The idea for our Pan American ('PanAm') ride started as all good adventures should - over a bottle of damn good red wine.
The first sip started with a ride 'somewhere' in South America.
By the end of the first glass it was 'through' South America. By the end of the bottle it was from the bottom of Argentina (Ushauia) to the top of Alaska.
Now it was just a matter of doing it ...
Everyone seems to say 'South America? By bike? Isn't it really DANGEROUS!"
NO NO NO. Do this trip. We had NO (as in NONE, ZERO, ZIP) problems or drama on this trip. Nothing was stolen. We weren't robbed. Border officials were whatever - just play the game and have a laugh. Apart from one corrupt cop in Honduras we found the police professional and great to deal with (not that we had many altercations with them at all. South Americans are wonderful. Sure there and dangerous palces and sure, you can find yourself in all sorts of trouble if you are unwary or unlucky. But as one lovely hostel owner said to us in Medellin (Colombia):
We found drivers in South America, Central America and Mexico FAR BETTER than drivers in Australia and North America. We wish drivers here are as courteous and aware of motorcyclists as they are over there. It may look a bit chaotic but the traffic works. That doesn't mean to say there are plenty of hazards like potholes, speed bumps, cliffs, rocks, snow etc but the drivers are fantastic.
We like to keep things simple which works really well in South and Central America as you never know what is around the corner (both good and bad) and how long things are going to take. So our route plan was as follows:
Simple and worked perfectly. Having no real itinerary and set route is the way to go. Total freedom to head where you want and no stress. Plus the amazing number of people you meet on the road will give you the best spots.
Getting the bikes to Santiago, Chile.
Getting the bikes there was a lot easier than we expected. There are plenty of options to get a bike from the eastern seaboard of Australia to South America. Sea and air freight have their advantages and disadvantages but after a bit of homework flying the bikes there was by far the best option.
Despite it being a bit more expensive (about $AUD2,000 per bike) the biggest advantage is the time it takes to get there - 48 hours from drop off to 6 weeks plus in a container. We read numerous horror stories of bikes being crushed in containers, covered in seawater with disastrous results, stuff being stolen out of panniers or even parts being unbolted. Plus the potential for huge delays in arrival for all sorts of weird and wonderful reasons. Once we had paid a bunch of storage and transport fees and other dodgy fees at the airport it was probably closer to $AUD2500 per bike.
Air freight is pretty straight forward, especially if you use a shipping company that specialises in moving bikes around the world. We when with Ivan at Bikes Abroad and he organised the paperwork etc.
Collecting the bike in Santiago
Collecting the bikes at Santiago Airport - now that was not so easy despite what some people say. Put aside at least a day or so to get this done. We got there at the end of a SIX WEEK customs strike - pure luck! We don't speak Spanish so if you can get an English speaking local to help. Here is a short version of what we did (it may change) but it took us two days of buggering around.
Whilst this sounds like a bit of a palaver everyone was pretty professional and good humoured about it all. Knowing what we know now, a lot of the delays and frustrations would have been curtailed if we had a spanish speaker with us.
Our trip started in Santiago, Chile and our southern loop through the bottom of the continent meant we jumped between Chile and Argentina several times as major roads are few and far between. Chile is a wonderful place to ride with a huge variety of landscapes: deserts, mountains, lakes and isolated wild coast lines. Many parts of the country are remote with few towns and little fuel but with some planning and caution you can get around just fine. The people warm, engaging and passionate about their country.
Argentinian drivers have a reputation for speed and driving like there is no tomorrow. But we experienced great courtesy and had no problems on the roads there. Our route through Argentina took us across the Andes three times (starting on day 1!) and down to the very bottom of the continent.
Toss in some of the best food and wine you'll find in South America plus a cheeky mix of Italian flair, great shoes (much to Sonja's delight) and the tango - you're in for a hell of a ride ...
We didn't quite know what to expect in Bolivia. It's reputation for poverty and corruption is well founded. Make no mistake it's a tough place to ride in. But winding up 4,300m into the altitude sickness inducing Altiplano, around smoking volcanoes, across the world renowned Uyuni salt flats, getting tangled up in the Dakar race, bobbing around on Lake Titicaca and the start of the Inca trail made it a place we want to go back to.
Riding the spine of the Andes, the intriguing town of Cusco and the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu is a must see for any ride through Peru. To stand on Montana Picchu and gaze across one of the wonders of South America - perhaps the world - is humbling. The plunging down the mountains ride to the coast was unforgettable.
Yet being pummelled by hail one minute and roasted on the long grinding coastal highway surrounded by chicken farms in the desert the next left us wondering - what's around the corner?
We nicknamed it 'Aquador' as it rained like crazy but then, as the locals told us 'who rides here in the wet season'? This lush, green country is seperated into three north - south running zones: the coast; the highlands and the Amazon. After meeting the fantastic boys from the Guayaquil Motorcycle Club we knew it was going to be a great ride - and it was.
A place that needs little introduction. We were confronted by the sheer natural beauty and history of the islands colliding head on with unsustainable mass tourism and exploitation. So many things must happen to preserve this world heritage listed treasure but will they happen in time?
Our most favourite country in South America. Everyone says don't go there but as one local put it 'the greatest danger in Colombia is not wanting to leave'. We couldn't agree more. The combination of a proud people, perfectly preserved Spanish colonial towns and great coffee - it has something for everyone.
And what a place to ride!