Ruacana into Kaokoland

We made good progress to Ruacana, thanks to good roads built by the South African Army back in the 70’s and 80’s. It is strange to think that it wasn’t long ago that a war broke out in this part of the world, so recently really, back in 1988. Most of Ruacana was destroyed in the process. We manage to fill up – out last fuel stop for a few days now. We have 200 litres of fuel and 150 litres of water so we are set to travel deep into Kaokoland.

I wonder how far we’ll get today along the Kunene river and where we will spend the night. The scenery as we leave Ruacana is so different to anything we’ve seen so far. The road now crudely follows the terrain, with steep hills up and down, no more cut and fill. It is wild out here.

We are suddenly graced with the most beautiful sight: a stunning Himba, in her complete traditional dress. The sudden sight of this beautiful woman will remain implanted in my memory as we hadn’t expected to see anyone walking out those bushes, with no village in sight. And she radiated in her deep red skin, against the barren land.

The road heading due west of Ruacana mostly follows the Kunene river which forms the border between Namibia and South Africa, and is one of the few year-round flowing rivers in the region. We start off going through a few passes. The road is now a mixture of gravel and sandy patches, sometimes it is simply a faint track across meadows. Usually a sudden faint track means that people had to deviate from the original track for some reason and numerous new ones have been formed, to find the best way past an obstacle. In our case, it is a small stream with water running. As if by magic, help is suddenly here to guide us: a most handsome teenage boy and 2 young boys.

Himba teenager showing us the way across the creek

Himba teenager showing us the way across the creek


The teenager is wearing his hair in the traditional Himba way unlike the younger boys. Their attitude towards us is very different. The older one is keen to help guide us while the younger ones demand money and sweets. This immediately worries us both: have we, western tourists, created an expectation that we will give out gifts as we pass through the area, ‘buying’ them and is there a disconnect between generations and those embracing their traditions and those preferring western garb. Unfortunately, the request for money and sweets was repeated many times just for passing through and waving hello, along the Kunene river, the more accessible area to tourists. Being interested in indigenous people and culture, I am looking forward to learning more about the Himba while we travel through their land.

The Kunene river area is simply stunning. It was hot out here, 39 degrees mostly, and the river so inviting …. if it wasn’t for crocodiles… We spot so many areas we would have loved to stop and camp, but we are not comfortable with idea of crocs nearby. So on we go to Kunene River Lodge. Once again, we have no booking but we are still in luck. Kunene River Lodge, where we decide to camp for two days, provides us with the opportunity to visit a Himba village. Not speaking their language, going with a local guide will be interesting and allow me to hopefully have some of my questions answered. We are lucky there are just the two of us and our guide is half Himba himself.

Along the Kunene river

Along the Kunene river

Our camp site at Kunene River Lodge

Our camp site at Kunene River Lodge


A bit of background: the Himba population of approximately 50,000 live in the Kunene region of North West Namibia and just over the border, across the Kunene river in southern Angola (yet another example of how people have been separated thanks to our wars and orders). The Himba are one of 12 major ethnic groups in Namibia. Many still live a semi nomadic life, raising goats which they milk and cattle which reflect their wealth, both of which are sold for cash. Himba women go topless and both men and women smear their skin in a mixture of butter, ash, aromatic resin and crushed ochre as a way of cleansing their skin and keeping their skin youthful. With their red skin, long platted hair and various leather, bead and shell adornments, the Himba women are beautiful. Girls wear their hair in two plats going forward, boys, one single plat going backwards and married women wear ornate headpieces. But the most fascinating for me was being able to ask questions and share some of my knowledge of Australian indigenous culture and seeing their reaction to the similarities and differences. The similarities especially, considering the physical distance between them, fascinate me.

Our guide to the Himba family

Our guide to the Himba family

Himba milking area

Himba milking area

Himba girl

Himba girl

Himba family outside their living area where we spent a couple of hours

Himba family outside their living area where we spent a couple of hours

Making butter

Making butter

Himba woman's ornament made of leather, shells and even found bullets

Himba woman’s ornament made of leather, shells and even found bullets

Himba lady

Himba lady


Our next stop is Epupa Falls. We are told the road that used to take 10 hours has recently been upgraded for the Namibian police and the veterinary service (who are developing a new facility in the region) and the journey time has been cut to 3 hours. They are not wrong. But it is not only time that has been slashed – the poor country has been brutally scared with an oversized 4 lane wide dirt road cut through. It is painful to see. Interestingly, we heard that tourists who used to visit the area for the challenge of driving the old track have now cancelled their holiday. A double negative. Let’s hope it is worthwhile for the vet services.
Upgraded road to Epupa Falls

Upgraded road to Epupa Falls


Epupa Falls must be incredible in the rainy season! They were very low for us after 3 years of drought and being at the end of the dry season but the raw, wild area is stunning nonetheless.
Epupa Falls

Epupa Falls

Onto Opuwo next for resupplies of fuel, water and food. What a fascinating place. A crossroad for tourists and Namibians. In the supermarket we see and hear mainly German and French tourists, and see Himba and Herero in all their splendour. So many photo opportunities but I don’t want to ‘steal’ photos.

Tonight’s stop is Marble camp, some 270 kms away. We agonise over the route to take, with conflicting stories and recommendations and choose to take the advice of a local – road conditions can change quickly, from season to season and year to year. From talking to a German couple we met at the camp that evening, we made the right choice – it took them 2 days to get here from Opuwo, while it took us 5.5 hours using the D3707 through Orupembe.

Kaokoland, Namibia

Kaokoland, Namibia

Kaokoland, Namibia

Kaokoland, Namibia

Kaokoland, Namibia

Kaokoland, Namibia


Kaokoland, Namibia

Kaokoland, Namibia

Outside Orupembe towards Marble Camp

Outside Orupembe towards Marble Camp

Himba village

Himba village


Marble Camp

Marble Camp


The drive the next day has to be one of the most memorable. From tricky steep narrow rocky pass, to having to part rebuild a by-pass, past an burnt out and over-turned 4×4 just two days prior, to a most beautiful and serene valley, the Marienfluss onto Syncro Camp on the Kunene River. Photos cannot do this valley justice. We drive past many Himba villages, all so immaculate and past many Himba women and kids. Life must be hard out here. Otjinhungwa is where I had hoped we’d get to in Namibia and we made it!!!
North of Marble Camp

North of Marble Camp

Track blocked by overturned vehicle

Track blocked by overturned vehicle

How much beer were they carrying?!

How much beer were they carrying?!


Red Drum junction

Red Drum junction

Himba family

Himba family

Himba mother

Himba mother


Marienfluss, Namibia

Marienfluss, Namibia

Springbok, Marienfluss

Springbok, Marienfluss


We are lucky that Syncro Camp space for us as only 2 of the 4 camping spots they have here are occupied by 4 vehicles and the 4 South African couples are all lovely. And even luckier that the next day we have the whole camp to ourselves.
Syncro Camp

Syncro Camp


Our campsite at Syncro Camp

Our campsite at Syncro Camp

Angola across the Kunene river at Syncro Camp

Angola across the Kunene river at Syncro Camp


Marienfluss

Marienfluss

The raw beauty of the region touches me in a way few places do.

– Anne

Transiting the Central American Isthmus

Definitely our longest gap between blog entries, you may have thought we had been swallowed up by the Central American jungles, but no, just a little busy travelling (thank you to a number of you who have emailed or messaged us checking we were ok). Transiting Central America has been challenging for us. Since we left San Juan in Costa Rica on the 21st of May, we have ridden every day, crossed 5 countries riding in a variety of road and traffic conditions, temperatures maxing out at 42 degrees celsius, up to 100% humidity most days, negotiating up to four customs and immigration procedures in one day. We had decided to move quickly through Central America, transiting rather than touring. Why you may ask?

The decision has been made for a number of reasons. We are running out of time. While our return to Europe in September 2015 may seem distant, we have 10,000 plus kilometres we still have to cover and we have to decide who and what we can see in the USA. This is a RTW trip that we had decided we would undertake in around 12 months in two 6 month segments, which from experience is about as long as we like to travel for. We have to make decisions about what we can and cannot do.

We also need also get to the USA to get Anne’s bike fixed before the warranty runs out in mid June. The continuing problem with the engine management system which affects Anne’s throttle can only be fixed with a replacement part that has to be coded to the individual Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which BMW will only do in the factory in Berlin and this has a substantial lead time. We have not been able to organise this in South America, probably due to our deficient Spanish and a reluctance of a particular BMW dealer to get involved. With parts lead times in South America, we may have had to wait weeks in one location.

We also want to get out of malaria country as Anne has a negative reaction to Malaria prophylactics. The thought of all the reportedly difficult border crossings waiting for us has added to a tiredness which has grown in recent weeks. We are looking forward to finding some good mountain camping spots in the Rocky Mountains in June, hiking and relaxing by a cool stream.

Anyway I am getting ahead of myself, Let me take you all back a week…….. It has been a little surreal staying at the Hilton Garden Inn in San Jose. The hotel has only been open 5 days and has 8 rooms is use. The hotel occupies the top half of a building with finishing work continuing below during the day. The pool is not completed, power switching rooms are open to guests and we are the only people at dinner. We meet the executive chef who used to teach at university as he and his staff serve us. It all seems so dream like in the hotel.

The replacement of the steering head bearings and the new tyres make for a new pleasurable riding experience once we have covered the first 100km / 60 miles to remove the new tyre oil film.

Today seems to be tyre day: just ahead of us bang! an explosion as a truck tyre disintegrates in a cloud of dust and debris which we both see. Anne, who is leading, is lucky that a car is between her and the truck or else she would have had showered. I have never actually seen a tyre let go like that, just the debris scattered in the road, another first. Anne mentions that she feels like she may one day wake up from one long dream. After our recent strange dreamlike stay in this empty hotel, many experiences have been a little unreal or just so perfectly lucky: like the tyre explosion, like when we left San Jose with brand new slick tyres and the weather ‘waited’ until we had ridden 160kms before it rained, like arriving at border posts with no queues ahead of us.

As we progress towards to the Nicaraguan border, the scenery changes to a drier more open country painted with an artist’s palette of browns and rust. I had assumed, incorrectly, that the Central American landscape would be all bright and vivid jungle greens based on pictures I had seen before we came here.

Our crossing of the various borders in Central America has been made easier by having sent Kristjan ahead to scout the route, note processes and problems and report back to us in written form. This has given us a head start at each border crossing as to what we might reasonably expect to encounter and Kristjan’s view of the current process.

Writing instructions. This is harder than you think. When each of us write instructions, we make sub-conscious assumptions, our own and about the audience. In the case of the Costa Rica Nicaragua border we went wrong at the first instruction which said take the first road after the entrance gate. I spotted a dirt road immediately after the entrance we turned left followed past the 300-400 meters in the instructions without spotting the customs building. Ahead a police car waived us down, we told them what we were looking for, they laughed and they directed us to continue and then turn right. This seemed a little strange until we realised the road we were on completely bypassed Costa Rica Customs and Immigration! I presume for those that were too busy to fill out the paperwork. We should have been looking for a concrete road a little further on the left, the second road in fact not the first, but the dirt road with trucks parked either side could be easily missed or mistaken for a parking area, Anne had not noticed it but I did. I am certain that those who read and use our border crossing notes may find fault or error in them. It may be the process has changed or I have made some assumptions along the way that others are not able to follow. It is always easier to amend than create, so our thanks to Kristjan for his pioneering work.

Full details of the actual crossing process are in Borders and Visas section. Again we were lucky with the process, the Costa Rica side we handled without a facilitator and apart from having to convince a customs officer that we had not been processed by the colleague who he had just taken over from was straight forward. Our intelligence on the Nicaraguan side was that a facilitator was needed and it turned out to be a beneficial. He took us through the myriad of buildings, windows and processes. We also inadvertently came across our first border corruption. After completing the customs and police inspection we were advised by our facilitator that the police check, which was in addition to the Customs check, only took 2 minutes because we were to pay US$20 avoiding a 2 hour search. Neither of us were happy with not knowing this in advance as we would have chosen the longer search. Some may think us hypocritical because we have paid spot fines to police before, but that was our choice. I should add that we have seen signs in some of the offices in Costa Rica saying there are no charges for forms or processing by Government officials. Progress is being made.

It is interesting that in all our travels on this trip, the Central American countries are the only places we have encountered ‘fixers’ or facilitators. In Central Asia, locals or officials would always point out the next place to go in the process, similarly in South America. In Central America however it has become a business which, given the amount of queuing and running around that can take place, they can be useful to expedite the process. We used them on two of the five border crossings, the others we took care of ourselves.

We have deduced from the number of land crossings we have made that the paperwork process, in our experience should, but probably will not, go along these lines:

Country Exit – cancel ‘Vehicle Temporary Import Permit’, process Passport for exit ……..
Country Entry – complete immigration and customs form, process Passport, obtain Vehicle Insurance, obtain ‘Vehicle Temporary Import Permit’

Photocopies are the order of the day at most borders, some you can do in advance such as Passport, Vehicle Registration and Driving Licence. Photocopies of your just stamped passport page, or document just issued means unless you have a portable photocopier, you will need fresh copies and it always seems there is a business setup to provide such services handy. I did talk with one official who spoke good English at a border crossing about the endless copies and they agreed to processes are very bureaucratic for them and probably unnecessary in many cases as well.

We come across a large (44MW) wind farm manufactured by Suzlon just inside Nicaragua along side lake Nicaragua, close to where the proposed canal connecting Pacific and Atlantic would be built by the Chinese. Here we see our first broken wind turbine blade, the remains just hanging in space, further on a complete turbine and tower are down. The base looks like the centre of a kitchen roll that had been bent. Not real good for the turbine when it hit the ground. Given the strong gusts wind we are encountering I can understand how the those two turbines met their fate.

Horizontal and broken off wind turbine.

Horizontal and broken off wind turbine.

Not good for the turbine as it hit the ground.

Not good for the turbine as it hit the ground.

Down to San Juan del Sur, one of Nicaragua’s must see beaches. We find a wonderful hotel on the main street. Across the street palm frond roofed restaurants sit with views across the beach and out over the sea. One can sit and sip a cold beer watching pelicans dive for fish. The place has a pleasant feel and not too overcrowded. We realise that San Juan del Sur caters to a younger crowd than us by the proliferation of bars/discos using loud, well to us, music to attract clientele.

When we travelled down through Africa in 1982-1983, we commented on the proliferation of Coca-Cola signs, even in the remotest places, and how one day when archeologists in the the future are excavating our present, they may assume Coca-Cola was a vast all encompassing empire. I prefer it to Pepsi any day. Fast forward some 30 odd years, Coca-Cola is still everywhere, but archaeologists, will be puzzling over the hand held VISA card machines that seem to be at every small cafe, store and petrol station. We are able to pass through some countries without changing any currency due to to proliferation of VISA machines. Progress moves steadily forward, what will be the global relic in another 30 years?

It has been surprising the counties we have travelled through have been so dry. We were expecting lush tropical scenery and instead found ourselves travelling through a vista not too dissimilar to riding out towards Esk and Wivenhoe dam back home. The temperature reached 42 degrees celsius during our Central American transit which makes for hard riding.

Not what we expected in tropical Central America

Not what we expected in tropical Central America

We spend a second night in Nicaragua at Chinandega. A small town within a reasonable distance of our next border crossing. A wander through the town reveals a main square with a recently built castle, we think for the kids. Always interesting how each place we visit tries to develop itself, we may not understand why they pick a particular approach, but they are making an effort to provide for the local people.

Chinandega, Nicaragua

Chinandega, Nicaragua


Chinandega main square, Nicaragua

Chinandega main square, Nicaragua


After last night’s massive downpour, we get off to a blue sky day, and fabulous views of one of the many small, hopefully dormant volcanoes that dot the landscape.
San Cristobal volcano, Nicaragua

San Cristobal volcano, Nicaragua


We decided to attempt two crossings in one day, estimating 2 hours per crossing based on previous experiences. Our first crossing is from Nicaragua to Honduras, the usual crowd of facilitators is around, and we offer the opportunity to a young kid, but he does not speak english or fully understand the process so an English speaker steps in. The process is detailed in Borders and Visas. Doing four sets of Immigration, Customs and Vehicle temporary import processing in one day, I am having some difficulty extracting each element clearly from my memory so if something is not right please bear with me.

What was interesting to learn from the Honduras Customs officials is that they ask us not to pay money to fixers for services, we will tip the fixers for their help but not pay for officials’ services.

After spending almost three hours entering El Salvador, mostly due to the indifferent attitude of the data entry operator who spent one and a half hours entering data from three forms, already completed by their colleagues in Spanish. One was mine, one Anne’s and third and Aussie couple from Perth in a van. Even when the Aussie couple had their paperwork completed, they still waited with us, which was really kind of them.

On this border crossing we also ran into a problem with my Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) sticker. During the replacement of my steering head bearings, they damaged the sticker removing one of the VIN numerals. Luckily I was able to show the official the actual engraved VIN as well. He only looked closely because he was training new staff, most countries never bother to check as long as they have their multiple paper copies.

El Salvador to Guatemala was straightforward and as it was Sunday all the fixers were in Church! Guatemala to Mexico was our last crossing in the series. Fairly straight forward, expect that the gentleman who had entered our temporary vehicle permit had not activated it, thus it could not be cancelled! I thought for a brief moment, could we have our money back as we were now across the country, but thought better of it. It never pays to mess with Customs and Immigration officers.

We have been constantly warned about our personal security by locals as we travelled through Central America. Sometimes they warn about the next country along, others about their own country. We were advised not to stop in Honduras at all. The vast quantities of razor wire in evidence around businesses and homes are testament to either top quality razor wire salesmen or a real problem of theft. I suspect the latter.

One aspect we were not used to is the use of armed security guards. In Guatemala and El Salvador armed security guards can be found at petrol stations and restaurants, anywhere that cash accumulates, usually in pairs armed with pistols and pump action shotguns. We see them traveling around on the back of mopeds, nothing like riding past the business end of a pump action shotgun laid across the seat between driver and passenger, we travel past quickly, I would hate for a bump in the road to set the gun off as we pass, ruining and otherwise perfectly good day.

Security guy riding with his shotgun across his lap, Escuintla, Guatemala

Army guy riding with his shotgun across his lap, Escuintla, Guatemala

It was interesting to note the changes in modes of transport between the various Central American countries. The number of mopeds, tuk tuk’s and donkey carts varied from one to another depending, I surmise, on the respective wealth of the country. While the Golden Arches of MacDonald’s and other American consumer icons became more prevalent as we moved towards Mexico, the roadside stalls still exist in large numbers, enabling one to stop, for whatever is the local produce, Mangos in this case.

Having a fresh mango peeled on the side of the road in El Salvador

Having a fresh mango peeled on the side of the road in El Salvador

While we have only briefly visited this region, there is much to intrigue the visitor who has time to explore further. The beaches, jungles, volcanoes, historic monuments and the people make would make for an adventurous journey.

These buses barely stop to let passengers on and off in El Savador

These buses barely stop to let passengers on and off in El Savador


San Savador, El Savador

San Savador, El Savador


Typical Central America Auto Motel

Typical Central America Auto Motel


Another roadside seller in El Savador - fresh lemons

Another roadside seller in El Savador – fresh lemons


Somotillo border post 'Must be able to squeeze through here'

Somotillo border post ‘Must be able to squeeze through here’


In the middle of Barberena, Guatemala - must have been desperate

In the middle of Barberena, Guatemala – must have been desperate


Anne can finally eat a banana in under an hour

Anne can finally eat a banana in under an hour


– Anthony

Onward to Peru

We leave San Pedro de Atacama with rain clouds gathering. Snow has fallen to the east causing the road to Argentina and Bolivia to be closed. We could not have proceeded in that direction even if we wanted too. We have decided to move out of Chile and get into Peru. We seem to have ridden endlessly through the Atacama desert in its various forms and we both feel like a change of scenery.

Cold and rain we have not experienced for many months. We realise that in the 8 months on the road traveling, this is only the 8th day of rain! While our trip timing was to avoid the wet seasons as far as possible, I think we have done exceptionally well. A recent comment on the blog noted that we only seem to have pictures with blue skies and sunny days and was that a reflection on how we feel? The answer is yes, we are always happier on blue sky days and while the occasional cosy grey day makes a change, blue skies are our natural habitat.

Rain is waiting for us - we can see how much snow has fallen overnight in the distance

Rain is waiting for us – we can see how much snow has fallen overnight in the distance


Today leaving San Pedro de Atacama is the coldest day we've had

Today leaving San Pedro de Atacama is the coldest day we’ve had

While we press on through the rain, which is unusual for this very arid region, we have to count ourselves lucky that we have missed the worst of the flooding in the Atacama, which is playing out in towns we passed through and stayed at less than a week ago. At each fuel stop we are greeted with a TV screen showing the devastation that such extreme weather for this region is doing. In desert regions, towns cannot justify stormwater drainage systems and when rivers overflow there is nowhere for the water to flow but into houses and businesses. Power and communications are cut to the north of Chile, some cities are without power and the damage to roads will be extensive.

Where we stopped for lunch - chicken is out so it was only boiled rice and fresh tomatoes - nice change from canned tuna and dry crackers

Where we stopped for lunch – chicken is out so it was only boiled rice and fresh tomatoes – nice change from canned tuna and dry crackers

Every petrol stop and restaurant is showing the destruction currently unfolding in Northern Chile

Every petrol stop and restaurant is showing the destruction currently unfolding in Northern Chile

Despite the wet conditions, which improve as we get further north, we make good progress towards our coastal destination of Iquique.

Salar de Pintados national park

Salar de Pintados national park


Coastal clouds south of Iquique

Coastal clouds south of Iquique


The road approach to Iquique is nothing short of spectacular: a 600 metre (2,000 feet) decent from the town of Alto Hospicio cut into the steep side of the mountain runs for over 10 kilometers. As we ride down it feels like we are in an aircraft making our decent to land. Amazing feeling!
On our way down into Iquique

On our way down into Iquique


As we ride towards our hotel, we see multiple tsunami warning signs and with Iquique, like so many other Chilean coast cities pressed up against the mountains, evacuation is not easy. In Iquique’s case, it is compounded by having only a single road, the one we arrived on, as an escape route. On 1 April 2014, less than a year ago, an 8.2 magnitude earthquake occurred offshore, followed by up to 20 aftershocks of 5.0 magnitude or greater, caused many thousands of residents to abandon Iquique entirely, heading to nearby town of Alto Hospicio, a tsunami-proof town 600 meters (2,000 feet) above Iquique. The problem was that the road surface was damaged, and the only way out was to walk up the steep road we had entered up to Alto Hospicio as many did with small children and strollers.
Iquique tsunami warning sign

Iquique tsunami warning sign

Plaza Prat de Iquique

Plaza Prat de Iquique

Iquique was the location of our first real negative encounter with locals and a salutary reminder of how a series of events can lead to a confrontational situation without the intent of either party to reach that position. It happened in a car park, the details are irrelevant now, but being told to reverse over two speed humps with no room to maneuver or help and about 15 cars hooting (at us or for us, we are not sure) left us leaving Iquique with a bad taste.

From time to time, as we have headed north on Ruta 5, our path has been crossed by dry riverbeds that have necessitated the road to make a small detour from its path to make the crossing. As we depart towards Arica we can see on the map two significant canyons running to the Pacific Ocean that require detours of 20 to 30 km to cross. The first is the Quebrada de Chiza which provides a magnificent decent to the canyon floor. Here we encounter some of the strongest and unpredictable crosswinds, caused by wind funneling up from the ocean via the Quebrada de Camarones, we have ever ridden in. We were protected to an extent on the 20 plus kilometer decent, but on the canyon floor we are fully exposed. While we are used to persistent wind in our travels, being in the canyon brings extra hazards. Anne is swept from her lane across the oncoming lane to the start of the hard shoulder and then back again like a giant wind slap. There is nothing we can do except hang on (as stopping is not an option or you would definitely be blown over) and keep going. Luckily traffic is light. The power of nature is always to be respected and here, nature was reminding us of that. We were glad to make the customs post at Cuya and then hug the canyon wall as we climbed out on the other side. Not something we would like to repeat.

Before heading down into Quebrade Chiza canyon

Before heading down into Quebrade Chiza canyon

Camarones valley

Camarones valley


Riding down towards Arica

Riding down towards Arica


The largest Coca-Cola logo (50x120 metres) made out of 70,000 empty bottles outside Arica

The largest Coca-Cola logo (50×120 metres) made out of 70,000 empty bottles outside Arica


We are glad to reach Arica our last stop before we cross into Peru. We are only some 30 kilometers from the border.
San Marcos de Arica church designed by Gustave Eiffel

San Marcos de Arica church designed by Gustave Eiffel

A short ride of about half an hour from Arica sees us at our first border crossing in a month. The luxury that people in the European Union have of just driving across the border without stopping does not exist here. We have found that the information available on the web can very quickly become out of date and therefore the timing and requirements have changed. As usual the actual crossing details are recorded in over Visas and Borders section. Suffice to say that the only unusual aspect of this crossing is going to the cafe cashier to purchase a multi copy form needed for the crossing process. Very helpful people on both the Chilean and Peruvian sides sees the process over in about two hours, fairly normal for us, plus the border was not too crowded.

Level 1 of the Chilean customs & immigration building - cafetaria where you buy carbon copies of RVP

Level 1 of the Chilean customs & immigration building – cafetaria where you buy carbon copies of RVP

Peruvian border post at Santa Rosa

Peruvian border post at Santa Rosa


Across from the SOAT building, this lovely lady gave us a piece of cake to go with our cold drinks

Across from the SOAT building, this lovely lady gave us a piece of cake to go with our cold drinks


A quick stop to pick up SOAT Insurance and half an hour sees us into Tacna and our first interaction with Peruvian traffic reminds us that we will have to raise our situational awareness after Chile.

I have had the same chain since the journey started and it has covered over 25,000 kilometres with the occasional adjustment. I am now having to do almost daily adjustments as the stretching has accelerated significantly and it really rattles by the end of the day. We will need a new chain and sprocket set in Lima. The weight and bulk of the parts meant that we do not carry those spares, but there is a reasonable BMW Motorrad network in the capital cities we pass through.

– Anthony

Agra – a day to remember

With our five day customs holiday, and the thought of two days waiting in the Ibis hotel at Delhi airport, we and Kristjan, who we are clearing our motorbikes with and is riding through Myanmar in our group, decided to head to Agra for Sunday and Monday and be back in Delhi for Tuesday morning and customs reopening. We considered for a second hiring a car, before common-sense prevailed and we looked at an Ibis travel package of car and driver, a hotel in Agra and a tour guide while there. Sorted in 30 minutes.

We have agreed that we will be ready to go at 6 am to avoid the traffic that builds up early in Delhi. Our 5 am wake up is far too early for me, as soon as I get in the car, I close my eyes and go to sleep. As we wind through the southern suburbs of Delhi heading for the ‘super highway’ to Agra. I am lucky to miss the learner driver doing 5km per hour in the fast lane, our driver falling asleep and other assorted incidents on the way. Sleep definitely is the best option for Indian travel, although it probably won’t work on the motorbike! The ‘super highway’ takes us swiftly from the crowded confines of the city, to the open plains south of the capital dotted with small fields, mostly cleared as we are well into the harvest season.

Anthony snoozing on our way to Agra

Anthony snoozing on our way to Agra


We stopped en route, and saw a group of five locals on 350cc Royal Enfield motorcycles. We rode the 500cc versions in 2009 when we rode in Eastern India and Bhutan. The only change seems to be that the gearbox and brake have now been switched to the normal side rather than the old British side when we rode in 2009. Our memories of that trip and the motorbikes are rekindled in our minds, as is the thought of being back on ,’Streak’ and ‘Storm’ next week. After three hours on the road, the ‘super highway’ comes to an end and the way to Agra involves a u-turn across traffic, the half built end of the freeway is just that, half built and probably been like that for a number of years.

We arrive at the first of three world heritage sites in Agra, the most in one city in the world?, and meet our guide Bobby. We are seeing first the Mausoleum of I’timad-ud-Daulah or the ‘Mini Taj’ which was constructed in six years between 1622 and 1628 and is believed to have provided the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.

It is an exquisite building and with few visitors – Anne wished she could have spent another hour quietly wandering around, but when your are on an organised tour, even for three of us, it is hard to know what we would miss if we lingered too long at one location. It is interesting to see architectural elements in the design that we have seen previously in our travels on the Silk Route. The builders, the Mughals, are believed to have originated in Uzbekistan and founded an empire that stretched at its height across the Indian sub continent from Afghanistan to Bangladesh. I have found it fascinating how the ebb and flow of cultures and empires across the region has shaped its history. I will certainly be reading further when we finally get home to understand how the mosaic of civilisations and empires across the countries on our route developed. If anyone can suggest books to read on the subject please let me know.

I'timad-ud-Daulah mausoleum, Agra, India

I’timad-ud-Daulah mausoleum, Agra, India

Fine inlays at I'timad-ud-Daulah mausoleum, Agra, India

Fine inlays at I’timad-ud-Daulah mausoleum, Agra, India

Fine inlays at I'timad-ud-Daulah mausoleum, Agra, India

Fine inlays at I’timad-ud-Daulah mausoleum, Agra, India

Ceiling above the tomb inside I'timad-ud-Daulah mausoleum, Agra, India

Ceiling above the tomb inside I’timad-ud-Daulah mausoleum, Agra, India

Mosaics at I'timad-ud-Daulah mausoleum, Agra, India

Mosaics at I’timad-ud-Daulah mausoleum, Agra, India


We are now going to the Taj Mahal, our car negotiates the noisy, weaving lines of traffic that seem to emanate from every street, dodge pedestrians and street hawkers, and our driver studiously avoids the cows that seem to know their sacred status and sit on the roads oblivious to all around them.
Typical traffic in October, Agra, India

Typical traffic in October, Agra, India


Families are out on this festive day, Agra, India

Families are out on this festive day, Agra, India

We get our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal, from a distance as we wend our way through the streets of Agra, which we have learnt has a population of three million. I cannot recall the population of India say 30 years ago when we were backpacking in Africa and Asia, but I imagine that it was significantly smaller and less mobile. Those who visited India that long ago will have to comment on that.

October, as those who know India is festival month, we are seeing on our drive towards the Taj Mahal, trucks with speakers front and back blasting out music and followed either on foot or in trucks by people covered in coloured powder. They are all happily dancing, although we are told alcohol is involved.

It is festival time in October in Agra, India

It is festival time in October in Agra, India

As this is a public holiday, we move with hundreds of local people towards the entrance to the Taj Mahal. Tuk tuks, small three wheeled taxis, and camels pulling carts vie for customers from the throngs of people walking towards the entrance which is about one kilometre from the mayhem of the drop off point. We reach the entrance and find hundreds of locals in the ticket queue, luckily as foreigners, paying about ten times the local fee have a special ticket office, and express path to the entrance, which allows us to pass hundreds of locals. We are told that they expect over 100,000 people to visit the Taj Mahal today as it is a public holiday and the Muslim festival of Eid.

The tourist queue on the left, local ones on the right

The tourist queue on the left, local ones on the right


Our first view of the Taj Mahal in all it’s glory takes one’s breath away. It is more spectacular in the ‘marble’ than photographs do it justice in my view. We enter the gardens through a red sandstone archway that has framed millions of photographs. Strolling through the gardens, getting ever closer, we take the fast stream again and we are there! I will let Anne’s pictures do the talking. I am glad that we came here as this had been something I had said, if we were ever his way, I would like to see.
Eastern gate to the Taj Mahal, which we can just see in the distance

Eastern gate to the Taj Mahal, which we can just see in the distance

The Taj Mahal with 100,000 visitors

The Taj Mahal with 100,000 visitors

The marble used comes from India and is the hardest in the world. This makes it impervious to stains, even beetroot unlike some kitchen counter tops. Not ours at home which is just Formica made to look like marble. The inlays used come from a variety of sources including onyx from Belgium for the black, cornelian, jasper, lapis lazuli and topaz from regional sources.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Plant motifs on carved marble dado, Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Plant motifs on carved marble dado, Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Given the hardness of the marble, it is a difficult material to work with and we were told during the subsequent and obligatory craft shop visits that those involved in the process of making marble inlays have a working life of about twenty years due to the toll that the hard material takes on their hands. Of course no retirement follows, just another job.

Our guide tells us that no factories are allowed in Agra, and that the people here have to make their living by primarily by tourism and handicrafts. To compensate for the loss of industries, no tax is levied on any handicrafts thus providing an additional selling point for the keen salesmen as they show their skilled craftsmen working. While nothing caught our eye, if any of you are in the market for a new marble12 seat dining table, a snip at USD $25,000 with two marble table legs and free shipping just drop me a line.

The craftmanship in Agra was impressive.  This white marble table with various semi-precious stone inlays is backlit to great effect

The craftmanship in Agra was impressive. This white marble table with various semi-precious stone inlays is backlit to great effect


The last place we visit is the Agra fort, built of red sandstone it is the third world heritage site in Agra. Here the builder of the Taj Mahal was held under house arrest by his son in his latter years, probably to stop him building a black Taj Mahal for himself across the river from the white one was he built for his wife. He has buried alongside his wife.
The Red Fort, Agra, India

The Red Fort, Agra, India

Muassaman Burj tower, where Shaha Jahan was banished to after being deposed by his son, and could see the resting place of his beloved wife in the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Muassaman Burj tower, where Shaha Jahan was banished to after being deposed by his son, and could see the resting place of his beloved wife in the Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Deewan-I-Am, Hall of Public Audience, inside the Red Fort, Agra, India

Deewan-I-Am, Hall of Public Audience, inside the Red Fort, Agra, India

Indian ladies resting outside the Red Fort, Agra, India

Indian ladies resting outside the Red Fort, Agra, India

We were at the Taj Mahal, Agra, India!!!  Waiting for the sunset...

We were at the Taj Mahal, Agra, India!!! Waiting for the sunset…

Sun serting on the Taj Mahal

Sun serting on the Taj Mahal

Good night Agra

Good night Agra


A day full of interest and learning for us.

– Anthony

Our Blog and related technical information

Not your usual blog entry, but those of you with more technical interest may have wondered what software and hardware we are using to provide video and photos for the blog and how we get it all together. We are using wordpress.com for the blog, which Anne developed. We are still learning, and from time to time if you are bombarded with emails, it is probably me, Anthony, who forgot to turn something off while making changes to existing content for testing.

Anne has a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT5 camera, which is providing the beautiful photos. I am using a GoPro 3+ black for the bike video and we have iMovie on the iPad for video editing and Panasonic image app for photo editing. All blog updates are loaded from the iPads. All connectivity between products is via bluetooth using apps on the iPads, which reduces the need for additional cables for connection. Now if only that was the case for the power cables! We use dropbox to provide backup storage. It takes on average about three hours to develop and upload each blog entry with written content, photos and video.

To all of those who follow our blog, we enjoy receiving your comments and questions and Anne has been diligent in responding. They are a great addition to the blog, so keep them coming.

We love to know who is following us, and appreciate your signing up, even if you don’t post comments. We are aware that a couple of you may have not responded to the original confirmation email from our blog, and as a result we do not know you are a regular follower. If you think this might be you, check the original email for the confirmation button.

– Anthony