Monday, 18 July 2011


I am now in Lima, waiting to fly back to Toronto and then Boston for a conference. More will follow of course, but for now I will note four things:

1. Pressed for time, I had just three days to ride to Lima from Cali, Columbia. I finished in time, which makes me almost the man Sam was for killing the Trans Lab loop in the time he did.
2. I wish I had realized that after Quito, the Pan America splits into two: Norte and Sur. The first runs straight lines along the coast. The second winds along the spine of the Sierras. It is truly breathtaking, but is also eight hundred plus kilometers of twisties. This is the route I took. It was unmatched in the sun and terribly hard in the rain and fog at night.
3. The Pan Am along the Peruvian coast is truly remarkable. First, it is excellent pavement. Second, the drivers are incredibly reckless. Third, it is almost all sand dunes and ocean. I rode 1000 kms on some other planet.
4. Walking around Lima, buying clean, proper clothes for this conference, I realized I was exhausted and could have fallen asleep at that moment. And riding my bike to the house of a friend's father (thanks Claudia!), I realized that while I was anxious to be home and to be back to work, I could have ridden three more weeks. I felt rather lucky at that moment.

Keep looking ahead.

The Borders

For my own records, but also for help of future overlanders, I thought I might outline my experience (as I recall it) of each border crossing.


I crossed into Mexico at Brownsville, Texas, early on a Tuesday. As always, I first checked into immigration, and then in aduana (customs). Mexico requires a deposit of $400 for a motorcycle, plus a non-refundable fee of about $40. I paid the deposit on my credit card. It was refunded three days after checking out of mexico.

Customs finishes with a document and a sticker for the bike's windshield. All in, it took me under 90 minutes to check in. That said, I was there first thing in the morning, so it could be much longer midday.

I checked out of Mexico in Tapachula. Here, you have to complete the aduana first, in a station on the highway before Tapachula. One knows where it is by way of the frantically waving locals with homemade badges who direct you towards the station. I arrived at the town after the closing of the office, so I returned first thing in the morning. It took me less than twenty minutes to check out, and I required no assistance. The official gives you a document certifying exit, and removes the sticker from the windshield. I then travelled the twenty kms to the border station.

Unlike the crossing in, this station was full of touts. Indeed, it was rather fitting that the border post was also encircled by a large group of vultures. Still, it was an easy crossing out. All in, Mexico was a breeze.


Guatemala was similarly buzzing with touts, though their badges appeared marginally less official. Embarrassingly, I was ripped off by money changers here. Having let my guard down, I exchanged money with a man who counted the money is his hand, rather than laying down the bills before me. My four rules of exchanging money:

1. Know the exchange rate and know how much you expect for your money ahead of time.
2. Always insist on money being laid out, bill by bill, in front of you. A bill is only counted sheen it leaves a hand.
3. Hand your own money over only after counting and controlling the new currency.
4. Remember faces.

Guatemala, like Mexico, required a windshield sticker. The total cost was about $15, and was all completed at one window, with the exception of payment, which happens one office over.

When it came time to pay, i was short as a result of the earlier counting scam. So, I left the customs official my title and rode into the nearest town to get money from a cajero.

Customs here were very straightforward, and I required no help. Save the self-imposed time loss, this was less than a one hour process.

I don't recall the exit from Guatemala very well, but I do remember it being rather straightforward.

El Salvador

Entering El Salvador was rather simple. I was stopped on the bridge into the country, and ws made to fill out a form. After doing so, the officer checked my VIN, and then sent me to the aduana office. There, all of my information was entered into a computer by another official. I was given a stamped paper confirming my temporary importation. Following this (contrary to convention), I checked into immigration. Because of an agreement with Guatemala, El Salvador did not stamp my passport. I was then off. The entire process was free. It was slow, but not overly so.

Checking out of El Salvador was unremarkable.


Entering Honduras was the sole time in Central America I made use of an agent. I am not sure I needed his help, but I was pressed for time and wanted to make it to Nicaragua before the border closed, and thus acquiesced. Truth to tell, it just seemed like a lot of running back and forth to the photocopy shop. Otherwise, I think it was rather simple. I imagine one could do this without assistance in under 90 minutes. In total, I paid $16 to import the bike, and $10 to the agent.

The highlight of this entry was that the agent asked me for an additional $10 i n exchange for my information being entered "into the system". I asked him what would happen if I wasn't entered into this magical system. He assured me it would cost me $25 to be put into the system on my way out of the country. How they'd know i was ever in it, I didn't ask. I passed on this charge and had no trouble on the way out.


Bring a book.

This was easily the slowest border I passed. Everything happened within one building, just very slowly. Note that you have to buy insurance here. It costs less than $20. You also have to pay a nominal amount for your stamp.

I left Nicaragua in the dark. It was truly farcical. There are four steps. First, get an exit stamp. This is easy. Second, find the correct police officer for a signature for the bike form. I found him on the edge of the bush, behind a building. I felt bad about interrupting whatever he was beginning or starting, but I was on a timeline. You then need to get a stamp from another police officer. I found this one hanging out in an insurance office. You then go to another building to be stamped out. All told, this was a longish process, but amusing.

Costa Rica

I went through five steps to enter Costa Rica:

1. Stamp in at immigration.
2. Begin paperwork at the aduana.
3. Buy insurance down the road.
4. Compete paper work at the aduana office.
5. Go the other direction up the road to get the bike stamped out.

Leaving Costa Rica on the pan am took less than 30 minutes. I stamped out and then went a few offices over to get my bike stamped out.


Panama was simple, but a bit slower. I stamped in, and then bought insurance across the street for less than $20. I then stamped in the bike. This took a while, as the official could not find the bike model in the computer. Nonetheless, it was quite simple, and everything happened in a 200 foot radius.

Columbia, Ecuador and Peru

Leaving aside the process of importing the bike by air into Columbia, traversing these borders was an absolute breeze. None took me longer than 30 minutes, and each was completely free. The officials at these posts were model bureaucrats.

General Comments

After two crossings, I adopted a new approach to borders and touts. First, I rode in with my dark windscreen down, and rather quickly. I kept eye contact to a minimum and rode right up to the immigration office. I think was helpful in appearing to know what I was doing. And when i was off track, i knew the touts would point me in the right direction in order to appear knowledgable.

While it is rude, I generally didn't exchange pleasantries and just said "Peru" whenever asked where i was going. When I needed to be, I was very assertive with those who were insistent on helping. On occasion, this meant physically pushing through those trying to stop me.

Remember, these are not volunteers. They are agents who will extract every margin possible. They feed on uncertainty. They can be useful when you wish to do something quickly. Otherwise, government officials will always tell you the next required step.

Always keep a reserve stash of $100 USD in your boot or some other place. Always replenish.

Bring 30 copies of your passport, title, and license.

Finally, remember that most nearly any mistake you make will be caught by an official on the way out, so if you're allowed to go then everything is fine.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Meeting Nick Sanders and shipping to Cali

Yesterday, waiting to pack my bike at the Girag Cargo warehouse in Panama, I met Nick Sanders, who was getting his own Super Tenere released. He was on his way back to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, after completing the run from there to Cape Horn in 21 days. He might be the worlds best long distance rider.

Because he had some time to kill, we talked a lot about riding. I learned a fair bit, which made the wait in panama worth it.

I am now in Cali, in a hotel set among a half dozen plastic surgery clinics. Quite the site to see through lifted eyes. Off to get the bike in a moment.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Waiting it out in Panama

I apologize to those expecting regular updates. I've had a time getting down to Panama, where I arrived after riding hard for 13 of 14 days. I am now cooling my heels at panama passage (a sort of Jungle Junction East), waiting for the bike to fly to Cali, Colombia on Wednesday. I'll precede it by a day.

Once in Colombia, I have some six days, including Monday, to make it to Lima in time for my flight back to North America, 2 am on Tuesday. I am counting on only four days, leaving 600 kms of mostly twisty riding per day.

I expect this to be much like the first two weeks of the trip: often disagreeable in weather, almost always enjoyable and physical riding, much of the time very solitary but not really lonely, and constantly a source of future reward. I'll be doing it on a bike which has yet to disappoint, and with enough experience in tight spots that I think I can make it through.

I promise I'll write more later, likely on the flight home.

Keep looking ahead.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Labrador, Nfld, Maritimes trip report

I returned to Ottawa yesterday, shortly after 10pm. Christian and I completed a whirlwind circuit of the North Coast of Quebec, Labrador, the Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula and two of the three Maritime provinces. The total distance was 5060 kms. (Chris is still in Moncton and will return to Ottawa on Wednesday.) No major incidents to report. The bikes ran great. The scenery was as beautiful as I remembered. And the road and schedule were a great challenge. Chris and I were very compatible riders and had a great time racing through the wilderness and sharing several nice meals.

Here is the schedule:
- Jul 1: Ottawa to Labrador City. 1450kms. 17.5 hours riding time.
- Jul 2: Labrador City to L'Anse au Clair, NL. 1140kms. 17 hours riding time.
- Jul 3: L'Anse au Clair, NL to Port-aux-Basques, NL. 620kms. 7 hours riding time.
- Jul 4: North Sydney, NS to Ottawa, ON. 1697kms. 16 hours riding time.

It was a quick ride, so quick that I only took one photo. Here is Christian with the bikes at the mine reservoir near Fermont, Quebec.

Although there isn't much photographic evidence, I did come away with a ton of memories...
- Best day of riding: the ride from Lab City to near Blanc Sablon was epic.
- Most idiotic moment: running out of gas for the second time on the first day (I'm still getting to know the Strom's range under different conditions).
- Best meal: bowl of split pea soup, can of Guinness and bag of salt & vinegar chips on the ferry from Port-aux-Basques.
- Most challenging segment of riding: toss up between the Fire Lake road in dusk and the road down to Red Bay in fog, rain and complete darkness. Also wherever they were fixing the road by adding gravel on top required focused attention.
- Most scenic stretch: riding through Gros Morne and the rest of the Great Northern Peninsula.
- Best timing: rolling into Lab City as the Canada Day fireworks were going off.
- Amount of power being generated by Churchill Falls as we rolled passed: 2816 megawatts.

Finally, for the real bike nerds here are my stats for Day 4 of riding. It was a very fast and long iron butt.
- Start point: North Sydney, NS at 6:01am (EDT)
- End point: Ottawa, ON at 10:02am (EDT)
- Total time: 16 hours and one minute
- Number of gas/food stops: 5 (New Glasgow, NS; Partridge Valley, NB; Perth-Andover, NB; La Pocatière, QC; Ste-Hyacinthe, QC)
- Total distance: 1697kms
- Avg speed (including stopped time): 106km/h
- Avg moving speed (not including stopped time): 115km/h

Friday, 1 July 2011

Day 6: San Luis to Puebla

Day 6 was not a success. I slept in and got a late start, which was fine as I only had about 600 kms to ride. I planned on avoiding tolls and taking a secondary, twisted route. This was scuttled when I came about a road block occasioned by a transport that had slid over the edge of the mountain road I was riding. Two tow trucks had set to pulling him out, but as it didn't look like an easy task, I turned around and ate the 40 kms I'd put in.

(I admit, when you start a post about your own bad day with an anecdote about someone else's very bad day, you set the bar a touch high).

Backtracking, I took a toll road towards Mexico City, which I would have to ride around to get to Puebla. Normally, I would rely on a GPS for this, but the maps Sam and I bought for our units are truly terrible. So, I was left to a fairly high level road map.

I covered the 400 kms towards Mexico fairly easily, most of it unremarkable high plains with a fair amount of agriculture, a great number of trucks, and lots of small restaurants dotting the roadside. It was also rather wet, which never helps much.

As I reached the outside of Mexico, I was pulled over at a main toll gate. Mexico City has traffic restrictions which do not allow cars into the Federal District on some days according to the last number on their plates. Today was my lucky day.

The officer who pulled me over really knew no English except "camera", "ticket", "dollars", "garage" and "Amigos? Friends?". This is completely defensible. I know no Spanish. It only added to the absurdity of it all. As we couldn't communicate, he put me on a phone with a counterpart who could. He explained to me my offense, of which I was obviously guilty. The consequence was that I could go to the garage and have my bike seized, or I could pay $100 US, and the other officer would pay my ticket for me. I asked for the officers name and badge number, which he promptly gave me. As I couldn't see him, I have no way of knowing if the information he gave me was correct. I suspect it wasn't.

I ended the call and then sat on my bike, fiddling with my tank bag and GPS for a few minutes. The original officer and I were obviously in a standoff. When I finally pulled a 100 peso note from my wallet, being sure to wave it in plain site, he feigned horror. He then pointed out the camera on his dash, which was catching the whole thing. He returned to his car, where out of the site of the camera, we bargained over how much it would cost to end the charade. Asking me "friends?" with clasped hands, he then said "one hundred dollars" and made a wiping clean motion with his hands. Continuing my apparent ignorance of exchange rates, I again produced a 100 peso note. We eventually bargained down to 40 USD, to which he said "Amigos!". Indeed.

This absurdity over, i continued on, worried about getting pulled over again. I decided to bite the bullet and pay for a toll road around the city, under the logic that the cost (and it is very costly) would be worth getting out of the district. This worked until halfway around, when I found that the toll road had been blocked. I was thus forced to turn back north, taking an arterial road through a rough suburb, which would connect me to a mopper northerly highway. All in, this would add 50 kms to the trip. The first 15 of these would take almost two hours, all of it in the rain, on terribly potted roads, often at a crawl. It's a small complaint now, but it was a terrible trouble then, not least because such riding is tough on a bike. One has to rely on the clutch too much, as dragging the rear brake isn't an option in the potholes. It's also not good to hit two deep holes simultaneously. All in, it was just a lot of work.

I eventually rolled into Puebla in the dark in a steady rain. I made a search for a cheap hotel, but was conscious of the hour. After a search, I ended up breaking the budget on a holiday inn. I appreciated the comfort, much as I am now appreciated eating as much at the free breakfast as possible.

My hotel room is full of wet clothes, though my jackets are nearly dry. I don't reckon the smell of bike boots will soon depart.

I am soon to leave for Oaxacha, again in the rain. Thankfully, I knew a dryer awaits at the other end, so I will get my affairs sorted there. Today is my seventh day of riding. I don't have a break scheduled until Panama, though in two days I have a short ride into Guatemala, where I'll spend the day with Julio Bernard. This should be good for the soul, if not the liver.

I'll leave it with a true Lorenism: Today's going to suck. It's gonna be a lot of fun, too.