Sunday, 28 October 2012


Well, we are now in Quito, Ecuador having traversed the entire length of Colombia.

Ah ah. There is an equator somewhere here

Now Colombia has some interesting features. Let me tell you about some of the more important ones.

And this leads me to the subject of shower roses and toilet seats ! Let me explain dear reader.

As we tracked south ( sounds like an aeroplane trip ! ) we found at the first hotel we stayed at there was no toilet seat or shower rose in the bathroom.(and no hot water tap also ) Presumably previous guests had stolen them. The receptionist thought that our request for a room with a toilet seat was quite unreasonable although after a long convoluted discussion in my primitive Spanish we got a room with a toilet seat. No shower rose again in the replacement room however !

Was this just one bad night or just one bad hotel? Here is where the plot thickens. The next hotel the next night also had no shower rose, no toilet seat ( and only a cold water tap) Would you believe ditto the following night ? And the following night ! Right thru Colombia from top to almost bottom both the rougher hotels and the better hotels we stayed in were all characterized by these missing ingredients. On the last night in Colombia we got the hot water but still no shower rose !

And you would have thought that Colombia was characterized by drug production rather than by a lack of shower roses and toilet seats Perhaps toilet seats and shower roses are used for drug production !

So as my contribution to solving this little problem of Colombia I have put together the following odes

An Ode to Shower Roses

"Roses are red,
Violets are blue
And for the shower head
I would like a rose too "

And An Ode to Toilet seats

" For my rear meat
I would like a toilet seat
For cold porcelain
Fills me with distain"

And An Ode to hot water

" In the hotel there oughta
Be lots of hot water
For I like a bit of heat
On my tired body meat "

And no further correspondence will be entered into on the subject of bad poetry !

Now for a few comments on travel over the last leg in seven weeks from the glitter of Hollywood in Los Angeles to the old world charm of Quito, Ecuador

We have supposedly been through some of the most dangerous countries in the world according to the travel advisories. From mass drug related executions in Mexico,to coup laden Central American countries to the supposedly anarchy ridden Colombia the advice is to just not go to many of these places. There are exceptions of course like Costa Rica , some of the cities in Mexico like Oaxaca and San Cristabal and the likes of Cartagena in Colombia. But generally the advice is all negative .

Beautiful happy people are everywhere

But on this whole trip we have never once felt threatened or unsafe. In fact the exact reverse has been true. Everywhere ( with the notable exception of some border police in Honduras ) both the people and the police and the military ( at the many road blocks ) have been warm, friendly and helpful. There has been a lot of interest in our bikes and our trips. But the friendliness is deeper than that. One gets the impression of regardless of however one is traveling the treatment would be the same

Which makes one realize that wherever you are in the world -

- Be wary about taking travel advisories from Governments too seriously

- There is a basic innate human desire whichever country you are in for people to want to be friendly and helpful.

- People like being asked for help by a visitor to their country

- Most people are very proud of and patriotic to the country they live in .

- All peoples like being told their country is nice and their people friendly

- Remember you are always a guest in a country. Your presence there is not a right !

- Be sensible with a few basic precaution wherever you are. ( including in New Zealand ! )

So now it is a rest and recreation stop in Quito where the bikes get serviced, Dick goes back to New Zealand for a few days and Diana goes off to the Galapagos Islands to hold detailed discussions with the finches and the tortoises there on the on the finer points of Darwinism !

From Hollywood

To Quito

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Sunday, 21 October 2012


Well it was all a very slow process leaving Cartagena. As part of the bike permit process you have to have compulsory insurance. So we paid the money for the insurance over to a delightful lady who promised the insurance certificates back by that evening. Well the evening came and went. So did the next morning. It was finally 2 pm the next day when we got our little insurance cards so that put our departure back a day. Until mañana !

The next morning it was off out of Catagena. Unfortunately we hit peak time traffic so it was all a long slow haul thru weaving buses , students on motor scooters and general heavy traffic .

Another day in the office!

Leaving Cartagena

Anyway off we intrepid travelers went on our ride right thru heartland Colombia or to be more precise from top to bottom of the country. Never in my dreams did I imagine both of us ever traveling right thru Colombia on a motorcycle. But now we are ! Occasionally one has to pinch oneself!

First thing we found out as we headed south was that although the roads are mostly payroads or toll roads motorcycles are free. How perfectly civilized ! All the toll gates have a little lane down the side just wide enough for a motorcycle and thru you go.

The motorcycle lane

Of course at the first one we Ken not realize this. He did a little manouvre over the side of the lane and came crashing off his bike into the middle of the toll plaza. He broke a rib ( or two !) in the process and was somewhat winded as you can imagine.

As he sat on the side of the nearby petrol station in obvious pain I saw just several metres away an armed man with a big sawn off shotgun type arrangement. He was the guard for the petrol station. Thinking laterally I wondered if I should ask him to just put Ken out of his misery then and there. Then I thought they might be just a a tad callous with wife Shirley there. The other problem also with this course of action was what to then do with Kens bike ? However I did think some spare parts could be handy and I could certainly do with a spare GPS ! Sometimes on trips such as these there are difficult calls to make !

However on a more serious note we were amazed at the friendliness and helpfulness of the local people. One got the definite impression that if it had been a serious accident or breakdown then then there would have been offers of help for whatever assistance was required .

And that has been the story of Colombia. Lovely, helpful people with a very genuine interest in what we are doing Lots of laughter and smiles. Endless patience with our broken Spanish. We had heard that the police and army can be rough to deal with. However again at the relatively few army roadblocks we have been treated with utmost courtesy. The police have left us alone. ( so far! )

So we have been four days on the road down thru Colombia with another two days to go to get to the Ecuador border.

After Kens little tumble(s) on the first day we made a short day of it and stayed in a farming town of Sincelejo. Then the next day it was onward thru rolling hills to a small town on the banks of the mighty Cuasa river.

Could be a tight fit !

A room for two please!

The next day was one of contrasts. Firstly it was thru lush rain forest and then a long slow grind from virtually sea level up to the plateau at 9,000 to 10,000 ft. The road twisted and turned and was filled with heavily laden grunting trucks. It was like playing dodgems although the stakes were higher !

Up on the high plateau it was lush rolling dairy farming country not unlike some of the King Country or Taranaki areas in New Zealand. It did seem strange given we are just about 5 degrees from the equator!

From there it was a steep descent down to the famed city of Medellin. This was the headquarters of one Pablo Escobar who was so successful at the "little white powder " business he he offered to the President to pay off the Country's National Debt. Such generosity ! And in return he was shot by government forces. Life is tough ! Anyway that was at least 10 years ago and the city has had a renaissance ever since.

We did but pass thru the city but it looked to be humming as much as one can tell from a motorbike seat in the hour of passing through it!

After Medellin a little jaunt of 50 km to finish off the day ended up as a three hour grueling marathon as we twisted and turned over a steep mountain pass fighting for virtually every inch with heavy trucks going in both directions. It was a long day !

As I write this we have just finished day 4 of our trip through Colombia and we are now at Palmira just near the outskirts of Cali. It is a satellite city of Cali and has a strong University base and a strong agricultural base As we approached this ares we came down a long wide valley filled with sugar cane crops. It all looked very very fertile and lush. Another long day tomorrow and we are within sniffing distance of Ecuador !

Sugar cane machinery

And the harvest -

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Tuesday, 16 October 2012


Well today was a day of extremes. Extreme boredom and extreme worry. Let me explain dear reader

Today was the day the bikes came ashore to be cleared by customs. This is how it is done and how Mella arrived in style being ridden across the harbour. Again let the following photo sequence do the talking -




Nice day for a ride

Three , two , one

Heave !

Heave !!!!!!!

And welcome to Cartagena


If the photos are a little blurred it was because the hands were shaking. And of course there was a similar sequence ( if not worse) when the bike was lowered over the ships rail into the Zodiac ! It is what is called arriving in South America in style or with flair!

Then customs, bless their considerate souls , must have decided we looked stressed so they promptly made us sit in their customs reception area for 6 hours until the paperwork was done and the clearances obtained. How thoughtful indeed of them to give us a chance to chill out!

Six hours of waiting

Then insurance was obtained ( note insurance is obtained only AFTER the bikes arrive by Zodiac ! ). A quick jaunt thru the streets of Cartagena to the hotel and we are now ready to roll.

Which room Señor?

O.K., outside by the pool then !

Monday, 15 October 2012


"We are sailing................" Fortunately not across stormy waters ! At 6am on the dot yesterday morn we were awoken by the sound of the motor starting up and then the clank of the anchors coming on board. Then the 30 hour voyage North East to Cartagena started.

I mentioned in the last chapter that the motor on the Stahlratte is 55 years old. It sort of sounded like it today as it chugged slowly away with a nice slow rhythmic and slightly hypnotic sound. Time seemed to slow down today in response to the slow chug of the motor. It was a day for sleeping, catching up on blogs and sorting out maps for the next leg.

The Captain at work -

The passengers at work

Life on the ocean wave. -

Of course this journey is yet another border crossing and after the madhouse Central American border crossings a 600km border crossing taking three days is a nice change.

And this morning we sailed into Cartagena only to find it is a National Holiday albeit an unofficial one as the actual holiday was on Friday. It seems like they have taken an extra day but no one knows why. Nevertheless all customs offices are closed so we cannot get the bikes off the boat and cleared until tomorrow. So today it is a case of just looking round the old historic city which is a real charmer. We are in no hurry and perhaps this "mañana" approach to life that is so Caribbean is not such a bad idea.

Throw the bike ashore will you -

And we are certainly in a Caribbean city - there is no doubt of that. There are jet black faces of what are obviously ex slaves. Pirate boats made Cartagena their home base. There are old Spanish fortifications that Sir Francis Drake successfully took a dislike to. Yes, and now there are even cruise boat tourists. Hang on a minute, having arrived by boat isn't that what we are also? No, we are not because in one of the long philosophical discussions on board on the journey over we agreed we are adventurers or at least travelers rather than tourists. Viva la difference !

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CHAPTER 34. ( I think !)

As I write this I am sitting in front of the wheelhouse of the good ship the Stahlratte. 100 meters ahead is a one acre sandy tropical island, flat, filled with coconut trees and ringed by white sandy beaches and turquoise warm water. I look to the left of the boat. 50 meters away is a slightly smaller but to all intents and purposes a similar island. I look to the right of the boat. Another identical island. A gentle breeze soothes my brow. A rum and punch is near my right hand. Someone is gently plucking a guitar. 10 hard days of riding slowly drain from my system.

But first let us go back a day or two. We left Panama City to ride down the road to the infamous Darien gap and thence across the "divide " to Carti on the Caribbean side of the Panama isthmus The road was to say the least interesting. It was carved out of what seemed impenetrable rainforest. It was the steepest road I have ever been on in my life. If the road had been any steeper one would have needed a block and tackle to lower the bikes and a winch to get them up the hills. On one of the downward pieces I was in first gear with both front and back brakes full on and I was just holding the bike from speeding up. On the upward sections the front wheel struggled to stay on the ground. It was like being on a fast roller coaster at a fair ground !

After 2 hours we arrived at Carti where the Stahlratte was awaiting us. It was a lovely sight. We had to be all there at approximately the same time as to load the bikes it was necessary to run the ship bow first on to the beach and to then winch the bikes from an adjacent jetty on to the ship. Each bike had to be roped up with lifting strops ready for the lift. Then once on board they were tied to the ships rails. Quite a sight !

There is my Mella -

Let me tell you about the Stahlratte ( German for steel rat ). She is a 109 year old steel sailing scow originally built in Bremen, Germany. Her engine is just a spritely 55 years old ! She is about the same size and shape as the famous Rainbow Warrior and for a while she was chartered to Greenpeace. There is a picture of her in the chart room in Rainbow Warrior colors and I have a sneaking suspicion she was at one stage Rainbow Warrior No 2 to replace the Rainbow Warrior No 1 sunk in Auckland Harbour .

My suspicions are increased by the fact that she is owned by a not for profit trust in Germany that was set up 30 years ago by some relatively idealistic German ex hippies. Our " El Capitaine " of Stahlratte Captain Ludwig is very loquacious about the history of the ship but suddenly is very vague about the Greenpeace connection. That increases my suspicions .

Anyway now the Stahlratte does a round trip between Panama and Cartagena in Colombia every three weeks and takes up to 20 passengers. Most passengers are motorcyclists and she can take up to 15 motorcycles strapped to the front deck. In addition to this run she also does trips to Cuba, Jamaica and Mexico where the delightful on board supplies of Cuban Rum have come from .

So we loaded on to boat then we went to stay in a Kuna village for the first night. This consisted of staying in a thatched hut with a dirt floor and a " rustic bed" the village was on a very small island and the Main Street was 100 meters long! As it rained the water flooded in under the door and across our dirt floor. Little drips got thru the thatch. It was an interesting night!

The Kuna people themselves are interesting. They are self governing and have relative independence from Panama. They are the indigenous Indians whose people's also come from Colombia.

And now we are on the 3 day voyage to Cartagena. Yesterday we sailed for 3 hours to these delightful islands where we are anchored for two nights. Then it is about a 30 hour trip across the open seas to Cartagena .

Mermaids were just dripping from the boat

The boat is also rustic being 110 years old and we have to all pitch in to help with cooking, dishes etc. Our accommodation is in what was probably originally the fish hold or at least the cargo hold. However it is entirely in keeping with the delightful atmosphere on the boat

And last night we barbuequed on the beach and drank copious quantities of Cuban rum punch. This morning as I write this it is more a case of " punched by rum " than rum punch!

Our Kuna minders. Captain Ludwig at far left

Another Mermaid

And as the sun goes down -

And at the setting of the sun -

And of course amongst 12 motorcycle riders from all corners of the world ( Israel , Mexico, Germany, Japan, USA and Canada and of course New Zealand ) stories of life on the road are told ( and expanded when appropriate ) and experiences ( and wisdom ) are shared .

Must go - it is time for the afternoon swims and siesta. Then there are the 20 lobsters that were delivered by dugout canoe this morning to be consumed on the beach barbeque tonight.someone has to do it!

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