2010-2011 Discover Our Earth
Russia / Ukraine
We bid farewell to Kazakhstan and head for the border! It’s a weekend and a small queue holds us up for a while but soon things get moving and we exit Kazakhstan with little trouble and enter Mother Russia. All our paper work gets checked by the border guards and we enter Russia with little hassle.
(Apart from one who never got a Russian visa!!! mention no names)
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South East China is currently experiencing heavy rain fall so we all make sure we are ready for any downpours. It doesn’t take long before the heavens open and the humid 34c drops to a nice 28c. We reach the Chinese border control and find an ultra Modern border crossing the likes we rarely see! We all seek cover in the arrivals building and find the Chinese border guards can not only speak English but they also have a top spec passport reader that scans your passport and prints your entry ticket into China and registers you on the authorities computers. There is a very small amount of motorbikes allowed into China each year and we feel privileged to be in this very elite club.
We continue with our journey west, heading for the walled city of Xian a great blend of western influence mixed with the affluent Chinese middle class. We stop for a rest day and take in the site, bell tower, city fortifications and the best of all the Terracotta Army. This magnificent attraction can be viewed in all its splender just 40 mins ride from our hotel. Our Chinese guides give us the guided tour and what a site to see. We return latter that day and few in the group succumb to the lure of the Mcey D’s just over the road from the hotel! Some of us head for a great French restaurant others opt for a German restaurant on the outskirts of town we have such a great choice of food Our time in China is slowly coming to an end as we head towards our crossing point into Kazakhstan. China still has a few surprises for us before we leave and our visit to China wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the great wall of China. Our Hotel in Dunhuang borders great sand dunes and sits within 10 mins of the great wall. Its a fantastic setting with dry high temperatures and sand all around. It’s now time to head towards our border crossing in Horgas and to make our way to our four day rest stop in Almatey for servicing and repairs. China was so many different things to so many of the group but we can all sum it up by saying that it has been the most challenging country to ride in some of the best food we have eaten, beautiful and mysterious!
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Welcome to Thailand
Most riders are up today at 0500 ready for the start of Section 5, the final leg from Bangkok back to Europe. Add all the previous sections and this makes the ride the longest supported motorcycle tour ever undertaken. We leave Bangkok at 7am and it’s already 32c and 90% humidity, as 22 bikes make their way through the already heavy Bangkok traffic, trying hard to head north towards the mountains and motorbike freedom.
Sweat pours out of every orifice, as the sun starts to rise and the city traffic is oppressive, but after an hour or so, we leave the outer limits of Bangkok and reach a fast moving dual carriageway road north to Sukhothai. We take a break for beef noodle and we are all trying to acclimatise to this heat. Dinner and early night after all the works been done.
In the cool of the sun rise the next morning, we ride to see the ruins of Sukhothai and the Giant Buddha. They are incredible to monuments to times gone by. There’s no let up from the heat - 33c again - but at least there is no busy traffic to contend with. We stop off at the mountain side market for noodles with chicken – it’s cooler here are we are higher up, but the insects are buzzing around, all wanting a piece of you! Stand still for too long and prepare to be snacked on!
Our third day is a bigger riding day today - 250 miles of twisted roads through primary and secondary jungle all around. We stopped for a few coconut ice creams on route, which cost only 5 Baht (so 10 pence in GB money), better than or nearly better than a Magnum ice cream! What do you think, Gunter? (Our resident German ice cream connoisseur!)
Tonight we are in Mae Hong Son, with a trip to the Lang Neck Karen (another refugee camp) planned for tomorrow morning. Back to top
Trouble Free Trip
We left Tom Price to another great section of dirt road out from the Park and back out to the Great Northern Highway. There is always something about being on a dirt road that adds an extra excitement and touch of risk about a ride, as well as the feeling of isolation and a road less travelled. This is only a tiny road, but it is exactly like this. You can stop and look around and there are no signs of anything but wilderness and the only sounds are the birds. The dirt road trails in front and behind and there is nothing else. It’s the best feeling!
It’s hard to believe we are only a couple days away from Perth. We’ve been in contact with the freight agents and they are all ready for us. Our pallets are all pre-built, most are shipped over from Sydney from our USA freight shipment into Australia and are being re-used (cheaper to freight the pallets across the whole of Australia than get a man to build more in Perth – crazy, eh?) It’s been a largely trouble free trip. A few minor incidents with kangaroos, turning cars and dirt roads, but nothing that has resulted in any serious issues. After a small hiccup with a few bikes in week one of this trip, there’s been no mechanical issues to deal with, and despite our initial fears, tyres held out much better than expected. Only Alex, our pseudo team photographer, with his brand new Bridgestone tyres in Sydney, rolls in smooth.
We had only three nights in Perth to turn around the team. That’s no mean feat. On Thursday lunch time we rolled into the hotel, removed luggage and immediately headed out to the airport. Our agents were already waiting and the pallets were out on the warehouse floor ready for the bikes to rolled on and strapped down. Alex, intrigued by the freight process, decided to stay behind with the support crew to help with strapping down the bikes, whilst everyone else got back to the hotel for a shower. By Friday, all bikes had been checked by Customs and the airline. On Saturday, they left for Bangkok. Many thanks to Guy in Perth and Josh in Sydney for their excellent freight service.
So we departed Australia in a flurry, with the excitement of Section 5 ahead!
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Karijini National Park
From the Kimberleys we head to the small seaside town of Broome and the beautiful stretch of white sands and turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, called Cable Beach. This feels like a traditional holiday – sun, sand, sea. We pop into the Malcolm Douglas Crocodile farm, a sort of rehabilitation place for bad tempered crocs terrorising the public along some of the creeks, except they don’t get out. It’s a life behind bars, being feed and watered and their off spring to becoming handbags!
Broome to Port Hedland ranks as one of the most hypnotic rides on the planet. These are straight roads at their best, with an upsurge of the amount of road trains, all used for transporting the iron ore mined here. Port Hedland is a stopover, a mining town, where prices are sky high because the mining industry can pay whatever it has to. Still it brings us closer to our diversion into the Karijini National Park, some dirt roads and amazing gorges.
We turn off inland and finally, the roads starts to curve gently over the Hamersley Range, ridges, escarpments and crags appear. Once in Karijini, it’s a great dirt road to get to see Weano Gorge from Oxers Lookout. The dirt flies up coats everything and stains the tyres a deep red. Getting out from the gorge was harder for some than others. 8kms from the end of the road, the gravel suddenly deepened and the good track that had been easy to follow disappeared into a sea of pebbles. The best of us, lurched as the bike skated from side to side and for those with little dirt experience, it was the undoing of what had been a great ride. Alas, Ingo on the hire bike went down (and so did his AUD$2000 deposit) and Angelica’s sterling effort also ended with her and the bike splatted. Thankfully both were just bumped and bruised and the bikes were none the worse – just cosmetically they sported a few scrapes.
We stopped over in Tom Price. There’s just the one motel and filled with miners and construction workers. Once again, Terry’s attempts to order a night cap of a straight whisky were thwarted by the strict drinking rules here. Makers Mark would only be served as a single in a glass full of ice and tonic. Sacrilege! A few minutes before ten o’clock, everything stopped and we had to be out. Saturday night in Tom Price is not the most exciting of experiences! The irony of it all was that outside the bar was a bottle shop, which would sell you a whole bottle of Makers Mark that you could drink neat straight from the bottle – provided you were in your room with your door shut! No drinking in public. Back to top
Kakadu National Park
By this stage we are all eating up the spare back tyres that the van is carrying. There is something in the roads here that gobbles up the rubber, even more so it gets hot and if you are less than gentle with the throttle (we’ll keep you anonymous too . . . . ) Very few riders will make Sydney to Perth on the same back tyre.
We know we are near Kakadu when we see our first Crocodile Warning Sign. That and the temperatures hitting 32 degrees and more. Suddenly things feel dense and swampy. The rains that have held on for so long mean that some of the roads remain shut, even this late into the dry season. The road to Ubirr was still under water, but the ride out to Nourlangie remained do-able to walk the escarpment and take in the rock art. We take a sunset cruise and spots crocs lazing through the beautiful waters. In the heat it could have been so tempting to take a swim, but for these beasties.
From here we have pushed west and yesterday arrived in Western Australia. Our first stop is Kununurra, just short of the Gibb Rover Road. With the infamous Pentecost River still above its seasonal norm, and various sections remaining closed, we are having to keep to the tar, but not before a day off to explore the Gibb and El Questro Wilderness Park as much as the waters allow.
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No more kangaroo!
I spoke too soon. That very night, one of the riders had a nasty tangle with a kangaroo. We don’t want riders coming in when it’s dark, but this bike had had to go into Adelaide for a quick fix and that meant no option but a final couple of hours at night to catch up with the main group. It was a small roo, killed outright but enough to batter and bruise one of the team and leaving the war wounds visible on the bike. Still, no permanent damage done and a salutary lesson to all.
The temperatures climb as we reach Coober Pedy. We’re in an underground cave hotel, formerly an old opal mine, which keeps things cool. A fascinating tour by the owner shows us a complete labyrinth of tunnels under where we sleep – on tunnelling out the mine to make rooms, he also tumbled on an ancient pocket of opalised sea shells, which he keeps for display to the visitors rather than sell for the cash!
It’s onto the Northern Territory. The Outback for real. And Uluru. I went expecting not to be impressed. Just a lump of rock in the desert, right, and some very long straight roads to get there. Not to mention the rain! How can it rain in the desert?! All the locals say it’s been the wettest season they remember, so it was a chilly and wet days ride to get to the huge monolith. We were to be denied a sunset on our first night, as the rock stood under stony black skies. But the next day was bright, the roads dry, and we took a ride around the rock – the road so unbelievably close – you are just drawn to it, it is mesmerising, it holds your gaze. It felt a privilege to be there. And that evening, the whole team rode out to the sunset. Just beautiful and worth the square tyres to get to see it.
A quick dip into Alice Springs en route north, where Van Man, Brenden, has a different type of tangle with a kangaroo. His is a nicely done fillet on his plate that reeks its revenge during the night and wipes him out for the next 48 hours. (By the time Brenden feels ready to try kangaroo again, some five days later, his body tells him no and that’s another night up – no more kangaroo, eh?!). Back to top
Leaving in Rain...
Touch down in Sydney. Our bikes arrived before us and thanks to the hard work of our agents (handling Customs clearance all over the week-end no less), the bikes are collected within hours of our own arrival. Pulling off the bubble wrap and wheeling them from their pallets, everyone is grinning and happy. Procycles BMW on Princes Way (thanks guys!) deal with the service work, whilst we all soak up the Sydney sights.
The hotel is within spitting distance of the harbour. In fact the Harbour Bridge greets us every morning as we step out and for those wanting a longer view, a beer at the roof top pool boasts fantastic views. Enough! We are supposed to be adventure riders – still you can’t blame us for some R&R when we have 12000kms ahead of us in the next 4 weeks. We are joined by four new riders on this section, two of them are going onto Section 5 – the Bangkok run back through China and Russia to Europe. The other two are here for Australia. A quick dip into the Discover our Earth atmosphere.Back to top
Ironically, just as in Buenos Aires, we leave Sydney in torrential rain. The down pour really kicks in only 15 minutes before we head out. Its buckets of the stuff, so within the first hour we are soaked to the skin (at least those who dared not to get out the waterproofs). By the time we got to the Royal National Park and our first view over the ocean, the rain had stopped and the clouds were already breaking. The rain had given that special damp green leafy scent that only pristine forests emit under a deluge and that riding a bike, you are lucky enough to acutely smell. We trace a coastal route south to the small town of Narooma, set back on an inlet with palm trees and a deep blue lagoon.
Our next two days crossed the mountains, first north to the small town Albury and then back south to the coast and onto Melbourne. This has to be some of Australia’s finest riding roads. Perfect twisties and swooping bends through the Snowy Mountains, into the Kosciuszko National Park (Kosciuszko is Australia’s highest peak at a mere 2268m), and along the Great Alpine Way. The time of year makes it even better. Its early Autumn here and the trees are all turning a warm red golden hue. We pass through many small historic villages and past old homesteads and get a glimpse of a charmed and rural existence, as the leaves dance behind us.
But not too fast! The riders are accumulating speeding tickets at a fast rate – thanks to the lower limits here and extremely vigilant and intolerant police. Not that the police are rude, in fact they are particularly pleasant in explaining the rules, wishing you a great journey, hoping that they are not going to spoil it too much with a AUD$400 ticket and remember to take it easy . . . . . some even make the mistake of passing a police car when overtaking a solid line – mentioning no names! That’s another ticket then.
Everyone has mellowed into Australia’s relaxed and easy going nature (police excepted!). We arrive in the Barossa Valley for a well earned rest at the time of the Barossa Vintage Festival. All the small villages and wineries celebrate their pioneering days and heritage, with a mass of activities from grape crushing competitions to scarecrow making, locally produce and plenty of wine flow, along with music and a party spirit. Our day off is on Tanunda Pioneer Town Day and all the locals are dressed from the 1850’s, vintage cars and bikes are about and the whole day is just great fun.We’ve now started the long haul north. From the Barossa Valley, the team have explored the Flinders Ranges and their first sample of dirt roads. The race is on to spot kangaroos. The count of dead spray painted, ballooning kangaroos roadside is big, but the real thing? It’s like trying to spot bears in Alaska so far! The glimpse of a few hind legs is all we’ve got. Not that we want to be too up close to the things when moving rapidly on a bike. Nooooo! Anyway, we’re opal mining tomorrow in Coober Pedy and then it’s the 500 mile desert day to Uluru (Ayers Rock).
What on earth is the time?
Hildago De Parral is in Chihuahua which is on a different time zone to the rest of Mexico. No problem we just arrived an hour “earlier” than we thought. The following days ride is one of the most scenic and enjoyable in Mexico. The road twists and winds through pine forests towards the Copper Canyon Area. We climb and fall and twist ant turn for hours on end. Small towns with fuel are up to 60 miles apart with little in between. It is easy to realize why in this area there are still a large number of indigenous people living relatively un changed lives in villages that are up to 3 days walk from the nearest “civilization”
The roads here really are a joy although the challenge is whether just to ride them or to take it a notch or two down and relish the views. Most people do something in between and strike a happy balance. The ride runs us past the entrance to Copper Canyon and a few hardy souls venture a few miles down to see the Canyon itself. However this road, while initially welcoming, fast becomes a rocky narrow track with 300+ metre drops and no barriers. It takes most of a day to get to the end of the road and another to get out. Unfortunately we don't have the time in our schedule as Los Angeles is beckoning.
After an overnight in Creel our last full day in Mexico is a ride towards the border and a last night before we cross to the USA, or as four of our group call it “home”.
Creel provided us with conundrum that took time to solve. We had all adjusted out watches to Chihuahua time and the evening before we had a briefing to which everybody arrived on time. However in the morning Kevin and Richard are the first up and packing the bikes ready to check out. No-one else from the group is anywhere to be seen. The time is checked and yes they are on time and the hotel breakfast is being served. Is there some sort of group practical joke going on? When the first risers appear for breakfast they all believe they are an hour early for breakfast? All the group think it is 7am. Kevin, Richard and the locals all think its 8am. How can all the group have the wrong time and yet have been on time for the briefing the evening before. Every-one suspects that there is some joke being played but no-on can work out by who? The answer turns out to be Daylight Saving Time! Chihuahua went daylight saving time at 2am. Kevin and Richard rely on their Blackberry's for the time, and being smart-phones they were smart and adjusted for this in the middle of the night all by themselves! But what we don't know is what the time will be when we cross to Arizona on Mountain Standard Time? Does Arizona have daylight saving time? Who knows!
The exit from Mexico and the entry into the USA are important to get right and both are bureaucratic in their own way. We will ride as a group and cross as a group. This is partly to ensure that all the paperwork is correctly completed (particularly important as we are flying the bikes out of the US in just a few days) and also because this is border / bandit country in Mexico. Unfortunately one of our group stops off for photos and then rides straight past the rest of the group stopped for fuel, despite Kevin waving frantically from the hard shoulder and beeping his horn! We arrive at the border and there is no sign of the missing rider. We try to call him to no avail. After a couple of hours completing our exit from Mexico we are ready to start the process to enter the US and still no sign, so we call our Hotel in Tombstone. “Oh yes he checked in about 30 minutes ago” says the very helpful Kristy However when we speak to him he has missed the Mexican customs completely and entered the US without exiting Mexico. A big problem as the Mexicans take your credit card details as a guarantee and so if he doesn't exit his bike then they will charge him! He rides the hour back to the border and arrives just as the last of the group are ready to leave the US side. He then has to exit the US, and go to the Mexican customs office and tell them he wants to exit Mexico. When all the paperwork is complete he then turns round and goes back to enter the US again. The US guards eye him suspiciously as this must have been one of the shortest ever visits to Mexico! However they do let him back in for the second time in the day.
Our first stop in the USA is Tombstone. Yes the real thing! A small cowboy town with great heritage and history. A evening spent in the Crystal Palace Saloon caps the experience with steaks, ribs and pitchers of beer rounded off with some sipping whiskey at the bar. Welcome to the USA!
Our final stop off on the way to Los Angeles is at 29 Palms, on the edge of the Joshua Tree National Park. Inspiration for the name of the U2 album by the way as they stayed there when they recorded it. The town is there to serve the park and also the nearby US Marines base, which is the final staging post for service men and women before being posted overseas. There are a number of serious looking guys in town, and it's not us! The local barber gets visited by a few people but they only really do one style. The name of the shop is the “Combat Barbers” so you can probably guess what style of cut they do!
And so we are riding across California (another time zone!) towards Los Angeles, or more specifically Hollywood. We have several nights here to allow for the bikes to be flown to Sydney for Section 4 of the trip. The ride in is remarkable. Los Angeles is a total of 420 square miles and the buildings start some 45 miles from our hotel. There is no break in them all the way in. We queue through typical LA traffic, eg stationary, and glimpse he famous Hollywood sign as we ride in. The stationary traffic gives us the chance to chat to local drivers who are fascinated by the group of bikes with foreign plates and by the support vehilce with the steering wheel on the wrong side.
A quick stop at the hotel is followed by a long stop at the Sunset Car Wash where we spend 4 hours cleaning the bikes as the Australians have very strict rules on the import of vehicles. After this we are off to the freight agent, who is super efficient and we ride into the warehouse and literally ride the bikes straight into the crates already lined up for us. As we are stepping off the bikes they are already strapping them down!
And so after the team photo we are waving goodbye to our bikes for a few days as they fly to Australia and section 3 of Discover Our Earth draws to a close. We have crossed Central America, visiting 7 countries along the way. We swam in the Pacific and the Atlantic, and a few hotel pools; visited ruins, answered the challenges of many borders, shopped in markets with the locals, ridden some great (and some terrible) roads, stayed in old monasteries, and even had a day in a cowboy town. Apart from not always being sure what the time was it has been a successful section.
The group now have a few days to explore Hollywood and Los Angeles before the long flight across the date line to Sydney, and section 4. The story continues.....Back to top
Hot and Sticky
The ride to the Guatemalan border is a little over 6 miles and so we arrive in the cool of the morning. The exit of Honduras is straight forward and so would be the entrance to Guatemala, except for the recently installed computer system. The computer works but nothing will print. If they can’t print the permit for the bike then you can’t get in the country. For the first couple of hours there is no movement. Bikes and Trucks are mounting up and there are now forty to fifty people waiting to get processed. Richard ends up on the wrong side of the counter behind the iron cage trying to fix the problem as they are talking about sending for an engineer! With a bit of luck and patience it gets fixed and the process starts. We lodge one guy at the counter and keep feeding in the documents to ensure we don’t get jostled out of the way. The truck drivers are patient and after another three and a half hours we are in.
The colour and vibrancy of Guatemala cannot be more obvious than in the market at Chichicastanango. It is the largest indigenous market in Central America. The locals are here to trade and exchange and also to sell to the few tourists that make it here. As a group we stand out somewhat as we are slightly taller than the average Guatemalan, who seems to be under 5 feet tall.
The riding in Guatemala is stunning and the mountainous roads are lined with green and beautiful lush scenery which is very memorable. We are only here a short time before we cross to Mexico and the final border crossing before the USA. The Guatemalan side is in the middle of a market and so Guatemala remains colourful, vibrant and bustling to the end. We enter Mexico into the Chiapas region, which only ten years ago was in the middle of a revolution. Our destination, San Cristobal De Las Casas was taken by the Zapatista rebels at one stage of the conflict. San Cristobal is now a bustling town with a strangely large number of good Argentinian Steak Houses. Some of the group take the long stairs to the church overlooking the town, which helps walk off some of the steaks!
After a day riding along the coast we had in land to El Tajin, some of the largest ruins in Central America, originating from the first century and built by the Mayan and Teotihuacan Indians. With 12 “ball” Courts and several pyramids the site is extremely impressive. The stories of the ball courts vary about how the game was played and who played. However the constant theme is that the outcome for the losers seems to have been very bad!
Inland and through the mountains towards to the former hippy hangout of San Miguel Allende. There are still quite a lot of artists, writers and poets around, as well as one of the most stunning and unique churches in Central America. The plaza is not only home to this great church but also to a small bar serving some of the best Margueritas of the trip so far. The town is surprisingly quiet. All becomes clear when we realise that Mexico is playing Venuezala at football and the match is televised. We didn’t let this stop a good night out at a favourite local bar with great local folk music. The band plays wine is drunk and the Mexicans draw the football so its not too bad a night for them either.
On a day off in Zacetecas we have time to do some final preparation for the USA crossing which seems to be the most bureaucratic of the trip so far. We need all sorts of forms and permissions authorised before we take our foreign vehicles in. Zacatecas is another bastion of colonial architecture and also has a Ski lift. Well they call it the Periferico and it goes up to the top of the hill overlooking the town and provides stunning views. Most people spend the day updating bits of maintenance and cleaning on the bikes and enjoying the city. Gunter even walks up the hill just to shame the rest of us.
A big days ride follows as we move north to Parral. A town famous as the location that the USA assassinated Pancho Villa. Allegedly of course. The American riders with us seem certain it wasn’t them, and as we have no Mexican riders we defer to their claims of innocence. And so our timw in Mexico is drawing to a close. We have a few more days before we cross the border and head for Tombstone, Joshua Tree National Park and then Hollywood. Rumour has it the Arnie the Governator will be there to welcome us personally? However its probably just a rumor…. Back to top
Central America, Central to Discover Our Earth
Pot holes, chickens and the grinning llamas
20/03/2011Back to top
Wet and Wild
Go (North) West Young Man
Happy Christmas and a Dakar New Year
Mutton, Mountains and Mayhem
We arrive back in the desert at Merzouga with the mammoth sand dunes overlooking our Riad. We are off the beaten track and a little way off the road with a couple of miles of sand track to get to our home for the night. All the riders negotiate this well except for Roger, who decides not to follow the route notes and the other riders but to follow his GPS. He arrives on foot. “I’m stuck” he says and so, hesitating only to collect the video camera, we go off to help. He has managed to get within 100 metres of the Riad via a side track before getting bogged down in the soft sand. A little expert help from Kevin and we have managed to get his back wheel properly buried in 9 inches of sand. It makes a great picture and the bike is so deep in he can get off it and walk away without the bother of putting the stand down.
After getting him out of the sand and into the Riad we have dinner in the dunes. A short walk from the Riad takes us out to a small encampment where a sheep is being cooked in a traditional Berber kiln. A great meal ensues as well as a camp fire sing along (only if you know traditional Berber songs though) and an opportunity for some star gazing. The sky was full and at least a dozen shooting starts arc across the sky for our entertainment. When the Berber musicians have had enough they insist we sing something. Between the Brit, Austrian, German and American present the only thing we all the knew the words to is Janis Joplin – “Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz” Ironic as we are nearly all on BMW’s!
The next day is up over the mountains to Fes and our last night in Morocco proper. One of the largest imperial cities, it is a bustling lively and noisy city compared to our last few nights. The Medina is chaotic and narrow and seemingly everything can be bought or sold. It is great to get back into the heart of an African City with all the peoples and cultures rubbing against each other and happily co-existing. There is banter and salesmanship but there is never any feeling of tension or threat. It is a great place to spend our last afternoon and evening before what is billed as a nice easy day back over the border to Ceuta for the night prior to our ferry.
In motorcycling you hear lots of people say that it is the last stretch of the journey that is the most dangerous. We had done four weeks with no real incident and the only real spills were on dirt roads. Well someone had been saving it all up for us.
The road through the Rif mountains looked great on the map and when ridden previously was a beautiful and enjoyable ride. However previously it had not been in the process of being prepared for resurfacing. The temporary surface varied from great tarmac to dusty, muddy, gravelly and everything else you can think off. As the weatherman might say it was “changeable” In total we had four drops and a car park faux pas. Two on the lightly gravelled top surface and two on a stretch of road liberally coated with diesel. The prevailing breeze was going the wrong way and so there was no warning odour for the diesel, it was just there and we were on it. Suffice to say all bikes and riders were fine, with nothing more than dented panniers and bruised egos. They were all quickly back in the saddle and looking for more adventure, which is great as there is the promise of more to come.
Lots of handshakes and hugs follow as each group of riders makes it in to the Hotel to be welcomed by Julia who is joining the group over Christmas in Buenos Aires. The following day the bike’s are loaded into two trucks for the run to Madrid from where they are being flown to Buenos Aires over Christmas to be re-united with their owners for Section 2.
So Section 1 is done. Sadly we lose three riders who are making their way home from here and all three will be missed. In Buenos Aires some new members join the team. Section 2 takes the team from Buenos Aires south to Ushuaia and the most southerly road in the world before coming north through the Andes up to Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and into Colombia in March. Read on - the adventure has only just begun……..
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Straight for the Mountains
We retrace our steps for a couple of days back north from Dakhla through the desert but stopping at some new and interesting destinations. Laayoune is the centre point of the dispute regarding the status of Western Sahara with camps outside the town of Saharan's bent in their independence from Morocco. Only 10 days ago the BBC was reporting rioting and cars burning in the streets here, but all is calm as we ride into town, The hotel is another one used by the UN to house their staff and so we do no not need to pay for a guardian to watch the bikes overnight as right outside is an armed Policeman or two.
After Laayoune we stop at a special little Riad on the coast where we can fish for our supper from the beach. For some the opportunity to swim out into the huge surf is too tempting. It is a bit like being in a cross between a fight and a massage as the surf tosses you which ever way it chooses and pounds your muscles, leaving you feeling a bit bruised and battered but ultimately refreshed. However all return safely for a great fish supper overlooking the beach. The last day north bound in this desert takes us to another remote and peaceful Riad and then we are straight back to the mountains
You cannot visit this region of Morocco without going to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ait Ben Haddou. Recognizable to many from films such as Gladiator and Jesus of Nazareth it is one of the best preserved Ksars (a medieval fortified city) anywhere. We have an afternoon to explore but only after riding the Tiz N Ticha pass and a small back road route to get there. The back road was being worked on and for 30 miles we have fresh laid gravel being watered and graded. It makes for some challenging sections and we have a couple of minor spills in the group but all survive. For those continuing to Patagonia where Ruta 40 and Carreterra Austral await us this is good practice Where there is 30 miles here there are almost 1000 more awaiting us.
The twists and turns lead us to the Dades and Todra Gorges. The two beautiful and dramatic valleys are separated by 40 miles. However on the map there is a track that heads north from Dades to Agundal and then back down the Todra. Kevin has had it in mind if the weather is good to try the route and with the sun shining almost all the group decide to go along. What follows is a fantastic, full and challenging days ride. The Dades is paved to mile 20 and beyond this is rock, gravel, sand and mud for the next 35. It is remote and beautiful. Yet still along the “road” are scattered the odd shepherd with his flock and a small village or two. The ride claims only one faller and that was due to a suicidal dog who desperately wanted to see the underside of a V Strom. Fortunately both rider and dog survive. We arrive back at our hotel late in the day with just enough time for a celebratory drink and a late dinner. This turns out to be the best Tajine of the trip. Or is this just because we had all worked hard and were hungry? Seconds please!
We have a brief return to the desert ahead of us and the promise of an evening in the dunes, and a traditional Berber meal. However that is still ahead as we have only a week left of section 1 of Discover Our Earth before we freight the bikes to Buenos Aires ready for South America in the new year. Back to top
Fish in the Desert
The road from Marrakesh (isn't that a song title?) leads us to the coast and Essouria. Formerly a Spanish fortress town the old Medina is set back from the sea defenses of walls turrets and cannons. It forms an interesting mix. With the Medina more compact that than of Marrakesh and seemingly calmer due to the lack of scooters, the whole place feels more relaxed and laid back. This is probably added to by the surfers who flock here for the Atlantic surf.
From here we cross into the Sahara proper and the desert landscape of scrub and rocky rolling dunes or hamada is on either side of the road. We are heading to Boujdour. It sounds quaint and French but isn't either. It is proper small town Western Sahara with no concessions to Tourists. There is one restaurant with a Pizza sign over it but this has closed down a while ago. The town appears to be dry although the local urchin Mohammed will get you anything. Hash? Women? Drink? Nothing is beyond this 14 year old who makes it his business to see to out every need. Copies of documents – Mohammed gets them; Bags to carry – Mohammed carries. He earns well from the group and Larry suggests if we come back in a few years Mohammed is likely to be Mayor. I think he is probably right!
Boujdour affords us minor celebrity status as we are the only tourists in town and the bikes are a fascination for all the young kids.
Another day heading south across the desert follows as our final destination is Dakhla. Dakhla is a tourist town (it thinks) on a peninsula The day involves many police checkpoints and army stops to check our documents. All are friendly but we are fascinated by how important it seems to be for them all to know our profession? However all the Police and Army are very courteous and helpful. There is a small issue of not stopping at the Stop sign which costs a fine of 700 Dhm but even this was dealt with in a nice, if costly, manner.
The ride through the desert is marked by two things. The first is the police and army checkpoints that all ask for Fishes. Fishes in the desert? Yes - What they are asking for is a copy of our passports and vehicle documents - “Fiches” Having them ready saves a lot of time at each of the stops. The other is the smell. Every few miles there is a terrible stink of rotting fish. Fish in the Desert? Yes again – There is a big fishing industry in Dakhla and they load the trucks up in Dakhla to drive north a loaded with fish packed in ice. The ice melts as they drive in the desert heat and so the trucks stop at the side of the road and open a valve on the back of the truck and empty the now melted ice and fish blood on the side of the road. It turns the sand black and it stinks!
Dakhla is a military town with Moroccan troops and bases all over town. In the harbour there are a pair of Moroccan Frigates which forms half of the entire Moroccan Navy! The UN are staying in the hotel we are using, as they are here to keep the peace between the Moroccans who claim Western Sahara as their own and the Saharan's who claim independence. However all is calm here at present, so lets hope it stays that way for another 36 hours...... Back to top
Enjoyable but slightly Fawlty Towers experience...
As we roll into Marrakesh it is the first time it has stopped raining for three days. This is not what we had expected for Morocco especially after being so lucky in Europe.
Ten days ago we had sprinted out of Austria and into Switzerland sticking to main roads and low altitudes chased by a cold front and snow that hovered a day behind us. From Switzerland we ride for Arles in France close to the Mediterranean and better weather. Three countries in three days. We take the chance in Arles to visit the Roman Amphitheatre. One of the most complete and impressive surviving in the world. Day four brings country four as we cross the Col D'Ares at 1500m into Spain. Another 200m above us lies the snow. We descend to Barcelona and our first rest day, with an opportunity to visit the Gaudi and wander the streets rubbing shoulders with the ultra fashionable of Spain. The rest day is dry and clear and we begin to believe we have cheated the weather.
In land to Teruel and while it remains dry for us we are shocked to be riding away from Teruel with the bikes showing -5.5C. The temperatures stay below freezing for the first three hours of the day. Today we cross the Meridian going officially from East to West. In March next year the group will cross the equator in Ecuador and later in April cross the date line flying to Australia for Section 5. These are landmarks as we circumnavigae the globe.
After enjoying some spectacular riding in Spain we wend our way down through the Ronda to Algeciras and an uneventful ferry crossing to Ceuta. Ceuta remains a Spanish enclave and so we ride 3 miles to the border where with the aid of a, not so little, fixer we cross after a couple of hours of haggling. The haggling was due to one rider arriving without the requisite documents. This could have been the end of his trip at the very first proper border but fortunately it just ending up costing him a wad of Euros.
Our first stop in Africa is Chefchaouen, a beautiful blue washed town on the side of a hill with a great Medina and our first taste of Morocco. In the evening most of the group wander into the Medina from our riad and enjoy dinner on the roof top terrace of a local restaurant. And it is here that it starts raining. Now I don't just mean a light shower, I mean proper pelting down rain, and it stays for almost three days. The ride from Chefchoauen to Meknes was still memorable and enjoyable but it was certainly wet! Despite being just minutes walk from the Souk in Meknes, no-one can bring themselves to get wet again and so all stay in the hotel which was a very grand, enjoyable but slightly Fawlty Towers experience.
The following day presents the first big challenge of the trip. Roads and towns are flooding as the dry earth of Morocco cannot cope with now 48 hours of torrential rain. Our route takes us up into the mountains and includes dirt roads and at least one Oued – River to cross. When the route was ridden for research the weather was very different and the dry river beds presented no challenge. However what they will be like now we won't know until we get there. As we get out onto the roads the wind is howling and the rain is pouring down and sideways and sometimes up as well. Some riders decide with only 8 days done and 240 to go that caution is the better part of valor and stick to a more main road route. However even then they are confronted with a washed out bridge and closed road.
The riders who have stuck to the route find the mountain roads are, if anything, in a better state than the main roads down in the valleys, that is at least until they reach the Oued. There are two options to cross – One looks like a class 5 rapid and a canny local in an ancient truck waits to see if we are stupid enough to try it. When we don't he turns back. Ten miles further down the now muddy and slithery road we reach another chance to cross and this is more achievable. The water is only two feet deep but the current is very strong and the surface underneath unstable. Kevin crosses having walked it first and then the riders brave it one by one with Richard standing knee deep in the current to guide them. Each makes it safely across with no drops. Neither the local in the truck or even our own 4x4 support vehicle chance it and both go back the long way to the main road in a 70 mile detour.
The rest of the day is spent winding on mountain roads to Cascades d'Ozoud and a remote and simple Riad. An evening spent beside a roaring fire in true Moroccan surroundings makes every-one forget they were ever wet.
The next day we visit a SOS Children's Village outside Marrakesh The work SOS do throughout the world for under privileged children is fantastic. A percentage of the cost for each rider on Discover Our Earth has been donated to SOS and so it is great to go and see the work they are doing. For Kevin it is also a reminder of previous visits to SOS villages as it was his and Julia's chosen charity on the Guinness Trans Americas ride.
And so here we are in Marrakesh and the sun is shining! Hurrah! A day off here will not be enough to explore this fascinating and complex city but a day is all we have. Form here we keep heading south and into the desert. Back to top
1 Day – Two Countries, We’re rolling
It’s very cold and frosty as we wake on the first day of Discover Our Earth. The final briefing meeting yesterday went well and every-one seems ready to go. Breakfast is subdued as the group appears excited and nervous that the moment to depart has finally come.
The first ride is a short jaunt to Mieming Town Hall for the official send off. A grand affair with National Anthems played for each group of riders as well as speeches from the Chairman of SOS Children Villages and the Mayor of Mieming, who official starts the Expedition with wave of an Austrian Flag.
We ride out as a group of Sixteen Bikes and one support vehicle down cold crisp and dry roads through the Tyrol and the Arlberg Tunnel to our first stop of the day. A great coffee shop with a biker theme, although in November at 1C we are the only ones hardy enough to arrive on bikes. The only Harley in sight is bolted to the wall as a display.
We have an invite today from “The Swiss Peters” to come for lunch. Peter and Peter are both riding on Discover our Earth – One on Sections 2,3,4 and 5 and one on Section 5. Their hospitality is fantastic as they open up one of their homes for us and are descended on by the whole group. Lunch is Goulash and Salad followed by home made Hungarian deserts. It is a very welcome warming feast.
The ride ends overlooking the lake of Bierlesee in Switzerland. A small friendly family hotel with a good fish restaurant. Day 1 is done, every-one is in, all the bikes made it and everyone is smilling. Day 1 – success – Now for Day 2……
View more picture from the start here.
Pictures by Alexander Segar.
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We set off from GlobeBusters HQ in Wales in freezing temperatures and with ice on the saddle. The first stop in this epic 8 month circumnavigation of the world is at our Freight Agent, James Cargo in Heathrow. There we drop the second support vehicle and two GlobeBuster BMW GS's to be sea freighted to Buenos Aires ready for Section 2. They join three other bikes already collected from clients in Europe who are joining the ride in Argentina in the New Year.
From there our little convoy of the Support Vehicle and two bikes wend our way to the Channel Tunnel and across to France for the first night away for the Support Crew. Two days across Europe sees us arrive in a snowy, frosty and cold Austria. It is beautiful with the mountains and fir trees dusted with snow and the clouds wandering down the valleys heading no where in particular. All we need is for fresh snow to hold off until after the 21st so we can head south to the warmer coast of the Mediterranean.
We have a few days here to relax, put the finishing touches to a few little items and welcome the riders and bikes as they arrive, before the off on Sunday morning and the first days ride to Switzerland.
We hope you will ride along with us on this journey...Back to top