Friday, October 26, 2012

The Approach to Angel Falls

After leaving Caracas, Demetri and I headed for the northeast coast town of Lechería, near the larger town of Barcelona. A long day of riding and we arrived after sunset. The only remarkable thing about this town was the large Lebanese community. This was apparent due to the number of Lebanese restaurants. We went with the flow and ate Lebanese that night.

The problem of going to tourist towns is the abundance of high end hotels. Long term travelers seek budget accommodations to keep expenses under control. We made inquires in one hotel on the nicer side of the price scale, left, then came back later only to find that the room was no longer available. Eventually we found the right hotel and called it quits for the night.

DSCN8030The next day Demetri snapped his ignition key off in the lock. As luck would have it there was a locksmith across the street from the hotel. A short delay later, the broken key was removed and new copies cut.

With gas prices extremely low we could fly down the highway south toward Ciudad Bolivar. We stopped in a small town for gas and Demetri taught me a word in Spanish, “Mirador.” It means point of interest or scenic view. In this case it was a sculpture of the world, with an interesting twist. The globe was upside down. The artists was making a statement about how the earth is typically presented by western cartographers, where North America and Europe are on the top. Here the southern hemisphere is on top.


We stopped for lunch in El Tigre. As we were preparing to get back on the motorcycles, two military motorcycle police pulled up. I started reaching for my passport, but they were interested, they were looking for tools to adjust a stuck rear brake.  After fixing the brakes they started asking about our motorcycles. I invited the one solider to sit on the bike. He obliged quickly.


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Towards sunset there was a touch of rain, followed by orange glow of sunset.

As the sunset we crossed Venezuela’s deepest river, Orinoco. The view from the bridge was amazing. Some countries are fussy about taking pictures of critical infrastructures that could be strategic military targets. There were military police at the toll plaza, making me reluctant to pull out a camera. Coupled with the lack of an easy place to pull over, I didn’t take a picture from the bridge.

Ciudad Bolivar was dark as we entered the city proper. The street lights were not turned on. Later we were told that there was a combination of reasons. Either the wires had been stolen or the lights were not turned on due to a political battle between the mayor and the electric utility provider. The following night the street lights were on, go figure. We found Posada Don Carlos with minimal fuss. The owner, Martin, provided through details, making find the hostel easy.

Posada Don Carlos
Calle Boyaca 26
Casco historico, Ciudad Bolivar.
30 metres from Plaza Bolivar

Coordenates are:
N 08°08.605
W 063°33.163 (+ - 5m)
(the coordinate are to the garage door, not the posada entrance)

IMG_1547Plaza Bolivar

The owner of Posada Don Carlos, Martin, rides a motorcycle. When we arrived he listened to our stories with genuine interest. We knew in advance he would store the motorcycles at the posada while we traveled to Angel Falls. There were open air bunks and hammocks available for $10.00 per night, but we chose to share a private room and enjoy the security for our luggage.



The next morning Martin’s wife gave us a lift to the airport and left us with the tour office. Soon we were in the air and on our way to Angel Falls. At the airport the restored airplane that Jimmy Angel flew over Angel Falls is on display. The locals knew the water fall existed. Jimmy Angel didn’t discover the world’s highest waterfall waterfall, but he made it famous.


The area south of Ciudad Bolivar has many rivers, lakes and wet lands. From the air there were spider webs of roads. As one road became deep with ruts, new paths would be taken, creating more lines.


Sand bars along a river bank that looked like fish scales…


Thursday, October 25, 2012

On the Road Again…in Venezuela

Our plans were in place, motorcycles ready, clothes washed, bodies rested and bellies full. It was time to say our goodbyes. Much thanks to Cenair, his mother and sister for opening their house and helping us  in countless ways.
Cenair’s mom knows how much I love mangos and insisted that I take some with me.
They were delicious! Thanks again for the mangos and having us as your guests.
It was sad to leave Caracas, but the road beckoned us on and ride we must. We pointed our motorcycles toward Lechería, on the northeast coast and headed out.
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Mangrove trees along the coast line
Demetri fixing a short in the tail light

Heading South

Reaching Cartagena, Columbia on October 15th was the first landfall in South America. Since that time I have been traveling east, leaving Colombia and entering Venezuela, continuing toward the morning sun. After several days in Caracas with my friend Cenair's and his family, we head further east, then turn south for the first time. The destination is the world's highest waterfall, Angel Falls.

Cenair invited me to stay with his family in Caraacas at the Horizons Unlimited East-coast Riders Meeting, back in early September. I had no idea how wonderful the experience would be. Details to follow that will try to describe the warmth and generosity Cenair and family extended to me and a fellow rider, Dimitri. Photos and stories are coming...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Demetri Arrives in Caracas

Demetri’s plans for Venezuela were uncertain. He was at least a day behind me having his motorcycle serviced. I spoke to Cenair about Demetri and gently asked if he could come and stay with us for a few days. His mother gave the green light and an email was sent. The next day Demetri arrived.


We spent the next few days relaxing, researching a visit to Angel Falls, visiting Simon Bolivar’s birthplace, buying motorcycle parts, and conducting minor maintenance on the motorcycles. I needed new brake pads and Demetri was in search of a new front wheel fender.


After visiting the motorcycle parts store zone, Demetri and I got on the subway and visited the childhood home of Simon Bolivar.

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During the Horizons Unlimited in North Carolina, Paul Stewart shared notes on visiting Angel Fall. The notes were written by a member of ADVRider, Silviu Stanescu, a.k.a. “SS in Venezuela.”  The website name stands for “Adventure Rider.”  It’s one of the Internet communities populated by people that take international trips on two wheels and other  two wheeled adventures. Cenair knew about him and we decided to make contact for current information and details. From SS in Venezuela we learned about two organized tours for Angel Falls. He also discouraged us from attempting to reach the area overland. Yes, there were roads on the map, but at this time of year there was rain and we would be telling an unfortunate mud story if we tried riding to Canaima. He included a picture of jeeps deep in muddy bogs.

Here is a passage from Silviu Stanescu’s email with rich details and advice on reaching Angel Falls overland. Much thanks!

“The way to get to Canaima Camp overland is from Ciudad Bolivar to La Paraguna and then to La Candelaria which is a small indian settlement on the north side of the Caroni River. You would then need to leave the bikes in Candelaria and make a deal with the indians so they help you cross the Caroni River on a canoe (BIG river with strong currents) and afterwards hike approximately 2.5 hours to Canaima Camp. BUT, from La Paragua to Candelaria it is simply NOT doable on a bike, even a 250 Enduro bike. It is a VERY MUDDY double rutted track through the jungle with plenty of DEEP water crossings (over the hood for a Land Cruiser with 36 inch tires). I'm enclosing a picture of the road from La Paragua onwards, the whole road is like that PLUS a LOT of deep water crossings at least 1.3 - 1.5 meters+, approximately 50-60 inches deep +)

muddy track to Canaima

“La Paragua is a mining town and the road is mainly used by the miners, which means they are not very safe, so I would not recommend you venture in the area, specially if you do not speak Spanish VERY WELL... Yes, you might be able to strike a deal at La Paragua with one of the miner's Land Cruisers hauling goods to the mines, but I'm sure it would be more expensive than flying from Ciudad Bolivar to Canaima Camp because the track is hard on the vehicles and the fees are very steep.   So, bottom line: if you want to get to Canaima Camp, your only way would be by plane from Ciudad Bolivar or walking from La Paraguna (but this would take you at least a week and it is NOT safe... )

Ok, riding was out and a few emails later Demetri and I secured a lodging and flight package from Ciudad Bolivar to Canaima and a tour to Angel Falls. Cenair was envious that we were going to visit Angel Fall before him.

Soon we would leave for Angel Falls. Before we departed I made the biggest bowl of Jamie Oliver’s pasta dish ever, 2 kilos worth! It served seven people, with leftovers.


Cenair’s mother made wonder traditional Venezuelan food for us.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Que Pasa

Dear Friends!

If you are wondering what is going on with the blog and why it isn't being updated regularly, please understand my schedule. In early September it came to my attention that the number of sail boats transporting motorcycles from Panama to Columbia dropped to exactly two: the Stalhratte and the Independence. [Recall there is no road between Panama and Columbia, so an alternate to overland travel must be organized]

It became clear that a reservation had to be secured quickly, then I would need to get to Panama per the reservation date. I had roughly 33 days to cover five thousand miles, check in and out of ~25 hotels, and cross seven frontiers, visit family, have fun, and lots of stuff in between.

Crossing a frontier includes securing visas, temporary import of  motorcycle and buying insurance, exchanging money from dodgy guys on the street, then cancelling the paperwork as you leave a country...)  Its all a bit stressful and the time spend crossing border doesn't really move you down the road much. The time lost at border is simply a sacrifice to the gods of bureaucracy.

Some borders are really easily to cross and sometimes nothing goes right. Case in point, we arrived in Cartagena, Columbia, by sea only to find it was a holiday, so no paperwork could be processed until the next day. Motorcycles off loaded from the schooner and at Customs at 8:00 AM, we wait for our  "fixer" to bring our passports and motorcycle documents from Immigrations. The Fixer arrives 90 minutes late for unexplained reasons. This delay causes a cascade of delays. We miss getting the final sign-off importing the motorcycles from the "Big Boss" because it is now lunch time...return to Go and lose two hour.

Next the insurance lady meets us, yet fails to process all of the policies the same afternoon. Torrential rains hit the city that night, networks go down breaking the link to the insurance carrier and halting the "binding" of some of the policies. A set of policies are ready, but no clear office address available to pick them up. At 2:00 PM on the third day in Cartagena the insurance lady arrives with some of the insurance certificates. Is mine one of them? Happy dance, my insurance certificate is in the small stack. The moto stands packed and staged to leave in the front hall of the hostel, After quick goodbyes I am gone in ten minutes. Total time waiting to officially enter Columbia, two and a half days.

Now I am in Caracas, Venezuela, as a guest of a fellow rider. I met Cenair at the Horizons Unlimited meeting back in September. He offered to put me up and here I am. I will be in Caraas for a few days, attending to moto maintenance and other pressing needs. Must close here to organize my day. Hang in there dear reader. So many stories to will be worth waiting for them.

Peter B

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Caracas by Night

Descended into Caracas in the afternoon from the mountains. Caracas is built, in part, within a valley and the main highway courses through the valley floor. I passed an interesting piece of artwork along the side of the road. It was sculpture, in the form of a box frame made of metal tubes. Filling the box were hanging rods, the surface of each rod varied in a pattern, in such a way that in total they gave the impression of a large sphere within the box. Later I understood that this was the work of Jesus Soto, a Venezuelan artist. Soto was born in Cuidad Bolivia, where there is a fine art museum celebrating him and other artists. The  visit to the museum is described in a later posting.

In September 2012, at the Horizons Unlimited meeting in North Carolina, I met Cenair. He was living in Florida at the time and moving back to Caracas a few weeks after the meeting. Hearing that I was going to ride through Venezuela, he extended an invitation to stay at his mother’s house. Really? Will your mother be happy with a biker coming to visit? This question was asked several times as I got closer to Caracas. Finally he  wrote me to stop worrying, that is mother was excited that I was coming. Navigating the highways and local streets to their home was easy.  I stopped a few blocks away and bought flowers for Cenair’s mother.


After settling into the guest room, Cenair, his sister and I went out to dinner. We shared a marvelous sampling for Venezuelan foods.

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Later Cenair and I went to join friends who were watching ultimate boxing. There was some betting on the bouts and ensuing high spirits, which led to the hostess holding on to the wagers in her unique fashion.

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After the boxing the dominos out. I was invited to play, but decided that I didn’t want to pay for the pleasure of learning how to lose to guys that have been playing dominos for years.


When the party wound down, we left as a group for the street. The host went with us. Before leaving the apartment he slipped a pistol in the waistband of his pants. Cenair told me not to worry because they were all ex-military and know how to handle firearms. This is Caracas, where anything can happen and everyone is carrying weapons. As we stood on the street saying goodnight, a patrol of motorcycle police rode by. There were easily 20 motorcycles. The number of police made clear it was a show of force, one that would not be overwhelmed. Caracas has a reputation for crime and violence. I did not experience any problems personally, mostly I received words of caution, at every turn…

Rain that Won’t Quit

I’m on a schedule to get to Caracas. A friend from the US might meet me in Guyana, so I am working against that possibility. Plus, I have many miles to travel and hanging too long in any one place sets the schedule back. I left Demetri at the mechanic in Maracaibo and headed out.

The rain started as light drizzle.Whatever, ride through it, it will stop. After a while I start getting chilled and stop to put on my waterproof jacket liner. As luck would have it, there was a guy selling  shots of coffee on the side of the road. Two cups later I got back on the bike. Hours later the drizzle turned into rain and I still hadn’t put on my waterproof pant liners. Big mistake. The rain saturated the pants and filled my boots with water. Days later I got athletes foot from the damp boots. It was a simple matter of find the right cream, in Cuidad Bolivar, to treat the fungus. Best to put on the all the liners and avoid wet boots.

As I rode east near the Caribbean coast of Venezuela, the rain built up in the hills. I crossed a raging river. There were tree washing to the river and I could hear the bleating of  sheep or goat in the distance. All I could imagine is that the luckless animal had fallen in a small stream just up river and couldn’t get out. There was no guard rail on the edge of the bridge. There was at one time, but no doubt the guard railing had been stolen. One slip and there was no chance of survival in the flood waters. I stepped carefully along the edge of the bridge and was mindful that the bank of the river was eroding. Watch carefully to see a section of the river bank collapse into the torrent.

During a break in the rain I stopped to check email. In many countries McDonalds provides free Internet access to customers. Not the case in Venezuela. I rode around Coro seeking an Internet café.


After some search I found a cyber café and read my new messages. There was a new message from Cenair, “…Coro is having some issues with the jail (not safe right now)…” Too late now, I was in Coro. Turns out there was a jail break or protests within the jail. I managed to get out of town without incident. I ever saw so much as a police check point. No excitement, oh well.

I continued on and into the night. The rain started again and made riding difficult. I had left my “pinlock” film for my helmet at home. The pinlock film creates a second layer of the face shield and prevents fog from forming on the inside. When I found the pinlock taped to the inside of the helmet box (I missed it until I went to resue the box…) there was a sticker on the pinlock. And when I tried to peal it off, the plastic under the sticker deformed, rippled. It was the day before I departing New Jersey, with no time to get a replacement. Pissed off, I tossed the pinlock on my desk. Later when speaking to the Nolan helmet importer I learned that there is a protective film under the sticker. The film rippled, not the pinlock itself. Damn. Now my face shield is fogging up, its raining and the lights on coming cars and trucks make visibility miserable. At times I started riding with the face shield up, and suffering rain accumulating on my glasses…uggh. When passing a truck with my face shield open, I got a face full of water when the truck hit a puddle and sent a stream of water directly in my face. All part of the adventure.

Late that night I found a scrappy little hotel in the beach town of Puerto Cabello. IMG_1502Cheap is good when you are cold, wet and only spending a few hours to sleep. In the room I found a typical electrical outlet (“Edison” style) next to the air conditioner. I plugged my power strip into the outlet and sparks flew, followed by the reek of ozone. The plug was improperly wired for 220 volts and turned my surge protection power strip into a useless stick. The circuit for the air conditioner was blown, so no AC that night. I really wanted the ventilation to dry out my riding jacket and pants. No luck. The only good news was that I hadn’t tried to plug my computer into this dodgy outlet.

The next day when checking out, the clerk left me waiting and went to “check the room.” He didn’t notice the blown air conditioning circuit, which I didn’t mention, but came back claiming that I had trashed my towel and refused to return my 50 Bolivar deposit (roughly $10.00 – $5.00 depending on how you exchange your money.) I was really pissed off at this scam. When reasoning failed, I took action. First I moved the motorcycle into the middle of the car entrance way, so no one could come or go, then complained loudly when a prospective customer stopped in to check the rates. It was working, the prospective customer left quickly. Finally I threatened to call the police. In total there were a few tense minutes, then the clerk gave me my deposit back. I know a few choice curse words in Spanish and used all of them as I left. I would write a bad review on Trip Advisor, but I am sure this place isn’t listed.


The next day I started drying out my boots. It took days for the interior of the boot to completely dry. I still am slow to stop and put on my pant liners, but will when it really starts to rain… Now in striking distance of Caracas, I pressed on under mostly clear skies. At one moment there was rain on on the other side of the highway and the pavement was dry on my side. I guess it was my lucky day.

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Gas is extremely cheap in Venezuela. The government controlled prices are set with a singular purpose. Sometime back a president raised the price of gas and was promptly voted out of office. Hugo Chavez understood the lesson to remaining in office, keep the poor people happy with inexpensive fuel. There are dozens of toll plazas, but passenger cars and motorcycles don’t pay. All part of the same political strategy.  In the cities I saw billboards that were defaced with paint. Once outside of the major cities and into the countryside it was not uncommon to see political signage painted on the sides of buildings and walls with a  completely different message. There was one recurring slogan, “Chavez is love” with a heart illustrating the word love.

I filled my gas tank many times at the cost of loose change. You never wait for exact change when the price to fuel up measured in pennies. For no more than 25 cents I could fill a bone dry tank. With no reason to conserve gas I twisted to a sustained 80 miles per hours, flying towards Caracas. The only thing that would slow me down was construction. When replacing asphalt surface,  the Venezuelan highway department deploys machines that carve deep groves into the old asphalt before laying down new. The groves that are cut in in Venezuela are deeper than any other country I have ridden in. attempting to cross these lines of death at any speed is terrifying. The channels pull the bike this way and that. I was certain that I would crash at any moment, for miles and miles at times. I was convinced that the groves were designed by someone with a strong hatred of motorcycles. Other that the groves, most of the highways in Venezuela are fantastic. The surface is good, signage reasonable and generally well laid out. It isn’t the quality of the raceway used for the Indianapolis 500, but when combined with the price of fuel and considering it’s South America, the best description is “a motorcyclist dream.” 

Late that afternoon I descended the mountains and navigated the highways of Caracas  to Cenair’s house.