Southern California

Southern California had been in the grips of a drought for a long time; back at the start of the trip when the hype over El Niño was at it’s height, it was all the US media seemed to be able to talk about. The day however that we decided to cross the border into the States seemed to be the day that the drought ended. The rain was falling heavy and as we left Ensenada and headed north the coastline looked decidedly cold and unappealing, this was made worse by the half finished high-rise developments being built as close to the coastline as possible. We knew there were surf spot gems in there somewhere but the prospect of finding somewhere to stay and accessing the spots wasn't so appealing so we carried on north, keen to get out of the rain and across that border.

We had met a woman a few months ago who told us the best thing about Tijuana was San Diego, now I don’t believe that for a second but our experience of the infamous border city was less than ideal. When first arriving into Mexico at the southern border we had been made to pay a bond on the bikes as a guarantee that when leaving Mexico we would take them with us. The bond was $400US per bike and would be returned to us when we left the country with the bikes. This was the only country that required anything like this and at $400US per bike, it was a constant source of worry for us. Especially because we had no idea what the USA would say when we tried to take the bikes in over the border; we had no proof that they would be leaving the country and we were terrified they would deny us entry or force us to pay a huge import fee.

As we navigated our way through the drizzly streets of Tijuana we hit a red traffic light just as a group of police officers were arresting a group of men by the side of the road; to say that area of the city felt sketchy was an understatement. We flew through it and hoped to get to the Mexican side of the border to claim the money back and then head onwards to the USA. Joining the line of traffic we realised quickly that there was no Mexican side, it was just a line of booths taking us straight towards USA immigration. Still worried about whether we would be allowed in with the bikes, we had no choice but to stay in the queue to get it, then once we had crossed over, return back to Mexico to claim the money back. Twelve countries, twelve months, twenty three thousand kilometres and we had still never been subject to a proper search. This would surely be the one time. Sunburnt hands, unwashed hair bleached from the sun, unruly beard, faded, stained and torn clothes- we were finally reaching ‘the developed world’ and it felt weird. It immediately felt as though we could never explain ourselves to anyone, nobody will ever understand the adventure we had just had. As soon as we could see California all feelings of being on a huge trip began to fade into a strange abstract memory, really present in our minds but at the same time, distinctly in our past somehow.

As we got closer to the front of the queue the pressure of the situation built. We were freaking about about the money, the chances of getting into the USA and what was going to happen with our pathetic amount of money left in the bank being back in such an expensive country. When we pulled up at the barrier, the guy took one look at our passports and told us (in his thick American accent) that he was Scottish and he loved that we were English and waved us through just like that. No search, no questions, no ESTA Visa waiver check, no fingerprints, retina scans, nothing. The easiest border crossing of the whole trip was into the USA.

We merged onto the freeway and took the first exit and went straight back to Mexico. Again, no questions asked, no search, nothing. Except this time the guy never even looked at our passports. We pulled over into an official looking office and went in with our bond receipts to try to get our money back, the woman in the cubicle told us that they couldn’t do it because they didn't have enough money in the till at the bank and we would need to find the other border and try there. We headed back into Tijuana and then East to the next border crossing following the tiny Garmin map on my handlebars in the rain. We were led to a tiny backstreet with a tyre shop, a car body shop and a couple of other run down businesses on an industrial estate. There was a tiny little shed and a little Banjercito above it. We parked up and went in and started the process of claiming the money back. A couple of hours of waiting in the rain later and we finally had our cash so we headed to the border hoping for another easy crossing.

At the border this time we immediately knew we had hit the wrong booth. A particularly military looking guy came out and took one look at us and we took one look at him and knew it wouldn’t be so easy. He started to look through our documents and ask about our visa waiver. We were talking to each other as he was looking through our papers and he turned to us and asked where we were “actually from”. We told him we were from England and he said “Why were you speaking in a different language to each other, where are you from?”.

Ten minutes later we are sat in a waiting room full of border police who were deeply involved in a cocaine bust on the border and not very interested in taking our six dollar fee for the required stamp. Two hours later we are on the freeway, holding on for dear life in the slow lane in the rain as four lanes of cars flew past us going twice as fast. Suddenly 150cc motorbikes seemed like a bit of a stupid idea. Luckily through the blog and social media, an amazing couple in Encinitas had contacted us and offered us a place to stay for a couple of days before they headed off on a round the world surf trip on their own. When we pulled up into Tara’s housing complex and stepped off the bikes, soaked through, we felt pretty shellshocked. She let us in and made us feel super welcome and within minutes (and a hot shower) we were feeling pretty normal.

To come from such a long way to then reach a nice suburban home where a lovely person is offering you beer, wine, food and hot showers for free was a very strange feeling. We suddenly felt very self-conscious that all our clothes were filthy and faded and torn and our ideas of normality were slightly skewed. Eric and Tara made us feel super welcome and we had an awesome few days hanging out, surfing and cruising around Encinitas and Laucadia. One evening we paddled out at a spot with Eric and our favourite surfer, Ryan Burch, was one of the only other people in the line-up which was pretty cool.

After a few days in North County San Diego we rode up to see an old friend of Sally’’s in Orange County. The second we walked into the door at Mike and Ashley’s we felt at home. Mike took us surfing one morning to a spot right next to Lowers and we couldn’t believe it, it was crazy. Literally the busiest I have ever seen the ocean. There were loads of great waves coming through and the vibe was good so we had a great time and really got to experience surfing in Southern California.

Our budget was pretty much coming to an end and we definitely felt like the date we flew home was looming. We planned to get to San Francisco and then work our way back down and try to sell the bikes somewhere so we took it easy in Laguna Niguel for a few days planning and catching up on some work to prepare for home.

To be continued.

 

Baja California

The long overdue Baja blog...

We rode up to Mazatlan in Sinaloa, a pretty long ride up the Mexican mainland without booking a ferry, we figured we would stay in town for a couple of days and wait for a boat to take us to La Paz on the Baja Peninsular. As we rolled into town in the intense heat we decided to cut straight over to the port to get a ticket as early as we could. We got there just as they were starting to load the trucker's ferry so we bought our tickets and got in line. We rolled onto the ferry, squeezed amongst trucks. Mexico is a wild place, all the workers and truckers were drinking cold beers as they loaded the ferry. Most of the trucks were just the trailer with no driver so when the ferry departed, there weren't many people on it. There was a tiny room where they fed us beans, rice and tortillas and a few mustachioed truckers were hanging around. It was an eighteen hour ferry and a perfectly clear evening so we found a little floor space on the upper deck, laid out some blankets and hung out for the evening. We slept under the stars and woke up to a huge lightning storm in the distance. 

We rode down to the southern tip of Baja after one night in La Paz and found a right hand pointbreak that knew would be good when the swell came the next day. It was hot, like really hot. Hot to the extent that we were seriously questioning if we would be able to stick around in this area. Luckily the beach had a beat up old straw umbrella we could sit under when not surfing. We set the tent up and jumped in the water straight away to cool off. We settled down for the night and slept on a blanket under the stars in the desert on the beach. It was beautiful, crystal clear water, white sand, nobody about but a couple of dogs for company. A Dachshund and a German Shepherd were an odd little couple but they became our best pals for a week.

The surf got good and we stayed for about a week, surfing in the morning and following the shade of the umbrella in circles throughout the day. The nights were nice and cool and we had good books and a bottle of tequila to keep us busy. We had a blast just hanging out and enjoying the great outdoors and the solitude of just each other's company. 

Most days people would warn us of the hurricane that was forming off the mainland and heading up to where we were camped up. The day before it was due to hit we packed up and rode into the nearest town, San Jose Del Cabo. We found a super cheap hotel room in town and set up an office for four days, working pretty much flat out morning until evening building a new website, new logo, new social media etc for Tom Bing Photography and Video. We got loads done which was great and made us feel that little bit more prepared for our return to the UK. The hurricane came and caused a fair amount of destruction. During the night next doors roof had flown off with a loud bang and palm trees and broken glass lined the streets, I guess it could have been worse but it would have taken a lot of time and resources to get back to normal. For us it was pretty exciting being in the safety of the hotel and watching from the window but for people less fortunate or business owners it must have been terrifying. 

There was a good south swell coming after the hurricane and we decided to head north to a spot two days away that we really wanted to surf. A pointbreak so long and perfect they say one good wave there will change your life forever. We checked a lot of spots on the way but couldn't find anything worth stopping for so we pressed on through the endless desert and giant cacti. We reached a collapsed bridge and spent a while working out how to cross the river. We saw two other motorcycles in the distance upstream who were crossing at a shallower part of the river. We bumped off the road and headed up to the part of the river they were at.

It was the first time in eleven months that we saw another motorcycle with a surfboard. All the Deus and co trendy marketing is just that; marketing. Don't believe the hype, very few people are doing what we do and those that are aren't decked head to toe in designer clothing and on unreliable old bikes with support trucks and film crews. It's a lot of hard work and not as glamorous as even we have been guilty of portraying it. We crossed the river with the help of our new pals and eventually we reached the bay. The surf was perfect; chest high, light offshores and empty. Sally and I surfed until we couldn't surf, pretty much alone. It was a special moment for us on the trip. We had both been looking forward to Baja so much and we have since learned that it is very rare to get this place so quiet. The hurricane took out the bridge and prevented a lot of people from getting in so we scored it empty for a few days until the water dropped and cars could cross. 

We made some great friends in Baja and met up with some old friends, Corey, Rachel and Dean who came in to surf too. It's hard work to surf in Baja and I think that's why the people in the more remote spots are generally pretty cool and there are some inspiring stories to be told. I met one old guy with no teeth (he lost them on a bad wipe out) as I was paddling out who loved that I was from England. He had spend a lot of time there, mostly in Wormwood Scrubs after he got busted smuggling 2000 hits of acid into Heathrow airport glassed into a surfboard. The tabs were on their way to South Africa to elevate the minds of South Africans stuck under apartheid rule, interesting folk. 

We camped up the point around the corner for free and ate our usual staples and lived cheap. When the crowds rolled in, we decided it was time for us to head out. We had done nearly a month in Baja by this point and were ready to head up the coast and check out some new places on the way to California. 

Here are a load of photos from this leg of the journey. We have written this up into a more detailed and polished story which is awaiting approval from an editor currently, hopefully it gets published and we can link you all to another version. 

Sorry for the lack of updates and thanks for the continuing support, it means the world to us. x

Chiapas to Michoacán - Mexico

From El Salvador we rode west through Guatemala. We had heard good things about Guatemala from a number of backpackers heading south but unfortunately we were unable to really explore the country. Most tourist destinations are fairly spread out and to get to them on the bikes would have taken a significant amount of time, time which we had already decided we wanted to spend in Mexico. By now, we know the kind of trip we are on and the kind of stuff we want to do with the remainder of our time and have come to terms with the fact that we just can't do everything. When all the elements fall into place, we are happier than you could ever imagine. Surf (with a small crowd), cheap accommodation, cheap food, abundance of fruit and veg and a feeling of authenticity in a place; these are the things we are searching for. We like the simplicity of it all, when its simple, we tend to stay a while. That's why we were in El Salvador for so long and why we were ready for Mexico. 

Whilst we were in Guatemala, we visited Antigua, it was a beautiful colonial city with an active volcano right on it's doorstep. Sitting drinking coffee on the roof one morning we were lucky enough to see huge clouds of black smoke billowing out of the erupting crater. Whenever we are in a city we get really excited about the food and Antigua didn't disappoint. Every morning we would head to the plaza, down the cobbled streets and past the markets for corn tortillas or tostadas with avocado and hot sauce, we ate some great food in Guatemala and definitely felt like we were getting closer to Mexico. It was also a great place to catch up on sleep, a welcome break after our regular 4.30am dawnies in El Salvador. Riding across the country was a real insight, we passed small road-side pueblos, stopping for coffee, chatting to the local people and in some places it was truly beautiful, green mountains and volcanoes in the distance but sadly the road verges were often strewn with litter. We stopped overnight in a busy town about half way to the border and pulled up to the hotel we had marked on the map as a cheap option for overland travellers we found online; I had either marked it in the wrong place or these overland types have a lot more money than us as it cost a fortune. Just as we were putting our jackets on to drive around and find a seedier looking option with a little less soft jazz floating through elegant outdoor spaces a suave looking guy came out and told us he too was a motorcyclist and would love to offer us a room for cheap; cheaper than we were hoping to pay so we jumped at the chance. People really are nice. 

After crossing so many dodgy borders we were pleasantly surprised by the Mexican border, we were the only people crossing and the place looked brand new. Unfortunately, with that, came a classic jobs-worth immigration officer. The guy working the desk basically decided that he wasn't going to let the bikes in because the ownership document we have is white, not yellow. After unloading our bikes and finding as much evidence as possible we finally managed to persuade him and his boss that the bikes were indeed ours and we have indeed ridden through ten countries before arriving at the Mexican border. He eventually let us through and we we finally in Mexico! A long time dreaming of this moment and we had reached it. These goals are funny, we set them but they are pretty abstract. There is no welcoming committee, just us and a ton of miles to cover before it gets dark. Wrapped up warm with all of our clothes on, we weaved through the hills of Chiapas, heading to San Cristobal de la Casas. 

All you punk rockers or radicals will be familiar with Chiapas and San Cristobal as the home of the Zapatistas. On new years day in 1994, the masked and armed rebels came out of the hills and descended on the city of San Cristobal to occupy the municipal building and stake their claim on the threatened lives, rights and land of the indigenous Mayans in the area who were being severely oppressed by the Mexican government. As we rode through the hills of Chiapas, it struck us how traditional and untouched the Mayans' lives were in the hills. There was corn growing everywhere, people working the fields by hand and old ladies in traditional dress carrying heavy loads of collected wood on their backs, rural life that was such a far cry from life in the USA, it was hard to believe it was the next country up. We stopped for Elotes, or corn-on-the-cob at a hilltop pueblo. As we set off towards the city we saw signs for EZLN occupied territory. Big signs that declared that this was Zapatista territory and the road could not be widened. Complete with a school and EZLN baseball nets. We knew that we were heading towards Zapatista territory but we really surprised to see evidence of it so close to the road, we had assumed they would be deeper in the jungle. 

We carried on through the hills and when we arrived in San Cristobal we wove through the cobbled streets full of colourful colonial buildings and found the hostel we had decided to stay at, it was cheap and central which was good but it was totally full of daft hippies which was not so good. We shared a single dorm bed and went out and roamed the streets looking for good cheap street food. The strange thing about travelling overland is that you never board a plane and arrive in another country to see the clear contrast. You never even fall asleep on a night bus and arrive twelve hours later somewhere new. Every mile we travel we are awake and conscious to take it all in; in that respect, Chiapas wasn’t so different from Guatemala at all, which wasn’t that different from El Salvador in some ways, which in turn means it wasn’t so different from Peru or parts of Chile. We weren’t transported into a Mexican dreamland of Fajitas, Luche Libre, Tequila and Sombreros but though the change wasn't as stark as we had imagined it might be the food we found was a real treat and as always there were subtle differences.

We roamed the streets eating tostadas, esquisites, elotes, camotes, arroz con leche and other great little treats you wouldn’t find in the majority of Mexican restaurants back home. Everything was so cheap, five tostadas, smothered in frijoles, avocado, queso and salsa for 10 Pesos (50p). We found the taco joints near the taxi rank and they cost 10p each so we filled up on them too. I think Sally could have bought almost everything in the market but settled for a small rug which was ridiculously cheap. I can’t wait to get home and put it with the Moroccan stuff we brought back from our trips. We are going to have to rename our house ‘Morexico’- never a bad thing. 

We had been in two minds about trying to visit an active Zapatista ‘Caracol’; there are loads of reasons not to go but also they have relied heavily upon the support of the outside world to maintain the momentum of the movement. In the end, after lots of research, we decided to ride out to one and see if we could get in. We had heard that the process was pretty full-on. We were expecting to arrive at the gates, hand over our hand-written letter to an armed and masked guard to be considered by the board of governors. If we were let in, we were expecting to hand over our passports and then we were to be escorted round by another armed guard. When we got there, there were Zapatistas in masks at the gate, we waited for about fifteen minutes and were let in. There were no guns in sight and none of the women or the handful of people in the village were masked. We walked through the village with our guide who didn’t seem to be able answer many of the questions we had for him. The village was a ghost town. We recognised lots of the beautiful murals from books, magazines and online but there weren’t any people. 

The uprising was twenty two years ago now and many reports online seem to suggest that the movement has retreated back into the hills with very little in the way of a battle to fight anymore. We hoped that the village we visited was the ‘tourist’ museum and that a few people were posted there to show the few visitors around and raise some money selling the odd bit of merchandise and that out there somewhere in the hills of Chiapas were Mayans living a traditional life, unthreatened by globalisation and the Mexican government. We don’t need to see that if it does exist in some way but it was cool to see the murals first hand. 

After a couple of days we were desperate to get to the coast, we picked a spot in Oaxaca that we had heard good things about, 380km from San Cristobal. We got up early and descended through the hills and over to the windy coast. We passed through Tuxtla Gutierrez and took a wrong road on a complex flyover type arrangement, We should have gone about six blocks to the west and bypassed a lot of the city centre but as it was we went straight through the city, this was maybe 7am, just as the sun was rising. The roads were blocked off with tyres but there is nothing worse than being off course in the middle of the city, I could see that if we kept straight we would re-join the original route so we persisted, it was so early I thought we would get away with it. As we passed the first road block, the market that I thought we were riding through turned out to be a huge teacher protest. Maybe two hundred people had set up camp in the CBD of the city, stringing wires above the road so cars and trucks couldn't pass, there were banners and tyres blocking the roads and everywhere people were waking up on their makeshift beds. We crawled through about eight blocks of this, ducking our heads under the wires and nodding to the odd half awake protester. I think they were as bemused as us so we got away with it and carried on down to the coast. Sadly twelve protesting teachers had been killed in a neighbouring town a few weeks earlier. 

At one point we were riding at 30kmh through a wind farm, the bikes at almost a 45 degree angle which was pretty stressful. When we got to the spot, it was desolate, a big expanse of windy beach with nothing but one fancy surf camp. We knew there were spots in the area and in the mornings the wind would be offshore but the prospect of camping in a boiling hot, windy Star Wars style landscape wasn’t really appealing to either of us. We also heard that the surf guides from the camp and a couple of others in the area will threaten you and force you to pay to surf the spot if they let you at all. They advertise ‘empty waves’ to their rich clients and enforce this through violence and extortion. What a world we live in. We went to the nearest city which was about fifteen kilometres away and were debating staying there for the night. We got talking to an old guy who was inviting us back to his house to stay and eat and see his boat. Super nice of him but we decided to split and ride another 130km to the next spot; he assured us it was nicer and a lot less windy. 

So after 510km, one of the longest days riding on the trip so far, we arrived in a beautiful little tropical beach village and negotiated a crazy good price for a little wooden cabaña to stay in. We were excited to surf this spot, it was the home of a ‘secret’ competition in the mid 00’s and has a very good reputation. We caught a couple of days of alright waves there, pretty small but still a lot of fun. When we pulled Sally’s board out of the bag for the first surf, we noticed a huge crease across the top, must have been El Salvador, the last time we used them. We rode the board up to Puerto Escondido and put it in for repair and went back to our cabaña just in time for a four day long tropical storm to hit. The cabaña had a solar panel but it wasn’t too great, especially when the sun didn’t shine for four days. We sat in the dark with biblical rain coming down for a couple of days with nothing at all to do which wasn’t a highlight of the trip but it was kind of cosy. As soon as the storm cleared we headed to Puerto Escondido to pick up the board. 

Mañana, of course. They hadn’t even started it yet. We pitched the tent in a hostel on the beach and hung out, read, cooked and relaxed for a couple of days until the board was finished. The surf was flat so there was no Puerto Escondido show to watch unfortunately. Oaxaca had the real ‘traveller’ vibe. Dudes with short dreadlocks and bandanas practising ‘bar flair’ on the beach, dudes wearing ponchos (seriously, it’s 35 degrees), Bob Marley coming from every speaker, the sickly smell of weed coming from every group of sunburned layabouts and we even heard rap-metal coming from one group. Rap Metal. It’s 2016.

We were having a nice time in Mexico but were keen to find our ‘vibe’. Once the board was finished, which they did a great job, we loaded up and headed to Guerrero. We found a spot on Ioverlander about half way to our final destination and set up camp on the beach for the night. Early the next day we made our way to the next spot we had in mind, a classic longboard point-break. It was small and we had no longboards so after one day’s camping on the beach under a palapa, we headed to the next place. Following miles of dirt roads down to the beach, we arrived on a cool little scene. A few Americans had been surfing that morning, the swell was finally picking up and were eating at a basic little cantina drinking a couple of post surf breakfast beers. We asked the ladies running the cantina whether it would be OK to camp and they were happy to have us, they didn't want us to pay as they couldn't guarantee security, nor did they have any amenities, i.e. bathroom or shower but the deal was that we would buy breakfast from them and what a great deal it was. We jumped in the water and had a really fun surf, when we came out, the whole place was deserted, leaving just us alone with a little palapa to set the tent up under, it felt great to be free camping again, always good not to spend money and appreciate the solitude of the wilderness. The next seven days followed a pretty similar structure- wake up early, make coffee, surf good waves with nice people, eat a great breakfast from the chicas at the restaurant with our new friends (Kim, Mandy, Bailey and all the Texan crew you guys are the best) and maybe surf again. Once everyone left we would sit in the shade of the palapa and read until it was time to cook pancakes in the afternoon. We would then read and nap until the evening when we would cook dinner of rice, eggs, a couple of veg, left-over tortillas we scrounged from the tables that morning and some hot-sauce. We would then sit up drinking the neat vodka some American guys left us until we would retreat to the tent and sweat and sleep until morning. Pretty good. 

Guerrero has a reputation for being a very dangerous state in Mexico, we felt a bit stupid camping on the beach, like we were maybe pushing our luck but at the same time we felt safe so we kept doing it. The last night a truck pulled up at about ten pm, it was dark and the headlights lit up the tent as we drifted off. We woke up immediately and snapped into action; this was it. We were pretty calm and held it together but we knew were about to get robbed, probably at gunpoint, in the rain that night on the beach. We stashed a few important things, hard drive, passports, bank cards etc in our board bags we sleep on and sat tense and stiff waiting for the tent door to open. We weren’t sure if it would be a gun or machetes, we weren't sure how many of them there were but we waited it out. After ten minutes or so of holding our breath, the truck left. Just us again. We breathed a big sigh of relief, although Sally was convinced they were just doing a reccy and would be back in the night to finish the job. She looked like she wasn’t going to sleep all night but ten minutes later was fast asleep. We feel lucky that everyone was so friendly and our experience free camping in Guererro was so safe and enjoyable, we really hoped it would be. In fact, as we were packing up to leave, we moved a helmet and found $60 tucked into a boot. So our tent did get broken into while we were out surfing- not to steal from us but to leave us an anonymous donation. Whoever that was, thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts, it means more than you will ever know. 

A week of feral beach life is a good amount of time in one go for us, any more than that and in this kind of heat and it starts to get a bit much, we knew how much money we had saved by free camping all that time so were dreaming of a cold beer and a room somewhere new. We rode north into Michoacan, another state with a terrible reputation for violence and cartel activity and found a sleepy beach town with a world class left hand point break. We negotiated a really good price on a wooden cabaña all to ourselves for a few days. Well within our budget but came with electricity, private bathroom and shower, kitchen and fridge. It had a balcony and a front porch and you can see and hear the sea from it. I think it might be the most beautiful place we have stayed since Alejandro’s Chilean cabaña in November last year and man that cold one tasted so good. 

We hope to be in Baja in a few days and will update when we can. We've been travelling with some Australians in an amazing van heading the same route with us and look forward to some more good waves together.

Thanks for the patience. x

For everyone, everything. Nothing for us. 

For everyone, everything. Nothing for us. 

The Last of Central

We don’t even know what to say about the last couple of months. Lets just say that we spent a lot of time swinging in hammocks, making new friends, cooking and eating well, listening to the quiet sounds of the jungle and surfing the best waves of our lives. 

Alas, despite the political unrest that we decided to wait out for a couple of weeks, Mexico was calling so we rode through the mountains of Guatemala and successfully crossed the border to be met with 10p tacos.

These photo’s should be a good summary of the rest of our time in Central America. 

Nicaragua

After our time with Tom and Milena right in the South of Costa Rica, we rode back to Uvita where we had left a bit of our stuff so we could travel light for a while. We stayed one more overpriced night in the hammocks and packed up early the next morning aiming for just south of the Nicaraguan border, we had very little interest in the rest of Costa Rica and the swell really didn’t look great for at least a week. We ended up reaching our destination with a few hours of light to spare so decided to go for it and cross into Nicaragua and head the hour or two down to San Juan Del Sur that night. San Juan Del Sur sounds pretty awful, a bit like what Montañita is to Ecuador- a tourist party ‘surf’ town. We hadn’t originally planned to go there but we though it would be our best chance of finding a cheap room and some food for the night and head off somewhere a little more remote the next day. 

We reached the border at about 2PM after riding since 7AM and covering a pretty large chunk of miles. When we reached the border we paid the $7 exit fee from Costa Rica and got stamped out in our passports, we then went to the Aduana (customs) and handed back the paperwork for the bikes, stamping them out of the country too. This is the normal way of doing things at these borders; get your passport stamped out, go to the Aduana for the bike to get stamped out, cross over no-mans land into the new country and get your passport stamped in, then the new aduana to get the bikes stamped in. Sometimes the little windows require copies of things, sometimes there is another stamp to get from somewhere else and almost always their is a lot of waiting and messing around. I like to think of it like a challenge from the Crystal Maze; its like a fun test of your Spanish and patience. So far though, no money has changed hands apart from of course Costa Rica who wouldn’t let your bike in without obligatory insurance purchasable only in cash from the border. 

So officially in no-mans land, not in Costa Rica but not yet in Nicaragua, we went to get stamped in and just to enter the queue to see the woman you had to pay a dollar. Then to enter the country, it was $12 each, payable only by cash. We stupidly didn’t have cash. The clock was ticking and we had to think fast, we were stuck with nowhere to go. Luckily there was an ATM on the Nicaraguan side so I slid my card in to withdraw some dollars but found out that it didn’t accept chip and pin cards…fantastic. After much discussion with uniformed men with pump action shotguns, I walked back to Costa Rica to the ATM at their border. No dollars. 

Sweating in kevlar reinforced jeans in the afternoon sun, I walked back to Nicaragua, passed the men with pump action shotguns and tried to argue with the woman at the window that it wasn’t our fault they didn't accept Visa or have 21st century ATM’s but they weren't going to budge. It was getting late and we only had an hour or so of daylight left and we never ride at night so we were starting to get worried. We decided to quit the whole thing and face the Costa Rican side again to try to get back in for another day where we would have to travel about 100km to the nearest ATM, pretty pissed off to say the least. I quickly stopped off at the ATM again and tried local currency, amidst all the confusion, I had forgot to try this and it worked. I exchanged the money straight to US dollars for what I am sure was a terrible exchange rate but would still be cheaper than the other option or heading back to Costa Rica for the night and wasting over 200ks of petrol. 

We rushed back over to the Nicaraguan side, at this point we were just ignoring the guys with the shotguns, they seemed to have just given up on us going back and forth. We paid our entrance fee at maybe 4PM and then started the process with the bikes and the Aduana. More money, $12 obligatory insurance and a particularly painstaking challenge of stamps, nods and signatures. Finally just as the sun went down and darkness drew in quickly, we were free of the border and rode just 2KM to a motel right on the border. It was cheap and the food was cheap so we breathed a sigh of relief and got a good nights sleep knowing we were safe and the day was finally over. 

The next day we headed straight to Playa Popoyo, a spot we wanted to check out if there was swell. We knew there wasn’t going to be any waves but it’s always nice to check out these places and see whats been going on and what the surfers are thinking of doing for the next swell. You never know what you might find, as proven by that night when we scored a fun but messy 2-3 foot on a beach break with a really nice mellow crowd out. It wasn’t great but it’s always nice to get in the water and it was one more country we had surfed in, definitely not worth sticking around for though. 

We were really looking to spend some time in Nicaragua, we had our hopes pinned on cheap accommodation, good waves and less crowds. As we battled our way through torrential rain from the border motel to Popoyo, we got further and further from civilisation, which is good. Unless the roads are all dirt and it is raining as hard as it was. This was really the first time it had properly hit home how much of a good decision we had made with the bikes we chose, having a 150cc dirt bike through thick mud, through knee deep puddles, crossing rivers and over footbridges where rivers couldn’t be crossed by normal means was perfect. Had either of us dropped a bike, it wouldn’t be an issue and they are so light and manoeuvrable with nice high air intake and exhaust. Riding through the toughest terrain yet in the midst of a huge tropical storm was actually pretty fun. 

It was all looking hopeful until we pulled into the yard of a hostel to ask about a room for the night and asked about the price. $25USD for one bed in an 8 bed dorm. There is no way we were paying that and no way we could camp with the weather so we kept going. We eventually found a place for $15 per person in a private room and that is where we spent the night; in an overpriced gringo owned hotel. When we woke up, the owner was asleep so we left the waitress with $20 for the two of us, not really our style but $30 for a room with only salt water coming out of the taps, no wifi and no electricity for large parts of the evening doesn’t seem fair either. Deciding that it would be pointless to stay there for a week of little to no surf we made the tough decision to keep moving until we found somewhere more sustainable to stay for a while.

It had been a while since we had experienced any ‘culture’ and we needed to use some internet to try to upload the film we made from Panama and edit the footage from Costa Rica so we decided to spend a night in the city of Leon in Nicaragua. We set off early, riding through the remains of the rain from yesterday’s storm down the dirt roads to the highway. Breakfast that day marked a very important landmark for us as we pulled into the first truck stop restaurant on the highway. Huevos rancheros con Gallo Pinto y Maduro. (Eggs with salsa on tortilla, rice and beans and baked ripe plantain). We are getting closer to Mexico and the food is starting to diversify and get better! That was the best breakfast we had eaten on the whole trip. 

Leon was awesome, we stayed at a great little hostel downtown and stuffed our faces with incredible street food between editing sessions. $4 dollars would get two huge plates of food and two drinks; rice and beans, salad, a whole bbq’d plantain and a variety of deep fried vegetables. We stayed in Leon for three nights putting on weight and trying to upload the video but the internet was too unreliable and would cut out before it was finished every time. 

We went to an ATM and withdrew a bit of money to see us through the border and into El Salvador for a while. Then i walked past a computer shop and bought a hard-drive to back up all the work to, I’ve been freaking out as one of our hard drives broke and we only have one left now so we needed to buy another to back up to. The next day would be a big one, Nicaragua to El Salvador; straight through Honduras in one day to get to the swell on time. That meant two border crossings and a few hundred KM’s. We stopped at a cheap motel on the border in Nicaragua in a crazy little transit town for the night so we could get to the border nice and early for the long day ahead. We were shattered and both were in the deepest sleep in our air conditioned room by eight PM. Until we were woken up by the room shaking like crazy, everything rattling violently. We had no idea what was going on and both were really slow to react. Sally tried to climb under the bed but our board bags were under there. The power went out and our clothes were lost in the dark somewhere. The earthquake only lasted about half a minute and we finally made it outside to the safety of the street and waited a few aftershocks out with the locals. It was a bit of a wake up call (excuse the pun) to how badly prepared for a more serious quake we would be. Everyone and everything seemed fine, it was a 6.4 but didn't cause much damage at all which was lucky. 

Of course we failed at the first hurdle. Out of Nicaragua, bikes out, no man’s land. Into Honduras and we were faced with a $35 temporary import charge we didn’t know about. We would only be in the country for about two hours so it seemed ridiculous we had to pay that much money but there aren’t really a lot of options. We were short, the hard-drive had eaten up the dollars and we didn’t get more out. After a couple of hours of panic in no-mans land yet again we settled on the idea of just speeding past the police and armed checkpoints and trying to get to El Salvador with no papers for the bikes, sounds stupid but there were no ATM’s between the border and Leon, three hours away and according to the customs office, no ATM for an hour into Honduras either. Luckily after much back and forth we spotted another motorcyclist. It was Yehia, the guy who had given us his place in the container we used from Colombia to Panama. We had only met briefly a few months ago in Colombia but he kindly told us he would lend us the money and we would go together to an ATM and pay him back. Cutting a long story short, we made it to El Salvador that night and found a hostel to camp at. Just before we set up the tent, the heavens opened and within just minutes our camp spot was 6” deep in water so we settled for a cheap room. All of this spending money has been freaking us out, our budget has dwindled beyond what is probably sensible or safe to have for the journey we still have to complete but it is hard to avoid it sometimes. 

After a good few months of travel have bought ourselves a little bit of time to stay put for a while, Mexico is a huge country which we are really excited to see but we have been ready to stay somewhere and get to know a place for a while. We have been camped up in El Salvador for a couple of weeks now and it has been really nice. El Salvador was one of the countries we were most nervous about; the situation here is not good, with gangs running large parts of the society. Murder rates are really high, police are corrupt, theft is a real issue and many areas are not advisable to travel through. The little corner we have found ourselves in however is quiet and the locals are amongst some of the most friendly people we have met since leaving Chile in October. 

We will post shortly about our time in El Salvador, thanks for being patient, our internet access has been very poor and blogs have been hard to upload.  

Costa Rica

We have just moved on from a memorable couple of weeks in Costa Rica. Our time there got us thinking a lot, perhaps due to the fact that it marks about half way through our journey; both in time and in distance. In many ways we knew that we were going to have a strange relationship with Costa Rica before we even got there, it is the safest and most well documented surf destination in Central America and on paper it is amazing. Its only a tiny country but it contains more that 5% of the worlds biodiversity, it has no military, no animals in captivity, is ranked top in the world for ‘happiness’ and produces a huge percentage of renewable energy. Pretty much as soon as we crossed the border from the Panama it struck us as being incredibly clean, the roads were lined thick with perfect jungle and any buildings seemed to be encased in nature, set back from the beach and roads so to preserve the wild life. It really is incredible. 

Before starting the trip we had always maintained a sense of excitement when thinking about arriving in Costa Rica but now seven months in, the excitement was wavering somewhat and the thought of Costa Rica was actually becoming more of a worry. Costa Rica is as beautiful as it is is expensive and jam packed with ex-pat and holidaying surfers. Costa Rica blew up as a surf destination years ago and just doesn’t feel like Central America. From our months on the road in Latin America our favourite places are the ones with the bustling street markets and a strong sense of cultural identity. For the most part one of the easiest ways to get a feel for a country is the food. Costa Rica had the clean supermarkets, the eco hostels, the vegetarian cafes but these things had stopped appealing to us a long time ago. The first thing we do in any country is look for the street food or the red plastic chair joint selling rice and beans, In Costa Rica we struggled to find this, on the coast anyway. Buying food in the supermarkets out here costs a lot more than home in the UK. We struggled to find local markets, street food and really felt like we didn’t have enough money to experience the country properly.

We rode into the country and stayed in hammocks under a cover in the gardens of a hostel, the tropical downpours of the Central American wet season is making free camping more of a challenge as it kicks in with real force. Pretty much every afternoon or evening the sky clouds over and the thunder and lightning starts, paths turn to rivers and nice camping spots turn to wet swamps within the space of half an hour. Sometimes the rain doesn’t stop until the next morning. It’s pretty much necessary for us to pay a little bit of money to camp or sleep in hammocks under cover. Usually its no more than $5 and we get that back in drinkable water, electricity to charge batteries and wifi when it is available. The hostel we chose in Costa Rica was $20 for the night for two of us to sleep in hammocks; more expensive than a private room with a bathroom anywhere else we had been prior to Panama. We planned on spending two nights in Costa Rica and then forsaking the ‘perfect warm water waves’ and heading straight to Nicaragua. In our minds we knew this might be a little foolish, we probably would never find ourselves back in Costa Rica but we knew we had to spend our time in the places we really wanted to be and could afford to be. At this point, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Mexico were calling. 

We did however really want to check out a couple of waves back in the South of the country and there was a swell on the charts due in a few days time that we thought would work well so we started to think about hanging around just for a few more days and working out a way to camp there. We got talking to an English guy and his Norwegian girlfriend who were also at the hostel and it turned out they were living on an old fruit farm in the jungle near to the spots we wanted to go to. Tom was a fisherman from Dorset who also surfed and he planned on heading to the same spots, he had just bought a boat and was keen to test it out and invited us to join him. The next day we followed the basic directions that they gave us and arrived at a restaurant on the road and parked up. The entrance to their house was supposed to be just opposite but we couldn’t find a way down with the bikes, just a small track of red dirt disappearing into the jungle. We checked with the restaurant owner who told us we would have to leave the bikes at the top and walk down. We made our way through last night's puddles and down the hill into the the thick jungle, with monkeys swinging in the trees above us and waded through the stream as directed, following barefoot prints from both human and horses. After about 25 minutes of trekking we made it to the clearing where the house was. 

The horse was loose in the meadow and there was smoke rising from the stove in the little outdoor kitchen. Two American Staffies came running up to us barking (with tails wagging) and welcomed us to Tom and Milena’s little slice of paradise. Hammocks and washing were strung up around the terrace of the single story square farm house. We put our bags down and were greeted with a cup of coffee. Tom and Milena had moved out here permanently to try to live off grid as much as possible, Tom still catches fish to eat but they are trying to live off the fruit and veg that they can grow. They had no electricity, no phones, no wifi, no TV, no toilet; it is a super simple existence for them and for us it was a real breath of fresh air to live simply too. Washing in the river, walking the jungle, eating and drinking coconuts, reading, talking, cooking over coals; we’re happy to live simply and it can be hard to find the opportunity in this world sometimes. We strung our hammocks and when the night came, drifted off to the wall of sound coming from the surrounding jungle. Each animal was trying desperately to be heard amongst the crowd; birds, parrots, frogs and millions of insects. We would tune into one sound until it faded out and another stood out more and then we would tune into that one. We were slightly wary that we knew there were deadly snakes, spiders and big cats in the area and sleeping in a hammock you feel vulnerable but we slept well anyway. 

After a couple of days on the farm we packed our camping gear and boards into the boat and drove to a series of three right hand point breaks. We swam our gear to shore through the surf in a dry bag after a pretty good surf before the crowds turned up and set up camp in on the edge of the jungle. We strung hammocks between trees and tied string above them to hang mosquito nets and tarps to protect us from the rain. That night we slept amongst another chorus of jungle animals and woke up to another good day of surf. It was pretty incredible to be in Costa Rica at that point; good waves, not too many people, 29C water, 30C air, scarlet macaws flying in the jungle trees above our hammocks. The draw of tropical surf and life was nearly tempting for a while there, of course the crowds turned up eventually. 


When the swell got small, we went back to the farm for a couple of days and started to plan our trip to Pavones, the long left-hand point on the opposite side of the Gulf. We packed less stuff this time, Tom knew a cheap home-stay we could stay and cook at. We trekked through the thick jungle to the part of the river the boat is stored and packed boards and fishing gear. This time the dogs and Milena came with us; along with two goats. The goats were eating everything at the farm so Tom and Milena had decided to give them away to a family that lived on the Gulf. This was the first and only time Sally and I experienced traditional Tico lifestyle in our admittedly short and limited time in Costa Rica but it was amazing to see that it was out there. What that family had, all the acres of fertile land, rich with fruit trees and land to raise animals for their family to live off was incredible and it makes us sad to think of all the families who have sold off that kind of property and lifestyle to rich foreign investors.

After we handed them the goats we made our way out through the increasing swell to the edge of the bay and swam into the small village of Pavones. The South swell season has been pretty slow to start this year so with a decent chart, it seemed like most of Costa Rica and half of California (and Brazil and Israel) had travelled down for the swell. We were under the impression that Pavones was a fat, bumbling point break but when we woke up the next morning and paddled out to head and a half tubes reeling off fast corners of the point, spitting and reforming we felt both under gunned on our 5’10’s and pretty intimidated. The wave was incredible, glassy, big and perfect but a lot of sections were extremely hard to make. The waves we managed to snag from the crowd of at least a hundred surfers were challenging; paddle, take off and race as fast as you could until the inevitable shut down. There were a few broken boards in the village that day but we must have surfed for 6 hours; fuelled by coffee, raw cold porridge with water and sugar and some rice and beans. We stayed a couple of days and then when the swell dropped off, headed back to the farm. Our expectations of our time in Costa Rica were pretty low from the outset but as it turned out we had a really great time there and we are really stoked that we made the decision to stay with our new friends, hang out and surf. 

We just found out that Matt and Suze from Tynemouth are moving to Canada for a while which makes us really sad, especially as they will have left before we get home and we’re going to miss them (nothing to do with the fact that Matt’s been making us amazing boards at home). One upside is that they are going to be leaving us in charge of their allotment for a while until they return. Being on the farm with Tom and Milena was an amazing experience for us and definitely another reason for being so reflective about the trip and our lives beyond this journey. When we saw them settling into their new home and new lifestyle we couldn't help but be really stoked for them and wish them every luck with their dreams but we both found ourselves talking about home with such pride and a genuine heartfelt feeling of love for where we have found ourselves living in the UK. We are so stoked to take over Matt and Suze’s allotment and regain some feeling of connection with the land and our food; to re-learn about the seasons and what we can eat when and to put our energy into creating food to eat and share with our friends and family at home. We have had an allotment before and have been on the list in Tynemouth since the first month of moving there. We love where we live and although we knew that before we set off on this adventure; sometimes being apart from it and seeing the other lifestyles helps to clarify in our minds that we can build ourselves a life at home that is as fulfilling as we want it to be. We know we need to work hard to spend time doing more of what we love with the people we love rather than working jobs that don’t make us happy. One of the best things about travelling the way we are is that we are learning more about ourselves, each other and how we want to structure the rest of our lives in order to be happy. We are seeing so many places and lifestyles and meeting so many people with their own hopes and dreams that our own are starting to fall into place a little more clearly for us. 

Feral In Panama

We feel that we are skirting round the edges of the Panamanian culture; we have no idea what the local food is like, we have barely spoken to any locals and we don’t have a clear picture of what life is like for people in this country. The problem is that we can’t afford to be here, everything is way out of our price range so we have been sticking to surf spots we know we can camp at; we are forced to buy food from the big (cheaper) supermarkets and try to live as cheaply as possible. We are really struggling to find decent fruit or veg anywhere, but the pineapples we have found have been the best we have had anywhere in the world. 

After getting the bikes back from the port (which was a fairly straightforward process) we crossed straight over to the Pacific Coast, passing through Panama City and over the Panama Canal. Unfortunately we were out of season for the Caribbean side so we headed West. We camped one night in hammocks under a shelter on a beach in the middle of nowhere, there was potential for good waves but the swell was small when we got there so we left early in the morning. We might have stuck around but the place charged $10 each for the privilege of a hammock with no lights, no mosquito nets and no kitchen to cook in. The incident on the boat had left us a bit shaken up so the thought of free camping wasn't really entertained, we were happy to pay a bit for security but not that much!

The next day we moved a few hours west to an Eco Project which had a hostel and space for tents in the jungle right in front of a beach break. They wanted $6 each a night but offered use of wifi, a kitchen, free drinkable water, showers and shelter from the sun and rain. It was awesome to hang out there; surf in the mornings then cook good food, lounge around on hammocks and check out the abundant wildlife. There were howler monkeys everywhere, in the trees above our heads, waking us up with their threatening roar. We saw hummingbirds, geckos, iguanas and shared the tent with about a hundred crabs. We spent the evenings putting the world to rights with a French guy called Frank and hanging around with an English couple who are out here on a surf trip too. The beach break was busy but the swell was growing every day so we hung around for a while and ended up scoring some fun waves. The water is really warm and the wind patterns predictable - no wind in the mornings until the onshores, starting at about lunchtime, put an end to surfing. We stayed for six days or so and spent very little money besides the camping fees which we were happy to pay to support the project. Everywhere around the peninsular we were on seems to have fallen victim to deforestation in favour of cattle farming or tourism. Meanwhile the project was planting trees, working with ideas around permaculture, trying improve the landscape for the vast array of wildlife that has been pushed off the peninsular. We felt proud to stay there rather than the big concrete development metres away from the high tide, void of any trees or wildlife. 

Every day the plan was to move on but we felt so content we'd end up staying a bit longer. The surf wasn't perfect but it was pretty fun and it had a good vibe in the water. We were however looking for somewhere a bit more remote to surf without the crowds for the new swell approaching, a swell that we hoped marked the start of the season. Brryn and Ehli, the English couple, were keen to check out the same place we had in mind so we set off early one morning and made our way round to a pretty remote part of Panama. There was only one Hostel that had no mains power or running water; a solar panel provided an hour or so of electricity in the evenings. We asked about camping on their land so we could use the (lack of as it turned out) facilities and the owner wanted to charge us $30 per night - for basically nothing. After riding just a few hundred metres down a sand track we found an empty lot (bought and probably awaiting infrastructure before it is developed) that had an old shelter facing the sea, surrounded by coconut trees. We pitched the tent under the shelter and set up camp. It was perfect. We were already feeling pretty feral after a week of camping and were in our element there for four days, surfing the heavy beach break, cooking great food on the stove and hunting for coconuts to provide us with water in the afternoons. On the last night the sky lit up by lightning and we were surrounded by deafening thunder through the night, it was incredible to be amongst it.

It felt great to be out there in the wilderness so far from anything, we didn't see people all afternoon or evening, we were completely disconnected from everything, just us, good food, coconuts and a two litre carton of cheap red wine. You haven’t lived until you have done the washing up in the sea naked at night surrounded by bioluminescent plankton and fireflies...

The surf was good, there were some really solid, hollow waves coming through and pounding onto the shallow sand looking like the pages of a magazine article on Central America. The small crowd were pretty intense, it felt like everybody was a bit crazed; they had made it out there to this remote place and for the two hours the tide and wind were good they were determined to make at least one good wave. That was the problem, very few of the picture perfect waves were makable; fast, pinching tubes popped around one area. In the two hour session, maybe two or three tubes were exited. It was amazing to be out there, camping for free, watching the stars at night and being alone. The surf just wasn’t quite up to the standard we have been used to in South America. 

Early on we had decided to try to avoid Santa Catalina, Panama’s most famous wave, we were enjoying the wilderness too much and keen to seek out quiet waves, Santa Catalina would be way too busy.  We did however need to make some progress towards Costa Rica and we were both desperate for a wave that might allow us to do more than one turn before it closed out. Brryn and Ehli were heading that way too so we rode over in convoy, us following them in their little rental Jimny. We stopped at a huge mango tree that had dropped tonnes of perfect mangoes on the floor and wolfed them down in the midday heat. Again, everything in Santa Catalina was way too expensive for us but we found a place to camp with showers, wifi and sheltered areas from the sun and rain. Although it transpired that the wifi didn’t work, there was no kitchen, the water was on and off sporadically and during a tropical downpour, the shelter collapsed. 

The wave was close to perfect though; a long right hand point which suffered a pretty heavy crowd problem; the Panamanian locals seem to have a real problem with tourists, this seems to extend beyond just local surfers and to shop keepers and even hostel owners. In fact, the Gringos that move to Panama seem to be the most hostile. It was pretty embarrassing to be part of a surfing community that breeds such meat-head idiots like the guys there. They would gang up and block non-locals, drop in on them deliberately and proceed to shout at them for taking waves that belong to locals. It was a campaign of pathetic intimidation that meant we were only allowed the left-overs, but they were pretty decent so it was fun. Sal managed to catch a few set waves amongst the madness. 

We were all set to head to Costa Rica when we had a change of heart and decided to take the risk and explore a super remote peninsular on the Costa Rican border. Rumours of good empty waves had been passed around and we decided that we should take the risk and check it out. We loaded up with as much food and water as we could carry and headed down the spit of land, past the tarmac and onto the dirt and rubble, then past the dirt and rubble and onto the sand horse tracks, through streams and puddles and dense jungle until we reached a house that allows people to camp there. We pitched the tent but slept in hammocks under a palm shelter, its too hot in a tent here. We woke up to a crazy thunderstorm but were sheltered from the downpour so just drifted in and out of sleep, enjoying the midnight drama of it. Monkeys lived in the trees around us and we adopted two dogs for the time we were there. We read, cooked good food, hung out, walked for miles (we even walked to Costa Rica and back..) and surfed a little. We felt like the people we were staying with were holding information back from us; they knew there were waves but were keeping them all to themselves. That's fine with us, there aren't many places left like that in the world.

 

San Blas Islands

Obviously we had a pretty dramatic experience on our Darien Gap crossing which was the last blog post we wrote but the drama only unfolded in the last few hours of the trip, for five days we had been cruising through the Caribbean Sea on a 60ft sailing boat with a bunch of really great people. Here are a few photos from the trip we hope sum up our experience. 

Thanks for all the kind words and wishes of safety everyone, we are out of the way now hopefully, the tent is pitched up at a brilliant eco-resort in front of a good wave and there is swell on the way. 

Crossing the Gap - Cartel, Cocaine and Corruption in the Caribbean

The bed pitched from side to side as hushed bodies hurried through the small dark hull. I stirred to the sound of deep, whispered words murmured in spanish and the white and red of the head-torches flashing, searching. 

“We have a problem. No, not an engine problem, a different kind of problem.” I laid still, listening to the Captain on the phone. He was above me in the wheelhouse whispering in his deep, thick polish accent. The report switched to spanish after a pause, “we are going to stay here”. A few minutes went by and he was out of earshot on the deck. “Ok, Ok guys we need to have a meeting, everybody up and on deck now”. The fifteen passengers woke and made their way out of their bunks in the dark of the red cabin lights and squeezed through the small hull of the 60ft cruiser onto the deck in the early hours of the Caribbean night. The light from the stars revealed a big horseshoe bay and sodium lamps lit one small pueblo in the corner. Mountains framed the landscape against the sky. It was quiet and the entire boat sat on the floor and waited for the Captain to speak. 

There were murmurs of speculation amongst the group but nobody was prepared for the what was about to happen. The Captain sat on the cool box in the middle of the horseshoe and the crowd quietened, intrigued by what would be so important as to wake everybody up at three AM. We had been sailing all night through the Caribbean from the San Blas Islands to Panama. This was the last night of our five day passage from Cartagena, Colombia. The Darien Gap, a dense jungle area between Colombia and Panama is impossible to cross by land; guerrillas, dangerous animals, cartels, corrupt police, tropical disease, no fresh water supplies. To cross between South and Central America you have to fly or sail; we had all chosen to sail. Over the five days the group had bonded, we were eleven countries represented in one boat; we ate together, drank together, swam, talked and dozed on deck under the stars together. We made connections that we will keep forever. 

He took another draw from his cigarette and said calmly “Somebody brought Cocaine onto the boat and now it has been taken”. If there is one sentence that you don't want to hear crossing from Colombia to Panama by sea, this is it. My mind started to race, immediately I assumed he had brought the cocaine on board, that was how it came out and it felt like ultimate betrayal of trust, a personal attack on our safety. My first emotion was anger directed at him and I wasn’t alone in this until somebody demanded a name. He said it was Maria, one of us. 

“She hid it behind the toilet in underwear she was wearing to bring it on the boat in Cartagena; the underwear is there but the package has gone. One of you has taken it and we need it back. The Cartel are waiting on the shore; we have armed ourselves with flare guns and rockets to protect ourselves. They know we are here and we want the drugs so we can put them in the sea before the cartel get here.” None of it made any sense but the seriousness of the situation resonated in every one of our minds. At some point he added that Maria was scared because they have been threatening to kill her children in Mexico.

A few cries came from the group aimed at Maria who was sat in the corner; we were all scared, confused and angry that we had been put in this situation. Amongst the group a few ideas were passed around, the first one was to search our bags to check if it had been planted on one of us before the Police turned up. Another was to keep the Captain on board; he wanted to leave on the dinghy to get the police. Not one of us thought for a minute that it had been taken by one of the passengers. 

The Captain seemed reluctant to call the Police. We questioned his motives, nothing ever seemed consistent. Everyone questioned the other two crew members too, we watched their moves and tried to make sense of their possible role in the situation. In mine and everybody else's mind a clear timeline of behaviour and movement from everybody in suspicion was being formed mentally; as we all spoke, a few alarm bells were raised, most of which made no sense. The Captain told us there were five kilograms of cocaine onboard the ship last night, now it has gone. He was too calm and so was Maria. She sat on the back deck chain smoking, not begging any of us to search our bags, not pleading with us for the safety of her children, very strange. We sat on the front deck going over conspiracies and possibilities as a group. For every plausible theory came a series of inconsistencies in the plot. We knew something was happening; there was a twist in the story, it felt like who ever was in charge was manipulating it all perfectly but for the ones not in the know it was unnerving to say the least. The inconsistencies made it impossible to know what was actually happening. 

An hour passed and no change; the Captain had taken Maria’s phone battery, she had been on the phone in the early hours. He told us he had called the police, he didn’t know how long they would be. We sat on deck and watched the one road into the town for Police cars, a few cars passed but nothing stopped that looked like Police. We were two hours from Panama City and an hour from Colon, they should be here by now. The threat of the Cartel was still very real at this point; we imagined men with guns in the jungle with the Howler Monkeys watching our every move as we sat in the dark, floating in clear view in the bay. We searched our bags and demanded that we took our large bags from the hold at the front of the boat, despite the Captain telling us this was pointless. He had a ziplock bag with all of our passports inside; he didn’t want to give them back but we demanded them and he gave in. 

After another hour passed and no sign from the police or cartel. We saw every vehicle that came in and out of the village and debated who they were. One girl had a phone with signal and we decided to call and inform our Embassies of the situation we were in. Most were shut as it was a national holiday; those that weren’t didn’t pay much attention. Just work with the local Police was all they had to offer. None of us had ever been to Panama before; we don’t know if the Police could be trusted or not, we were scared for them to come on board and search through our bags. We wanted the issue to be resolved but it is always a worry to have anybody know you are carrying a laptop, camera gear and other desirable items, most of us have travelled enough not to trust anybody; unfortunately not even the police. Embassies informed, bags searched; we had nothing to do but sit and wait for the Police or Cartel. The sun rose in a burst of colour over the hills and we sat gently swaying in the morning warmth which quickly turned to an uncomfortable heat. The immediate threat of the Cartel faded with time; if they had wanted us, we were there.

A few people exchanged words with Maria but most couldn't make eye contact with her, for me the main reason being I knew that anything she said couldn’t genuinely be believed. She had an agenda and I wanted to be as far away from it as possible. She was twenty nine years old, from Mexico City. After the bombshell was dropped she told us for the first time that she had two children; the eldest being fifteen. She told us she was forced to do it, she had no choice. Some people in the group took pity on her, the situation for young women mules in South and Central America is frightening and the Cartels in Mexico are violent and powerful beyond our understanding. Maria wasn’t a poor, innocent girl plucked from the slums of the city. She had the Latin American ‘artesano traveller’ look; a look that takes a long time to develop; fading tattoos, one long dreadlock amongst her thick dark hair with the sides of her head shaved, she was part-way through laser surgery and trendy piercings and more stylish outfits than most of the other passengers on the boat. She was quiet; she didn’t speak much English but she told us she had lived in the USA for two years. She seemed to understand more than she could speak. She would snorkel with us, eat with us and drink until the early hours with us. She would take self portraits or get people to take photos of her on the boat in the sunset, on the last night she spent a good while looking through my photos, some of which had her in and commenting on how she liked them. When we were on dry land she would text a lot but we never saw her talk on the phone. Maybe Maria was telling the truth, I don't know what to believe and what I want to be the truth. 

At around nine-thirty, a Lancha boat arrived at the boat with six or seven police officers, some with faces covered, all with guns. We were all on deck and the Captain offered them water. He told them that the deckhand was actually the Captain. It took us by surprise when he told us this, it was set up that way due to licensing issues and the deckhand was Colombian. A couple of the policeman stood on deck with us while others spoke to the crew and checked paperwork. The Captain explained the situation in Spanish. He repeated the story that he told us; someone had bought cocaine onto the boat and now it was gone. He was very calm and casual, the police didn’t seem bothered. It twigged with a few of us that he hadn’t told the police that we knew who it was that had bought the cocaine on board. We pointed to Maria and asked the Captain why he had not told them who it was, he asked why we needed to. As far as we were concerned, in the eyes of the police, if it wasn’t her, it was one of us. The story had changed over the course of the morning, the Cartel weren't mentioned again and the accusation that one of us had found and taken the cocaine was dropped. The police were told neither of the two vital details that sparked the drama at three o'clock that morning. 

At this point I was expecting them to take Maria for questioning, to take her passport, radio in background checks, check her ID wasn’t fake, pat her down, cuff her, talk to her. But nothing. She sat with us all, rolling and smoking, rolling and smoking. Some of the policemen started to search downstairs in the hull. None of our bags were emptied, nothing was disrupted, store cupboards were left untouched, there were no sniffer dogs. There was nothing you would expect from a drug search. 

One policeman talked to Maria quietly while she sat on the edge of the group on the deck cross legged, smoking. They spoke quietly in quick Spanish, they laughed together and she smiled occasionally but let out a few tears or dropped her head in her hands in the quiet moments. If she was worried about the cartel; I think this was her way out. I expected she might have been begging for the Police to take her, to involve the Mexican authorities or ask for them to somehow protect her or her family. Five kilograms of Cocaine goes missing and she is about to get the blame, she wasn’t frantic or panicked. It seemed odd to me that she would rather be in trouble with the Cartel than the Police but then I don’t know the intricacies of the situation. The other two crew members weren't with us, they were downstairs with the police. 

Two hours passed and they seemed satisfied there was no cocaine on the boat. They left, leaving us all to enter Panama with no issues. Maria too. Two more hours passed while the Captain took the RIB to the immigration office in the pueblo with all of our passports in order to stamp us into Panama, a prospect none of us were that excited about. A lancha came to pick us up and we reached dry land. Maria, the Captain and the two crew members stayed on board the boat. 

Most people had been changing plans; two young girls cut their travels short and booked flights for first thing in the morning to get out of Latin America shortly after they arrived to safety. A couple talked about doing the same and I am sure they did. Everyone else headed to Panama City to stay in a hotel and plan their next moves. 

We, alongside the three people our bikes had separately been shipped with, slept in unlocked rooms in an unmanned hostel in plain view of where the now-gone boat had been moored. I slept for maybe two hours in the heat of the night, waking with any noise; passing cars, footsteps or passing boats. The one thing that made us feel safe was the call we made home. Interpol agents had arrived at the home of our UK contact an hour after we called and had stayed there until that evening when we had called to say we were safe nearly seven hours later. They knew who we were and where we were staying and assured us they were confident that given their contacts in Panama they could pretty much guarantee our safety.

I don’t want to speculate on the exact situation that occurred on that boat that morning; I don't know who was innocent or guilty. I don’t know why the Police were involved, why Maria stayed on the boat, why neither the boat or Maria were ever searched properly by the Panamanian (or Colombian) Police, whether there was even cocaine in the first place, where it went if there was or whether the Captain and crew were involved. These are all questions we will likely never find the answer to but I do feel confident in saying that whatever needed to happen on that trip from Colombia to Panama happened.

Colombia

When we wrote the last post we were just crossing the border into Colombia from Ecuador. We decided to leave Ecuador a little earlier than we would perhaps have liked as we are still clawing back time from being so long in Chile so when the swell died and the chart looked flat for a while we decided it was time to strike out and head for Central America. We would have happily stayed on the tropical paradise beaches of Ecuador for at least another couple of weeks if there had been more swell to keep us there. When you travel you make a real connection with the places you spend time in; you make friends, feel like you get to know a culture better and in a small way you leave a bit of yourself in the places you love when you move on. So when the Earthquake happened in Ecuador, even though we were safe in Colombia, the news hit hard. The list of places that were affected read like our itinerary traveling through the country. It was a real wake-up call to the way these uncontrollable events affect thousands of lives, destroying so much of a country in just minutes.  We have heard since from a few friends and read reports that most of the places we spent time in are fine but a few other towns and communities we passed through have been devastated and no longer exist. 

We entered Colombia with a little bit of apprehension, the years of violence, drugs and corruption at the forefront of our minds. Every time we have crossed a border we have felt a huge change in culture immediately, it's strange but it just hits you within the first few miles. Colombia didn't feel sketchy, it felt different from Ecuador but not in a bad way. We rolled into the first town after the border to get cash and bike insurance. We usually expect border towns to be run down but this place was buzzing with activity; Mr. Motivator style public exercise classes, teenagers playing chess in the park, music coming from every direction, people stopping to ask us about the bikes, street vendors and busy bakeries, it definitely helped make us feel positive about the country we were about to explore. 

We had planned to travel to Popayan that day but with the constant rain and time spent at border crossing we were running behind schedule and decided to pull in at a pretty standard motel on the side of the road. We unpacked the bikes in torrential rain, after we settled into the room the rain stopped so we went to outside to have a look around and weren’t expecting to be met with the most stunning sight either of us have ever seen; a vast canyon, every inch overspilling with lush tropical green. We stood on the edge of the canyon, in the back garden of an unassuming motel at the same height as the few whisps of cloud left floating from the rain. We watched a pair of Andean Condors circling above us in the now blue sky, feeling pretty humbled by the beauty of Colombia. This set a theme for the central regions we passed through, green, lush, tropical, vast, dramatic and all the seasons happening in one day. 

The next morning we left early headed for the historical small city of Popayan. We found a hostel and walked around the cool old city which was busy with motorbikes everywhere, street food, people and amazing old white buildings. It rained really hard but our big yellow ponchos kept us dry as we walked around. We thought we would fit in with the locals but apparently they are strictly motorcycle attire. For some reason we felt safer walking around in this city at night than we have felt anywhere all trip. We were even lucky enough to find a cheap vegetarian cafe serving awesome Colombian food, three courses for a mere £1.25 each! 

We wanted to check out Cali, home of Salsa in Colombia so we made our way there at the crack of dawn the next day. We haven't visited many cities on the trip so we thought that Colombia, void of surf destinations, would be the place to do this. The scenery riding there was yet again unbelievable, literally the most beautiful countryside we have ever seen. Epic green rolling hills, roads carved into mountain sides with waterfalls and lush tropical plants spilling over the cliffs at the side of the road. We are not city people. We know this but it is hard not to feel the pressure of experiencing the 'wonderful culture' we read about online etc. As we were sucking in fumes from trucks and cars in a traffic jam in what could have been Manchester we already started to regret our choice of destination. The hostel was nice, but very yuppie and overpriced. To experience a city you need two things; time and money. We booked two nights but as we unloaded our bags into a tiny dorm room, we doubted this decision. As we walked up to the 'cool' part of town with its trendy Burger Bars, Pizzerias, Subways and cocktail bars, we pined for our plastic chaired eateries and their cheap, honest food. Everything costs money. From speaking to a few people in the hostel, we know they were having a great time; Salsa classes and dancing the night away in the clubs and bars. We would have loved to experience that but paying for taxis, entry fees and enough booze to get Tom on the dance floor all adds up to more than we can afford to spend. We sat in a park with a can of beer and planned our escape to the coffee region a day early. We can't do everything and we needed to make choices, Cities just aren't our vibe. 

Luckily for us, Salento; our next destination, was. Again, breathtakingly beautiful countryside, a beautiful colonial square, coffee shops, bakeries, cowboys. It was amazing. It felt touristy but a lot of the tourism was Colombian. We hung out for a couple of days, wandering around the town, cooking good food and enjoying the relaxed mountain vibe. We wanted to do a 'coffee tour' but after speaking to a local guy we were told that the coffee tours in this area aren't so great if you appreciate your coffee so we skipped this hoping to find a better one in Central America. We decided on a hike to the Corcora Valley which was great but pretty eventful. We're not sure if it is because we have ridden 12,000km on a motorbike or because we are getting old but after about 12 miles walking through the jungle (including a wrong turn), our knees started to give up. Tom's knee basically seized and he could barely walk, with another 5 miles or so of rough downhill jungle to trek before getting back to civilisation. To cut a long story short, he got rescued by a horse and rode off into the sunset leaving me to limp the rest of the way (not really, he sent the horse back for me too). 

We had heard great things about a town called Jardin so we decided to go there after a few days in Salento. When we rolled into town after a few hours of off-road riding through the Cloud Forest, it seemed a bit fake and touristy (again mostly Colombians) to start off with but it was set in a stunning valley and the town was pristine and beautiful so we gave it a shot. It turns out it was a really great little town; cowboys everywhere, music spilling out of bars, 15p coffees, colourful buildings, horses and riders and views of the coffee valleys at the end of each street. We spent one night sat in the rowdy corner of the colonial square and drank a couple of beers and watched the locals turn up on their horses, drink a load of local liquor and dance to amazing Colombian music dressed up in cowboy hats, smart shirts, jeans and boots. They paid local kids to hold their horses while they got smashed and then they would get back on the saddle and do the weirdest trot up the street to the next bar, we think its called Paso Fino, Google it, its hilarious.  

We got word from a guy back in Popayan that he knew of a girl who wanted to ship her car to Panama so we had been in contact with her and set a date that we needed to be in Cartagena to sort out the container. After Jardin the next three days were spent riding North, the landscape got a little less dramatic so although we felt awful about rushing through Colombia, it wasn't as hard as it would have been if it carried on being as pretty as the South. We spend the night in one town that wasn't so great- put it this way, we went to bed wondering if the bikes would still there in the morning, they were so it was all good, just another experience. It was in this town that the heat and humidity hit us; it is uncomfortably hot in the Caribbean.

We are now in Cartagena which is another big city, one we knew we would need to spend some time in as it is the port town to Panama. Our hostel is the cheapest we could find but it is a bit out of town which is fine for us as we have been doing lots of work and catching up on stuff we needed to do but it has given us an insight into the city. The charming 'Old Town' and upmarket edificios represent only a small part of the city we have seen so far. Where we are staying it is poor and run down but it has a charm that we like. Walking home from the city, we pass the same two old ladies that sit in rocking chairs outside a wood house that sits slanted amongst its neighbours, they smile and wave, it's nice. Most nights we walk over to the shop and hang through the metal bars with the locals to buy a drink or some chocolate. 

We are about to put the bikes into the container and tomorrow we set sail on a sailing boat to Panama, via the San Blas Islands. After much research and consideration of every option, this is the most sensible, safe and legit way of crossing the gap that gives you the most bang for your buck. If anyone reading this cares about the details, email us and we will tell you the deal we got. 

Here are loads of photos, we hope you like them. As always, prints are available. 

See you in Panama, Central America. We can't wait to surf...

Crossing the Equator

We are currently sat in a motel a few kilometres from the Ecuador/Colombia border. We arrived yesterday evening, cold, wet and feeling pretty fed up. Our waterproofs are next to useless in torrential downpours whilst riding a motorbike. Water has managed to seep into everything, undies, socks, helmet, iPhone (broken and currently in a bag of rice - not sure how I'll survive without Kirsty Young…) and with every gear change, we felt cold water sloshing around in our boots. It doesn't feel safe riding in such heavy rain but according to the forecast there is no letting up and as it's rainy season in Colombia we better get used to it. Going from the boiling hot tropical beaches on the west coast to the high altitude wind and cold in the Andes in a matter of hours was a bit of a shock to the system. On a motorbike there is no hiding from it and even though we are aching and stiff from the cold, travelling this way means we are emersed in our surroundings and the lows that we definitely feel don't seem to last long anymore and serve mainly to accentuate the highs. For example we were over the moon when we got to buy a pair of very stylish huge yellow waterproof ponchos that we've seen all the farmers wearing, hopefully they should do the job...

Before setting of North and hitting the rain we had spent ten days camping under a tin roof on terrace two metres above the beach in a village called Ayampe. Less than an hours ride from Montañita but completely different. Ayampe was a place people travelling seemed to get stuck, there was strong international community which worked well alongside the locals, a testament to this was the diverse village football team that seemed to gather most nights. There were only a few places to stay and eat but all of which were beautiful and welcoming. Some places,like Montañita, we feel a bit embarrassed about how things have changed to accommodate the traveller; nightclubs, souvenirs shops, endless burger bars and loud music wherever you go. Ayampe was actively trying to avoid this and had a strong community making important decisions about its future, so far it feels like it is working. We really hope it manages to keep it's soul as it inevitably develops further; there are already talks of building a paved road right on the beach and bits of land being bought up by rich prospectors from Guayaquil. For now, it was as close to paradise as we have seen so far. All activity centred around the local shop, Maria was the key to the community, holding tabs for (and on) everyone. One night two drunk local lads smashed a car window because a tourist had parked on the beach (not allowed) the village was mortified at their behaviour and Maria proceeded to chase them down the street, hitting them both with bamboo sticks whilst shouting. Most nights we ate at a little place called ‘Artesano’, for a small cost we would get an Arepa, a savoury corn pancake with toppings and share a Torta for desert.

We had meant to stay just three or four days but have increasingly realised on this trip that it’s often better to stay put when you find a piece of paradise, even if it means sacrificing somewhere else. Everything here was working for us, cheap camping, good people, good food and the occasional good surf. Ecuador wasn't really getting the swell it needed to work the way we knew it could and we wanted to stick it out and score rather than just move on. It seems like a pretty fickle country for surf when the south swells hit and unfortunately we had arrived a little late for the north swell season (thanks again Chile!). We did however have a good few days, one perfect glassy evening and I finally got to surf on my forehand. On the first morning we were there the beach break was pretty heavy with some perfect glassy bombs coming through; solid and very shallow. When the swell got too big for the beach to hold we would hop on the bike and search for waves in the north and south through the winding jungle roads. We found a mellow right hand reef, perfect for carving a few turns and so spent a few mornings there in ridiculously warm glassy water, there were a few people out but the atmosphere was good. After ten days and the occasional good surf, the swell dropped and showed no signs of picking up. We were panicking a little about timescales and the task of crossing the gap between Colombia and Panama so we decided that it was time to move on. 

Ecuador is such a small country compared to Peru and Chile so we decided that we could make it to Mompiche in a day. It hasn’t happened often but that was another of those times when we miscalculated how long a days ride would take; the combination of patches of rain and the winding roads climbing through mountain and jungle made our 460K journey take a lot longer than it ever did in Peru. It was a double edged sword because as the sun was setting we were of course getting nervous but at the same time we were witnessing a world in the jungle that comes alive with dusk. The sound of our engines was drowned out by the insects, a surround sound chorus that was actually quite eerie. As we passed through small peublos we saw candle lit housed on wooden stilts, fires burning along the roadside preparing to cook the evening asado, men and women returning home from who knows where carry machetes covered in mud, the village football team congregating and card games being laid out with bottles of Plisner. Everyone is outside. Even if they are sat under a tarp, everyone is mingling around, talking, hanging out or pulling out chairs to watch the communal TV. We passed so many of these tiny little pueblos, the smell of smoke following us from one to the other, luckily dusk seemed to hang for ages and the moment we finally reached our destination (after ten hours on the road) total darkness kicked in.

We are struggling to adjust to the shorter days that are the result of being right on the equator. Just two days ago while heading to the border we mis-calculated again, this time is wasn't quite so rosy. Riding parallel to the Colombian border heading west to the only safe crossing things felt a little more shady. The army officials pulled us over to search our bags looking for drugs, asking where we had been and where we were going. Luckily they didn’t ask for the insurance documents we kind of forgot to buy…Here in the far North, the pueblos seemed a lot more run down and for the first time ever in Ecuador the dogs seemed interested in our legs again, luckily a bunch of five year olds came to the rescue and chased them off at one particularly tense stand off. Another miscalculation and dusk felt like it was really kicking in but it was probably more to do with the dark skies causing the torrential downpours; I wasn’t happy but I know we might be in trouble when Tom starts getting stressed and shouting back, we got our heads down and hoped for the best. At the final hour we spotted a sign for a room to stay. Not just any room, as we pulled off the road and negotiated the price through the downpour we had no idea how beautiful the place was and as the clouds cleared and the rain let up we realised we were next to a waterfall high up in the jungle. A silver lining.

As we head further and further north, now in our third country in South America we notice small changes that really do affect everyday life. As soon as we hit Ecuador we noticed how polite everyone seemed to be. When you are walking in the street, eating a meal, heading out for a surf or sat watching the world go by, nobody will pass you without making eye contact and wishing you a good day, a good evening or ‘Buen Provecho’ - Bon appetite, literally no one, from the kids to the adults, the police to the farmers. It has felt such a friendly place. In the north we are seeing huge changes in ethnic make up of the country. Chile had next to no immigration, here in Ecuador we are seeing a real mix and as we move on to Colombia and closer to the Caribbean almost 80 percent of the population is mixed race. Music now seems to permeate the streets, more like what we expected of South America and it’s not Reggaeton thank goodness. The food has a bit more of a kick to it too, each little cafe or truck stop with it’s own version of ‘Aji’ hot sauce and I finally cooked my own plantain, what a treat that food is.

Tomorrow we go to Colombia. Before we embarked on this trip, Colombia was always a bit of a concern for us however the more people we talk to, the more we read the more we discover that this is going to be an amazing country to explore. In the last ten years it’s been trying to shake off the reputation of lawlessness and danger that it has had for so long. We are not naive and know that the country is far from perfect, mass economic disparity and there are still absolute no go areas but we don’t feel stupid anymore for entering the county on motorbikes and we are excited to explore.

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Hasta Luego Amigos!

Into Ecuador


All the photos on this blog can be made into beautiful prints on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag using C-type process and shipped anywhere in the world for just £40+ postage. If anyone is interested in buying some art and supporting our trip we would love to arrange it. Contact us on here or at info@driftervisual.com for enquiries. Thanks!


The last time we wrote we had just got to Pacasmayo in Northern Peru; well, not the far North of Peru but pretty far up there. Lots of people had split opinions over Pacasmayo, some said it was the best Peruvian pointbreak, others weren't so bothered. Chicama was so good that we were excited to reach it's potentially better brother. We rode up and found a hostel to stay in, Pacasmayo is a pretty big town and we didn't really want to camp there for similar reasons to Chicama. We didn't find the 'surfer' hostel but one that popped up online that probably was, once upon a time, popular with surfers. When we got there, it was empty; not a single other person in a huge hostel. The surf was no good and it was my birthday so we had a nice day cruising around town shooting some video, eating amazing fruit and cheap food. We were going to leave the next day but knew we might regret it as there was a good swell coming so we stayed. The next morning went back to the point on one bike and waited it out until someone turned up. It looked like there were a few fun waves out there and when some super nice guys we had met from Florida turned up, we paddled out with them. Although it didn't have the 'world class' look that Chicama or other waves had; it didn't really look like a point break even, we had a few hours of good sized fun waves with just the four of us out. At low tide later when it was supposed to be better, there was more wind, about thirty people were out who dropping in, snaking and pushing eachother too deep. It was a circus out there, we had it so much better. The fact that the wave wasn't all it was cracked up to be (from our experience), our hostel was pretty bad and we were in a big busy town solidified our decision to leave and head North. At this point we were counting down the days until we reached the end of this desert that we had entered three and a half months earlier.

We decided on Lobitos and found a hostel that looked like we could camp at for cheap. It was at the next point along called Piscinas. We set off early for the huge journey up there, it was 460KM, the longest journey we have done in a day yet. When we arrived we were exhausted but set up camp next to the hostel, grabbed a rare cold beer and hung out with some of the English people that were volunteering there. The location was amazing, right on the beach and way out in the middle of nowhere but it had a real fly problem and there were thousands of mosquitoes too which was really annoying. The town had suffered some flooding from the rare rains and was still recovering. It was also more than half an hour down dirt and sand and across flooded roads to get to the town with fresh fruit and veg. We were kind of tied to eating at the Hostel, it wasn't cheap or great but we survived. The terrace had a clear view of the wave, which was really good but very busy at times. We surfed a lot, it was easy; no wetsuits needed and just 200m to run across the hot sand to get in. We'd jump in, have a few good waves and go back in when we got tired. The small group of really good locals had the take-off dialled and would sit behind the rock and get the pick of the waves. This definitely pushed us to take off deeper; Sally was taking some really critical drops and making them, one local even told his mate that "That girl will throw herself into anything".

We surfed at least twice or three times a day every day for a week and camped for cheap. The best thing about the week were the people we met though. Steve and Julie from Indiana were a couple who were around sixty years old who were just awesome people we loved hanging around with. Volunteering at a hostel in Northern Peru after working all their lives and raising four kids is really inspiring. I think next time they travel they will be on little Honda's though. One bad thing was that Sally got really sick for a day and night, throwing up and feeling really weak, the tent offered no respite from the heat but luckily a girl kindly offered her bed for the day, thanks Georgie!

The day we left, I was feeling pretty rough but made it out of the town and onto the Pan Am, about half an hour in I was on my hands and knees throwing up by the side of the road. I was useless and it was pretty dangerous to be on the road but we made it to a town about an hour North and Sally sorted everything out for us at a motel and I just slept it off. We knew there were good waves we were missing but the chart looked bad and we can't go everywhere and wait for waves so we decided to make a run for the Ecuador border the next day.

We packed up in the dark and headed North about two hours until we hit the border. The crossing was fine, we were so relieved we had all the documents we ended up getting as there was a fair bit of paperwork for them to fill in but we crossed in a couple of hours. In the space of less than two or three hours, the desert landscape fell away and turned green, really green. Banana plantations, rice paddy fields, tropical plants and trees and coconuts for sale by the side of the road everywhere. We were so happy to leave that desert behind! We had one night in a horrific motel with a huge cockroach and then headed to Montañita, kind of by accident, we just wanted some internet to plan where else we want to go. It was pretty horrific there, a kind of dystopian tourist haven. We have just arrived in Ayampe and there are waves on the way. Now this place is more our scene..$5 dollar camping, waves out front and a way more chilled vibe. Will post more when we make some more progress. 

Thanks for reading!

Tierra de las Izquierdas

When we wrote the last blog post we were in Huaraz, way up in the Andes, a few hours from the coast. Peru is a beautiful country with incredible waves but we would be the first to admit that sometimes the coastal towns, which are all desert, can be a little run down and depressing. The dry, arid climate makes for a monochrome palette of dusty browns and the wild dogs run the streets, chasing after the tuk-tuks with blown out exhausts as they honk their way through the towns vying for business. The mountain regions feel like the Peru you imagine with the abundance of colour, fresh produce, indigenous people and dramatic landscapes. There is rain up there and the greenery that goes with it. People flock to the towns to sell their wares or produce on the streets near the market and you can walk around buying fresh fruit, veg, flowers, bread, cakes, street food and more all day and hardly spend any money. Huaraz is right in the middle of two beautiful mountain ranges and there are people that run tours and walking trips in the mountains surrounding it. Whilst we aren’t so keen on the idea of organised tours we really wanted to do some exploring ourselves. The city itself is at 3,500m and there were a few walks from near the town, we chose to head up to Laguna Churup, at 4,700m. A lot of people complain about altitude sickness at these kinds of heights but we hadn’t experienced anything bad when we were in Northern Chile so we hoped for the same here. 

We both jumped on one bike, the other safely parked in a garage guarded by the meanest dog that we were both terrified of when we had to get them out, and headed through the narrow dirt streets heading up to the entrance to the National Park. We wound through pueblos and farms, past tiny basic houses with acres of fertile land and crops bursting out of the well-tended fields. The people all looked as if they were in costume especially for us; big tall hats and bright Peruvian textiles. Every house along the road had at least one guard dog and as usual, they hated us. Handfuls of rocks were our only defence as we crept past barking bared teeth, slowly and quietly is the best way to do it but its pretty terrifying. We stopped counting after about forty dogs in an hour and a half ride up to the mountains. When we reached the base of the park, we were astonished at how similar it looked to the Yorkshire Dales; green rolling hills with dry stone walls cutting the landscape into manageable chunks. 

A path of stone steps lead us up towards the lake; each step left us gasping for breath; we didn’t feel sick but it’s difficult to do anything at 4,000m. We had a bag of Coca leaves we bought from the market; the locals swear by it so we stuffed our mouths with it and hoped its natural powers kept any sickness at bay. The steps wound their way up the hill towards snow capped peaks and a huge granite waterfall; Goredale Scar times ten. We wound our way up and onto the hillside, bringing us around to the waterfalls we had to scale, here the terrain got a little more challenging. Wires were set into the rocks for climbers to use to navigate their way up the falls, it was tough with very little breath but really fun to gain height so quickly and see the views unfold around us. We reached the top after about 3 hours climbing and were greeted by a beautiful lake set into the rocks, a vivid blue bowl with views of the higher snow capped peaks in the distance. We were hot from the climb despite the colder weather up there. Neither of us bought swimming gear for some reason but Tom stripped into his undies and dived into the cold waters. A few other people turned up and had a swim so we went around the corner to a private little nook where Sally could do her thing. 

The clouds rolled in and we set off back down to the bike below, definitely feeling as though we were in the Dales now, drenched from the pissing rain and cold from the swim. We navigated the wet dirt roads back to the city, glad that we had decided to skip a lot of the Andes in the South, riding soaking wet at altitude is colder than you imagine, especially when you are wildly underprepared for it. 

Happy that we had made the most of our diversion into the hills, we had eaten well and explored the area so we set off back to the point break from the last post. This was not the original plan but the chart looked perfect for it and we knew that we would be able to score empty waves for a few days and this seemed like a great option. After five more perfect days there, surfing head high reeling lefts with very few people, cooking and camping on the beach for free we decided to head North to Huanchaco, a famous surf town near to the city of Trujillo. It was 400km or so North so by the time we got there we were exhausted from the ride and found the first hostel that looked cheap and booked in for the night. It had a terrace with views over the surf and was a short walk to the town with restaurants with really cheap food. A couple of days previous, Sally decided to surf in a bikini with sand in her wax and had rubbed raw a patch of her stomach and was therefore out of the water for all four days we hung around in Huanchaco. The surf never got great but there were a few fun beach break style peaks dotted down the point, it was pretty busy and nowhere near classic so she didn’t really miss out but she was pretty gutted about it anyway. It’s difficult watching your husband and cool off in the sea in the heat of the sun, even if the waves aren’t perfect. 75p veggie burgers and the discovery of the best chocolate in Peru kept her going for a few days though. 

We packed up early and rode the hour or so up to Chicama, this was definitely one of the major reasons we came on this trip in the first place; the self proclaimed ‘longest perfect left hand point break in the world’. We got to Chicama with the view to camping there to save some money but as we rode over the dunes to the end of the vast point, the winds were howling, sun beating down and the set-up was different to the last spot where we could watch each other surf and film etc. whilst keeping an eye on our tent. Chicama is vast and would be a brutal place to camp, sometimes it’s not worth it so we rode back to town and found a cheap hostel for £5 a night. It was basic but had a kitchen and was in a great location. It was still three more torturous days before Sally was healed enough to surf so she never really heard how good the wave was after I came back from a surf at first; it felt too cruel to let on. The wave was pretty much perfect, fast sections, slow sections, cover-up sections; it had it all really. I think we may have surfed waves just as long as the three or four distinct sections that make up the ‘one perfect wave’ and the fabled ‘jelly legs’ we had read about were more from the massive walk with bare feet to the point than the length of the waves but I think I still counted more than sixteen cutbacks on one wave which is pretty impressive. The current is at a fast walking pace down the point towards the town so you have to paddle constantly to hold position which is exhausting. 

The towns itself was pretty chilled and small. There were a lot of foreign surfers and it was cool to hang out with them and hear about where they’d been and were going. The only problem is the fact that people think its acceptable to get a zodiac boat out to the point where they get RNLI style rescued every time they fall off or finish a wave. To be fair, it is a bit of a walk to the point if you have fragile feet and the current is too strong for their weak little arms so the boats are a real business in Chicama, there are about five boats now. It is a beautiful walk though and most surfers will be fit enough to hold position long enough to get a good wave. The zodiacs bring noise and pollution to the peaceful line-up, carve up big wakes in the faces and drop hoards of spoilt rich kooks deeper than you as soon as the driver spots a set. This is more than a little bit annoying when you have been paddling your heart out waiting for the set. After some particularly bad etiquette at one part of the wave where Sally was the only one not on a boat, she had a word with four American guys about their behaviour, they apologised and the driver offered her a lift in the boat for free which she proudly refused in favour of paddling herself out again and again. Most of the ‘real surfers’ you talk to share the same feeling about the situation there. 

On the second day we were there, the waves were small and we were sat around watching a film in the hostel when the guy who owned it mentioned that there were penguins and sea lions on the point and they were going on a boat out there, we asked if we could jump in and he said “yeah, fine, course!”. We went out with him and Victor, the guy who lived next door who owned the boat. Victor was taking his son out for the day and there was an Italian who seemed good friends with them too. It turned out to be an island not just the point and we had a great time and saw penguins, dolphins, albatross and loads more cool stuff. When we got back to land two hours later, we offered to buy Michael, the guy from the hostel a couple of beers for hooking us up. He told us we needed to speak to the boss, Victor - be wary of this guy if anyone is heading to Chicama. We spoke to Victor who told us straight faced that we owed him four hundred Soles each, that’s two hundred quid in total. We told him straight out that we weren’t paying anything like that, we aren’t stupid. We ended up paying about twenty quid each which was probably about fair, we went to an island a few miles from the coast and it was a great experience. The Italian ‘friend’ paid the full amount but this was prearranged. In retrospect we wouldn’t have done it if we knew we had to pay anything up front but we would have definitely missed out so it all worked out in the end. This journey is constantly teaching us valuable lessons; money talk up front is a necessity. 

Chicama is one of those places you could lose a lot of time, surfing is easy, the wind is good most of the time and you just grab your board and walk. We could have stayed for months probably but we knew we had to leave. We arrived in Pacasmayo about another hour up the coast and although we haven’t been too impressed yet, the swell is small and we need to give it a bit more time, there is a pretty good chart coming our way tomorrow. We will let you all know how that goes in the next instalment. 

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5 Days of Offshore Perfection...

After Arequipa we spent a few days navigating the vast, hot, dry desert. Every couple of hours we would cross lush green valleys and then we were back to riding through dry desert mountains, hugging the coast where possible and stopping in pueblos or truckstops to pick up supplies or find a place to sleep for the night. We preferred the cheap motels as oppose to camping because we would arrive late, hot, tired and in need of food and a good nights sleep, one night we paid just five pounds for both of us, it might have been a brothel but we were out of there by 6am anyway. We haven't seen another tourist for a while now and it feels nice to be making our own way through this country.

We decided not to go into the mountians in the South as originally planned because so many people had advised us that rainy season had hit the area and that travelling on motorbikes could be tough as roads are prone to flooding. We were pretty gutted because we knew that the riding would be amazing. Instead we promised ourselves to head inland into the Huaraz region further North. At least two other riders (thanks Matty and Kelly) we had spoken to on the trip had stressed the need to visit this area above all others and the hope was that we would get lucky with the rain and cold, we are wildly underprepared for cold weather. Instead we pressed on to a beach called Cerra Azul, a group of Brazilians travelling in a VW Camper had told us about it and guaranteed that we'd like it. We arrived hot and sweaty to a beach town packed full of holiday makers spending their weekend away from Lima. The beach itself was flooded with people and although the wave looked good, everywhere we turned someone wanted to charge us for something. The biggest issue was that we couldn't get the bikes on the beach and there were signs everywhere telling us that we couldn't camp. This was not what we had expected from Peru and it was pretty late and we were feeling disheartened. We had this naive idea that all the beaches would be empty and everything would be cheap. After asking around we were assured that this was a weekend thing aand that prices would drop come Monday. Also that being so close to one of the largest cities in the world meant prices were higher and crowds guaranteed.

Although it was late and we had already done a long day's riding, we decided to press on to Punta Hermosa, another 90km North on the Pan Am. Everyone had assured us that things would be cheaper here and that the waves were in abundance. Arriving to the beach town in darkness we were surprised by the number of police and security guards. We headed in the direction of the beach and had to be allowed through barriers. In the darkness we weren't sure what was happening but the next day after locating the cheapest hostel in the pueblo above, we realised that the beach was basically a huge gated community, complete with white washed condos, flash cars, expensive restaurants and rich looking kids driving round on quad bikes. What the hell had happened to the Peru we had been dreaming of (and seen in the South). Go North, go North is all everyone kept saying so after two days surfing a pretty average right hander with some really lovely locals we decided that though the people were lovely, this place wasn't for us. We wanted to camp. We wanted point breaks, quiet and were determined to press on.

Just as we were planning our next move, happy to be on the road but a little dissapointed with the waves, a French guy talked us through some spots he had just been to and he was stoked, his enthusiasm rubbed off on us and we felt really positive about what was to come. We decided to take a chance on a spot he liked, mainly because he said we could camp there. Very little was written about it online and it was deep in the desert but sort of on our way. We weren't too hopeful but we decided to ride there anyway.

To get there however we first had to pass through Peru's capital city, Lima. We planned the route as best we could to avoid as much of the centre as possible but as we started to hit traffic the defined Panamerican Highway dissappeared from the Garmin and Tom was left trying to navigate the city without GPS. Oblivious to this and convinced Tom knew exactly where we were going I stayed as close to him as possible, pushing through the hoards of traffic, determined not to lose him despite being cut up from all angles. I couldn't believe how he was managing to navigate these crazy back streets, taking us through one way streets and down town markets. Eventually I had to ask to ask him whether he was lost and was dismayed to get a nodded response. The city is home to nine million people, the roads make no sense, it's surrounded by fog and pretty terrifying on a bike. Luckily we spotted a sign stating 'Pan American Norte' and couldn't have got out of there fast enough. I'm sure the city is great but we had no interest in stopping.

Back on the highway we travelled for another three or four hours before we found the turn off as promised by our French friend. We rode about 4km down a sand and dirt track. In the distance was a rocky headland and it sort of looked like there was an offshore left hand point break running down it. We hadn't stocked up on any food, nor had we eaten since the morning but we headed straight into the water. It was incredible, so perfect; head high, 2-300m long lefts, everything we had been waiting for.

After a quick surf, Tom got back on the bike in the sunset and raced towards the nearest town (40km away) to get some supplies whilst I set up camp in crazy offshore wind. Tom had a bit of a disaster and came back with devastatingly little, the shops in the small twon had either been closed or had bars up forcing him to shop blind and attempt his spanish. As he was loading up what little he had he got warned by the police to move on quickly as the town he was in wasn't safe. It's always worrying when one of us heads out without the other and to be fair to Tom it's usually him. I sat at the camp waiting and worrying and when he got back I didn't like hearing that he had been somewhere unsafe. We had a delicious meal of cous cous and soya mince, no salt, no flavour; nothing, it was truely grim but it was fuel to tide us over until we could go to the big town the next day.

For the next five days we barely moved from the beach, getting up early to surf alone and making sure we surfed until last light. To keep the camp safe we took turns in the water and actually got the chance to watch and film each other surf, this is something we have rarely done in the past and really enjoyed it.  Neither of us have ever scored waves so clean, with such a good size, offshore conditions that didn't close out and we can't possible explain how happy it made us feel. When the weekend came and the swell dropped off, we decided that all good things had to come to an end; we were sore, sunburnt, everything was full of sand and we had run out of supplies. We packed up with the weekend crowd from Lima all hassling each other for waist high waves, grinning to ourselves about how we had it head high and alone.

As promised we decided to head into the Huaraz region, excited to get out of the desert for a few days, perhaps even feel some rain. We rode up through the Black Mountians, huge landscapes and dramatic backdrops everywhere we looked, the Lake District on crack. I'm not sure I have ever seen anything so beautiful and we haven't even made a dent on the area. We wound our way up to nearly 4,000m; passing through scenes straight from the pages of a National Geographic, lush green mountains and vertical black cliffs, quaint Peruvian villages full of colour and of course nutcase dogs desperate to bite our ankles. Eventually hitting what I could only describe as the 'tops'; reminincent of our beautiful Yorkshire Moors, topped off with a thunderstorm to really transport us home. Twenty five minutes of Yorkshire Dales style downpour ensured we were soaked through with numb, cold hands - the first real rain we had had so far. When we pulled into the city of Huaraz, we found a cheap clean room and headed to the market for some food.

The next few days we are going to explore this area. The draw of the coast is strong and with a good south swell on the way it would be stupid to not go back down to our perfect point break before battling the desert North to the Chicama area. 

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Peru

We stood in line in the long queue for the third time; this time we got there before the sun came out in the vain attempt to get there before the crowds were up and about; unfortunately the borders don't work like the surf spots in Chile. After weeks of stress and sleepless nights about the bikes, we knew we had all the documentation we were possibly going to get and this was our last chance to get out of Chile and into Peru with the bikes. We had tried a few weeks ago, in fact, the day we got to Arica, Ross from Hostel Sunny Days encouraged us to give it a go that afternoon. With the documents we had, we couldn't cross the Chilean Aduana (customs) window. We knew we needed our Padron, an ownership card.

We had logged the transfer of the bikes some time ago but the process takes time; like everything in Latin America it seems. Meeting at 8 o'clock means meeting at 9 o'clock, in the same way that the 27th of January actually means the 9th of February. Lots of days in Arica we would go to the Registro Civil, get into the queue and request that they check on the system to see if the ownership of the bikes had been transferred to us yet. What we hoped would be days in Arica turned into weeks. We managed to leave a lot of our stuff at a Hostel in the store room and then we would ride to a beach a couple of miles out of town and set up camp amongst the local families for the night. Every few days we would book into the hostel for a night for a shower, wifi and to recharge the batteries and sort ourselves out. This worked out pretty well as we managed to save a fair bit of money.

Arica turned out to be a pretty cool city, there were a few good waves but nothing quite classic. There is the famous El Gringo that is a hollow, shallow, menacing tube that breaks really close to the reef. It's cool to watch but for a 'surf city', the most surfers we ever saw out there were one or two hell-men at a time. Around the corner was a less gnarly point break, La Isla. I surfed this wave a lot but it was pretty competitive and local and very strange. Only the North swell sets would break wide enough of the reef to surf properly and they would break really strangely, kind of bend around a corner as they hit the reef. I had about 3 waves and 3 dings in total. Not the best but the locals had it dialled and it was cool to watch and shoot them. Las Machas, the beach break, gave us a couple of fun sessions but nothing classic unfortunately. La Puntilla on the other hand was a perfect longboarding wave, waist high sets rolling down the boulder reef with turtles bobbing up all around you for maybe 3-400 metres. Like Malibu in reverse. The only problem was we don't have longboards. We had a little arrangement where we borrowed some from a local dude for a bit, it didn't last. We'll tell you that story over a beer one day.

We went into the mountains on the day we found out it would be at least another week for the Padron document. We loaded up minimal camp and camera gear and headed East towards the Bolivian border to a village at about 3,700m called Tignamar where there was a big festival of the ancestral villages. We got there a day before it started and rode through the village to the greenery at the side of the dry riverbed where we found a perfect camping spot. The scenery on the way up to the village was stunning. We had been in the desert way too long and to get up to some more green and leafy terrain and into the dramatic mountain landscapes was amazing. We had a cold night in the tent as we don't really have anything warm with us and didn't think to take whatever warm stuff we had. The next morning the camp felt super secure so we left the tent up with our stuff in it (I took my camera bag and valuables obviously) and walked up to the village for breakfast. The only people we saw near to our camo spot were the locals who were slaughtering goats on the big tree about 100m away from the tent. Apart from the fact they were slaughtering and butchering goats they had hanging with chains from a tree, and were covered in blood and guts, they were nice dudes. The altitude made me feel short of breath but the air was so clean and fresh. It was amazing to be in a place that felt so honest and pre-occupied with it's celebrations that we felt so safe. That day and night we hung out at the festival and listened to local music and checked out all the cool costumes and dances. We didn't get a lot of sleep that night, it was pretty cold and the party didn't stop until about 6am.

The next day we asked around to see if there was petrol in another town a couple of hours North called Putre, it turns out there was so we decided to head up there and do some exploring. Again, the scenery was incredible, endless mountains in every direction. We rolled into Putre and stopped at a hotel, it was pretty expensive so we asked if there was a cheaper option, it was too cold to camp a third night. The guy pointed in the direction of a friends place, we got there and there was a clean little room with a bathroom for pretty cheap (for Chile). The whole family were super friendly and swapped out the single bed for a double for us. We got some food at an awesome and cheap little restaurant that was really good and got an early night to catch up on lost sleep.

The next day we rode even further North East, towards the border and up to nearly 5,000m. It was cold on the road in the morning so we took the road to the Hot Springs we had promised ourselves we would visit later. The smaller, natural pools, were too hot to use but the main pool was perfect and we hung out there and swam around until our bones were finally warm after 3 days of cold. We were the only ones there in the little fold of the mountains and it was pretty special. Back on the bikes and we headed to Lago Chungara, a lake at about 4,700m. We passed Llamas and Vicuñas which seemed fitting in the landscape but unfortunately didn't see any Condors. The landscape became more and more dramatic with the weather hanging from the peaks until we hit the Antiplano where it flattened out and only a few peaks stood out, the huge volcano Parinacota dominated the landscape with snow on top. We got the lake and trekked down to get a closer look at the Flamingos which was cool. On the ride back we stopped at the hot springs again to warm up. That night it rained, the first bit of real rain we have felt in over 3 months. We woke up to the peak visible from the door of the room now covered in snow. 

By the time we got back to Arica there was a good run of swell so the last few days, although tense and stressful waiting for the Padron, we had a couple of good surfs and I managed to sell some photos. We also bumped into some friends from Iquique that we wished we had said goodbye to.

The day the Padron came, the guy in the Registro Civil was such an awkward bastard. We were firm and got the paper in the end though which was such a relief, Sally's had come on the Friday and mine 'wasn't ready' until the Monday. The next day early we hit the road and were allowed past the border, we couldn't believe it after all this time but as we rode past the signs welcoming us into Peru, we were happy to be somewhere new and heading North for the good swells.

We rode straight through Tacna, it was chaos! Immediately, Peru felt different to Chile, more what we had imagined of South America. We rode through yet more endless desert until we passed a funny looking motorbike way over-loaded with stuff and people, I was sure it was the same German brothers from the start of the trip so I pulled over. Sure enough, Dumb and Dumber style, they came wobbling back up the road! They'd been all over and were going back to Chile to give the bike to a guy they'd met as a present. Cool kids!

A couple of hours later and we were in the beautiful chaos of Moquegua. More like Morocco than Chile with it's street food, market stalls, crazy taxis, colours and smells. We found a hostel and the first one we stopped at was the same price for a private room and bathroom than it was for one bed in a dorm in Chile. The next morning we got up early and travelled a few hours North to Arequipa, a big city that loads of people recommended. Driving through the streets with minimal GPS maps was a challenge to say the least, the cars and taxi's are 'assertive' to say the least but we found a nice hostel after an hour or boiling hot stressful riding. We found a veggie restaurant and ate a four course meal of great food for £6 with a drink...thats more like it. The city wasn't really a welcome break for us. We had set a point on the map nearly 1,000km North of the Chilean border we wanted to get to as quickly as possible, we had spent so much time in Chile that we needed to make some calls about where we wanted to spend our time along the way. Navigating into and out of a big City is a lot of time for not a lot of miles. The next day we really got our heads down and covered over 400km; that is the longest day we have done so far on the trip. We have two more days of riding until we are at the waves and we are exhausted but to make such a dent on a country this big was always going to be a challenge. The roads aren't busy but as you wind through the mountains on the single carriages, it is not uncommon to see the truck in front of you cut the blind corner on the cliff tops or overtake on blind summits. We both approach every corner with our little horns on full blast. 

In contrast to Chile which had unimaginable gaps of just nothing, 4-5 hours with not so much as a bottle of water to buy and certainly no petrol, Peru has more to see along the way, more little towns and settlements. There is more fuel, more food, more colour and more people. I'm going to put it out there (and I am sorry to all of our Chilean friends) but it seems to have a bit more soul it's less in awe of the American dream and seems more comfortable with itself, it's chaos and its roots. 

Here are some photos from the end of Chile and start of Peru and a video from the mountains called Alto Viejo. The videos better on HD from Vimeo if you click through. 

 

Our camp. Lots of Arican locals rent their houses for the summer and move to the beach for 2-3 months. They have fridges and TV's that run off generators. 

Our camp. Lots of Arican locals rent their houses for the summer and move to the beach for 2-3 months. They have fridges and TV's that run off generators. 

You and I forever...

You and I forever...

Nos Vemos x

The Land of Eternal Spring

We are both fully aware there has been a month long (or more) silence on the blog and we have been meaning to update but then putting it off until something changed and the post was more positive and had cool stuff to share. Life has been kind of in the slow lane for a while for us, we are still in Chile and just hanging out really.

Since Sally got bitten by the dog we had been living in Iquique in Northern Chile. The healthcare in Chile is great and free and the bite was pretty big and very deep, it really required a lot of attention to stop it from getting infected and potentially putting Sally's whole trip on the line. Every day we would ride across town to the doctor and get it cleaned and re-dressed until it was good enough to sort ourselves. It still hasn't healed but it isn't an issue now. Then there was the long course of Anti-Rabies injections that took more than a month in total.

We went to Iquique thinking we would be there for three days or so and ended up staying five or so weeks. Without glossing over the situation too much; this was obviously a massive blow to our trip, in particular our budget. We only have twelve months and one of them was spent in a city, living in a hostel which cost way too much money. The problem with the Atacama is that your either in a city, or your in the desert with nothing. No food, no water, no petrol, nada; there aren't small coastal towns or resorts. It's the driest place on earth so you're either in a town or you're dead in the desert. Wild camping has too many issues in one of the most hostile environments in the world, shade, water, keeping food fresh and all of that stuff. 

On the plus side, Iquique was an awesome city. It's clean, bright, friendly and well serviced. Good fruit and veg market, surf shops, ding repair guy, great people and beautiful beaches and water. The people have a glow to them, the pace of life is slow and everyones cool. Groups of young girls and dudes skateboard down the promenade, bodyboarders congregate in the shade, families BBQ on the beaches, everyone smokes this horrible smelling weed all day; it's got a kind of Californian vibe to it (I imagine..). The downside was that it is in Chile so it's expensive. I cut my feet up badly and wanted to buy some plasters, it was going to be £6 for 6 plasters. 

The surf was pretty consistent but it is the bodyboard capital of the world and we couldn't get our heads around that. Not just kids, but full grown adults would cruise around with boogie boards and flippers dropping in on you and being assholes. It was pretty weird and funny to watch but also pretty annoying at times. It's the first time we've ever felt like the odd ones out for being surfers. But they would go deeper than we would ever dare and I've seen footage and photos of them surfing some crazy waves and getting crazy tubes so its all good I guess.

We made a good friend in Maxi, a local dude who we gave tons of photos to. He would pick us up and drive us around a load and we got to surf loads of cool places and hang out loads. We met other people in the surf community and they were all awesome people, if your reading this Maxi, Jose and family, Marcello, Andres, Maria, Dani, Vinko, Carlos, Begoña, Jorge, Marcos and co. thanks for having us, todos ustedes son bienvenidos en Inglaterra, pero es muy frio! 

There are a bunch of photos underneath that hopefully show that we are both surfing better and my water photography is getting better. I swam in the heaviest surf yet and loved it, can't wait to shoot more. 

So healthcare aside, there has been one other issue. Chile loves bureaucracy, loves it. We had some papers Alejandro thought would work for the bikes, turns out they wouldn't because we are English. We took some advice from other locals and travellers and started the process of a transferencia but in the spirit of Chile, things have many steps, many hurdles and take lots of time. We have spend countless hours in Notarias, Registro Civils, Tax Offices and all that kinda stuff. When the 'Padron' is ready in the next few days, the Peruvian Embassy assure us we are good to go, wish us luck.

Our break for freedom came the day after Sally's final injection. We loaded up for the first time in forever and hit the road at sunrise. It felt so good to get on the road. We rode up to a small pueblo 200k from Iquique (no shops, no water, no fuel, nada) and set up camp on an empty beach at about mid day, the wind in the Desert is strong from late morning onwards so we wanted to avoid that. We set up the tent and got stuff sorted, every so often a set would come, 5-6 foot of gurgling shoredump barrels, spitting with malice into knee deep water. We watched for a while and saw a few rideable ones but both skipped on the suicide surf and opted for reading, music and cooking a simple meal of black beans and tomato sauce, with crackers of course. We got up early the next morning and hit the road at dawn, the road was amazing and it was so beautiful in the dawn light. Canyons, mountain passes, ancient petroglyphs and desert landscapes. We arrived in Arica mid morning and found a nice hostel run by a dude from New Zealand and got some breakfast. 

We decided to stay for two nights here in the Hostel and spend some time doing some exploring, finding the waves and a spot to camp. We think we are going to camp on the outskirts of the city for a week or so, there is a really good swell coming and we want to make the most of the quiet waves, beautiful coastline, turtles and cool city. We are going to leave most of our stuff with the Hostel owner to make life easier. I might get a fishing rod (haha). We should get the final piece of paper work really soon and then we will head into the mountains of Peru. 

Here are a ton of photos anyway. 

Sally, Christmas Day. We got up at 5am and a few of us went to a spot deep into the desert and scored perfect glassy waves. 

Sally, Christmas Day. We got up at 5am and a few of us went to a spot deep into the desert and scored perfect glassy waves. 

This spot, 'Unknown Mariners' was a saviour in Iquique on small days and the only right hander we have surfed in South America. The two rocks in the face of the wave, 'Las Hermanas (sisters)' were a bit of an issue at times. Two gringos apparently tried to tie a rope around them and tear them out with their car once; it didn't work. 

This spot, 'Unknown Mariners' was a saviour in Iquique on small days and the only right hander we have surfed in South America. The two rocks in the face of the wave, 'Las Hermanas (sisters)' were a bit of an issue at times. Two gringos apparently tried to tie a rope around them and tear them out with their car once; it didn't work. 

A classroom at the abandoned mining town of Humberstone. The following few photos are from there, we really loved it, it was hot as hell and in the desert but super interesting.

A classroom at the abandoned mining town of Humberstone. The following few photos are from there, we really loved it, it was hot as hell and in the desert but super interesting.

Just South of Iquique we tagged along with a surf school and while they surfed one reef, me and Sally had an amazing right hander to ourselves. I jumped in and shot this just before we left, I wanted to shoot the wave but it was too much fun surfing it. 

Just South of Iquique we tagged along with a surf school and while they surfed one reef, me and Sally had an amazing right hander to ourselves. I jumped in and shot this just before we left, I wanted to shoot the wave but it was too much fun surfing it. 

La Urraca, Iquique's downtown reef break. Gnarly as hell, so hollow and powerful, so full of urchins and way too many bodyboarders dropping in on you. When you got a good one though, it was amazing. 

La Urraca, Iquique's downtown reef break. Gnarly as hell, so hollow and powerful, so full of urchins and way too many bodyboarders dropping in on you. When you got a good one though, it was amazing. 

Never happier...

Never happier...

Sally on a small one at Urraca. 

Sally on a small one at Urraca. 

 
 
Maxi in the evening at Urraca. 

Maxi in the evening at Urraca. 

Our abandoned Atacama beach camping perfection.

Our abandoned Atacama beach camping perfection.

#campvibes or whatever.

#campvibes or whatever.

Dawn riding back to Ruta 5. 

Dawn riding back to Ruta 5. 

Ruta 5. This stretch of road appears on a few lists of 'Most Dangerous Roads in the World' etc. It was amazing, no traffic, little wind in the dawn and stunning scenery. 

Ruta 5. This stretch of road appears on a few lists of 'Most Dangerous Roads in the World' etc. It was amazing, no traffic, little wind in the dawn and stunning scenery. 

Everytime we turn up to a town, people are so nice to us. Day 2 in Arica and this guy YoYo takes us on an Arican adventure, exploring caves, taking us for food and then lending us longboards for a perfect evening of 2ft glassy waves. 

Everytime we turn up to a town, people are so nice to us. Day 2 in Arica and this guy YoYo takes us on an Arican adventure, exploring caves, taking us for food and then lending us longboards for a perfect evening of 2ft glassy waves. 

This is YoYo's secret 6000 year old mummy. He parked up and brushed the desert dirt away from near a rock he knew and showed us this. We did some reading and it honestly checks out. Crazy!

This is YoYo's secret 6000 year old mummy. He parked up and brushed the desert dirt away from near a rock he knew and showed us this. We did some reading and it honestly checks out. Crazy!

Ceviche and Empanadas in this great little beach joint. "YoYo, hows the coffee here?" "Shit" Cool, well take two please. 

Ceviche and Empanadas in this great little beach joint. "YoYo, hows the coffee here?" "Shit" Cool, well take two please. 

Cruising around Arica in the typical Chilean car, a Japanese Space Cruiser type thing. 

Cruising around Arica in the typical Chilean car, a Japanese Space Cruiser type thing. 

YoYo and Ceviche.

YoYo and Ceviche.

Back of the van vibes.  Nos Vemos!

Back of the van vibes. 

Nos Vemos!

 

 

Desert Sessions Volume Two

Taltal already seems like a long time ago now as we sit in a hostel in Iquique in the far North of Chile, just one long day's riding from our taget of reaching Peru and making some headway through the South and up to the surf by Christmas time.

The top part of the desert was beautiful, we camped on beaches, rode down empty roads, winding themselves between mountains and sea, dramatic clouds clinging to the peaks all morning, it felt like Iceland or Norway, maybe even Scotland but obviously warmer. One day we cut through the mountains and inland, the road taking us 2,000 metres above the sea we had been following all morning. As we rode past the clouds and into the clear blue skies and Mars-like landscape, the temperature rose and the fact we were in the driest desert on Earth really hit home. The ride up to Iquique really was beautiful but we had planned it to take about 5 days. Day one we rode twice as far as we had planned, day two we rode day three's planned route and more, then day three we made it all the way to Iquique, 350k's per day pretty much. That might not sound a lot but it takes us at least 8 hours, plus setting up camp at night, taking it all down and packing up the next morning at 6am.

We rode straight through Antofogasta, a big, clean, metropolitan looking city in the middle of the desert. I think we were ready for a bit of civilisation for a day or two, we knew Iqueque, 390kms, away would have that. We planned on going out for a Pisco Sour in a bar to reward ourselves when we got there, a very, very rare treat on our budget. The night we arrived however, I pretty much collapsed, sweating and shivering, feeling like a cat that has been rubbed the wrong way; heat stroke, exaustion I guess. When I came round the next day feeling loads better, we went for a walk through town; our bikes were securely parked in the Hostel yard and we were a bit more settled in. It's hot here, hot and dry, the cloudless sky beats intense sun down from 8.30am to 8pm every day. Siesta's are a necessity, not a luxury. There is a beach at the end of the street, four or five waves in the centre of the town and loads going on. For surfers reading this, Las Urracas (The Magpie) is a hollow, sucky, bowling left hander that breaks quickly and powerfully over a lavastone reef, the tidal range here is less that 2m so it breaks through the tides and is constantly hit by swell, year round from the Southern Oceans. It's not high on the list of surfers itineries but I've seen tubes here that would rival those of the Mentawais but with a couple of bodyboarders on them and maybe one or two friendly local 'stand-ups'. This is the bodyboard capital of Chile and we happened to arrive during the ISA World Championships.

After a couple of days relaxing here, reading, shooting some photos, tentatilvely surfing Las Urracas, we were going to move on, one day in Arica sorting our entry into Peru then head to the border the next day. We walked down to the beach to take some photo's at sunset but had left it a little late. As we walked back in the dark, discussing where we planned to be for Christmas, spirits high we got to our block and were met by a terrier barking aggressively on the grass verge by some cars, blocking our path. There were three or four other dogs there, the terrier didn't seem to want to back off so I moved away, Sally moved too but towards a fence. All of a sudden there was a panic of barks, growls and screams and I looked around and a huge German Sheperd had its snout through the fence, grabbing Sally's bag in it's bared teeth. I thought she was just shocked from the attack and it had only got her bag. Unfortunately, he had already bitten her leg really badly. We rushed back to the hostel, a million things to do at once, we hadn't been to the ATM so had no cash, our phones were dead and had no credit to call out. Sally got in the shower knowing she had to draw out as much blood as possible in case of infection, she was in a bad way, feeling really feint and in shock, she scrubbed out the wound with soap and water while the receptionist called us a taxi to the A&E. We grabbed phones and chargers and a kid called Mike came through for us - thanks Mike - we didnt even have to ask he just stood waiting with £30 and a fully charged phone, what a dude. We got into the taxi and arrived at the hospital. They rushed us past all the other waiting patients and we explained Sally had no Rabies pre-vac and needed to start the course of Rabies vaccinations. Three jabs and an hour later, we were heading back to the hostel, dressing already bleeding through. There is one deep cut, it's bad and deep but had the dog not been behind a fence it could have been a lot worse. She thinks its karma for laughing at my near dog miss.

The next day we went to the consultoria (GP) and got the dressing changed and the bruising had come out. The wound itself could be worse, its a puncture not a tear but it is deep. Sally is shaken up but she's stronger than anyone I know. We have to be here in Iquique for 21 days now at least for the Rabies stuff but that's OK, at least it's here and not some shit hole desert town with no facilities. The treatment hasn't cost us a penny so far either.

We are trying to see positives although we are definitely gutted and are actually missing life on the road. It's a great opportunity to practice water photography at some quality waves. We are really hoping that we can raise a bit more money from our photography, me in the water, Sally on the beach with some business cards, wish us luck!

Nos vemos amigos!

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Desert Sessions Volume One

We have arrived in a place called Taltal, it's an old mining town, pretty run down but kind of beautiful. Well we have had a pretty rough time the last few days. We both know it will be one of those cases where you look back and think 'Jesus, what an experience' but for now it's just been tough. Relentless riding of bikes through the desert. Sometimes on busy highways and other times on tracks I really dont think anyone has ridden down in a very, very long time. Not even roads; rocks, sand and rubble- my motorbike skills are definitely improving. A few days now we have ridden for over 10 hours per day just because it took us way longer than we planned, or the plan wasn't quite long enough so we tried to roll two day's worth of plans into one day. We are getting better at it though...planning. We make sure we have our gps routes and back ups to make sure we are safe and have enough petrol.

We creep through the towns we pass because dogs don't seem to like the sound of our motorbikes and Tom managed to get bitten by one as we rode into a town late at night after 12 hours straight in the desert. He was ok because it got his boot and to be honest it made me chuckle. I couldn't believe it actually went for him, a full on pack came for us after that and the locals had to shout at them to keep them away. It must be something about the noise of the bikes because now when we spot one we creep past they don't pay us as much attention, although there have been a couple of intense stand-off moments where they appear to be deciding.

Today we went to a beautiful place called Pan de Azucar which translates to 'bread of sugar'. White sand and blue sea against the orange of the desert, pretty special. We took the rode to avoid the highway but had to head back after 30Km's anyway because rain (in the driest desert on Earth) led to mud slides in March and blocked the route so we were forced back onto the route 5, the Pan American Highway. To be honest, this part of the Ruta 5 in itself was an experience, nothing for miles and miles other than bright orange desert and mountains. The skies cleared and when we stopped for water or sunblock, you could feel the heat of the sun immediately. We have taken to riding a bit down the hard-shoulder when huge trucks and busses want to come past us; we're taking it easy and they certainly aren't.

We've been camping a lot, there is something really comforting about the tent, everything has a place and we are getting better at setting up camp and taking it down in the misty mornings. Porridge on and coffee to start the day. We've found that it's not as windy in the morning and less traffic when heading onto the highway so there have been a few 6am rises.

It's been a hard slog and we're only half way through the Atacama but there should be waves in a couple of days and we're making progress, slow as it is.

Tom's put a couple of links to the music that's been keeping us going at the bottom, under the photos, mostly Neil Young and Billy Bragg so far. Also we saw a Sea Lion jump onto a jetty to attack a woman, it was pretty funny to watch her panic and run up the steps, could have been Tom two minutes earlier - now that would have been funny.

Valparaíso

We are overwhelmed by how expensive Chile is now we are out on our own, just for one nights camping in a basic camp site was going to be £16 for one night at one place. A cheapish Hostel is £22 for one night including breakfast. We are about to hit a really long stretch of country with not a lot there; a few surf spots with limited access but nothing that sounds as all-time as we have surfed. When we get further North, there are a few spots we are really keen to see and surf before we hit Peru, we might hang around for a few days up there but for now, the wetsuits are dry and we need to get some miles on the clock. Tonight the bags will be packed and we will be ready for a long few days making it up North into the desert. We are aiming for about 2 weeks max until we are at the Peruvian border, probably one or two nights in Hostels, maybe a couple of nights with Alejandro's friends but mostly tents, miles, dust and sweat. In a way we are really looking forward to it, in other ways, we're dreading it. I'm sure it'll feel good to look back on the map and see the amount of the Earth we have covered on 150cc bikes (hopefully).

We arrived last night in Valparaiso, a big port town just West of Santiago, we decided to re-charge our batteries, get some sleep, shower and get ready for the road. The city is beautiful, so beautiful it has ideas rattling round our heads like crazy. Its built into a mountainside overlooking the Pacific and prides itself on colour. Art and creativity oozes from every brick, step and crack in the pavement. It's chaos and creativy give it an energy I haven't felt in a City before.

Here are a few photos and we will write again when we have some internet and time.

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Nos Vemos x

Starting North

We left Punta de Lobos a few days ago after a full two weeks there. We were anxious to head North, get some miles in; conscious of our schedule and increasingly aware that Chile isn't a cheap place to stay. That said, it was an amazing two weeks. We ate so well every day knowing that we would soon be camping and things wouldn't be so easy, we read loads of books, surfed and took photos of the locals surfing. We even managed to earn a bit of petrol money asking for a small fee for photos to fund the way. The lads we sold them to were so happy to get them and more than happy to help us on our way even throwing in a bottle of Chillean red as a thank you. If you are reading this cheers Matin and Andrew.

We feel pretty lucky to have had such a good time in Punta De Lobos, because Alejandro and Karin gave us the keys to their cabaña we were able to truely relax and not stress abut money. As for the waves, Tom got to surf waves bigger than anything he's surfed before; big enough that he had to ditch his board on a set wave and powerful enough to rip the bottom of his tail pad off. I jumped off the famous Los Morros into the surf enough times that by the end of our stay I was no longer shit scared of it. We managed to surf the point just the two of us on some occasions but most of the time there were at least twenty other people willing to sit deeper. We surfed with whales, sea lions and dolphins with huge pelicans flying above us. 

We spent an evening planning our next route, using a trusty Copec map of Chile and BikeHike for the Garmin (GPX tracks). We decided to travel to a place that some of the locals had mentioned, a place they informed us came alive on the weekend with skate ramps, pizza oven, campfires and a point break peeling, less crowds and a more relaxed atmosphere. We Google Earthed some of the tracks and were pleased to see dirt roads most of the way, keen to avoid highways and big lorries blasting past us we are becoming more drawn to them, our bikes are perfect for them too. The two weeks in Punta De Lobos had helped me increase in confidence riding off road. Particularly hill starts in rubble.

As a final thank you we cooked Alejandro and Karin our favourite lunch of Huevos Rancheros gringo style. It was pretty tough saying goodbye to those two after all they have done for us. They never asked for anything in return and made such an impact on our trip. Thanks so much for everything guys, we really couldn't have got even this far without you.

As we loaded up the bikes it felt like for the first time we were on our own and truely heading into the unknown. I loved every minute of that first ride. We rode down dirt roads for miles, loose gravel, sand; past vinyards, fruiterias and narrow tracks with tall trees eitherside. Passing cars kicking up beige dust clouds engulfing us every time. We saw tarantulas on the roads and came out on the other side filthy. I loved every bit of it, until we reached the final stretch. Tired, hot, and hungry we took the turn that would take us down the mountainside and the view was incredible, miles to the North and South, jagged mountains leading to a vast ocean. To the South was a point break tucked into the cliffs and to the North was the pueblo, Tom later described it as looking like 'Never Never Land', misty rocks in the sea with steep green mountains dropping off to the beach, dotted with remote hillside cabañas. The road however was pretty terrifying, a series of around fifteen hair pin turns, 30 degree gradients on pure dirt with a sheer drop to the side. The thought of going back up kept me awake that first night.

We camped for four days, I cleaned toilets for a discount and Tom got the nicer job of taking photos of the campsite. We didn't have much cash and there was barely a shop let alone an ATM. We were worried about petrol so walked a lot and one night hitch hiked to a dinner we had been invited to by a local chef we had met on the first day. The guy was amazing, again, cooked for us and treated us for no other reason than kindness, he seemed to even feel sorry for us and sent us into the night with a small torch, a bag of eggs, some local bread and a pot of chutney that he'd made. We made the 40 minute long walk home with Tom carrying a rock the entire way just incase a rabid dog approched, the night time makes the many stray dogs a little more sinister. For three days we surfed a really mellow left hand point break twice a day that's not in any of the guides so crowds were considerably thinner. I struggle a bit competing at point breaks so it was perfect for me and I had one of the best surfs I have ever had on a glassy, three foot sunset session. Riding back to the tent that night across the sand through the woods felt pretty good. I even enjoyed my cold, dark shower, sleeping well after a good surf.

We finally made it to Valparaiso after a fun but fairly uneventful 24 hours including a night in the wierdest campsites we hope to come accross. So far the city seems pretty cool but we will write about that in the next blog post. 

Local coffee that could have got expensive if it hadn't gone in for a new engine after the first three days. Good dude, good coffee, stoked to have a fish sticker for our bikes.

Local coffee that could have got expensive if it hadn't gone in for a new engine after the first three days. Good dude, good coffee, stoked to have a fish sticker for our bikes.

Editing photos and drinking £2 Vino Chileno

Editing photos and drinking £2 Vino Chileno

Los Morros. I can see this as a nice big print...

Los Morros. I can see this as a nice big print...

Tom making his way to the jump off point.

Tom making his way to the jump off point.

Thanks to Mauricio and Solé for letting us use their cactus to stash our clothes behind while we surfed.

Thanks to Mauricio and Solé for letting us use their cactus to stash our clothes behind while we surfed.

Sally, inside point, Punta De Lobos.

Sally, inside point, Punta De Lobos.

A bit of the road safe enough to take photos of.

A bit of the road safe enough to take photos of.

The view of the point, note the terrain...

The view of the point, note the terrain...

Beautiful Valparaiso

Beautiful Valparaiso