Monday, April 7, 2014

Rough roads and running out of fuel

The plan for today had been a good one, we thought. A guided tour to the Howler monkeys, followed by a good quality dirt road known as the coastal highway which promised lots of scenery and to top it all off we would camp along the beautiful Caribbean coast at Hopkins. The plan seemed good but it all went a bit different… 

The tour to the Howler monkeys was a good one, not only because we did find the Howler monkeys, which sort of helped, but also because of a good tour guide. We learned a lot about local plants, how they are used as medicine, which ones to use and more importantly which ones to avoid. The most amazing part for me was that you can actually use big soldier ants for stitching… Stamp your feet hard on one of their nests to make the soldier ants come up. Grab one just behind the head, which is the tricky bit as they kind of bite if you're not quick enough, and make them bite where you want stitching. The ant locks it's jaws into the fabric… and you rip the rest of it's body off. Not real friendly to the ant perhaps but it does work and the jaws stay locked on.

The Howler monkeys are weird animals. Not because of how they look, it's the sound they make. We've already posted the sound in a previous post, this time you can hear and see them. Mind you this is of course the Belizean version, so they have a Kriol accent :-) Our guide not only knew where to find them, he also found a way to communicate with them and 'talk' them down from the trees. Mike made the photographs you see on this page from pretty close-up. The tour lasted about 45 minutes and we recommend it. It's part of a conservation project to ensure the habitat of the Howler monkeys in Belize doesn't disappear. The proceeds of the tours but also the camping goes towards the preservation of these wonderful animals. Money well spend!

Belizean people are very cheerful and friendly. The smiles, the friendly cheers and waves we received yesterday as we rode past were great. This morning however we met a unique Belizean: not a friendly one! He worked or perhaps even owned the petrol station where we needed to put some more go-juice in the tanks. When possible we fill up with Premium, which is 92 octane. All bikes run on 87 too but fuel consumption suffers and it thus isn't worth it. All fuel attendants know motorcycles will fill up with Premium and if for some reason you're at a pump that is out of premium they will tell you straight away. Not this guy. He let you unpack, remove the tank bag and open the tank before saying he's out of premium… and then directs you to another pump which didn't have it either… real funny. He's the only one around that sells petrol…

In hindsight that was the point where our day went somewhat pear shaped. The supposedly good gravel road that came next was quite rough. How rough? Well it made the Dalton, the Denali and the Top of the World highways look like a piece of cake. Despite being only 50 km long and going slowly, we blew 2 fork seals on the Yamaha and Jeanette's Bonneville busted one of the Ikon shocks completely. One of the potholes bend the damper rod when it bottomed out completely, something that shouldn't have happened, I feel, as the rubber bumpstops should have protected the shock from damaging itself. The other shock absorber is fine but replacing them is per set only. At the same time, they have covered 75.000 km and as Geoff from Ikon in Australia said to me: 'Your loads and riding distances are much higher than a motocross bike tends to see. Not even an enduro gets close to what you guys are doing. I would describe your trip as more like a tamer version of the Dakar and all that comes from that.' 

The best way to ride these bridges is in the middle
Only a couple of kilometres later I had my first off during this trip. On a sandy section with rocks embedded in the sand, the front wheel hit one which threw me off balance and after wrestling the close to 300 kg bike for a few seconds, and hitting a few more rocks in the process, I realised I was going to test the crash bars… To avoid my knee being shattered on the embedded rocks I opted for the bank beside the road. The crash bar and the pannier did their work and prevented any damage to my leg or foot. Looking at the small gap between the bank and the motorcycle, I'm glad I didn't have those high exhausts either… I would have had some serious burns if I had.

To my utter surprise there wasn't any damage at all! The pannier is scratched at the bottom and the nylon corner protector is scratched but that's it! At the end of the day there wasn't any dust inside the pannier either. Holan makes their panniers well, the bottom corners are 4 mm thick aluminium and that paid off today. The RennTec crash bars did their job very well too, well made and glad I fitted them! The home-made rack survived it too as I like to over-engineer things a bit… but also because the Bonneville has it's exhausts mounted low, so I could mount the panniers close to the frame which makes the rack a lot stronger.

Apart from the mechanical mayhem, it was a beautiful road. Especially the second, or southern, half. Plenty of scenery, old bridges and most of the time solitude. The biggest surprise was running into the British Army! They had set up camp by the side of the road, as you can see in the movie. We were at the Coastal Highway almost at the end of the dry season, which meant the road had pretty much turned into loose sand in a lot of sections due to a long dry period and 4x4s and trucks had dug deep tracks. Had it rained somewhat the week before, the sand might have compacted and it would have been a totally different experience.

Oranges being sorted by the side of the road
The plan had been to go to Hopkins and stay there for the night, but plans change… We met Sam and Erika again who told us that Placencia was much nicer and although they hadn't stayed there, they saw plenty of camping opportunities. So we headed for Placencia!
Belize has many little shops. Shops which are usually not much bigger that the front room of the house. We like them as by buying there we support real people trying to make a living, rather than big multinationals. We stopped at one today for some much needed refreshments! Just like in Mexico, Coca Cola is sold in glass bottles here. Coca Cola in Belize is made from cane sugar and tastes great! It's cheap too, one US dollar a bottle… :-)

Placencia was, for us, a disappointment. If you like big hotels, posh houses and tacky tourism… then you'll probably do like it, we didn't. I suppose if you come to dive it's great too, for as long as you stay under water. We looked around for a campsite but couldn't find one. Many of the places we were directed to didn't exist anymore or didn't take campers anymore. I guess hotel rooms make more money. One place we had on our list was Seakunga. It was no longer there. Asking around, we were told they had moved further north along the road. We did find it but it looked run down and the 'driveway' was a long sandpit. Wether camping is still allowed or not we don't know, we decided to find somewhere else.

Wether that was a good move we will never know as in the end we couldn't find any campground in Placencia and went to Hopkins. It was getting dark, the road into Hopkins from the south was pretty bad and we were seriously running low on fuel as we hadn't seen a petrol station for hours. 'How do people fill up their cars here?' I thought as we slowly zig-zagged our way through potholes in the dark. Mike's Yamaha stopped. His fuel light had been on for a while and we assumed it had run dry. It hadn't, it just stopped for some unexplained reason but started again a few minutes later. Realising later we had the same thing happen before when going slowly for a long time, I wondered if something is overheating. The cooling system wasn't running hot as he had switched the fan on.

I've never been much of a beach person and never found sandpits very exciting. Having a sandpit along a sea doesn't alter that. What I usually find on and around beaches is that for some reason people are willing to pay more to get a boring view…? Boring? Yes, ocean views are about as boring as they come! There isn't anything to see but water. Deserts are much more interesting than oceans. Looking around for a campingspot while being surrounded by shady reggae types with bloodshot eyes and blurry voices, who all seemed to be under the influence of some kind of funny weed, is my view of the Caribbean. The chilling out, the funky grooves and vibes, the weirdos that feel the therapeutic electromagnetic currents coming up through the sand and the 21st century beach boys and girls that seem to think they're so cool when they flash around in ridiculous bermuda shorts just don't do it for me… Tomorrow we go into the mountains :-)

After hitting a bank at 40 km/hr, no damage at all!
The driftwood bar offered camping on the beach in front of it but said they'd close the access to the toilets at night… Nice. Maybe a possible option for RVs with build-in toilets but we don't carry a portaloo around and I'm to far removed from Neanderthals to find digging a hole on the beach a solution. Next door is a guesthouse that offers camping as well, Kismit. The owner is a very nice lady who even cooked us breakfast the next morning and charged only US$ 10,- for the 3 of us, including power!

Sitting at the beach late at night, looking at the waves rolling in under a full moon, I realised how lucky we have been. The damage on the Coastal Highway is expensive but could easily have been much worse. The Distanzia tyres did a great job and when hidden rocks threw me off balance, the RennTec bars and Holan panniers prevented any damage to both the Triumph and myself. But most of all the Triumph Bonneville proved again it's not just a new classic and all show, it goes pretty well everywhere too!