How was the container ship journey from Europe to South America? (February to March 2014)
Amazingly, no one aboard the Grande Amburgo was seasick. Despite the odd days of gusting winds up to 60mph and lashings of monsoon rain, seas stayed calm over the Atlantic. Occasionally the crossing was so gondola-like smooth, we’d go out on deck to check we were still sailing. We were incredibly lucky spending four weeks under blue skies and in blazing hot sunshine for the most part taking in some interesting sights off the coasts of Senegal, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
What have you been up to?
Rolling off the cargo ship mid March, we scooted out of Uruguay into Argentina. From Buenos Aires, we rode at full tilt down Ruta 3 to Tierra del Fuego where we spent a fortnight discovering the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia. Meandered up through Chile, crisscrossing constantly back and forth into Argentina for nine months. Finally quit Argentina to explore Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, which after a further five months, we said our farewells to South America and took a ferry over to Central America. Making a sharp exodus out of Panama, we spent an unanticipated six weeks in Costa Rica. We had a quick exploration of Nicaragua before blitzing through Honduras into El Salvador inside a day. That brings us to our current location Guatemala, home to gorgeous pockets on which to feast the senses.
Both bikes have broken down a handful of times from joyous amounts of off-road riding on rugged terrain. Consequently Pearl, my F650GS has forfeited a few parts bouncing along and needed a rescue truck three times. The F800GS conked out with a flat battery 80 miles from our accommodation in Mendoza. Jason had an interesting if not hair-raising tow back overtaking the odd lorry at 50mph, courtesy of ‘Mulata’, a raggedy old BMW R100 and a skinny piece of two rope. We’ve also had our fair share of fun on snow and ice, being blown off the road in gusting winds, wheel-arch deep sand and river crossings. So far, so nuts really.
What's been the best moment so far?
A challenge to choose just one. Aside from the interactions we’ve had with folk largely because of the bikes, one of my most memorable moments was the day I started to relax on the ripio. I gave Pearl a handful in third and started feeling a newfound buzz. Something just clicked; I think I had a mini-epiphany..! Off-road riding stopped being my fearsome foe and became a fond friend. Jason’s best moment was drinking in the sight of the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia’s stunning salt flats.
And the worst?
When I unintentionally slaughtered a bird at 45mph on a road in Argentina. The steppe landscape was as featureless as it was flat, we were riding through big sky country yet I still managed to obstruct a bird mid-flight. It flew straight into me, got knocked out on impact and snuffed it instantly. Poor thing, I felt wretched. Jason’s sick-to-the-stomach moment was witnessing the blood sport of a goat being flattened by a reckless support vehicle driver, rescuing our bikes out of the snow. At slow speed, he made zero attempt to dodge this innocent creature whose demise could so effortlessly have been avoided. Grrrgh!
How are you finding the riding?
Hah! Careering over South America’s gravel for hundreds of miles has surfaced some dual frustrations—initially it was the Tortoise and the Hare scenario. What was bone-jarringly punishing for me was assuredly pleasing for Jason. Admittedly I should thank him for his largely unfaltering patience in allowing me to keep pace, even if he does occasionally tell me to “Suck it up, princess.” One day he’ll eat my dust. Jason loves blasting over the slidy stuff, it is fantastic fun. I’ve now developed a riding stamina akin to Jason’s to savour all day in the saddle. It’s biking bliss.
Do you meet many people riding motorcycles?
During sporadic intervals on the road, we’ve met someone and they’ve taken us into their home that is their sanctuary. We’ve transitioned from strangers to amigos, been made to feel comfortable and at ease in no time at all. It’s taken us totally unawares to just how unconditionally kind people are and have been; drawing us into the nucleus of their social circle, friends and family alike. I love it when others especially kids gravitate toward the bikes, are curious to find out more and share in the passion that comes with two-wheeled travel. Even oncoming drivers flash their lights and wave wildly upon seeing us ride past, some go berserk. It’s the people that are contributing most to this trip, without a doubt.
How are you finding travelling together as a couple?
The best thing about riding as a couple is the constant companionship. Two-wheeled travel bestows unexpected experiences upon you daily, phenomenal firsts and vistas that will make your soul sing. We’re very lucky to share all of that. Likewise when circumstances get tough, we’re together to problem solve and bounce ideas off each other. Essentially, wanting to see the same countries, travelling by the same means and living out an adventure side-by-side—nothing could make us happier right now. What’s the worst thing you may wonder? The constant companionship! Being with your ‘marvellous other’ 24/7 in often unpredictable and difficult conditions through foreign lands can be a challenge. It’s tested our relationship’s forbearance although we’re improving at recognising one another’s sources of irritation, even when we each become one, hah!
Is the experience better or worse than you expected?
South America has surpassed every single expectation. To Jason’s relief, I never knew I’d love spending more time off-road than on the smooth. It’s always off the highways in backcountry that we’ve been favoured with mini-adventures. Motorcycle travel is also much easier than we anticipated.
How is it different to how you imagined?
As stunning as Latin America is, there are unavoidable towns and cities that make it feel too tourist-magnet and European at times. There’s definitely more paved roads than either of us bargained for, which is sad in a way as it can impinge on that ‘in-the-heart-of-the-wilderness’ feeling when riding through jaw-on-the-floor panoramic landscape.
How is it better?
The spontaneity of it all I think. We wake up never knowing what’s in store for us, who or what we’ll encounter. Individuals we’ve met randomly are opening our minds to a planet of different perspectives. Argentina’s people have left a lifelong impression on us; we’re possibly becoming the most contented and friendliest versions of ourselves. It’s the most satisfying way we’ve travelled to date, overwhelming and grueling at times—but it’s the balance of highs and lows that somehow feeds the soul all the more. We’re thriving on it—it’s addictive.
Any regrets about how you've done it?
Due to the cargo ship’s availability we arrived in South America’s autumn/winter that proved nippy at best and numbingly cold at worst. It’s a tall order packing minimum clothing for all seasons, tons of tech and camping equipment; fully laden bikes are a pain to pick up and we drop them pretty often. Jason would opt for soft luggage next time and I’d probably ride a lighter bike that’s cheaper to fix on the road.
What were you initially most afraid of?
I had trepidation about having a major ‘offy’ on Pearl whereas in the back of Jason’s mind, he dreads giving up an adventurer’s life on two wheels and returning to his old one.
Where’s your favourite place that you have visited?
Could we give you our top five instead? Choosing just one is impossible; in no particular order:
- the Antarctic Peninsula (purest place on the planet)
- Cuyabeno Reserve, Amazon Rainforest, Ecuador (at one with Pachamama, Mother Earth)
- Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia (most surreal landscape to date)
- Cordillera Blanca, Huascaran National Park, Peru (spectacular if you’re a glutton for glaciers)
- Iruya, Argentina (stunning Latin American backwater village)
What item can you not live without?
I’d say our handmade ‘beer can’ stove as I can’t function without a good cuppa, and Jason wouldn’t be without his Thermarest sleeping mat; he can face anything when not deprived of a decent night’s kip.
What item do you wish you had but haven’t taken?
A Leatherman Charge multi-tool. Of all the items that are double duty, this item trumps everything else out of the water; we could have used one umpteen times over..!
Once we've had our fix of and fussy out of Central America, we'll wend our way through Mexico and into the States—staying on the west coast and to the mid-west. Canada will be up next and then it’s all the way to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, all things being equal. If bodies and budget allow, who knows, we may carry on, continue to stay on the Earth’s surface and ride all the way home!