On July 18th, many things happened. Many important things: friends had babies, other friends moved to foreign countries and, by far not the least important, at around 8:30PM, Central European Time, my mom asked my dad if he had any news from me because she was worried.
On July 18th, I woke up tired (1). I hadn’t slept well for no particular reason and the sun woke me up through the windows of my room in the basic but acceptable Hotel Pacífico 2 in Choluteca, Honduras. I went for a local breakfast of « baleadas » on the main street and had a lot of fun when the breakfast lady started telling other customers that I was going to « put a baby in her » so that he would have my blue eyes and blonde hair. She was joking though. Passing by the Wendy’s at the corner, I checked the internet, the hotel didn’t provide any wi-fi. At 9 I was ready to leave on my way to Santa Rosa de Copán and so I did. A bit later on the road, a bee got stuck on the bracelet I was still wearing from the Masaya National Park in Nicaragua and stung me (2).
At around half-past eleven, I was riding the outskirts of Tegucigalpa and decided to get into town to look for an ATM, I was low on local currency and my stop for the night may or may not be in a small town. While I was at it, I thought of having lunch and I did (3). and I took the chance to use the free internet at the restaurant.
With a full belly, at around 12:30PM Honduran time, I set off again, determined to get to Santa Rosa de Copán, a bit of an ambitious goal but I would cross into El Salvador from there. Just wondering how many hours I would have to ride to get there, I looked down to the GPS screen (4) and when I looked up I realised that the Honduran police had put some cones on the road for people to slow down (5). On a curve!!! I’m not trying to blame them for this but, who puts cones in the middle of a fast bypass on a frickin’ curve! I freaked out and instead of swerving or deciding that fuck the cones and I would ride over (or in between) them, I pulled the break, very hard (6).
The next thing I remember is to be skidding on the ground, with my right leg pressed down against the asphalt by the bike and my right hand rubbing the ground too, both in great pain. Somehow, I was separated from the bike and I stopped, the bike continued for a few more meters. I got up, checked the landscape and sat on the kerb while the police and some soldiers gathered the contents of my map pouch that were scattered on the road. I seemed to be alright, I asked one of the cops to tell me if I was bleeding anywhere around my face and since he said no and I was conscious, I removed my helmet and started checking the rest of my body and bike.
I had a big scratch on my leg and a smaller one on my arm, a blister was forming in my hand. I asked them to help me pick up the bike and where was the closest hospital.
I rode to the Hospital Militar a few blocks away and got my wounds cleaned, an antibiotic and some other stuff injected and was released with instructions on meds to take and things to wear. I followed most of it and stayed in Tegucigalpa for 2 nights to kickstart my recovery. Now I am in Antigua Guatemala, resting and trying to fix the bike.
I read somewhere that for a catastrophe to happen, there has to be concourse of 7 bad or unusual little accidents. Until today, I had only identified 6 of them:
I woke up tired
A bee stung me on my right wrist
I had lunch (I almost never do when I ride)
I was looking down at the GPS screen
The police put cones in a curve on the road
I pulled the brake while my front wheel was not straight
I suspected what the 7th cause was but I wasn’t sure. Today I went to a Honda garage where are friend of my uncle Lucas works and had the bike looked at. After finding out that the right fork arm is bent, we ended up changing the front wheel bearings, they were due for a change, the axle being a bit loose and one of the bearings not turning properly.
There you are:
The front wheel bearings needed changing
7 little accidents that got together to cause the big one. 3, 4, and 6, can be considered pilot error. Maybe also 7, since the pilot is also the usual maintainer.
Of course, if I am writing this it’s because I am alright, just a bit bruised so you needn’t worry and ask me if I’m alright. I appreciate attention but not repetition.
Oh, and the bike has no windscreen anymore.
PS: 12:30PM Honduran time is the same time as 8:30PM Central European Time.
I have been to the Southernmost city of the continent and to the very end of National Road 3 (a.k.a. Ruta Tres) and now I’m riding it to the North in a mad rush to reach Buenos Aires in the shortest possible time. Why? Because I like doing stupid things just for fun.
The landscape is quite bleak. It’s mostly steppe, very windy steppe with no trees and the occasional bush. Not much to see. Fortunately, the sky compensates and the clouds are a thing of beauty. Today’s sunset as I was arriving in Caleta Olivia can only be described as the orange version of the Northern lights. I didn’t take any photos for fear of not doing it justice and spoiling the moment.
Earlier during the day though, I got drenched. During 200km I could see a big patch of rain in the horizon and I kept wondering if the road would take me through it or around. Sure enough, the road went straight into it and it poured. I realised that my Spidi jacket is not waterproof anymore but I survived to see the amazing image that the photo on top of this post not even begins to portray. It just doesn’t do it justice. Once the rain moved East towards the sea, beautiful clouds were left in the West where the sun was starting to set and a mighty rainbow formed in the West over the (still) pouring rain. Simply beautiful.
A long day awaits tomorrow. Over and out.
Oh, and a song I could have listened to today but didn’t.
Shit got weird today:At about 80 km/h and leaning heavily into a corner on a winding mountain road, a spider made an appearance inside my helmet.How did I know it was a spider? Because it ran across my face.As I said, shit got weird.
— Nicholas Moses
World traveller and international playboy
I wanted to start this post with this quote from my friend Nick because it reminded me of when shit got weird for me recently.
I was happily riding from Pichilemu to Chillán, my third stop in Chile, merrily, merrily on the Chilean N-S highway when a excruciating pain in my right arm made me release the throttle and drop down to zero speed on the hard shoulder. It felt like I had pulled a muscle and been sprinkled with acid and been injected something very thick, all at the same time. I pulled up my sleeve and couldn’t see any trace of any living creature that could have produced it but a swelling was starting to breakout so when I arrived to Chillán, the nice lady managing the rundown guesthouse where I was staying immediately sentenced: Mosquito! And proceded to rub some vinegar on my arm and even gave me the bottle to keep in my room.
The jacket slept on the floor while I slept on the bed and the next day I set off normally, with my pain considerably lessened. That was the day I met Benoit and Steph, thanks to the timely warning of Benoit’s sister, Hélène, and they advised me to take a detour through some dirt tracks to the East. They also treated me to their awesome coffee and crêpes. If you are ever in Los Angeles, Chile, drop by the Café Francés for a taste of France! I took that secondary road and camped for the night near Curacautín. The jacket slept inside the tent with me.
After that nice camp where I made a fire and grilled the awesome sandwich that Benoit and Steph had given me, I started on my way to Villarrica and while I was driving around town looking for the hostel that the Pichilemu hostel manager had recommended, BANG! Excruciating pain, pulled muscle, cut throttle, pull sleeve up. I can’t believe it! A second bite! There must be something up my sleeve, I decided, and rode the rest of the way with my jacket half on-half off. When I got to the hostel I pulled my sleeve inside out, removed the elbow pad and found absolutely nothing. I bet you can see the shit getting weirder. Anyway, the jacket slept two days hanging from the bunk bed.
And off to Antillanca after a rest day in beautiful Villarrica, I stopped at the side of the road when I met two Argentinean riders on their way to Chiloé. We had a nice chat and I told them about the weird things happening to my arm and pulled up my sleeve to show them. As soon as I did, a half-alive yellow jacket bee fell to the ground.
It’s actually a wasp but I don’t care, looks like a bee to me and I started cursing bees, insects in general, probably Chile and whatever came to my mind, pulled up my sleeve again to look at my arm when a second wasp fell to the ground. A SECOND WASP! Can you believe it? I lived for 5 days with one wasp up my sleeve and 3 days with two of them. It’s lucky I’m not allergic. And also lucky they didn’t bite me more than once each!
Tomorrow I take the Eyre highway to Adelaide. 2000km of treeless nothingness and of course no cell coverage or internet. It’s going to be the longest communications blackout since I went « into the wild » in Kyrgyzstan.
There is supposed to be gas stations and water/food shops along the way but apparently everything is terribly overpriced so I stocked up on water and food for the crossing. I have probably overstocked since the crossing should take around 3 days/2 nights give or take and I must have food for a week or more. But hey, it’s me! I’ve already been lost and without supplies so this time I won’t be caught unawares. The thing I may be short on is cash, will they take my credit card along the way or does everyone just leave for that highway with a big pile of cash for fuel? I guess I’ll find out in a couple of days.
In the meantime, you can follow my progress thanks to my SPOT, here: Live Tracking.
If you want to know more about the Nullarbor crossing (some call it like that), here’s a couple of links:
When I was leaving, a friend posted this song on my page. Whenever I think of the road, it often comes to my mind. Where I lay my head is home. Anywhere I roam.
The road is a harsh mistress I said once talking about long hours on the road but it can also give you a lot of pleasant surprises, not
only in the form of gorgeous landscapes. I entered Laos through the South from Cambodia and even before I got to the border, I ran into two bikers in disguise. At first they looked like locals, riding smallish bikes very heavy loaded but their luggage didn’t look like the things you usually see on the road (video post to come on that). It was Denis and Hanes, Dutch and Estonian who had bought their bikes in Vietnam and had come riding all the way from there. Even though I was faster, we crossed the border together and they came with me to Don Khong where we crossed the river together in some scary barges.
We stayed there 2 days, minding our own business. I reading my book, them checking for a mechanic for Hanes’ bike and after two nights I was on my way. Ahead of my I had the road to Pakse and Savannakhet where I didn’t expect to do any sightseeing. I was on the road to Vientiane where I had agreed to meet with Julien, a French biker I had met in Ulan Baatar, like 4 countries ago. He was luckier than me with his China crossing and actually crossed China from North to South. In truth, I was also feeling a bit pressed for time since now I have a date to fly out of New Zealand to Chile and have to somehow manage to get to Auckland on February 18th to catch my flight with the bike sorted out.
I didn’t feel like straining myself though so I left not too late and rode only to Pakse, a couple of hours away and checked my self into a guesthouse with wi-fi. Since it was pretty early, I wandered around town and had a late lunch of pizza. Not really good but did the job.
After wandering around and fiddling with the internet, I decided to share the info on Vietnamese bikes I had got from the other guys with Antoine, a French guy travelling in the region I had met in Bangkok and then randomly run into in Chiang Mai who was interested in maybe buying one. I fired him an email, only to receive a quick response just before going to sleep saying « you are going to laugh but I was just thinking of you, I’m in Pakse tonight too ». Wait, what? Distance from Bangkok to Pakse: 600 km as the crow flies. Time since I had last seen him: around 3 weeks. Emails exchanged in the meantime: zero. And he was in the same town. See, I give all the details and all but these things barely seem strange anymore. We agreed on having breakfast the next day before I left.
And breakfast we had. Soon after I was on my way to Savannakhet. Another short ride and very nice. Here, checking into a guesthouse was a bit more difficult, most of the guesthouses the Lonely Planet mentions had disappeared and the first one I visited had me running away from it for no particular reason but finally I did find a cozy one with wi-fi and a garden to park the bike inside. Again, it was still day and I went for a long walk around town hunting after lunch. On a small side street not far from the Mekong and not far from my guesthouse, I saw a small group of backpackers. Among them, Timo, a Finn I had also met in Bangkok. I remember also saying to him that I was sure we would meet again because the road is just like that.
The road indeed is just like that. You will meet the same people over and over again without even asking for it. Most of the time not even in the same country. I had met these two guys in Thailand. Antoine had come straight to Laos from there, Timo had been in Vietnam in the meantime, I had been to Cambodia. I put Laos in my list of « that sort of places that are just like that ». That list has so far four countries: Georgia, Uzbekistan, Mongolia and Laos.
The next day I set off for Vientiane and got there. When I was checking myself into the guesthouse, I met with Julien but that meeting was planned. He told me that the next day he was going to work on the bike at Fuark’s bike shop and when we went back to the street to look at my bike and his, we noticed that my rear tyre was completely worn. Looked like I would be taking my bike to Fuark’s too.
The next day was Thai visa day and Buddha Park day. We also did some pictures together with the bikes. We are in Laos. In the background, the Mekong and beyond, Thailand.
To be sure, that wasn’t the end of it. In Vang Vieng, some random guy said bonjour, I had seen him in Vientiane so when I saw him again in Luang Namtha we shook hands and introduced ourselves, lest we meet again and still don’t know each other’s names. They are Michael and Sandrine and they are also travelling around the world, only by plane and bus.
This story is about what probably is the worst road I’ve ever taken but also one of the days with most riding fun so far on this trip. I’ve already mentioned this day a while ago, right after it happened, on this post.
After that rain, I didn’t want to stay by the lake anymore. The next day was probably going to be sunny but Richard had arranged with Neil, Iain and Chris to take together the dirt track to Naryn, the one I had seen on Cédric‘s map and I was thinking of taking the next day. Meeting was at 8:30 at the junction so we packed all our wet camping gear and went to meet the others. Advantages of traveling with other people there are many but one big disadvantage is that you lose sleep-time flexibility. Had I been alone, I would have slept in until my gear dried. It’s alright, the storm had sent us to bed really early so I got a lot of sleep. Lucky I did for I didn’t know it at the time but I was going to need all my energy that day.
Richard, Neil and Chris had inspected the first couple of kilometers of that road the previous day and they had found it to be appropriate, with some protruding rocks but doable. Or so they thought. Big mistake. If a road looks not too good but doable when it’s close to civilization, it will only get worse as it gets away from towns.
A beginning like this one:
Will never become tarmac or anything close to it once it gets away from civilization. And it didn’t, pretty soon Richard’s bike started falling to the ground of its own accord and just to not make it feel bad, mine too. At a rocky tight corner, the V-Strom’s bash plate touched the ground and the wheels lost adherence. I stopped my bike and tried to park it somewhere safe to help him. I chose the wrong spot and now 2 bikes were on the ground. Still, we kept on. The scenery was beautiful and we were riding as a group so tight spots could be worked out or around together. Richard was having a lot of trouble with the ground clearance of his bike and nearly decided to turn back after a couple of really bad bits of « road ». The road was so bad that I announced that if he did, I would also, not only because it was very hard but also because going down through the places where we had been going up would be very dangerous and no one should be left alone there. But he didn’t turn back.
After a couple of rough spots, we all agreed that the ones that were ahead would stop whenever the road became very bad in order to help Richard’s bike up. Either by holding it on the sides or whatever other means necessary and as a result, whenever we saw everyone stopped somewhere (I was riding behind Richard), it was time to freak out. It was at one of those places where everyone stopped that I was waiting to go up with everyone else strategically deployed on my path to help in case of need when I saw Iain waving at me to go forward and just past him, Richard go down a cliff. He looked puzzled when I refused to move forward and got off my bike until he turned around and saw what I had seen happen.
Priority shift. No more going up, better check what happened. Richard was alright, the bike seemed quite alright too but in a really bad position, you can see his helmet video here. It seemed like the bike wasn’t moving further down so Richard started unloading it while we go the rest of our bikes up through the same spot, carefully trying not to have a similar accident. I think I dropped the bike while going up but really, compared to Richard’s situation, I was alright and the guys helped me pick it up.
Once we had all our bikes up there, it was time to take the V-Strom back up. It took the five of us to bring it back up and once it was up he could assess the damage. Front fender was broken, bash plate was detached and gear lever was shot. Think, think, how to make a new gear lever?
Bush mechanics are a lot of fun (when it works). Most of the time you need to mentally review all your gear to find something that looks like the thing you broke and see if it fits. If you are lucky, it will. As it turns out, I had seen Richard’s spark plug remover recently and it looked like a gear lever so Iain and him set to make him a new gear lever. A couple of cable ties and some duct tape later (and a ratchet strap to hold the bash plate), he was set to go.
It didn’t get easier and soon we were dropping the bikes again. Richard even more since he was getting more and more tired. We were being so slow that not very far from the high pass, a VW Camper Van caught up with us. It was a German couple, Jo and Anika, their camper van all set for long distance travel, with 4WD and independent whatever on the four wheels to go up this terrible road. From then on, they stuck to us, helping us pick up the bikes when necessary and even making tea for us when we got to the high pass!
The other side of the mountain was really something else. It was just as beautiful and probably just as difficult but instead of rocky outcrops (there was still some), it was time for river crossings. The first one was an easy one, the second one was a bit more difficult but Jo and Anika arrived with a portable « bridge » right after we picked up Richard’s bike but right before it was my turn to cross :D.
All in all, it was easier than the other side but our feet were wet. The river crossings were not easy but all together, sometimes holding the bikes on the sides or pushing it when stuck, I managed to cross them all without falling in the water. And then we came to a big one. I have no direct pictures of it but it was a wide, deep, fast river followed by a very steep slope. Two Italian bikers had just crossed it in the opposite direction and we chatted with them about what was ahead each way. Despite our multiple warnings, they decided to go ahead even if it was already past 5PM.
Iain crossed the river. He just went for it, got stuck in the middle but with a bit of pushing he was pretty soon up the hill on the other side and we were all just looking at him wondering if we would be able to do the same safely. It was then that some local yurt-dwellers approached us and told us that we should go around instead of straight. There was another way actually, riding through a bunch of rocks and crossing three smaller streams onto a much less steep ramp.
That was the funny moment. Richard’s bike fell on dry ground but he must have been feeling hot and he went for the water. I did cross without much trouble but the sense of achievement got me in the end and I had to drop the bike right after crossing. In the video you can see Neil proposing me a path, me getting psyched to cross and finally crossing only to drop Z on the other side.
I got up quite alright after that and, as the Italians had said, that was the last of our river crossings… but not the last of our suffering that day. It was getting darker and colder and our feet were wet but it was time to find a campsite. Even if we were at 2761m of altitude. Potluck dinner it was that night and it didn’t turn out so bad. I cooked rice as usual with cashew nuts and dried raisins but this time Richard contributed some herrings in spicy tomato sauce. Best meal ever.
The previous statement might be an exaggeration but we had been riding hard the whole day and we hadn’t had lunch, or a proper breakfast. We went to bed in the cold, dark night and cold it was. I slept inside my sleeping bag with the silk liner and the +11 degrees (NOT) liner and most of my clothes on and even like that I had a very rough night. My feet felt like they were freezing the whole night and I had to get out of the tent to pee many times but we did wake up the next morning. There was frost on our tents! -1 on a +10 sleeping bag is not for the faint of heart.
The second day the road was much easier and as the altitude dropped we got under the tree line and the landscape changed radically. Also, there was bridges to cross the rivers. Not the safest bridges I’ve ever seen but they kept you dry.
Pretty soon (well past midday) we were in that hole they call Naryn and had checked ourselves in that hole that some called a hotel and which name I can’t remember. It would have been better to go to a guest house but we were too tired to search and we wanted a shower. The shower is also a whole other story. Some people got a shower, some people didn’t. In the end, the only ones who did get a working shower in the room were Chris and I so everyone came to our room for shower, even Jo and Anika.
Oh, I also met David and Lyn in Naryn, 2 days before entering China, there was only two other people I hadn’t met, Robin and Keely but that’s another story. We had just been in the most difficult road so far and wanted a shower and internet. We got the shower, internet not so much. Did I say Naryn was a hole. It’s also probably an exaggeration, the hotel I stayed in is probably the one to blame for that.
Ok, I know this is the third post on the Kazarman trail and the road to Song Kul but I really liked those 3 days alone in the mountains and it has taken me a very long time to be able to upload these 3 videos so here they are: Kazarman trail in long, medium and short versions. Unedited. Enjoy! (I did)
On the morning of August 16th we had to meet Neil to ride out together. We would only ride a short time together because I was going to take the Jalal-Abad to Kazarman trail and they were taking the highway because their bikes weren’t in great shape. We were late and Neil had left and I still had to top up so I sent Chris away, there was no point in holding him back; he was riding with Neil and I was riding alone. Alone, no one to follow, no one following me. I was confident because the bike was in great shape and happy because I could ride at my own pace and I wasn’t in any hurry to go anywhere.
I had told the guys that I would spend two nights in the wild and then go to Bishkek but as I started riding and taking in the scenery, I told myself that I had no constraints and I may as well take my time. I could even do this trail in 5 days instead of the planned 3 and I would still be on time to go to Torugart.
The first day was pretty quiet, I took my time to weave my way up to the first high pass and enjoy the views and it was amazing. The beautiful roads, the humbling landscapes and the silence. Every time I stopped and cut the engine, there was absolute silence. Nothing. I made some videos of the road until my battery ran out but they are taking a very long time to upload. Around 5 or 6 in the afternoon, I was topping up in Kazarman. The tank was almost full but when you don’t know what the road ahead is like and how many days and kilometers it can still take, it’s better to have a full tank.
It is almost funny how 5km before a town the road becomes tarmac and stays like that for 5km on the other side and when it ended it was getting late and I started thinking that I should find a camp site. The problem was that there was no space at the side of the road to go off-road. On one side the mountain and on the other the valley. And that’s when I wasn’t riding through a canyon. It was getting dark and started to get nervous, looking at the smallest space behind a bush (there weren’t many bushes). Let’s check this one, oh, it’s a dump, can’t camp here. Until I found a big sort of plain where I could follow an old forgotten trail and set up my tent.
As soon as I stopped the bike and turned around I realized that there was a town in the valley and maybe I could be seen from there. It’s not good but it was already getting dark so I had no choice, I pitched my tent, cooked myself some rice and tuna with cashew nuts for dinner and when I was finished I covered the bike and went to bed. It was really comfy in the tent but seeing the town had obviously disturbed me and when during the night I heard the wind play with the bike’s cover, I thought someone was trying to steal from me. When it lasted for half an hour I concluded that it was just the wind and went to sleep again.
Camping alone in the wild is very special. There’s just you and the nature and then when it gets dark there is only one thing left to do: go to bed. And when the sun comes out, you wake up and get ready. At 8AM I was already on the road on my way to Song Kul. Would I get there today? Would I finally see snow? After a noodles breakfast I set off to find out. Not long later I came to another mountain pass that also had a sign indicating the start of the Ak-Tal region.
And then I saw it 😀
Maybe a little zoom on that?
Enough rest and contemplation, I set off and around 11am I had arrived to the town of Ak-Tal. I went into the shop and bought a couple of things. It felt good to have some bread and some Coke while the kids looked at my bike and at me. They shared some Cheetos and I shared some bread until they had to go. And then it happened. There are moments when you see the most unexpected thing and you camera is not with you but they stay in your mind forever. One of the kids picked up a bicycle wheel from where he presumably had left it before, grabbed a piece of wire that was probably his too and went away hoop rolling. I thought that only happened in very old comic books!
But it was time to go, this was my second day in the wild by myself and I was getting closer to my target so I set myself on the road again after a short « chat » with one of the many town drunks and pretty soon I was up on the high mountains again at 3000m of altitude and I saw in the distance a deep blue spot.
From the shore.
Before arriving here I had thought I would be able to swim in the lake and camp there for the night but when I got there it was 2pm and it was quite chilly. My summer sleeping bag was not ready for that so after a piece of bread and a drink I went on my way back towards civilization. At first I thought I could go back to Bishkek that day but when I started trying to get on the trail to Chayek, a local on a 4WD told me not to go that way and asked me for a cigarette (a lot of people in this far away parts of Kyrgyzstan ask foreigners for cigarettes). I turned around and decided to take the standard road that tourist minibuses take to get here. I didn’t.
I ended up on the road Cédric had told me about: 72 hairpin turns on a dirt road wide as a car dropping several hundred meters. Stunning.
After a while I realized that because I got lost so many times before taking that road and that I was now on the long road to Bishkek instead of the short one, I wasn’t going to get there that day and turned back a bit to a very nice spot by a stream that I had spotted on the way. I had started very early anyway and it was already 5pm. I had earned myself the right to an early camp and the spot was simply irresistible.
I hid behind a little mound and set up camp, then I went to wash the dishes, my clothes and myself in the river before making myself some dinner and setting on the side of the little hill I was behind to read. A perfect day was coming to an end. I went to bed early, days are long in the saddle but they don’t feel like it when you are riding the beautiful roads I had been riding.
The next morning I still had another high pass and still some more beautiful roads to ride before getting back to civilization. Here’s the full photo gallery fo my trip to Song Kul. Finally I took only two nights to get to Bishkek through that road but it was very comfortable and relaxing to know that I could have taken four.
Arrived in Bishkek I was very tired and couldn’t find most of the guesthouses mentioned in the Lonely Planet (or any other fwiw) and I met two cyclists (one of them was I think Austrian and the other one was Uzbek from Bukhara) and they recommended an expensive hotel called the Alpinist. I checked in there for the first night because I didn’t want to turn in circles around the city anymore. The next day I went to the Sakura guesthouse where Neil and Chris were and checked in there. It was 8 times cheaper.