Almost missing in Colombia

Almost missing in Colombia

Last week we started the bike after it had been sat in heavy rain for a couple of days and the motorbike did not sound good. It would not tick over, it sounded very rough and it struggled to make it from one side of Cartagena to the other.

I found water in the spark plug chamber and inside the lip of the petrol cap but after having a look at the plugs, speaking to a few motorcycle dudes, changing the oil, revving, riding, we were still in the same situation. The bike was spluttering and it was not going to take us anywhere reliably.

We were tinkering with the bike in the car park of the apartments we were staying in with some friends (very nice friends!) when a Colombian chap took an interest in what we were doing and he just seemed super keen to help. He said he had a mechanic friend, he could take us there. So, Ivanka and I looked at each other, thought it was the best shot we had and agreed to meet Alfredo at midday. It was a great idea – but, Ivanka and I have been side-by-side for 7 months and we never do missions separately and Alfredo doesn’t have a car of his own.

At midday my new amigo Alfredo (on the back of the bike and wearing Ivanka’s helmet) was kindly directing him and me on a mission across Cartagena in order to get the bike back to its best.

The journey itself was the usual kind of stuff on latin american roads; buses, motorbikes, traffic from bumper to bumper and I suppose I was expecting to get there within 10 minutes or so. 20 minutes later we were heading more inner city and I started to think: “Shit! Where is he taking me?” I got all sorts of ideas in my head – let me tell you! Is he taking me somewhere so he can do over the ‘gringo’? How will I get in touch with Ivanka to let her know about my progress? But then you remind yourself that Alfredo seemed like a nice bloke. Didn’t he?

The journey took us about 30 minutes in total and Alfredo said: “if you don’t like the mechanic just let me know”. We pulled down several back streets and eventually arrived in a neighborhood where there was a line of several bikes at the side of the kerb with a bunch of guys hanging out.

We got off the bike, Alfredo said hello to his friends and I thought: “shit, this clearly isn’t a proper mechanic – what am I supposed to do?”. The mechanic and I conversed in my basic Spanish and we agreed that he would look at the bike in about 45 minutes, once it had cooled down. In the meantime word must have got out that there was an English ‘gringo’ with a big bike and I must have met 10-15 kids who couldn’t help but come and have a look! Alfredo reminded me to watch my wallet and my belongings over and over again while I tried to keep the crowds entertained with my tales of places I have been and English football – all delivered in my excellent gringo Spanish!

Much later, the mechanic returned, he checked the spark plugs, took my engine case apart and then adjusted one of my throttle bodies and the bike seemed to be back just as it should be. It cost me $30 for his time and I had to let him have a go on the bike. Alfredo had come up with the goods, the mechanic had done the business and I was ready to go.

While we had been waiting there was a discussion about fitting my bike with fog lights and Alfredo said that there was a shop around the corner that could help. I thought to myself that I had only been gone a couple of hours so what was the harm? And anyway, I needed a new bulb for my headlight…

Alfredo called the doorman of the apartment block, left a message for Ivanka, and off we went.

To cut a long story short, I ended up going to 2 or 3 shops with Alfredo. We then went to 2 welders who needed to help with fitting a bracket and we had to go to an electrician so he could fit the lights. The whole process took us to 6.30 and we met so many nice people! One guy made us a Colombia sticker and everyone wanted a photo with me and the bike.

That was it. What a day! My bike was fixed, I had a new set of spotlights and I had a really really great day with Alfredo. Turns out he had had a BMW motorbike himself for a number of years which was part of the reason he was so keen to help. All in all we had spent 8 hours together by the time we got home and we had set up a friendship; I had invited him to visit in the UK and we had agreed to go out for some beers in Cartagena.

The journey home was more eventful than the whole day! It was dark, it was rush hour; there were cars, motorbikes and buses all over the place but that is just how it is and we made it back together safely.

When we met Ivanka on our return it was clear that she had been worried. Properly worried. She got the update call at 4pm and by 8pm she had been fighting all the paranoid possibilities for the best part of 5 hours. As she said, she had been trying very hard to except everything for what it was, a nice person being helpful, but it can be hard not to think of the alternatives because, even by latin american standards it had taken “an awfully long time”.

This story really highlights the kindness that you experience on a trip like this – all the crap you hear about Mexicans and Colombians is definitely there for a reason but the majority of people you meet out there are great people with really big hearts.

When was the last time you helped a stranger?

Thanks Alfredo for a special day around Cartagena and I look forward to our beer!

Review: Starcom 1, Helmet Intercom- Get your Freak On

Review: Starcom 1, Helmet Intercom- Get your Freak On

Thanks to a very informative and patient man called Tim at Calgary Sport Touring Nick and I finally have an intercom system that works effortlessly.

Tim is exactly the kind of person I like to do business with: he asked lots of questions about what we have, what we thought wasn’t working and why; he let me rabbit on with all my theories and things we had tried and together we decided what would be the best set up for us.

We left the UK with a starcom1 advance system. Nick had a moulded earpiece and a mic for a full face helmet and I had the same mic but speakers in my helmet. None of this worked very well at all. Also relevant is that Nick’s helmet is an Arai Tour-X3 and mine is a Shoei X3-1100; both described as full face. Nick has a moulded ear piece, I don’t.

What were the problems?

  • Nick had occasional interference that obviously actually hurt.
  • Most of the time all I could hear was wind amplified and fed directly to my ears.
  • Music? Even turning off the vox (voice cut off) completely which stopped the wind cutting it out, in order to get the volume right so it wasn’t deafening Nick I could just hear the music vaguely in the background.

We stopped bothering with it.

Part of the problem is that Nick’s helmet is styled more like a motorcross one so there is a massive gap between the outer shell and his mouth (not sure how else to describe that) which means that the mic being stuck in the helmet is open to the wind; mine isn’t that much better.

I phoned Tim with the idea of ordering us some boom mic. He was concerned that they might not fit in the helmets very well and we started talking about the Starcom1 digital. Tim obviously rides a motorcycle. He also rides a motorcycle with his wife riding pillion. He and I were able to discuss all the ups and downs of the setup and after a bit of counting pennies I decided to go with his recommendation and replace the whole thing.

That was the right decision. The starcom1 digital gives you much more control so you can fiddle with setup for rider and passenger separately, and it is clever enough to deal with the external noise; the boom mics fit perfectly in both helmets.

Thank you Tim for all your help and advice!

Our new problems?

Well, I can’t yawn noisily any more because Nick tells me off, I am not allowed to sing and I have to try really hard to keep still when we are listening to music – not the worst set of problems to have!

Camera lost far from the madding crowd

Camera lost far from the madding crowd

We have been on Quadra Island for 2 nights. It is one of those places we drifted over to because we met someone and talked to them. It happens.

Quadra is beautiful. Nick and I were riding around some of the dirt tracks and paths and enjoying some of the lovely views and scenery when we realised that we didn’t have our camera any more! Disaster! We would not have lost absolutely everything but it would have been seriously inconvenient to put it everso mildly.

We retraced our steps. Last photo was taken at Village Bay Lake so we went there slowly looking at the side of the road just in case we could spot it. Nothing. We got to the lake and there were some people there, they hadn’t seen it. There was a car parked so I scrawled out a note but they got back just as I had finished writing it. They hadn’t found it.

There wasn’t that much swearing.

It was getting quite late and we hadn’t found anywhere to stay so we had to make that a priority. No camera, lots of private land with ‘No Tresspassing’ signs – it really wasn’t looking like a fairy tale ending to the day.

We had just gone up a track that ended in a spot to turn around and despondency was setting in. I got Nick to pull up next to a guy who was working on his house:

“Excuse me!” – I said – “Is there anywhere round here we can camp?”

“Hmm…nooo…” – said Jerry as we later found out his name is – “…wait, some friends of mine sometimes let people camp on their land…”

Jerry went on to explain how to get there and then changed his mind.

“I need to go down to my phone anyway. I will call them for you.”

“Thank you!”

So, off we went, following Jerry. We arrived at a telegraph pole where he plugged in his phone (bit remote roudn here, it is) and made  a call.

“They are expecting you!” – he said with a smile. More thanks and a wave and off we went.

As we were pulling down their very long driveway Nick said: “If I scratch my head we are leaving.” “OK.”

We pulled round a corner and there were Allen and Jude and their beautiful property. And so we camped.

Eating our porridge in the morning, looking out over the little lake and enjoying the sunshine, Nick remarked that the little spot was just perfect. For two people who love to talk it is remarkable how much enjoyement we get from being able to camp out far from any crowds. It is such a pleasure.

We packed up and then spent a solid hour, if not longer, discussing the world politics and camping with our hosts. I loved every second – I love putting the world to rights over a good cup of coffee! Allen got us the number for the local RCMP and left their lost and found a message and Nick and I agreed that we would go to the police station and try to report the camera missing and then the plan was to put up a couple of posters – one in the ferry terminal and one in a busy looking coffee shop we saw. A quick hug to our new friends and we were off!

We were pulling into the police station and suddenly there were blue lights behind us. “Shit” – said Nick – “did I stop at that stop sign?”

The policeman in the car was smiling. “No” – I said – “I think they have our camera.”

I was right!

Martin and Chad had been given our camera which was found on one of the trails. They had looked at a couple of photos, found our website and left a message and, as they had realised the sort of trip we were on, they had even gone to the trouble of printing off a few photos and putting them up in the very places we were intending to put up out posters.

We cannot thank them enough.

We did photos, we got chatting, we followed their lunch recommendation, met them for views of the sea and a barbeque and even stayed in Chad’s 19ft trailer!

I call that a fairy tale ending.

Big thanks to everyone involved: Jerry, Allen, Jude, Chad, Martin and their families and thank you to the people kind enough to hand in the camera they found.

Village Bay Lake


Goodbye to Smithers in BC, Canada

Goodbye to Smithers in BC, Canada

Ivanka and I have just had a great week after we met Shari, Brent and the kids on Haida Gwaii – then we followed them home to Smithers…

Haida Gwaii – Remote Adventure Motorcycling on Canada’s most Westerly point.

Haida Gwaii

White sandy beaches, nature at it’s best and great people – Discovering a place we never knew existed!

Recently Ivanka and I returned from the Island of Haida Gwaii, the most northerly island off the coast of British Columbia – located just a Ferry ride away from rainy Prince Rupert. To be honest, not the best of times to visit the island as it rained and rained and rained – but we met some fantastic people along the way which made the trip a great mini adventure.

We met a couple of groups of people. First there were the gents from Lancaster/ Yorkshire who were on a fleeting visit to the island.. They’d hired a couple of bikes further south and were on a whistle stop tour of all the BC sites so they were only on the island for 1 night. We met them on a slippery muddy road at the north of the island near Old Massets and on the way to the Blow Hole off the Tow Road.. The lads could have been a double act with the witty banter and innuendo. The highlight of their trip so far was when a woman asked if they would like her stuffed beaver!! How lucky were they – ha ha! Guys – I hope you have an amazing time kayaking with the Orcas…

After this we met a group of families who all met at Smithers in BC.. It started with freshly baked Cinamon buns in the remotest of bakeries and then from this point on they invited us to their Canada day, we enjoyed crabbing with them the following day and it made our stay on Haida Gwaii a superb one.  Ivanka and I consequently visited Smithers in BC, enjoyed helicopter rides, went to ‘locals’ bbq’s and got a real taste for what living in this part of BC was all about.. Hopefully see you all again in August??!!



I am in the library in Fairbanks Alaska using a borrowed eee PC running some flavour of Linux (am still paying attention, but not that much!)

Janet and Rob gave us a lift here and lent us the computers. We have been staying with them for the last two nights, just outside of Fairbanks in a beautiful log cabin hand built by Robert. It is a perfect spot to rest up and recover from the trip to the top of the Dalton Highway (and back down again!).

Snow. Mud. Wind. Bears. Caribou. Rain. Mosquitoes. Lynx. Gravel. Gumbo.

The first stop we made along the highway was at the hot spot cafe for a burger. Mile post 60. We pitched our tent in the campsite and were sitting at a picnic bench swatting mosquitos (who will get their own post) and chatting to the site hosts when a car pulled up and a lady got out.

“Have you seen a Spanish cyclist called Salvo?”

“No, and we have been here for a little while”.

“Oh, I thought he would be this far south by now, I brought him some dinner. Fancy a glass of wine?”

The three of us sat down and polished off best part of a bottle of delicious red and exchanged a few stories. Janet wrote out directions to her house and left to go home.

Salva came by the next day so we fed him and made him some coffee (no wine by then). He has some good stories too. He has been travelling round the world by bicycle since 2006!

So, after a hard yet spectacular journey, here we are.

Thanks Janet! And Salva who brought her up the highway! And who put them together.