Borders

Arriving in Ushuaia under heavy rain and storm

Our last leg was another long drive: We were driving from El Calafate to Rio Gallegos under bad weather. From there we entered Chile. After we had finished the migration, we continued to the ferry which took us to Tierra del Fuego. Fortunately you don’t need a reservation for the ferry, you just have to wait in the line and half an hour later you are on your way. Fifteen minutes later we finally reached Tierra del Fuego!

But the weather was not getting any better. Under rain and wind we continued to Ushuaia. Unfortunately we had to ride on 80 miles of dirt road. The road was one of the worst we had so far. We had to cross numerous pot holes, puddles and pieces of wash board roads.

Soaking wet and freezing we arrived at the border to Argentina in San Sebastian. We could cross the border rather quickly, but anyway it was already quite late and raining heavily. The expected city of San Sebastian unfortunately was not more than a border station, a gas station and a hotel. Since the next real city – Rio Grande – was still 50 miles away, we decided to stay for the night in the quite expensive hotel. Some other travelers, whom we met earlier, also staid in the same hotel. So we spent a nice evening with them in the hotel restaurant.

During the night the weather got much better and we started our last leg to Ushuaia under nice sunshine. About 50 miles before arriving in Ushuaia, a motorcyclist with swiss license plate passed us and was waving. It was Georg, whom we met while crossing the Darien Gap on Stahlratte. After a heartily welcome, we drove the last miles together to our goal, Ushuaia.

Unfortunately the weather was getting worse again and we were quite cold. So we went to a little, nice Cafe in Ushuaia first. After warming up, we rode to the end of Ruta 3 in the Tierra del Fuego national park. After 6.5 months and more than 30.000 miles we finally arrived at our goal!

Tierra del Fuego

On our way back into the city, we met two other bikers, whom Carmen got to know via Facebook and whom we now met for the first time in real life. Claudia and Werner are traveling with their BMWs across South America and plan to join the Stahlratte tour across the caribbean in April. We decided to drive to the visitor’s center for a cup of coffee and talked about our experiences.

At late afternoon we finally drove to the camping place Rio Ripo, on which many motorbike travelers meet during Christmas and New Year’s eve. Here we staid for a few days and had a great New Year’s eve party with many other travelers.

Arriving in Ushuaia

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road

Two panniers is one too many ;-)

Hey, if YOU who found our pannier read this, please write us an email. We will be very grateful! 🙂

After our little trip to Bolivia, we entered Argentina on the next day via Paso Jama. Since there is no customs on the chilenian side we had to do the paperwork in San Pedro de Atacama already. So we did officially leave Chile already, although we were 100 miles from the border. Interestingly they even told us that we were not allowed to drive back to the gas station in San Pedro, but we just ignored that, since the next gas station was supposed to be 300 miles away.

The road to the border was leading besides more salt lakes and across 4800m passes. Although our bikes were still running well ( because of the injection ) we felt that there was not much power available. So we were driving rather slowly across the passes.

The paperwork was pretty easy, but still took some time, sine a big bus arrived just before we did. Surprisingly there was a gas station right at the border, so that we did not have to use our gas cans.

At another salt lake, the Salinas Grandes, we did another foto stop and were driving across the lake.

Salinas Grandes

Salinas Grandes

After we continued, Michaels bike started to wobble a bit and Michael suspected a puncture. He glanced briefly at the wheels but everything was fine. So he thought that it was just a little bit windy. However it was strange that a car behind him honked, but the south americans are honking because of anything, so he ignored that.
Our way was leading through curvy mountain roads surrounded by cactuses. A nice landscape, so we stopped for taking pictures. Michael used that opportunity to check his wheels once more when Carmen asked: “What did you do with your pannier?”. Michael did not answer and Carmen asked again. Then Michael realized at last that his left pannier was missing including the rollbag on top of it. Unfortunately this very pannier was holding the MacBook, credit cards, hard disk, tools, and clothes. So we immediately turned back to the salt lake to search the pannier.

We were driving the piece of road up and down and asking everybody, but nobody saw or knew anything. Since it was quite late already and since Michaels bike currently lakes any lights, we had to go to Purmamarca to find an accommodation.

In Purmamarca we went to the police to tell them about our loss, hoping that the finder will bring the pannier to the police. But the guy at the police just took Michaels name, phone number and email address and did not ask anything. That was our last hope to find the pannier including its content.

Purmamarca is nice but very small and so we continued to Salta, a larger city nearby. There Michael could buy some of the things he lost.

Since Salta has got quite some infrastructure we stay here for two days. Carmen took the opportunity to change her rear tire, buy a bike insurance for Argentina and Chile and got a haircut. The haircut was good for the guiness book of records: It took only two minutes and she was told that her hair is actually not good for that kind of cut. Not sure about the result, she left the hairdresser’s shop. No problem, the hair will be growing again. 🙂

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road

Little Trip to Bolivia

Not far from San Pedro de Atacama there is the beautiful Laguna Colorada in the south of Bolivia. Since there are only bad sand roads leading to the laguna, we decided to book a 4WD tour to Bolivia. However we were not sure whether we would get problems when crossing the border without our motorycles, but after asking customs in Chile, they said that this is possible without problems.

After we finished customs, we went to the bolivian border which was nothing but a small hut and a “pee bus” in the middle of nowhere. There we did not only get our migration stamp but also a small breakfast.

In Bolivia the roads were getting worse pretty quickly. After a few milers we were driving through deep sand and gravel roads and sometimes completely offroad.

We did our first stop at the Laguna Salada, a colorful salt lake in which flamingos were looking for food. The tour continued to geysers and the actual highlight: the Laguna Colorada. The Laguna Colorada is almost glowing in different red tones in which the mountains and clouds are reflecting: an impressing but also surreal landscape.

Laguna Colorada

After our stop at the Laguna Colorada we continued at high speed and bad roads to Laguna Verde and Blanca. Since it was pretty late already, we just did a quick foto stop there and drove back to Chile.

In San Pedro de Atacama we again did customs to enter Chile. However this time it took a little bit longer, since the customs officials found a big amount of drugs and therefore we pretty busy.

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road

Let’s go to Bolivia… or better Chile?

Our actual plan was to continue to Bolivia, so we went to Puno at the Titicaca Lake near the border to Bolivia. Besides the view at the Titicaca Lake, Puno is quite an ugly town. We had a hard time to find a good accommodation including parking lots for the bikes. Finally we managed to find one.

In the evening we wanted to prepare for our ride to Bolivia and found the following web page about the road conditions in Bolivia. Reports by other travelers were not better either and so we were thinking a long time on how to continue.

On the next morning we finally decided to ride to Chile, since the road conditions seem to be pretty bad in the rainy season in Bolivia. Unfortunately this means that we won’t see the Salar de Uyuni, a huge salt area in Bolivia, which we wanted to cross. Anyway most of the Salar seems to be covered by water already, so we would not have been able to cross it in any case.
To go to Chile, we had to drive back to Tacna at the coast. On our ride, the police stopped us and asked for an insurance which we did not have. 😉 Fprtunately they accepted our fake insurance which we printed ourselves a few weeks ago.

The border crossing itself was very easy but quite annoying, because the first time we were asked to detach all our luggage and bring them to x-ray. At night we staid in Pozo al Monte, a little city in the north of Chile.

Art in Chile

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road

Good Luck and Bad Luck

We started a long leg in Banos and were riding through the mountains passing the snow covered Chimborazo to Loja. We staid on the Panamericana which is really a nice winding road here and is quite some fun. So we were driving for hours through the mountains until it happened: This day it was Michaels turn to lead and he passed a bridge. Almost invisible there was a speed bump at the end of the bridge. Michael saw it almost too late and did a full break to avoid flying over the bump. Unfortunately Carmen did not see the bump and hence she was totally surprised by Michael hitting the breaks. She managed to break, but it was already too late. She crashed into Michaels left pannier with about 40 miles per hour. Michaels left and Carmens right pannier were ripped off the bikes and fell to the ground. Both of us were sliding on the tarmac for a few meters, but fortunately came to a stop rather quickly. Michaels foot was jammed underneath his bike, but Carmen managed to lift the bike a bit and Michael could free his foot. After a brief check we realized that we were not really hurt. Fortunately we always wear our motorcycle gear. The bikes themselves were not really damaged either, but the panniers and Carmens tank bag were pretty damaged. The panniers were bent and the mounting was partly ripped off the bike. After a quick repair, we were able to attach the panniers temporarily and could continue to Loja.

Carmen's pannier after the crash

After arriving in Loja we checked into a nice hostel in the center of the town and started to think about our options. Our first idea was to buy new panniers. We indeed found some in the evening for “just” US$ 240. That was definitely too much and we were thinking about reducing our luggage to continue with just two panniers. We did not really like that option either, so we went to a mechanic the next day and asked him to repair our panniers. The mechanic was not exactly great but at least he managed to repair the panniers so that we could attach them to the bikes again. They are not really water proof anymore, but we have enough of plastic bags. 🙂 Besides we asked the mechanic to drill holes into the panniers, so that the water can flow out at least.

After this little delay we continued to Peru on the next morning. On our way we were stopped by a military control. The soldiers however were very nice and took pictures of us after checking our papers.

Crossing the border was quite unspectacular: The process was very easy, but took again about 2 hours. In the first bigger city after the border, we were looking for a cheap hotel including parking lots. After some desperate search, a local guy, Felipe, and his family approached us. Felipe could speak german very well, since he lived in Germany for six months and helped us finding a cheap hotel directly in the center of the town. After checking in, we went to dinner with Felipe, his wife and his two sons. We could not have imagined a more heartly welcome to Peru!

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road

Breakfast on island Colon

Puerto Viejo is a little caribbean island in the south east of Costa Rica. The beautiful beach, the numerous little restaurants, and bars attract many hippies, rastas and dropouts. The smell of pot is in the air and we were offered to buy marijuana several times. We did not like the atmosphere and the kind of shabby ambiance however and so we left the next morning to continue our way heading south.

We have only been in Costa Rica for a few days and are quite impressed by the beautiful landscape here. Costa Rica for sure has much more to offer, especially exotic wildlife. But they also call it the Switzerland of central america, because it’s almost as expensive as in Europe. Although that is no real issue for a three week vacation, it would still cause quite a problem for our budget. So we decided to leave Costa Rica and ride into the cheaper Panama.

We chose the small and quiet border city Sixaola to cross the border to Panama. This time it was Carmen’s turn to do the paperwork. We passed the border without any issues and after about 2 hours we had all the necessary papers.

Our original plan was to go to Bocas del Toro on the island Colon via ferry with our motorcycles. However we found out that the ferry to Bocas del Toro departs only once a day at 8am. Since we arrived in the afternoon, we checked into a hotel in the nearby city Almirante. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get up on time on the next morning and so we missed the ferry. Since we did not want to stay yet another night in the kind of run-down city of Almirante, we took the water taxi to Bocas del Toro. So we could at least take a look at the City and get some breakfast there.

We really liked Bocas del Toro. Besides several little restaurants and bars, they offer a wide variety of water sports activities, like snoring and kayaking. After our tasty breakfast we drove back to Almirante with a speedboat and got ready to ride to Boquete. The 2-3 hours ride to Boquete was great due to it’s winding mountain roads and beautiful landscape. We checked into the hotel Refugio del Rio, in which we should get to know some other motorbike travelers.

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road

From Tom’s Bakery to the Caribbean

The countries in central america are pretty small. Therefore we need to cross a border every couple of days. The good thing however is that we always have some practice. 🙂 For Monday we planned to cross the border to Costa Rica and staid with our successful procedure to import both bikes at the same time. That was a good decision, because on Monday morning some hundred tourists wanted to cross the border to Costa Rica. Therefore the lines at the immigration were huge. The process itself went pretty smooth, but due to the long lines we needed to wait most of the time and the whole border crossing took solid four hours.

At the border we met a german/english couple, whom we got to know one day earlier in our hostel. They were full of blood stains, scrapes and lacerations. They took the bus from San Juan del Sur to Costa Rica. Just before the border a car crashed into their bus. The bus went off the street and rolled over. We were actually passing the crash with our bikes but we had no idea about the extend of the accident, because we could not see the bus from the road. Fortunately nobody seems to be deadly injured, but there must have been many injuries. With that accident still in our minds, we continued quite cautiously to Lago Arenal, our first destination in Costa Rica.

Since it was already getting dark, we just followed our GPS without thinking. The GPS suggested a shortcut. First the shortcut seemed to be a pretty good and paved road, but it was getting worse and worse and after some time it finally became a very steep, little dirt track out of mud and stones. Since it was not raining, it was still possible for us to drive on the track. At last we arrived at Hotel La Rana, which is led by a german. In the evening we enjoyed tasty german food and Michael could not resist to drink a german wheat beer.

On the next morning we actually wanted to do a much longer tour at last. For the planned 400 km we wanted to buy some food at a nearby german bakery, which had been recommended to us. But Tom, the german owner of the bakery, invited us to stay in his bakery overnight. So we stopped driving already after 12 km and helped Tom with his work in the bakery. Together we prepared a day’s stock of croissants, pasties, and other tasty german bakery products. After work was done, we had some time for fun. 🙂 Tom invited us to a little tour in his motorboat on Lago Arenal. We were driving with the boat for a few hours and talked about the live in Costa Rica.

Tom offered us to stay for a couple of days in his bakery. But since we want to cross the darien gap between Panama and Columbia with a sail boat in a couple of days, we wanted to continue our voyage. So we said good-bye to Tom and drove the winding road at the Lago Arenal to the caribbean town of Puerto Viejo.

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road

Two borders in one day

Today we were facing another day of a nightmare: Our plan was to cross two borders in one day in order to avoid spending a night in Honduras. Honduras seems to be one of the most dangerous countries in central america. Therefore we did not want to test our luck and just drive through that country as fast as possible. So we got up very early at 5am and left for Honduras after a very good breakfast at Comfort Inn, in order to arrive at around 8am at the border.

So far we imported our bikes one after the other, which needed quite a lot of time. This time we tried to learn out of our mistakes and decided to import both bikes together. Besides we decided to split the tasks among ourselves, so that both of us can really “enjoy” the process of border crossing: Michael should do the crossing from Guatemala to Honduras, while Carmen was responsible for the crossing from Honduras to Nicaragua.

The complexity of crossing those two borders is unbelievable. However we did not want to hire any helpers either, because according to reports of other travelers, those helpers most of the time just rip off tourists. Fortunately we found a very detailed description of the border crossing process at the following – very helpful – web page: Honduras in one day.

Michael’s biggest concern with respect to crossing the El Salvador – Honduras border were the pushy helpers again. Fortunately this concern was not justified. Some helpers tried to offer us their service, but we were able to get rid of them very quickly. The first border crossing took about 2.5 to 3 hours, out of which we were spending most of the time with copying documents and waiting for the officials, who were processing those documents. Interestingly the whole process seems to be strictly for the birds, because all those nicely filled and stamped documents were just put on a huge pile of paper.

After we had our import papers and immigration stamps, we drove about 130km through Honduras. The country is well known due to it’s corrupt police, but we did not meet any of them and arrived at the border to Nicaragua without any issues.

The officials at the border to Nicaragua were just doing their ‘Siesta’ when we arrived. Beside that we did not have any problems here either, with one exception: According to our step by step description we should do three copies of the import papers after we had finished the import process. But both a customs and another border official told us that we would need only two copies. So we just trusted them and did only two copies. This was a mistake: The two copies were taken direct at the border and right behind the border two other officials asked for a third copy. So we needed to go back to get a third copy, which was not a big issue, but we were really surprised, because it seems that no one of the officials understands the complete process.

After this exhausting day we spent the night in Esteli in the north of Nicaragua.

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road

El Fuego says Good Bye

This day of a nightmare began quite promising: El Fuego gave us a small eruption to say good bye. On our way to the border to El Salvador we saw big smoke coming out of El Fuego. After a quick stop to take some pictures we continued our ride to the border.

Finding the border was easy: Already miles before arriving at the border we saw a huge line of trucks waiting to cross the border. However we had no scruple to just pass them on the left lane. 😉 In addition to that numerous ‘helpers’ were approaching us when we approached the line of trucks. We read a lot of those helpers in several blogs. First we just tried to ignore them and tried our luck without them. Exiting Guatemala was quite easy but exporting our bikes was more difficult than we had thought. We already got a stamp on our permits and thought that the procedure was already completed. The helpers however told us that some things still needed to be done. Of course they still tried to offer us their help for a little fee, but we still declined the offer and tried to find the customs building on our own. Unfortunately we failed. Finally one of the helpers said: ‘I help you for free’ and with his help we could complete the process for Carmen’s bike without any issues. Exporting Michael’s bike was a little bit more difficult, though. The number of his license plate was not correct on his permit ( an error of one of the guys when we entered Guatemala ). First they told us, that Michael would need to go back to the border between Mexico and Guatemala to correct the papers, but for this ‘solution’ Michael would have to drive back alone, because Carmen’s bike was already exported and she would not have been able to go back with her bike for 30 days. Then Michael tried another officer and she completed the process without any problems.

The next step was to import the motorcycles to El Salvador. Both, the personal immigration as well as importing the bikes to El Salvador was easy. However since we imported the bikes one after another, we lost quite some time at the border.

It was already late afternoon when we were able to continue to Playa El Zonte. We were heading to a nice hostel located right at the sea which was recommended by Lonely Planet. The ride to the hostel was quite long, though and so it was just minutes before sunset when we arrived. It was already dark when we moved all our stuff into the room. The hostel was a nice surf resort in which we could have spent more time, but since we want to cross the border to Honduras on Sunday ( because of the easier procedure on the weekend ), we had to continue on the next morning. That’s quite a pity, because El Salvador is really beautiful and so far we can not confirm the safety issues we had heard about earlier.

Today we spend the night in San Miguel at the Comfort Inn, which was recommended by the motorbike traveller Guillaume.

Posted by: michasifi and carmen.on.the.road