Latin Fever

50,000 km through the Latin world

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Whole national park to myself - Paracas NP, Peru.

Riding from North to South America is one of the easiest long motorcycle adventures. The red tape is minimal, people are friendly and one can stay pretty safe with just common sense.

So, after months of reading books and ride reports about South America, it was time to start living the dream. One cold November morning, I packed the bike and rode towards Mexican border.

As usual, I only had a rough idea were I was gonna ride - south towards Darien gap and then figure out the crossing.

I spent the first week ridng and exploring Baja California. The weather was perfect, not hot, not cold, and most importantly, sunny. Eventually, I got on an overnight ferry to Mazatlan and crossed to the mainland.

For the most part, I stuck to the central mountains of Mexico. The road took me through beautiful cities with interesting colonial past.

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My route.

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Baja camping.

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Kilometer 0 of the Mexican highway 1, I guess the continuation of PCH.

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Mexican delivery.

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Detail of a house decoration in San Miguel de Allende, a city taken over by American expats. The city is dotted with cute plazas, fountains and beautifully restored colonial houses.

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All hotels in Central and South America take good care of motorcycles. They insist on indoor parking.

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Pre-colonial ruins abound all over Mexico.

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San Cristobal de las Casas at night. People love going out eting, walking and just people watching.

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Hanging out with other riders in San Cristobal de las Casas, the cultural capital of Chiapas. Beautiful natural setting, comfortable climate and colorful colonial architecture attract many tourists as well as expats.

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Colorful houses in Zacatecas.

By the time I reached Yucatan peninsula, I was already feeling anxious about upcoming many border crossings through Central America.

For the first one - into Guatemala, I ganged up with another US rider on a mission trip to Tierra del Fuego. The crossing into Guatemala was easy and soon after, we split.

I spent two weeks learning Spanish. I figured it would be a worthwhile investment for ten months of riding in Spanish-speaking countries.

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Indian style tuk-tuks roam streets of a Guatemalan town on the edge of lake Atitlan.

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I happened to be in the area during a big fiesta. There were fireworks, music, dancing and a lot of drinking.

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Guatemala features varied scenery and climate - humid Caribbean Atlantic coast, cold central mountains and pacific coast. My favorite riding was through the lush forests.

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Chilling at the crystal clear natural pools.

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I love cacao, but didn't know what to do with the raw one. So, instead of buying it, I paid this cute girl to pose for me. She got the money and kept the cacao, while I got this photo.

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Atop an active vulcano in Guatemala. I am standing on the crust that just solidified. Soles of my shoes were melted afterwards.

Central American countries are rather small and I went through them quickly. There are some hassles at border crossings as they require many photocopies and the process is convoluted. "Helpers" do not make things easier. But, overall, it is not that bad.

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Spent two days riding around El Salvador with two other riders. She is a US rider on her way to South America and he is a kind local rider who saw our ride blogs and invited us on a tour.

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Beautiful sunset at Rio Dulce, Guatemala's Caribbean side.

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Nicaragua's crater lake near Granada.

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The last Central American border crossing - in Panama at last. Now hassles with figuring out Darien gap crossing begin.

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But first, we rode to the end of the road on Panama's side of the Darien gap.

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Panama's north coast is dotted with forts. Colombo spent quite a bit of time in these waters.

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Panama city's main promenade. Relaxing, while trying to figure out a way across the Darien Gap.

Some people fly their bikes across the gap, but I wanted to take the sail-boat trip. There are sail boats that take motorcyclists regularly, but this year, during the season of no-wind, they were not sailing to a port with road connections.

Instead their trips were ending in a small village at the Colombian side of the border with no road connections. So we had to hassles with unloading and loading bikes twice.

Another rider found a captain who promised to take us to Cartagena. Well, promise is one thing and reality another. Not only did he dump us at the same place with no road connections, but he also had no clean food and his ship pretty much fell apart by the time we got to the Colombian border. His engine died and his sail ripped. Without any power, we were carried towards rocky island and were about to crash when another boat came to our rescue. This was by far the most dangerous part of the whole trip.

The San Blas islands that we visited were incredibly beautiful, but the inexperienced captain, with bad food, disfunctional boat and extra hassles of unloading and loading bikes made this section of the trip the most miserable.

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Crossing Darien gap with two bikes at the back of a sea-non-worthy boat.

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Incredibly beautiful San Blas archipelago.

After recovering from the diarrhea, I finally made it to Cartagena, one of the greatest colonial cities of all times. This was the main port where the Spaniards kept gold and silver stored before shipping it by convoys to Spain. Spaniards were masters of building forts. The one in Cartagena, Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, was particularly formidable. It was the largest fortress in South America and in its today's form, it was never conquered.

The city is very touristy for a good reason. The old town is nicely restored with colorful houses featuring balconies with bougainvillea flowers on them. There are many cute little plazas with cafes and restaurants scattered around the town.

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Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas fortress at night.

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Colorfully dressed lady posing for tourists at one of the plazas.

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It's funny how people keep on running into each other on such a long journey. I met one of these riders in Panama, while looking for a ride across the Darien gap. Then I ran into him in northern Colombia and then two more time in Peru and Chile, without actually planning to be at the same place at the same time.

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Setting virgin tracks in Colombia's desert (yes, even lush Colombia has desert.)

From northern Colombia, it is only natural to go and visit Venezuela. Even though many people warned me against going there, I am glad I did because the situation got only worse after my visit. I met some very kind and friendly people there.

I got myself into trouble by entering the country on a holiday, when the customs were not issuing temporary vehicle importation permits. So my bike was in the country illegaly.

Another mistake I made was not to fill up gas before crossing because I heard that the gasoline is dirt cheap in Venezuela. What I did not know is that Venezuelan government limits fuel supply to gas stations near border towns to avoid smuggling.

Final mistake I made was not reading about the currency situation in the country. Official exchange rate is ridiculous and to make things worse, ATM cards were not accepted at any of the machines I tried.

So, I found myself in a new country, with no currency, an empty tank and riding illegally imported vehicle. A bad start!

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As the sun was getting down, without money and accommodation options, I just rode through the gate of one house and asked if I could sleep in their yard. They kindly accepted me, even offered food. These were my hosts for the first night in Venezuela.

It's humbling experiences like these that make travel so special. We get to see the human kindness first-hand. News are full of horrible stories of crime, dishonesty and injustice. It's hard to hear any positive stories. But in years of travel, I've had much more extremely positive than negative experiences.

Eventually I did find a guy changing money at the black market exchange rate in Caracas. So, finally, I could eat and pay for accommodation.

However, the troubles with vehicle importation permit continued. I was hoping to get one in the main customs office in Caracas. However, when I went there, they explained to me that the permit can be issued only by the office where the vehicle entered the country.

As my desperation reached new highs, a lady officer working in the customs approached me and asked if I needed help. What happened afterwards was truly unbelievable. She arranged for my passport and motorcycle documents to be faxed to the border post where I entered Venezuela, the processed the papers as I was there and faxed my permit back to Caracas. In mere few hours, I had the permit.

Sometimes, with our best planning and intentions things can go bad. On the other hand, when we make gross overlooks and commit cardinal mistakes, with an invisible stroke of luck, things go smoothly.

After Caracas, I headed to Isla Margarita, a big island off the northern coast of Venezuela. Next on the list of items to do was Gran Sabana. Gran Sabana is a high plateau in southern part of Venezuela, towards the border with Brazil. The climate is mild and the scenery is dotted with tepuis - tabletop mountains. World's highest waterfall, the Angel's falls flows from one of them. They are named after a pilot who tried landing on the top of the tepui.

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Chilling in one of Gran Sabana's waterfalls.

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Camping in Grand Sabana with tepuis in the back.

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Angel's plane.

I rode to the border with Brazil, only to encounter the same fuel problem - very limited supply and long lines at the pump.

They seize vehicles carrying more than a tank full of gasoline out of the country. Yet, the temptation is too much for many people as can be seen by a parking lot full of seized vehicles.

I crossed back into Colombia and headed towards Bogota. Andes start in Venezuela, curve towards Colombia and run south towards Tierra del Fuego. So most of the riding from Venezuela to Bogota and further south was over high mountains.

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Some of the tropical fruits I saw for the first time in Colombia. Colombianos love their fruits. There are fruit shake stores everywhere serving freshly squeezed or blended fruits. I was a regular customer.

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Colombian rider who followed my blog offered to host me in Bogota.

I was sad to leave Colombia. I fell in love with its friendly people, foods and especially fruits.

Ecuador is blessed with three very different climates. Along the Pacific ocean is the typical dry sunny climate. Then as one ascends the Andes, the climate becomes more lush, then dry and cold. Andes can be crossed in a few hours and one finds himself in the Amazon basin - hot and sticky.

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Ecuador sits on the Equator, so there is a tourist center to visit that special place.

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One of the most memorable accommodations I've stayed anywhere. This house is in front a sweeping beach. I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of waves washing up on the beach and did not want to go back to sleep. Certainly one of the highlight of this trip.

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Salinas - Ecuador's premier beach resort town.

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Meeting people who had been following my trip report.

After a few weeks of exploring Ecuador, it was time to cross into Peru. Peru is a much bigger and somewhat poorer country. But it too boasts three distinct climatic zones quite close to each other.

Next to the Pacific ocean is a true desert, with sand dunes in places. This is where panamericana runs and most big cities are situated along the coast.

Cordillera Blanca is arguably the most beautiful part of the Andes. 7000+ meter high peaks, covered with glaciers sit between the pacific desert and Amazon's rainforest.

Headwaters of the Amazon river are in Peru. But there are many rivers that start in the mountains and eventually end up in the mighty Amazon. There are veryfew roads in in this part of the world. Rivers and boats are the main mode of transportation here.

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Peruvian section of the Panamericana.

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Along the coast, Panemericana runs through desert.

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Huascaran is the highest peak of Cordillera Blanca.

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Most travelers pass through the dramatic but dry Canyon del Pato, with many tunnels.

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Taking in the spectacular views from a lake deep in the Cordillera Blanca.

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Near the pass, at 15,000 feet.

From Huaraz, I rode through some spectacular mountain scenery down to the coast and Lima. It was the first encounter with civilization since Quito. There are some colonial sites to be visited, but I enjoyed the new part of the city with restaurants and conveniences of modern life the most.

I ran into a rider who I had met earlier in Panama and Colombia. We decided to visit Paracas NP. It was one of the best experiences of the trip. We had untouched beaches and the desert next to them all to ourselves.

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Ride in any direction to your heart's content.

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Just chilling.

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Beach cruising.

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Coastal road south of Lima.

One can't pass through Peru without spending some time in Cuzco and Machu Picchu. Cuzco is a very touristy city with all the conveniences for the traveler. I spent a few leisurely days there before taking the back road to Machu Picchu.

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A lake on the way to Cuzco. High up, the air is crisp and devoid of any pollution, making fluffy clouds stand out against the deep blue sky.

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Ladies pose with tourists who pay them.

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The classic view.

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Another pose for money photo.

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Floating island on the lake Titicaca.

Bolivia is the poorest country in the South America, but rich in things to see. I simply loved Bolivia from the beginning to the end. It too, has a piece of Amazonian basin, beautiful glaciated peaks and desert.

Riding around dried up Salar de Uyuni was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. But I enjoyed high passes of Cordillera Real, Altiplano and tropical cities that I never knew Bolivia had.

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A priest blessing vehicles in Copacabana, Bolivia.

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A lady at the local market.

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Exploring Cordillera Real.

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Curious Llamas won't budge.

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Endless Bolivian sky.

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There isn't much traffic on these roads.

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A cold, cold camp at near 5,000 m.

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Glacier-covered peaks on the way down to Sorata, a small town full of expats and tourists.

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Genie in a bottle.

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No speed limits, no police, nothing to hit, just perfectly flat surface to ride on.

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Sunset ride.

After Bolivia, I entered Argentina - beef heaven. One can buy a good steak anywhere in the world, but it has to be a special cut. In Argentina, almost any part beef is tender.

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I made a poor decision to start crossing the Andes from Argentina to Chile late in the day. The fact that I forgot to disengage the choke didn't help. The bike ran weaker and weaker at the high altitude. Finally, when the night fell, the engine died at over 4,500 m. In total darkness and fairly cold temperatures, I was wondering if a car will pass by to save me. Somehow I noticed the choke and disengaged it. The engine fired up and I was saved. In less than hour I descended enough to be warm and safe in a small town on the Chilean side.

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The famous hand monument in Atacama desert.

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Atacama desert, supposedly the driest place on the Earth.

It was in Atacama desert that I had another wonderful experience of seeing human kindness at its best. Another potentially horrible situation turned out to be one of the best stories of the trip.

As I was enjoying a beautiful sunny day, all of a sudden, my bike lost power and I rolled to a stop. After dismounting the bike, one look was enough to see what was wrong - broken and chewed up chain. I wasn't going anywhere.

Before I could even start to comprehend the severity of the situation, the first passing vehicle stopped and 3 guys came out of it. They saw the chain and knew immediately that I couldn't go anywhere. They grabbed the bike, put it on their truck and told me they were taking me to the next city, some 300km away.

While treating with drinks and snacks, they made a call to the local motorcycle shop to make sure they had the chain I needed in stock and told the guys not to close the store before we get there.

We made it to the shop just in time to have a new chain installed before the closing time.

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Riding gentle switchbacks between Santiago de Chile and Mendoza.

I took my time riding through Peru and Bolivia and I got to Argentina and Chile in wintertime. I went as far south as Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires. Then turned north, to warmer places.

Brazil was one of the most pleasant countries to visit. People are incredibly friendly. Too bad for the crime that is widespread in cities. I loved the food and beaches as well as colonial cities of Brazil.

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Family of my friends hosting me in Porto Allegre.

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Rainbow over Iguazu falls at the border between Argentina and Brazil.

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On a boat to Ilha Grande.

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Brazil's route 101 passes through the lush jungle next to pristine beaches.

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View of Rio de Janeiro from Corcovado.

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Brazil is blessed with thousands of kilometer of beautiful beaches. Brazilianos love their beaches and life in Rio revolves around them.

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There are many beautifully restored colonial cities in Brazil.

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A lady posing with tourists in Salvador.

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Colorful houses in Salvador.

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Levitating in Poco Azul.

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Cruising up Amazon river towards Manaus. I was the only person without a hammock on the boat.

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Ecuator is half a day ride north of Manaus.

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My hosts in Manaus. They took great care of me there. Hope I get to visit them again one day.

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Waiting for a ferry across the Amazon to ride the most desolate road of the whole trip.

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Subequent ferries were quite a bit smaller.

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BR-319, the most remote and desolate road of the whole trip. Over 600 km without a store or petrol station with wild camping among jaguars as an added kick.

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Happy to be back to the civilization again after 3 days and 2 nights on BR-319.

After 10 months on the trip, it was time to wrap things up. I bought a ticket to fly back home from Lima. I crossed the Cordillera Blanca one more time, found a buyer for my bike and flew to Iquitos to visit world's largest city with no road connections.

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Back in Cordillera Blanca.

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Finally met a fellow rider who was riding the same route for the same amount of time, but our paths didn't cross till this point.

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Back in Cuzco.

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And another ride through Canyon del Pato.

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The new owner of my KLR.

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Playful monkey outside Iquitos.

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A visit to the Amazon is not complete without piranha fishing.

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Only panniers came back home with me as a trophy from South America.

This trip helped me see the beauty of the Latin world. I will treasure forever the encounters with all the kind people who helped me along the way, when I asked or when they just saw me in trouble. I went to see breathtaking places, but came back with something much more valuable - the priceless memories of warm people of Latin America.

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