Ecuador Express

I crossed into Peru on the 14th, slept near the border, and then rode about 500km into the country yesterday. It’s been a long haul of riding from Colombia. I made it across Ecuador in three days of solid riding. I realized I’m well behind schedule after faffing about in Central America and Colombia, and want to make sure I have plenty of time with the Mennonites in Bolivia and Paraguay. So I’ve been hitting the road hard. But I’m loving the riding. I’m usually on the road by 6:30 or 7:00 am, and ride for 10-12 hours, then repeat. It doesn’t leave much time for blogging, I’m afraid.


Ecuador was mostly mountain riding, much of it above 3000 meters. It was a relief to ride in cooler weather after all the heat and humidity of Central America. The towns and much of the rural areas reminded me of northern/western China. Dry, dusty, gritty, grimy. Unpainted brick buildings, and when they are painted it’s with product or political adverts. But clearly there’s some new money around, all from oil I think. New cars on the roads, lots of new, big houses.


I’d hoped to do some camping in Ecuador, but I wasn’t planning out my days well enough, and always ended up in some gritty little town at night, so that’s where I’d sleep. The one day I did make it to a national park, late, in the dark, they turned me away, saying that they were having security problems in the park and that it was unsafe to camp. So I backtracked down the mountain and found a little cabin with a fireplace.


My first flat tire of the trip. I’d been carrying a new rear tire since Panama, so decided the old one was bald enough (and very thin, I realized when I took it off) and opted for a new tire and tube. Problem was, the new tire was very stiff, and my little traveling tire tools were not up the job. I managed to flag down a car –driven, of course, by another motorcyclist — and he drove me and my wheel to a town 10km away to get the tire changed while his wife watched my bike on the roadside. Came back, thought all was right, and put the wheel back on and loaded up. Then I realized I’d pinched the tube in my frenetic attempts to put the tire on. I tried pumping it up to drive a short distance…but the hole kept ahead of the pump. This time I had no one to watch my bike…took the wheel back off, locked the bike up as best I could and hitchhiked back to the tire shop, got it fixed, hitchhiked back to the bike, all was well. Four hours later I was back on the road. Going shopping for new tools in the next big town.


Gorki Mayorga, the man who came to my rescue and gave me a ride. His wife, also a journalist, stayed behind and watched the bike for me while we went to the shop.



All well so far. The bike is standing up pretty well, despite the stray dogs that throw themselves at me. KLR 2, Dogs 0. (although the last one broke my improvised tool box when I hit him.)






Crossing Colombia


I met Dom Harris, another KLR 650 rider, on the boat over from Panama. We drove from Cartegena to Bucaramanga together, a marathon 15-hr ride through the mountains.


Stopped to make some adjustments to the bike, and as always a crowd gathers to ask questions.


I went hang gliding for the first time in Bucaramanga. Awesome views, plenty of fresh air.


After I left Bucaramanga I retuned to the road alone. I stopped in Barichara, a 300-year old colonial town, for the night.


Kids playing ball in Barichara


The scenery on the ride to Bogota. I had about 500 km of this…nearly drove off the road a few times. Crisp, cool mountain air.


A protest of sorts in Bogota. Plenty of cops.


Young Colombian taking in a punk rock concert in Plaza Bolivar.


Thanks to Utz-Jay and her amazing family in Bucaramanga for their hospitality. I stayed with them for several days, and they fed me, did my laundry, showed me around town, etc. These sort of people make traveling easy.


Darien Gap Done

I’ve made it to South America…20,000km, 10 border crossings and three months after setting off from Manitoba.

My last update was from Panama City…I spent more than one week there, sorting out some bike repairs, visas, banking and a million other little things. I was also down with a nasty flu bug, which I think I’ve finally managed to shake after about a month of feeling off-key.

From Panama City I drove towards the Darien Gap, a several hundred kilometer jungle wilderness that separates Panama from Colombia. It was a great ride to the Caribbean, where I and my bike boarded Jacqueline, a 56-foot catamaran. I was joined by about eight backpackers from around the world…a full boat means a big party. We spent several days lolling around in the San Blas islands, snorkling, spear-fishing and just being lazy. Then we hoisted sail and since there was almost no wind we motor-sailed the 200 miles to Cartegena, Colombia. We arrived yesterday morning, and spent much of the day getting through immigration and clearing the bikes through customs. Cartegena is a very lovely colonial city. If only it wasn’t too blazing hot to actually walk the streets…but I’ve checked into a hostel with some new friends and we are doing a bit of exploring, hanging out on the old city walls, etc.

Tomorrow I set off on Stage 3 of Menno Moto. I’ll stop in Bogota for a Paraguayan visa, and maybe a new sprocket for the bike, and then through Ecuador, Peru and long stops in Bolivia and Paraguay to get to know the Mennonite colonies there. I’m running exactly 2 weeks behind my planned schedule…not too bad after three months on the road, considering that I’ve driven about 7,000km more than I had expected to cover by this point.










Costa Rica

A quick update from Costa Rica…

We crossed the border from Nicaragua on Thursday, hoping to find a beach with Greenback Turtles arriving to lay their eggs. We drove down the coast, on the Nicoya Peninusula. We were told we’d find them at Playa de Ostional…however, the person didn’t tell us that it was down a 40km dirt track, nor that it would get dark and start raining cats and dogs before we got there. It was an exciting ride, off road riding in the rain in the dark with a heavily loaded bike, but all turned out well. And the next morning we got to see our turtles. Pretty amazing stuff. Spent several hours watching them come up the beach, dig their holes, lay eggs, and then crawl back into the sea. Lots of vultures, dogs and humans digging the eggs up to eat them…all part of nature I guess. I joined in when one of the Costa Rican Nico natives offered me a freshly laid egg, right there on the beach. They have permits to dig them. So I had to eat it…tasted like egg. Later, back at the guesthouse, the owner was cooking up eggs in his special broth, so I got to try cooked turtle eggs as well.

Yesterday I rode about 300km, nearly crossing the entire country. Thanks to the bikers I met at the petrol station on the Pan-American, it was fun to meet some local bikers, and get some local riding advice.

I’m now staying with the Mennonites in the San Carlos area of Costa Rica (thanks to those who sent me names, tips). I’m staying with the Clarence Dueck’s, and have already met their family here. It’s an interesting place, as it’s one of the rare cases when Swiss and Russian Mennonites have combined to create a community. The Russian Mennonites came here from Spanish Lookout about 35 years ago and got together with the Beachey Amish. It’s not an official colony, but there is a fairly large (15-20 families) community of Mennonites.

I’ll be here for a few days, and then off to Panama, where we’re hoping to join a weekend biker party. I’ll be spending at least a week in Panama to get visas, work on the bike, etc.

Volcano Violence

Vic and I went tobogganing in Leon, Nicaragua. Basically, you hike up an active volcano, put on an orange boiler suit, sit down on a makeshift toboggan, and let her rip. I hit 62km/h, the fastest in our group by 20km/h but still 25km/h short of the record. Then I wiped out…and it hurt. And the board broke in two. But it was fun, and well worth it.












I’ve been on the colonies for a few days now…feels like a year. I’ve met an awful lot of awfully good people, my German has improved, and I’ve figured out which cafes serve good pie. It’s been the way I hoped it would be…one person introduces me to two more, and they all have stories to tell. It all began with Abram Siemens, who was my school principal in GR 5-6. He has the most well known radio show in the area and also publishes the Deutsch-Mexikanische Rundschau newspaper. From his first introductions I’ve been busy from morning to night, chasing down and visiting with all the contacts I’ve made. I’ve spent most of my time with the more “modern” groups so far, that’s just the way it’s been. I expect to hit the road again on Monday morning, or maybe Tuesday. I’ll see how things go today and then decide.

Just outside La Honda Mennonite Colony

I can’t, and won’t, tell all the stories here, cause then you wouldn’t buy the book when it comes out. However, I’ll share a newspaper clipping with you. This issue has been a very hot topic around here in the past 2 weeks and I’ve tried to get some video and stories about it as well.


Mexican Mennonites Call for End to Hostilities Over Contested Wells and Dams

20 Jul 2012

Mexico, CHIHUAHUA — Mennonite communities in Mexico’s drought-stricken Chihuahua state last week called on authorities to put a stop to aggression against them over alleged illegal dams and wells.

The groups said they had been targeted by members of agro-political groups like the Barzonistas, a movement of low and lower middle class private business and farming interests, and the Democratic Farmer’s Front (FDC). The Mennonites said members of these groups have destroyed their dams and wells.

The communities asked the state government to stop providing the equipment used to destroy their wells and dams (they say the equipment came from the state Secretary General of Government and Rural Development), and to return the equipment the Barzonistas and FDC confiscated from them.

The Mennonites claim that representatives of organizations such as the National Water Commission (Conagua) and the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (Profepa) in the area are usually taking orders from the Barzonistas and the FDC.

Those destroying the wells and dams accuse the Mennonites of taking the water illegally. In late June, Fernando Vázquez Ramírez, president of the municipality of Ahumada, accused Mennonites of digging approximately 100 illegal wells in Chihuahua, and requested an investigation into the issue.

Those destroying the water infrastructure do not know if they are legal or not, the Mennonites have said.

Local Conagua director Sergio Cano Fonseca said that the Mennonites may have purchased false permits for wells, since the permits they have presented were not issued by Conagua.

He said the groups were paying as much as $1,000 USD for each of these permits. There have been higher sales of false permits during the current drought, he noted.

Mennonite leaders counter that Conagua sold them false permits for $35,000 USD, and false titles for wells for $40,000 USD. They complain that they have repeatedly tried to make deals with Conagua, but were forced instead to work with intermediaries.

Conagua plans to destroy 23 Mennonite dams. They have already destroyed one with a capacity of 55,000 cubic meters, which was at 15 percent capacity. Roads and crops were also destroyed in the process, reported El Heraldo de Chihuahua.

In parts of Chihuahua state, it has been illegal to construct dams without permission since 1957.

Following the request for assistance from the Mennonite communities, Chihuahua’s secretary general of government, Raymundo Romero Maldonado, ordered a halt to Conagua’s operation to destroy dams. He said that if Conagua’s Chihuahua branch did not have the power to stop this, he would go to the central government. Destruction of wells and dams was the responsibility of federal authorities, not the state government, he added.

Romero Maldonado said that he had met with Mennonite leaders, and they signed an agreement that would give the groups more time to gather documentation, and require Conagua to get the proper paperwork to determine if a particular structure is legal before starting an operation to demolish it.

Cano Fonseca accused the Chihuahua government of helping drilling illegal wells, which prompted Romero Maldonado called him a ”liar.”

The Barzonistas, angry at being excluded from the meeting between Romero Maldonado and Mennonite leaders, said they would march in the streets of Buenaventura, demanding a meeting with State Governor César Duarte and federal officials.

They warned that the Mennonites had made the truce with the government, not with them, according to El Heraldo de Chihuahua.

The Mennonites may call on US and Canadian authorities to pressure the Mexican government into protecting them.

There are approximately 80,000 Mennonites living in Mexico.

Kawi came through

So Kawasaki came through and gave me a new shock on warranty, although my warranty explicitly states that shocks are not covered. Thank-you, Kawasaki.

I arrived on Friday afternoon, from Presidio, and drove straight to the bike shop. They confirmed I needed a new shock, but by the time we got on the hop it was too late to get Kawasaki warranty people on the ball. So they basically said come back on Monday.

I had a rather down tempo weekend in El Paso, hanging about my hotel (Coral Motel, just as glam as it was in the 70s, but now the pool is a giant sand box) trying not to spend money, tinkering on the bike and changing the tire, oh, about twelve-teen times. Seriously, I have no idea how I managed to pinch the tube every *&^%^%$^%$ time. I also broke my watch, a few of my tools, and I broke the visor on my helmet. And my bike shock was still broken, don’t forget. I wasn’t in a great mood.

On Sunday I walked over to the Dick Poe Toyota dealership next door, and one of the mechanics was in there working on his own truck (place was closed) and he graciously helped me with my tire, using the proper tools (tip: cheap carpentry prybars from K-Mark may seem like a clever cost saver, but they’re not). We whipped the new tire on and pumped it up and … pfffffft. I’d torn the tube AGAIN! His wife and kid were keen to get moving, so I lugged my tire the block back to my hotel and decided I’d just pretend the day never actually happened.

Monday morning I was back at Dick Poe’s fine establishment and the same mechanic spotted me right away. This time he had to clear it with the boss (insurance…man, these Americans are paranoid). I’d patched one of the tubes (again) and we managed to get the tire on, without another puncture. Thanks, shaven-headed tattooed mechanic with “love” tattooed under your wedding band (I think you said your name was John?).

Then I rode over to Edge Kawasaki, where David, a pony-tailed mechanic with a fair number of years of wrench-bending under his belt (he doesn’t bend them under his belt…I don’t think. I didn’t ask) jumped on my bike and said “yea, she’s shot alright”. He then called Kawasaki and told them where things were at and what I nice chap I was and how he’d feel awfully sorry for me if I didn’t get a new shock on warranty. They said ok. I think a rather sweetly-sinister letter from me to the warranty people, as well as pressure from Jill Ruth at Headingly Sports may have helped as well. Within 30 minutes he had a new shock installed (we had it over-nighted from the warehouse on Friday/Sat night already, just in case we’d get coverage) and I was on my way. I then rode up to another bike shop to buy myself some proper tire tools (they’re only $5 each. Ugh) and rode up the Franklin Mtns to get some nice panorama shots of El Paso. By then I was bright red (t-shirt riding. Yes, with a helmet) cause it’s 93F/34C here and everyone is begging to go to hell just to cool off. So I stopped at a 7-11 and bought the largest jug of water they sell and a tube of sunscreen, and slathered it on while standing in the middle of the shop in a helmet with a GoPro mounted on the top. Then I went to my hotel and drank said water. All of it.

A note on the GoPro mounted on my helmet, and this is for Stephen Burns. You are totally right about making yourself stand out and the added safety in that as a motorcyclist. Every kid in a passing car points at me and goes “Mom/Dad, that guy has a camera on his head!” and that Mom/Dad is far less likely to cut me off. I wave at so many kids in passing cars my wrist is getting sore. It works great. Hopefully the gangsters in Juarez see it the same way. I’m looking for a suitably garish plush toy to mount on the rear of my helmet for added safety.

So I will meet a distant/sort of cousin tonight (Kelvin Kroeker) and then plan to cross the border into Mexico early tomorrow morning. I should be in Cuauhtémoc by Tuesday night.

Try again

Today has been rather humbling. Went to the bike shop to be told to come back on Monday. Checked into a hotel that has shaded parking in front of the rooms…perfect for working on the bike. Decided to finally put on that new rear tire I’ve been carrying since Houston. Got it on, tried to pump it up with my portable bike pump. Pump broke. US soldier staying a few rooms down lent me an electric one from his truck, pumped for 20 min while talking war, politics and women. Tire was not inflating past about 10psi and I suspected his pump was rubbish. So I banged the tire back onto the bike and drove it 200m to the auto shop, pumped it up to 30psi. Lovely. Rode over to Kmart to buy new bike pump, some socks and an ice cream. Came out of the store and tire was flat. Pumped it up with new pump. Drove like the blazes back to the hotel. Tire was flat upon arrival. Remove rear wheel, chain, brake once again. Pulled out the tube and found I’d nicked it when I put the tire back on. I called myself a few names, dug out my brand new tube, bunged that in, carefully put the tire back on, pumped it up…also have hole lah. Nicked this one too! Two brand new tubes within half an hour. Patch both tubes (2 patches each), put one of them into the tire. Pump it up to 30psi. Hold breath. Wait. Cleaned and oiled the chain while listening for a hiss. Check tire. 25psi. ##$$#$%)*&^% Pump up again. Check. Slow leak for sure. Sod it, that’s it for the day. I’ll just carry my pump till I pick up a new tube on Monday. Cracked a beer and listened to the neighbors fight as the sun sets over El Paso. Wonder if there’s a non-Mexican restaurant in town? Ahh, life on the road.

El Paso

I’ve made a detour to El Paso, hoping to get my rear shock fixed. Several options and possible outcomes now. I’m hoping that Kawasaki will give me a new shock on warranty (although shocks are excempt) given the bike has only 9000km, and all on the highway. Fingers crossed. I don’t expect to be on the road again until Monday, so if you have friends here that I can hook up with, give them a shout, please.