A tent somewhere in South America
18th Sept 1991
I thought I would drop you another line while I was doing nothing much, otherwise it might be months. I'm glad you eventually got the letter from Honduras although when I wrote it I never imagined that I would see you before you received it. As you now know I left all my worldly belongings under the bed in a caravan in Costa Rica, and my bike in the Customs warehouse while I came back to Europe for the summer. Well everything was there untouched when I got back. The two Swiss friends with the EML moto-cross outfit didn't return 'till three days after me, so I waited for them and we all got the bikes out together. It took three days sorting out paper work but eventually we got them O.K. I brought back a few spares for the bike but Peter and Ruth brought a suitcase full - or rather they didn't -because when they arrived in Costa Rica their luggage didn't. It was eventually traced to Madrid and arrived a few days later. Peter was getting a little irate by then and the man in the airline office was praying for it to arrive in case Peter was serious about what he said he would do to him if it didn't.
We ripped off to the coast (Pacific) for a couple of days to check everything was O.K. and then wandered into the airport freight department and arranged to fly to Bogotá, just like that. Went in on Monday and flew Wednesday. We could even watch the bikes swaying around on the plane while we were knocking back the free whiskey. It was a normal 737 with the front half converted to carry freight. The door between the freight and us didn't shut properly, so when we went up, the door shut, and when we went down, it opened and we could see the bikes. Judging by the behaviour of the door we seemed to go up and down a lot of times to get from San Jose to Bogotá.
So we merrily wandered into the Customs in Bogotá airport with our Carnets and other bits of paper thinking we could probably get out of town and camp in the mountains that night. Wrong. They have an annual championship to see who can make foreigners wait the longest for their vehicles. The record seems to be five weeks - going back there every day. We met somebody who had been at it for two weeks. We got ours out the next day to everybodies amazement. Nobody except the boss knew what a Carnet was, and they told us we had to get special permission from another office in town, but we found someone who knew the system, and he got us a letter typed with the necessary details, and from then an it was easy.
All through Central America people warn you how dangerous the next country is. In Colombia everybody you meet warns you how dangerous Colombia is. I don't know where all the dangerous people hide because, as usual, everybody we met was nice and friendly and helpful. In some places the crowds around the bikes stopped the traffic; all very embarrassing.
So we drifted through the top end of the Andes heading N.E. towards Venezuela. Fabulous roads, about 50% of them surfaced. There are other surfaced roads through the valleys, but where’s the fun in that? Some of the valleys are amazingly deep and steep sided, with spectacular roads. I thought the Mexicans were pretty enthusiastic when it came to leaping off bends, but when it comes to wing-less notarised flight, the Colombians have them well and truly beaten. All the best launch sites have been taken, (they erect little concrete crosses with the names of the pilots) so much that some people have taken to knocking down other peoples crosses on the way over. Being a very religious country, something had to be done of course, so they erected things on all the tightest bends. No, not barriers, large concrete statues of Mary and the offspring. So much so, that if you do overcook it and fall off, if you manage to avoid going over the edge, the second most serious threat to life, is being impaled on the big toe of a 9'6" virgin.
It took the best part of a day to get visas for Venezuela and then cross over. They didn't want to see any paper-work for the bikes at all. More crowds whenever we stopped. Next day I decided to go off alone again. We agreed to go through the Amazon together, so arranged to meet or leave a message at a hotel in Puerto La Cruz on the Northern coast of Caracas. We just picked the name out of the book, so I wandered off, like you do, into the mountains, on one road up to 14,000 feet; not a happy Yamaha. I could not get smaller jets Mitsui were particularly unhelpful, so I got some fuse wire to stick through these ones, to restrict them if it got too bad. It didn't actually die, and I doubt I'll be going much higher than that, so it will probably stay as it is. I went up one road with a beautiful new surface - for a while - then it went back to dirt. It got very steep and rocky and reminded me very much of why we don’t go trail riding back home. It would have been so-so on a normal trail bike but on a full dress Tenere with worldly possessions piled on the back it's not quite the same. I had to stop and calm down at one point when I realised I was shaking with fear. Doesn't help the control much that. The locals from the village don't go trail riding. They use this road to go to the nearest town for shopping, or to get the doctor - normal things. They all have vintage Toyota land cruisers.
Next day, back on tarmac, just coming down out of the cloud forest I ran into some heavy rain. It had rained all the previous day and night and there were numerous mudslides over the road and streams running across, the roads are built with concrete sections where there is a stream, so that it can run over like a ford, but this time they were bringing down mud rocks etc. I walked through a couple to test them before taking the bike, and followed a truck through some others, but then there was a section where the road had gone completely. A digger was making a diversion through the river a bit higher up, where it was wider and shallower, so I waited, but the water was still too deep and fast for it to be worth the risk. I didn't have to go that way. When I went back the other crossings had become much worse, and in one of them the bike sank in the mud and wouldn't move forward. I couldn't hold it against the force of the water and had to drop it. I tried to drag it out on it's side as there was no way I could pick it up with the flow, but it was stuck in the mud and very slowly moving across the road towards the edge. There was no wall, just a drop onto a waterfall and eventually into the river, if it went over the edge I doubt if I would have seen much of it again, along with worldly possessions, documents, money, the lot. My lucky charm that somebody had given me was working well - he was safe in my pocket - very lucky! Anyway as in all the best stories, just in time a little drunken local came wading along the road carrying a pushbike. The two of us still couldn't move the Yam although we could pick it up, eventually two more men came along and together we dragged it out. My clothes were in the pannier that was underwater and surprisingly only a few things were wet. My sleeping gear was dry. it could have been worse. The air filter was still dry although the carb. had water in. Everything was full of stones and grit. The chain wouldn't go round, and the handlebar switches were solid. One headlamp was half full of mud but still worked. A woman who lived between that flood and the next one, who had been watching, offered to let me stay. They had a spare building beside the house with a bed in it. We took the bike inside, there was an electric light and I spent the evening dismantling and cleaning things. This woman has to light a wood fire to cook on, but both her and her husband work at the local hospital- to her it is just normal. Next day the water had dropped so I went to a fair sized town and lashed out £5 on a motel room with air conditioning, telly, the lot, to recover. They also had a hosepipe so I could go over the bike properly. The left side is all speckled like it's been grit-blasted from where the stones were hitting it. Even the glass in the mirror. Still it's good to be travelling alone again, you meet so many more people. My Spanish has got to the stage where I can ask for things quite fluently well enough for them to mistakenly think I speak the language and reply accordingly. However now I can hold quite long and meaningless conversations with drunks.
So then I went to Caracas to buy some tyres. Got some Pirelli (genuine made in Italy) KT50's which I'm not familiar with, but they seem similar to Metzeler Saharas - loads of meat. Bloody expensive! Can't have everything I suppose, the petrol costs 4p a litre. Yes that's right. There's a choice of 5 octanes and the most expensive is about 18p a gallon. I can do over 200 miles and fill up for 65p. When I go to a town why do I always seem to get a hotel where the drinks are very expensive and the women very friendly? The one I stayed at in Caracas had the working girls arrive by the car load about llpm, work the hotel, and leave at about 5am, I had a room next to the car park so I could keep an eye on the bike. Bugger all sleep. Anyway the hotel I'm meeting Peter and Ruth doesn't exist. There's only one road from Venezuela to Brazil and the Amazon so I'm camping down there for a few days until they come along. I know they're behind me because the police and army checkpoints always remember the sidecar and one hasn't gone through here yet.
The next place down the road is El Dorado where the prison was in Papillon, so you can probably imagine the weather and the scenery. Actually it's quite bearable if you don't do too much. For the last couple of weeks there have been heavy showers at some time every day. Each time I stop, put on waterproofs, sweat like hell, the shower goes past and I only get a few drops. A mile further on and the road is dry again. Yesterday I decided not to stop. You know sometimes in life you make a conscious decision and shortly afterwards you know it was wrong. As the water trickled down the back of my underpants I thought maybe this was one of those occasions. Anyway sorry to rabbit on so long but it may be some time before I get round to it again. It's 800 miles of not much except jungle and mud to the Amazon River, then 1,000+ miles of the same the other side, then freeze on the Altiplano going south from Lake Titicaca through Bolivia. Always wondered where the Orinoco was. Now I know. It's under a big bridge back up the road. It didn't inspire me the way it seemed to inspire that Enya woman maybe she was "on" something. Came down a road the other day 75 miles almost dead straight. It would have been boring but there was a slight bend at mile 61.
All the best. Happy Christmas.