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  • Sunday, February 28th, 2010

    Nazca lines

    I wanted to check out Nazca and the mysterious Nazca lines. They are a series of shapes made on the scorched earth by removing the darker rocks from the surface, leaving the lighter earth below exposed.

    Nazca itself was a hot and dusty town and I saw a couple of overland bikers stopped at the bus stop at the start of town so I pulled over to say g'day. I caught a glimpse of one of the riders and recognized her through the slit in her helmet, but didn't recognize the guy.

    He was on a German registered BMW 1200 and she was on what I thought was an Australian WA registered bike, but reasoned that it was probably a US registration. I followed them down the road to a hotel with camping, and it wasn't until we got there and took our helmets off that I saw it was Axel and Kat, the German couple Todd and I had met in an alleyway in Bangkok while we were looking for somewhere to park. They didn't have their bikes in Thailand, they were flying over to meet them in Canada at the time we met them.

    A quick reunion and it wasn't long before we were on the way to the airport to take a flight over the Lines. It was the only way to really see the lines apart from in photos, so we were ushered into a small 6 seat plane and off we went.

    It was definitely interesting, both the bumpy flight and seeing the lines. The pilot banked one way around in circles over each formation, then the other for the other side of the plane. It was a bit gut wrenching, and a real challenge to get a look at each formation and snap off a photo or two spinning around in circles for about 30 mins. It was the first time I had felt any kind of motion sickness thinking to myself "OK, enough now, that's plenty, lets wrap it up".

    That evening Axel and I had a good old chat over a couple of beers discussing all things adventure touring and more. I also met a Tasmanian couple who had spent the last few days with a good friend of mine from Uni and her husband, who I was hoping to catching Lima, but was about a day late. Small world.

    I was intending to head up to Copa Canyon via the back route, and then hook around to Copacabana ont the Bolivian side of the lake, but Kat wasn't feeling well and they weren't moving as fast as me so I took off alone, headed south once more.

    Sunday, February 28th, 2010

    You All Happy Now

    It was a long day to Lima from Chiclayo, about 800km, and the road was the same the whole way - The Pacific on one side, sand dunes on the other. Long haul.

    I stopped at what I learned was an institution of a roadhouse on the way, and got chatting to a German Guy and his Peruvian friend. Lunch was on the house and I took off, arriving in Lima just on dusk.

    Miraflores is the 'nice' part of Lima, and could be mistaken for any European city. Getting there I rode through slums of mud brick, but the system on one way streets and masses of traffic made it difficult to find somewhere to stay that had parking. I ended up getting a taxi driver to help find me somewhere, and ended up at the Hotel Ejecutive on 28th July. The place was basic but the staff were very friendly.

    Lima was going to be my last city before hitting Ushuaia, and so I wanted to pick up a few things that were going to be difficult to get anywhere else. Leandra, one of the Swiss girls from the boat to Colombia, had sent me a message on Facebook that she was held up in Lima with a mystery illness and I rang the place she was staying to see if she was up to a little shopping.

    I needed a warm sleeping bag, a new camping mattress, speakers for my MP3 player and cleaning solution for my helmet lens. A pretty straight forward list, one that would take an hour or two at the most in Melbourne. It was 7pm by the time it was all done, but I had everything I wanted so it was a good days shopping.

    I wanted to make an early start of it the next day, with all of my gear squared away, and ordered a wake up call for 6.30am. I had spent the evening repacking my bike and was ready to go at about 7.30am, packed, suited and booted. I turned the key and hit go, but nothing. The engine turned over and over, but nothing. It didn't want to go.

    I tried everything, clutch, air, fuel, but no go. After about an hour and a half of trying, I gave up and got help from the girls in reception to find a mechanic and a truck to transport it there. 'My moto es roto.'

    I checked back into the hotel and unloaded the bike, loaded it on the truck and headed over to the mechanic. The nephew of the mechanic was helping out for the day and spoke English so it was a bit easier to explain the problem, they hooked up an extra battery and it went first go.

    The mechanic tried to explain that the driving lights were the problem, running the battery low, and I was convinced that the problem was something else. He said we should fix the headlight so I wasn't running the driving lights and putting pressure on the electrical system.

    I left the bike for a service and although I had resigned never to leave a bike with a mechanic without standing there and watching I felt OK with this lot, but got back to watch them fiddling with the relays for the headlight for an hour and change the oil and filter. The bike looked spotless, apparently a thorough clean was part of the service. The battery was boiled almost dry, but all good after a charge. I was ready to hit the road again.

    Sunday, February 28th, 2010

    Katuwira Backpackers

    The Katuwira Backpackers on Pimentel beach near Chiclayo was an interesting setup. The beach its self was very barren, as was the town, but there were a lineup of little shacks selling lunch and drinks along the beach. Katuwira was just a few meters away from the beach boasting Japanese and English speaking staff.

    I walked into the reception/restaurant and set about finding out about accommodation. Andy from Cananda was sittinf at a table near the bar and had also just arrived and a sat next to him. I am not too sure why it was all so difficult, but eventually I was organized into a tipi next to the bar area.

    There was one other guest I was told, Helen from Switzerland, but apart from that the place appeared deserted. I was pretty keen on a day at the beach to get organized and just relax a little bit so I didn't need anyone around, in fact there would be less chance of a distraction.

    Accommodation included breakfast and lunch, and I ordered the Katsu Pork which was delicious. I think reading the menu must have counted as speaking Japanese, because I'd be buggered if anyone spoke Japanese, no more than good old "mushi mushi" anyway, but that didn't bother me, neither did I.

    The pork was amazing, the best meal I had had in a while (probably because it wasn't rice and beans) and Andy and I sat around swapping travelling stores and drinking beers. He worked in film and television in Canada, and had me when he mentioned Degrassi Junior High - those were the days. I let him in on the secret that I always had a little bit of a crush on Spike, but he couldn't get me her number

    The beds in the tipi were straw matteresses, as were the pillows which made for in interesting sleep, but it was nice to spend a day at the beach. I was interested at the setup of the place. It reminded me of an old Greek Island resort, off season. Empty but with a lot of infrastructure.

    It seemed that Bobby (the owner) was trying to recreate some kind of Asian shanty town with buildings on top of each other, one more dilapidates than the last, all made from bamboo. There was little huts stacked full of broken furniture and rubbish, strange bee hive huts out the back, full of rubbish, an empty nightclub building. It was as though the place was set up to take 100 people, but no one comes anymore. Unusual.

    Sunday, February 28th, 2010

    What Happened to the Jungle?...

    Getting out of countries seemed to e getting easier and easier, just hand over the permit and get a stamp. Done.

    Getting into countries is a little more time consuming, but no more difficult - handover documents and copies of documents, wait until they get stuck imputing the data because they have never seen an Aussie document before, point out what they need then wait around for them to finish and print it out, then sign.

    It seemed to be taking forever to input the data, but after an hour of chatting to the guys out front of the customs office, and telling the shoeshine kid he was doing a great job watching my bike, I was on the road looking out for donkeys and looking forward to the coast.

    Ecuador had pretty much ended at the bottom of the mountain, and Peru started across the river. The change in temperature and humidity was marked, and the scenery changed from alpine to rolling hills.. I was about 35 minutes down the road, enjoying the heat and the change of scenery when I was stopped at a customs checkpoint.

    There was something unusual about this, and the guy came out of the office going on about something at 1000 miles an hour. Once I got the idea he was trying to help, I realized what he was saying. The customs guys at the border had forgotten to put the exit immigration card back into my passport, and it would cost me up to $100 to leave the country unless I went back and picked it up. What can I say, although the guy took an hour to sort out my paperwork, he didn't quite get it right.

    Take two and I made it to Piura this time. I stopped to use an ATM, riding down the footpath on the wrong side of the rod and a lovely old lady was kind enough to point out that the footpath was not for motorbikes. From time to time the bike was running like a truck, but emptying the carb bowl seemed to be doing the trick, so I continued doing so.

    The road from Piura to the coast was 250KM of desert. I not talking about your semi arid weird little plants and the odd tree desert, I mean sand dunes and wind. I was super surprised because I didn't expect that in Peru, but I made it to Chiclayo and headed to a place I read about on the beach with tipis and other strange accommodations.

    Sunday, February 28th, 2010

    South Ecuador

    Another market and breakfast with a fellow Melbournian and it was on the road for Quito. I was to be meeting one of Karens tree planting friends, Shawna who was in Ecuador researching in alternative energy.

    Unfortunately I had her address and details on my old computer, which someone was kind enough to relieve me of. Another pang of rage hit me and for a minute, I hated everyone who had ever seen my computer. I managed to get a phone number from reliable Facebook and called for directions, then promptly left the internet cafe without my notebook.

    I had a printout of the map to the street, but not the street number. I had to find another internet cafe to get the number again. I eventually found Shawna and she arranged for me to park the bike in her favourite bar just a few doors down which was an adventure all of its own.

    We spent the evening talking about Karen and ended up out the front of the shop next door chatting to a group of volunteers from Argentina and Germany. We stepped inside the shop whenever a suspect group came up the street as these guys didn't mess around with pleasant smelling foam, they were into the huevo.

    We did get hit in a fantastic move, where all of the suspect youngsters walked in front of the woman who could well have been their grandmother, and when we thought it was safe, she let loose with the can of foam, BEHIND THE BACK! It was awesome. The after party was at Shawna's apartment, and I had to decline an offer of a day bush walking and hallucinogenic cactus hunting on the count of my schedule, just as well, might have stayed on indefinitely.

    The ride to Cuenca was about 600km, and was a lovely ride until I came around a mountain and the rain started. Miserable cold driving rain, roadworks and a carby full of water. It took me until about 8pm to get the Cuenca and I was dry and warm at 9. Miserable, but the ride was worth it because the food was awesome. After weeks of rice and beans it was great to see Hummus and Salad on a menu

    It was only a few hundred kms to my next stop just before the border to Peru, but I made a late start as I was downloading a backup of emails my brother had been kind enough to store for me. The passes were again amazing and went up and over 4500m. I could feel the air getting thinner and it was .
    harder to breath, but the bike was working well and I didn't feel anything of what I thought Altitude sickness would feel like so that was a bonus.

    I ended up taking the 'B' route towards Macara on the Ecuadorian side of the border instead of the more direct route, falling for the old MACARA sign trick. I mean both roads went there, it was just that one was the road I took, and the other was good. I really enjoyed the ride, up above the clouds.

    I was only about 50km from the town I was planning to stop in (it was getting dark), decending the mountain when the clouds I was so proudly riding above became clouds I was riding in. At dusk. Pretty hard to see anything at all and the roads turned to slippery mud. My speed reduced to a measly 15kmph for the last miserable 20km, and I arrived into a town were pretty much everything was closed.

    I found an open shop, right next to the only hotel in town. Rooms at the hotel were $3 with shared bathroom or $4 con Baňo. Deal, and all the shops and restaurants opened up again as soon as Ashe Wednesday Mass was finished, I headed to the internet cafe.

    I was lucky enough to meet the crowned queen of Zozoranga in the internet cafe. She was on the computer next to me looking at a slideshow of girls in bikinis. As it turns out it was part of a beauty pageant that she won. There was about five local fellers hanging around with her, and one was kind enough to offer that she liked tall foreign guys. She said they were all stupid, everyone in the shop laughed and I went to bed.

    Sunday, February 28th, 2010

    The Freaking Hatrick

    The border to Ecuador was pretty straightforward, and after the usual rigmarole, as well as extremely friendly Customs staff we were on our way - destination Quito.

    The first little town was alive with Carnival fever, waterbombs, eggs and foam (must be a special blend made especially for spraying people on carnival) flying around everywhere. We both got nailed on the way through town, and not only did it smell great, but there was a feeling of connection, being part of the celebration of carnival, that only being sprayed in the face with foam whilst riding a motorbike can give you. Steve slid sideways into a truck on the way out of town in an unusual undertaking move, I blame carnival.

    Not far down the road again and I felt that familiar feeling of my rear tire going flat so I started to slow down to pull over when all of a sudden it went BANG! The tire went dead flat instantaneously and going downhill on a bend at about 70kmph I had no hope of staying upright.

    The bike threw me down on the left hand side and slid off in one direction as I headed straight down the road on my Draggin Jeans and RJays Tourtech Jacket, giving them both a good workout. I lay stunned for a second in the middle of the road expecting to cause a bit of traffic chaos, but there was no on e around.

    I got up, picked up the bike (powered mostly by adrenaline at this stage) and pushed it down the road to a suitable spot to do a tube change. All the while all that was going through my head was about the Kawasaki dealer in Medellin, what did they do? "Fucking idiots, just a bunch of fucking idiots. I expected them to be able to do three simple fucking jobs. What I got was a circus act with monkeys throwing bananas at each other . They must have spent more time putting stickers on my bike than actually doing any work. Fucking idiots" Needless to say I was a little disappointed.

    After spending time fixing the tube, we headed for Otavalo for the night, about 100km from Quito. We stopped at dusk at a town about 30km away, but the traffic was so heavy between the towns that it took over an hour. We lucked out with accommodation though, the cheapest place in the good old guide book also had a secure area for storing bikes - winner.

    Sunday, February 28th, 2010

    Destination Ecuador

    The next day I picked up a new laptop, determined not to let it all drag me too far down for two long. I figured that the sooner i got onto it the sooner i would be back on top of it and in control of my information. I just wanted to get the ball rolling. The guys at the computer shop were able to install English language programs for me, and although the keyboard is a Spanish one, it was good to be in control again.

    Steve and I were going to ride together for a couple of days, and we headed South the next morning, but there was something a little strange with my bike. It wasn't for a while that i thought to check the chain and it was rediculously tight. It was too tight with just the luggage let alone my 100kg. Idiots. I wasn't in the mood for idiots, but was too far away now to go back and teach them how to do their jobs so we pushed on through the coffee region of Colombia, finding ourselves in the delightful little town of Cartago.

    We got great help from the locals when looking for a place to park and sleep, with one guy actually doing the groundwork for us. Dinner was interesting, I ordered a meal then asked to change it but got both, so the unusual looking kid who was staring at me the whole time I was in the cafe got lucky because the leftovers were a meal. It was a pretty uncomfortable town, and I was happy to get back to the hotel room.

    Leaving the next day we hit Puno, an interesting little city near the Ecuadorian border. It was a beautiful ride on fantastic roads through the mountains and you could really hook into the sweeping corners, all the while admiring spectacular mountain scenery.

    That was until my back brake failed.

    It felt like there was air in the line or something. Glad I got the experienced technicians to have a good look over my bike for safety, idiots. After a quick look at the markets with Steveo, and a big feed of the most Amazing pork ever, I spent the afternoon checking over my bike and bleeding the brakes. The idiots didn't bother to tighten the nut on the brake hose. (*keep in mind idiots wasn't the word I was using in my frustration on the day).

    Sunday, February 28th, 2010

    The Computer Incident

    I hit Medellin around noon the next day, and with very vague directions (on the back of a business card), went looking for a hostel called Casa Kiwi run by, guess what.. a Kiwi expat. On the way into town I asked a fella on a scooter for directions and he took me to the door. I love it when that happens, he was a student at the nearby university.

    On the way down the street I spotted a guy fiddling with his KLR out front of another hostel. I stopped for a chat and after ensuring there was no room for my bike at casa Kiwi headed back to bunk down at Casa Blanca. Steve was from Colorado travelling around South America looking for good climbing and had just been to the Kawasaki dealer for a service and was big wraps for them, so I got my gear sorted and headed over.

    I needed a new rear tire, a couple of spare tubes and a good looking over from a professional point of view. I wanted them to pop on my new chain and brake pads as well. The place looked very professional and the owner asked for a few of my pictures that he could buy off me and print for his adventure travel wall. I definitely left the place on a high. I felt comfortable leaving the bike there and felt comtortable that the work was going to be done well.

    The next day I headed out to lunch with a group of Americans, Jen Susie and Adrian , to a Thai place that served half priced meals and two for one drinks during the day. I had intended to do some backing up on my computer, but thought it would be a good opportunity to have some veggies, so I stashed the computer under my sheets.

    I was in two minds whether or not to leave the cord hanging out, but decided to leave it plugged in and charging, I mean it was only me and Steve in the room, and you had to be let in and out by a key through the security door out front, so it felt OK, and I headed off to lunch.

    After lunch we ended up having a couple of beers at Hooters just for fun and I left the others to make the rendezvous with Steve. When I got back Steve wasn't around, so went up to the dorm room to grab my computer and get to working but it wasn't there. Half the cord was there, and the bag, but no computer. I was meeting Steve to go computer shopping with him, so I assumed that he had taken it to have a look at. A bit bloody rude, but at least it will be around somewhere.

    I looked around, but he wasn't around, and the woman from the hostel, who was obviously pregnant, told me he left a short while earlier. This was starting to feel a little uncomfortable.
    I went up and grabbed my bag and came back down to the front desk "My computer is missing, any ideas?" Just then the husband came home and they spoke quickly in Spanish and I got the following story;

    "There was a group of about 5 Colombian guys who barged their way into the hostel through the security gate and while my wife was trying to get them to leave one went upstairs and must have gone into your room and taken your computer."

    You know that sinking feeling when you know that something really bad has just happened, and it is reasonable to assume it is your fault, but that the consequences were not going to present straight away, but over time and you know it is going to thoroughly piss you off for a long time?

    Well that hit me hard. I couldn't blame anyone else, I mean Steve could have locked the door when he left, and the security door could have stayed closed, or I could have rethought leaving the cord exposed, but at the end of the day, I am ultimately responsible for my gear and it hit me hard. I was absolutely furious.

    My first reaction was to think that maybe they were up to the same gig at the hostels down the road so I headed down to Casa Kiwi to ask around and the guy at reception was pretty nonchalant. I mean it wasn't his problem at all, but this was no time to give me that attitude, I was ready to rip someone in half.

    I headed back down to the hostel and jumped on the internet to change all of my passwords and did a mental manifest of what was lost. This didn't help my mood any. I Julian from the hostel to call the police, and they came while I was in the restaurant next door chatting with Bob from Sydney. The cops said I had to go to the station to get a report for insurance. I was pretty wound up, got my report from the cops and headed back to brood. Everybody knows the drill "it isn't the hardware...", but it was in Canada that I did my last backup, I had lost everything from then, and all of my email history which was vitally important to the wrap up of the project. Again no one else's fault!

    Steve got back from the shops and had a slightly different slant on the same story, in his version there was "two guys in suits and a woman, and he slipped out the door as she opened it for them", but in my mind everyone in the city, in the hostel, in Colombia was a filthy thief right then and there, and I wanted to remove myself from it.

    I was feeling pretty shattered just wanted to get the hell out of the place. Medellin was a great city, and the hostel was nice (I would have said safe), but it tasted sour and smelt foul just then and I just wanted out - of Medellin and Colombia. I couldn't trust anyone. Everyone was a filthy thieving liar. Could have been anyone, could have been everyone.

    So that evening, filled with rage and skepticism I headed back to the Kawaskai place to collect my bike. As I walked in the front door the boss was chatting away and ushered me to his desk - "Pictures, you got some for me? Where?" One of those moments that you remember just how pissed off you are, I mean it only just happened but it was a knife twist for sure, because not only did I have to explain it, I had to try and do it in Spanish, that was hard work. I moved on to my bike.

    Everything looked in order but my Visa card didn't work so I had to go looking for an ATM, finally got back, paid and took off back to the hostel, parked it in the secure area and got to thinking about my options.

    Sunday, February 28th, 2010

    Night Rider

    I had entertained the idea of going to mud pools with Andrew and the Jens the following day, but really wanted to take care of my Motorbike paperwork, and these things can take some time.

    After the passports arrived, I headed down to Customs and took priority parking at the front door so I could keep an eye on my bike. I jumped in the queue, but no sooner had I appeared than I was sent into the offices looking for 'Maria'.

    Asking around I got hold of Maria, and my paperwork was done then and there on the spot, the only hold up was a smoking break for Marias boss, who had to sign it all off. I cannot recommend a smile and friendly attitude enough, the customs team were extremely helpful, and chatted at me for a while (I hardly understood a word, they were going 1000 miles an hour) before sending me off with a smile and all the paperwork done.

    Cartagena is a beautiful port town, fortified and walled, but unable to keep out the cruise shippers, there literally by the boatload. There were one or two boatloads a day into town, and a well organized and greased tourism and accompanying arts network. It was nice to have made my final boat trip for a while and I spent a couple of days recouping and planning the next leg. I was intending to hit Medellin, where there was a Kawasaki dealer, then head south and into Ecuador.

    I made an early start from Cartagena for the 700km run to Medellin, but no further than 250km in I blew a tire. Relly blew the tire, the valve stem ripped right out of the tube. No big deal, except for that my spare tube had a small leak in it, and Todd had taken the patches and glue home with him. What are the chances, the one day I didn't have a spare. I actually thought to myself "what are the chances, 700km and I will be in Medellin, What are the chances I'll get a flat." So there you have it, the chances were pretty low, but the odds would have been good, wish I had put a bet on!

    I had only just got the wheel off when my first helper arrived, a kid on a bike. We chatted for a while (because that was the extent of my Spanish) and I showed him how deal with the problem. I had some glue, and cut a patch from the old tire and glued it on. While I was waiting for the glue to dry another guy came along, this time pushing a motorbike. He was out of gas so I siphoned a litre or so for him and he was off.

    Putting the tube back in, I was showing the first visitor how to reset the tire, but in his urge to help put the tire back on the rim he plunged the tire iron into the tube, makng another, somewhat bigger hole. This was beyond the scope of my glue repair so we hailed a motorcycle taxi to take the tube to the next town and get it fixed.

    He returned a short time later, in which time I had had another stunted conversation with a guy on a horse, and another kid on a pushbike had turned up, after bringing a couple of bags of water for me. We fitted the tube, and when I blew it up, it seems neither of the putty patches this guy had applied had actually worked.

    This time, one of the bike boys jumped on the motorbike with the taxi guy with the whole back wheel and took off. It was a fair while before the bike and wheel come back, all the whilke the first kid sat quietly keeping my company. We had exhausted our conversation so we just sat there in a knowing silence waiting for the wheel to return.

    A couple in a jeep stopped to offer me assistance, but they were heading the other way, but offered it was pretty good and safe 7 hour trip to Medellin from my paddock. Wheel fitted, business cards and handshakes and I was off, only another 7 hours to Medellin, and it was already close to 3pm.
    I stopped for fuel, somewhere just before the first mountain pass, and needed to check the tier pressure. It felt a little low.

    By the time I was leaving the gasolinaria it was pretty apparent it was flat. 'Jeepers' (some expletives have been changed here to protect any innocent readers - not you) I thought and I headed across the road where luckily there was a tire guy. These tire guys are everywhere, all across the world in 3rd world countries anyway, just a little shack with tome tires piled up and some kind of press equipment to fix tubes. He looked at the bike, asked the standard questions, and we were into it. Took the tire off (again) and there were three patches on it... This would explain why it took so long to come back from the tire and wheel guy, obviously he had put another hole in it, and dome a pretty poor job of fixing it, because when it went in the water, every patch leaked!

    The way they fix tires here is with a kind of tire putty and and an old iron on a press. The tire man took two wires from the light overhead and put them into the old iron making sparks, and placed a match on the iron so when it lit he knew when it was hot, and then worked with a bottle of water to regulate the temperature. He then took the live wires and put them into a compressor, and took a couple more to kick start the motor, again sparks everywhere. The whole episode was pretty ingenious, but I was pretty careful not to touch anything, just in case.

    If that wasn't enough, and it was dark by now, the bloody wheel wouldn't go on. It kept jamming with the brakes and wouldn't turn, so it took another 45 mins to get that sorted. I washed my hanbds with petrol, more handshakes and back pats and I was off again. Just another hour and I'll find a hotel and get some rest.

    About 30 mins later the highway turned into a mountain pass, climbing for about 25 mins into fog with no sign of a hotel. I finally came across the town of Yarumal about 3 hours later, knackered and wet.

    A kid jumped on my bike and directed me to a hotel with parking in the centre of town, and after throwing my wet gear in the room, headed to the square where some street vendors were doing their thing. I got pig on a stick and one of the best hambuguesas I have ever eaten (I was starving and very, very tired so it might not have been that good), then headed back to the hotel to watch classic 70's Colombian rock on MTV and crash out.

    Sunday, February 28th, 2010

    Softair Sailing

    Softair was scheduled to leave on Wednesday or Thursday, and I had to get my bike to the port (or beach) to load on Thursday afternoon, but the crew eventually got their ducks in a row on Friday afternoon, explaining that we would load up and leave late in the evening in order to take advantage of calmer conditions.

    Due to the weather and 'Colombianism' of the boat crew, we didn't end up leaving until Saturday night. By the time we headed off everyone except for Petr, a Czech cyclist, was staying at Hostal Wunderbar, so we all had a chance to get to know each other. There were the Swissys, the Jens, Andrew (Jens bro), Alex and myself. Cool bunch of cats, which is important if yu are going to spend four days in close confines.

    By the time we got going there were 12 of us on a yacht wht space for not more than 9, a pushbike and a Morotcycle precariously strapped onto the front. I shudder to think how they were planning to tie the bike on if I hadn't had my tie downs with me, but I was reasonably happy with the set up and we were off. The first night was a cruise to the San Blas Archapeligo, a set of islands that are an autonomous region off the coast of Panama.

    We spent the next day swimming and wandering around the island and had a fish dinner. The next day we headed to another island for a swim and then it was all stops out for the blue water crossing to Cartagena, which basically meant everyone and everything got wet, no one really slept, most everybody was pretty ill all trip. I was one of the lucky ones. By the time we got to Cartagena, JP (the owner) was even under the weather and not as welcoming and obliging as he was at the beginning, although I suspect his mood on those early days may have been somewhat enhanced.

    All things said and done, we were at our destination, tired and wet, but alive and kicking. My bike suffered some salt water damage, but what could I expect having strapped it to the side of a 50ft yacht for a few days!

    I found a parking yard around the corner from the hostel everyone ended up in and had to wait until the next day to complete my paperwork because the boat crew needed the day to take care of our immigration, and still had our passports. I rarely give my passport to anyone who doesn't have a stamp in their hand, or a rifle, but I felt pretty sure, although these guys were a little eccentric, that they were above board.

    Thursday, February 25th, 2010

    Bike on a Boat

    The border was an old train bridge, barely wide enough for two motorcycles to pass let alone cars. It was an easy border, complete with the obligatory insurance, dozens of photocopies of documents and shoe shine kids. Very friendly on both sides.

    We got chatting to a family at an ice cream stop who talked us into a stop at Bocas Del Toro, a small and very well visited tourist island. You become immune to people yelling at you from various places, and coming into the port it was at fever pitch.


    A local guy on a bicycle gave me about three different stories about ferrys and water taxis, and when he could see that I had absolutely no trust in him, he confided that he was from a local church, and that after a life of substance abuse he was now dedicated to the church. I guess that explained the confusion. The fire station was a safe place to park, and we headed for the water taxi station and over to the island for the evening.

    It was a day of contrasts, coming from the wet, lush and green Caribbean coast, over the mountain range to the hot dry and dusty Pacific side. A beautiful ride through the hills, Karen got stuck in to taking photos. We crossed the Panama Canal as we entered town, and it really was a sight. There were two prominent points out into the bay, one with the steel and glass skyscrapers of the new town, and across the water the beautiful colonial buildings of the old town. Another striking contrast.

    I bid farewell to Karen in Panama city who flew home to Canada to visit her father who had become ill and was in intensive care. A scary time for her, and luckily her travel insurance covered the cost of returning home. I continued up to the north coast of Panama, to Puerto Lindo and Hostal Wunderbar to organize a yacht to Colombia.

    When I arrived at the Hostal was no sign of Silvia, the owner with who I had been corresponding, just Ludwigo, an aging Italian artisan. I had intended to spend a day looking around for options, and failing finding anything suitable, head over to Carti, a bigger and busier port, where I had lined up a couple of possibilities, but there was no direct road. To get there I had to head back to Panama City and then up through the jungle.

    Although there were stories of people getting through the Darien Gap, and others still of people taking local boats and transport around the gap to Turbo and Cartegena in Colombia, I didn't have the time to work my way through the drug cartel controlled territory. I had resigned to the fact that I wouldn't be able to reach Cartegena, as most yachts were only heading around to Sapzurro in Colombia, two boat rides and an 8 hour drive away, but a yacht came up that would not only take my bike to Colombia, but take it over to Cartagena.

    The team at Hostal Wunderbar, were awesome, Guido is a welder and helped fix my cracked engine mount, all the while dealing with a baby, and a psychopathic next door neighbour, in her 60's and going seriously around the loop. That is a whole other story.

    Saturday, February 20th, 2010

    Costa Rica

    The ferries started running again around 130pm, and they rushed the vehicles on to the ferry so we could get going. There was a fair backlog of cars and trucks and the ferry was jam packed, but they kept on sticking stuff on there. I felt safer on the deck, both for the ease of disembarkation should there be an issue and to watch the bike. On the other side there was no sign of the little ratbag who stole my gloves, and we pushed on to the border, making it there late afternoon.

    I got my photocopies and headed through the first border checkpoint. The guard mumbled something to me and wrote something on my slip and sent me on to the main circus that was the border. There were people running around all over the place, and after taking my paperwork, an official disappeared. I waited for him to return. After 30 minutes or so I went looking for 'the Latin guy', only to be confronted by the news that the joker at the Nica entry border had given me only one day rather than the one month we agreed on, and I had to pay a fine. $54 all together, paid at the bank.

    It was dark by the time we hit the Costa Rica side.

    *******Email to a friend re: Costa Rica Border*******

    Hopefully you got the correct date on your permit, I got a day and it cost me $55. Freakers. It took a while, but wasn't that bad. There is a good cafe at the border. Steps .
    Nica Side -

    1 Tell the annoying kids to freak off.
    2 Get photocopies of license PPrt and bike doc at booth near blue gate... See More
    3 go through blue gate and get checked by the guys in the booth (they send you to the other [place)
    4 there is a bus terminal in the middle, go to the end of the building on the RHS and hand in your paperwork to one of the window (if you get it wrong they will let you know!)
    5 Bounce around getting stamps from various wankers
    6 HEad to the CR side.

    on the CR side.

    1 Change up some cash for insurance and curry
    1a Go into immigration hall and get stamp in.
    2 Buy Insurance on the Left hand side from the angry woman next to the photocopier
    3 Get a photocopy of it from the same angry woman. May as well get entry stamp as well.
    4 Cross the road and fill out the paperwork with the guys in the little booth
    5 Wait around for the guys in the booth to check on a bus load of tourists, then they check your paperwork and send you around the corner
    6 Have a curry
    7 go around the corner to the real customs place and wait behind 24 truck drivers to get your permit.
    8 head into CR and try not to have to stay in Liberia.
    9 DOn't harm yourself or others when the increase in price becomes apparent to you.

    Peace Bro, the Caribbean side is cool around Cahuita(?)

    THat border into Panama is pretty easy, just get photocopies.

    **************************************************

    Coming into Liberia, we stopped at a mall, that's right, a shopping centre, for a coffee and to get our bearings. I was tired and needed a bed, but didn't want to pay a fortune. There was also the issue of parking for the bike. We found a place that was well priced with a secure place to park the bike. The place was awesome, glass missing from the windows, one sheet between two beds that both sagged in the middle in some kind of cross between bed and hammock. The bathroom was right nextdoor, and there were a couple of American guys in the next room having a conversation about how cool they were at the top of their voices. Bless.

    People are very friendly, as a general rule, but it takes a special type to go that extra step to put two and two together. I never met one of those extraordinary types and consequently when asking for directions to La Fortuna, we ended up in the wrong La Fortuna. One, a backwater local town with a thermal power plant, and the other, a turbo charged tourist town with hot springs and all manner of adventure trips and the associated riff raff. They were only a few hours apart, but the riding in Costa Rica is not particularly interesting so it feels longer.

    After sampling the local helado we bedded down at La Virgen hostel in La Fortuna, one of the best examples of a small backpackers I have seen. Over the next couple of days we swam in hot springs, visited all sides of a volcano and ate helado. Although I had wanted to see lava flowing before I got to town, the way that the idea had been commercialized and marketed in town, made me start to wonder why I wanted to see lava at all. As it turned out, there was none to be seen whilst we were there anyway.

    The last stop in Costa Rica was at Cahuita on the Caribbean coast. If La Fortuna was anything to go by, I was not interested in heading down the Pacific coast through American holiday resort after resort, and either way, Karen had a family friend with a summer house in Cahuita, and we stopped with Marie and her family for a couple of days before making the move into Panama.

    Sunday, February 7th, 2010

    Panama Bound

    After a slow start it was to El Salvador to a beach called El Zonte. It was a recommendation of Brianna from Earth Lodge, and an interesting place. We arrived at night at the tiny beach village. We spent the next day relaxing on the black sand beach. Heading from there it was to Nicaragua, transiting through a small part of Honduras.

    The Honduran border took the cake for most annoying so far, but we were only in the country for a couple of hours before hitting another border. Heading into Nicaragua seemed to go quite smoothly.

    It was getting late, but again we decided it would be better to push on through to Leon so we could have a couple of days to look around. I was pretty keen to see the legacy of an old mate Dazza in the Bigfoot hostel he started a few years earlier. He also invented/popularized Volcano Surfing and I wanted to give that a crack.

    The hostel was great, wicked vibe and good setup. There was a decent cafe attached and all the standard needs were covered. Volcano surfing was an interesting 'tick the box', it included a hike up the side of the Cerro Negro Volcano before heading down the steep part sat on a Volcano board.(plywood board) wearing protective overalls and goggles and filling my mouth with ash and rocks. The instructions were very clear, but very hard to actually follow. "close your mouth and don't go too fast".

    I had one last attempt at fixing my flailing shorts in Leon, my Nana had bought me the cargo shorts a couple of years before and they were perfect for holding my passport and camera, but the had a hard life and there was holes in all of the pockets. No one wanted to fix them. I guess it was hard to explain the sentimental value in Spanish, and after a woman in a clothing store did pretty rough job of it, I donated them to the hostel and found another pair. No where near as good. It was a sad day.

    From Leon we headed to the beach for a couple of days and took some Spanish lessons. It was then to another volcano on Ometepe Island, in fact the island had two volcanoes. The plan was to spend a day hiking one of them and then continue to Costa Rica. Mother nature had other ideas.

    Hiking up the Volcano Conception was a shock to the system. My fitness has really flailed since I was at home and it was a pretty tough go it was pretty steep. We made it to the lookout which was about - of the way up, but there was a high risk of activity higher up and that was the limit. I couldn't say I was disappointed!

    The next day we got up to make the ferry at 8am, but from what we could ascertain from the staff at the port, there was nothing going until after 12 due to wind. Then it was after 1. Then it was maybe not. We decided too give up and head around the island for a ride and visit the natural springs for a swim, then check back later and probably spend another night.

    It ended up there were no Ferries left until the following afternoon and finally got off the island in time to make the border to Costa Rica just after nightfall.

    Sunday, February 7th, 2010

    Culture and.... Fireworks Fiesta!

    Tikal in Guatemala is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the largest archaeological sites and urban
    centres of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization, and the next destination.

    It wasn't too far form the border, but it looked like it was going to be a long ride on poor roads when the first 30 or so kilometers were loose gravel. After a border crossing it was just another annoyance, but the clouds cleared when the good road started, and we headed to the Campsite at Tikal.

    We took a sunrise trip into the ancient site, and it was amazing to hear the Holler Monkeys get going while the sun came up on the pyramids, and the guide took us on a very thorough tour of the site. I really enjoyed the morning,a nd what was even better as we were on our way out as the crowds were on their way in!

    There had been some ants running around the tent and bike at the campsite, and I was hit hard by Karma after making fun of Karen when she got bitten. It wasn't 50km out of the park and I had to pull over to sort out what I assumed were ants biting my underarm and around my belly. I figured the ants had got into my jacket when I had been packing the bike and it was on the ground. Now I have never suffered an allergic reaction before and I'm glad, because the next hour or so was mad.

    I took off my jacket and there were lumps all over my arms and they seemed to be spreading. I was running a temperature. Lucky we stopped near a pharmacy (quasi) and I got a few anti histamines. I took the pills and by this time the lumps were all the way to the back of my knees and I was feeling pretty poor. Sweating and itchy as all hell, I was desperately pouring Calamine Lotion on my legs. Karen was down the road trying to find someone to drive me to the doctors, and although I wanted to wait a while for the tablets to kick in, I was in no shape to argue. Then, just as quickly as it came on, it all started to reverse and I within about 15 minutes I was back to nearly normal.

    It was my intention to head to Coban - about 6 hours away, but the whole 'allergic reaction affair' had chewed up the best part of two hours, and most of my energy, so after a wrong turn, we headed to Flores so I could rest.

    Los Amigos was a cool little hostel started and run by a couple of Dutch brothers who were in Guatemala working as volunteers. They had the choice of dorm beds or a bed in a room of two doubles, with a Swedish couple. I was too tired to even joke, but not too tired to sample the amazing fruit shakes they had on offer, in the one night we were there I must have had 4.

    After an early start the next stop was Coban. It was a great ride, we had to take a barge across a river and arrived in the evening. There was some awesome street food (tacos on steroids) and Karen partook in a wonderful congealed cheese dish that the cafe was passing off as fondue. Along with the tacos it was definitely the highlight.

    Antigua was the goal, where I would be seeing Jimmy again at a hostel he had been recommended 'Earth Lodge' where we planned to spend new years, and what a Yew Years it was. I got a flat tire on the way down the driveway which was both good and bad luck, and after spending a couple of hours making pretty average baloon animals for the local kids (who came from out of nowhere as soon as I blew up the first balloon) I made the mistake of riding my bike down the 300m climb to the hostel.

    Getting down was no worries, but getting back up was a nightmare. It was super steep and sandy, and I ended up walking along side the bike riding the clutch with jimmy and a couple up unwilling locals pushing. It didn't come back down the track again.

    We hung out with Jimmy and Laura from Paraguay as well as and a great crew at the hostel, which is amongst the best I have seen. They work with the local community, serve great food, and have a great spot on the side of a mountain. There was a market behind the 'tourist' market that just sold fireworks. There was a market that just sold fireworks. (that's how exciting it was). We bought up big and we mixed beer and fireworks at Earth Lodge in any boys New Year dream. It was an awesome spot to shoot rockets off the side of a mountain.

    Sunday, February 7th, 2010

    Borders Bloody Borders

    It is not unusual to have a bunch of people running around ripping people off with exchange rates and charging exorbitant fees for 'helping' with customs and immigration.

    There is no system and seemingly no control. It is hard to believe that in places as 'formal' as borders between countries these little rats can just run around unchecked making nuisances of themselves, especially considering the firepower being wielded. My theory is that having these guys saves the staff (who get paid relatively well) from answering any questions or giving any instructions.

    So the first job at any border crossing is to retreat from the gaggle of morons trying to rip you off. You have to get your bke 'fumigated', a process where someone walks around your bike with a pressure pack and gives it a cursory spray in the wind. The next s is the normal procedure for persons, including a $5 charge. It doesn't matter how prepared you are, because for the bike paperwork you need a couple of photocopies of the stamp you just got, so you have to walk 200m across the bridge and get some copies. Then it is back to a queue to wait for some info to be imputed, and then you are sent to the bank window to pay the fee (about $30). Once you have paid the fee you can get back in the queue, and give the officer your slip and they do some more paperwork before giving you a sticker and piece of paper. That's it.

    You can imagine how annoying this whole process is and after 30 odd borders, it doesn't get any more bearable, just funnier. There must be 100 photocopies of my passport around the world, God only knows what they are doing with them.

    Sunday, February 7th, 2010

    A Very Belizian Christmas

    We were two up on the bike, which I have yet to name, but I am sure it is a male, not a female. Everybody who asks me what the name of the bike is asks what 'HER' name is, and it just feels wrong. I digress... Anyhow we headed for the border and Belize. Had never heard much about Belize, and did not really know what to expect.

    We stopped in the border town of Chetumal for the night so we could make an early run of it in the morning into Belize and get right to Caye Caulker. You often hear that Belize City can be quite dangerous and I wanted to avoid spending too much time there. Too often the soothsayers are bestowing upon you information that they have heard from "a friend that went there", or "something they heard". I have come to be quite skeptical of advice from people who just haven't been there.

    None the less, it was getting late and I prefer to hit borders early in the day, before the staff get tired and cranky.

    At borders there is often the usual spattering of strange types. Moneychangers, insurance salespeople, thieves, people selling their services as quasi immigration agents, artisans and other randoms. I don't often trust random people offering to help me or sell me things, so borders are a real pain in the arse.

    The Mexicans told me that because I didn't have a particular piece of paper from my entry that it would cost me $20. That was one guy. Another said $25. It was also 'too difficult' to get my paperwork done by myself, and I would have to pay for someone to help. I had none of it, grabbed my passport back, took care of the customs details myself and told them all to stick it up their bum. (well that's the Nana version), and headed for Belize.


    Now I have to admit that I knew little to nothing about Belize. I didn't know that English was widely spoken, and that it was once a haven for freed slaves and English pirates. The easygoing Caribbean attitude started the border, it was an instant change and it made me feel relaxed immediately. The customs officer was a legend, speaking in a heavy Creole accent "ave eh room poonch for me mun". This was my kind of place where the guy checking in your vehicle tells you to have a drink for him...

    The destination in Belize was Caye Caulker, and there was no way to get my bike there. I chained it up on the ferry boat port and we caught the ferry across. There wasn't actually and vehicles on the island apart from a few golf carts and a couple of little bikes, and the roads were sand. My first impression of Caye Caulker 'was what an amazing place, so chilled out'.

    We arrived on Christmas eve and booked on to the 'Seahawk' with Captain Stevo for a Christmas day cruise. The trip was awesome, good boat, great crew, grand group, amazing snorkeling, top atmosphere. We saw turtles, sharks, moray eels, rays, and various fish of course. Ate Steve's famous sea burgers and ceviche, and drank rum punch. It was great to see George who I worked along with at Top Deck in Europe. We ran into each other at a bar and had a great catchup between Karaoke songs.

    After a couple of days it was back on the road, heading for Guatemala. Belize is not a big country and we were off the island (just making the early ferry) and to the border by lunch after an interesting time getting through Belize City and it's one way street system. Getting out of Belize was as simple as a tax, a wave and a stamp (as expected), but getting into Guatemala was a right pain in the arse. Crossing borders in Central America is pretty easy if you don't have a motorbike, but the systems for temporary import seem pretty ludicrous. This was one of the best.

    Friday, February 5th, 2010

    Cancun, Mexico

    On the way into Cancun I ran into a Russian couple in a coffee stop at a gasolineria. They were heading to Cancun with a chauffeur, and were obviously pretty cashed up.

    I needed to borrow a pen to record distance and fuel consumption and the girl obliged, handing me a broken plastic one from the depths of her handbag. When I went to return it she told me I could keep it much to my delight, I had lost so many pens to officials along the way who never seem to return borrowed pens.

    Her giving a pen to an absolute stranger must have upset the fella she was with and he demanded that she get the pen from me, and I laughed and handed it back. When the couple left the cafe shortly after, I noticed the pen still on the table, so I picked it up and made a point to chase the couple down, by this time they were just getting into the car, and handed them back the pen "You forgot your pen, wouldn't want to leave it behind now eh!" It's the small amusing things that happen day to day on the road that keep the energy high.

    I arrived in Cancun a day early, well a night early, and headed to the hotel that Karen had organised for the following evening, extended the stay and set about reorganizing the bike to take an extra person. It was going to be tough to work out what to throw and what to keep, as you can generally assume that the second you ditch something you have been carrying for months and not used, the second you would invariably need it.

    I stripped the bike down in the car park of the hotel, breaking to chat to various guests as they arrived and left, coming over to see what the mess was all about. I ended up ditching some rain booties, various bits of chain and other unnecessary parts, and made a send home box (things I didn't really need and couldn't bring myself to throw out. I rearranged the weight, cable tying things to the front frame and generally worked to keep it all low and forward. A week of long and hard riding through Mexico had really worn me out and I retired to enjoy air conditioning and a comfortable bed.

    I had been in contact with a Ricardo from Bikers garage in Cancun, for a few weeks. I had some parts that Kawasaki USA had provided for me and I needed a person or at least a space so I could do some work on the bike. In researching a mechanic I came across a particularly angry customer, equally I came across a few excellent reviews, but I guess it is human nature to ponder on the negative association so I was quite weary. When you are so far from home, you are always on full alert not to get ripped off so I discussed the review with Ricardo who told me the whole story. The angry American guy couldn't find parts anywhere in Mexico, and he wasn't happy with the price of the parts Ricardo found was the gist of the issue. I was happy with that so I got directions and headed over to the workshop.

    It was raining heavily all morning, and although I had hoped for the rain to stop so I could stay dry, I gave up and headed over. It was my intention to drop off the bike then spend the rest of the afternoon looking for a helmet and gloves for Karen who was arriving the next day. I found the workshop, and Ricardo lent me a little scooter while he worked on my bike.

    I spent the afternoon riding around on the scooter in heavy but warm rain trying to find a bike shop in town. I was saturated, and I kept getting ping ponged around town with dodgy directions to bike shops. Having no luck whatsoever, and running out of petrol in the scooter I gave up, heading back to the hotel to prepare to head to the Airport to collect Karen. I toyed with the idea of heading to the airport on the scooter in the rain, but ended up in a taxi.

    The international airport in Cancun was pretty small, and Karen was the last person to come out. There was a barrier that meant you had to wait outside for arrivals and began to panic a little, thinking that I might have got the details wrong, but she eventually made it out.

    We did the tourist thing in Cancun, beach, Bubba Gumps Shrimps, and a lot of lounging around. For those uninitiated, Cancun is just like the Gold Coast in Australia. It is not especially cheap, and clean but very commercial. For what it is - a holiday resort - I quite like Cancun.

    Sunday, January 24th, 2010

    Mainland Mexico

    After a couple of hours riding through the back roads with the other guys I came up to a sign for a toll road. I pulled over to let everyone know that I was going to go that way and I didn't expect anyone to come with me, I was in a hurry and wanted to get some kms under the belt.

    I was glad when Jimmy said he would head with me and off we went, leaving the other guys to take it easy on the scenic route. The first toll booth was a joke, we paid a toll for the overpass to get to the toll booth?! Then they wanted more, which we didn't pay, but it was the first of many. Tolls in Mexico are ridiculous, so expensive. I am talking about $20 per 100 - 150km.

    Jimmy had an electrical problem with his bike, and although it was a KLR, it was a new model and it took a while to diagnose the issue. Another case of a remote fuse. We got that sorted and made some good time, but were slowed down a lot when we turned off the highway onto the coast road.
    It was starting to get dark and we decided to shoot shorter and head for Sayulita, nth of Puerto Vallarta.

    Although it was a tourist town it was hard to find the campsite. I managed to break my brake lever while we were trying when my bike fell over parked on a hill - schoolboy error. Once we found the campsite and set up, I spent the evening on an elaborate fix for my lever, using gaffa tape, tent pegs, some bicycle tyre irons that jimmy was carrying, and a couple of meters of fencing wire. I guess the problem was that I didn't use zip ties, because it didn't work. It was an interesting attempt though.

    The next morning was spent trying to track down a new brake, I would have gone with just the back brake, but as anyone who has a KLR would attest, they are not worth turning the brake light on. After visiting what must have been every motorbike shop in town, the Yamaha mechanic threw on a temporary number for free, because he was a legend, and we were off. By now it was about 12pm and the original plan of heading down the Pacific coast and crossing closer to Guatemala was gone, and it was onto expensive toll roads.

    It got dark just as we hit the toll road, and the plan was to get through Guadalajara and find the next place to stay at a road hotel or something. It was always a good idea to get through bigger cities when it was quieter at nighttime and start fresh on the othe side in the morning rather than get up and hit city traffic straight up, so that was the plan.

    In this particular instance, there was nothing the other side of Guadalajara, at least not on the toll road. You could tell it would have been a beautiful mountain pass, it was high, cold and windy with lots of trucks, but nowhere to stop for a tent or hotel. We ended up at San Juan de Los Lagos, famous for its cathedral and a pilgrimage sight for Catholics in the country. It was about 1am in the morning and I was absolutely spent. It takes so much out of you riding at night, especially in places where you didn't know what to expect. The bed could have been made of rocks, I could have slept anywhere

    The next day was another big one, around Mexico City and on to Puebla. It was another mission and we ended up in an interesting hotel. I had see a lot of 'Auto Hotels' on the highway, where every room has a garage and you can drive right in your car, sleep (or whatever) and leave again without being in the open. I can only imagine that they are designed for people who want to be in hotel rooms with people they should not be seen with.

    This one was peculiar, they didn't give you keys, and you had to ask to be let in to your room by the attendant. I was in one room and jimmy was in the room that led into the garage. He pulled the plug on the automatic door for the garage to make it harder to get in to the bikes which I thought was a stellar idea. The TV had some 'interesting' channels and there was an interesting room service menu that read like an Ann Summers catalogue. We headed into town for a spot of street food to cay goodbye, jimmy was heading south from here and I was continuing to Cancun. We bought a couple of beers at a little shop by the hotel and jimmy cracked the glass cabinet they were using as a counter so we were out of there.

    Bidding farewell to Jimmy bright and early the next day I wanted to get 900 - 1000kms on the board that day. It was still 1600 or so to Cancun and I wanted to get in early enough to sort out some accommodation. It was getting dark as I made the decision to find some accommodation at the next town.

    Not 5 minutes later the road turned into a massive thunderstorm and my headlight blew. There was no point stopping in the middle of nowhere so I pushed onto the next town at Catazaja. There was a little hotel and the couple running it must have felt sorry for me when they gave up trying to overcharge me at my first offer. Everything was closed except for an oversized tostada stand, so that was dinner, some Chuck Norris dubbed into Spanish and so was my experience of lovely downtown Catazaja.

    Sunday, January 24th, 2010

    Mexico - Baja California

    Maybe it was because I was expecting a big hullabaloo going across the border, but it was pretty hard to know you had crossed the border at all. There was no checkpoint, no sign - you just drive straight through. If I hadn't been warned to stop off at the border and get my bike documentation organised I would have driven straight past. In fact the compound to get all of the papers sorted was in town, 'behind McDonalds'.

    I needed to get a visa, and also pay a bond for the bike. There a drop in street cleanliness and a somewhat different style of organization on the roads, but apart from that I could have been in the anywhere.

    I rode past a few street food stalls on the way to the customs compound and they looked good. I was looking forward to hooking in to some of it as soon as I was done with the bike paperwork. The system was pretty organised and mostly standard, only problem was the computer system was down and they were backed up to the proverbial house, so it took a lot longer than it would have ordinarily. It was lucky because in the queue I met Felix and Casper who picked me for an Aussie when they saw an Aussie passport.

    The boys were in a GMC van they bought in the States and were cruising south. They were from the Northern Beaches of Sydney and had been working on private motor yachts, the kind really, really wealthy people have.
    Anyway we decided to hook up for a few days and travel through Baja until I needed to keep moving and they wanted to stop somewhere for a while. Felix was keen on a surf, but they didn't have anything of a board at this stage.

    Once we were through customs we headed into Tijuana to have a quick look around and chase up some medications for a friend of the boys. The acne drug was 10 times the price in the USA. We spent the afternoon running around pharmacies and finally getting what they needed we headed down the coast, breaking the "don't ride at night" rule on day 1.

    We arrived in Ensanada, at a campsite right on the beach, a very popular point break, about 8 then set about finding something to eat. There was a tomale stand not too far from the campground and we hooked in, back to the campsite bar for a margarita - we were in Mexico after all. Given that the only other people in the campsite was a mystery van we didn't expect too much action at the bar, but luckily the barman was thoroughly off the hook, and had a collection of wigs. A man after my own heart.

    I talked the boys into heading across to the other side of the peninsula with me, and after spending the morning looking for surfboards and at the post office we headed across the way. It was a beautiful drive, and it was getting dark by the time we decided it was a good idea to find a place to camp. We got directions for a campsite from a bunch of Gringo expats at a restaurant on the road, and went looking.

    We eventually found it after rolling into a few front gardens and private roads, and there was no one around. In fact the whole side of Baja looked deserted. The toilet block was boarded up and there was no one around. Beauty.

    We set up camp and headed back down the road to the restaurant we met the gringos in for dinner and an interesting chat before heading back to the camp to burn everything we could find that wasn't nailed down. The boys were loose, walking away and coming back with shipping crates, throwing them on and heading off for more. The fire wasa so big and so hot you couldn't actually sit near it, but it was fun. Felix attempted to skate over a plank on the fire and fell in, but apart from burning his foot got away relatively OK.

    The next day was a long day of dirt roads and the boys had to take it pretty slowly. The ride was amazing, and it looks like they are working on putting a road through so it was good to see it before it happens. I took off ahead and waited for the guys a few times, and the last time I made a run for the tarmac, only 50 or so kms and waited for the guys there.

    It was starting to get dark and there was no sign on the boys so I though I had better head to the next town and find somewhere to put up my tent and wait for them to come through. I ended up putting my tent in someones front yard in a tiny town on the highway and sitting on a char facing the highway until 11pm when I thought it was safe to assume that they had decided to call it a night and park the van up. There was two of them and they weren't idiots so I assumed they were fine.

    I woke up in the morning to no sign of the boys and hooked into it. It was my intention to get as close to La Paz as possible, as this is where the ferry to the mainland left, and I wanted to ensure I had it organised. I stopped for fuel and a break just on the south of Muluge, and as I was leaving the station a guy on a KLR was coming down the road the other way. We both waved and then tentatively slowed down. When we realized that we were both doing it we met in the middle for a chat.

    James, or Jimmy as I immediately began calling him, was on a trip from Canada to wherever. He was camped down at a beach not too far away and invited me to join him and the crew of people at the campsite. We headed into town and then to the campsite to meet the motley crew.

    There was a mix of expats, part time expats and visitors. Nigel and his wife come from Canada in the RV for 6 months every year. Mick owned and ran the small bar/restaurant, and there were a few other long termers. There was also a lot of firewood and combined with a beautiful setting, beer and stories made for a great stop. One of those places you intend on visiting for a day and end up for a few. We ended up hosting a bbq and beach party at our little site on the beach, but I retired injured quite early after a day in the sun.

    Jimmy headed to La Paz with me, although I lost him on the way. I stopped for fuel and convinced myself after waiting for a while that he must have ridden past when I wasn't looking so I headed off to avoid riding at night - again. I got into town right on dusk and found a great place to stay in Hostel California. A great old school hostel, there was room for the bike, and heaps of people to chat to, just the way I like it.

    I was a little worried about Jimmy, but I assumed that I would see him on the ferry the next day and went for a meal with a couple of guys who had been at the hostel for a few days and tried the local eating establishments. I got back to the Hostel to see Jimmy's bike parked in the hostel next to mine. He had spoken to some other riders who had seen me heading into the hostel so that all ended well.

    I had all of my paperwork in order for the ferry, but jimmy hadn't been given the tip about getting things done at the border and so didn't. He had to go to the port and sort it out, but it wasn't too much of a hassle. It was one of the most expensive ferries I had taken so far at $250, but I figured it was worth it for the chance to see Baja.

    Almost all of the people I met at the hostel were on the ferry, some Canadians, a few Finish, some Americans and Me. We loaded up with two American guys riding to Brazil for Carnival, and another Canadian having a look around Central America with no real time frame of destination, and agreed to meet at port in Mazatlan to discuss where everyone was going and whether we should ride together , for how far and the like. It felt cool to be getting a bit of a crew together again.

    I had planned ahead and had brought along some chips and dip, and modeling balloons to get the party going. It wasn't long before every kid on the ferry was running around with a piss weak Simon or James balloon toy, and loving it. Throw in some card games, a very uncomfortable attempt at sleep, a poor breakfast and an overshot arrival time and you have a pretty standard ferry ride.

    We unloaded about 11:30am rather than 7:30am and met the other riders. After some fiddling around and fueling we were ready to go. I had hoped to make it beyond Puerto Vallarta that day, but it wasn't looking likely. I had to rearrange my plans due to an extended stay in Muluge. I was on a mission to get to Cancun to meet Karen who I met in East Timor, she was heading to Cancun to meet me for Christmas and New Years and I was really looking forward to seeing her again.

    Sunday, January 24th, 2010

    Kawasaki HQ Los Angeles

    After San Fran it was down to LA to stay with Stephanie, who is married to Dietrich but lives between San Fran in LA as she works as a actor, teacher and comedian and LA's where the work is. We took Highway 1 which is touted as the best costal route in the world. Although it was a beautiful ride, and very popular, I wouldn't say it was any better than the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia, or some of the roads in the Indonesian islands. We planned to spend the night somewhere on the way, but Steph encouraged us to push on through and was a fantasic host, driving us around and cooking for us for the couple of days we were there.

    We had pushed it on through to LA in order to be there for the Movember Gala ball, and work with the guys at Movember to do some press. Again, yet another disappointing relationship, There was nothing organised and they took absolutely zero advantage of having us there. It would have been more disappointing if being there wasn't a waypoint keeping us on target time wise, and if Steph hadn't cooked us a big 'home style' roast dinner. She was an absolute legend!

    The HQ for Kawasaki in the USA was also in LA, and Steve from 'Roadbike' magazine had organised for us to meet the team and get a couple of things done on the bikes. We were hot on the tail of a few disappointing letdowns and weren't expecting much, but the day turned out to be one of the best of the trip. Jeff, Jan and Greg were amazing, not only did they show us around the HQ (including pointing out the R&D area that was top secret), and fixing up the issues on our bikes (including giving me a new front wheel, they sent us out on a ride on some new Kawasaki models. I mean, instead of having us sit around while they worked on our bikes, they took us riding on the New Concourse 14, Ninja and Versys through the hills of Southern California.

    What an afternoon, the Concourse 14 was a beautiful machine, as a 1400 it had awesome power out of the turns. It was a physically big bike which I like and had a bunch of little gadgets to play with including intelligent breaking that spreads the force from the back to the front or front to the back for smooth breaking, and the adjustable windscreen. The Ninja rode like a pocket rocket, redlining well above my one cylinder KLR, and handling like it was on rails through the corners. It was a little small for me though, as most sports bikes are, but well worth it for the adrenaline rush that's for sure. The Versys is like a hybrid bike, set up like a cross between a sports tourer and a road-trail bike. It handled well and had a nice power range. It was almost like a more street oriented KLR. What a day!

    All in all, the day at Kawasaki was amazing, not because of the work they did for us, or the tour of HQ or the bikes, but because of the feeling of support they gave us. It was really heartwarming to have that kind of support from Kawasaki in the USA after getting little in Australia and hitting a brick wall in Japan.

    LA was the point where Todd and I separated. He had never been to the US before and wanted to have a look around California. I was keen to keep moving and keep to schedule which was pretty tough. He was going to look into opportunities to meet further down the track, or perhaps in NZ or just go home to Australia depending on the cost. I was going to head to San Diego and then into Baja California in Mexico. I would await news of what Todd decided to do, but the show had to go on.

    I stayed in a hostel in San Diego by the beach that I had stayed in nearly 10 years before - Banana Bungalow, and it would appear that they hadn't actually done any maintenance in that entire time. The place was falling to pieces, although the position was one in a million, literally right on the beach. There was a massive storm that night and the best part of the following day, so I decided to stick it out in San Diego rather than head to Mexico wet and miserable. Several beds were flooded out in the hostel but thankfully my room remained dry and safe. Although spending the extra day gave me the opportunity to get some things done, it wasn't the best opportunity, because I only had the bike as transport, and getting to the bike shop and book store had me soaking wet. I was dripping wet walking around borders looking for a guide book, which is a technique I recommend if you want to get quick service!

    The rain began to clear in the late afternoon and I headed to a bar down the street to watch 'the Game' with some locals and a young guy from Melbourne who I convinced to try and get in because he was with an old guy. I didn't know much about this whole phenomenon of watching the game, so I wanted to be part of it. Let me tell you, if you don't know much about the game itself the experience of sitting in a bar staring at a TV isn't much different to any game in any pub in the world. There was a bar with an unbelievable margarita that had a full beer sat in the top of it though. I was disappointed the camera was in my room for this one though. Regardless of the amazing drinks on offer I had to head home, to jeers of 'old man' and 'pussy' to make an early start . I had some printing to do, aand wanted to hit the border as early as possible to make a good run of it into Baja proper the next day.

    After meeting an interesting Russian fella on the way to the border, who was sat behind me at lights and blew his horn signaling madly for me to pull over. I though there must have been a problem, but as it turns out he just wanted a chat about the trip and the bike, the state of the tourism market in California (he was a tour guide), politics in Russia and the USA, food and I had to interrupt him when the subject changes to kangaroos otherwise I would never have made the border! I took the last exit before the border to pick up insurance for Mexico before pushing on to see what was in stall!

    Sunday, January 24th, 2010

    Middle America

    Pushing on from New Orleans we headed for Silver City, New Mexico to stay with Paul and Giz. They had got onto the project through a friend and had not only invited us to stay, but also organised coverage in the local paper. As expats from South Africa who had done a bit of traveling, they were awesome to spend the evening with, and another case of somewhere it would have been awesome to stay a bit longer, but the weather was closing in and we still had to make that appointment in LA.

    Paul had the ultimate of MAN SHEDS. Tools, Drag Cars, racing cars, dune buggy, 4WD's. Spent the evening in the shrine of masculinity that was the shed upgrading bolts on my bike that were continually snapping off which was an absolute god send. Paul not only had the tools, but knew how to use them. Next stop, Phoenix and the home of Al Jesse and Jesse Luggage, who manufactured the bike luggage we were using.

    We took a ride through some beautiful Mountains on the way to Arizona, courtesy of some inside information from Paul, hitting town in the late afternoon. Phoenix was the first time it was actually warm in about 5 months. The temperature just seemed to change coming across the border into Arizona, and I felt the unfamiliar sensation of sweat once again, and kind of enjoyed it. We met Al at one of his workshops, and he grabbed some upgrades for our Panniers, and a new top box for Todd.

    The panniers have been working really well, it is easy to see that they are designed and manufactured by someone who has actually done a great deal of motorbike touring and knows what works and what doesn't. We spent the night at Al's, and he invited the international crew around for dinner and a chat which was great. It was a shame we hadn't more time to stick around, but that is the nature of things and we were off to see the Grand Canyon for Thanksgiving.

    You could feel the temperature drop as we climbed higher and higher heading for the Grand Canyon. I didn't realize that is sat at around 5000ft, I kind of assumed that because it was a great big hole in the ground that it would be at sea level and below. You become very aware of the changes in temperature and altitude when you are on a bike, there is no hiding from it. When it is cold, you are cold, so you notice - and it was cold. Thankfully the sun was shining and we hit the National park from the east side and made our way through the lookouts which seemed to get more and more spectacular as they went on, but there is only so many views of the Canyon I could take so we stopped for a meal at the cafe where the bikes became a hit with the other visitors, who were mostly international travelers given it was Thanksgiving. Now it was pretty cold up at the Canyon during the day, but when the sun went down it was finger cracking cold, but we did manage to make it to Seligman at the start of 'Route 66' before bedding down for the night.

    Seligman is a little country town interesting cafe that was the inspiration for the cartoon 'Cars', with a bunch of old cars in the yard that have eyes painted in the windscreens. I have it on authority that the producers did pay a commission or royalty to the cafe owners (which might explain why the cafe was closed the morning we were there). We dropped into the cafe after getting Todd's bike going with a battery problem, and then headed down the last original part of the famous Route 66, which as a ride was not as interesting as I thought it would be. It was, in fact, pretty much a straight go for 150km, and after numerous warnings about the cops being pretty tough on speed in the area, pretty boring to boot.

    The ride did get interesting heading towards the Hoover Dam, where the traffic was backed up for at least two kilometers either side of the dam, as it was also pretty much the border, and only one lane either way. The bikes were able to get around the majority of the traffic and we were off to Vegas baby!

    Las Vegas is pretty much a standard American sprawling city, with a bizarre set of casinos and entertainment complexes through it's core. We had a hint on a reasonably priced place to stay, not far off the strip called 'Terribles' funnily enough, and we headed in. I was looking forward to seeing what Vegas had to offer but unfortunately it was cold and off season so there wasn't much of a vibe around town, that was until we found ourselves at an outdoor Karaoke bar and made our own fun. We did pop into Hooters for a feed because we heard they had good chicken wings. Not Being gamblers, we decided to bug out of Vegas the next day, ride into death Valley and find somewhere to cross the Sierra Nevada Range and head to San Francisco. We had a tip from Al Jesse on a ride through Titus Canyon and it was an amazing ride, little slippery on the deep gravel though. The plan was to hit up the first open mountain pass, and no on e really knew if any were open as it had been snowing, the last resort would be to head around Lake Tahoe on the northern side of the range.

    Spending the night amongst snow capped peaks wasn't very encouraging, as there was a pretty real likelihood that we would be in the snow at some stage on the way to San Francisco, which did end up the case. It was a beautiful ride though, a little nerve racking for a guy from Australia, but beautiful. Todd blew a headlight fuse just before we hit town and we were already running late, but managed to sort it out and we arrived at Santa Rosa, near San Francisco in the evening, and Bulldog Machine.

    Pete moved from England to the states years ago and was a enthusiastic about adventure riding. He heard about the project through a friend and was keen to help us out. We spent the night at the factory, and the next day working on the bikes (with his help) in preparation for Mexico. He was an awesome guy, as were his staff at his engineering firm, and it was great to get support from someone on the other side of the world.

    The next day we headed into San Francisco proper to stay with Dietrich, a friend of Craigo's who used to work with us at Top Deck. Dietrich's place was awesome and in a great spot. We spent a couple of days with him there, I caught up with some planning and some old traveling mates, Jared who I met in Portugal almost 10 years earlier and Jen who I met while she was traveling in Australia. San Francisco had a really cool vibe about it, and really reminded me of Melbourne. The Golden gate was a lot more impressive in the flesh than it was on 'Full House' that's for sure!

    Sunday, January 24th, 2010

    Sunshine USA

    Even with winter gloves, heated grips and gauntlets, it was still pretty cold and uncomfortable riding in Canada, but every time I even thought about complaining about the weather someone would say "It isn't cold yet!", or "You are pretty lucky with the weather for this time of year!" so I saved my whinging for when I was really uncomfortable to limit the number of shutdowns I had to deal with. Nevertheless, it was time to head south for the sun.

    A little disappointing that we couldn't head across Canada as planned, especially because the Motorcycle Ride for Dad were so switched on, but also because Canadians were extremely friendly and supportive - a sentiment that I didn't expect to see in the commercialized neighbor, where I feared people were too busy trying to outdo each other to listen to a stranger about their health. First stop, a good mate of mine - American John.

    American John lived in New Jersey on the top floor of his parents place, across the river from New York City. He had mentioned that his cousin was storing his Harley in the garage, and he was keen on coming along with us on the USA leg of the journey. I was looking forward to having John along, I worked with him in Europe when I was a driver and he a tour guide, and found him to be interesting and very organised, in his unique way. Unfortunately, John didn't take the testing for his license too seriously and failed the written test. He was looking into ways of getting it sorted quickly so he could come along, but it was all going to be too hard, so we all missed out.

    Over the next few days John worked on PR, calling TV, Radio and Newspapers. It was a familiar feeling when I saw his frustration with not being able to get hold of anyone, and with people not returning calls. For those uninitiated in PR, it is by far the most frustrating part - constant rejection. One radio station wanted a submission on how running an article on the Ride and prostate cancer would benefit or otherwise affect the local community. Not only did they have to ask, but they wanted a submission! John did a great job chasing up media around the New Jersey/ New York area and we had a couple of articles and interviews sorted.

    Not only was John now a PR expert (I figure you are one once you have realized that it is pretty much a case of dealing with rejection), he also used to be a tour guide in the USA, so he helped plan a short, yet interesting route through the USA to San Francisco for us and we were off. We hit Washington DC, Natural Bridge and Foam Henge on the way to Memphis. There was a place that served 'The Best' dry rubbed ribs in the WORLD (according to John) so we hit it. We also visied Graceland on the way out of town. Mississippi was interesting, we met Bubba and his mate, as well as Elvis' cousin (which was no real surprise), and chatted with them about hunting and drinking beer. We got a card with a his website on it which didn't actually exist.

    We were getting closer to New Orleans now, and passed service station at close to 300km. I though to myself as my stomach was grumbling to me - I'll stop at the next one... I mean there had been a station every 5 - 10 kms so it wouldn't be a problem, and just then we hit the bridge. KM's and KM's of bridge leading into town. Not long after we hit the bridge Todd ran out of fuel (for the first time). A trick I had learned about while researching bikes, tipping it on the side so the fuel flows from the opposite side of the tank got us through, and we made it in to town. A bit of customary messing around and we had accommodation at India House, not far from the action.

    Finding somewhere to park the bikes always went hand in hand with finding reasonably priced accommodation, and an extremely inhospitable staff member was first to greet us with "you can't park there - go over the street, we haven't had any problems there. Plus, it is all under video surveillance." It was difficult to explain that we wouldn't be parking on a vacant lot across the road from a hostel in a side street in a strange city because it just wasn't safe, and didn't feel comfortable. Furthermore, being able to watch replays if the bikes being stolen or vandalized didn't endear the idea to me.

    Being assured by a rude drunk skinny little wanker didn't help, so I asked to speak to the Manager who was a little more understanding English fellow. We parked at the front steps with his reasonable blessing and fixed to head into Bourbon St to see it all hang out!

    Bourbon St was one long party strip, complete with Hand Grenade cocktails, touts, sex shops and hens parties flaunting novelty oversized inflatable penises and matching tiaras. It was shaping up to be a good night when as we walked into the strip a woman called out from a balcony above to the 'Cowboy') to show her his 'tits'. The second I realized I was wearing my checked cowboy shirt - I did of course - not wanting to upset the natural order of things.

    Unfortunately, in a town that was known for bare chested wickedness, it was the only set of exposed breasts that I was privy to all visit. What a sham! There was a Russian tour group, complete with name tags and matching hats, standing on a balcony throwing beads down to girls when they weren't even looking let alone exposing their assets. All in all, another travel legend died for me that night.

    Friday, January 8th, 2010

    Canada and the Ride for Dad

    Arriving in Montreal at 1340 there was no time to relax, I had to find out where my bike was coming in on the Air Canada flight and how to go about getting hold of it. I also had to track Todd down to see what he had sorted out with Byron. The fun never stops.

    It wasn't that hard to get info on the bikes, they were coming in at around 4pm and would take about an hour to clear and get to the warehouse. Todd hadn't managed to get on to Byron, so I called him myself. Byron and Steve were wandering around the airport looking for me, so I gave them the news about clearing the bikes and arranged to meet everyone at the Air Canada Cargo terminal. Too easy.

    So when something seems too good to be true it probably is. The information that wasn't hard to get was also horribly wrong. Not only did it take 4 hours to get the bikes to the terminal, customs was located at the passenger terminal afterhours, and they generally didn't deal with cargo that wasn't perishable. I bit of back and forth and some cash and some stamps, and the bikes were free in Canada.

    We broke the crates up right there in the carpark, and the guys had us throw out the waste right there. The third time the shipping agent had tried to convince us that we should pay them to organize disposing of the crates, and the third time I was glad I didn't. The boys loaded us on to the Ride for Dad trailer and we made tracks for Ottowa.

    The Ride for dad team were by far the organization that have taken the RideRightRound most seriously thus far. They were switched on, organized and saw us as an opportunity to further awareness for the Ride for Dad and for Prostate Cancer. Perfect. We had an interview with CTV Ottowa and met some more of the Ride for Dad crew before dropping our bikes in to 'Good Times' motorcycle shop for a once over and service. Again the team from Ottowa Good Times Centre were awesome, helping out with the service and ensuring that the bikes were both safe and ready to hit the long roads that lay ahead.

    The Motorcycle Ride for Dad is a not for profit organization with Chapters in twenty Canadian cities from coast to coast (and growing). Since 2000 the MRFD has organized motorcycle rides raising money to fight prostate cancer through Education, Awareness and Research. Originally the team had organised chapters across the whole country to host us as we traversed Canada, but the plan had to be amended as the cold weather closed in on us, with the next stop Kingston, Ontario.

    Again, the welcome we got in Kingston was absolutely amazing, with as many as 50 crew turning out to welcome us to town. The Brew Pub put on dinner and drinks and the Sheraton put us up. Again, another fantastic reception and show of support really gives you a boost of energy. Alison had an unbelievable passion for the cause, having lost her father to the disease that started the Ride for Dad. I was finally beginning to believe that what we were doing was important, especially after a very disappointing European experience.

    Peterborough, Ontario was next on the Canadian route, stopping in to see Karens folks, Terry and Ann. I was looking forward to seeing Terry's gun collection and having an opportunity to relax for a couple of days and catch up on rest and work, but the time was action packed. We visited the cottage in the countryside, saw the lift lochs, patronized the canoe museum, bought supplies (including hand gauntlets for my handlebars), ate game meat, had interviews, met Alexander Keiths and became well acquainted. Action Packed.

    Time in Toronto was a little more relaxed staying with Matt and Jess, then onto Niagara to hook back up with the ride for Dad crew, meet the Mayor and see the falls. The Marriott - Niagara Falls put us up in an amazing room overlooking the falls.

    Again, any time the team from Motorcycle ride for dad are involved, the experience is amazing. It is a notable difference when people are switched on and actually care about what they are trying to achieve. In a lot of the charities and research organizations that were very poor on follow through, I tended to be dealing with people who just lacked the passion or connection with men's health. The worst, a shame to say, would have to be the PCFA in Australia who were absolutely challenging to deal with.

    The Border

    After lining up for 45 minutes in the traffic queue, getting the passport check, we had to head up into the office for visas. There is an online system, but it doesn't work on land borders so don't waste your time. The visa waiver took another 45 minutes. When we tried to get our bikes through the border we were sent back into Canada to go over the truck and freight border down the road.

    It wasn't too far, but the traffic was mad so, we ended up queuing up for an additional 45minutes, then being ping ponged around the border to get sorted. I guess the Canadians were so involved in the project that they just didn't want us to leave. It was a real surprise that it was such a crud fight given the level of information development in both countries, but at the same time Americans are so suspicious and skeptical I guess it wasn't really.

    Friday, January 8th, 2010

    Cruising the Old Country - Quickly

    Customs in the UK was pretty easy, it actually made sense. For once it finally made sense and I am afraid to say it was the English who appear to have got it right. Not reams and reams of paperwork, just a couple of questions and a stamp. I felt like I was finally somewhere that things were going to make sense.

    Portsmouth was a couple of hours away from London and I had organized for us to stay with a friend, but had agreed to drop in on the Top Deck end of year shindig on the way. It was great to see my old friends, but I was struck by the familiar feeling of just not really fitting in, although some of my best friends in the world were there. It was a life I had left behind and it felt like it, but it was good to know that part of my life could be finally laid to rest and it felt right to do so.

    I had a few days in London to get things organized with media and to catch up with old friends, and there was a lot to do. I had been corresponding with three prostate cancer groups in the UK and I was hoping to see them use the project for some real value. Oh, how I was wrong.

    As it turned out, no one had actually done anything to plan any PR activities, in fact, it seems as though I had been wasting my time keeping people updated at all. It was a real shame, because I felt that I could leave some of the work to the experts - Alas I was wrong. It was good to be back in London though, I had the opportunity to catch up with friends, go to the Church, and generally enjoy speaking English without too much sign language.

    Heading north from London, Todd stayed in Sheffield to see an old mate, but Edinburgh was my next stop. What an amazing place, grand castle on the hill, ancient city and a great vibe. I stayed down in the Grassmarket where there was a great bar and club scene. It was pretty cool to have trouble understanding Scots speak English for a change, as I tried out my woeful Scottish accent.

    The Association of International Cancer Research (AICR) was the charity I had been working with in Scotland, and they had organized a radio interview with a local station, so the hunt was on to find a land line that they could call me on. Couldn't be that hard, I mean it was a good cause after all! About an hour and a half of traipsing from shop to shop tot hotel to pub asking if I could receive a two minute phone call, Maggie Finigans, a pub in the Grassmarket were happy to help out.

    Although Glasgow had only ever been a drive through day stop on the way to the Straener to catch the ferry to Ireland, we had met Julie and Karen from Glasgow at Oktoberfest in Munich and they had invited us to visit so they could show us the finer points of Glasgow, and it is always good to see a city from a locals point of view so it was off to Glasgow to meet the locals.

    We headed to Julies place in Glasgow, where the girls had organized for us to head to a Ceilidh, a traditional Scottish dance. Not only that, but her Dad and Brother had organized for us to borrow their kilts for the evening. Things were looking pretty good for a Scottish night out, but the kilts brought up a whole other conundrum - undies or no undies?
    Now I am not a shy man, and the idea of my bits and pieces being on display after a gust of wind, or energetic dance move was of no consequence. It was, however, the idea of going naked in another fellas 'man skirt' that formed the core of my concern. Was it ok to let it all hang out in someone else's gear, or is that just taking the piss? I guess my decision was made when I thought about someone elses wang in my party dress, and decided to go with undies after all.

    Exhausting decision, and man, are those things hard to put on! Julies Mum was on hand to help get my gear all sorted, adjust my sporran and give general advice. Done, we were ready to get all Scottish on Glasgow, kilts and all. It was also when we were told that people generally didn't wear kilts to the Ceilidh, and that the only two people likely to be wearing kilts would be two Australian motorcyclists. At least Todd did have the hair to match the outfit I guess!

    Although the Ceilidh was sold out so we couldn't get in, we did manage to see some of the highlights of Glaswegian nightlife, a German style bar and the 'Cathouse'. A great night and fantastic stop, the McGavins made us feel very welcome.

    The Stranraer ferry hit Northern Ireland at Belfast, and although the original plan was to head to Belfast for the night and then head down to Dublin, we decided to flag Belfast and headed south for Dublin to stay with my surrogate sister Sadhbh who we met in Laos. Sadhbh travelled with us for a couple of weeks after her travel partner unexpectedly went bonkers and didn't come to meet her, and I was really looking forward to seeing her again and in good spirits.

    Sadhbh's place in Dublin was a real Irish affair, with Lorraine, Sadhbh, Danny boy and Niebh sharing the place. They were great hosts, showing us some of the highlights of town and a few hotspots, although it was all al little disappointing that we had to pay a cover charge at a bar where Sadhbh was a 'good' friend of the security guard!

    I was looking forward to another whirlwind of media attention, as a friend of my brother and apparent PR dynamo was on the case, alas, same old story. Nevertheless Dublin was great, had a Guiness in Temple Bar and chased around a few Leprechauns and was very very sure.

    A great dose of Ireland and it was time to hit another UK hotspot in Liverpool. I managed to convince a woman at a service station that I was Ewan McGregor on the way, so that broke up the drive a bit. The Al and Norma were great hosts, we had a few beers, told some stories, met the family, saw the Kopp and managed to avoid getting a 'kiss'. We did have one of the best Chinese feeds I've had in a while.

    From there it was on to Manchester to visit Zoe and Matt, and Claire. I was privy to see Matt's 'Man Room' complete with turntables and the choice of two gaming systems. The last stop on the whirlwind tour of the UK was to see an old friend Tina in Cardiff.

    It was starting to get pretty cold by now, and in the back of my head the clock was constantly ticking as the time was getting short for the Canadian leg of the tour, not a huge fan of riding in the snow, so after some careful thought I decided to go with air freight to get the bike over to Canada. It was going to cost about £900, but would save a couple of weeks.

    Back in London we enlisted the services of James Cargo to move the bikes to Canada. The original plan to go from Halifax to Vancouver had to be amended somewhat, flying into Montreal instead, and heading south into the USA to chase the warmer weather. The team at James Cargo made it extremely easy to organize the shipping, if only it was as easy on each leg. We just dropped the bikes off at the warehouse, signed some paperwork and it was done. It seemed too good to be true, but the setup looked to be all above board and very professional. Bikes away and all that was left was to do was get to Canada.

    Todd picked up a flight the day before mine and left for Montreal the day I took an overnight bus to Paris to catch my super cheap (€130) Transat flight to Montreal. I wasn't entirely sure I had all of the details right as it was in French, but the Polish girl on the bus seat next to me spoke English and French and assured ne I was heading to Canada and that I had my details all right. She was moving to France to look for work because she thought her French was better than her English. I spent a while trying to convince her to give tour guiding a go before settling in to a very hot and uncomfortable 10 hour ride to Charles de Gaulle airport to jump on my flight. I was looking forward to hooking up with Byron and the Motorcycle Ride for Dad team who had been amazing supporters since day one.

    Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

    Espana Express

    We caught the ferry to Algeciras in the afternoon, hooked into Spain on a mission. The ferry from Bilbao to Portsmouth that Uncle Tony was paying for left the next day. Another mission of a ride with a stop to snooze on the roadside and we were finally in Bilbao. Finding somewhere to sleep was easy, but somewhere for the bikes to sleep was a little more difficult. We were doing blockies around Bilbao, asking people for directions to cheap hotels and not getting close when a guy called out from across the street.

    Jon, a Basque guy who had been watching us ride around his street came over for a chat. His sister was married to an Aussie guy so there was an instant connection. After trying to give us directions to a nearby hotel he decided that it would be easier to just stay at his place. We headed over and Jon tried to find space around the car park in the apartment building car park that wouldn't get into any ones way, but after some shuffling decided that it would be better to just move his car into the street and put the bikes into his spot.

    The only issue with that was he couldn't drive, so I had to do it for him. So, not only did he invite us into his home, he also moved his own car onto the street so we could garage the bikes - what a legend!

    The evening that ensued was a real cultural experience, as Jon and Arantzazu walked us through the Basque country and history, fed us and were generally pretty awesome. I spent the night on the Dog's couch which wasn't great for my fluffy eyes. The next morning Jon and Arantzazu gave us an escort to the ferry terminal. Great people and a perfect example of the type of people that help you out when you are traveling, a learning experience for all!

    Arriving at the P&O Port, we headed to the office to check in. It was at that stage that Todd let me know that he hadn't actually heard anything from Tony in regards the booking. Although I was disappointed on the follow through, I was hopeful that there wouldn't be too much difficulty getting the bikes on the boat, but surprise surprise - the ferry was full.

    Now I was thoroughly pissed off, but allayed my mood by chatting to a group of English bikers that were waiting to load onto the ferry. Todd was inside trying to get something sorted to get us onto the ferry. The next ferry was in a few days, and although I love Spain, we were expected in the UK for what I assumed would be a media frenzy organized by the Prostate Cancer organizations I had been in contact with there, so we had to move.

    Todd came out a little while later, and after phone calls to Tony's office and heated conversations at the counter we were sorted and onto the ferry. Calais was another 20 hours ride away, and we were off the highway now. It was from my love for organization that my frustration came, but it took me a while to calm down, but I managed to avoid any arguments with the ferry staff this time around!

    The Route from Bilbao to Portsmouth took a couple of days and was treated as a short cruise by a lot of English tourists, although we were at the end of the season. They would sail over for a couple of days, spend a day in Spain and then sail back! It was called a mini cruise, and it was easy to see how much fun it would be during the high season, but as per the usual, we were there out of season. We managed to hook up with a bunch of crew, had a few beers and took part in the Nintendo Challenge and saw some of the onboard entertainment.

    It was an interesting ride, much more than the two days from Barcelona to Morocco that's for sure, and after blowing an hydraulic line on the gangway and being stuck on board for an extra couple of hours, we were finally in England and the UK.

    Sunday, December 27th, 2009

    Bloody Carpets

    The ferry was an Italian one, stopping in Spain before heading across to Morocco. We had a shared room, and got in after the other two guys and ended up on the top bunk. I remember that my brother and I would fight over the top bunk when we were kids. It has lost its appeal I guess, now the thought of climbing up onto a short bunk bed over a bunch of luggage in a cramped room on a ferry to spend the night in the fetal position didn't seem like something I would argue with my brother about. It was a two day ride, and was more or less uneventful. The Ferry looked like it would have been a bit of fun once upon a time, but had been relegated to the 'Morocco Run'. There was swimming pools; empty, Bars; closed, and a nightclub that was used as an immigration hall.

    There was a heated argument in Spanish/Italian/Arabic in the line for immigration when a woman appeared to get upset about her place in the queue, arguing with a guy closer in the queue. It went on for a few minutes until the guy sitting next to me switched places with the woman, who by this time had worked herself into a red faced crying frenzy. Awesome, but I did manage to control my longing to have a chat with her about the whole issue, choosing instead a knowing and apologetic nod to welcome her to my part of the queue.

    Hitting the ground in Morocco, I was on high alert for dodgy incidents. In the ferry I had met a bunch of French guys that were having a Motorbike trip in Morocco for a couple of weeks and there they were in the customs shed. These guys brought the total of motorbikes waiting for customs clearance to about 7 so it would have been harder for anyone to get on with any dodgy business, and we were on the road about 45 mins later.
    Our time in Morocco was to be pretty limited, so we figured rather than just ride through a bunch of places, Fez, Casablanca, Marrakesh, we headed to Fez for some real Moroccan tucker.

    We arrived quite late in the evening, and hit up an internet cafe to find somewhere to stay. The guy that ran the Cafe told me that the Backpacker office would be closed and that he knew someone aroud the corner with a cheap hotel and walked me around there. They were full and he was on the phone calling friends, looking for someone to help us out, and a friend of his, Fadi, had an apartment that he rented out to students who came to study in Fez and if it was free it was a good deal - luck it was free so old mate jumped on the back of my bike to direct us there. We met Fadi, who was from Lebanon and adopted me as his brother. He then let me on his little secret - because we were brothers. Fadi bought carpets in Morocco and sold them at art auctions in the USA to finance his lavish lifestyle, flying around the world. He implored me that I could double or triple my money selling carpets at art auctions in Melbourne. Where, funnily enough, his sister lived. It was getting late, and Fadi arranged to meet us in the morning and show us the coop where he bought carpets. OK, the Moroccan carpet experience.

    The next day we were off, visiting the carpet coop, and what seemed too good to be true began to play itself out. They were sell sell sell, they put on every trick. You can pay half now and the rest later, we can send them to you at home, I'll go halves with you - because you are my brother. There is money to be made. All day he took us from carpet place to tile place and carpet place. I pulled him aside at one stage "I'm not going to buy any carpets Fadi, I can't afford it and am not interested." Still no letting up. After a long day of trying to sell us carpets, we arranged to meet later to go for dinner and a drink. Not without another visit to a carpet place. "I've decided that I'm going to take a chance and invest in you, I'll spend $5000". "That's fine Fadi, I'll import some carpets for you, but I am not spending any money!" "No that's OK brother, you sell the carpets in Melbourne and just put the money in my account."


    It was all getting too much, and after another session trying to sell bloody carpets, I reiterated that I wouldn't be buying anything. Despondent, we headed to a shisa bar to have a drink. Funnily enough, the place we were going to have dinner and a drink was under renovation and not open. He could tell that all the effort he had put in was wasted and strangely not as interested in a night out. Our one day in Fez, spent looking at bloody carpets and I was pretty keen to get the hell out of there. The next day, carpetless and happy to see our bikes were still there, we made a B-line to Tangier to get the ferry back to Spain, with a sour taste in my mouth. Get me out of Morocco.

    Sunday, December 27th, 2009

    What Passport

    Finally making it out of Munich we headed south towards Lyon in France where I was going to drop in on PoPo before heading to Barcelona to pick up the boat to Morocco. Crossed into Austria, as you do, without even noticing, and it was at the border to Switzerland that I remembered that my passport was stowed away safe and sound in Munich. Luckily the Swiss had recently made an agreement with the EU that allowed softer border procedures.

    The plan was to head through the border, and if I got through would stop down the road to work out what to do about an absent passport. A deep breath, smile and nod to the border guard and I was through.

    Luckily Mon, who worked for Top Deck and was based in Switzerland, was in Munich and was on her way to Lauterbrunnen that night so she was going to be able to bring the missing passport down with her. It meant missing out on seeing PoPo, but also getting to spend the night in Lauterbrunnen and catching up with Rivet who was based there.

    Back on the road a bit late the next day, we were en route to Barcelona. Given the passport adventure we were short of time getting to Barcelona in the afternoon after setting up camp at a service stop for a sleep. Hooking around town I realized how awesome it actually was in Barcelona, shame time was short, but that is the nature of the project. We stayed out by the airport at a campsite, out of season, and were some of the only people there. The manager of the campsite was actually pretty interested in the project as he was planning to ride through towards Australia. He seemed to think a few months would be enough to get there and was a bit surprised that we had been on the over 6 months.

    Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

    The family and Beerfest

    People often ask what my favourite place has been, or what experience has been the most interesting, and I have to say seeing my Mum and Dad, my Brother and Karoline and of course my niece in Germany was one of the highlights of my trip.

    After around a week with the family I headed south to rejoin Todd at Oktoberfest in Munich. I was really looking forward to seeing Monty, Scotty, Ange and anyone else who I knew from my Top Deck days that was floating around the Campsite. I had never been to Oktoberfest before, and I was looking forward to the spectacle.

    On my way to the beerfest grounds, the fix on my muffler the day before pretty much blew apart, and I was back to Red Bull cans and fencing wire.

    It wasn't a major issue because I was moving pretty quickly and couldn't really hear it myself, but the cops that pulled me over about 400KM from Munich were in the perfect spot to hear it. They actually pulled me over for a blown tail light, had a chat for a while about the trip and were off. They mentioned that the muffler might have had a problem, and I let them know that I'll be getting it sorted in Munich (fingers crossed).

    Taking the wrong turn off onto the Munich ring road, I circumnavigated the city with an extremely loud exhaust before getting to the campsite. Talk about trying to keep a low profile. No more adventures with the cops, though and it was great to see there was a lot of crew at the Top Deck Camp, and Scotty was not kidding about spooning with him. Neither Scotty or I are particularly small fellas, as opposed to his blow up mattress, so it made for interesting sleeping arrangements. Lucky the beer was in ample supply.

    A mission to get a replacement exhaust the next day, I was pretty keen to get it out of the way and get into the spirit of Oktoberfest.

    I found a Kawasaki dealer, and they just didn't want to think outside the box. "No, can't help." I threw ideas at them one after another, luckily they had a coffee machine so I settled in to get the problem sorted. They didn't seem to understand the idea that I couldn't actually go anywhere because the muffler for my bike, auspoof, was in pieces on their counter.

    After an hour of asking them to call around and look in the parts room I was finally convinced that they were completely useless to me, and headed out on the street, but stopped to see what the shouting was coming from the shop. The manager came running out with a second hand stock muffler for a KLR. I couldn't believe it. Four guys, a dozen catalogs, and they had exactly what I needed there the whole time.

    Back to camp and Jimmy set about helping my do a few things to my bike, including fit the new muffler and I was free to get into the spirit. I got into the spirit well, losing my watch, camera and hat in what I like to describe as a 'beer hall incident'. Went on rides, drank steins, ate pork knuckles, sang songs, caught up with dear friends, made new friends. Oktoberfest was an awesome experience, which I extended as long as I could, but the ferry from Barcelona was leaving in a few days and I had to get going. I wanted to visit Popo, an old roommate of mine in Lyon, France on the way through so had to get cracking.

    Friday, November 27th, 2009

    SUPRISE!!

    We split up in Poland, Todd went to visit friends in Warsaw and I continued through to Germany to see my family and meet my niece Emily. Todd planned to spend a couple off days in Warsaw and then head up nth to Lubeck then we head south to munich and Oktoberfest. It was a rare moment where Todd actually showed any interest in going somewhere so I was taken aback somewhat. The friends happened to be the two Polish girls he had a snowball fight with at the Russian border while I was busy fixing my flat tyre, making the reason for the sudden and unprecedented surge of initiative and determination quite clear one would think!

    Todd wanted to carry the tools (which I carry on my bike) with his rationale being that he would be behind me and that if I broke down he would catch up. Reasonable, but I was going to be at least two days ahead of him so any issues would have seen me sitting on the side of the road for two days. Either way, I wasn't interested in debating the issue, I had to push on to see my family - my plan, drive through the Polish border into Germany and find somewhere to sleep. Todd had mentioned that the border was quite a gnarly one, and that it was prone to delay, so I wanted to get through it at night time when there was likely to be less traffic.

    Heading off from where I left Todd was a great deal of roadworks, and I could see the road I wanted, but couldn't get onto it. There were arrows and blocked lanes, holes and witches hats. The road was above me, but I couldn't work out how to get on it. In my confusion I pulled over to get a bit of perspective, and a polish biker on an R1 pulled up to see if I was OK. He didn't speak any English whatsoever, but when he realized I didn't speak Polish or Russian he pulled out his phone to call a friend who did speak English to help translate. Once the issue was clear, he had me follow him about 3km up the road to a spot where I could turn around and get back onto the motorway, a wave and I was on my way. So typical of the riding community, in every country people are always so ready to lend a hand, regardless of where you are from, just because you have something in common.

    A few hours later I hit the border. As it turns out, there was no longer any border control, and it was a typical EU border, unmanned booth and blue sign - Germany. OK, I was feeling OK now, my Exhaust was a little noisy but I was fine. I made it a bit of a 'Red Bull run', driving for a couple of hours, stopping for a red bull and to wire the empty can onto my failing exhaust then head off again. It was getting late, I was following signs for Berlin. I figured, "I'll just get past Berlin and then stop for a sleep."

    I passed Berlin about 1am and started to see signs for Hamburg. There was no stopping me now, charged to the eyeballs with Red bull, and motivated by the thought of the look on my Mothers face when I turned up at my brothers place, unexpected and unannounced. My parents were also in Germany visiting My Brother, his wife and little Emily, so it was a double double for me and the excitement alone was pushing me on.

    The German motorway system, or autobahn, is fabled to have no speed limit and people tear along at 200kmph plus, doing all kinds of crazy things. Although it isn't quite true, Germans do drive fast. Special care must be taken to judge the speed of oncoming cars when you pull out to overtake because what seems like a long way off is right on your heels in no time at 150kmph. This, coupled with the excitement of my impending surprise drove my muffler to the limits.

    The KLR doesn't do any faster than 120 - 125kmph, and at that speed, everything is under pressure, from the tyres to the rider, and there is a fair bit of action on the muffler, which was held together with a specially designed combination of Coke and Red bull cans, held on with fencing wire.

    It was getting close to daybreak, and I wasn't much further than 200km away, my eyes just about popping out of my head, and it sounded like I was riding a Harley, when I gave in to the fact that Red Bull and excitement alone couldn't keep me awake and I pulled over to take a power nap, laying down in all of my gear (helmet included) for a quick 15.

    Two hours later I awoke to the morning sun, amazed at how comfortable a park bench in full riding gear could be when you were coming down from a Red Bull fueled marathon ride.

    I hit town after shooting off on a mystery turnoff in Hamburg (road works again), and a quick stop to check a map in a road house. Rimming with excitement again, I pulled into town with the directions on repeat in my head "exit 23, first left, right to the end and then right." I ended up I a street on the wrong side of the bridge when I chanced upon a couple getting ready for a weekend ride, packing their BMW. I asked if they could point me in the right direction, and in true motorcycle solidarity the actually had me follow them right to the door. I'll never cease to be amazed at just how awesome people can be sometimes.

    So there I was, parked outside the building on the street. I assumed that they must have heard me coming in, because by now the muffler on my bike sounded like the engine brake on a Mac truck, but like a kid who had just found where his mum hid the Easter eggs I pushed the buzzer. I knew it was the right place because it had their names on the bell. After a few seconds I pushed it again. By this time I was convinced they were all sitting up there looking out the window "shhh, shhh, don't laugh" playing the funniest joke in the world. Nothing. I guess it was about 9am by this time, they were probably out for breakfast and a stroll with the baby. That's where they were.

    I don't know much about babies, but I am sure they had to come home before too long for feeding or changing or some other baby thing. Alas no family. My phone isn't working anymore (was wondering when they would cut it off, haven't seen a bill yet and I have been away from Australia 5 months!). I hadn't any Euros yet either, so I had to find the bank, get some change (which means coffee), work out how to use the phone, and then found out where they were. SURPRISE - I am standing out the front of your place and you are 300km away in Berlin. I rode overnight from Brest in Belarus (where we were turned around at the border but an apt place to lay ones head) through to Warsaw (where I left Todd) and past Berlin Lubeck overnight - 1100km. Freaking surprises!! All was not lost, the lady in the shop downstairs has a spare key, so after I proved my identity by calling my Brother and Karoline on the shop phone at least I was able to get in and have a snooze in the warmth!

    So, here I am, halfway around the world. Made it without any major mishaps or dilemmas, no bribes in Russia, only one fine at the Belarus border for not having a valid visa ($26 USD) and no murders. After a bit of a sleep I thought I had better get to work

    ~ Contact friends in Europe whom have said I can stay and organize a route through Beerfest at Munich to Cadiz in Spain and back up through France to the UK. Put some time frames around it.

    ~ Work out details, costs and any issues with getting to Morocco.

    ~ Contact motorcycling clubs along the route and let them know what we are doing, why and when (Thus working on the local angle to give local press more impetus to get involved).

    ~ Make contact with Prostate cancer Orgs and give them details of the route with timeframes and associated motorcycling clubs (assuming they get back to me) in order for them to work on mobilizing a PR plan of some sort in plenty of time, again from a local perspective.

    Not a Holiday - a Project.

    Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

    Belarusia, Brest and Beuracracy

    We left pretty late from Moscow, intending to ride until nightfall, get a bed and carry on to Belarus in the morning. We were beaten by torrential rain and pulled over at a roadside hotel, knackered, wet and tired. It was still a couple of hours to the border, but better done in the morning we figured.

    Todd, having been through the border before whilst working at Tod Deck was sure we didn't need visas so we pushed on through the Russian side of the border the next morning. Rather than give us any problems, the Russian border guards were more interested in having photos with the bikes. We picked up insurance on the Belorussian side and pushed on through past Minsk, Brest to the border between Belarus and Poland due to a visa issue - that being we didn't have them. The next 5 hours were spent sat in the immigration office wondering what the hell was going on. The whole event was a little confusing, I wasn't sure if they were helping out or just filling out forms for fun.


    Although they were very friendly all the while, it was a fantastic example of old soviet bureaucracy, no one really knew which form to fill out and how many times to fill it out. There was paperwork and staff everywhere. There was one form that I had to sign 7 times. Needless to say I had no idea what it said, but I did know that "This is to help you get your visa". I was confused, thinking that what I was paying for was the visa. It turned out what we paid was fines of $26USD and sent back to spend the night in Brest to get a visa the next day.

    The guy in the police station was awesome "we get a few Australians a year with the same issue". The process was a bit easier, you go to the bank, pay into this account, leave your passport and pick it up in the afternoon. Easy. There was a German guy in the same boat, however he was a little more irate at the bank. Didn't see him after the bank, it either worked for him or didn't I guess. I was coming down with what I am going to call the Swine flu and used the opportunity to head around town looking for some drugs to cure my pain. I think I turned up at a natural remedy shop, all I wanted was a cold and flu but ended up with a whole lot of herbal tablets. The placebo effect worked though I suppose.

    Back to pick up our visas and we were on the road again, through the Belorussian side of the border in under an hour this time, to be greeted by a queue of cars and trucks that would have stretched over a kilometer on the Polish side. We took up our place in the queue as you do, but were ushered down by the other motorists indication that queues don't count when you are on a motorbike. Bonus, we headed right down to the front of the queue.

    Although the information I had indicated that it was impossible to get insurance at the border, there is was. We picked up a policy that would take in all of Europe and Morocco, and handed our paperwork to the immigration woman. She came out and gave it back to us and ushered us on. What she neglected to mention was that we only needed to go to the other end of the building, 6 meters away, and hand it all in again there; so when we rode right by the woman got a little irate. The funny bit was that we could have just as easily walked there in less than 10 steps, instead we put all of our bike gear on, jumped on the bikes and rode it, took all of our gear off again, handed over the paperwork and sat around waiting for an hour. I was starting to get a little shirty, tired, sick (with the Swine Flu no less) and annoyed, I just wanted to get back on the road.

    An hour later and we were back on the Road, headed for Warsaw.

    Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

    Moscow - Russian Tradition

    On the trip into Novosibirsk the next morning we were flagged down by a motorcyclist who was passing us. It was not unusual for this to happen so people can just have a chat, but Micheal was sent by Mark and Natalya to find us and take us to the local bike shop. Todd needed a new chain and sprockets, and I just wanted to get a set of gauntlets for my handlebars to keep the cold wind off.

    The place was in an industrial area, and a 'Russian style' industrial office building. It would have been impossible to find it ourselves. He then spent the day running around taking us to the bank, shops, out to lunch, and went across town to pick up a set of brake pads for me. When he wasn't looking after Aussie travelers, he was a Surgeon. We both ended up getting a fair bit of work done They sold the chain by the link and miscounted my chain, so it was too long, but by the time it was finished I was pretty keen to get on the road so I thought I would deal with it later on - I mean, how much trouble could it cause?

    A few hundred dollars, new rear tires, chains, heated hand grips and we were on the road again, The plan - Ride until dusk and stop at a roadhouse hotel, get up early and head off again. We were on route to Moscow.

    We were putting on the miles over the next few days, really pushing it to the limits and trying to catch up on time. The roads were great, there was plenty of fuel and food en route and we met plenty of interested locals at these stops, but no time to chat - we were off.

    When we were right out in Eastern Siberia, traveling with Mark, Serge and Jenya we heard about a couple of guys - one Ukrainian and one Kiwi getting a little help pulling a bike out of the bushes after a crash. We had hoped to run into them along the way, but when we didn't we assumed that the bike they pulled out of the bushes, belonging to the Kiwi guy, didn't make it. At a small road stop heading into Perm a overland motorcyclist saw our bikes and pulled in to say hello, and it turns out it was Michele, the Ukrainian guy . Hey was on a round trip from his home in Ukraine, over to the East Coast of Russia and back, just for fun. We rode with him into Perm, he called his mates and we got a Royal escort through town, and they rode with us to the border of Asia and Europe.

    This was a real milestone in the trip, and although we were still on the Asian Continent, it was great to feel like we were making progress.

    We had word from our Russian mates in the Titan that they were heading for Moscow instead of their planned route returning to the east coast, but couldn't catch them. They were constantly two days ahead of us, and we arranged to meet them in Moscow. We arrived in Moscow in the afternoon, parked our bikes, cleaned up and headed out to meet the boys and have a bit of a look around. We hit up a underground restaurant and mark confided that his wife's father had passed away that evening. He left to be with the family, and Serge and Jenya took us out to an interesting underground bar with costumed musicians and an airplane wing for a bar. Moscow is cool! Got in at 10am after an awesome night. Ended up meeting a guy who runs a hostel on the other side of town and spent the early hours of the morning talking Tourism, drinking beer and acting marriage guidance councilor until the sun came up. Interesting evening.

    The next day I had to sort out an electrical problem with my bike - the fan wasn't working and the bike would overheat if it wasn't moving - not so good heading into the traffic of Europe. Michael from the hostel knew someone who was involved in a bike shop on the other side of town, and organized for Misha and Masha to come across the city and get me so I could follow them to the bike shop. I didn't realize just how far it was until the way back. Close to an hour each way.

    Once there the guys at the bike shop poured over the bike for hours. In the process they took the bike to the carwash next door. It was a little disappointing to have the Mongolian and Russian mud sprayed off, like any boy I wore it like a medal, but I had to be realistic. These guys had to find wires and they were all caked with mud. In the cleaning, the overzealous wash team not only washed off the mud, but managed to spray off my map stickers and the 'W' and 'O' from my "Around the World" sticker, but did it sparkle!

    The problem turned out to be a fuse, hidden away from all of the other fuses, and they replaced, twisted soldered heat shrinked and taped them better. The operation was halted for visitors and coffee breaks, but all in all I was there for about four hours. Now comes the good bit; when I asked how much I owed them for helping me out, rather than charging me, they invited Todd and Myself to a BBQ at the bosses house because he wanted to meet us. This was Russian hospitality!

    They drove with us back across town so I could drop off my bike and head to the BBQ. We turned up at the family BBQ and enjoyed a feast of Russian proportions, meat, salad, pickles and vodka. The Russians are serious about their vodka, which isn't mixed with OJ or coke, no. The tradition we learned that night was to is that you sniff a pickled cucumber drink a shot of vodka and laugh heartily. Or it might be that you drink the shot then sniff the pickle. Let's not split hairs, the point is that you sniff pickles and drink vodka, bizarre but true and I love it.

    The whole theater of the experience got to Todd, and after having some time out we took him home and headed on a tour of the night sights of town. There was a hill overlooking the city that motorcyclists would congregate on Saturday nights, and it had a carnival atmosphere. Masha was our driver for the evening, she had recently come off her bike and was still in rehab with a brace holding her knee together. She drove a flash new Lexus 4WD, very fast. It was the best trip to a bike shop I had ever had, and it was a shame that we would be leaving Moscow the next day, but - the world is a big place!

    Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

    Back in the (U.S.S.) R

    It was about 25km from the Mongolian side of the border to the Russian. Beautiful ride, and at the point the road maintenance turned to the Russians there was a well built sealed road. Back to civilization!

    On arrival at the Russian post we were ushered into a small portable office next to a water pit. You never really know what to expect when this happens, but inevitably it is some kind of tax or insurance payment. As it turns out, this was a safety chemical spray, and for 20USD we got all of the gremlins sprayed off our bikes. It took the guy 15 seconds, and they were happy to let me go, I was hoping it would be a good old 'get that mud off' Aussie customs style, alas - he just wet the mud and sent me on my way into the big bad Customs and Immigration yard.

    Greeted by a skinny fella in a green uniform and massive hat, we were directed around the border post with maximum efficiency. I had heard many stories about Russian borders, and in none of them had I heard the words efficiency and order. Much less friendly and helpful. The Russians were amazing, got us through the border without fuss or bother, no bribes and lots of smiles. An hour and we were on our way!

    Not far into Russia and the scenery changed dramatically. There were trees and rivers. We decided to push on through to Kosh Agash where there was fuel and beds, only 150 km or so. We were wrecked, but the idea of a bed was awesome.

    A few laps of town and we found the 'hotel'. They had just built a flat out the back with a hot shower. Whaat more could you ask for after two weeks riding through Mongolia! It was late, dark and cold by the time we were settled, and although Todd was keen to head down the road to the only cafe/restaurant in town, I was keen to get some fresh veggies into me, so we headed to the shop across the road, picked up some food and a bottle of vodka, ate the food, forgot the vodka and hit the sack.

    We were greeted in the morning by a the usual "you are KRAZY" by Russian locals, took some photos, and hit the road. We had 6000km to make it to Moscow to our next break, and we were keen to get some KM under our belts, raw butts and all. Next stop Novosibirsk.

    We didn't make it all the way to Novosibirsk, stopping about 45 mins away at a highway hotel. We stopped to get a feed at a roadstop, and ate the most expensive Russian roadside meal to that point, the hairy Russian mumma saw us coming, but we were too tired and hungry to complain, so just chalked it up. At the overpriced street rip off,
    we were lucky to meet Mark and Natalya from Novosibirsk, who invited us for a 'little drink' and chat.

    They both spent a great deal of time making phone calls and working to sort out getting a bike shop to take a look at our Mongolian damaged bikes. Mark was involved in the motorcycle community in Novosibirsk, and invited us to spend a couple of days with them. It was another case of having to say no to a great opportunity to get an insiders view, another case of Russians being extremely friendly and welcoming, and further, another example of the 'whirlwind' nature of the trip, which takes its toll from time to time.

    Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

    End of Roads

    Now I really started to feel like this was an adventure. The road disappeared again about 60km down, and we didn't even see a dirt road let alone a made road for the rest of the day. We did see camels, and rivers and sand and rocks. We came across a bridge, somehow most of the tracks headed over this bridge, with no order on either side. There was some work happening on what looked like a road in the distance, but it was a long way off being ready.

    We found a place to camp not far off the road, but as we soon learned, if it was a good place to camp, the locals would be there or nearby. Most of the land in Mongolia belongs to the people, so they can run their sheep goats and cattle, and set up their camp anywhere they like. As nomadic people, they follow the seasons, living in dry river beds over summer and in more sheltered places in winter, living off meat and milk. Needless to say we had a visitor first thing in the morning. We had a game of charades and Todd showed him his fancy camera, shook hands and off he went on his little horse.

    We hit the road, and after a few hours of dirt came across a town. There was a gate with a police post manned by a drunk policeman. He motioned to us to do something, not too sure what, but when some locals pulled up behind us and the gate went up, we were off. I wouldn't imagine the policeman would be too steady on his feet not having the booth to hold him up. Fuel, 2km of potholed made roads through town and we were back in the dirt. There isn't much to write about riding in sand, dirt and rocks, picking up bits that fall off my bike and bolting, wiring or taping them back on. We ran into a number of teams taking part in the Mongol rally.

    The Mongol rally is a non competitive rally, where teams get from Europe to Ulaan Bataar in a vehicle no older than ten years, any way they like, and then give the vehicle to the organizers who sell it for charity. We saw the first three cars when we were stopped to work out a problem with my bike. It was running really rich, but I had cleaned the air filter only the day before so I was convinced it wasn't that so I changed the fuel filter and that didn't help. A few kms down the road and it was stopped again. We didn't have much water so on one hand I was hoping it was a simple problem like that, on the other, I hoped I wouldn't have to use my remaining water to wash out my air filter. It was my air filter, completely clogged.

    On the road again we ran into a couple more Italian bikers heading from Italy to Japan. Cool guys, they gave us the run down on where to get fuel and the condition of the roads. Bad. Not being able to pick up supplies wasn't an issue as we had enough food to survive for two weeks, but the reality is that you come across at least one town a day to restock. We ran into a couple of Aussie boys on the rally who stocked us up with vodka and an Aussie flag. Todd packed the flag securely in his gear and I haven't seen it since, but the idea was to take photos in key places. There was a couple on a very small Yamaha motorcycle, and various other combinations of cars and crew. Where possible we got into Mongolian dumplings - meat. Otherwise we ate what we carried. We were down to about 250km per day, due to the condition of the roads and stopping at least twice per day for me to clean my air filter. I hadn't been able to work out what was going on, I had squeezed silicone into every possible spot, apart from the dirty big hole I drilled in the side of my bike to get to the seat screws without fuss. I worked it out just as we got back into Russia and off the dirt roads.

    This sort of traveling really starts to take it's toll on you, physically it is demanding, riding over rough terrain and corrugated roads all day, and mentally it was exhausting, looking out for holes and ditches, picking tracks, constantly on 100% alert. When we did come across the towns they were like veritable oasis, something to eat for us, and something to drink for the bikes. Coming out of one town, Altai a local toll 'police guy' tried to charge 5 times the usual amount for the toll. Tolls for roads in Mongolia are usually on the way into town, and you don't mind paying because you get a short reprieve from dirt tracks, but this guy was charging us on the way out of town. We had heard on the grapevine that there was a good stretch of road out of this town, and once we established the amount we were going to pay (about $2 equiv), headed down the tarmac thinking 'happy days!'. About 2 km down the road, around the corner and out of view of the toll booth the road ended at a hill. There was a choice of 50 tracks though! If something seems too good to be true it probably is!

    Not far down the road, we stopped for a break, and a car pulled up a few tracks across (going the same direction). It wasn't unusual for cars to pull up. They would stop, everybody would jump out, come over and proceed to push buttons and twist throttles. I got pretty good at managing the fact finding, especially in groups of kids. I always let one kid turn the key, one push the start button and let a few have a screw of the throttle. If there was time, these kids would be the best performers in the geography lesson I would give using the map on my pannier. It wasn't just the children that would come for a poke and prod though, most grown men would love to have a button press or throttle twist. An interesting phenomenon, and for my part, adding to the personal diplomacy of the project where prostate cancer is so far from important. I digress...

    So the group of about 8 people walked over from the car (not a big car mind you), and one spoke in perfect English. We got chatting to Tilek and had instant report, because not only did he speak perfect English (which was extremely unusual in my experience of Mongolia), but he used colourful language in a typically Australian way. Instant mates. Tilek invited us to his family home, 'just over that hill and on the way to Olgi' for dinner and a nights rest indoors. We followed the car is they weaved their way across the tracks and around the mountain pass.

    The village was quite small, with a bording house for children to attend school run by a charity, a few houses, some goats and sheep. Stopping in at the boarding house to drop off supplies that they had picked up from town, we were instant celebrities. Until the staff yelled at the kids to get back inside anyway. Tilek was a school teacher who left the job to write a Kazakh - English dictionary and pursue tourism interests. His wife worked as a kindergarten teacher and he had two little boys. It turns out he was very interested in Motorcycles and was in the process of setting up a motorcycle overlanders stop in the area. He was an ex amateur boxer, Mongolian champion a number of times, and worked as an interpreter and guide. Tilek and his dad both took my bike for a ride, I took some of the gear off to make it a bit lighter (they are not quite as big as me) and they took off around the village. When his Dad went for a ride, he stopped in at home and returned with his wife on the back of the bike. Dinner was great, we talked about Kazakh and Mongolian traditions, about Tileks business plans and our trip. The house was small, Two rooms and a kitchen, and the whole family vacated the bedroom, sleeping together on mattresses in the second room so we could have their beds.

    After a breakfast of Mongolian tea and bread, we were off to get back to the 'highway' and head towards Olgi . The directions were simple 'just follow this road over the hill, turn left on the other side of the mountain and you will see a bridge. That is the main road. Of course the 'road' to which Tilek was referring would be better described as a track, and one which disappeared just over the hill. We found another track heading behind the mountain as he had described, saw our first snow capped peaks (we were getting high now), and followed the tracks all the way down to a river. "Well I assume this is the bridge", we undertook our first river crossing and headed around the pass. The road was 'very challenging', diplomatic for terrible. Boulders, shale, sand as deep as the axles... there was no way that this was the main road, yet we pushed on. About four hours down the track we came across the only trees that we had seen since Ulaan Bataar. Three of them. Two of them were dead. Still, TREES!

    The valley that had the last remaining trees in Mongolia also had a picturesque river and a couple of gurs (yurts). We pulled over to ask someone where we were and where we were going, but first we had to get across the river. Failing to find an easy point to cross, we splashed through the river to have a chat to the woman who had come out of her gur to see what was going on. With some charades and map pointing, we were no closer to knowing where we were, only that the town we wanted was in the direction we were travelling. Done, that will do, so after crossing the river again and wringing out our socks we were off again. The track was getting smaller and smaller until it looked as though the last time the track was used was by a goat 3 months previous. Round a bend and there it was. The end of the road. Not in a good way, like "ahh, here we are, at the town at last", but in a bad way like "oh, there is no more road, and what is this dirty big great rock face in front of me?"

    There was a small shack with a couple of guys milking goats for cheese, and after a bout of charades and map pointing, we established that we had gone the wrong direction at some time in the last five hours. Five hours of 'challenging roads', on which I had been justifying being there at all by saying to myself over and over in my head "now this is adventure", and "this is what these bikes are made for!" What did make the situation better was the gift of rock hard cheese afforded us by the farmers. This cheese is so strong and hard that if you could manage to bite a piece off your face would screw up like you had just taken a bite from a lemon. Unusual, and not being one to shy from unusual things, I took a bite, and popped it into my tank bag.

    It only took two or three hours to get back to where we missed the turn off - silly me, there was a track that went another direction. How bloody obvious! We were up on the other side of the mountain now, and could see the main route in the distance, at last.

    We found our way to town and rode around looking for somewhere to stay. I noticed a sign in English out the front of a cafe and stopped to ask for some advice. As it turned out the cafe also had Gurs for rent out the back! Awesome, last night in Mongolia and we got to stay in a gur. For those uninitiated a gur, or yurt, is the round tents that Mongolian people live in. I would have said traditionally if I hadn't seen for myself just how many people still do. There are suburbs of them around cities, and they were in every good camping spot along the tracks. They had to be warm and comfortable. We threw our gear in the gur and headed into town to get a feed.

    It was dark by now, and we were looking for a Turkish restaurant I had heard about on the road, so I stopped a local guy to ask directions. He wandered around with us for about half an hour until we found the place so I invited him to join us. He ate and left, but was waiting outside when we were heading home. After walking with us the whole way back to the gur, we bid him farewell and retired into the coldest gur in Mongolia.

    It was only a couple of hundred kilometers to the border from Olgi, so we were set to be there before the lunch break and be well into Russia by nightfall. The road ended about 80km out of town, at the bottom of a mountain. When I say mountain, I mean hills and snow and all. The part of the drive where a road would have been great was where it ended. It had snowed the night before and we were making a mountain pass in Mongolia in the snow. If that isn't impressive enough, I got a flat tyre, on a mountain pass, in Mongolia in the snow! After changing the tube and getting a miniscule amount of air pressure using my hand pump, we headed down the other side of the mountain in the snow. I rode around the village at the bottom of the mountain looking for an air pump, and had some luck when a mini Mongolian took me to see his dad, who had a friend with a pump. Problem solved. Border ho!

    We arrived at the border at lunch time, and surprise surprise, another flat tyre. There was something funny going on here. What was funny was that I was out of tubes, so the guy from the cafe gave me a hand fixing the blown ones. This time I actually found the nail that had probably caused the last three punctures and removed it. While I had the bike in bits fixing the wheel, the Polish crew we met in Altai whilst I was getting a shorn bolt removed and they were having some welding done to their roof rack turned up heading our way.

    From the other direction three Aussie guys on two Ural motorcycles with side cars turned up, they were heading to Magadan on their bikes, Charlie and Ewan. I am not entirely sure how it all started as I was head down getting sorted, but Todd and the Polish girls got into a snowball fight with some local kids around the same time. It was all happening at the border. Bike fixed, a last feed of Mongolian dumplings, some paperwork and we were out of Mongolia and in no mans land heading for Russia, again.

    Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

    Into the Wilds of Inner Mongolia

    We turned up at the Russian side of the border to a huge queue, but it turned out it was for trucks and vans, and we slipped around the side to the motorcycle line, and making Russian side of the border quite easy. Two forms, a very meticulous examination of our passports and we were through.
    The Mongolian side was like a pinball machine, bouncing from counter to counter, getting stamps on a little piece of paper like bingo, and when your card was full you got to go through.

    I took mine out to the bike with me and was promptly sent back for the last 'GO' stamp. Again, they weren't really sure about the Carnet, but we got through. Again, very friendly people. I met a Russian guy who ran fishing and hunting tours, and was heading too Mongolia for a break. We arranged to meet at a cafe "you can't miss" on the way out of town, but we missed it!

    Our next stop was Ulaan Bataar, the capital of Mongolia, from where wwe would head west and hoped
    to hook up with our Russian support team at lake Havaskol on our way west. The scenery changed as though someone had drawn a big line across the earth and now we were in Mongolia. Whoever drew the line also turned down the tempreture, it was freezing. I was wearing everything I had and still had to stop at every road house (about every hour) for a coffee and warm up. At least there were roads, only problem is that instead of dipping headlights, Mongolians flash you in a kind of ritual celebration that they are driving past you. Very kind of them to welcome us like that!

    We hit Ulaan Bataar about midnight (high beams and cold hands slowed us down), and found a hotel were we appeared to be the only guests. Given that we were the only guests, we had all of the staff to ourselves. They were going too keep an eye on the bikes for us, and the next day Enke, who had just pulled a 24 hour shift, and her friend Anna came with us to the local motorcycle market where Todd was hoping to find another chain.

    Not much happening in terms of Japanese motorcycles in Mongolia, in fact I would like to severely chastise all of those people who told me that a Japanese bike was the way to travel through Asia. "You will get parts anywhere Simon, no worries". They don't even have parts for the bikes in Japan! The rest of Asia they almost fell over when we asked for parts. My advice, carry consumables and order ahead, especially if your bike has unusual size tyres or anything else! So if it aint Russian, it aint there. Anyway, there was a chain that was close so he grabbed that one and a chain breaker and off we went. Back in town I headed into a yurt that was set up in the main square to see what was going on. The guy there was serving fermented horse milk 'female horse not male horse' he assured me. I really enjoyed the sour taste, but wasn't too keen on the horse stomach accompaniment. Gave it a red hot shot though!

    A funny thing happened when we headed west out of Ulaan Bataar, the roads ceased to exist. Funny strange that is. There was a road for about 80 km, and then it stopped and fell into a series of tracks that stretched across for a few hundred meters. Just tracks in the sand. It was pretty amazing, and what I expected, but to see it for yourself was amazing. I hit a ditch, well I tried to jump a ditch because there wasn't time to stop and it bent my top box, but that was all. I was amazed because my manhood sure took a beating.

    We stopped almost every truck and car we passed and asked for directions to Moron, ironic really, but no one seemed to know where we were of where we wanted to be. It was like these people drive acrodd the desert, but don't know where they are?
    Needless to say, the morons never found moron, when we finally found someone at a petrol station who knew where we were, we had passed it by about 70 bone jarring kilometers, and we weren't going back! Our intelligence had led us to believe that the road to the south was the better road and we decided that seeing as we wouldn't be able to see the boys at the lake, then we should take the better route to save our vehicles and some time.

    How wrong we were...

    Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

    Mother Russia

    Let me begin by explaining the sluggish updating of the website and blog. My romantic notion of a ride through Russia and Mongolia had me setting up camp in the twilight each evening and taking time to write of the days events and keep everything up to date. This would be followed by a leisurely camp dinner and bed, before rising with the sun to continue the next day. The things I failed to take into account were the physical toll of riding on Russian roads, but more importantly 'Russian Hospitality' - allow me to explain.

    We made it to Russia safe and sound. They don't use the Carnet for international registration here in Russia, so we were able to roll on to the ferry from Japan, but not off the ferry into Korsakov, Russia. Bizarre system, but even after everyone we met at the ferry company and even on the ferry telling us it was impossible to organize without an agent we pushed on. Our first interaction with Russian authorities was unexpected. We were ushered into an old passenger bus from the ferry, and told that we would be able to pick up the bikes from a bonded yard when we had cleared customs and made the necessary arrangements.


    The customs staff on the ferry and at the immigration post (which ws an aging crumbling building hidden amongst some similarly dilapidated warehouses) were amazing. I expected harsh and dodgy, what I goot was the opposite. Although no one spoke English, a smile, handshake and kangaroo hop managed to break the misunderstanding and we were filling out paperwork with the help of an interpreter and customs officer. Passport stamp and we were through. It was about 7pm and the main customs office was closed for the day, so we headed to the only hotel in town to bed down for the night.

    A Japanese guy I met on the ferry, who was taking his bike over to ride around Sakhalin Island for a couple of weeks had enlisted the services of an agent and he had his bike out of customs and ready to go when we get to the hotel. We also met a couple of Italian Bikers on their way to Japan on new XTZ Tenere's, which pretty much explained why the CEO of Yamaha in Australia stopped emailing us about a possible sponsorship opportunity after the offer last year. The Italians had come across from Italy from the other direction and we arranged to meet for dinner by the port to pick their brains regarding route and helpful hints and tips. Takashi picked up the bill for our traditional Russian fare and beers as his little sponsorship and we were back to the most expensive hotel in town (had the market cornered).

    The next day we hit the customs office with our paperwork, had to head to the insurance office to buy insurance, back to customs, bonded yard and we were on our way. No issues, no bribes, no nasty people. Next stop - Khomsk and the ferry to the Mainland.

    Arriving in Khomsk about 11pm, we headed straight for the ferry port. It was raining and dark, and I was walked up to the booking office to arrange the ride to Port Vanino on the mainland. If you have seen the movie 'Hostel', you would appreciate the atmosphere of the area, but the woman in the office was lovely, more Kangaroo impressions and in between yelling at other people coming to the office we were ready to go. The ferry left at 11am, and by now it was close to 1am in the morning so we headed to the nearest hotel for a kip (sleep).

    At the front doors of the hotel were a bunch of Russian guys who greeted us with what was to become pretty standard "You are crazy". They invited us out for a little drink, whilst flicking the side of the neck like "what I really mean is I'll get you in the car, take you to a secluded spot and cut your head off". Nevertheless it was late and I was tired, but a 'little drink' with some locals sounded like an interesting plan. We had to check in, park and change, but they waited right there at the front door of the hotel for us, and when we arrived 45 mins later, there they were, neck flicking and ushering us into cars.

    We ended up at a local bar where the boys obviously knew the owner (for reasons that will become apparent) and they cleared the corner of the bar for us. There were about 12 guys, Dimitri, his driver and a few ring ins, and it wasn't long before we knew we were drinking with the local Mafia. The bar closed at 3am and we spent the next hour or so picking up sly beers from various flats, driving around the streets of Khomsk in a brand new Audi listening to "Russian Music". Every time we were close to the hotel a new song would start and Dimitri would shout "Russian Music" and his driver would cut another lap. Todd wasn't too well by this stage, but we eventually got back to the hotel in one piece, for a couple of hours sleep before heading for the ferry in the morning.

    Needless to say we were running pretty late for the ferry, arriving about 3 hours after we were supposed to; however in true Russian style, people were still waiting for the ferry to go. We were the last vehicles on the ferry, and we found out later that the check in woman radioed to see if we were too late when we turned up, and the captain said it was Ok because we had ridden all the way from Australia to get it!

    The ferry was an old clunker, smelly and damp, and we had a cabin in the depths of its smelly bowels. Needless to say, I wasn't too keen on spending too much time in there, and I headed up the deck to read my book. On the deck I met Marcus, Serge and Genya, three Russian guys who were heading to Mongolia for a week of camping on Lake Havaskol. They had seen our bikes and the map, and were keen to see if we wanted to travel to Mongolia together. I ended up spending the rest of the ferry ride with them, and retired late, about 2am thinking the ferry got in at 8am.

    At 3:30am, the crew was knocking on doors to wake people up. A little tired and disorientated we headed for the garage and disembarked about 4:30am. The guys had some trouble with paperwork, and we got straight through (I think we were in the 'too hard' category for the guards, they asked us for something, I spoke quickly in English, they looked confused, I was confused, the gate went up and we drove through. Too easy. It was dark, cold and raining and we waited under a bridge for the guys to get their paperwork sorted and rejoin us.

    2 hours at 50kmph due to the rain and dark, and the guys pulled over and suggested they make room in the Titan for us to get in and have a sleep. Mind you, the car was full of camping equipment, and we were both soaked. For those of you who think we are riding around having a good time, the reality of the ride is when it's wet you are wet, when it's cold you are cold, when it's hot you sweat, when it's muddy you get dirty, when you are happy you take pictures. I digress...
    So Serge piled a whole lot of gear on himself and five grown men, two of them very wet, tried our best to get some sleep in one car.
    After a few hours we were away again, the roads in this part of Russia would have been absolutely terrible and difficult if they were dry, but they were wet. It was still raining, so you had no idea how deep the pot holes were, and the mud was as slippery as ice in some parts. We both managed to stay upright the whole day, and arrived later that evening into Khabarovsk.

    Nestled right over on the East of Russia, you could see China across the river, Khabarovsk reminded me somewhat of a small European city. It was late, and we were tired, but we went for a little look around town, through the park and back to the hotel.

    My bike didn't start in the morning, and the boys had managed to track down a small motorcycle market to find a chain for Todd. I bypassed my side stand switch and Todd found a dodgy Russian chain that just fit and we were off. The next few days had punctures, roadside hotels and kilometers. Of course the nightly 'Russian Hospitality' meant the boys cracking out a bottle of Vodka, and me bolting something back onto my bike. The headlight upgrade (making my headlight brighter) I got from Sunnys in Malaysia had given me nothing but trouble, flattening the battery, loosing wires, just not working for unknown reasons.

    I got a flat tyre the day after Todd had two, and, and instead of waiting around for us the boys lent us their electric pump and went ahead to find somewhere to camp. Good plan, but I got another flat only 1km down the road, at 100kmph, and spent another hour changing the tube. We still hadn't reached the guys camping spot by nightfall, but we pushed on dusty gravel roads.

    Stopping at a tyre 'shop' - an old train carriage that was sat on the side of the road and a guy and his wife fixed tyres for travelers having bad luck along the road. The state of the road ensured there was no lack of business! They were lovely, fixed a couple of tubes (so we had spares again), made us tea and were genuinely lovely. There was a young family getting a tyre fixed at the same time and I gave a mini geography and English less on to the kids in return for some handy Russian phases. In return for the hospitality of the couple at the tyre train, Todd dropped his bike on their two tea cups, probably their only two, I had to giggle.

    We pushed on thinking the boys would be around any corner, but it was about 4 hours later, covered in dust and grime, and when I had given up finding them and was looking for a place to camp myself, we rounded a bend and there they were, all sat in the Titan, hazard lights on the side of the road waiting for us. They had done the best to polish off a couple of bottles of vodka whilst waiting for us, but there they were. They were convinced we weren't coming, but never the less had organized somewhere for us to sleep under cover at a cafe (which was closed), and hooked into cooking us dinner when we arrived. It was at this stage when I started to consider that they may well have been sent by our parents, or the Australian Government, or maybe even the Russian Government to keep us in line.

    We bid farewell to the fellas the next day as they were heading to a border we couldn't use, and we were heading for Ulan Ude to get our Mongolian Visas organized. Again we met some local fellas in Ulan Ude, and spent the day we were waiting for our visas getting travel advice and having a look around town. We stopped at a kiosk to grab something to eat, right at the time a homeless guy collapsed, cracking his head on the pavement. Witnessing some dubious first aid - like the lighter in the mouth, I popped the guy into the recovery position and let them continue with head wetting and mouth lighting.

    The following day we were heading to Mongolia. Yee ha! A bit of a dampener on my mood when I noticed that Todd had lost the same sub frame bolt I had lost and stopped in at a hardware store to find a replacement. Whilst there I noticed the same issue on my bike and a local guy, who must have just been buying gear at the store came to the rescue. "Russian Bolts", he proudly exclaimed "strong, no problems now!" I dared not tell him that the broken bolt he was replacing was a 'Sturdy Russian bolt'! Anyway, with a new bolt rubbing on my chain and one on Todd's, we were heading south to the Wilds of Mongolia, only a few hours down the highway.

    Saturday, September 12th, 2009

    Close, but no ferry...

    Things had to work like clockwork for us to get to Wakkani on the 13th with a stopover in Sapporo to pick up tires. I skipped seeing my cousin living in Japan and anyone else to make it up in two days. 20 000Y in tolls and a 9000y ferry ride later, we rolled into town at 2.30am. Just in time, but in time! The ferry left the next day at 3:30pm so we headed to a hotel to sleep as we were both exhausted. There were actually a few overland bikes parked out the front.

    At 12pm we arrived at the terminal to check in for the 3.30pm ferry. The desk was abandoned which seemed a little strange seeing as an international ferry was leaving in a few hours, but I guess the Japanese are quite well organized so they don't need too much time to sort things out. We hit the buzzer to make sure that we had everything squared away and that there were no suprises that would stop us making the ferry that afternoon. The attendant who came out to serve us looked a little confused at the booking slip. As it turns out, although we thought we booked a ferry at 3:30pm, there is only one at 10am, when we were asleep in a hotel about 400m from where the boat left without us. You can imagine how frustrating it was, all that work and a little misunderstanding with times and we get to spend 5 days in the nth tip of Japan on a national holiday weekend when everything is closed!

    The next couple of hours were one of those times that you see on reality TV shows. I mean it was reality after all. Very emotional and definitely a letdown after all of the planning and effort to get there in time. It was only an extra five days, but it was an opportunity to catch up on a few days of the schedule and it also represented the time I had to spend with my family and my baby niece in Germany. We looked at other options, but the expense and practicality of other options meant five days in Wakkanai.

    It is actually almost cold up here, I broke out the jumper for the first time in months. We ran into an English couple, Simon and Michelle, at the ferry terminal (they were looking into a ferry to one of the National Parks at the nth of Japan) when it was all pretty down and out about missing the ferry. They helped out by just being around. They lived in Nagoya and have been teaching in japan for around 15 years. We spent the afternoon with them, michelle cooked curry for us which was awesome and we had a we gathered a few of the campers around the campsite together. It was handy that Simon and Michelle were able to hold the conversation together in two languages. They were a real godsend at a time when I needed some positive input.

    We set up camp in the free campsite near the port. It was on a hill and the view was awesome. We met a bunch of fantastic people over the five days, Hokkaido is a favourite holiday spot for Japanese and there were quite a few bikers riding the island. The roads are fantastic and the traffic is sparse so it is a great spot for riding.

    We set about making use of the time we had now. We worked on updating the website, serviced the bikes (took a day to find oil and somewhere that would let us change it), change over the tires (this was a two day adventure, ended up doing most of it ourselves), post some things home, caught up on sleep, did washing, planned the next part of the trip and hit Russia extremely well prepared. I mean there were still a lot of loose ends that needed to be taken care of (like the things I just mentioned), so we got on top of everything and made the ferry on time.

    Saturday, September 12th, 2009

    Osaka Times

    Although I was pretty keen ot save to dollars on a nights accommodation and take the overnight bus from Tokyo, Todd convinced me to jump on the Shinkansen Train, commonly known as the bullet train. I have taken similar trains in Europe, but as Japan was supposed to be the Mecca for fast trains I gave in and agreed to take the train. We were separated in at Ikebukuro station and Todd ended up waiting for me on one of the Tokyo Stations. I figured that there was no hope of finding Todd in the station so I took the next train to Osaka. It turns out Todd waited an hour then jumped on a train.

    The train its self was fast, but I wouldn't say it blew my socks off or anything. Just efficient and fast. They are more impressive when you aren't on board, inside it is so well built and organized that you don't feel the speed.

    As Todd had made the booking for the hotel in Osaka on a Hostel booking website I wasn't sure where it was, so I headed for in internet cafe near the station. I passed my first seriously drunk pedestrian on the way. He had lost a shoe stumbling along and after a couple of minutes trying to put it back on whilst standing (I was waiting at the lights), he plonked himself down on the ground and appeared to fall asleep, shoeless and on the edge of the road. I wanted to run over and give him a hand, but it is never a good first move in a new city to get involved with local problems so I let him lay.

    The internet cafe was amazing, more of a 'media centre' with thousands of DVDs, and magazines, vending machines (surprise, surprise) and booths for internet. There was booths for two, three and four so you could watch Japan-imation with your friends and singles booths for poor lonely sods who don't have any friends or anywhere to stay. As expected the details for the hotel were in my inbox, and I spent the remaining 50 minutes (you had to buy an hour of internet time at least) working out where the customs office and shipping yards were before heading to the hotel. I needed a key deposit in Yen as they wouldn't except my card, and I spent my last cash on the train buying dinner, so I dropped my bag at the hotel and wandered around the nearby streets to find an ATM that accepted international cards. There are ATMs ever where in Japan, but for most of the part they only accept Japanese cards and I was having no luck. I bought a deep fried mystery snack with my remaining change (turned out to be chicken) and wandered around to get my bearings.

    I must have landed in the Osaka equivalent of the Bronx, there were drunk people stumbling around everywhere and people sleeping on broken down cardboard boxes. I heard that there was little to no homelessness in Japan, so I assumed that they must all hang out in ***** Osaka. It felt pretty safe though, considering, because these guys were having enough trouble walking let alone causing any trouble for me. It was good to see the rougher side of the city.

    Todd turned up at the Hotel as I was returning from my little fact finding Mission and had enough cash for the key deposit so we were in! The hotel looked as though it was once a pretty flash pace. There was a fountain that looked like it hadn't worked for 15 years, and a shoe rack at the front door so that you could remove your shoes and place on a pair of the lovely blue plastic communal sandals. Needless to say they were Japanese small and I had no hope. The place had rated well on the booking website, and was very cheap. Not only that, if you were in to it you could choose from a selection of 'racy' DVD's on a rack at the front
    door and hire a DVD player from reception. It was the kind of place that people stayed at when they were short on cash or dodgy. Our room was in the Japanese style with mattresses on the woven wicker mat floor, and had an unpleasant aroma akin to wet dog, but you got used to it after an hour or so and didn't notice it anymore. The shower was outside and you had to pay for it. There was two of those coin operated internet machines in the foyer, with a sign that read "Please, You can enjoy the internet here" It was close to transport (right next to the train line) and very cheap, Todd had paid deposit on five nights there, and it was my birthday in a couple of days, I wanted out.

    Customs Clearance
    The proximity of transport made it pretty easy to get to the Customs office, and without too much ado we were able to get some paperwork done and were shunted onto the next office for some more .paperwork. We were advised, by an agent, that it would be too difficult to undertake the import procedure without the help of an agent in Japan, who had it all 'under control' for a charge the equivalent of $2600AUD. As it turns out, the agent in Bangkok forgot to mention that there was a hefty port tariff that is applied by the sqm, a point that was not mentioned at the time that we were advised to make the crates bigger to avoid having to spend time and energy pulling the bikes apart this time.

    The staff in all of the offices we visited were fantastic, and we were sent away after only a few hours with a handful of paperwork and the permission to get our bikes and big smiles. We just had to pay the tariff to the shipping agent and go down to the bonded yard to pick up our machines which we were going to do when the free storage time ran out so we didn't have to worry about finding parking in Osaka.

    The place we moved to in Osaka, the Guest House Koma, was absolutely fantastic. Owned and run by travelers they have the equation absolutely right for a friendly backpackers. The facilities are not amazing, but the experience is. Small things like curtains on the bunk beds for a bit of privacy make the difference. The staff were the happiest people in Japan and extremely friendly and helpful. They even let us park the bikes in the lounge room overnight for security when we picked them up from the port. The place was only recently opened and will do really well in a market with a lot of demand and not many beds. I had an awesome experience on my birthday, the guy who runs the hostel organized a surprise party for me while I was working away on my computer. Cake and all! He had organized all of the guests to hide in the common room and at midnight he asked me to come and have a look at something. Very cool indeed.

    My birthday party was awesome, starting the night before with cake and a surprise party, and heading out for a few drinks on the 5th. Marco from Finland who we met at the hostel came out to tear up the town. We met a couple of local guys at the train station and they tagged along, picking up other ramdom people as we headed around. We ran into some Coke executives on the train station and chatting to some intergalactic road workers doing their thing was a fitting end to a great night.

    Russian Visas
    The next big job was to get our visas organized for Russia. Again we were told it was impossible in Japan by people who hadn't actually tried. The funny thing is that all of the negative advice comes from those who haven't actually gone through things themselves, all Chinese whispers. Anyway, to get a Russian visa you need to get an official invitation (which you can order over the internet), which takes about 15 working days to process. To get a multiple entry business visa (which is the one we needed) you need to have the original document, which was delivered to the team at Osaka City Council (who I had connections with through the City of Melbourne). For the actual visa you need to take the invitation and an application to the consulate and have it processed. This can take up to another two weeks.

    Unfortunately ordering of the invitation fell to the bottom of Todd's 'to do' list and may have been left a little late which pushed things back a few days, but it arrived at Osaka City on the day after my birthday, and we headed in to meet the team, pick up the paperwork and head for the Russian Consulate. All sorted in a couple of hours, we even had a laugh with the staff in the consulate, or maybe they laughed at us practicing Russian, none the less there were smiles. The processing was going to take three days, unfortunately it was Thursday so we couldn't pick it up until Monday so an opportunity to go for a ride in Japan, the bikes had to come out of the port and we had nowhere to stay, so we thought we would get the bikes out of the port and take a ride down the coast.

    It happens a lot, especially when there is money to be made, but we were told that we would have a hard time getting rid of the crates that the bikes were shipped in but that for a fee the agent could take care of it. I am sure there was no communication with the actual bonded yard, because again, they were the friendliest bunch of chaps, and not only did they take the crates but they helped us unpack them. We also got invited out to Friday night drinks but weren't able to get back to the port in time. Now that's genuine!
    We headed down to the coast, although we left pretty late, Todd was downloading updates or something, and managed to miss all of the great weather. I stopped off at a 'Cosmo' (service station) to ask about camping spots in the area and replace a fastener that vibrated off of my bike on the way and had another fantastic human experience. Keeping in mind that our command of Japanese is more or less inadequate for any type of interesting conversation, we spent about an hour in the office with the five guys and one lady (who gave us tea and cut up watermelon) showing them our site and, well, eating watermelon and drinking tea! We arrived at the campsite in enough time to convince the reception guy to let us stay and run up the hill and catch the dying stages of the sunset. I don't think the guy at reception he was too keen on dealing with foreigners and told us they were full which was funny because the place was almost deserted. Anyway after a long day, and not having set the tents up for a while we did a pretty poor job of getting set up and needless to say, it rained all night. We were both up in the middle of the night , as were some nearby campers, to have a second crack at pegging out the fly in the wind and rain. Lesson learned.

    Back in Osaka to pick up visas and passports from the Russian consulate, Todd was waiting on some parts to be delivered to the Council office which hadn't arrived by Friday. The next ferry to Russia from Wakanni in the Nth of Japan was only three days away and it was going to be a real challenge to get on the ferry. After waiting around to hear about Todd's parts for most of the morning I decided we had better head off, we had a big ride ahead of us. We got on the road to pick up our Russian Visas at 12.30pm (I wanted to head off at 9am), stopped in at the City Hall to find out if they had the package and it had arrived at last. Photos with the Osaka City Council team and we were off to find our passports at last. We arrived at the Russian Consulate about 2 hours after they closed the Visa section. I chatted to the police at the guard gate, pleaded the case on a little speaker on the gate and 40 mins later we were holding our visas

    Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

    Tokyo Town

    My First impression of Tokyo, in the airport was 'Intergalactic'. I was knackered, and I was meeting my friend Karen at the airport at 3pm, so I didn't see much point heading into town (a couple of hours travel away), until she arrived. I had a few US dollars left to change into Yen, but that was it, as there was no ATM's that accepted international cards (that were working anyway). Slept, ate and waited. Todd headed off to a hostel in town.

    After Karen arrived we headed for the Sakura hotel in Ikebukuro, near the city centre, and happening. Vending machines, intergalactic and lights everywhere. For those who don't get the intergalactic reference, there was a film clip for a song called intergalactic by the Beastie Boys that featured workmen wearing flashing reflective vests, rubber boots, white overalls and hardhats Japanese style, and it is really like that. So delightfully safe and organized. Whereas the safety people around worksites in other parts of the world might lean on a stop/go lollypop, smoking a cigarette and looking largely disinterested, the 'Tokyo Team', as I like to think of them, take it very seriously, blowing their whistles and waving their flags, helmets done up and boots shiny, with a real purpose. Intergalactic.

    Wandering around town it was apparent that not many people spoke English, and that my Japanese phrases of "My Name is Simon", "Please drink Beer", "good morning" and "thank you" were not going to get me fed. Lucky for me, menus were often real size plastic replicas of the meals in cabinets at the front door. Simple, bizarre and perfect.

    Shopping in Tokyo, well in Japan, is an interesting affair. I haven't quite put my finger on the intricacies of how it works, but whenever you walk into a shop, restaurant, bar, whatever - all of the staff pronounce hello to you. I think they are saying "Mushi Mushi...", in a way that makes you feel like they have been waiting for you. One person might spot you as you walk in, and then all of the staff follow suit. It really is an interesting phenomenon to behold. Customer service in general is amazing in Japan. From the welcome you get in a shop, to the fact that there are conductors on train stations and people fill up you tank at petrol stations and everyone respects you. There is no tipping culture (in so much as I don't tip and it doesn't appear to cause much of an issue, so forgive me if I am supposed to be tipping), just a genuine respect for the customer. If you ask for directions or information, you get the whole packet, maps phone calls, people walk you around. It is amazing. There have been a few expats that have said things like "nice to visit but hard to live" and other such comments, but the same people have been living here for years!

    So what did we have to get organized in Japan, because it isn't a holiday, this motorbike stuff is pretty hard work. The bikes were arriving into port in Osaka, and we had to sort out our Russian visas. Also to get the bikes through customs we had to visit the JAF (Japanese Auto Federation) office to get paperwork done. The shipping agent quoted 197 000Yen ($2500 AUD)to do all the work, so we expected it to be pretty difficult. After I found the office in Tokyo, all I had to do was hand over the carnet and come back later and sing for it. Done. But there had to be a catch. No, the only problem was that Todd had to sign for his own carnet and he wasn't with me. Carnet authentication - Check!

    Up the Tokyo tower after that. I met Todd around dusk at the tower and we went for a look. Big City is Tokyo. For a country of 120Million people, I expected Tokyo to be bigger than 12 million, but it is still impressive at night. It's all about lights, vending machines and of course, intergalactic. There was a mini concert happening in the tower, and I finally got to see how Japanese people show respect by closing their eyes when listening. I read about it in the context of someone giving a speech and the Japanese people in the front rows sat there with their eyes closed. The speaker found it quite rude, but in truth it is just so they can better concentrate on what was being said, or in this case sung!

    Over the next days we visited the party favourites, Shinjuku and Shibuya. Shibuya, where there are about 10 roads that intersect and when the pedestrian lights change to green it is like a scramble, in fact that's what I was told they call it, the Shibuya scramble. I managed to pick up a pretty fantastic floral number at a second hand store, in fact two shirts fitted and I bought them both. The pockets of my shorts have pretty much fallen out and I wanted some new ones, but haven't been able to find a pair of cargo shorts anywhere in Japan that will fit. I'm big in Japan.

    At home I worked with a program that the City of Melbourne runs called the Melbourne Greeter Service, where a volunteer takes out small groups of visitors on an orientation of the city (not a tour!!), and the visitor sees it from a locals point of view. There is a similar program running
    After an unfruitful shopping experience (although Karen did find her bag), we headed to an authentic Japanese restaurant to sample authentic Japanese fare. There was good, reasonable and fantastic. There was sake and beer. It was mostly fish, and Todd picked away at the garnishing.

    Okanami Yaki , the dish that is like a big potato cake (not quite that simple) was a rare thing in Tokyo. We all wanted a crack at it, but we couldn't find it anywhere. Aren and I managed, with the help of a tout from another restaurant, who walked us to the restaurant (bizarre). The place had a little hotplate on the table and we were stoked that it would be cooked right there in front of us. Such hard work to find, but so good to eat. The starter, some kind of deep fried fatty seafood balls, was awesome, as was the main event and the dessert was an ice-cream sandwich (the kind with wafers). Awesome feed, and another box ticked.

    The final box I wanted to tick was to behold the institution of Karaoke in it's 'Mecca'. Let me give you the run down. Karen left on the bus to the airport and Todd and I went to what seemed like an English style pub for a couple of beers. In the pub we met Mr. O. Mr. O wasn't a character from a Tarentino film, but an awesome local guy who was like the king regular in the bar. As it turned out we landed in the Japanese equivalent of cheers. Everybody knew our names within minutes as Mr. O set about introducing us around and buying us drinks. After a few beers we decided it was a great opportunity to hit up a karaoke place and get stuck into it. Rosa, from Columbia and working in Tokyo, two Swedish engineers working in town, a mate of theirs, a Bangladeshi who was a little unusual, Todd and Myself headed to 'Big Echo' Karaoke, where you pay for the room, the drinks are thrown in with the Karaoke all for the cost of two beers at the pub. "I'm not going to sing" implored team Sweden,, but a couple of whiskeys later and it was hard to get the mic off them. It was impossible to pry it from Todd's hand, he had what I refer to as Tour guide Microphone Syndrome (TMS), and was reliving a past when he "owned the microphone and you will listen..."

    So, Tokyo - Vending machines, check; Bright Lights, check; Schoolgirl dancing cabarets, check; Okanami Yaki, check; Loud Hawaiian Shirt, check; that busy intersection place, check; Karaoke, check; intergalactic, everywhere. It was time to head south to Osaka and get our bikes back!

    Saturday, August 15th, 2009

    Singapore Stylin'

    What is very helpful and makes you somewhat lazy about Asia, is that you never wash your own clothes. Most guest houses offer a service, and if they don't, the place next door does. All you have to do is bring a bag of smelly dirty clothes (they probably don't have to smell too bad, but mine always did), weigh it and pay, and then pick it up at the required time, clean and folded. I wanted to make sure I was all sorted and clean for the trip to Japan, so I had the guest house do my laundry, all of it such that all that wasn't being washed I had on. Done, I would return, pick up my clean gear, whack it in my bag and head to the train.

    Such a clever plan, so poorly executed. It seems that a 'new staff member' had neglected to put my clothes into the dryer until I turned up to pick it up, and it needed a couple of minutes. I waited until the absolute death knock when I had to rush to make the train, but it made little difference, I was taking wet clothes with me to Japan.

    The washing incident made us rush for the train, and unlike Thai sleeper trains, Malaysian trains arrived and left on time and we made it just in time, sweaty with a bag of wet clothes (Todd opted for dry smelly clothes). I hung them all around my sleeper using string that I asked the 'new staff member' for at the guest house and headed for the restaurant car to set up camp, plug in my phone and computer (behind the counter was the only power point, thanks guys) and grab an overpriced train feed.

    Walking up from the overnight train stop into town, I stopped a Singaporean couple to ask them for directions to the subway, and they ended up taking me to a hawker centre and shouting me breakfast. Todd is not a fan of fish, or mystery soup that could contain fish so he headed for his old favouried burger King for a feed, whilst I hung out with the local crew eating mystery soup.

    Singapore was everything I expected. Clean, organized and polite. Arriving early in the morning we headed into town to have a wander around. At the main train station in town we were told that there was no where to leave our bags for the day, but a porter at the hotel adjoining the hotel was happy to help (I never take no for an answer, unless of course it is the answer I want), and wandered around town.

    Todd headed for the Internet and I went exploring, down to the waterfront, through some museums and on to Raffles. I did let myself have a Singapore Sling at Raffles hotel. Funnily enough, the place was full of tourists doing exactly the same thing. Not the cheapest place for a drink, the sling and a beer to wash it down and regain my masculinity came to around $50.

    At the airport Todd went wandering around the terminal, and I headed for the Airport Lounge for a shower and a beer. A one day membership cost about $50, so I hooked in, having two showers, a few beers and countless plates of 'snack' food; my rationale - after three plates it ceases to be snack food and becomes a meal. I took the opportunity to hang out my wet clothes again, probably not entirely appropriate, but a necessary evil. A three hour stopover at KL airport (where I purchased my standard one litre bottle of Gin) we were on our way to Japan. Yatta!

    Saturday, August 15th, 2009

    Back to the Big Smoke

    After leaving the sanctuary of the island, we took an overnight bus to KL, and arrived back at the same place we were staying last time we were there with a couple of new friends from the bus trip in tow. Unfortunately they were full, but they had a 'sister guesthouse' that could put us up for the night. Todd and our new friends were having a nap, so I headed down to 'Best Friends Massage' where they have the fish that hook into the dead skin on your feet to get another massage, and was lucky enough to get gary, the same fella that I had when I was last in KL.

    Returning to the guest house I ran into Todd and the team at a Lebanese restaurant, and even though I wasn't at all hungry, the thought of some Lebanese food drew me in. I also got in trouble, because using my limited Arabic I gave the guy the impression that I could actually speak well, and he proclaimed me his brother and the feast began. It is never cheap eating at Lebanese restaurant, but it was worth it.

    We were pretty much in KL for the sole reason to see if we could re route our Malaysian Airlines flight from Singapore to Tokyo. The flight went from Singapore to KL and then onto Tokyo, so it made sense that we would be able to pick it up in KL. Easy. Everybody wins. We don't have to head from KL to Singapore to catch a flight back to KL, and the airline doesn't have to feed two Aussie blokes. I had no luck on the phone, and the Malaysia Airlines office had moved recently, such that the tourist information bureau didn't know and sent me on a wild goose chase for a couple of hours. I gave up and resolved to find the office later in the day and plead my case. In the meantime I wanted to SSS (shower and shave), and look for a new MP3 player.

    After I got Todd moving thinking that the office probably finished about 5pm, we hit the office about 4:50pm, to find that it opened until 10pm. I tried everything to get the flight changes, standing around, not taking no for an answer, asking the boss, asking them to make phone calls to check, but they had it over me in the end, because the fares were booked online, they had to speak to the online department, and it was now 5:15pm on Friday night. They finished at 5. I got the feeling that the consultant that was helping us out did really do all she could, and that she would have if she could have so I headed downstairs (the new office was at the main train station in KL) to book a sleeper to Singapore. I figures that if I had to go to Singapore I may as well have a day to look around and try the obligatory Singapore Sling and Raffles Hotel!

    Saturday, August 15th, 2009

    Paradise Island

    The last two seats were at the back over the engine and exhaust brake, and my seat squeeked at me for the whole 6 hours. When we got to the port at Chumporn we had to wait 5 hours for the ferry. Seamless! The ferry was pretty rough, and there were quite a few green people hanging off the back of the boat. It also had a pretty short roof, and I am pretty used to hitting my head, but a combination of a head hit and wave and I was sitting in the lap of the Israeli woman in the chair next to me. Shalom.

    So we arrived back on Koh Phangan, hit up the Coral Bungalows. We met a tout at the port and got chatting, and I suggested that even though we knew where we were going, we would say that he sent us so he could collect the commission. No skin off my nose. "you have to say you have never been there before or I won't get the commission!", no worries, it's not like anyone would remember two guys on motorbikes running around the place. We checked in and I got away with it, Todd still had the room number sticker on his passport, and all of the girls in reception remembered him. Not sure what happened with the guys commission.

    A few days on Koh Phangan and the team we had been traveling with were keen to hit up the Perhentian Islands of Malaysia, as was I. Not disappointed. A ferry ride, overnight train, border, taxi and speedboat later and we were in paradise. Idyllic location for a few days of nothing, just finish my book and relax. Jess and Sam were on the ferry over from Koh Phangan. We got talking and it turned out that Jess was interested in the book I was reading about Logotherapy. It was so random that I promised to finish the book and pass it on. They were heading to the same place a couple of days later and gave me a tip for a guest house. It turned out that the tip was for a place in KL, so I offered to book them a place on the island as in high season and accommodation was scarce. By the time I asked about it everything was full, so I talked the guy where we were staying into to finding them a bed, and they ended up in a new room that was being used as a store room. Stoked, everybody happy and I was able to allay my guilt!

    Getting over to the island was an interesting affair, coming from Thailand where everything is negotiable, it was strange that there was one price for the speedboat to the island and that was all. When we got close though, we had to switch to another taxi boat to take us the 50m into shore. I mean we could have jumped out and walked it. It was all a little mafia to me, but we were in paradise and nothing mattered. We ended up in a room of 5, Fi, Scotty, Sadhbh, Todd and myself, with a fan and shower but it was really hot and sticky before five people stayed in the one room.

    In the bar that night we met a Swedish family there for a diving holiday who told us about the Tsunami warning for 6am in the morning, and how to get to the highest point of the island. I set about trying to find out if I should be worried asking locals and no one seemed to be taking it seriously. The word was that there was an underwater earthquake somewhere offshore and that it might result in a high tide, or nothing at all. Ic can't have been too devastating, because I slept through it. Still, the story that we survived the tsunami that night will no doubt be told in bars across the world over the next few months!

    We were on the island for a few days, and there was an interesting phenomenon that occurred about 4pm each afternoon. Speedboats would ferry people from the mainland, and the taxis would extort fares for the 50m ride to the shore and then people would wander around looking for somewhere to stay. There was no way to book from the mainland, you just had to turn up and try your luck, and for many they were out of luck. It was interesting that there isn't the room stock, or that the prices hadn't raised to meet the demand as per most other similar places. There was no way to let the people on the mainland know that there was no room, but even if there was I am sure that the 'family' would prevent it so the taxi boats could pick up fares taking the homeless to other islands to look for accommodation. The whole system seemed to work, somehow, and life went on as you would expect on a beautiful tropical island.

    Friday, August 7th, 2009

    Bike Shipping

    A few hours kip and we were on the job to get our bikes to Japan. Of the 100 or so people I contacted regarding shipping, about 10 got back to me. Of them about 6 were positive, so I called them. Of the 6, I couldn't make sense of the phone system for 2 of them, one didn't speak any English, one was going to call me back and I made appointments with a couple of them for the next day.

    Mr Pichai came to the hotel to meet with us, and he was a regular, fair dunkum, struth ya flaming mongrel grouse fella. We had a coffee and sorted out what we needed to do. He couldn't give us a full run down on the price at this stage, nor could we make the ship on the 14th, but the packing needed to be done that day in time to get the boat on the 21st. We headed down to the packing place in awful traffic, there was one red light that lasted about 8 minutes. And it was HOT. We got close and gave the yard a call and they came to pick us up. I was entertained by a bunch of motorcycle taxi guys making jokes about my feet in Thai (never gets old!)

    The yard was under the expressway and the front gate was a pot plant on a trolley, no chance we would have made it without them. We arrived and were greeted by a selection of drinks and set about giving the bikes a wash, with the help of all of the staff.

    It was an interesting experience at the packing place, the boss didn't speak English, and communicated with us by feeding us fruit. We went back to the yard a few times over the next couple of days, and we ate a lot of fruit. One time the bossman actually got on his motorbike and disappeared then returned with a selection of tropical fruit. That bit was cool. The fact that I spent the whole afternoon there waiting for something to happen and nothing did, not so good. If you haven't tried Durian, don't bother. It is pretty expensive, and smells like my old footy socks. It tastes a bit like dirty sock / rotten cheese flavoured custard.

    As it turned out, the bikes were crated on the Wednesday, no real hurry. I mean, we could have held onto them, but it was actually good to be 'bikeless' for a while, no concern with thieves and parking. We were like old friends when we left the packing place, good bunch of guys, and great fruit. I was still chasing a figure from Mr. Pichai regarding the cost of the shipping, but he couldn't help until the ship had accepted the cargo and it was measured. We were keen to head back down to the Islands, and we were waiting for the paperwork for a couple of days. He ended up sending a messenger with the paperwork who arrived about 7:30pm, too late to get a bus to Surat Thani, and the train was full. We wandered around for a while asking travel agents if anyone could help. One thing about somewhere like Bangkok is that you will always get the answer you want, you have to just keep asking.

    A guesthouse travel desk had the last two seats on the expensive bus/boat combo leaving in five minutes, and although we had already paid for the night Todd was pretty keen to get moving so we ran back grabbed our gear, checked out and headed for the bus.

    Thursday, August 6th, 2009

    Laos - Heading Nth

    Light but unrelenting the rain was the order of the day. We left Vang Vieng around lunchtime and made for the drive to Luang Prabang. The crew were on a bus that took around 8 hours, and we planned to meet them there that evening. Beautiful roads and amazing views the whole way.

    It was almost surreal as you came around bends amazing vistas would reveal themselves, sheer rock formations coming out of pristine jungle, all framed by a mist from the rain. Beautiful, the kind of beautiful that a little camera like mine just can't do it justice. I thought about pulling over on a few occasions but made the decision to make this mine and just enjoy the view.

    Even though the view was amazing, and the road well made and challenging, it was still raining. Unless you are wearing a plastic bag you are going to get wet. I was saturated, sweat from one way and rain from the other. In my own little world though, somehow satisfied. About 15km from town, we were stopped by police who shut the road for an accident, for two hours, in the rain, so close to the end. Spent the time 'chatting' (a term that includes drawing pictures, making gestures and making every effort to understand each other) with the locals who were all out to see the accident. It was no big deal, but as I understood it the police have to undertake a thorough investigation if they are called.

    We finally arrived at the guesthouse about 7oclock, and all I wanted to do was have a shower and relax. Some might say that I am somewhat anti-establishment, or disestablishmentarian, or contrarian, anyway I don't want to own an iPod, just because everybody else does. Great piece of kit and the white headphones are an amazing marketing coup, but I don't want to succumb. To that end, when we were in Darwin I bought a little voice recorder and mp3 player in one. Perfect and I planned to attach a microphone inside my helmet so I could record my thoughts as I rode along. It was about $400 but I justified the expense by not buying an iPod! Two hours in the rain was not healthy for the recorder, it died a steamy death in my pocket that fateful day in the rain. Se la vie.

    Back to Bankers
    Todd wanted a couple of days R&R in Luang Prabang, so rather than head up to the Golden Triangle and back into Thailand and heading sth, we decided to relax for a couple of days and head straight to Bangkok and sort out shipping the bikes. For some reason "when do you need the cargo to make the ship on the 14th?" was a question that was just too difficult to answer on the phone or by email.

    My intention was to actually stand in front of someone and ask the question, so back to Bangkok it was. The plan was to head back the way we had come to Vientiane, stay the night at the border then make a good day of it and get to Bangkok the next day. We hit the border around 9pm. It was actually about 40km from town so we went to the border to ask what time they opened, so we could make an early start and smash it all the way to Bangkok. It was about 800km.

    Given there was not much around the border in the way of accommodation, we decided to deal with the border formalities then and there, it was quiet after all then find somewhere to stay on the other side. Spent a while waiting for 'out' stamps for the Carnets (international registration for the bikes), which tends to throw a spanner in the works at most border crossings. The first guy to look at it just signed it (in the wrong spot) and went to send me off. I explained I needed an official stamp of exit so I could then enter into Thailand. No one knew where the stamp was, and they asked me to just wait in the box. I decided , after about 40mins of not seeing anyone, to just stand around and make a nuisance of myself until someone actually had a look for the stamp. Bingo, my loud shirt made the place look a little untidy and they sorted it out pretty quickly.

    Thai Customs and immigration is a well oiled machine and before you knew it we were back in Thailand with a new plan. "Let's put a few KM's under our belt, and stop in a town about 50-60km in to Thailand, get a hotel and make an early start in the morning!". We arrived in Bangkok at around 6:30am. A few km's under our belt ended up being 800.

    Sunday, July 26th, 2009

    Tubing - Laos Style

    Vang Vieng is about tubing, you float down the river on an old tyre tube and stop off at bars along the way. Sounds both simple and fun.

    We were on our way back from lunch heading back to the hotel to get organized and we met Fi and Scott, who had been living in London and saw our bikes parked in the hotel. They were riders so we got chatting about riding and we invited them to come along with us.

    We headed back to the hotel and there was talk of sharing tubes, and of not even getting them - I was getting a tube regardless. I came to tube. So all loaded up on a TukTuk, tubes on the roof and of we were. Dropped at the first bar I got a feeling for what it was all about. Of course the drinks were at a premium, but we hooked in. All I had to look after was my camera, some cash and my sandals.

    You could look down the river and see the bars, they all had a rope swing, or a zip line or mud pit or something suitable dangerous given the water and booze combination, none the less we swung, zipped and drank beer and buckets. The second bar was about 7 meters from the first, so close that after a rope swing I got out on their ladder. After a while at the first bar we headed down the river.

    The guys at the bar threw life rings out to pull you into the bar. That is when most people came off the rings, because the force of the guys dragging you in pulled the ring under you. I had a system where I lent away. We had a bit of a crew by now, Fi, Scott, Kate and Sibhbh (Sive). I had a beer with the owner of the next place we went to, he was a pretty happy fella, and no wonder, a constant stream of western travelers buying his beer at inflated prices and loving it. It was a great vibe.

    Fi and Scott accidentally floated past the next bar so we followed them to the Mud Bar. There was a zip line over the river and a mud pit complete with slide. Reminded me of the mud party at Drury College in Missouri when I was at Uni. Of course it got messy, mud flinging and wrestling. We were the only ones in there, and Todd and I got into a slinging match, and Fi copped an ear full (which later required a visit to the pharmacy but funny at the time). We cleaned off with a zip line into the river and another bucket. We were down to four rings then, and two of us swam - the 15 meters, to the next bar. By this stage the six of us were into the buckets. This bar had free drinks for the ladies and they ended up in the buckets as well. There was no jump rope or zip line at this bar so we headed to the next one, the last one with a huge water slide.

    We just walked to this one. The rings disappeared as people just grabbed one as they left, and no doubt there was a bit of a racket going with the tube guys for the security deposit, but it was no big deal. Someone died on this slide a few months earlier, but with the cocktail of safety issues it was no wonder. You had to buy a beer and get a fingernail painted to have a go at this one, a lovely shade of poo brown.

    It was dark by this stage and we were all a bit tipsy ;-) but the slide was awesome, it did claim one of my sandals though.

    Celebrations turned to worry when Fi asked if anyone knew where Scott was. We all had a bit of a look around, wet, muddy, drunk and dark she started to get really worried. I ran down to the bridge to where TukTuks were lining up to take people back into town to see if he had gone ahead, and there he was. I told him Fi was really worried and he took off, I assumed back across the bridge to tell Fi he was alive.

    I ran back (across the rope bridge for which I was severely chastised by the 'bridge guys') to see her and Scott all happy and he wasn't there. "I saw him and told him to get back over" I implored, buggered if I knew where he went though. By this time she was in hysterics and we took her across the bridge to where I had seen Scott. Scott wasn't there. There was a time in Amsterdam when I was there with Gav, that after leaving a cafe to sit by a canal to wait for Gav, I saw a little guy with a beard walk along carrying an old TV set and put it down at the end of the bench. About two or three minutes later a punk couple, boy and girl, Mohawks, piercings and all, came along, saw the TV, picked it up and walked off. When I told the others they didn't believe a word of it. Well it felt the same this time. "He was here, he came up to me!" By this time it was raining as well, we just wanted to get back into town to the hotel.
    In reality, all of this took about 30 mins, but seemed to take forever. Scott turned up in town, was served the obligatory telling off from Fi and, apart from the cheeky comment from Todd and myself, was all but forgotten after a couple of beers. Thank God we scheduled in a rest day!

    Friday, July 24th, 2009

    Happy Laos

    I've got this thing about paying bribes and getting ripped off, in so far as that I don't like it, and vow not to if I can avoid it. There is a pretty well known scam at the border between Cambodia and Laos where they ask travelers for a 'stamp fee' of a dollar or two to get your passport back once they have stamped it and they are holding it. I can see how for some travelers who haven't spent much time at borders it would be quite confronting and they just hand it over, but I wasn't having it. The Cambodian side was easy, "I have already paid my stamp fee on the way in!" about three times and we were through. The officers on the Laos side were a little more demanding, asking for three USD, and refusing to give my passport back until I gave in. I knew too well that a 6'5" guy blocking the window would get pretty annoying after a while and about 10 minutes later they threw my passport back at me. Ha!

    It's not about the money, it is about supporting something that is wrong, and as those ads on TV when I was younger said "Wrong is wrong, and rationalization doesn't make it right" (can't believe they had TV ads, but it stuck in my head).
    Customs for carnet stamps and we are in Laos. It is interesting to note that immigration has been more corrupt than customs, the customs guys were cool, showing us their bird collection, stamping our docs and sending us on.

    No too far down the road we headed for some waterfalls, the entrance marked by a big red soviet flag. The waterfalls were pumping and there was a little fella (could have been anything from 15 to 30 - hard to tell) just hanging out at the lookout holding an AK47.
    We spent our first night in Laos in a big hotel on the Mekong, across the river from Thailand. It was a pretty flash affair but it had been a big day and we didn't want to bother spending 2 hours finding a cheap hotel or guesthouse with a space for the bikes. It was a beautiful view from our floor, with the temples lit up across the river and lightning in the sky down the river, spoilt somewhat by busloads of Vietnamese businessmen filing into hotel and adjacent massage 'spa'.

    The next day we headed for Vang Vieng for a little floating, about two hours nth of Vientiane the capital of Laos. I was pretty keen to have a look at town because the plan was to continue nth and head back into Thailand at the Golden Triangle through Chang Rai, Chang Mai and then Katchanaburi and maybe a day trip to Burma. We stopped in town at the river after finding an Aussie fella and his son with a map of town.

    People often Ask how we get around and find places, I mean we have been supported by TomTom, but there are no maps in Asia, I have the Asian map that spent the last two years on the wall of my flat in Melbourne whilst I was planning, and the good old Lonely Planet. For those uninitiated the Lonely Planet is a very well respected travel guidebook, based in Melbourne actually, that you find everywhere. You even get the 'Lonely Planet Tourers' who live by it as the gospel. These tourers start most sentences with "Lonely Planet says...". Just like any gospel, it tends to work better if you take a general 'gist' from its pages. The prices are usually higher, guesthouses the most expensive but in areas with heaps of accommodation and the maps are terrible, but used for an overview it is very handy.

    So anyway the way that we navigate is by locals. It isn't too hard to get from town to town, but getting through or around towns is hard without detailed maps, funnily enough though, the people who live there know their way around and are a great resource. You just have to be careful not to ask them about places they would never have been, no point asking "which way to Tokyo", just ask for the next town on the way.

    Vientienne
    Vientienne, the capital of Laos, is a city. It has a river so we headed down there for lunch after passing the big archway on the way into town. We chose a vendor by the river and sat down for a noodle soup by the Mekong. It was a lovely spot with rubbish and debris in the river bed, flys crawling over the food being prepared for us and an excavator building some kind of retaining wall in the river. They were building it backwards and it wasn't much higher than the river level. Trucks were driving down the wall in water, dumping loads of rocks and the excavator was pushing them around. There didn't seem to be any plan or order, but it was more comfortable to watch than to watch our food being prepared, I had already resigned to the fact that it was going to cause me issues later in the afternoon, but who am I to judge, this is Laos!

    As we polished off the noodle soup and 7up, all of the vendors along the river started to cover their stands with plastic sheets - mostly all old advertising banners for Pepsi or Beer Laos. Now I am no meteorologist, but looking down the river it was pretty easy to see the rain on its way. Awesome, thee last couple of hours were going to be wet ones, Todd and I raced to get our gear on and get moving before the storm got to us, and we did, then we were off. Didn't get too far down the road, we were still saturated, and stopped for fuel. By the time we had got fuel and Todd and done his thing the sun was out again.
    We rode right through Vang Vieng, this awesome town that people keep talking about that you can't miss, with tubing and bars and fun, without even noticing it. In fact, I had to ask someone if we were even there. We doubled back into another road and found our 'little slice of Koh San Road' (as per the Lonley planet), complete with a guesthouse that let us park our bikes right outside out hotel room door. Tomorrow is tubing.

    Thursday, July 16th, 2009

    Cambodia

    Siam Reap

    Siam Reap is a tourist town. Heading into town there were huge hotels on the highway, the kind you might expect bus loads of tourists would stay in, 'do' their tour of the temples and head straight home. Thousands of rooms worth. Into town, stopped at 'Pub Street' we attracted a lot of attention from the locals. The undercurrent of angst was clearly visible here, people knew enough English to ask you to come to their bar and where you were from, but it wasn't genuine at all and felt uncomfortable.

    We found a place to stay, ate and bedded down for the night, we planned a rest day and then a bit of touristing it up the following day.

    Sunrise at Angkor Wat was a surprisingly small affair, there are a line of little cafes nearby, and the staff were 'welcoming you' as you entered the compound in an effort to get you to come and have a bite after the sunrise. It was quite beautiful, although the sunrise wasn't spectacular, the reflection off the lake made it visually special, an omelet baguette and off we went to explore the area.

    I wasn't too keen on looking at each and every of the dozens of temples in the area, I just wanted a taste of a the temples and to enjoy the associated tourist buzz. I am almost more interested in seeing the associated tourist infrastructure and the way that locals behave around the tourists.

    We pulled over just near a string of shops, come cafes pretty early in the morning and the women running the stalls got pretty excited, almost screaming at us to come over and drink, eat, buy souveniers, give them money whatever, but screaming. We pulled out pretty quickly I must say, a little too full on that early in the morning.

    We spent a bit of time in the ruined temple of Ta Phrom where the trees have literally been tearing the temple apart. While most of the main temples in the immediate Angkor area have been cleared of vegetation leaving only cold lifeless stone, it was decided to leave Ta Prohm untouched as a testament of the forces of nature. It was an awesome sight. What is also amazing about that temple in particular is the lack of control. People just climb into and over whatever they want to, so dangerous in a temple where big heavy blocks of stone are falling away from the walls and here we are sticking out heads through the holes for a picture opportunity.

    Temples, much like Churches in Europe get a little A.B.C. (another bloody church), and we were done by lunchtime and back at the ranch.

    Phnom Penh
    As we were crossing a land border with Laos that didn't have visas available, we had to head to Phnom Penh to the Laos Embassy to sort out the visas there. It was Saturday when we left Siem Reap, so we thought it would be nice to head to Sihanoukville and spend the weekend on the beach, but decided en route that rather than ride an extra 700km we would have another rest day in Phnom Penh and then hook into the visa first thing Monday morning and then head nth.

    There was a short lived glimmer of hope that we would be able to get into Vietnam with the bikes (against all other information and advice, a visa agent at the Cambodian Border said it was possible), but no go.

    Heading towards the Lao border from the capital, we stopped off in a town 40km short of the border and spent the night so that we could make some ground from an early start in the morning. We ran into a couple of Canadians travelling the other direction and picked their brains whist they watched us have dinner and decided we would head for Vang Vien for a spot of tubing, we were told you hire tyre tubes, jump on the river and float from bar to bar along the river. I couldn't think of a better way to spend the afternoon.

    Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

    South East Asia

    Having very little to no luck with contacting the people I had emailed in Bangkok, we decided to head on our SE Asia loop and sort out the shipping on our return to BKK, as it would probably be a matter of go tomorrow. I ran into this problem throughout all of the planning, people didn't understand that - or why I wanted to sort things out so far in advance. It was straight away or it just didn't compute. Visas, shipping, web, prostate cancer orgs, sponsors, everyone wanted to wait until the last minute.

    Not a big deal if it was just the one of them, but when you are trying to juggle everything, work and pack up your life at the same time it gets pretty rough.

    Anyway, we left BKK and headed for Cambodia. Our destination Siam Reap, to visit Angkor Wat. We hit the border in the late afternoon and were accosted on the Thai side to organize our Cambodian Visas.

    OVERLAND TRAVEL LESSON 1: Be sure to get your head around the scams with borders so as not to get ripped off. Well we were taken for a bit of a ride, the visa should have cost $20USD and we ended up paying about double that in Baht, but having said that, we just sat in front of the fan, and after 6 hours riding in our full kit in 30+ it was almost worth it to let the little freakers run around and get things sorted for us.

    Mo Mans Land
    "No Mans Land" between borders are not often an interesting place, but between Thailand and Cambodia they have 7 Casinos, with another one being built. As there is no legal gambling in Thailand, the Thais come here for a fix. There are streams of people walking around, getting off busses on the thai side and walking into the casinos. No shortage of people interested in the bikes either.

    An interesting point, there are posters around the border post, as well as big billboards about respecting children, and reporting pedophilia to authorities, and it was the first time in the trip that it even came up, made both of us sad and angry at the same time. Next stop, customs to get the bikes cleared and we're in, too easy!

    As I rode away from the border post around a big roundabout, a bike headed straight for me. I assumed that it was just another crazy driver, but why was he flashing and beeping like 'I' was doing something wrong - idiot. Customs was about 50m up the road, and we headed in to get our stamp. Looking back at the traffic I realized that the idiot was me, Cambodians drive on the right hand side of the road, no doubt all the signs were in Thai and Cambodian at the border, or maybe it was just the flashing lights of the casinos that stole my attention, either way, no harm done, except to my ego that is.

    Customs Cambodian Style
    Pulling into the Customs carpark there was a game of "tennis" underway. A cross between Hacky Sack, soccer and volleyball, two teams of two to five guys (I have yet to see a girl playing) kick and head a round wicker ball over the net. Looks pretty interesting, and furthermore it looked like everyone from customs was involved. We asked about getting our paperwork stamped, but as it turns out, the only person able to do it was playing sport "down the road" and wouldn't be back for "maybe at least an hour".

    It was all a bit of an interesting cultural experience, we watched the guys play, Todd got a lift down to an exchange place on the back of a guys scooter to change some Thai money, I hooked in and played a game with some of the guys (which we won 15 - 11 incidentally, boo-ya!) On second thoughts, playing in my riding pants and boots got a little hot, but was worth it at the time.

    We were lucky enough to enjoy 3 hours of this cultural feast before the stamp guy returned from his game of tennis. By now it was about 7pm and dark.

    Stamps and off we go, en route to Siam Reap.

    We were told on many occasions that the roads in Cambodia were abominable, and that travel was pretty slow, so we prepared for a long night, but as it turned out the roads were fantastic, and apart from a few high beam happy drivers coming the other way surprisingly safe.

    In Bangkok there are stalls of all kinds of things, one of which were fried bugs - all sorts from grasshoppers to scorpions. Over the next hour we saw how they caught them. At first I thought we had ridden into some kind of bizarre Christian sect, with blue fluro lights in the shape of the crucifix lining the roads, pitch black everywhere else, and just people wandering around the lights. Then there were more and more, straight lines of lights, thousands of them on both sides of the road set out in squares - which I decided meant they were lining the rice paddys. All blue. Then I noticed plastic sheets hanging off the lights " BINGO " bug catching. Apparently they are worth about $2.50USD a kilo, I think the catch on our visors would have bought us a few nights accommodation. I stopped to take a photo and lost a glove in the blackness, no one wanted to scrape the bugs off our headlights either.

    Sunday, July 5th, 2009

    Thailand Bound

    Heading to Thailand, our first stop was Surat Thani, the gateway to the islands Samui, Phangan and Tao. A veritable playground of fun and debauchery, well last time I was there anyway! A long ride saw us arrive at the port in the early hours of the morning to the news that there were no ferries until daybreak and we laid down to sleep right there at the port. I wasn't going anywhere!

    After all that work in KL, I had an issue with my bike. The battery, the NEW battery, was flat. It did give us the opportunity to use the Anderson plug jump start system that Allan put together for us, but I guessed that a few hours of driving lights and my new high powered headlight was too much for the battery. I didn't care, I was tired and cranky. We were Koh Samui bound at 8am, a two hour trip on the ferry. When we arrived, we approached the ticket office regarding the onward trip to Koh Phangan. No Luck. We needed to head back to Don Sak on the mainland and then use a different ferry company. There was no way to get our bikes to Koh Phangan without going back.

    Two Hours back and three and a half hours to oh Phangan and we made it, exhausted we headed for Haad Rin beach. The place was dead. No one around, but we had been given a tip on accommodation and ended up at Coral beach resort - Home of the Original Pool Party.

    Not too sure about their claim to fame but hey, I was knackered. The rooms were discounted by more than 60% due to it being low season, and pretty good if you weren't one of the poor sods who had their room broken into and robbed. There was a restaurant, a pool, and a dirty beach. I was tired, I wanted to rest. We did no touristing in Koh Phangan, had a few beers, a mushroom shake and watched the fire dancing, and it was fun. A great place to chill and have a good old fashioned relaxing/ party holiday. We ran into Dazza who we had previously met in Bali and team France and just enjoyed doing nothing.

    We escaped Koh Phangan and headed nth towards Bangkok. We spent the night in the Port town of Chumpon which was a great relief after being on an island where everybody just wants to rip you of and sell you things. Chumpon is one of those cities that doesn't survive on the tourist dollar and so people are genuine and friendly.

    We stopped at a 7 Eleven (they are everywhere in Thailand) to ask directions and a fella out the front made a few phone calls and had us in the right direction in no time. As the town in a get off spot for some of the islands, we figured that the accommodation would be near the port. We were wrong and headed back into town to get a feed and a bed. We also ran into a family who were fascinated by how far we had come, and I was equally fascinated by how many generations they had on one motorbike (with sidecar). They gave me a string of what looked like snowpeas on steroids, and with hand gestures and noises I managed to work out that they needed to be cooked before eating, and are a south Thailand favourite. I hadn't cooked anything since Darwin and had no intention of boiling up some beans for dinner when a good Pad Se Ew was around a dollar, so they made a well received gift for the woman who owned the guesthouse.

    Making a b-line for Bangkok nice and early, with great roads we were in town early in the afternoon. On the way, at a point about 70km from the city the traffic all but stopped. I was expecting to see an accident or roadworks, but as it turned out, the left lane became a carpark because there was street racing happening next to the road. People just stopped their cars, got out and went for a look. We followed suit and stopped for a look, hotted up cars, some missing panels presumably from earlier in discrepancies, drifting and power sliding around corners on a track. Not a race at all. It was really loud, and attracted a lot of attention, kind of like a "Welcome to Bangkok".

    Until this stage we have been able to avoid dodgy cops and bribes, navigating by instinct, the sun and local peoples directions. Unfortunately, without a good map we ended up at the start of the ring toll way of Bangkok. No motorbikes are allowed on the tollway, and by this stage we were heading towards the toll booths. Luckily there was a slip road on the left and we made a move to head off when we saw a traffic cop gesturing for us so stop. Thinking he was offering help we pulled over and he asked us for our licences. "Big Problem"

    Righteo, I knew this was going to be the first test of my "I'm not paying a bribe until Russia" strategy, and after the best part of a week saying NO in a polite yet convincing and authoritative way I felt I was up for the challenge.

    So... little tubby copper no. 1 (Tubby) heads into the office to sort out this "Problem" of us nearly joining a road which we weren't allowed to. While he is away helpful copper no.2 (Helpful) comes over from somewhere else for a chat and to help with directions, not realizing that Tubby was in full swing sorting out the "problem". So during the discourse involving sign language, maps, guidebooks, notes and motorcycle revving, Tubby came out and had a quiet chat to Helpful, who then told us that we would have to come and pick up our licenses from the station unless we paid a fine on the spot. Luckily I had an empty wallet and explained to the cops that I had been robbed in Koh Phangan (may not have been entirely true, well not at all true) and had no money. We kept the ruse up and when he asked Todd, Todd directed him to me and I opened my wallet again, appealing to his Helpful side. He must have outranked Tubby, because after about 10 minutes of discussion which could easily be summarized as "You have money?" And my reply whilst showing an empty wallet "I have none, I was robbed in Koh Phangan" , he walked back to the office.

    I took the opportunity to use the old talk fast in English, pointing and asking for my licence to show some details. What do you know it worked, he handed my lecence back, at which point Todd asked for his back as well. Once we had our documents back we were on the bikes and out of there in under 30 seconds. I have never actually seen Todd move so fast.

    It took three hours to find accommodation with a space for us to park the bikes in Bangkok. Where we ended up was not the most flash accommodation, but it had a carpark and was a regular haunt for local police we were told. At first I thought it a little dodgy, I mean why would the local police hang out in a hotel carpark? And why would this guy, who revealed in conversation that he wasn't a policeman or staying at the hotel just be hanging around. It was 7:30pm and I didn't care, I needed a shower and a bed.

    The hotel it's self looked like it could well have been in Russia, quite modern in the 60's. Rock hard beds, dribble shower and massive A/C unit, a fan that didn't work and an ashtray. Home for the next few days. Showered and hungry, we headed down to Koh San Road.

    For those uninitiated, Koh San Road is the centre of the F.I.T. (free independent traveler) market for South East Asia. There are tours Tuk Tuks, clothes, beers, food, scams, Tuk Tuks, Beers and Tuk Tuks. "Mister you want Tuk Tuk?" "Hey Mister where you go?", "You want ping pong show?" "Mister, Mister, my friend, you look!" "You come in my shop, you look!" "Mister you want ....(insert any kind of merchandise here from fishing pants to pineapple shake)?"

    You don't have to think in Koh San Road, only react. It is about employing your instincts, sliding from one offer to the other, hand up, head shaking, Chang firmly in grip.

    Monday, June 29th, 2009

    Sunny Cycle - Kuala Lumpur

    Yeah baby
    It may seem a little unusual to be excited about a good road, but there were no potholes, no trucks heading straight for you, no mad bus drivers almost side swiping you, and street signs. Did I mention there were signs? After a few weeks driving by the seat of our pants asking for directions in Bahasa and often getting it wrong, we could navigate with arrows and numbers. First stop - the Kawasaki dealer. After asking around we ended up at Sunny Cycles.

    If road signs and safe roads weren't exciting enough, we rolled into the Mecca of overland motorcycling in Malaysia. Sunnys is almost a pilgramige for overlanders who come to Malaysia, with photos a testament to the fact. It was time to sort out the niggles and issues that we discovered in Indonesia and Timor Leste. New sprockets, chain oilers, driving lights, battery and a full service by people who had seen bikes over 110cc was like a health resort for the bikes.

    It wasn't long before we were in KL and on the accommodation hunt. The hardest thing about finding accommodation is finding a safe spot to park the bikes. We ended up in Bukit Bintang at a guesthouse that said we could park the bikes up the stairs on the balcony. As the bikes were going to be at Sunny's for a couple of days we dropped our gear and then headed back to the accommodation.

    While we were looking for accommodation Todd got chatting to a Spanish couple who were researching work that NGO's do and were keen to catch up for a chat and a beer. We missed that meeting by an hour or two, but did the rounds of the bars in Bukit Bintang and the famous 'Reggae Club', supposed to be the most happening place in town if you weren't interested in 'boom boom' or 'special' massages. The reggae bar was pretty much empty, but we met a few locals and ended up at a rooftop jam session. There were a couple of mad English, an equally mad swede todd myself and about 10 local guys. There was one guy on the guitar who was awesome and knocked out some great songs. A very cool ending to our first day in KL.

    As hard as we tried to do the tourist thing in KL, we never made it to the towers. We did shop though, I mean, I don't like shopping but it is hard not to. It is like the mother (and father) of shopping complexes. Buildings and buildings of floors and floors of stuff. Clothes, phones, computers everything. Absolute madness.

    Most of our time in KL was spent at Sunnys, sitting around, pointing at stuff, asking questions and chatting to the never ending stream of people coming to see Sunny and check on their bikes and just having a look. An interesting way to experience a city.

    After getting our bikes from sunny all shiny and new, we had to get them up the stairs for our last night in KL. Nev went first, hesitating close to the top and stalling the bike. I was pushing hard to stop the bike rolling back down the stairs, and he opened it up about three steps from the top on his second go, smoking it up and leaving a nice old black streak on the stairs, and a lovely aroma of burnt rubber in the street. It was my go next and I was actually scared. After a deep breath I got up in one go and felt the hero. The reality was that it wasn't that hard, but I had just spent nearly $1000 on my bike and didn't want to break it!

    Monday, June 29th, 2009

    Indonesia to Malaysia

    So after a four hour fast ferry we arrived in Malaysia where everyone speaks English. The taxi touts take no for an answer and the water from the tap doesn't smell too much like poo. What with all of this technology you would expect that getting the bikes and customs clearance should be a sinch!.

    Finding a cheap hotel in Pork Klang, we ran into a bunch of Indonesian sailors from Sumatra. Their wooden fishing boat had caught fire and sunk, making the crew swim 7km to safety in Malaysia. They probably had an average age of 17, but it is hard to tell with Indonesians. They all introduced themselves with superhero names and called me Jonh Howard. I am not too sure if they completely understood when I told them about the change of government and how it was now Kev the King.

    Now these guys wouldn't earn much and I am not entirely sure how many were in the one room, but it was more than 10. There were no victims from the accident, but these guys only had the pants on their butts, not even the shirts on their backs!

    The next day we had to head down to the port and work on getting our bikes off the wooden vessel that they were shipped over on. We hit the office of the shipping company at 8am, and were told that the ship had arrived but they needed some time to unload and get the customs clearance sorted, and that we should relax and return ub maybe one or two hours. Still being exhausted we headed back to the hotel calling the office every hour to check on the progress. After the third phone call with no result we headed back down to the port to apply a little pressure. The boss was in the office by then and told us that the bikes shouldn't have been on the boat, that there was no insurance and that we were lucky it even made it. I am sure his regular customers would have loved to hear that news!

    He went on to explain his understanding of what we had to do to sort things out from here. He suggested that we take our paperwork down to the customs office a few km away, get a letter, then return, get the bikes off the boat, then pay for a customs official to come down and check the bikes. He would then release the bikes from the boat (so very kind of him). A query of what about the customs office in the same building, only 30m from his office was met with a shrug and assurance that they couldn't do anything about it. It must be noted that in giving us all of this useless information he answered a few phoneclls and sent a few text messages, all the while his demeanor less than pleasant.

    I wanted to reach across the desk and drag him over and give a good old fashioned AFL rules clip behind the ear the way my dad taught me, but lesson 101 of dealing with useless bureaucrats and international diplomacy dictated that I shouldn't begin the cross cultural exchange with a demonstration of how you sort out issues AFL style, so I refrained.

    We took our enquiries downstairs to the customs office where funnily enough, after a short consultation with is superior, the officer was more than happy to help with stamps and get everything sorted right there at the port. He inspected the bikes, stamped the carnets (in the wrong spot unfortunately), and ordered the crew to unload the bikes.

    As it happened the crane driver had just gone to lunch and it was going to be an hour (or so) until he returned. We filled that time by having a feed and answering the standard questions with the port workers.

    The crane driver wouldn't move the bikes until we had spoken to his boss in the office so Todd marched off to have a chat. It cost us a few Ringgit per bike and the ship's crew put their hands up for a few bucks as well.

    We finally got the bikes unloaded and packed.

    As we were getting sorted a Sri Lankan fella was having a chat with me telling me about how he had to sell his big CBR to pay for medical equipment for his sick auntie, but that he wanted to give me his leather seat cover - I had mentioned that the ride through Indonesia had worn the skin off my nether region- as it makes the ride a little more comfortable. The meeting gave me new hope for Malaysians, because until that point every Malaysian we had met wanted dollars or was just plain useless. It also saved the monkey in the shipping office from getting an earful about just how useless he and his staff were. It's amazing how a good experience can make everything good again. At 3pm we were Kuala Lumpur bound!

    Friday, June 12th, 2009

    Indonesian Islands

    Leaving the oasis of the New Area Hotel, we enjoyed a last buffet breakfast, picked up Simons novelty oversize custom made thongs and sandals and made for the Monkey Sanctuary in Ubud. As we arrived at the sanctuary, we parked the bikes and were asked to move them to another spot where all the bikes were parked. Simon thought it would be more stable to put his bike on the centre stand on the process dropped the bike onto Todd, Todd's bike and a couple of scooters. Lucky the barefooted rasta banana man was around to help pick the bikes up and there was little damage done that wouldn't heal.

    We picked up some bananas to feed to the monkeys, put everything into zipped pockets and proceeded in. We were about 20 meters in when a monkey jumped out of the bushes, grabbed a couple of bananas from my bunch and ran off to enjoy the spoils of his raid. Little bastard. Then monkeys jumped out of the bushes one by one to enjoy the overpriced bananas I bought for them.
    We headed into the temple area were adorned with special "man skirts" and joined the other pasty white tourists to take some snaps of monkeys climbing around the temple. My favourite was the monkey, who must have been quite old judging from his beard and eyebrows, who was sat next to a part of the wall licking away at the wall. When I stopped to get a closer look at what he was licking (which was just wall) he looked at me like "what are you looking at" and then proceeded to lick the wall. Myst have had an itchy tongue, or perhaps it was some kind of mating ritual?

    We ran into a "monkey Expert" on the way back to the entrance and upon seeing the camera in Todd's hand suggested that it would be a good idea to get some cookies and entice the monkeys onto our heads for some novelty shots. Sounds like a good idea, lets break all the rules and not only feed wild animals, lets get them on our heads. So we gave the fella an exorbitant amount for a couple of packs of cookies and proceeded to feed monkeys on our heads. Old mate seemed to have it all under control, but reminded us not to look them in the eyes as they might think you were having a go or making a proposition. The record was 5 monkeys on Simon before the dominant male came and scared the others off. It is an interesting feeling to have monkeys squealing and fighting with one another on top of your head. It didn't take too long to get sick of having monkeys climb over your head and grab your nose and we thought it would be nice to have the Monkey Expert pose with us for a last photo. He was able to coax a monkey onto Todd's
    head for the photo, and the monkey was kind enough to bless Todd by dropping a little monkey poo on has shoulder and then biting him on the head. Not even a second later our monkey man reached over Todd and gave the monkey a decent old smack in the head. This was the funniest five minutes of our visit to Bali (SB).

    Java
    From the monkey sanctuary it was all systems go to get too the other side of the island to make the ferry to Java and make our way to Dumai and the ferry to Malaysia. The roads are pretty busy in Bali, so we decided to ride in the evening. The ferries run all night and we arrived at about 10pm took the ferry to Java and found the first hotel to get a bucket (shower with a bucket), a feed and a bed. We wanted to check out Prambanan on Java en route to Jakarta and to Sumatra. We arrived in the rain at a hotel near Yogiakarta, the cultural centre of Java island. What we had been doing for directions would be to plot the names of the towns along the route we wanted to take and stop at major intersections to clarify with locals the direction to the next town. A little bit of Indonesian went a long way here, because in a lot of these towns people had probably never even seen tourists let alone speak any English, and you wouldn't expect them to!

    We hit the Temple complex in the morning after filling my battery with fluid; it is on the way out after the boiling incident at Kakadu. We were just in time because after we walked in a few bus loads of tourists waddled into the site. Again it was time to go and we wanted to make tracks as we are still catching up on the time we lost in East Timor and Darwin. If we thought the traffic in Bali was bad, it was a Sunday afternoon stroll in the park compared to the chaos of Java. It is unbelievable just how many lanes you can make out of a two lane road. Dodging potholes as trucks fly around blind corners on both sides being overtaken by 400 scooters and little 100cc motorcycles. Then it would all stop. Clog up like a dirty kitchen sink and smell a bit like that) and we would be working our way around lines of trucks blowing smoke all over us. Wearing our full set of riding gear in 30+ heat and extreme humidity traffic in Java is not pleasant. Quite a sense of achievement to get somewhere indeed.

    With the manic conditions on the road, we were never witness to an accident, the chaos seems to work. You have entire families on a little scooter, Mum, Dad, two or three kids and often a box of noodles, a bike tyre or some other obscure item. Sometimes you just want to jump off the bike and grap the camera and go nuts taking photos of all the crazy stuff you see on the road, but you wouldn't get anywhere. The idea is that you have to have at least one passenger to hold the cargo to free you up to smoke cigarettes and talk on your mobile phone, often you would have the passenger facing backwards and one squashing them on. Any of them, or in fact all of them could be holding the cargo There was a guy with his mate carrying a huge pane of glass, some of the best were a family and a goat, three guys, the one on the back facing backwards playing the guitar, a fella with about 20 baskets strapped to his back that were wider than a car to name a few.

    There was a toll highway from Bandung which was awesome, two to three hours to Jakarta and then another one to the port. We headed into the toll plaza knowing bikes might not be allowed, but hoping we might be able to bluff our way in. No luck. We had to take the clogged up 'B' roads, that were more like 'Y' roads. Don't ask you don't get! Our last ride through Java was a great example of getting bad directions. After a pretty full on day we were in Bogor, not too far from the port town of Melak. The end was in sight and we pulled into a shopping centre for some air conditioning and lunch (in that order). I was weak and headed to Dunkin Donuts for a large OJ, and got talking to a fella there about our trip. He offered directions to the port explaining that the roads were clearer than the highway and it would be 4 hours to Melak for the ferry. It seemed reasonable and he sounded like he knew what he was talking about so we took his advice and headed south around the bottom of the island. As it turned out we were given another underestimate, the scenic route around the bottom of west Java. It was a great ride, but we were tired and we wanted to get to the ferry. It started to rain about 4 hours in and when we stopped to clarify directions and buy some bottled fuel a guy told us that we were going to be shot at. We pushed on taking it pretty easy and stopped to fix my headlight at a small town in the hills. Just then one of the scooter clubs turned up, about 20 guys, and hung out with us for a while we got sorted. The road was great twisties, up and down and hardly any traffic (it was late) and we got into town around 1am. There were scooter clubs all over the place with airhorns and highly modified scooters, Flashing lights (red and blue) and uniforms. Really cool to be around. We rolled into a service station where there were a bunch of these guys and they actually rode us down to the port. Most of these kids looked about 16 of 17 and it was near to 2am by now. There were a whole lot of clubs and they beep and wave at each other as we rode by. Got on the ferry at around 3am, at the end of a unnecessarily long, but still pretty cool day.

    Sumatra
    We made the decision to smash Sumatra and get over to Malaysia to get back on schedule. We were also pretty keen to get a service for the bikes organized and have a hot shower. Looking at the map is not a great way to plan a route in Indonesia. Asking locals is not a great way to plan a route in Indonesia either. It doesn't matter how convincing someone sounds when they say 6 hours or 300 km, the reality is that they have probably never been past the next town, and have no idea how far the place you are going is. Lesson learned. It took a while but after a three hour trip took 12 hours, and 20 km was really 180 we realized that no one actually knew, they just didn't want to look stupid when we asked so they made it up. No worries, they will never be back, kelliling dunia. The maps we had didn't shot the detail of the roads either, so a straight line on the map was more often than not a 2000m mountain pass. Right turns are straight ahead and straight ahead is a right turn. All part of the adventure.

    So we made the '3 hour' trip to Palembang after 16 hours and crashed in a hotel after having another go at fixing the headlight fuse on Simon's bike. Although a guy at the ferry terminal said it was a three day trip, we were determined to do it in two. We headed at sunrise from Palembang, and after a number of disheartening incorrect estimates of distance and time, the 9 hour trip turned out to be 24, we arrived at sunrise the next day. Somehow we passed the big equator sign and monument (we were convinced there wouldn't be anything because no one knew what we were talking about). After consulting the Tom Tom we headed back a couple of km to find it. It wasn't long before we had the locals around us again (still don't know where everyone comes from) and took a few shots, then moved on. A long night, but we were determined to make it. Todds 2008 KLR has a fantastic wiz bang bright and safe halogen headlight. Unfortunately the trucks coming the otherway think he has his high beams on and were constantly giving us the old flash "hey your headlights are on high beam" followed by the big flash as they pass, just as your eyes are readjusting from the first flash "I SAID YOUR HIGH BEAMS ARE ON!". A test for the patience which had us thinking up ways for getting retribution like eggs, steel bars and caltrops.

    Shipping to Malaysia
    Arriving into Dumai at about 7am, we set about looking for the port to sort out passage to Malaysia. In our normal way we stopped to ask a local. This time it was a fella riding a little rickshaw with another guy aas a passenger. Fauzi (the passenger) helped with directions (in English), but it didn't stop there. He came with us to the ferry office to help us sort out getting the bikes on the ferry. After finding out that we needed permission from the coast guard, he came with us down to the coast guard office to help go for permission. All the while the rickshaw driver pedaling his heart out with us in tow on two motorcycles. Fauzi originally from Sumatra, was in Dumai to help set up a textiles business with a friend, and couldn't get things underway until after 9 and was happy to help.
    We pulled every angle to see if we could get around the rules and onto the high speed ferry with the bikes to no avail and as it turned out we needed to ship the bikes on a wooden ship and take the ferry ourselves. The next step was to find an agent and get things underway with finding an available ship. There were phonecalls being made furiously, with the coast guard guys making calls to connections at ports and at agencies. As it turns out, the team there come to Melbourne to undergo various training courses, and so were happy to go the distance and help get us to Malaysia.

    They found an agent to help us out, this guy spoke no English, and as it turns out it was his first gig. The coast guard guy was explaining the process to customs, the agent and to immigration and in a couple of hours, trips to customs and to the Directorate General of Sea Transportation we were sorted. Neither of us had any idea exactly what was going on, but the bikes were loaded (by hand) onto the boat, and we were driven to the high speed ferry and escorted around the back through immigration and customs and delivered to the boat by Suratno. Rock star exit from Indonesia.

    Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

    Timor Leste to Bali

    After spending 2 weeks in Timor Leste it was time to continue on our way, but it was no ordinary departure, our friends in the Timor Leste Ministry had organised a special farewell for us. We arrived around 9:30 in the morning at the Ministry of Sport where we were greeted by the Minister for Sport and his staff, a few members of the local media and as well as about 7 members of the Dili Transit Police who were to escort us out of town. With a wave of the flag and a cheer from the crowd we took off being led by a police transport vehicle and 4 police bikes, we raced through the streets of Dili, in a city where traffic travels at a top speed of 40km/h we were trying to keep up with the Police who were blaring sirens, beeping horns and pushing back the peak hour traffic while traveling at around 80km/h through the city. We zig zagged through the city in an almost tour fashion, the direct root would have been dull I guess, instead we were paraded to the people of Dili, through the center of town, down around the beach and then out past the airport to the city limits where we pulled over to say goodbye to our Police friends and Mario our friend in Timor who had been helping us out with all our needs.

    We rode off from the city limits bound for the Indonesian Border, after a few hours ride we reached the border, it was very basic and as expected after a step by step process of paperwork and stamps we were in West Timor, Indonesia. From the border we made our way to Kupang, a port town at the western end of West Timor, we stopped for dinner then found the port, which was no easy mission, upon arriving we found out that the ferry to Flores left at mid day the next day so we slept the night in the waiting room of the ferry terminal.

    The next morning we awoke early to the sounds of vehicles getting off another ferry that had just arrived, we got on the bikes and headed back into town to sort out money for the ferry and to have breakfast. We got back to the ferry terminal to sort our tickets, there we met an Indonesian lady Yevone, she worked in West Timor for an Australian owned company doing humanitarian aid work and spoke English well, so we asked for her assistance and a short time later we had our tickets and were on the ferry. From Kupang it was an overnight ferry arriving at around 8:00am the next morning at Endie but that was not our stop, we stayed on the ferry which continued to Amerie, another port closer to the end of the island, after another 6 hours we arrived at the port and set off for the next port. We arrived late that night in Labuhanbajo and after being directed to the ferry terminal we found a Hotel for $10 for 2 people and went to bed.

    We awoke early the next morning and headed to the ferry, it left at 9am that morning and arrived a 4pm that afternoon in Sape, from there we decided to get to the next port at the other end of the island to find out when the ferry was leaving, we arrived at around 2am where we made it just in time for a ferry that left 30 minutes later, it was only a short 2 hour trip to Lombok where we then headed to the next port at Lembar, we again arrived about an hour before the ferry to Bali was due to depart so we got our tickets and got on the ferry. By this time we were absolutely stuffed and slept a couple of hours on the ferry.

    We arrived at the port in Padangbai on the island of Bali at around 4pm and we headed straight for Denpasar as we had been told that Kuta Beach was the place to go. After a stop at the international airport to pick up a map we went in search of accommodation. We found a few hotels which were around $100 AUD per night and then after Simon went for a walk down a nearby alley we found the Hotel New Arena, a very well kept, tidy hotel with secure parking for the bikes and a pool, for only $20 AUD per night, we checked in and went to our rooms which were really cleen, with a private bathroom and all the comforts of any hotel, what a find.

    We booked in for 3 nights to rest and catch up on the web site and do laundry, it was a crazy 4 days to get to Bali with winding roads that climbed to some pretty high heights and crazy on coming traffic. But it was worth the trip to relax in Bali for a couple of days.

    Monday, June 1st, 2009

    4 Day Adventure in Timor Leste

    On Thursday 21st of May, the day after the celebration of Independence for Timor Leste, we set off for a 4 day ride around the eastern end of the island. It was 4 days of hard but fun riding, along the north coast the roads were not too bad by Timor Leste standards, but after reaching the eastern end of the island the roads became gaps between trees, with large pot holes, stones the size of grapefruits, large muddy rutted sections filled with water and very sudden changes in altitude.

    We spent our first night in a village called Com, shortly before arriving we took a break in Lautem and went for a walk up to some ruins of an old Portuguese garrison perched on a hill above the village, looking out over the ocean from it's buildings it must have been a tough job being posted to this fort.

    On arrival to Com we went in search of accommodation, the big hotel is owned by an Australian and is popular with UN staff that travel there every weekend to relax, but it was very expensive, you even had to pay $5 USD to use the communal showers. After finding a somewhat cheaper guest hose we had dinner at the Com Hotel Restaurant then headed down to our accommodation to check in and relax by the beach.

    The next day we headed off bound for Jaco Island and the village Tutuala, against the advice of some of the locals who advised we ride to Lospalos and take the 'good' roads, we set off over the mountains on the most direct route, there were sections of difficult road but for the most part the roads were sealed and you could travel comfortably at 60 - 70 km/h without too much difficulty. As we traveled through the small mountain villages the children playing along the road side would come running to the edge of the road to yell and wave to us, not seeing such large motorcycles covered so much gear they were a little confused but amazed and whenever we stopped the locals would mob us to say hello and check us out.

    Upon arriving in Tutuala we stopped for a break and chatted to some of the locals, one of which offered to show us to some local caves that were used for celebration and to sacrifice animals. We were led down the road with our guide running along the rough cobble stoned road trying to keep with the pace of our motorbikes, after a few kilometers travel we arrived at a parking area which had previously been cleared by the Indonesians when they used to visit for tourist reasons. After consulting with his father, a local elder, we set off walking down a sometimes difficult path to the caves, when we got there not only were the caves amazing but the view over Jaco Island was excellent, to get to the actual caves themselves, there was a small ledge barely wider than your foot, with little to hold onto and over a 100m fall to the bottom we decided that it was best not to continue any further, instead we handed the guide our camera and with little care or effort he climbed across the ledge and took a few snap shots for us. We then returned to the bikes and continued down to the beach where we found the eco hotel and checked in, we pitched our tents before dark and then headed down to the beach to catch a boat across to Jaco Island for a look and a swim. We stayed on the island for a couple of hours until the sun went down then the boat men came back to pick us up. That night we stayed at the eco hotel grounds and had a traditional meal of chicken, vegetables and of course rice!

    The next morning it was time to hit the road, we were heading for Viqueque and again against the advice of locals we took the path less traveled, it was a very mountainous route and the roads were really bad, it could best be described as a gap between the trees rather than a road, the signs of what was once a sealed road were almost no longer evident, but for a motorcycle it was a fun challenge and it really put the bikes through their paces. There were a few spills along the way, all fairly minor, one of which put a large dent in one of my panniers and a few scratches. Halfway along our journey we were confronted with a large river with no sign of a bridge, a couple of locals turned up and when we told them we wanted to cross the river one began hacking a path down to a section of the river that looked promising, we got down to the water and the man who cut us a path crossed the river to test the depth and show that we could get across, once on the other side he turned back to us pointed down the river and started making a snapping motion with his arms, that was his way of telling us that he could see a crocodile, after he crossed back over we decided that is was not a good idea to cross the river there. We pulled out the map and showed him where we wanted to go, it was then that we discovered that we had missed a not so obvious turn off that would lead to a bridge over the river, we set off again and made our way to the bridge. It was a difficult track and after a few spills we made it to the bridge, from there we continued, the journey took a long time and finally at 10pm we arrived somewhat tired in Viqueque. Upon arriving we found that there were no hotels but a local led us to a building where some Australians had been staying in while on humanitarian work, they had only recently left and so we were offered there beds.

    We slept in the next morning, we needed the rest after such a trying day and the next stop was only 20km away. We set off around 10am and headed for Ossu where we would stay at the Timor Village Eco Hotel, part owned by a mate Tony who we met in Dili, he insisted we stay and check it out, around the relaxing atmosphere of the hotel is the swimming hole in the river that makes for some great relaxation and not far away a cave where the hotel staff can take you on a guided tour, this time we were actually inside the caves, it was spectacular and well worth the long walk up the mountain to reach it's entrance. Inside we were led through the caverns to view the amazing beauty of it's natural features, stalagmites and stalactites everywhere and some really beautiful rock formations. After checking out the caves we headed back to the hotel for dinner. At dinner we were treated to an amazing meal, possibly the best one we had in Timor Leste.

    The next day we set off back to Dili, with some amazing mountain top views along the way we arrived in the city 5 hours later. It was a spectacular journey, one which any avid motorcycle rider would enjoy, but not only was the riding fun but the people we met along the way were so friendly and helpful, it is almost hard to believe that only 10 years ago there was so much violence and pain for the people of East Timor when you see just how friendly they really are.

    Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

    Hanging Out in Dili

    On Saturday the 9th of May we flew out of Darwin bound for Dili, Timor-Leste (East Timor). We arrived early (7:00am local time) in the morning and after going through the motions of entering the country [visa $30 USD] and clearing customs we jumped in a Taxi and headed for our accommodation, we had met a kind man in Darwin at the Mindil Beach Markets, Arno, who had offered his place for us to stay in while in Dili. After a 5 min ride in the cab [cost: $5 USD] we got to the house where we were met by Arno's Niece who welcomed us in and looked after us quite well, even cooking us dinner on the first night and breakfast the next morning.

    The first day after dropping our things at the house, was spent wondering the city's 'centre', finding out where things are and what we need to do to get our bikes when they arrive. The next few days were spent organizing our Indonesian Visas [cost: $45 USD] and meeting with friends who work for the Timor-Leste Government in Tourism and Trade.

    When you arrive in Dili for the first time, things can seem quite overwhelming and chaotic, there are cars and motorbikes swerving and weaving all over the road and the surroundings appear quite poor, especially when you have grown up in a developed western country. But after spending a few days here you begin to see that Dili is just like any other city, people are going about their day to day business just like the rest of the world, they just do it in a little more of a crazy fashion. The people of Timor-Leste are quite friendly and you never feel uncomfortable walking the streets, most of the local children are keen to say hello, "hey Mister, hey Mister" is often heard shouted from within groups of kids playing along the streets and the parks, they smile and wave and there's often the odd hi-five. The currency here is the US Dollar, I am guessing it has something to do with the UN and establishing a stable currency for the economy here, the funny part is that there are more Aussies here than any other foreign nationality so the Aussie Dollar would perhaps have been more convenient, but I guess it all comes down to politics.

    For the moment we are still waiting for our bikes to arrive, we found out today that the boat they are on from Darwin was delayed at the Darwin end and should be here tomorrow. We'll have to wait and see. We also discovered that there is an additional fee of $45 USD for port taxes and processing, something they don't mention at Perkins when you book. We'll keep you posted....

    Monday, May 11th, 2009

    Hanging out in the Top End - Darwin Time!

    If you've ever been to Darwin and seen those post cards that say "NT, Not Today, Not Tomorrow" and you've ever needed to order something or get something done, you will totally understand the post card. While being far away from the hustle and bustle of the big smoke in cities like Sydney and Melbourne might seem fantastic to some, it also has it's disadvantages too, trying to get something to Darwin or organizing something from somewhere else far away is nothing short of difficult.

    We needed tires for our bikes as the 15-18,000 km life Dunlops we put on 7,000 km's earlier in Melbourne were getting close to bald so we ordered more, the trouble is that tires don't get sent via air, they come by road and that takes 2 weeks. We also needed the paperwork for our bikes which we were told is issued in Darwin, this wasn't completely incorrect but what wasn't mentioned is that they have to be sent to Canberra for processing then sent back which takes up to 10 working days, there was also the issue of the ANZAC day holiday on the Monday and May day long weekend the following week, this meant that many had taken a week long holiday and were not there to process paperwork and also that meant that there was no transport companies to make the deliveries on those public holidays.

    Fortunately Marie from AANT was quite helpful and after a few calls was able to organize something a little quicker. We got our paperwork and were ready to go but now we had to wait for another boat to East Timor for the bikes as we had to miss the last one waiting for the paperwork. It came time to drop the bikes off at Perkins Shipping and we spent the day crating the bikes up ready for shipment. After we had put the bikes onto the crates and pulled them apart we had one last hitch, Customs, they were expecting us to take the bikes to their office in town to check the VIN numbers and make sure we were exporting the correct bikes according to our paperwork. So the next day we had to meet them down at Perkins where they were checked, given the OK and got our paperwork stamped and signed off.

    With the bikes packed up and soon to be shipped, it was time to get ourselves over to Timor. In the early hours of Saturday morning we boarded a plane bound for Dili, we were finally on our way out of Australia and heading to parts unknown, the adventure was about to begin.

    Although our time in Darwin was frustrating and difficult at times we enjoyed ourselves and met some really cool people, most of whom were also fellow travelers, although they all seemed to be stuck in Darwin by their own choice. Some of those we met are from places along our route and have offered a place to stay so we look forward to once again meeting them in their home towns as we travel the world.

    Monday, April 27th, 2009

    ANZAC Day at Adelaide River

    We left Darwin Friday afternoon and headed down to Adelaide River to meet up with a number of the Rumble Riders and also Jen, Tex and Bundy who had hung around Darwin a few extra days to attend the service. We stayed the night at the caravan park behind the Adelaide River Pub and spent the evening catching up with the Rumble crew.

    ANZAC day we got up in the early hours of the morning and walked down the road to the Cemetery where the victims of the Darwin Bombings during the war were buried. They put on an excellent service and the mood was somber, after the service there was a free breakfast down at the show grounds and that is where the 2 up began for the day, around the 2 up mat we met a group who had traveled down from Darwin that morning for the service, we ended up spending the day hanging out with them and enjoy an excellent ANZAC day.

    We got up early the next morning and headed back to Darwin stopping over at Litchfield National Park for a swim at the Buley Water Holes. Definitely worth a drive off the Stuart Highway. We returned to the Darwin YHA where we would end up spending the next couple of week as we learned nothing happens fast in Darwin.

    Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

    Rumble to the Top

    Day 21 - We left Alice and once again headed north, this day started out like many other recent days, wide open spaces and long straight roads, but this day was a very important day on our calendar, we were meeting up with a bunch of riders who had started in Rockhampton and were also heading to Darwin, but not only that, they were doing it for prostate cancer as well. Along the way we made a stop at the Devils Marbles for a quick photo then back on the road. We arrived that afternoon at three ways, the spot where the Barkley Highway from Queensland meets the Stuart Highway that runs north through the Northern Territory to Darwin. Here we were again reunited with our good friends Jen, Tex and Bundy who were part of the Rumble to the Top. That night we were introduced to the Rumblers and there they had a big party with good music, food, drink and a little later a bit of Karaoke where Simon and I both made an appearance. The night went on well into the darkness and the local staff were friendly and put on the hospitality.

    Day 22 - We rode out of Three Ways bound for Daly Water Pub, it was only a short ride, made even shorter keeping up with Tex on his Suzuki Hiabussa that was barely above idle at 120 kmh. Upon arrival we dumped our bags in Tex and Jen's room and headed for a cool down in the pubs pool (or should I say _ool as they say there's no "p" in it).

    That night we were entertained by some more music and more good food, it was there I first met Coxy, he was also on a motorcycle ride and while he was in Mt Isa was given some items that Tex had left behind to give to him. Coxy stopped the night and joined us for a beer and had a good old yarn with Tex about the motorcycle days of old.

    Day 23 - Off to Kakadu, we left Daly Waters and headed for Kakadu, along the way we stopped off at Bitter Springs on the north side of Mataranka where we went for a swim, if you're up that way stop in, they are much better than Mataranka Springs as they are still a natural waterhole unlike Mataranka which has been turned into a pool and packed with tourists.

    On the road again we continued on to Kakadu to our stop for the night with a brief stop in Katherine for lunch, shortly after the turn off to Kakadu the roads got better, not that the road surface had improved but the curves and bends were a welcome change to the long straights of the Stuart Highway and great riding for motorcyclists. Not long before we got to our accommodation we once again came across or friends Mike and Katja in their campervan also heading out to Kakadu, we stopped for a quick chat to see what they had been up to since we last met and then headed for camp. We spent the night in Jen and Tex's room on the spare beds and were treated to possibly the most expensive hamburgers you'll ever find in Australia.

    Day 24 - The final leg of our journey was near, today we were bound for Darwin, the end of the line. We set off that morning with Jen, Tex and Bundy and headed for Howard Springs Caravan Park where we would be staying for a few days with the rest of the Rumble riders before they headed home. We arrived at Howard Springs around mid day after a quick stop at the Humpty Doo Pub and after seeing some amazing sights of northern tropics wet lands along the road out. There we took a quick dip in the pool before mounting up and doing a convoy ride into town to mark the end of the Rumble to the Top.

    Something every biker longs to take part in, 120 motorcycles traveling two up, side by side and in convoy we rode into the Darwin CBD to the Town Hall to meet the mayor and the local press. Tex took the mayor for a very quick spin around town with the two of us in tow before we had a group photo with all the Rumble crew and of course the mayor.

    We spent the next few days hanging out at the caravan park and organizing spare parts and paperwork for the journey ahead. We spent the Thursday night before ANZAC day in town at the YHA before heading back down to Adelaide River for the ANZAC day service on the Saturday.

    Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

    Alice, Alice who the f*** is Alice

    Day 18 - The next morning we packed up at Curtain Springs and headed for Alice Springs, along the way we stopped at a camel farm just south of Alice Springs called Stuarts Well camel farm where we caught up with another old touring buddy, Mr Puddles who had taken a job driving tours for organized groups, we were fed by the lovely Laura, Puddles off sider on the tours and then went and played with the camels, Simon jumped on and took one for a ride before we hit the road again.

    We arrived in Alice that afternoon and headed for Race Motorcycles to see Woody an old bike racer who owned the dealership, to find out about the crates for shipping they had sent up to Darwin. We then headed to the YHA to sort out our accommodation and some dinner, we checked in and checked out the pool before going for a walk to find the supermarket. Along the way we met a young lady Trinity and her son Luke also looking for the supermarket so together we set off in search, it didn't take long before we found what we needed and were on our way back to the YHA to make some dinner. That night we had an early one as I had to be awake at 6 am for a radio interview over the phone with Newcastle radio station KOFM.

    The next morning I had my radio interview which took quite a few cups of coffee prior to get me firing and understandable. We then later that day had another interview with ABC radio and the local radio station 8HA. Later that day as we were heading out to meet up with Trinity at the pub we ran into Brenda the Dutch girl who's car broke down at Marla, she had been stuck there for a few days waiting on a part to fix her car but unfortunately her car still wasn't fixed. She joined us at the pub for a while and I offered to help get her car fixed as some mechanics tend to take advantage of girls when the take their cars in and rip them off expecting they will have no clue. The next day I made a few phone calls to find a mechanic to fix the car but they were all busy so it was going to be a long wait, eventually I was able to source the replacement part from the local Repco dealer and fixed it myself so she was now back on the road and could make her visit to Ularu. I later got an email saying she had made it there and back OK so I was happy to hear, she had offered to pay me for the work but I would not accept it as I would like to think that if I were in the same situation on this trip, someone would do the same for me. We were also treated to a feast of Pasta Carbonara on our last night in Alice, cooked by another friend we met along the way, Marco was an Italian man travelling Australia by campervan, when we had explained how much we loved Italian food and how difficult it is to get a Carbonara cooked properly in Australia he offered to whip up one for our little group, it was fantastic and really hit the spot. Along with the good company and great food our last night in Alice was fantastic.

    Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

    Wide Open Spaces

    Day 16 - We left Coober Pedy and headed north once again up the Stuart Highway heading for Ularu (Ayers Rock) in the Northern Teritory. After a few fuel stops we pulled into a servo at Marla for fuel where we first met a young Dutch girl Brenda who was traveling on her own and had broken down at the servo. She was getting assistance from a helpful older couple in a campervan and once her car was going again she headed north with the couple close behind. We left the servo and shortly down the road saw the car heading back with the Campervan close behind once again.

    We continued on to Ularu and about 100 km's from the rock we stopped at a free camp ground at Curtain Springs Hotel, we had been there a short while when to our surprise we again met the couple in the campervan whom we had met at the road side camp site a couple of days earlier. We joined them again for dinner and had a great talk about traveling, Australian Culture and the odd discussion about poo courtesy of Simon.

    Day 17 - The next morning we got up early and headed for the rock, we made a stop along the way at the Yalara resort to check out the camp sites for the tour companies that travel out from Alice, in particular the Adventure Tours camp site where Simon once worked as a Driver Guide for the company.

    We then headed for Ularu to take in the amazing beauty and scale of the BIG rock. I must say for the first time visiting one of Australia's biggest icons I was blown away at it's size and was very excited. We stopped in at the visitor center to organize permission to film as there are many sacred sites and we didn't want to upset anyone. We then headed around the rock to get a few shots and then headed to Kata Juta (the Ulgas). Amongst the thousands of tourists yelling and shouting and totally missing the beauty of where they were we did our best to get a few shots before getting back on the bikes and heading back to Curtain Springs for another night. I have to say that I was quite disgusted with the lack of respect some tourists have for such a beautiful place, these were mostly those that fly in to Yalara and stay at the resort, they jump on a bus, only do the short walks, take pictures where they shouldn't, touch and climb all over places they shouldn't and have no intention of understanding not only the beauty of where they are but also the cultural significance that these places hold.

    Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

    Heading North

    Day 14 - Leaving Adelaide we headed north on our way eventually to Darwin, we traveled out of Adelaide and hit the highway. Just short of Port Augusta Simon's bike ran out of fuel, he stopped to perform a little trick of rocking the tank to get the last of the fuel over to the side where the tank hose is connected and I rode on to find a service station. I made it to a servo just on the edge of town where I also ran out just as I pulled into the driveway, fortunately it was down hill and I rolled to the pump.

    I filled up my own tank and paid for it then went out to see if Simon had made it, a car pulled up traveling the same way and I asked if he had seen Simon, he said yes but a long way back still riding so I pulled out the fuel bladder. After throwing 6 liters in and paying I jumped on the bike and headed back for Simon, I only got a couple of km's down the road where I saw him stopped, completely out of fuel, he had been pushing the bike only a few hundred meters and was stopped by a couple on a bike who had offered fuel from their own bike as I turned up. We poured in the fuel and headed for the Servo. After fueling up Simon's bike we hit the road. We continued through Port Augusta and decided to see how far north we could get before sun down.

    As we left Port Augusta there was a sign that indicated a rest area 65 km's north so we headed for there, we made it there just on sunset and pulled in. We set up camp for the night and began making some dinner, at that time we met a couple, Michael and Katja there traveling in a camper van who offered assistance with some gear for cooking our dinner. We made something to eat which on my first attempt I dropped my pot and spilt all over the ground and sat with the couple to eat and share a few beers they had brought with them. Michael was an American man who had been living in Italy and Katja an Italian Lady, the two had been on an amazing adventure traveling the world together and were also heading for Darwin.

    Day 15 - The next morning we got up and continued heading north, we had been told that Lake Ayer was filling up with water, something that happens only every 15, 70 or 100 years depending on who you ask. With that in mind we decided to leave the paved road and take the beaten track to South Lake Ayer, we turned off at Womera and headed to Olympic Dam near Roxby Downs. We fueled up at Olympic Dam and hit the beaten track, beaten being an understatement, large rocks, loose gravel and Sand would be our highway for the next 500 km's, we arrived at South Lake Ayer only to discover that it only fills when North Lake Ayer is full and you can only see the water in North Lake Ayer by plane. Disappointed we got back on the bikes and continued to William Creek where we got fuel and had a short rest. The roads were taking there toll on my energy and patience and I was getting tired and hungry, we hit the road heading for Coober Pedy where we were staying the night. This leg started off quite difficult, mostly sand it wasn't easy with all the weight on the back and not much to keep the front wheel steering, there were a number of times where the road turned but the bike had other ideas and a hairy time was had by both me and my pants.

    Not long before we hit town we came across an amazing landscape, it was moon like with no plants or vegetation as far as the eye could see, we stopped for a moment, the bikes turned off and just took in the isolation and how alone we were out there, no noises except for those we made, no life except for our own. Simon pulled out his camera for a pic and I couldn't help but do an impersonation of the NASA moon landing, all be it I stuffed up the speech part, it went something like "that's one small step for mankind, one giant leap for mankind" spot the error, hey it was a long and trying day.

    We rolled in to town amongst the pits and giant mounds of dirt and the underground dwellings built by the opal miners to escape the heat. I must admit my imaginations of Coober Pedy were that there was no sign of life above ground but that proved wrong, for those who have never been there, they have houses and shops above ground and of course the caravan park where we stayed.

    Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

    RADELAIDE

    The first morning in Adelaide was an early start, Kawasaki had organized a full service on our bikes free of charge so we headed for SA Motorcycles to drop off the bikes, they were all friendly people and looked after us well, if you live in Adelaide and are looking for a bike they are worth a visit. Along with our service we had inline fuel filters installed in preparation for those places where the quality of fuel could not be guaranteed. They also did the "Doohickey" modification on my bike, for those that don't know there is a common fault with the KLR that has been known for a long time but not yet fixed in the design process, the idler tensioner lever and spring are too loose and apparently cause problems later on down the track. We also had the valves checked and brake pads replaced.

    We spent our time in Adelaide again picking up those other little items that we had discovered short falls in our equipment. We also caught up with an old Oz Experience mate, Wayne Carbone otherwise known as "Uncle Fester" in his bus driving days and another good friend Leann from our time in Europe as Coach drivers for Topdeck Tours. Leann took us to dinner where we ate like kings and left with very full bellies.

    We picked up the bikes the next day and were set for our trip north. That day we had a photo shoot with Di from the YHA for the YHA magazine, the team at the Adelaide YHA were very helpful and organized our accommodation for Alice Springs and put us in touch with the Alice ABC radio team. We were fortunate enough to spend our last day in Adelaide for labor day which meant a public holiday the following day and a big celebration that night so the day of departure we left a little later than planned so as not to get in trouble from the authorities.

    Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

    South Bound heading West

    Day 10 - Leaving Port Fairy today we say goodbye to Victoria and make our way into South Australia. We were heading for Penola where once again we would stay with friends Tim and Sarah. Along the way we called into Mt Gambier where we had arranged an interview with the local paper. Heading into town we made our way to an engineering business where we arranged to have some custom made toolboxes built for the bikes to replace the PVC tubes we had mounted on the front of the engine guard already. After a quick measure up we headed for the paper where we had a quick interview followed by a photo up by the Blue Lake, check it out if you are in Mt Gambier in Summer.

    We continued from there to Penola where we stopped the night with Tim, Sarah and a surprise visit from JB another friend who was in town working with Tim and his grapes at Tim's vineyard "Coonawarra Wines". That night we had a yarn over a fantastic home cooked meal made by the lovely Sarah and of course a few beverages. The next morning with a packed lunch we set off for Adelaide, but first we had to make a quick stop at Tim's vines for a photo and a sample of the grapes (they don't ferment on the vine so didn't quite taste like wine). On route to Adelaide we stopped in at Narracorte where we met a mate of Tim's who races motorbikes on rides such as the Fink Desert Race. We were met by the local paper where we had a picture taken and a quick interview then we went inside for a cupper. We spoke to Fitzy and his family about our adventure and got some advice from Fitzy from his experiences with motorbikes, we even had the privilege of seeing the immaculate and amazing bike shed out the back where Fitzy worked on his racing bikes and a few oldies he was restoring.

    Then it was on to Adelaide where we would once again have the pleasure of staying in the City Centre YHA of Adelaide. We arrived late that day, another long day followed by a night ride into town, it was becoming a trend that was very tiring with the cold weather and high concentration of night riding. We got to our hostel and checked in before heading straight to bed.

    Sunday, April 5th, 2009

    Heading for the Great Ocean Road

    Day 9 - We left Aireys Inlet after some lovely pancakes once again cooked by Ads and a speedy haircut for myself (no comb on the clippers) and began the fantastic ride that is the Great Ocean Road, twisty bends back and forth along the coast line, a must for all motorcyclists. We were on our way this day for a special stop where we would jump off the bikes and take a walk amongst [and above] the trees at the Otway Flyer Tree Top Walk just north of Apollo Bay. The ride in was fantastic and the tree top walk was spectacular, a suspended walk way took us up amongst the trees looking down upon natures creations bellow. After a look around and a quick coffee at the Otway Cafe we rode out and said our goodbyes to Lea, Gav and Beckles who were heading back to Melbourne.

    We continued our journey heading to Port Fairy where we would once again stop off at the YHA. Along the way we stopped at the twelve apostles to get some footage as the sun set and take in the beauty of the rock formations and the cliff lined coast. We made a quick stop in Warnambool for groceries and in little time were at the door of the YHA. A sleepy little town, Port Fairy was well and truly asleep by the time we arrived and we were pretty keen to do the same, the wet weather that left Melbourne with us was still in tow, riding in the cold and wet takes a toll on you and after a feed of pasta for dinner we were off to sleep.

    Saturday, April 4th, 2009

    Departure Day from Melbourne - 4th April

    It was Day 8, Saturday and it was wet, the rains of Melbourne had returned after a hot bushfire ridden summer, they were back to say farewell. We rode out of town to a teary goodbye from Simon's Parents, His sister Ardie and Ronnie and most importantly his Nana who gave us both big goodbye hugs. It was late Saturday afternoon, bound for Aireys Inlet on the Great Ocean Road to visit friends Ads and Chean. On this leg we were not alone, joined by Gav & Beckles, Lea and Pete & Cara [in the car] plus for the ride out of town to the West Gate Bridge, J-Buck and Lea (there were 2 Lea's).

    That evening we hung out at Ads and Chean's place where over a coopers we discussed the adventure ahead and the plan for the next day while Ad's whipped up some amazing Pizza for dinner.

    Saturday, April 4th, 2009

    The Big Farewell with Angry - 1st April

    Day 5 (Wednesday) was the day of our long awaited farewell party, we had been planning this day for quite a while and it was also finally here, but the farewell party was only a small part of a very large day. We had organized for Angry Anderson to be part of our farewell and patron of our project. Simon had spent a great deal of time chasing this one up, emails and phone calls and more emails. Angry had agreed to come down a little earlier than just for our farewell party so we had organized a photo shoot with our good mate Chris of Chris Neylon Photography and a naughty nurse.

    The photo shoot was great fun and we really enjoyed hanging out with Angry. Our naughty nurse and Angry were fantastic and the photo's turned out great. We then had to get ourselves organized and get over to the venue for our function. Along the way picking up those last minute things for the party including a clever little invention from Mushroom Marketing (Mushroom Records) called Condomusic, a great tool for men's health, a CD case containing a mix CD and a condom.

    Arriving at Transport Bar on Federation Square I rejoined Simon who had been busy setting up for the night, I pushed the bike into the function area to the confused looks of many of the bars patrons who were obviously confused as to why I would be taking my motorcycle into the bar with me.

    The night went well with many supporters, friends and family joining us for the evening after work, a rough estimation would be about 150 people. Three special friends who traveled all the way from Sydney for the evening were Jen, Tex and Bundy, Tex & Bundy (a motorcycle riding dog) raise approximately $240,000 every year for charities including Prostate Cancer and are proud supporters of our project.

    It came time for the thank you's and speeches so Simon grabbed the mic and began with a few introductions followed by myself speaking about the route and the journey. We then had some special guest speakers, Jo Fairburn from PCFA, Jen from Tex & Bundy and of course Angry Anderson who gave a very emotional, powerful and inspiring speech about Prostate Cancer and Our Project.

    As the night went on a few drinks, nibbles and good conversation were had by all before it was time to say goodnight. We stopped for a quick photo with Jen, Tex & Bundy and the bikes before heading back to Croyden to Simon's parents place.

    Saturday, April 4th, 2009

    Melbourne Days

    While in Melbourne after a quick photo shoot with Dr Carl Kennedy (Allan Fletcher) from the Neighbors TV show, we took the time to sort our the little bugs and shortages we had discovered over the first few days ridding down from Newcastle. There was still a lot to purchase and prepare so we were very busy, we spent a bit of time in camping stores and also with Max and the guys at Bike Mart (Ringwood) getting our bits and pieces we had not yet purchased. The guys at Bike Mart were fantastic, they helped us out with everything we asked for and of course a discount to help the project. We also had the tyres changed on the Friday before departure to Dunlop K850A's which are meant to get 15-18,000 km's before replacement (this later proved wrong by the course unforgiving NT roads at only 7-8,000 km's).

    On Day 4 that afternoon we rode out to Harcourte, a small country community about an hour out of Melbourne towards Bendigo. There we had the privilege of taking part in a men's health seminar, it was fantastic seeing all the men and boys from around the community coming together to listen and learn and ask questions about men's health. We were the final act, riding our motorbikes into the hall and pulling up at the stage before taking over the microphones to have a chat to the crowd about our project. We spoke for a short while and asked for questions from the crowd which we got a good response from. After the talk and the seminar had finished we spent some time talking to the local men who had many more questions about our journey.

    After the seminar we headed back to Melbourne, it wad late at night and cold so we were keen to get back fast. As we were heading along the highway at 110 km/h I noticed that there was something strange about the tip of Simon's exhaust, the tip had broken off and was sitting sideways on the end of the exhaust. Just as I noticed it was broken the whole baffle from inside the exhaust, a chunk of metal about 10 cm in diameter and about 40 cm long, came flying out the back of his exhaust, bounced off the road and hit me in the helmet, it was like the Matrix movies, as it came for me I moved my head off to the left and it just glanced the front right side of my helmet before being flattened by several large trucks traveling behind us. We pulled over and assessed the damage, made a quick repair job and very noisily continued on back to Melbourne.

    The rest of our days spent in Melbourne were used to get all the last minute bits and pieces together and sort out the packing of the bikes, the Wednesday in between however was the day of our big farewell at the Transport Bar in Melbourne's Federation Square - more to come.

    Monday, March 30th, 2009

    Sydney to Melbourne - 28th-30th March 2009

    Day 1 - After a week of prep in the Barry family shed in Newcastle, we set off bound for Sydney in the early hours of the morning. We were full of excitement for the day ahead as it had finally come.

    In Sydney we were greeted by a crowd of 30 well wishers who had come to say good luck and see us off, many of whom joined us for the ride out of town. Amongst the crowd was friends and family and a few special friends like Wayne Brady for Blue Ribbon Motorcycle Ride and our good mates Tex & Bundy and Jen.

    After a quick photo and the cutting of a ribbon to signify the start of our journey we were off down the Hume Highway heading for Canberra. The ride out started with about twenty riders who came as far as Pheasants Nest where we said our goodbyes and then on to Canberra with two long time mates Sky Ferguson (Fergo) and Luke Dunford (Dunny) coming all the way. On arrival to Canberra we made a stop at the War Memorial to get some photo's and footage then we headed to our Accommodation, the Canberra City Central YHA.

    That night we sat down and over a few beers we had a chat about the experiences that Fergo and Dunny had on their around Australia motorcycle trip a few years earlier. They didn't hold back with their advice and pointers and it was good to hear about some of the issues they had on their trip and how they overcame them.

    Day 2 - The next day we set off out of Canberra, with a quick stop at the lookout above the war memorial to grab some shots of Canberra, there we met a couple who had heard about us in a couple of news papers, one in Canberra and one in Albury.

    We were bound for Albury to visit a couple of good friends. The day itself was nothing special but still it was another day on the road of world tour and we were making kilometers so it felt great. On arriving in Albury we made a bee line for our friend Beckles place where we also found Simons long time best buddy Gav who was up for the weekend. We once again conducted a social evening of conversation, beer and some dinner before hitting the sack.

    Day 3 - We got up reasonably early (although not as early as Gav who left at 4am) and headed for Melbourne with our little snack pack made for us by the lovely Beckles. Again the day was nothing special, just another day on the highway but we were on the move and Melbourne bound. We covered out distance in good time and arrived in Melbourne early afternoon where we headed straight for Simon's parents place, our accommodation for the next five days.

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