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Expedition to Tierra del Fuego 2010

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Chapter Two Dispatch from Helge

Chapter 2



Glancing at my odometer, I realize that I have done just over 6,000 miles since I left Seattle a month earlier. What a Ride it has been from Seattle to Panama City!


My new Ride, the BMW R1200GS Adventure, has been a great vehicle for this journey. Several people has written to ask me why I chose the R1200GS Adventure as opposed to the BMW HP2 that I have been so happy with. Yes, I really love the HP2, but any bike has good sides and bad sides. The HP2 is more an off-the-beaten-track kind of a bike, while the R1200GS Adventure is best for long distance hauls on "reasonable" roads. And this is a long-haul expedition!


There is one thing that has surprised me on this journey through Central America. The roads have been fantastic, with lots of curves going up and down valleys. The scenery and the small towns we pass through have just enhanced the experience.


For those of you who are afraid of riding to Mexico and beyond, don’t be! People are very friendly, not one time can I say that we've had a single problem. In fact, quite the opposite, with friendly and helpful people everywhere.


Since the first Chapter of this Live!Journal, we have passed through five more countries. We tried to find a highlight in each to focus on. With more time on our hands, we could easily have spent weeks in each of them, but life is a compromise, and we have done the best we could with the time we have available.


It is now twenty-two years since I did this same journey in the reverse direction-heading north. Unfortunately, not much has changed on the borders. There are so-called "guides" that try all kinds of tricks to scam you for a few dollars as they appoint themselves as your personal expeditor through the process. The best thing is to do some poking around and see what the the real issues are get all your needed papers. When you finally have an overview, it might be to your advantage to hire a guide, and if you do so, make sure to agree about a final fee for their services ahead of starting the process. Regardless, they will try to get more money from you, but at the least you have discussed it ahead of time and can argue your case better when it comes time to pay.


I had to walk away from our Mexico-to-Guatemala guide before he capitulated and finally accepted our offer of $5 for his services. At the end of the day, he was happy and we were very ready to get on our bikes and continue the journey.


Despite the hassle of border crossings, we have had some great experiences in between. Even the bikes have been behaving well considering their being overloaded and having to endure all kinds of roads. My biggest disappointment with my bike has been my Dunlop tire, that is almost all gone after 7,000 miles. Normally I would wear a Metzeler Tourance tire, like those my partners on this journey have on their bikes - they all have plenty of rubber still! Mine came new with Dunlop tires from BMW. Next time, I will install Tourances in advance of any long journey.


I love the electronically adjustable shocks on this bike. With the weight of my luggage, I have the setting set to the highest setting and dampening to Normal. When we are on good roads, at higher speeds I can adjust the dampening on the fly to Hard, which makes for a better ride. If I come in to more technical slow speed section like the mud that we had in Costa Rica, I change the setting to a lower position and softer dampening. All of this is done by pushing a button on the handle bar, fantastic!


If you have read my book “10 Years on 2 Wheels” you know that I took my BMW R80G/S through the Darien Gap from Colombia to Panama. That was a pretty crazy thing to do and something I never will do again. This time, we are flying our bikes from Panama to Colombia. Sounds like an easy operation? Not so! We had more paperwork and running around than I would have liked for this operation.


The alternative is to travel by boat, but that would take more time and effort than we could afford. We also needed to try this method so we will be better prepared for next year’s commercial tour. It is amazing how much we have learned, things that no one was able to tell us in advance when we first inquired about shipping by air around The Gap.


Can’t wait to get rolling in Colombia, then heading south. . . .




Helge Pedersen

Helge's Photo Gallery


Chapter Two Dispatch from Vince

I could tell you how spectacular the riding has been!  We are all surprised at the quality of the riding: twisties, sweepers, smooth pavement, pot-holes, dirt , mud, rocks, gravel, stream crossings, empty mountains, lane-splitting city traffic, all with great weather and great views of mountains, oceans, lakes you name it.  I could tell you about how Dan found the Rhubarb the other day while trying to do a U-turn and now his nose isn’t as straight anymore, or how Roger went for a mud bath with his bike only to take a dive on a steam crossing on the same day, but that would be talking out of turn.


I could tell you about the neat little places we find for our lunch stops, or some of the characters we met on our travels.


I could tell you about the maintenance and repairs we’ve had to carry out on our bikes.




But I am sure the others will fill you in all of this. . . .


Instead, let me tell you about those simple little things that happen almost every day, sometimes several times a day.   You never know when or where they will happen, subtle events, they may initially seem small or inconsequential, but turn out to be moments that are gems; moments that have the power to strike a chord within, or create a memory, or make time stand still.   Like a ride through miles of washed-out, dirt and mud-filled road that twisted its way along the side of a mountain, requiring you to be supremely present; time stands still.   Or you meet a group of children when you stop riding for some reason, you see the hopelessness of their situations, you know there is so very little chance that they will ever get out of this small town, and then you see the innocence in their faces; a chord is struck.   Or waking in the early morning to a view from your bed of the Aranel Volcano smoking away in the distance, only to disappear into tropical mist as the sun rose; a memory is created.





I think I left off last week with a review of our ride through Mexico, along with a few words about our challenge of staying "in the moment", which led our small group of four to make a pact that we would limit the use of our cell phones.  I am pleased to say that I have been quite successful in controlling the urge to pull out the iPhone every time we stop to check voice, texts and email messages.


This simple change has had a great effect, in allowing me to more fully enjoy the experiences of this motorcycle adventure.  However, one of my colleagues in particular, is still very challenged with the whole cell phone usage deal; of course we give him grief each time he pulls it out.   But he's so good at multi-tasking that he can be talking on the phone, getting all his paper-work in order for a border crossing, while at the same time getting his boots polished and still fire right back at us for ribbing him, all at the same time.




Border crossing are always an exciting place, lots of people and activities.   At a border crossing, you need to first clear yourself out of the country you are leaving, and then clear the bike out, then enter yourself and your bike into the next country.   It may include two bike inspections, one for leaving and one for entering, where the border authorities confirm, make, VIN and plate numbers.   They may also require that you photocopy all of your documents, such as passport, driving license and vehicle title.   Not only do you need your documents (passport, drivers license, vehicle title) but you also need any of the documents you were given for yourself and your bike when you entered the country.


You may require to purchase insurance, or post a bond for your bike.   Of course, this is all done at different windows or offices, and at each, there can be a queue.   When I say queue, some can be hours long unless you know how to hire someone who can get your paper-work done you having to go through the whole line, but still it takes time - hours sometimes.   Miss any of the documents and you will have a problem getting either yourself or your bike into or out of the country.


To add to the challenge, this is all done, naturally, in Spanish.   So you need to be organized with your own paper-work, you need plenty of patience, you also need to keep your wits about you and in regard to all of your stuff, as borders have so many people, theft is something you need to be cautious of.   On this trip, of course, we are lucky to be traveling with Helge, who has many years experience crossing boarders with motorcycles.   Helge can speaks excellent Spanish (thank god) and has this innate ability to figure out a situation or a person, knowing if we are getting hustled by either a money-changer or border "assistant". He also has this ability to get these sometimes frustrated and stubborn border authorities, or police at road stops, laughing and smiling.   I have traveled a lot to many countries with and without a motorcycle and I wouldn’t be very interested in taking on these borders crossings alone.




Even though they may be challenging, as I said, borders can be very interesting places, as there's always something happening.  Take the event with Jimmy, a shoe-shine boy at the Nicaragua to Costa Rica border crossing.  Now this kid was so focused on doing a good job of polishing, that Roger, the first to get his boots polished by Jimmy, paid him double his asking rate, for a grand total of one dollar.  We all ended up getting Jimmy to polish our boots, about 15 minutes a pair, because it was so interesting to watch this young boy go through this rapid, regimented procedure for each boot he polished, and that he did it with such dedication.   Picture this, a 13-year old kid hanging around a dusty, hot 3rd world border crossing, with nothing more than a old wooden box, a cloth bag that carried the tools of his trade, wearing a old faded T-shirt and worn-out cap, polishing boots with a regimented procedure, focused and dedicated.


There were other kids working the shoe-shine business but none of them worked like Jimmy.  We’ve had our boots polished at other places, and we always mention that they aren’t like that young kid we had at Nicaragua border crossing.   Jimmy looked poor, like all of the shoe-shine boys do, but he had something different about him.   It was his black boots that were polished so well you could see your reflection in them.  You knew he took his shoe-shining seriously.  He may have only been a poor shoe-shine boy, hustling work at a border crossing, but by the time he was finished polishing all of our boots, we had nothing but admiration and respect for this young entrepreneur.




In the hustle and bustle of that border crossing, Jimmy gave us something more than clean, shiny boots.  He gave us one of those simple moments that “struck a chord”, “made time stand still”, “created a memory” and reminded us once again, “It’s a Great day to be a GlobeRider”.



- Vincent


Chapter Two Dispatch from Roger

Thoughts on the motorcycle ride through Central America



- Unbelievable motorcycle riding throughout the whole ride.


- People were very friendly.


- Mexico was safe and the roads were very good.


- Mexico was cold in the mountains.


- Guatemala was safe and the roads were not quite as good as Mexico.


- Honduras was a little poorer and good riding.


- Nicaragua was poorer and less developed.


- Costa Rica had a better economy and poorer roads but more exciting. Very difficult to find your way around because of no street signs. Thank goodness for GPS!


- Panama had much better economy and good roads. Exciting ride over the mountains from the Caribbean side to the Pacific side. Panama City very upbeat.


- Riding companions are the best.


- BMW 1200 GS ADV the best bike for Central America but my legs are too short.


- What I should have but don’t is a Pacsafe fanny pack to keep my documents safe for border crossings.


- Border crossings are a good place to meet all kinds of people.


- I miss my wife and family and hope someday my children and grandchildren can take a trip like this.


- Can’t wait to clean my riding suit.


- Got a haircut in Taxco, Mexico and will need another one soon.


- There was very little traffic on the roads between cities and we had no speeding tickets. Police were nice who stopped us for checking our documents.


- Traveling makes me feel very lucky that I live in the United States.


- Riding with Dan Moore is an education. He asks all the questions that should be asked and sometimes gets the right answer.


- Riding with Vince Cummings is fun seeing someone learning how to be a great photographer from a great teacher, Helge Pedersen.


- Riding with Helge Pedersen is a wonderful experience.


- I wish I had spent more time with Rosetta Stone learning Spanish!



Day 12

We left Oaxaca and only had about 150 miles to travel, so we used our helmet cams and shot some great riding in the mountains. This was a wonderful day on a motorcycle. The road was good and the scenery was great. We took our time and stopped for lunch, then checked-out the hotel that Helge will use for the tour next year. Then we went to look for a place to camp on the shore. We found a small village on Laguna Superior near Sto. Domingo Tehuantepec. It was not the best place to camp because of the wind, but we tested our new tents and they worked out great. We then cooked a dinner that I had in my bags since California. It was easy, you just boil water and pour it in the bag. I have a Jet Boil and that makes cooking easy. We forgot to stop for coffee but Vince had hot chocolate. I think that we were all in our sleeping bags by 8PM. I read for about an hour and had a good sleep.



Day 13

We got up before the sunrise to take some beautiful pictures, then packed everything up and pushed our bikes out of the sand. Vince had a little mishap leaving the camp area and almost hit a wall. He dropped his bike but no harm. We then rode out to the main road and found a place for breakfast. Dan’s bike had some more problems. We had a hard time figuring them out but finally took off the covers to the tank and found a connection that was not tight. After messing around for about two hours we got it fixed. The HP2 is having its problems, but this might be the last fix - I hope.




The terrain is changing to tropical from the previous high desert. Most of the way we have been in a very dry climate and in the mountains. Now we are on a relatively flat area near the ocean, and it's very tropical and hot (90 degrees F).


We stopped and talked to two guys that were riding their bicycles from Prudhoe Bay to Panama! They are planning on being on the road for 7-1/2 months and have been riding for about 5 months so far. They were glad that we stopped and talked to them. The one guy was happy to speak English for a change. He said that it was hard riding because of the traffic and no road shoulders. One was from Scotland, and the other was from France. They were doing a documentary on their trip also.


We then arrived in Tapachula near the border with Guatemala. I have to pick up my title that I forgot at home, then again in San Miguel de Allende, was forwarded to me again via DHL. I hope that it arrives tomorrow. What a pain.


So far the ride has been fun and we are learning to read the road signs in Spanish, particularly “Topes” which means bump. They use topes to slow the traffic down. The roads have been good and the people of Mexico have been friendly and seem to be very happy. I have not felt threatened at all. We will see how easy it is to get out of Mexico and into Guatemala.


Day 14

We arrived at the border crossing in Tapachula and it took us about 3 hours to get thru the customs and immigration on the Guatemalan side. Helge did a wonderful job of sorting out who was honest and who to talk to about the process. The border people were very nice but it took a long time. We were upset because in Mexico, we had to drive back about 30 kilometers to get our papers for our bikes canceled. There are no signs that you can’t do it at the border and if you don’t cancel the paper they charge your credit card. Not a good thing.


By the time we got across the border it was 3 pm and we had about 150 miles to ride.


We got into Antigua; it was about 8 pm and dark. It was not a fun ride in the dark, up and down very narrow mountain roads that were crowded with trucks, people, animals, and road bumps to slow down the traffic. We made it though, and got to stay in a beautiful hotel called the Camino Real.


Day 15

Today we toured the city of Antigua and got caught up on some email and washing.


We saw a lot of the city, which is a pre-colonial city built in the 1500’s. We bought some jade pieces and shipped them home. At breakfast, we ate with Mike, a friend of Helge’s from Seattle, and his wife who is from Guatemala. Mike spent some time in the Peace Corps here about 30 years ago, and rides a motorcycle himself. We learned a lot about the city and Guatemala from he and his wife. In the afternoon, we sought out a bike rental company that is run buy an Englishman, called Catours. He rents KLR Kawasaki's. Helge interviewed the women who works there for his documentary.


We had a good discussion at lunch about education in the US and entrepreneurship.


I am not sure we solved anything but we all felt that it was worth talking about.


Day 16

We are leaving Antigua and crossing the border into Honduras. The border crossing into Honduras was really no problem but it took about 3 hours. The most time-consuming thing was getting the receipt for the copies we had to have made. T hat took at least 45 minutes. After crossing the border we rode to a small town and got into a hotel that was about 2 stars. It had no hot water in the sink but it was OK for the night. We checked out a hotel for the tour next year near the border and that one will be great. It had a nice pool and was out in the country and close to the Ruins of Copan.


Day 17

We got out early today and rode all the way to Tegucigalpa. The ride had a variety of everything. We had nice twisties and about 30 miles of dirt road with big washouts. It was not too hard but, you had to stay alert. We went to the little vegetable market in La Esprenza, which is a very traditional mountain town. We got stopped by the police. They checked out documents and we took their pictures with our bikes.


The ride into Tegucigalpa was tough and hot, but we made it to a decent hotel with a good internet connection. I think that we are about two days behind schedule, but there are places ahead to make it up. I don’t know if I will make it to Erika’s because it might be too far out of the way. I will find out tomorrow when we get to Managua.


Honduras is a little poorer than Guatemala but the people are very friendly and we are having a good time with them. The infrastructure in not very good and it seems that all the roads are under construction.


Day 18

We got started early today and got to the border about 10:30 am and got out of the border by 12:00 noon. The border crossing was again made easy with Helge leading the way and doing a great job getting us through. Dan had some trouble keeping his papers together and he found that he had all of them when we stopped for lunch about a half hour after we left the border. No problem. We got into Managua about 4:30 pm and checked into a nice Intercontinental hotel in the center of Managua. We decided to have dinner in the hotel. Vince and I went for a swim in the pool.


Day 19 Jan 23, 2010

We left the hotel early again today and had a good ride to Granada. Granada is a wonderful little colonial town on the shore of Lake Nicaragua. We then rode along the lake to the border with Costa Rica. This was the worst border crossing. It took about 4 hours and there was thousands of people trying to go both ways. It is Saturday and that is probably why it was so busy. The temperature was about 95 degrees, so it was very hot waiting for the customs work to be done. As usual Helge did a great job. We then went to Liberia and had lunch at McDonald’s because we wanted to get a milkshake, but they did not have milkshakes! After leaving Liberia, we went south and then east to towards Arenal Volcano. Unfortunately it was covered in clouds so we could not see the lava flow from the hotel. We stayed at the Arenal Lodge. The ride around Lake Arenal was a great motorcycle ride. The rain forest is so lush.


I was not able to visit my daughter Erika, because it would have taken too long to get over to Mal Pais. I will miss her, but I don’t want to delay the trip any longer than necessary. I miss being home, but this adventure is really something that I want to do. There are always sacrifices to make in life. I talked on Skype to home today and saw Julieta and my wife on the computer. What a nice way to stay in touch with the family. I will call Jennifer tomorrow. I miss the grandchildren.


Day 20 Jan 24, 2010

We started out today from the Arenal Lodge after seeing a beautiful view of the Arenal Volcano. We were lucky to have seen the volcano thru the clouds. I woke up at about 5:30 am and got a great view of the volcano with the smoke flowing out of the top. As Vince would say "a great day to be a GlobeRider". We then rode to Poas Volcano on a road that was amazing. It was about 25 kilometers of asphalt, gravel, mud, dirt, water, and a lot of off-road bikers on small bikes. I, unfortunately, took a spill in the mud.



Day 21 Jan 25, 2010

Today we rode to the border of Costa Rica and Panama and had a long wait to go across a bridge from Costa Rica to Panama. It was a railroad bridge that was converted to a bridge that allows trucks, cars, people, goats, cows, etc. After crossing to the other side you have to go thru Panamanian customs and immigration. It took about 4 hours to get thru both sides and it was hot standing out in the sun waiting for them to get their stamps going. I decided to ride across the bridge on the side that had boards covering the ties of the old rail line. I picked the wrong way and was very nervous riding because of the holes and no place to put your feet to steady yourself. I made it with a lot of stress. Vince went down the middle with no problem.




We then had a great ride over the mountains but some of it was in the fog at night. Vince was smart to ride behind a bus that knew the road. It would have been nice to do that ride in the daytime, but I am not sure you would have seen much more due to the fog.


We found a nice hotel in David.


Day 22 Jan 26, 2010

We rode from David to Panama City on the Pan-American highway with no problems. We stopped at a McDonalds for ice cream at about 11:30 am and met a nice Canadian couple who were moving to Panama to retire. They were buying a house near David so they could be close to the mountains and the shore. They thought that it would be too hot to live on the ocean.


We drove over the entrance to the Panama Canal and took movies of the crossing. I followed Dan across, watching him do acrobatics on his bike trying to take pictures. We then hired a taxi to lead us into the city and find a hotel. We stayed at the casino hotel, Veneto. It is in an area that is very lively and has a lot of good restaurants.


Day 23 Jan 27, 2010

We rode our bikes to the airport and got them packed up to ship to Columbia. It took a long time but we got all the bikes ready to ship.


Day 24 Jan 28, 2010

Dan and I went for a tour of the Mira Flores lock of the Panama Canal. It was very interesting and Dan got all the statistics. We saw a small passenger boat go thru the lock and toured the museum and saw a short video of the building of the canal.




I then went shopping for a fanny pack so that it will be easier on the border crossings with all my papers.


We flew out at 6 pm that night and arrived in Columbia at around 7:30 pm.


We had a long day and fortunately Luis, Helge’s friend in Bogota, picked us up in his car and drove us to his house for a wonderful home cooked meal. We had a lively discussion with he and his wife and were ready for bed about midnight, which is very late for all of us.


Day 25 Jan 29, 2010

This was an uneventful day because we had to get our bikes out of customs in Columbia and ride them to the BMW dealer for service. We had a little wait because the flight from Panama was late and we didn’t get our bikes until about 4:30 pm. It was then a hectic ride to the dealer in rush-hour traffic. The dealer was waiting for us and we were confident that they will get the work done that we need by the next day.


We then went out to dinner with Luis and Anabella to a very nice restaurant in a very lively district near our hotel and their apartment.


Day 26 Jan 30, 2010

We had a wonderful day touring the city around the hotel with Anabella and I had a chance to look at some emeralds. We then had her drive us over to the BMW dealer so we could pick up our bikes. We did not get out of the dealer until about 4 pm and rode our bike to Luis’s house where we parked in his garage, which is right next to the hotel we were staying at. We went out to dinner in a area of all kinds of restaurants that were all filled. The entire area was full of people partying. We got back to the hotel at around 12 am. It was a late night for us and we were tired.


Day 27 Jan 31, 2010

Luis drove us around the city for a tour. We went up in a tram to the top of a hill overlooking the city. There was a church up there and it was a great place to see the layout of the city of 7 million people. At night we drove about 45 minutes out of the city and had dinner at the most unbelievable restaurant. It seats 3,000 people and was started by two hippies about 30 years ago. The decorations were amazing and it was just packed. We left about 10 pm and it was just getting started with the party crowd. They have hammocks so if you get too drunk you can sleep it off on their hammocks.


Day 28 Feb 1,2010

We left the hotel with Luis and Anabella leading us out of the city. We took the most beautiful route over the mountains that the Columbians call “la Linea”. When we got to a lower altitude it got very hot, almost 100 degrees. We then climbed to about 8,000 feet and were cooler. We had lunch at a town that was very hot. T he hotel we stayed at was a resort where we had a whole house for all of us. It was very nice but not a place to stop for the night.


Day 29 Feb 2, 2010

We left the hotel about 8 am and Luis and Anabella rode with us to the turn off in Armenia, where they went back to Bogota, then we were on our way to Pasto, which is about 400 miles south. We had a great ride through the mountains of Columbia around Cali and south of Cali. We all said at the end of the day that it was one of the best motorcycle rides of our riding careers. We got to Pasto at 7:30 pm in the dark and stayed at a hotel that was just off the main road.


Day 30 Feb 3, 2010

We rode about 60 miles to the border of Ecuador and got thru the crossing in about 2-1/2 hours. We then rode to Quito, which took another 4 hours, but we stopped for lunch and at lunch we fixed Vince’s bike. He had an oil leak that was caused by the oil plug not being installed right. The crush washer was buggered and it seeped a small amount of oil. We got another crush washer from an auto parts store nearby and it worked and fixed the leak. We wanted to stop at the Equator, but we passed it because there were no markings. I noticed on my GPS that we were at 00.00.00 but did not realize that we went from North to South in an instant. The traffic coming into Quito was very bad and we got a nice hotel in the new section of town.


Day 31 Feb 4, 2010

We went for a city tour with a cab driver who was very nice and Helge was able translate for us very well. We went up to the top of a hill which had a huge statue of The Virgin Mary and got a great view of the city. Helge and I got haircuts. Helge also found a very nice hotel in the old city that will be perfect for the group next year. We spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on work and email back home. I got to talk to the office and some friends who I haven’t been able to reach for awhile. We are going out to dinner tonight with the same cab driver that we had in the afternoon. You have to be very careful which cab that you take because they can take you to a place where other men get in the cab and then take you to an ATM and make you take out the money to rob you. It seems to happen quite often in both Columbia and Ecuador. This is really the only safety issue that we have had in the whole ride.







Link to Dan's Blog

Dan "The Professor" Moore is blogging the ride as well.  If you're interested in viewing his commentary and photos, please click on the image below:

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