Dual Thu 04 January 2018

Vuelta ao mundo second part

When we were planning our trip, we thought of reaching the USA with a flight from Singapore, but it was too expensive. This led us to a very “wet” experience in Malaysia where we learned the hard way what a monsoon is!
Heavy rain all day long, and under this rain we reach Georgetown on the island of Penang and the following day Kuala Lumpur. Every evening we are soaked wet: our suits are not suitable for all that water, and our luggage and shoes are also drenched.
So, we decide to head back North, to the sunny Thailand, from there to Laos and Cambodia and then back to Bangkok where we will board our flight to the USA.
After 69 days driving on the left-hand side of the road, in Laos we go back to driving on the right-hand side without even noticing. Laos is the country of our next muddy off-road experience!
We cross the Mekong river by ferry. End of the paved road. We stay overnight in the elegant city of Lunag Prabang and in the morning, take a gravel road. Occasionally, we come up to small towns where we arise a lot of interest, as if they never saw tourists on motorbikes before. The road is red dirt that turns into a skating track with only a few drops of rain. Riding through the forest with Metzeler Tourance tires, I can’t but slip, often falling to the ground.  
And then comes the rain! We travel at 15/20 km/h. Driving in deep mud is better that driving on those hard roads layered in mud: as soon as the throttle is used the rear wheel slips: I can’t remember how may times we had to pull the bike back up. At the end we are all covered in red mud.
We visit Cambodia as last, going through 4000 little islands on the Mekong.
We have to speed up our pace because we need to give the documents to the company that will export our bikes to Thailand. We ride along an unpaved road, that looks like a highway surrounded by African plains, that becomes paved just before we reach the Angkor temple. We stop 10 km from Angkor in the city of Siem Reap, a place that reminds us of India. Unluckily, even Cambodia’s traffic is chaotic, and everybody honks their horns. We do not have enough time to visit the tunnels used by the army during the war against the USA, which is a great attraction amongst tourists also because with a few dollars one can fire a machine gun or launch a grenade.
From Cambodia we return to Bangkok in Thailand and depart for the USA.
 

We fly over the Pacific Ocean, and a few days later, we collect our bikes in Redondo Beach in California. Everything goes well, despite the stories on USA’s customs. As soon as we organize the documents, we obtain the authorization needed to collect the motorcycles.
After 20,000 km, we are able to get the Ténéré bikes fixed at the Yamaha workshop in Los Angeles and then we head South. We cross the border with Mexico in Tijuana. Here we replace our Metzeler Tourance tires with the Heidenau T60 Scout; we look forward to taking on the next off-road trail.
One morning, while drinking a cappuccino and American coffee, the owner of the coffee shop intrigues us with his stories on the Californian peninsula (Baja California). He tells us about the annual race proudly called “Baja 1000”, which covers 1000 miles from the city of Ensenada to La Paz. It looks like the perfect occasion to test our new tires. Without wasting anymore time and following the directions the owner gave us, we reach Ensenada and get hold of a map of the race.
We don’t have enough time to cover all the 1000 miles, but we can at least go through part of it.
We don’t know what to expect on the desert sand dunes we imagine …. but we take the risk and our choice is a winner!
We only cover 60km of the legendary race, reaching Coco’s Corner along the stretch from San Felipe to the Bay of Los Angeles, achieving what we wanted and even more because we didn’t expect mud. On the trail, a mix of hard gravel, dirt, rocks and not-too-deep sand, the new tires are excellent. We probably would have avoided a few falls if we had equipped our bikes with these tires from the start.
The stretch of road to reach the trail isn’t absolutely bad! Pristine tarmac, winding road flanking the coast which offers splendid sceneries that move us and fill us with joy. At the end of our trip along the Californian Peninsula we stop at a resort in Cabo San Lucas.
We reach Mexico with a ferry from the city of La Paz to Topolobampo, and from here we discover another side to our motorbike adventured. During our trip to Acapulco, where we want to spend the holidays, one of the bikes starts having problems with the gearbox, with strange noises coming right out of it. The gearbox gets stuck in one gear and the clutch stops working. We are at about 150 km from a Yamaha garage shop when the Ténéré stops completely. We are fortunate again: a very kind local takes bike to the Yamaha garage shop with his little van. Here the chief mechanic inspects the bike but has bad news: the clutch disks and the 3rd and 4th gears need to be replaced with spares that cannot be found in Mexico. Our sponsor, Yamaha Poland Position, proves to be up to the task: spares are shipped to us in a short time.
 

The holiday season is beautiful.
But time flies and our schedule is to finish our expedition by the beginning of the Brazilian Carnival, the best way to celebrate the success of our adventure which lasted six months.
We plan to meet in Guatemala, at the border with El Salvador, once the gearbox is fixed.
From there on, our journey takes on a race-like feature: the last leg from Acapulco in Mexico to Salvador in Brazil has been named “AS-RACE”. It isn’t easy to meet, Maciek gets lost after the bureaucratic battle at the border between Mexico and Guatemala, so we postpone the meeting spot to the next border, i.e. that between El Salvador and Honduras. El Salvador is a small country, so the meeting spot is moved farther by only 300 km; finally, we are able to meet.
After a brief greeting, we fill each other in on our adventures and the days we spent alone and then start to plan the AS-RACE. We have to cross Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, four countries and up to eight customs to go through.
We already know that at every border we will have to speak with immigration and customs, going from one desk to another, making copies of documents, paying for the bikes to get through and for insurance. At the borders we meet people who, for a few dollars, help you go through all the paperwork, since it is always a difficult task. Even if the travel agency gave us instructions written by people who already experienced this trip, it is never easy.
It takes us a few days to finally reach Panama.
 

There are stories of intrepid people who traversed marshland and forests on the isthmus of Danien Gap with their bikes, but we decide to go by ferry or plane discovering that there are no ferries between Panama and Colombia. Sea crossing is offered by yacht owners that can load a pair of bikes. But this type of transportation is very in demand and we should have booked a long time ago. Therefore, we decide to wait in Panama a few days hoping a few seats would free. At the end we give up and, after packing out bikes, take a flight out of Panama to Bogota, where, after 35,000 km, we changed the chain of one of the bikes for the third time with a spare part that came on with the gearbox spares.
The next checkpoint is the border with Venezuela.
We don’t know the road conditions in Colombia, but we hope to get there in less than one day because it isn’t far. But after only 100 km, in a highway rest area, we note that the pinion screw of one of the bikes came off; in the final stages of our long journey fate was throwing up roadblocks. And then comes George, a Colombian, who, to our great surprise, greets us in Polis; he finds the missing component in a nearby village allowing us to continue. But surprises aren’t finished: along a curvy mountain road a dog suddenly crosses the road in front of me; I instinctively hard brake and the bike skids on the blacktop getting all banged up and ripping my riding suit.
Venezuela is without doubt the paradise for car drivers - we pay less than a coffee for a full tank (23 liters for the Ténéré) – but it is hard to get in. We are used to the endless paperwork but seven hours waiting for customs, where lunch break lasts no less than two hours, are a bit too much.
To ride across this country, we chose the Southern road to reach the border with Brazil in Santa Elena, faster. The road includes crossing the Orinoco river from the city of San Fernando. During coffee break, talking with an old man of San Fernando, we discover that the road we want to use is unpaved, flooded in some points, and that bridges are missing on some smaller rivers and streams. It would be a great adventure, but time is not on our side, so we prefer to take the farther Northern way. Once again getting to know local people pays off.
Before the border with Brazil we get separated and pass the night in nearby villages without knowing where the rest of the group is. There is no way to contact them: no signal for the cell phone, no internet; we received some information only the following day from a few soldiers at one of the many road blocks before the border, which is where we meet and cross to Brazil. We are elated: in front of us there is the Amazon Rainforest!
We travel across this region on a ferry along the Amazon river from Manaus to Belem because this if the rainy season. In Manaus we immediately buy last minute tickets for the ferry that would leave in 40 minutes, since the next one is schedule in three days, and we cannot wait. Life onboard is slow; we sail for five days along the largest river in the world, observing life in the villages along its bank.
In Belem, the bike fixed in Mexico gives problems again. A Japanese mechanic of the Yamaha service in the Amazon Basin tells us this is caused by the job made in Acapulco.
We leave Belem twice: the first time the Ténéré stops after 80 km forcing us to go back to have it fixed by the magic hands of the Japanese, even though we decide to continue our journey riding on one motorcycle. We still have 2000 km to cover to get there in time for the Carnival, but we make it!

After 188 days, 40,000 km, 26 countries and 4 continents we finally arrive in Salvador on the fifth day of the Carnival, while it is still in full swing.
On the last stretch our tires are very worn, but the following days we celebrate our success with a group of friends.
We finally get to see the Capoeira, which is a Brazilian martial art we are fans of and that is the top event of our expedition. After the excitement of Carnival and a few days resting, we begin our training under the guide of one of the best athletes of the region of Bahia.
After 8 months we fly back to Warsaw, at the Frederic Chopin airport, with many memories, a world of experience that will stay with us forever and renewed energy for our next adventures.

Photos and texts: Lukasz Jastrzab