debbie and Andy (http://"http://intentionallyoffpath.com") in Playa Flamingo for a much needed visit with friends, some time to catch up with the inter webs and an opportunity to wash everything after many weeks of sweating in Central America. We were sad to say goodbye, but after a week we needed to get back on the road and we were eager to finally see Lake Arenal.

The Lake Arenal Hotel and Microbrewery

Tony Parsons, a friend kite instructor from the Bay Area, had sent us in the direction of the Lake Arenal Hotel and Microbrewery (http://"https://www.facebook.com/LakeArenalHotel/") which will only be there for another month before moving to a new location in Tamarindo - so go visit soon! J-P welcomed us and gave us shelter from the rain, and we have to say, that this was the best value hotel we have stayed at so far - the views of the lake are postcard-perfect.

More pictures here (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/?p=3103")
Title: The Panama Express
Post by: wolfandzebra on August 17, 2014, 02:19:52 am
Lake Arenal, Costa Rica to Cartagena, Colombia
June 12 to June 21, 2014

Mind the Gap
Most people never hear about the Darien gap until they try to drive from Panama to Colombia, which granted not many people do. They then learn of this 100 or so kilometers of unruly jungle haunted by Guerillas, Narco traffickers and other scary creatures. The Darien Gap is the only interruption in the 48.000km long Pan-American highway. Several sailboats of variable seaworthiness offer travellers a 5 days ride from Panama City to Cartagena. Among them, one has achieved legendary status, the Stahlratte (http://"http://www.stahlratte.de/").
Our only dilemna, this 100 year old German monument was scheduled to cruise around Cuba when we needed it. Consequently the Wolf and I had been debating for weeks what other methods we could employ to cross the Gap. The other sailboats were incredibly expensive, and rumour has it, also corrupt and/or unsafe. Using a container ship seemed like a logistical nightmare, as did flying with the bikes. As we hit obstacle after obstacle, it became increasingly difficult to convince the Wolf that it was a BAD idea to try and ride through the swamps between Panama and Colombia. He started to settle for the idea of riding as far south as possible and trying to find small lanchas (row boats) to get us to Turbo in Colombia. I felt very uncomfortable with this, for countless reasons, probably mostly because I'm a worrier. On the morning of June 12, as we were enjoying a tasty breakfast at Lake Arenal Hotel (http://"http://lakearenalhotel.com/"), we received an email from Markus and Karen (http://"http://2infahrt.ch/") with whom we were considering sharing a container. They politely declined stating they had reserved a spot on the Stahlratte departing Carti harbor on June 17. The Wolf and I stared at each other in disbelief, rushed to our laptop to re-check the Stahratte's schedule, and there it was, Carti - Cartagena: June 17.

Riding under rain
The news the Stahlratte was back was fantastic. But we were still in Costa Rica. And we had no idea if they even had space for us. We spent 10 minutes counting the kilometres and decided it was possible to get to Panama City in 4 days, if we were heavy on the throttle. We decided to take our chances, sent an email to Captain Ludwig to ask if he had room onboard and started riding. We stopped for lunch a few hours later and received the good news through the Pollo Loco free wi-fi, Ludwig had a spot for us. The weather did not cooperate with our expedited schedule and heavy rain pelted us for 2 straight days. We spent the first damp night in Cahuita, a lovely town on the Caribbean coast, and then crossed into Panama in a monsoon the next day. We kept going until Boquette, where we spent a day recovering before the long haul to Panama City. We turned our delightful room at La Casa del Abuela into something that is stinkier than a men's locker room as we tried in vain to dry some of our sodden things. Luckily our ATG luggage (http://"http://www.atgear.co.za/home/7-atg-overlander-motorcycle-saddle-bags.html") kept everything in our side bags dry, but everything we were wearing - jackets, pants, glove and even helmets, had not withstood 2 days of heavy, heavy rain.

Pushing it on the Pan American
Our friendly Panama City tour guides

In the morning we donned our damp gear and, for the first time in ages, we headed down the Pan-American. It was a long, boring day punctuated by a strange interaction with the Panamanian police. They pulled us over, asked if we had kids (?), inquired about our Replay cameras, then hastily scribbled a speeding ticket for $50, told us to only pay $20 at the office, and then they sped off like the devil was behind them. We finally pulled in at the Panama House B&B (http://"http://panamahousebb.com/") at 17:00, exhausted. The Wolf, finding energy from who knows where, insisted that we rush straight back out to explore Panama City in the last light of day. We bumped into a friendly local and his son and they kindly gave us a 2 hour express tour of the city's highlights. The next morning we made the acquaintance of several other bikers that were all bound for Colombia on the Stahlratte, and headed off to Carti with them to meet the Captain and load up the ship.

A fleet of flying bikes
We arrived at the dock a little late, having been delayed by more rain and a protest that blocked the road. Once we arrived, Captain Lulu and his crew got to work at once. It was very clear they have done this before and each bike was winched up into the sky and swung onboard, where it would be covered and tied down for the next 5 days. The heavy lifting completed, we were assigned beds below deck - we were all the way up front with the Captain, which seemed like a good thing until we realised that was where one felt the most rocking in rough seas. The course was set for one of the Kuna inhabited islands and en route we were fed the first of many amazing meals onboard. We arrived at the island in grey weather but the rain held off while we were entertained with local dances and dinner, and then we spent a very humid night in the Kuna huts, scattered between beds and hammocks.

Island paradise
The next two days saw us living an island paradise dream, complete with soft white sand, warm turquoise waters, a rope swing, good snorkelling, rum punch and spectacular sunsets. Just as we were thoroughly relaxed and ready to give up on civilised life, Captain Underpants got things moving again and began the crossing. Anti-nausea pills were passed around like candy - everyone but the Wolf took some. He was determined to be the hero that didn't need the meds, and he was. I did not get ill, but was happy to have taken the pills when I experienced the odd woozy moment. We spent a full day and night at sea - the night being lit up by phosphoresce tickling the bow, and mirroring the stars above - then we pulled into Cartagena. By then Captain Underpants had once again found his pants and was impressing upon us the urgency of getting to the embassy quickly before things shut down - it was Friday after all and there was no telling how early the immigration agents would start their weekend. And so our entry to South America began.

More pictures here (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/the-panama-express/")
Title: Captivating Colombia
Post by: wolfandzebra on September 16, 2014, 02:20:57 am
Cartagena, Colombia to Medellin, Colombia
June 20 to July 14, 2014


A colourful cast of characters
We did not bump into many other riders throughout Central America, except for the friendly couple from Motopasaran (http://"http://www.motopasaran.com/") and some rude chap on a BMW who didn't bother to stop and say "hi". On the Stahlratte however, we were happily acquainted with many other adventure riders all aiming South. The Wolf got to talk bikes with people who actually know what MT-09's, TRX850's, and SZR660's are! Most of the folks were heading to Ushuaia with a schedule that would get them there in the coming summer season, so we'll all be within a month or so of each other as we ride South. We eventually pieced together that the 'rude' BMW rider who'd passed us on Ometepe was in fact Mr Peter Domhill (on a BMW 800GS), who'd been rushing to make his hotel before dark, and he's actually rather nice when he's not late. You can read about the rest of the zoo animals here (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/about-us-2/rest-of-the-zoo/"). After crossing the gap, the lot of us found ourselves camped out together at the Hostal Real in Cartagena with a bunch of bikes cluttering the courtyard.


Calefaction on the Caribbean coast
Cartegena was very, very hot and it was in this heat we weaved through manic traffic to find new tires, insurance and other spare parts. For me, this was far more terrifying than riding in any of the cities thus far, including Mexico D.F. It's possible though, that I was merely struggling to adjust to being back on land. I seemed to suffer with dizziness much longer on solid ground than I did when first getting on deck. Once the maintenance chores were done (which were complicated by a few holidays that apparently even the locals didn't know about) we felt the call of cool mountains was far stronger than that of baking beach towns. We packed up and headed directly for Minca. We found a fantastic fresh refuge in the mountains called Sans Souci, where our accommodations consisted of an outdoor bed with a mosquito net strung up. We also found our buddies from the boat, Ryan and Marcos el Narko, who had left Cartagena a day before us. The following days were spent hanging around in hammocks and lazily exploring the peaceful surroundings.


The allure of more adventure
Once recovered from our near-melt on the coast, we packed up our gear and made our way to the "adventure zone" of the Santander Department; known for white water rafting, paragliding, rock climbing and other sports. Our first stop was Bucaramanga, where we made the acquaintance of the famous Richie Mantilla at Colombia Paragliding (http://"http://www.colombiaparagliding.com/"). He shared motorcycling tips for South America, and hooked us up with a spot of paragliding off the Mesa de Ruitoque. For any aspiring paragliding pilots, this is the cheapest place to get your license: 15 days and US$1,500 including accommodation and lessons, with good updrafts all day every day.


Climbing the walls
Next up we followed Marcos El Narko to Refugio de la Roca (http://"http://refugiolaroca.blogspot.com/"), a climbing hostel and camp spot with astonishing views, and set out to do some serious rock climbing. Luckily we bumped into Michelle - a San Francisco native - who actually had equipment, and knew what she was doing. Unfortunately for her, she didn't realise we were total rookies until it was too late, and the Wolf was boldly executing his first ever lead climb with no clue the quickdraws had to be clipped on in a particular way. The Wolf is incredibly good at many things, even things he's never done before, so Michelle's anxiety was for naught and the day of climbing was a huge success. Since our climbing had gone so well, we conferred with Marcos and the 3 of us agreed to set our sights on hiking into the El Cocuy National Park (http://"http://www.pnncocuy.com/"). We first made our way to the charming little town of Barichara and spent a couple of days  relaxing at the Hostel Tinto before heading to the Parque National. You can read all about our El Cocuy adventure in "The Good, the Farc and the Cocuy" (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/the-good-the-farc-the-cocuy/")


Stones and Water
After our hiking detour, during which the Wolf learned to his surprise that he doesn't really enjoy hiking at altitude (or perhaps at any time really), we started making our way West. We crossed more mountain ranges on dirt roads and meandered through many small pueblas en route to Guatape. We stopped for a quick night in Villa de Leyva before cranking out a massive day of 10 hours in the saddle and arriving at the Lakeview Hostel (http://"http://lakeviewhostel.com/") after dark. The name "Guatapé", comes from the Quechua language, related to "stones and water" and the town lives up to it's name with a web of waterways surrounding it, and the famous El Peñon towering over it. Nick and Greg, the hostel owners, directed us to a few lesser-traveled routes around the area, with great swimming holes, waterfalls and a collection of towns that were deeply, and relatively recently, affected by "La Violencia (http://"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Violencia")". After throughly exploring the surrounding areas of Guatape, we braced ourselves for the big city of Medellin. We'd heard many great things about it, and I was convinced that we'd be disappointed with such high expectations. Instead we were overwhelmed by how marvellous Medellin actually is... but that's a story for next time.

See more pictures here (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/captivating-colombia/")
Title: A city reborn
Post by: wolfandzebra on December 28, 2014, 06:20:19 pm
Since we spent the last part of our journey focusing mainly on riding, we did very little ride reporting... so now we will attempt to get back to the regular scheduled programming of our ride report!

Medellin, Colombia to Salento, Colombia
July 14, July 29 2014

Paisa Paradise

Our good friend "Marcos el Narco" in tow, we glided down the mountains and into Medellin unsure of what to expect. Our experiences with Colombia that far had been wonderful, but we were now entering  the lion's mouth, the home of the famous eponym cartel, Pablo Escobar's headquarters. You know how the saying goes? Don't believe the hype! Within 10 minutes of entering the city limits, several motorcycles had joined Marcos in following us, all eager to catch us a the next stop, wish us a warm welcome and ask about our journey. It was the friendliest welcome we've received anywhere so far! We crossed the Parque Lleras to reach the Tamarindo Hostal (http://"http://www.hostaltamarindo.com/gpage7.html") to find another welcome committee, our old friends Tom and Peter working on their bikes! We all comfortably spent our next week there, oblivious to the location's ominous past (http://"http://colombiareports.co/us-tourist-killed-in-medellin-colombia/") and had a wonderful time.

[SIZE="1"]Big thanks to David, Sonia and Ethan for the warm welcome and the mailbox services :P[/SIZE]

David, Sonia and Ethan were also waiting for us. The little family had recently fled the madness of the French capital to start anew in Medellin. The Wolf, desperate to wear high the colors of Endurospirit (http://"http://www.endurospirit.fr/"), his old MC in Provence, had found David on Facebook via a common friend. The legendary solidarity between bikers led David to put his mailbox at the disposition of a perfect stranger and a few weeks later we all met for the first time around a delicious barbecue. We found a new Replay (http://"http://replayxd.com/") camera, fancy personalised jerseys, and more importantly new friends! Thanks a ton guys!
Sadly our third package fell prey to the shipping demons who patrol most Central and South American locations. (It was much later located in a warehouse in Bogota, but seems irretrievable at this point. A donation to Colombia I suppose.)

It was in Medellin that we discovered the joy of free walking tours (http://"http://www.realcitytours.com/#!free-walking-tour/c1hbi") - they have them in most major cities worldwide and the tour guides work only for tips.

Our guide, from Medellin herself, told us about the proud Paisa (http://"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paisa_Region") history, the growth of the coffee industry and they key role played by the railroad in connecting the city to the outside world. We also discussed the carnage of the Colombian civil war and how Colombians were today cheerful and friendly to keep away the demons of the past.

On the motorcycle front, the Wolf was delighted to discover Mundi Moto (http://"https://goo.gl/maps/5wlho") and the shops on the Calle 38 #52. We were able to buy all the parts we had been missing for so long, fork seals, clutch perch, thick inner tubes and more. The other thing Medellin has loads of, is fancy malls, and it was in this city I realised what a mallrat the Wolf truly is. Perhaps it's merely a product of rough adventure travel, but we indulged in many hours of mall time, which included watching Guardians of the Galaxy in the premium theatre - lazyboy recliners included. (Great movie, by the way.)

Iced Coffee
[SIZE="1"]Scenic views as we entered the Zona Cafetera, the coffee region[/SIZE]

After almost a week of cultural exploration (and retail relaxation, although we didn't really buy anything) we said goodbye to Medellin, and aimed South towards Salento, a small but touristy town in the Zona Cafetera.

We set camp at Yambolombia (http://"http://yambolombia.moonfruit.com/") a slightly hippy hostal with an awesome vibe, were Gabriel, the owner, made us feel welcome. We begun chatting about our journey and mentioned meeting in Guatape a fellow rider from neighbouring Armenia. Gabriel proceeded to describe the guy, pick up his phone and 30 minutes Joaquin showed up at our door on his shiny 660 Tenere! We were like, huh??! Impossible. The next day Marcos, Peter, Tom and the Yeti (http://"http://www.yetionthego.com/") all showed up in Salento and Joaquin proceeded to take us on what was supposed to be a quick ride around the Salento valley. That turned into 4 days and close to a 1000kms of the most fantastic roads. We rode the highest road in Colombia in the Los Nevados park (DR Hypoxia (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/dr-hypoxia-in-los-nevados/")), visited coffee plantations, enjoyed cocktails in fancy hotels and wrapped it all up with a trip to the luxurious Santa Rosa de Cabal hot springs (http://"http://termales.com.co/"). We don't know how to thank you for the amazing experience, Joaquin.

As a parting gift Joaquin helped us plot our route to Ecuador. We discovered the Tatacoa desert, the Tierradentro ruins and San Agustin, but that's for our next post.

More pictures here (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/a_reborn_city/")
Title: Bouncing into Ecuador
Post by: wolfandzebra on December 31, 2014, 09:00:55 am
Salento, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador
July 30, 2014 - Aug 6, 2014

Tatacoa desert
[SIZE="1"]The Zebra looking gorgeous in the Tatacoa desert with the Cordillera Central in the background[/SIZE]

With the route our friend Joaquin helped us plot loaded into our trusted GPS, we finally left Salento for our next stop over, the Tatacoa desert. We rode for several hours with the Cordillera Central to our right and the rays of the evening sun painting gorgeous colours in its clouds. A field of blooming cotton gave us an excuse for a an improvised photo shoot, the old dirt road to the desert invited us for a detour at dusk, and we finally reached Tatacoa way past sunset. Wikipedia (http://"https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tatacoa_Desert") will give you more details on the specifics of this area. What we will remember are the Spanish pronunciation lessons of our host Rafael Marquez, the surreal swimming pool at Villa de Marquez (http://"https://www.facebook.com/pages/Desierto-De-la-Tatacoa-Villa-De-Marquez/") and a night sky host of more stars than we knew.

We left early the next morning determined to reach the town of archeological site of Tierradentro high up in the Cordillera. Expecting a challenging road we preventively pampered ourselves at the Termales Los Angeles (http://"http://losangelestermal.com/") next to Neiva. In just 50 kilometers the landscape changes drastically with the abundance of fresh water, hinting at what Tatacoa once was. The termales are built around a stream that brings to several small pools the heat stolen from nearby volcanoes. We were surprised mid-bath by Tom and Markos with whom we had shared our route. Quite incomprehensibly, they resisted the appeal of a swim and went hunting for a random internet cafe, go figure.

The Cauca Valley
We painfully extracted ourselves from the pool and begun our climb to TierraDentro. A portion of the road follows an affluent of the Rio Paez and in addition of being alternatively rocky and muddy, it was also under heavy construction. After an hour long bonding session with the other drivers stuck at the road block, we resumed our progress to reach the town at night and under the rain. Our desire to camp was no match for the flood and the warm lights of the hotel La Porta (http://"http://laportadahotel.com/") where we found refuge for the night. The following morning I found a Zebra bouncing around at the thought of discovering painting and statues at the nearby archeological site. Under semi-clement skies, we followed the well marked trail to the first site. There we were greeted by a friendly local waving tickets at us and demanding $20 for the visit. Granted by US standards $20 is not much, but a strong trend of building fences around ill-conserved ruins and asking high prices to tourists for access has worn us down a bit. We turned our heels, jumped back on our bikes and rode back down the valley thoroughly enjoying the free and amazing landscape.

No coke, thanks.
[SIZE="1"]Posing in the sugar cane fields above San Agustin[/SIZE]

Next up was San Agustin. The town is arguably the prettiest one this side of the Cordillera and the gateway to several impressive landscapes. As it happened often, a random local approached us as we were looking for accommodation options on our GPS, and that is how we landed at la Casa del Japonese (http://"http://hostalcasadeljapones.jimdo.com/"). Nicely located on a hill above town, a deck offers the ideal spot to daydream while watching the town rooftops and its flickering lights. The owner is a colourful character and will entertain you with outlandish stories about Colombia. He'll also suggest you take a tour of a local coke lab, and offer some samples, in case you're that way inclined. A behavior not only unique during our stay in Colombia but also in stark contrast with the efforts displayed in other regions to inform guests of the ravaging effects of the coke industry on the country. I personally fell in love with the little 2 stroke Yamaha he drives around town. He told me this model used to be a favourite of motorcycle assassins back in the days, now it does grocery runs, times have changed.
With the help of our Japanese friend, we planned a picturesque, adventurous (and muddy) loop in the nearby mountains. I got my fix of dirt trails while discovering amazing local attractions, among which the Salto de Bordones stands out. It probably is the most amazing waterfall we've encountered so far. On the South side there is the recently remodelled Hotel Bordones  (http://"https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bordones-Hotel")unlisted in most guides. The owner is very friendly and gave a tour of the building highlighting all the recycled materials used and the architect's (his father) inspirations. It's well off the beaten path, offering unique views of the waterfall and if you're on a budget, they have the prettiest campsite with hot showers. Opposite the Hotel, across the canyon, a tiny, barely maintained trail takes you meters away from the raging waters plunging down the cliff, a magical place with a semi permanent rainbow. Not far away, the Estrecho del Magdalena stages the show of the eponym river strangled thru a narrow 1.70m rock funnel.

El Trampoline de la Muerte!
[SIZE="1"]There are turns one does not want to miss.[/SIZE]

Our initial plan called for crossing into Ecuador at La Hormiga in the Valle del Guamuez. The Zebra was not thrilled with this plan as it would mean missing the sanctuary of Las Lajas and venturing into the only region of Colombia we had heard rumors of turmoil (http://"http://www.caracol.com.co/noticias/regionales/farc-atacan-con-explosivo-oleoducto-en-putumayo/20140117/nota/2056997.aspx"). As we headed South through mudslides towards Mocoa, we stopped at a Military checkpoint. As always the officials were courteous but winced ever so slightly at the mention of our plan. After conferring among themselves they indicated that the Laguna La Cocha further west should not be missed and suggested we take that route instead. For the second time in our journey, we altered our routes to stay clear of a troublesome area. We were not disappointed as this detour lead us to Hwy 10, a road we would later learn has been fondly nicknamed El Trampoline de la Muerte (The trampoline of death) by the locals. The road connects Mocoa to Pasto over the Cordillera Central and while missing certain turns may result in bouncing right off the trampoline, we thoroughly enjoyed the ride and the views.

[SIZE="1"]Thawing at the Chalet Guamuez[/SIZE]

The only caveat was, the road crests a 4000+ meter pass, erasing any memory of sweating in the desert a few days earlier. A sign bearing the word "Chalet" evoked luring images of fondue and hot chocolate. The Chalet Guamuez (http://"http://chaletguamuez.com/") delivered and within minutes of our arrival we were warming our derrières with a toasty wood fire, while the bartender poured his first ever Irish coffee.

Goodbye Colombia
[SIZE="1"]A surreal sight in the distance, the Las Lajas Sanctuary[/SIZE]

Tom, Markos, the Zebra and I broke the bank for a night in a Cabana that would not have looked out of place in Gstaad, Switzerland. The sanctuary of Las Lajas was on the next day's program. It was just as wet departing the laguna as it had been when we arrived, not an auspicious start to the day. At least the road was paved, and we were well rested. Except for losing Tom in the traffic in Pasto we had an uneventful ride to Las Lajas, and were appropriately awed by the elaborate structure as we crested the last hill. We found Tom thawing with a coffee at the entrance to town, and proceeded to explore and capture the church in the fading evening light. The next morning, we reluctantly said sad goodbyes to Tom (and temporarily Marcos as he had to go back to Chalet Guamez to search for his missing gps) and then the Zebra, Peter and I set off to cross over to Ecuador.

More pictures here (http://"http://www.wolfandzebra.com/bouncing-into-ecuador/")