Imagine if you will, a land where petrol is free, a night in a luxury hotel costs $5 while $10 gets you a room in a fully equipped resort. A good meal is under a dollar and a first class road network connects cities with practically no traffic. Wouldn't this be an adventure riders heaven. Would you believe us if we told you that such a place does exist? Well it does and it really is a riders paradise. As well as costing peanuts to live, it has some of the most amazing scenery and ecological sights in the world; prehistoric plateaus, beautiful waterfalls (the tallest in the world, Angel Falls, amongst them), the Amazon, the foot hills to the Andes mountain range and picturesque beaches. Where is this place? The beautiful Venezuela.
The first thing we needed to know about Venezuela was that there is a parallel currency exchange market (i.e. black market). It was actually illegal in Venezuela and they were cracking down, however, the price of everything in the country was set on this ...
The Darien Gap! A 50km stretch of jungle separating Panama in North America from Colombia in South America. The jungle is so thick that it isolated the Mayan civilisation from the Inca's. Although a few well equipped adventurers have had success in navigating through the harsh environment, most attempts have failed. Plans to join Panama to Colombia by road through the Darien Gap have never eventuated, mainly because of the terrain but also because of the poor relations between the two countries.
How then would The Pack Track get from North to South America? There are essentially two options, fly or sail, each with its pros and cons. Flying can be done in a day whereas sailing takes 5 days. The price is very similar with flying only fractionally more expensive than sailing but our main concern was Skyla's comfort and well-being as we didn't want to put her in a crate again if we could avoid it.
The sailing options include the traditional single hull or catamaran sail boats. However,...
By the time we reached Costa Rica we had put around 6,000 miles (10,000km) on our bikes since leaving Texas. That means it was time for a service. Luckily, back in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, we met Ricardo by chance. Janell was standing on the balcony of our hostel in San Miguel checking out the view with Skyla when a gentlemen yelled from bellow "Are you going to Manaus?" Followed by "come downstairs", so we did and introduced ourselves to Ricardo. Ricardo had been told about us by someone following our journey and made it his business to come and find us. He invited us to take a walk around San Miguel during which time we exchanged stories and he sold us on spending a few days in San Jose, Costa Rica, where he knew a good mechanic if we needed any work done.
We arrived in San Jose late on the 14th of May 2014. In fact it had been dark for some time and lightly raining. We had only a street name to find our accommodation and after riding around for some time with no luck, decid...
Never do a border crossing on an empty stomach. We'd done it a few times now and it makes a hot and slow process so much worse. Crossing in to Mexico we were lucky to have two experienced travellers with us, who both spoke Spanish. The countries that were to follow – Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua – progressively got hotter and slower, taking anywhere between 1.5 hours to 5.5 hours.
Janell handles border crossings for The Pack Track. She is the most organised out of the three when it comes to paperwork and is picking up Spanish phrases a little faster than Stu and Skyla. To cross a border (a bridge over a river in most cases) we have tourist visas, motorbike permits and live animal import/export (that's Skyla). The process involves moving from the immigration and customs queues in one country to get stamps and permit, then moving to the administration buildings of the next country to get more stamps and permits. Sometimes you pay some money. Interestingly no...
Three sore bottoms pulled in to a tropical Cancun at 4:30pm. The Pack Track left the bustling city of Oaxaca on Wednesday, with the goal of checking in to our accommodation in Cancun by 5pm on Friday. That's approximately 1400km in three days. Why the hurry? Glad you asked! Stu's younger brother (Greg) who moved to Canada about 18 months earlier was flying down to spend 4 nights with us. It had been a very eventful, exhausting and at times stressful three days but definitely worth it to see two brothers reunited!!
As with every place we'd been in Mexico, we were sad to leave Oaxaca. Within the city itself there are beautiful churches to visit, arts, culture, interesting foods to try and you can lose yourself just walking the streets watching the locals go about their daily tasks. Outside the city and within a 20km radius are ancient ruins dating back to 500 BC. We visited Monte Alban, Dainzu and Lambityeco. The entry price to each site seems to be proportional to the size of the s...
Janell lay there upside-down calling for help, head resting on a concrete beam which ran along the bottom of the deep gutter, her legs sticking up the steep incline holding up 250kg of bike. The bike was also upside-down with fuel pouring out of the breathing tube. Stuart quickly pulled his bike up and ran to her assistance. He took the weight, enough for Janell to slip out from under the bike and then allow it to fall about 1.5m to the bottom of the gutter. Luckily there was no signs of injury, although Janell was in a bit of shock, holding her broken rear-view mirror and cursing Skyla who was the reason for the emergency stop.
So what had lead to this situation?
Our stayed in Oaxaca had extended two nights longer than initially intended; this time of course is never wasted as there is always more to see. The reason however, for this delay was slightly complicated, but was essentially caused by not having Janell's motorbike title. We'd waited around long enough in Texas and decid...
From Real de Catorce we were on our own and headed for San Miguel de Allende. It was our first leg in Mexico without support (Hank and Jochen). We were perhaps overwhelmed for the first two days trying to find our feet. Our Spanish was non existent so we quickly discovered 'street' food. It's cheap, tasty and you can point at the pots of food you want, just make sure you smile and say 'por favor' (Spanish for please) so it doesn't come across as rude. If you prefer somewhere to sit and relax for a while, the rooftop restaurants are something fun and different and you can enjoy looking at the church towers or down on the brightly coloured streets during the day or sparkling lights at night. Mexico really comes to life at night but with the warm evenings it's no wonder families and friends are out mingling, socialising and shopping.
We spent 3 nights in San Miguel at the start of the Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter). This was a very special time to be in town as the celebrati...
We had said a fond farewell to Dallas, our home for the previous three weeks. The departure was not quite as we planned and were thankful for no great send off. The checkout from the hotel was midday, we handed over our room keys at 12:01pm but then spent the next three hours in the hotel car park loading up the bikes. It wasn't the plan of course, we had hoped to be on the road at midday to take the scenic four hour ride to Austin, the capital of Texas, set up camp and explore the city the next day.
Loading the bikes was an epic task and it was also the first time we'd done it, so we were throwing out excess stuff that didn't fit, repacking, throwing out more stuff and then repacking again. When we were finally ready to ride we realised our communication and map systems were not working. Everything had passed the pre-flight checks the day before. With the sun quickly setting and determined not to check back in to the hotel we had no time to muck around so we jumped on Interstate 35...
Had everything gone to plan, us (Janell and Stu) and our 7 year old Bull Terrier mix Skyla would be riding through Central America right about now. So what went wrong? Skyla was diagnosed with cancer (Lymphoma) in October 2013, only weeks after booking our flights to Dallas. We were rapidly packing up our life in Sydney in preparation for a two year motorbike adventure across four and half continents.
Skyla sitting on her bike
Without treatment Skyla had only months to live. The news of lymphona was devastating and placed a major obstacle in our plans to travel around the world as a family. The tears and disheartened feelings were short lived as we turned to the internet for options to extend her quality and length of life. A Google search resulted in an article about a border collie called Muffin that had undergone a Bone Marrow Transplant as a potential cure in recent years. We approached the lovely team at Dee Why Veterinary Hospital who were more than happy to help us pursue th...