(If you want to send Juan an encouraging message, leave it as a comment here and then also e-mail him at JuanCarlosRides@AutoDrill.com)
Juan has successfully completed trips from NJ to Alaska and back as well as a number of noteworthy accomplishments such as multiple Iron Butt runs, etc. Most of these journeys were taken on an older Honda Nighthawk 750.
Juan left New Jersey on Sunday, December 1, 2013 on his longest and greatest trip ever. Below are the details of his trip in chronological order. We hope to add some photos to this blog soon!
November 28, 2013: (Juan spends Thanksgiving with the owners / partners at AutoDrill. We consider him a part of our family!)
November 29 & 30, 2013: (Juan spends most of his waking hours making last minute preparations to the motorcycle, etc. Packing all of your earthly belongings onto a motorcycle for a multi-thousand mile trip is not easy!)
December 1, 2013: (Departure! Destination – A friend’s house in Virginia.)
December 3, 2013: (Juan has safely completed the first small part of his trip. He traveled from NJ to Virginia and then West Virginia where he met up with officials at the dealership he purchased his V-Strom from. He then went to town hall and got a certified document for international travel / import so that when he arrives in Argentina, he can actually bring the bike across the border. He claims the hotel is comfortable and hopes he can be on the road early today to head south into warmer weather.)
December 5, 2013: I am in a motel in LaGrange, Georgia, some 95 miles before Montgomery, Alabama. Yesterday the ride from West Virginia was very good and the temperature reached mid 50’s.
Today started well in Sylva, North Carolina, but after a while rained for an hour. Now is raining a little here in Georgia. Next time I will add a sidecar to the bike. It is a pain to load and unload the bike every day. I am not riding as many miles every day as I would like. I think I am getting older, and my Iron Butt days are over .
This is all the news for now.
December 7, 2013: I am in Junction, Texas. Today was a very cold day. I arrived at Junction and it was 29 degrees. I stopped at a McDonalds and I couldn’t stop shivering. I just sat for 15 minutes until I felt better. I was worried because of the low temperatures and the signs announcing the freezing conditions in the highway. I considered many times to stop, but I kept going, I don’t know if I am brave or stupid.
When going thru Alabama and Mississippi the weather was good, up into the low 80’s, with some rain. At that time, I put the Gerbing stuff in the bottom of the dry bag thinking that the cold weather was over. Big mistake!
Last night I spent the night on an incredible house in Houston, Texas. I was the guest of a person I met thru Horizons Unlimited, on their website. Really great!
It is going to take a couple of days to get to Tucson, Arizona. I am only riding 7 or 8 hours a day with no night riding.
Say hello to everybody.
December 9, 2013: Well, finally arrived today in Tucson at 4:30 PM. Today was a very nice day. I left Van Horn, TX, at 8:30 AM and traveled some 400+ miles. It wasn’t too cold, it eventually warmed up to 52 degrees. But it was very windy. I had to fight the cross winds for hour after hour after hour. Once I stopped at a rest stop and the wind made the bike drop to the ground, I jumped and clear the bike. I stood there looking at the bike on an empty rest stop. Eventually an UPS truck stopped and the driver (also a motorcycle rider) helped me and we both together were able to pick up the bike (no damage thanks to the guards and the hard cases).
Tomorrow I will go to a place here in Tucson that was recommended to me, and will buy a new rear tire. The one on the bike now may be good for another 1000 or 1500 miles, but I don’t want to take any chances in Mexico. Also I must buy the insurance for Mexico, I don’t want to spent time in a Mexican jail if I got involved in an accident.
Well, this is all for now.
December 10, 2013 – AM Update: The weather here has improved. Today may be in the 50’s.
On my way to Tucson I rode some places where I could see lots of cattle, I could smell them. (we had asked Juan whether the Western portion of Texas was as cattle-filled as we have heard it is.)
I am going to buy a new rear tire here in Tucson today, and the Mexican insurance for the motorcycle. Tomorrow morning I will be heading for Nogales, cross the border and hit the toll road. I learned that the actual Customs Building is some 21 kilometers south of the border, where I will get my permit and the one for the bike. Then put some distance from the border area, maybe 100 or 200 miles, and then stop at a motel.
(As a side note, we are handling most of Juan’s mail while he is traveling. Today, he received a bill and a refund from the same company as well as a Jury Duty notice… Talk about bad timing.)
December 10, 2013 – PM Update: Well, the day has finally arrived. I am about to leave my comfort zone. Mexico is a little of the unknown. I have been hearing conflicting reports. Some people say it is dangerous, others that just be careful and enjoy it. I am trying to be optimistic, I believe most people are good people, but anyway I feel a little anxious.
I am staying at a Best Western Hotel, here in Tucson. It is a nice place. Today I went to a BMW dealer that was recommended to me by a person from the Horizons Unlimited group, where I could get a rear tire for my bike. Finally I got a Heidenau K60, it is a kind of adventure tire, good for some off-road riding. It looks cool on the VStrom.
I also changed the oil in the rear parking lot of a Walmart. I bought the Mobil1 oil and an oil pan at the Walmart. They had a section where they repair cars, and the employees let me change the oil and then took the wasted oil. Not bad.
So everything is ready for crossing to Mexico tomorrow morning. VIVA ZAPATA!
December 11, 2013: It is 6AM here in Tucson, and I am just waking up and starting to get my stuff together. Too much stuff.
I expect to cross the border at a place just outside Nogales, used mostly by trucks, to avoid riding thru the center of Nogales, and then down Mexico 15D which is a toll road and “safer.”
It is only 280 miles, but the toll road is in no way at the same level as our roads in the US. I think they should have paid me to ride it.
There is a lot of construction going on, so every now and then the two lane on each direction (it is a divided road) will become only one in each direction. They close one side while working. Many sections are in poor condition, with broken pavement and potholes. On top of that it rained on and off all the day.
You can tell which drivers are Canadian or American as they are the only ones to signal while changing lanes or turning. The Mexicans are unpredictable and in some cases even dangerous if you are riding a bike.
Finally I arrived at “Los Mochis” and checked in one of the hotels I saw on that guide I bought from that person in Canada. I am not too happy because it looks like there are long term residents and a lot of kids running up and down the hallway. It is very basic. At least it offers secure parking for the bike.
Hope to put some more miles tomorrow if the weather helps.
The only problem I had was that after stopping at one of the toll booth the V-Strom refused to start. After a few tries, I moved the bike out of the way and tried several more times. It would crank, but not start. The fuel injection light came on and showed a FI failure. The young guy at the toll booth came out and offered to call the emergency service (the toll includes emergencies service). I told him to wait a little. Some ten minutes later I tried again and it started right away. It is a mystery. Never happened again.
In Mazatlan I found a nice hotel in what is called the “Zona Dorada: (Golden Zone). It was located right in front of the ocean. The rest of Mazatlan is not that nice. So far I have seen a lot of poverty and garbage in some parts of Mexico.
Today I traveled from Mazatlan to the small town of San Blas, further south. It was described as a small fishing village, but again I was disappointed. It was not what I expected.
Also today I tried the free highway or “Libre”. I didn’t feel any difference compared to the toll road or “Cuota”, other than this one has only one lane on each direction. Yesterday I spent around 20 dollars on the toll road. One section of sixty miles cost me more than 5 dollars. The cars pay double that.
Well, this is all for today.
December 16, 2013: Well, finally I found a very nice village called “Playa Perula“, some two and a half hours ride south of Puerto Vallarta. A Canadian couple I met before in San Carlos mentioned that they owned a house there, where they spend the winter months. They told me it was very nice and quiet that I decided to skip the big city of Puerto Vallarta and stop at this place. I arrived yesterday evening, and liked it as soon as I saw it. I checked in at a very nice motel and decided to stay another day and enjoy the beach.
Yesterday I rode the Highway 200. It follows the west coast of Mexico all the way from around “San Blas” to the border with Guatemala. It is a slow road, but offers a better view than the main Highway 15.
I have not had any problem getting gas. All gas station are PEMEX (Petroleos Mexicanos), and are everywhere. The price of gas is around 12 pesos (1 dollar) a liter, that means around 4 dollars a gallon.
So far no “bandidos”, but I wouldn’t like to have a mechanical problem in highway 200, because it runs in some areas thru very dense forest.
Some sections of 200 are under construction, and could be dangerous riding at night. I have seen parts where there was almost no shoulder, and next to it a sharp drop of at least ten feet alongside the road for may be a quarter of a mile that was excavated. Can you imagine, in the middle of the night, pulling to the side of the road for any reason and finding there is no shoulder? Ouch! That is one reason for not riding at night.
Even during the day, I have seen people walking on the shoulder of the toll road. Bicycles, motorcycles, all of them in either direction. So you could see a motorcycle coming at you on your right shoulder of the road. Then there are the horses and cows eating the grass next to the shoulder of the road. It is very interesting, to say the least.
I have seen many pick up trucks carrying security forces in army fatigues and armed, patrolling the roads. Even at some toll booths one can see security personnel with what look like AK47’s. Also the Federal Police are constantly patrolling the road. So far I feel safe (or lucky, who knows).
Well, I am going to get ready to go to the beach, and have breakfast enjoying the view of the Pacific Ocean.
Till next time.
December 16, 2013 – PM Update: Still enjoying my stay in Playa Perula. This morning I had a nice mid morning meal at the beach. I had “huevos rancheros” with a bottle of beer. Can’t get this at McDonald’s. Very hot meal, and I mean “hot”.
The beach is beautiful. I spent some time walking the beach this afternoon and watching the pelicans flying very low over the water looking for fish, and then gaining altitude and all of the sudden diving like a kamikaze and disappearing under the water for a second tying to catch the fish.
It is 9 PM and I just came back from having a Mexican meal together with the Canadian couple I met a few days ago. They told me about this this beautiful place that is Playa Perula, where they spend part of the year in a house they built here.
Finally I am sending a couple of pictures I took today. As you can see “I don’t need no stinkin’ helmet or protective gear to ride in town”. 😀
I decided to stay another day here. I am recharging my batteries. That sounds like a good excuse, right?
December 17, 2013 – Well, just relaxing. This is the good life. The temperature reached the mid to high 80’s.
Last night I stopped by the house of this Canadian couple I met before. We had dinner in town.
We had tacos and quesadillas with beer. Very tasty. The “restaurants” are very informal. They are usually set up in the front of a small building or a private house, then they put chairs and tables on the sidewalk or on the street. This was right in front of the town square. Kind of unusual for us in the States. I guess they don’t need any permit or license to do this. They all sell beer (of course no liquor license required).
Today I went for breakfast to the same place I went yesterday. It feels great to sit at a few feet from the water. Today I had “huevos estrellados with frijoles” (a kind of fried eggs with beans), this time with coffee. I have to slow down with the Corona beer. I took a picture of the three bottles of hot sauce they brought with breakfast.
Tomorrow I will hit the road again. As much as I love this place, I must keep going.
December 18, 2013 – This morning I left Playa Perula.
I wanted to ride the highway 200 that follows the Pacific coast. but the Hotel owner warned me about the dangers. He told me that I should be careful about SUVs parked in the gas station, because it could be the Bandidos (criminals), fully armed and waiting for travelers stopping for gas. So I decided to take the toll road (boring!), that is safer than the 200.
This morning he told me that he heard that the Police and the Army where sending troops to the Highway 200 due to the holidays ahead. So I said let’s ride this road.
So I left Playa Perula , and as soon I was leaning town, I saw an Army post. Well, these people should know better I thought. So, I stopped in front of the building, and right away a young soldier came out. He looked kind of nervous. He was carrying a rifle, pointed at the ground, but with his finger on the trigger, ready to shoot.
He asked me, in an authoritarian way: “What do you want?” So I stopped right away and didn’t move. I let him come towards me until he stopped, and I explained my reason for being there. He then changed his attitude and explained to me that the road I wanted to take was very dangerous. That I could be robbed of everything, including my bike, by armed criminals. That the Army have checkpoints along the road, but the criminals operate in between them.
So, back to the boring toll roads.
This afternoon I arrived at the city of Colima, in the State of Colima. The hotel looks OK. I paid some 8 dollars extra and they let me use the air conditioner. Today the temperature reached 92 degrees (33c).
I would like to thank everybody that sent me messages. Thank You!
December 21, 2013 – I think you will like this picture. This guy was driving down the toll road at 70mph (113 km/h). I thought of a caption like this for this picture, “Ramon, are you listening to me? When are going to finish loading the truck!”
December 21, 2013 – Well the problem with the bike got worse. Today was the third time it refused to start. It would crank but not fire. Today I sopped for gas and it died. This time I tried everything and nothing…
All of the sudden after more than an hour it started and ran. I headed for the Kawasaki dealer, stopped at their door and again it would not restart. The head mechanic came out and took a look but couldn’t do anything. He mentioned that the people that own the tire store next door also own a new Suzuki dealership in town. Well, finally some good news. He managed to get in touch with the Suzuki people, and half an our later they were there with a pick up truck. They loaded and secure the bike and all my luggage and took everything to their shop. They took everything apart – fairing, fuel tank and miscellaneous parts. They have a laptop with the Suzuki software to diagnose the problem. It looks like the fuel pump is not receiving power at times. They tell me that it may be one of the electrical wires gets hot or something and interferes with the pump. The pump is hopefully good, because they can hear it when we turn the ignition on. They also claim that most problems occur when people add wiring (like me, I guess).
They will work today for a couple of hours and they will continue on Monday. They were extremely accommodating. They even took me and my cases back to the hotel I was in last night, and the manager gave me his cell phone in case I needed something.
Well, at least it didn’t happen in the middle of nowhere, and I found people capable of fixing it (I hope). Will see how much the hourly rate is for the dealers in Mexico. The warranty is no good outside the USA.
So, now I am back at the hotel and resting until Monday. I hope it just a wiring problem, because parts may take several days to come from the Capital, Mexico City.
December 23, 2013 – I got the bike back and it is running. The problem according to the dealer is that there was an intermittent short between two wires on the fuel pump circuit. They taped them and now they are protected.
So now for the cost of this emergency. Saturday they came to the Kawasaki dealer and brought the bike to their shop. They worked on the bike for a couple of hours. They took me back to the hotel. Today they worked, I guess for another hour. The bike is fixed and running. They were running the bike in the shop when I arrived at 10 AM.
Now for the cost of all this (no warranty coverage) a total of ……….. 300 pesos (USD$25).
I could not believe it. I thought it would be ten times this amount. And the people at the dealership were super friendly. And they let you be in their shop next to the mechanic when working on your bike. (Try that in the States).
So now I am getting ready to go out to a few places they recommended around Puebla, and at the same time test drive the motorcycle.
I think I will stay in Puebla till Thursday morning. I am not comfortable riding on the highway during the holiday. Besides, I can keep testing the bike going places not far from this city.
Well, I hope the V-Strom behaves from now on.
December 23, 2013 – PM UPDATE – Here I am with my new friends from the Suzuki dealership in Puebla.
The one in the middle is the mechanic that fixed my bike. They are all very nice people. So, now I will visit some places around Puebla for the next couple of days, and then Thursday morning back on the road to Veracruz.
December 28, 2013 – Thursday morning I left Puebla for Tuxtla Gutierrez in Chiapas. The first couple of hours the weather was nice, but then a little rain. The temperature started to drop. The road for the most part takes you to more than 7000 ft. of altitude. In some places the fog was dense. It is a good thing the V-Strom has hazard lights, because I was worried about being rear ended. I believe I ended up riding at almost 8000 ft.
I didn’t make to Tuxtla Gutierrez because the last three hours was stop and go. I was told some part of a bridge collapsed. I ended up riding at night, something everybody tells you not to do. The stop and go got me very tired, and at the end I could feel I was not in full control of the bike. We were not moving more than 10 may be 20 feet at a time.
Finally I came to my exit to Tuxtla Gutierrez, and the traffic on this road was very light, but the potholes made the ride unsafe. So at the next toll booth and after hitting a couple of good size potholes I decided to look for a hotel in “Las Choapas“.
The six mile detour to this small town was terrible. I had to avoid potholes of every size and shape you can imagine. Just before the town I saw several tree branches sticking up on the road on my side of the road. Believe it or not, some 30 feet of my lane had disappeared, maybe washout because of some heavy rains. It looks like people do that to warn others of the danger. Another reason not to ride at night. Very scary.
Yesterday I left Las Choapas in the morning, with light rain again, and headed for “San Cristobal de las Casas.” Like I always do, I asked three or four different people for directions, because sometimes the answers are not the same, and then I go with the one I feel is the right one (I hope).
Their answers were different from what the GPS told me. I went with the locals, but the entrance to the road was a nightmare. A full city block of a muddy road covered wit potholes in such a way that was impossible not to run over them.
So, I didn’t want to go back some ten miles to the other highway, and kept going. I made it, barely. What a ride!
Then for the next twenty miles the GPS kept telling me to turn around, until I turned it off. Finally I made it to “Tuxtla Gutierrez”, had lunch and kept going to “San Cristobal de las Casas.”
First I stopped for gas and the people there told me to take the “libre” (free road, not the toll road), because is a scenic road.
So much for the scenic road! It soon started to climb, and a dense fog covered everything, and the temperature that was 70 degrees, dropped some 20 degrees, and there was nowhere to stop and add some more clothing or change my still wet gloves. My hands were freezing. I kept climbing till I reached 8000 feet. I could not see more than 30 feet ahead, and I was following the yellow line on the middle of the road, at may be 15 mph the most. It is one of those moments when you say to yourself “What am I doing here?”
It was a relief when I saw the altitude reading on the GPS going down, and then the visibility improving.
So, now I am in the hotel, resting and planning my next day of riding. Soon I will be crossing from Mexico to Guatemala.
Until next time, I wish everybody a Happy New Year!
December 28, 2013 – PM UPDATE – Well, this was a very nice morning. I met these two cute girls at the hotel. They insisted on taking pictures with me. Well, how can I refuse, right?
I rode from “San Cristobal de las Casas” to “Ciudad Cuauhtemoc” on the border with Guatemala, thinking I could stop at a hotel there and cross the border the following morning. I went thru a couple of military checkpoints, but they waved me thru, no problem. The town was horrible, so were the couple of hotels I saw. It was too late to cross to Guatemala, so I turned around and rode back some 45 miles to the city of “Comitan.” I found a decent hotel and I am now resting, so tomorrow I can go back to the border and try again early in the morning.
December 30, 2013 – (We had forwarded a number of e-mails with comments from people like you. We thought he would enjoy them…) Wow, how many e-mails from you!
(We had suggested that a smaller 250cc motorcycle might have been more appropriate for the rough roads)
You were right , sometimes I wish I had the Super Sherpa (a 250cc Kawasaki bike one of AutoDrill’s owners has and enjoys). The V-Strom is very good but sometimes, in slow traffic or in town it is like handling an elephant. Many times I came close to dropping the bike. Also, I had problems with the speed bumps (topes, tumulus, etc). They come in different shapes and sizes. Some are nice, if you come too fast, you take off and land smoothly. Others, no matter how slow you take them, the skid plate hits them, and the sound is not something you want to hear. I must have gone through these ones a hundred times, but the skid plate is still in very good shape. Then the really bad ones, you can tell they are going to be trouble, if you try very, very slow you may got stuck with one wheel ahead and the other behind the speed bump, a little faster and the ugly bump and bounce makes you sick.
I hate the speed bumps. Hundreds of them every day.
It will continue…
December 31, 2013 – I was very glad to receive all your mail. Nothing to be sorry about, on the contrary.
Last Saturday I left San Cristobal de las Casas, a very nice city, many tourists there. I tried to reach the border and cross to Guatemala. I still have to get used to allowing extra time when calculating riding distances. It is not like back in the States. You have to go thru small towns and that slows you down a lot. So I made it to Cuauhtemoc a little late in the afternoon and the town look horrible and so did the couple of hotels there, so I turned around and rode almost 50 miles back to Comitan, found a hotel with the help of the local Tourist Office, and Sunday morning headed back to the border. I made it to the border around 2 PM, and everything was kind of confusing.
I misunderstood the directions from the border guard, and was processed with my bike into El Salvador, this done by a very cute Customs Agent, that did everything for me. She even made the photocopies in the Customs photocopy machine (other people were sent out to a little shop outside).
We talked about my trip and where I was spending New Year’s Eve. I told her, “The same way I spent Christmas, all by myself in the hotel.” Then she asked me “Wouldn’t you like to spend New Year’s Eve at my house with my family?”
Well, what a nice surprise. Of course I said yes.
So here I am, ready to celebrate and receive the New Year with a Salvadorean family, and a very cute lady. 😀
Well, after I finished with the temporary import permit into El Salvador, I realized that I had not processed the bike out of Guatemala, so I had to do that, and also get my passport stamped by the Guatemalan Immigration also. Then back to El Salvador Immigration, and get my passport stamped to be allowed into the country. I guess riding on the highway at high altitudes (it reached 9900 ft in parts of the road) affected my brain. 😉
I would like to thank everybody that have sent me messages (I love reading them), and wish all of you a very happy New Year.
Till next year.
December 31, 2013 – PM Update – (We told Juan Carlos that he did not have enough room for a passenger. Seeing as he is meeting all these lovely ladies, we figured he might be upset that the bike was so loaded down with gear and unable to take on another rider.)
Well, It may be that I am a very likable individual.
As far as carrying a passenger, I can tell you, this lady is worth throwing half of my luggage on the side of the road. I wouldn’t think twice about it!
People are very helpful. Even if they are not sure about the route, they try and give you directions. Sometimes you end up somewhere else, but that’s part of the adventure.
This hotel I am now is very nice. It is called “Tolteka Plaza Hotel“, in Santa Ana. The neighborhood looks very nice, but it is not safe to walk at night. My bike is in a locked parking lock, with barbed wire on top of the walls, and a security guard carrying a shotgun, day and night. The security guard explained to me that a few block away there is this gang, I believe is called “The 18“, and they are dangerous, of course. Last night I was going to walk half a mile to the shopping mall, were you can find Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Burger King (this looks like NJ), but my new friend Cristina told me to ride the bike, because it was not safe to walk down that road. When I arrived at Burger King I was greeted by another armed guard, they are everywhere!
The only downside of this trip is that I don’t have enough time to stop and smell the roses, due to the short time I have to reach Argentina and go thru Customs before my permit expire. I have been thinking on buying one of those Voodoo dolls you can stick needles in it thinking is the Argentinean Consul in New York, that wouldn’t give some more time to get to Argentina with my bike.
(Juan needs to make it to Argentina before the middle of February otherwise the government will not allow him to properly import his motorcycle, etc. He tried to extend the deadline while here in the USA but they refused to re-issue the paperwork for him. It has caused him to make his departure and trip in a very rushed fashion.)
My knowledge of Spanish have allow me to communicate with a lot of people on the street. I also, when in town, stop and ask questions to the local Police, or Police Officers directing traffic. Sometimes they even stop traffic and allow me to make turns on the spot, that otherwise would get me a ticket. How can they do otherwise if you approach them with a good attitude and show respect for the uniform.
I have heard about people being asked for bribes from the police, so far nothing like that has happened to me (I emphasize the “so far”).
The V-Strom is running beautiful. We have been thru mountain ranges in Guatemala where the GPS showed altitudes of up to 9900 ft. Very cold when at that altitude!
(Juan says his sister and all her friends, and my friends love this page with the trip details. Why not share it with someone who would appreciate it too! He loves the comments and notes he receives too.)
It may have been that riding at almost 10000 ft affected my brain (or may be it was the cute Custom Officer?), but after I crossed the Mexico to Guatemala border (on my own, no help) on Sunday, I rode thru Guatemala with the intention of stopping in the city of Antigua. Traffic was slow and couldn’t make it, so I took a detour to Panajachel, next to a nice lake and spent the night there.
The next day I decided to travel to the border crossing to El Salvador. I had three options, one of them would have taken me away from my path, to the Pacific coast, so I kept going towards the other two. When I got to a fork on the road I saw two signs, so I had to make a decision – left or right. So I decided to take the left, and the rest is history. It was a very lucky decision. Welcome to El Salvador!
(Juan then went on to apologize to us for not telling more about his Guatemala travels… But it was mostly an apology to the AutoDrill Web Guy who is building this page so we will spare you the details.)
January 4, 2014 – I have been in El Salvador for five days now, and am very happy to be here. I have met very nice people. Everybody makes me feel at home.
My friend Cristina, has taken me to places in El Salvador and we have tasted traditional Salvadorean food. Everything was very good, Cristina is an unbelievable woman. I can’t believe how lucky I was to have met her. I can’t think anything better could possible happen on my trip.
Till next time – Juan Carlos
January 9, 2014 – (Juan is currently in Honduras and hopes to enter Nicaragua very soon – he may already be there! He will provide more information for us as soon as he has a reliable method of sending e-mails again.)
Last Monday, I arrived at Panama City. First thing I did I went to the Airport’s Cargo Terminal to find out about flying my motorcycle to Bogota, Colombia.
The company that soes that is Girag. I asked them how soon they would fly my motorcycle, and they told me next Thursday. I could bring the bike the day before and do the papersork. So I went back to the city, checked in a hotel, and the next day I visited the Panama Canal. I went to the “Miraflores Locks”, There is a Visitor’s Center, where you can see the Panama Canal history, and a theater where they show a movie about the construction of the canal. And if you are there at the right time you can even see a ship being transported thru the locks.
On Wednesday I went back to the cargo terminal, left my motorcycle with Girag, paid the U$902 to have the motorcycle flown to Bogota, Colombia, and took a taxi to the passengers terminal where I bought a ticket for myself, for another U$475. So, because of the jungle on what is known as the “Darien Gap”, I had to spent almost U$1400. The flight from Panama City to Bogota, Colombia lasts about 1 and a half hours.
I arrived at the airport in Bogota Wednesday night, about 9PM, I didn’t feel like taking a taxi to the city, finding a hotel, and coming back to the airport early next morning, so I stayed at the airport. Those were some 11 long hours, until I walked to the cargo terminal, some quarter of a mile from the passenger’s terminal.
Girag’s people told me the bike would be there early in the morning. It was not. The plane, they told me was on its way to Panama City, and it would be back around noon. It wasn’t. It finally arrived around 3PM. This plus all the paperwork with Customs took most of the day.
As soon as I got the bike from Girag and cleared Customs, I hit the road south towards the border with Ecuador.
The roads in Colombia are very good, for the most part. A couple of hours ago I arrived at the city of “Pasto”, some 85 miles from the Ecuadorian border. Today I had to ride the motorcycle at night on the Colombian mountains. I was not to happy being on that winding road, on the middle of nowhere, riding at some 5000 feet of altitude in total darkness, the only light my headlight.
So tomorrow I will be in Ecuador. Then will be Peru, Chile and finally Argentina.After spending over a week in El Salvador, I had to leave or risking to be too late for importing the bike into Argentina.
I left Santa Ana Wednesday morning. The maps I loaded in the GPS for Central America are not that good. So now and then I get lost, usually in the big cities.
This happened to me in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. I asked for directions a couple of times, but I missed the exits both times. So, when I saw some soldiers just past a traffic light, I stopped and asked again for directions. Well, I was riding on the opposite direction I was supposed to be riding. The problem was that it was a divided highway. So I asked the soldiers how far ahead was the next intersection where I could make a U-Turn. “Don’t worry” they said, while stopping traffic. You should see how fast traffic stops when facing armed soldiers!
So they told me to back up and get in front of traffic at the intersection and make a left turn when the light turns green. So I thanked them, and did as they told me. It felt very good to have the army on my side.
I kept going for a few hours until I reached the Honduras border. Like any other border you must go through Immigration and Customs. You get your passport stamped out of the country you have been visiting, then make sure you cancel the temporary import permit for your motorcycle. Then to the next country where you stop at the immigration office where again they stamp your passport, and then to Customs to get the new temporary import permit for your bike. It all seems very easy, but it is time consuming. At some borders it may take hours. It helps to bring several photocopies of your documents and those of your motorcycle. Some countries require that you buy insurance for your vehicle, something you must do right at the border.
The most annoying thing about the borders are the so called “tramitadores” (helpers). You can’t get rid of them. They keep following you even after you tell them you don’t need any help. I heard that they take advantage of people that don’t know the language, “help” them to get the necessary paperwork done, but then they overcharge them with non-existent fees.
I stopped in Honduras just for one night in Nacaome. Next morning I continued to Nicaragua. Just before reaching Nicaragua, and for the first time I was stopped by the Police at a checkpoint. When I notice a checkpoint I try to ride behind a truck so that they see me at the last second and by then it is too late to stop me. But this time it didn’t work.
The officer pointed at me and then to the side of the road. Okay, this is it. Get your money ready. I stopped, opened my helmet, took off my gloves, and started looking for my wallet with the documents, when the officer approached me and shook hands with me and asked me how I was doing.
“Oh, just great, admiring your beautiful country!” I answered. A big smile on his face. Well, things are looking better. He started asking questions about my trip and my bike. One by one the other officers came also and I ended up shaking hands with 4 or 5 officers, including the one with the radar gun. He asked me how fast one could ride with the V-Strom. I told him that I didn’t know because I always ride below the speed limit, and they all started laughing. Finally we all shook hands again and they wished me a safe trip. I was never asked for my documents. I guess I was lucky this time.
Crossing into Nicaragua took a while. The problem is that every border crossing is a little different. Some are kind of confusing, some you have to go around looking for the right person to process the Temporary Import Permit for your bike, also where to buy the insurance when required. And then the lines, and going back and forth getting photocopies. I carry a bunch of photocopies, but sometimes they want copies of the page on your passport showing the entry stamp, or they want 2 or 3 copies of this or that. And this takes time…
I tried to make it to Costa Rica on the same day, but I didn’t want to risk getting on the other side of the border after dark. So I made it to “San Juan del Sur“, a nice tourist town on the Pacific coast. It is a very nice place.
Next morning, I got back on the Panamerican Highway and and rode to the Nicaraguan/Costa Rica border of “Peñas Blancas“. It is a very busy border crossing, it took me three and a half hours getting through it, on a hot day. On the Costa Rica side the police work with Customs and check the vehicles before letting them through. So, you must find the officer in charge and then follow him as he goes from car to car, checking everything, as people must take every piece of luggage out of the vehicle and the officer opens everything. If you are lucky, after a while you get his attention. In my case he asked me a couple of questions, and when he saw I was riding a motorcycle, he just signed my paper and let me go.
Well, by the time I got out of there it was noon. I asked the people at the checkpoint before hitting the road about a nice place to stop for the night in Costa Rica, and they recommended “Puntarenas“, a place some 130 miles ahead. Just keep in mind that it takes longer to ride some distance that what it takes back in the States. I usually average from 30 to 40 miles per hour, depending on the roads. These are not interstates highways. Sometimes you go through small towns or behind slow moving trucks or buses.
So, I arrived on Puntarenas, and by the time the sun started to go down I decided I didn’t like it much, so I kept going, got lost again, and finally after asking a local guy I ended up on a nice hotel called “Costa del Sol“, it was 64 dollars for the night but included breakfast.
I found out that hotels in Central America are not as inexpensive as I thought, at least if you expect something nice and clean with safe parking for your bike. You may find something for $20 or $25 US dollars, but the better ones go for at least $35 or $40 US dollars, and more.
My bike was parked overnight in a secure parking lot, next to the hotel, guarded by a couple of not so nice or friendly pit bulls. This place was very nice. Next morning I had the best breakfast I had since leaving New Jersey. It started with a great fruit salad, juice, and then coffee and fried eggs with something called “Pinto“, a traditional dish of Costa Rica, made with rice and beans mixed together with spices such as cilantro onions and peppers.
Well, this is it for now.
January 18, 2014 – (Juan is currently traveling as quickly as he can towards the border of Argentina and ultimately Buenos Ares. Because of the fact that he must arrive by a certain date and the fact that the deadline is approaching quickly, he will likely send less information to us for now. We will post whatever information we receive but expect much less than normal.)
Last Monday, I arrived at Panama City. First thing I did I went to the Airport’s Cargo Terminal to find out about flying my motorcycle to Bogota, Colombia. The company that does that is Girag. I asked them how soon they would fly my motorcycle, and they told me next Thursday. They said I could bring the bike the day before and do the paperwork.
So I went back to the city, checked in a hotel, and the next day I visited the Panama Canal. I went to the “Miraflores Locks“, There is a Visitor’s Center, where you can see the Panama Canal history, and a theater where they show a movie about the construction of the canal. And if you are there at the right time you can even see a ship being transported through the locks.
On Wednesday I went back to the cargo terminal, left my motorcycle with Girag, paid the $902 USD to have the motorcycle flown to Bogota, Colombia, and took a taxi to the passengers terminal where I bought a ticket for myself which cost another $475 USD. So, because of the jungle on what is known as the “Darien Gap“, I had to spent almost U$1400. (The “Darien Gap” is said to be virtually impossible to cross for most people. Click both links to learn more.)
The flight from Panama City to Bogota, Colombia lasts about 1 and a half hours. I arrived at the airport in Bogota Wednesday night, about 9PM. I didn’t feel like taking a taxi to the city, finding a hotel, and coming back to the airport early next morning, so I stayed at the airport. Those were some 11 long hours until I walked to the cargo terminal, about a quarter of a mile from the passenger’s terminal. Girag’s people told me the bike would be there early in the morning. It was not. The plane, they told me was on its way to Panama City, and it would be back around noon. It wasn’t. It finally arrived around 3PM. This plus all the paperwork with Customs took most of the day.
The roads in Colombia are very good, for the most part. A couple of hours ago I arrived at the city of “Pasto“, some 85 miles from the Ecuadorian border. Today I had to ride the motorcycle at night on the Colombian mountains. I was not too happy being on that winding road, on the middle of nowhere, riding at some 5000 feet of altitude in total darkness, the only light my headlight.
January 21, 2014 – A few comments about my short stay in Colombia. One very good thing, motorcycles don’t pay a toll on the highways. The first time I approached a toll booth in the middle of heavy traffic, a police officer came towards me waving his arms and saying, “No, NO, NO! You don’t have to pay the toll, just move all the way to the right and use the narrow lane for motorcycles, otherwise they will charge you the regular toll.” Easier said than done, I had to move three lanes to the right. Impossible with all that traffic. So, again I had help from the authorities. The officer stopped traffic and I was able to turn right and approach the motorcycle lane. But there is one problem – this lane is a narrow path with high curbs on both sides. So, I had to turn paralell to the motorcycle lane against traffic and then make a U-turn and finally ride this narrow lane. To make things a little more difficult, they build speed bumps at both ends of this lane, and sometimes another one half way through. Because it is a narrow path, you had better hold your bike straight in line or it will bounce off one or both shoulders, and that is no fun! I believed I went thru may be twenty toll booths, so I saved quite a bit of money.
When you take your vehicle through Colombia, even as a tourist you must buy insurance. The problem was that nobody was selling that insurance at the airport. It is sold at many places, either by insurance agents or at gas stations. The problem is they can only sell it on a yearly basis, that means around $180 American dollars. Other tourists had been able to buy it at some insurance companies for a minimum of one month, but I didn’t find any. So, I decided to risk it and ride without it. I was going to be in Colombia for only three days. The problem is that the Police can impound your bike and fine you for an amount higher than the cost of one year’s coverage. I was lucky, I left Colombia without being stopped by the Police.
The roads in Colombia are very good. You must allow extra time, because when going through the mountains, traffic can be slow. If you are stuck behind some truck driving very slow, you have a choice. Either try to balance your bike going uphill at 10 or 15 miles per hour behind the truck and breathe in all those diesel fumes, or ignore the double yellow lines and get ahead – risking finding somebody coming towards you in the opposite direction. It makes for a very interesting and exciting ride.
Motorcycles are everywhere in Colombia. There must be millions of them. And they ride like crazy, no wonder car drivers don’t like them. I have also seen cases such as a couple riding a motorcycle carrying a couple of small children. The worst I have seen was a couple riding a motorcycle and the woman was carrying a very small, maybe a month old baby in her arms, without any protection. I couldn’t help it but think what would happen to this baby in an accident.
I have been avoiding the big cities. Traffic is a nightmare everywhere. Besides, I enjoy the small towns and the opportunity to chat with the local people.
January 21, 2014 –(Juan sent us some photos from his trip but with only brief descriptions. We believe these are from January 21, but may be from previous portions of his trip.)
Here are a couple of pictures. Picture one – When you see, around here, a sign behind a truck, that says: “Caution, very long vehicle”, you had better believe it.
Picture two – I managed to take this picture with my bike on the opposite side of the road, in a section where the fog was not that dense. At an altitude of 10,000 feet on the Ecuadorean mountains.
(Juan says that it looks like in Central America, this time of the year is the dry season. But he also says that down in the part of South America he is currently in, it may be the opposite. He says it rains frequently. According to him, it rained last night and today he will have more rain. The temperature yesterday while riding up in the mountains at 10,000 ft elevation, it was around 50 degrees. But down where he is now at only 2,000 ft elevation, it was in the high 80’s.)
January 26, 2014 – I have been trying to put some miles the past few days. Too bad I can not spend more time because some places are very nice. Maybe on my next trip.
I rode thru Ecuador, and found the roads to be very good. I spent quite a bit of time riding up and down the mountain roads, with the usual rain, fog, and lots of turns. It reminds me of the “Tail of the Dragon” (US129 in North Carolina).
I was surprised by the price of gasoline in Ecuador. It is really very low. The picture shows the price per gallon in American dollars.
I was a little worried about the Ecuador/Peru border. I had read reports that the area was a mess, and to be careful. But they have built a brand new, beautiful complex, out of town, and now I can tell you, is the best border crossing so far. The only problem was that in order to check my motorcycle out of Ecuador I had to ride five miles back, because the Customs building is not yet integrated with the rest of the facility. But it was a minor thing.
This time I bought the insurance right at the border. I bought a one month liability coverage for $35 dollars. I had heard stories about the police on the Panamerican road stopping people and asking for it. So, better safe than sorry. More about the Peruvian Police later…
After crossing the Ecuador/Peru border at Huaquillas I continue on the Panamerican road, along the coast. After a while I could see the Pacific Ocean. Beautiful beaches. Well, I like this. After all that rain and fog, this was something to relax and enjoy. I stopped at a small town and found a hotel right at the beachfront. The room had a full view of the ocean. The water was no more than a 100 feet from the hotel (no Tsunami, please). The picture shows the view from my room. A place to stay several days!
Next day, back on the road. Riding through the desert and no more beaches. Dunes everywhere, just dunes and strong crosswinds, for hours. I had to lean the motorcycle against the wind, watching the sand being blown across the highway. And when you think it can’t get any worst, the sign on the side of the road says “Sandblasting Area.” What!?! You must be kidding!!! And it got worse. It felt like a wind tunnel. I could feel the sand blowing very hard. I was worried about traffic on the opposite side of the road because the wind sometimes would push me too far into the oncoming traffic lane. I was lucky and nothing bad happened.
The roads in Peru so far are in very good shape. I was able to put some 500 miles behind me that day and more than 300 miles the next.
I arrived at Lima, Peru, yesterday afternoon. I had my first encounter with the police. I was riding through very heavy traffic – heavy and crazy traffic. I was going at the same speed as everybody else when I heard a siren on my right. I looked up and I see this Police pickup truck, and the driver is pointing at me and to the side of the road. OK, now what. What did I do now!?! I stopped, and soon an officer approached me. First there was small talk. Where are you from, where are you going, blah, blah, blah. Then he tells me. “You know, back there there is a school sign where you are supposed to ride at 25 kilometers per hour (15 miles per hour).” On the Panamerican Highway, can you believe it!, and then he continues, “and you went by at 48 kilometers per hour (30 miles per hour).” Okay, I see it coming… How much? So, he pulls this little book and points an infraction out to me and says, “This is going to cost you 150 soles (about $55 dollars), and you must pay this at the Bank. But if you want to save your time just give 25 to me and I will take care of it for you.” What a nice officer, trying to save my time! I told him I only had 10 soles with me, that was all I had. Of course he said that was not enough and added “You must have dollars.”
So I pulled my emergency wallet, where I carry some expired cards and a few dollars, in case somebody tries to rob me. This is the one I would surrender, not the other one with all my documents and money. So I opened the wallet and he sees a $5 dollar bill and a couple of one dollar bills, and he tells me “Give me that $5 dollar bill and you can go.”
So I did that, he wishes me a safe trip and goes back to the truck. Not only corrupt, but cheap. Can you believe it, $5 dollars!
January 30, 2014 – Well, last Saturday I arrived at Lima, Peru. After that small incident with the local police I tried to locate a couple of places where I could buy a new front tire for my motorcycle. The first place was closing for the day and they told me to come back Monday morning. So I decided to try the second. This was past 3:00 in the afternoon, so I decided to just find out where in this big city this place was located, and then come back on Monday. Both places were suggested to me thru HorizonsUnlimited.com, the group I always talk about.
So I get there and ring the bell, but I’m not sure if somebody will answer because it looked closed. So this lady answers and asks me to come in. That is how I met Ivan and Ines, the owners of “Motoviajerosperu“, a Touratech dealer in Peru. They are wonderful people. They showed me the tires available for my motorcycle. But not only that, once I decided which one I wanted, they helped me remove the wheel from motorcycle. They then loaded the wheel and the new tire on their car, took me to a tire repair shop where the new tire was installed. They invited me for dinner, then back to their shop where we installed the wheel back on the bike. Then, they made calls to several hotels until they found one for me and made a reservation. I can’t thank them enough for all they did for me. If you are ever in Lima. Peru, this is the place!
I have been riding the Panamerican highway. In Peru, it runs close to the coastline. Sometimes you can even see the Pacific Ocean while riding. The problem is that for the most part it is very windy, and there is sand everywhere. A few times I faced what looked like a sandstorm, I could not see more than 50 or 100 feet ahead. It was kind of scary when you have traffic coming on the other direction. At the end of the day I was exhausted from fighting strong crosswinds almost all day. Some sections of the road that are not windy can be very enjoyable. You have to be careful with slow moving trucks. As the highway sometimes runs thru mountain ranges, trucks sometimes slow down to a point that they hardly move, and you have no choice but pass them even if there is a double yellow line. That makes for very interesting situations if you are not very careful. You could all of a sudden be facing an incoming bus or truck, with no place to go.
It has been almost 2 months since I left New Jersey, USA. It has been a wonderful experience so far. Too bad I can’t spend more time in some of these places.
Maybe next time.
January 31, 2014 – (When we received the photos below, we commented that Juan’s photos make the place look like a desert. The following is his response)
It is a DESERT! It felt like riding through the Sahara Desert. Day after day. Windy and dry. I am tired of that. And I mean tired. Never thought it would be like this.
This morning the ATM ate my card. I always try to use an ATM inside a bank. The bank can not do anything until 2PM. This happened at 9AM so I have lost a day of travel. The ride to the border is 5 or 6 hours and that means it will be dark when arriving there. I will try tomorrow. Oh well, these things happen.
I left Iquique after a nice breakfast at the hostel I was staying on and arrived at San Pedro de Atacama in the afternoon. This is a small tourist town, so prices for lodging are kind of high. After checking several places I ended up in a nice hostel, with wifi only accessible out in the garden. No problem, a good opportunity to make new friends while emailing family and friends.
Today is Sunday and the ride is kind of special. Not only I will be crossing to Argentina, but the mountain pass will take me to altitudes close to 16,000 feet (4.800 meters). I was a little worried because people I met before had told me about getting dizzy, throwing up, etc. When I bought the new tire in Peru, they suggested carrying a small spray can of oxygen. So I bought one. Another person gave me a pill and told me to take it before getting to the high grounds. Another suggestion included drinking Coca Tea, made with Coca leaves, chewing Coca Leaves. etc.
Well, I didn’t do anything, and nothing happened. I worried mostly about getting dizzy, not something that is good when riding a motorcycle. I kept climbing until at some point the GPS showed 4,816 meters. The landscape was just amazing. I was all alone on the road and surrounded by mountains.
Finally I arrived at Paso Jama. The Immigration and Customs process was easy but took a while. Because I didn’t have the papers to import the bike with me (I left them in New Jersey, USA to have them mailed to me after arriving in Argentina), the Custom Officer only gave me a 30 day permit. This means that after I receiving the documents from New Jersey, I will have to cross to Uruguay and the next day reenter Argentina with these documents and then go to Customs in Buenos Aires and do all the paperwork, and then register the bike and get new plates for the motorcycle. Oh, and pay the 75 to 80% import duty.
The ride on the northern provinces of Argentina was really nice, but extremely hot. At some point on the province of “Santiago del Estero“, the temperature reached 110 degrees (43 degrees centigrade). It felt like summer weather in Arizona.
Today, Wednesday February 5th, I arrived at “Villa General Belgrano“, a very beautiful little town in the Cordoba province. A lot of tourists and a lot of traffic. I stopped to spend some time with friends, and tomorrow will try to make it to Buenos Aires.
It’s been a little over two months since I left New Jersey. I am anxious to reach my destination, but at the same time I miss the friends I left behind in New Jersey.
February 12, 2014 – (Juan has now safely reached his family in Argentina. That is the good news. The better news is that his journey is NOT over. He plans on going to the very southern tip of Argentina soon and the details will continue right here!
Juan has sent a private message detailing his efforts to legally and permanently import his motorcycle into Argentina. After his arrival in Argentina, we sent him a package of important documents necessary to do this. Now, you may be wondering, how did he receive them in Argentina if he needed them to get into Argentina, right? Well, apparently, he entered the country as a visitor, received the package, drove out of Argentina to Fray Bentos, Uruguay and then re-entered the country with the new paperwork. He is now working with the capital to register the bike in Argentina, etc.)
The last couple of days were very exciting. I could anticipate the “finish line”. Of course I had mixed feelings, on one hand being able to accomplish my dream, on the other a little sadness about the end of it. But overall a good feeling, knowing that I was able to do it and enjoy it and that nothing really bad happened to me in these ten weeks on the road.
I arrived at Buenos Aires after being delayed for several hours on the “Acceso Oeste“, the highway that takes you to the Capital.
My sister was waiting for me and I received a great welcome, as you can see in the pictures.
To anybody with a dream of doing something like this I would say “just do it”, you will not regret it. There may be some of those “what I am doing here” moments, but those are the ones that make a for great story after the trip.
I carry a little notebook in my tank bag where I wrote a quote I like very much. I read it many times before and during my trip. It is credited to Mark Twain, but some people disagree. That is not important, the important thing is the message it conveys. It goes like this:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.
So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover
Dentro de veinte años estaràs màs decepcionado
por lo que no hiciste que por lo que hiciste.
Asì que suelta las amarras. Navega y alèjate del puerto seguro.
Atrapa los vientos alisios en tus velas.
Explora. Sueña. Descubre.
To all the people that sent me messages during my trip I say THANK YOU.
Well, I haven’t finished yet. Ushuaia here I come!
Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world. And then what………… I will think of something…
(Juan then went on to invite one of the AutoDrill owners who has a small enduro motorcycle known as the Kawasaki Super Sherpa to ride on down and join him on a trip along the Trans-America Trail. Very tempting!!!)
HE MADE IT!!!
From Juan:We made it! We reached the end of the road. The southernmost land spot in the world. Then water and Antarctic.We are in Tierra del Fuego National Park, Ushuaia.Now we will turn around and ride alongside the Andean mountains for about 1500 miles north.What a celebración! (Juan celebrated his 70th birthday during the last part of this trip!)Say hello to everybody!
(If you want to send Juan an encouraging message, leave it as a comment here and then also e-mail him at JuanCarlosRides@AutoDrill.com)