27 May, 2007

Central America, up to the Mexican Border.

Off I went into Panama. Rain threatened but nothing serious. Eventually, when it did rain, it rained hard but I decided that it wasn't so bad to get very, very wet and then let the evaporation cool me down afterwards. I made good progress this way on the first day. The only problem was the policeman who stopped me and demanded my passport and original driving licence. Having surrendered these I was then accused of speeding. Of course I hadn't been speeding, I didn't know the roads! But having given him my documents he then went on to tell me how he'd be keeping those, and I'd need to pay $100 dollars to the court in Panama City on Monday to get them back.

Naturally, if only I could spare him $20 now, for diesel for his police car, then we could forget the whole thing immediately, and I could get my precious documents back. I gave this uniformed criminal the extorted $20 dollars, and went grumbling quietly on my way.

Costa Rica cost money to get into, and I was never sure it was worth the entry fee. Things seemed more organised here, and people more wealthy, but this came with some arrogance which I enjoyed less. My get-wet-enjoy-cooling-off strategy fell completely apart as I climbed up into hills and the rain continued. Soon I was soaked through, as well as freezing cold. We must have been over 2000m as the bike began to struggle. I couldn't feel my fingers and eventually had to stop, put on a dry sweatshirt over my soaked t-shirt and then waterproofs over the spongy leather jacket to keep out the wind. Some spare dry gloves were very welcome too. The hotel in San José cost a small fortune too, but I was glad of the warm and dry. I hung all the wet stuff in the cupboard and set up the fan to blow them dry overnight.

My leather jacket was still soggy in the morning and more rain didn't really endear me much further to Costa Rica. Poor signposting kept me in the capital longer than I'd planned. Just after lunch I was stopped by more policemen. I was (not) speeding. There was a speed limit here because of so many accidents. No wonder, this law (breaking) "enforcement" officer had me sitting right in the middle of the road on a bend, with his car on the other side of the road. Everything else had to break really heavily and then crawl around our vehicles. Accidents were waiting to happen. $100 at the court in a few days, but if I could just find $40? No, I couldn't do that (I was raging) "how much you give?" Eventually he settled on $20 - again! He'd have arrested me again if he'd heard what I grumbled at him as I pulled away!

I was becoming quite keen to leave Costa Rica. (But see Ewen's far more informed comment below.) At the border with Nicaragua, it was just getting dark and I was surrounded by potential 'helpers'. Eventually a genuinely helpful one emerged in the form of ten year old Noél. He ran around in front of the bike showing me from office to office. He'd nearly tripped in the dark once too often when I pulled him up onto the back of the bike. He sat happily on top of the tent and I thought he might be coming with me for the rest of the trip as he beamed at his mates with so much glee. But he was very useful, sped up the process and also managed to lighten my mood significantly, so I was happy to part with his $5 consultancy fee, shake his hand, remind him to keep going to school and scoot off into the night.

I was immediately happier to be in Nicaragua. Suddenly, there was no arrogance, and people were obviously more welcoming. It always amazes me what an imaginary line on a map can do to people's moods. Have I mused on this before? Countries create laws which affect their people. Some countries make laws which affect their people in a way which makes them miserable, others in a way which makes them happy or contented. Nicaraguan law-makers appear to be doing better than Costa Rican ones for contentment, although there was clearly much more wealth in Costa Rica. Money does not appear to make people happy. Relaxing and taking things easy seems to have a far better chance of that.

It was too late to make it all the way to John Perry's, another chum put in my way by good friend Chris back home. So I stayed in a hostel just 60miles short of his place, and planned a leisurely next day, looking at the lake and generally bumbling along. John and his lovely wife Abi were excellent hosts. He wanted to speak English while teaching me about housing in the UK and life in Nicaragua, I wanted to learn from him and speak English too. Great for me to have a conversation about something for a change. John works from home (in this case Nicaragua!) by e-mail in the housing sector of the UK. He and Abi live happily in the Quinta Morcito, in a wee bit of the jungle just outside Mayasa (twin town Leicester, England). They've planted lots of trees on their bit of land and are currently helping their neighbours to do the same.

By some complicated familial circumstances, they also care for their grand-nephew. Paolo who is great fun, and not afraid of communicating in sign language, which was very good for me. The fact that I spoke so little of his language and he none of mine, was no barrier whatsoever for us, and he played with my camera, hat, helmet, and gloves for ages! John and Abi aren't on the electrical grid, using 22 solar panels instead, to power their home. These can't always be relied upon and so electricity must be very carefully consumed. As a result, the telly is rarely plugged in, although it was for the UEFA cup final between Liverpool and AC Milan as Abi is a keen Liverpool fan.

The day after I arrived I took Abi into town on the bike because she wanted a wee run. Unfortunately this helped to worsen the injury in her neck that had spelled the end of her own motorcycling career some years ago, and she couldn't come out to play anymore. So John said he'd come with me to visit the nearby volcano. This was very educational and I hope I have enough photos to take home and show P6 for when they study volcanoes at school.
This is a picture of Volcan Masaya from Google Earth, sent to me by John. We climbed to the rim of the crater on the right, the smoking one is to the left.

I hadn't planned to impose myself for too long, but the next day John was keen for me to walk to a friend's restaurant for breakfast, and I was happy to get some exercise. This was only about an hour and a half away but the heat and hills had me producing sweat in patterns I only thought you got in films. I was very pleased when we got to the place and had a delicious Gallo Pinto, the traditional breakfast of rice and kidney beans. Very filling and tasty but in that situation, for me, the cold water was best! By the time we'd eaten, the sun had risen to an oppressive angle and had heated almost all the way up. It wasn't so bad since I knew by some of the landmarks how far there was to go back, and right at the end, not five minutes from the house, we were surprised by an enormous cat about 25m in front of us. It just appeared and then ran a little up the path before disappearing back into the woods. John looked it up in his wild animals book when we got home and found it to be some kind of junior member of the jaguar family. He'd never seen one before either. It was the biggest cat I'd ever seen, about the size of a big golden retriever.

Later that day a friend of Abi's had volunteered to show me where I might change my oil. This hasn't been done since Nairobi, and while it has been constantly topped up, a full transfusion would only be good for it. After buying the oil we got to the place, only to find that the drain plug would not turn. It's an Allen bolt needing a 6mm key but somehow it had rounded. I vaguely remembered Christoph mentioning this. Never mind, I could get it sorted in the US. Then we were going to weld the headlamp bracket, and a broken weld on the pannier racks (Messrs Becker and Hepco, take note!).

The welders were super-confident so I disconnected the battery in preparation and they got started. Suddenly there was smoke coming from the top of the handlebars! Somehow, they had melted the front brake hose and fluid was spilling everywhere! They disconnected and looked sheepish for a bit while I tried to keep my temper. I had no front brake - with these roads and these drivers!! I was raging, but I held my tongue and concentrated on getting the battery reconnected and ready to go. What else was there to do? I could not look any of these guys in the eye - several had gathered round to see what was wrong with the funny-looking motorbike. With great caution I rode away, glad they hadn't asked me for payment, but disappointed I hadn't been offered any kind of an apology.

I've only used welders three times, and each time there's been a disaster. The first time was in Manchester, where I was dispatch riding, and he ruined a flywheel for this bike, whose rivets had come loose. He managed to weld it - after displaying supreme confidence - off-centre so that it was completely useless. I didn't realise this until I tried to fit it. When I took it back to complain he just shrugged his shoulders and went back to his own work. The next time was when I needed a floor panel welded on the ancient camper van at home. It's never worked since! This was the third, and last ever time.

I was fairly distraught, having no idea where to get the part I thought I needed. I reckoned it had melted the wee seal inside the master cylinder's piston. Abi came to the rescue. She's a real pillar of the community in Masaya. Recently, across the road, an army Colonel has bought some land and is building a wee farmhouse. Abi has advised him on which trees to plant and "negotiated" with him about the fair distribution of water within the local community (ie that he shouldn't pinch all of it). After a shaky start to his arrival, they now get on very well.

The Colonel has a small battalion of soldiers helping him out, one of whom is, by chance, a mechanic, named Lester. He came over next morning carrying a worrying selection of adjustable spanners tied up in a rag. My bike hasn't seen these before as they can do very nasty things to nuts and bolts. I was glad I already had everything dismantled. We investigated further and there was pressure in the cylinder's piston. Lester was convinced it had to be the seal on the hose, and after a think, this made sense to me too. We could get a new hose in Managua, the dangerous capital city, 40km up the road. We'd need to get a bus. Lester was happy to get time away from the farm, and being told what to do all day.

I've mentioned my fortunes with public transport before. This was a tiny mini bus, with more seats crammed in than the designers had ever planned for. We were squeezed onto a bench facing backwards, but we had some room. Until, of course, the conductor noticed it, then he crammed somebody else in! I was cramped and in some amount of pain by the time Lester said we were to get off.

He wore his army uniform, explaining to me that although Managua really was very dangerous, nobody would bother us because they respected the uniform. And anyway, the Army had trained him in self defence. He marched around confidently and I did my best to keep up in the crushing heat. When we found the place they said it would take about an hour to fix. Lester and I retreated from the sun into a wee bar for some cool drinks. He'd no English but I understood that he was 28, had four children, the oldest of whom was 8 and he'd been very happily married for ten years to his 24 year old wife.

We picked up the mended hose, and bought some brake fluid. One more thing was when Lester asked something about a "disarmada estrella". I was baffled - "estrella" is "star" in Portuguese, but I couldn't think why we'd want to disarm one. Lester marched off and we walked for some time through some of the most colourful market stalls I'd ever seen, me having no idea where we were going. Eventually we came to a tool shop where Lester asked the old man there some questions. The old man went to dig around in the back and eventually returned, proudly holding a brand new Philips screwdriver. "Have you got one of these?" asked Lester. "Yes," I said. "Right," and then gave the screwdriver back to the dumbfounded and now highly disappointed old man, turned and marched off again! Of course, we'd need what's also known as a "star screwdriver" for removing the top of the brake cylinder's reservoir.

Off we went back to the bus. Lester giggled at me as he took the comfy-looking back seat while my right knee became the fourth pillar for the enormous TV the other three people sitting around me had bought. Knees were interlocked like a human zip in a much less than comfortable way. I stretched and bent myself back into shape when we got off in Masaya.

The pipe reconnected, the bike was as good as new! A shame, because the steel braided hose this rubber one replaced had made the bike better than new! Never mind - the brakes worked and I was well pleased that I could be back on my way the following day.

The road towards the Honduran border was well paved, and I made good progress as the road climbed again and I cooled off. Being at John and Abi's had been extremely pleasant, and the surrounding countryside was amazingly attractive, but the heat was incredible and I don't think I could have lived there for any real length of time!

At the border itself there were four Land Rovers with Spanish number plates travelling round the world. There were two people to each vehicle and, since they were obviously more wealthy than me, I got a fairly clear run through customs and immigration, the 'parasites' paying much more attention to them. However, it still cost a small fortune just to get into Honduras - and the same price for a bike as a car!

More thick pine forests reminded me of Europe again and the well paved road wound through incredible hills towards the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa (Teh-goosey-galpa), a worthy challenger to Ouagadougou for the best named capital city! The sun was just setting as I entered the city. A basic sort of hotel said I could bring the bike through the bar and into the back room. After checking in I returned to my room to find a small, very drunk bloke going through the pockets of my bike jacket! At first I thought he might be working there and doing something perfectly legitimate, but as soon as I realised he had my camera, I had to grab him and shoogle him about a wee bit so's he could become willing to return my stuff (pen-knife, wee shiny stone a friend gave me for luck [thanks Ulrike!], lip-salve). The receptionist also came and we made him wait while I went through my pockets (didn't want to go through his, he smelled pretty bad!) to see if anything else was missing. All having been accounted for, he was asked to leave the premises.

But the room wasn't much better and as I got into bed I noticed the presence of more cockroaches then were going to spell a decent night's sleep. I kept all my clothes on and dozed fitfully.

Heading towards Guatamala in the morning I was thinking how each of the breakdowns so far, had nothing to do with me except that I hadn't checked things afterwards. The first back in Egypt was probably caused by the tyre changers in Italy tightening the spindle too tightly (I should've checked), the second was by that guy crashing into me in Nairobi (look back!), the third, in Chile, was probably just that loose wire, compounded by the diode board getting 'somehow' broken. The fourth one was probably caused by fatigue in the component after so many miles (hasn't been touched in 160,000miles) and was the kind of breakdown I expected. And the last was some numpty welder! All was well now though, and off we were going to Guatamala, the last of the smaller Central American countries and the last before Mexico. Then, just as I was quietly rolling over some cobbles in the town of La Esperanza, the motor stopped. It took a long time to re-start, but off we went again. Round the next corner, it stopped dead. Would not start.

At least I was in a town. This meant things might be available to me. I took out the spark plug - no spark. Oh dear, here we go again . . . A small crowd gathered to watch the daft Gringo. It always does! Most just stare, but eventually one volunteered to go and get the mechanic. I'm pretty nervous of mechanics around here. Most say they can mend things before going on to break something even more expensive. It was beginning to get late though, when the mechanic appeared on his bicycle. I at least needed somewhere to keep the bike safe for the night, and his workshop was an easy push downhill. The battery in my 'magic box' had gone as well and I needed to use his. Oscar was very quiet and quickly admitted to knowing about as much about electrics as me. An honest man! But with only my electrical wit to rely on, this wasn't going to be easy. I changed all the components for those brand new ones I'd sent for from the UK. Still nothing.

I spent the Monday on the net, trying to get further information from people who might know more than me. That was about everyone! On the Tuesday Oak, an electrical genius from Illinois who had contacted me to help the last time, came up with a few ideas that might demonstrate what the problem was. I became confident that things could go well. Oscar wasn't in that day and it poured with rain, so I spent my time wandering around the town and then listening to the radio on the internet to avoid the pelting rain. Very relaxing. On the Wednesday I pulled the bike apart and tried the tests Oak had suggested. They didn't mend the problem but they showed me where it wasn't. I began taking connectors apart, smearing vaseline into them to protect against verdigris and moisture. This amused Oscar, who had stayed to help in his excellent wee workshop. He said that in Honduras they only used vaseline for babies. I tried to explain about the salt on Scottish roads but whatever I was blethering made no sense to either of us! As I took one connection apart, water poured out of it. Curious. I'd been out of the rain for a few days and the bike had been under cover the night before it broke down. More out of curiosity than anything, after cleaning it and applying the vaseline, I tried the motor - "brrrrmmm!!" it went. Cured - another loose connection then. Just finding the right one takes some time!

Not only did Oscar refuse any payment for his help, or even for keeping the bike so safely, he made me a gift of handy wee air pump. What a man!

With the bike running, I slithered up a dirt (mud and goo) road. At times I was down to 5mph, trying not to fall off. I made it to an hotel but hadn't covered too much ground. However, I was in a great position to get to the border in the morning. As I went down to breakfast, there was another Gringo on the couch in the hotel foyer to whom I nodded civilly. "You must be Mick," he said, in a thick Australian accent. By complete chance, a lad with a broken KTM that Will and James had met working in a hostel a few weeks previously, had got it fixed and somehow turned up in the same hotel as me! Will and James had put us in touch so Glen and I had been e-mailing for a while in case we happened to be in the same area at the same time. We were both heading north. Hurrah, a playpal!

Glen and I exchanged stories of Central America as we crossed through the border. He had mainly enjoyed his time there, getting used to the Latin culture and how things worked. I wished I'd had more time. He had been in Panama for a while before buying the KTM there and heading north. It had broken down (see? Not just me!) in Nicaragua and he'd had to wait some time on parts arriving and being fitted. It wasn't the bike he might have chosen but he hoped to sell it in Canada, where he was going to meet his mum, and get something better.

Guatamala was very pretty, although Guatamala City itself was difficult to negotiate in the rain. An off duty policeman kindly went a great deal out of his way to show us the road through town and down to the coast on his wee bike. Eventually, we managed to get into a position where crossing into Mexico in the morning would be easy. Or so we thought . . .

15 May, 2007

Prats of the Caribbean

With the bike strapped safely to the deck next to the mast, we sailed off on the 'Melody' into the bay of Cartagena and then out into the blue, blue Caribbean Sea. I was keen to help out as I enjoy sailing. Captain Marcos tried to quell my excitement by reminding me he was on a schedule, the wind was against us, and letting me know that we'd probably need to use the motor most of the way. I tried to remain optimistic.

Ours was a mixed crew. Apart from Captain Marcos and his First Mate (and wife), Paola, there was Werner, a German-American who was cycling home from Japan after working there for seven years, Judd, a down-to-earth American 'surfer dude' who was going home to study for his Masters in Environmental Education, Frankie and Neale, two London-Irish brothers travelling the Americas with their childhood pal Ginge, Vicky, an English lady travelling alone after becoming tired of working with the British government, Matt, a Kiwi and also surfer, and me. I was the only one who had done much in the way of sailing. All others had been out on boats before and were excellent swimmers.

We were all looking forward to arriving at the San Blas Islands, where Capt. Marcos promised we could spend some time snorkelling off the nearby reef. Without the bike or organising any other travel to worry about, this would be my first real break since Christmas, and I was looking forward to kicking back and chilling out.

During the 36hour crossing to the San Blas we were encouraged to help ourselves to food and help out on the boat if we wanted to. Captain Marcos went through some safety procedures and what to do if . . . The land disappeared over the horizon behind us as we went farther out to sea. Soon, there was nothing around us in any direction. The new shipmates introduced themselves to one another and we all got along well. Everyone was out travelling for so many different reasons, and we all had a fairly good understanding of one another. Apart from the three lads travelling together, we were all lone travellers. And even those three had split up and got back together over their time in South America.

As the sun dropped into the sea ahead of us, I took over the steering into the darkness. We had to follow the little lines on the compass in front of the wheel on a bearing of 270 - West. We kept a good lookout for other lights around but we saw only a very few other ships. Some slept through the night in the cabin below. Others sat around the rear cockpit of the yacht, helping to keep watch and chatting to keep each other awake. Sleeping was a bit of a challenge because of the bouncing, rolling movement of the boat.

We reached the San Blas in the darkness of the following evening, Capt Marcos using GPS to get us through the dangerous reefs to our anchorage. After a good night's sleep on the securely anchored Melody, we separated into two groups and while one team went to sunbathe on a nearby island, the other went snorkelling. The water was like a tepid bath, constantly at 28degC. This is the same stuff that eventually flows all the way across the Atlantic as the Gulf Stream, to warm us up in Ireland, the UK and even Norway. The fish were amazing. Sharks, huge rays and various other multicoloured fish were everywhere. We were to lie still and be like logs, then the fish ignored us and swam around happily. El Capitano swam off with his flippers across the reef and we began to follow. We hadn't any flippers so the strong current halted us, and then I remembered my swimming limitations and turned back. The current pushed me back at some speed and I made like a log. While the others struggled through. Nurse and lemon sharks (too wee to be any bother) were swimming around. It was like being in the best bath - more like a huge aquarium. Another highlight of the trip. If only the Firth of Forth was so clear and clean. The view from my sunbathing spot!

The San Blas Islands are an autonomous region of Panama, which means they more or less rule themselves. 365 mostly deserted islands run by the indigenous people, the Kanu. Little sandy stereotypical desert islands with just the one or two coconut palm trees, and some a bit bigger. Lots of tiny airports and sailing all over the place. People who had sailed the Atlantic from Europe were relaxing here, and some Americans who had sailed down were enjoying their retirement. The Kanu came and went on their motorised dug-out canoes, selling fruits and vegetables among the boats and collecting fish and coconuts from the sea and the tiny islands. Idyllic? Well, too few windy roads for me, but something pretty close. A small (41ft), ocean-going yacht for sale was a real tempter. Anyone interested?

Next day was spent more or less lazing in the heat, with occasional splashes into the refreshing depths. Keeping out of the sun and finding some shade was a priority. Paola made some delicious food for both lunch and dinner. We were totally spoiled with her culinary skills. We were tied up to an old anchored shrimping trawler - just like Forrest Gump's. This was much bigger than Melody and we could spread out more and relax (Matt, Frank, Neal, Viki). A dvd player was put to good use and cards were very popular.

My sunglasses and Matty's iPod bag had been left on the island from the previous day and it was widely thought that they'd be long gone by now. There had been four boats to the island by the time I went, they'd be half way to Colón! However, it was still worth a try and so I went over in the little tender dinghy to see if I could negotiate their return. I landed, tied up the boat and had a wee look around while the Kanu on the island gathered their coconuts - of course, they had a lovely bunch in the end! I couldn't see our stuff anywhere so went to ask the men in my Spanuguese (now confusing and annoying me!) and sign language. Immediately they went into their hut and produced both the bag and the sunglasses!! I was delighted and made sure I bought some coconuts to take back to the boat. So much for the cynicism of the local ex-pats!

Who'd have thought, Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller on the same boat! (Frankie and Judd)

On the Sunday we untied Melody and went to the local island where we had a quick look round and then sought out shelter from the pouring tropical rain. All were pleased to find the final game of the English football season being coincidentally broadcast live on the telly.

On the Monday, the customs and immigration office on the tiny island of Porvenir was open for business. While Capt Mark went to organise all our passports for us, we dived off the back of the boat and swam onto the island, where we tried diving off the pier. My efforts were laughable but the others were quite acrobatic. We had little else to do as we sailed towards Portobelo on the mainland. We followed the coast west and at one point some dolphins decided to swim alongside the boat, rubbing themselves on the bow.

We arrived in the bay of Portobelo just as it was getting dark. Once we had been ferried to shore on the little dinghy, we quickly found the hostel in town and filled it up. They only had four rooms and the eight of us were lucky none were taken. It was a bit weird wandering around and feeling dizzy, trying to get our land-legs back after so long at sea.

First thing in the morning Werner and I went back to the Melody to unload his bicycle and my bike. We had missed the barge so my bike stayed where it was, we planned to get it off later in the day. I said a hurried goodbye to my shipmates, hoping to meet up again further north, and jumped on a bus to Colón. With any luck, my parts would be at the Panama Canal Yacht Club, and I could be on my way.

The bus journey was very uncomfortable, these are US school buses. Those big yellow ones you see on the films, designed in a certain way for safety but only meant to accommodate children. Average European adults like me have longer legs so Capt. Marcos and I were a bit squished. The locals were fine, as they seem to be built, on average, a bit smaller. Of course, there were no parts, but there was a note from DHL saying they were nearby, and I only had to leave a few dollars and they would be delivered.

I collected them the next day, fitted them and was dismayed to find the bike still wouldn't start. There was a spark, there was fuel. Eventually I took the carbs apart to find them full of grit and mess. A kindly marine mechanic helpfully blew them out using his air compressor. I refitted them and the bike burst into life. Throughout all of this I had received invaluable help from Turner, an itinerant American living on a small yacht in the bay.

I had found a friendly bar to sit in - the Drake - owned and run by Fijian/Indian Keshni, her Quebecois husband and their family. Saturday night would be curry night but I had to go that morning. On hearing this, Keshni very kindly offered to make myself and Turner a curry on the Friday night. It was fantastically delicious!

I also managed to meet most of the new crew that was going to Cartagena and give them some information on what to expect. One (quiet!) Australian couple, Luke and Carmen, e-mailed later to say they had enjoyed the trip.

03 May, 2007

Mountains-Jungle-Caribbean Coast.

I had a day in Bogota to myself, looking round a couple of interesting museums. Botelo's Collection was interesting, if a wee bit higgledy-piggledy and difficult to work out. Botelo's interpretation of the Mona Lisa (note Colombian background), and his Cat.The audio 'auto-guides' hadn't been charged up so I was left much to my own devices, which was fine. I had found a top café where they sold cereal with yoghurt and fruit. Healthy and tasty - kept me full through most of the day. It was a bit funny not to be eating as often as I had with the others.

Leaving Bogota on a Sunday turned out to be a good idea. Finding the correct road was far less hassle than I'd thought it might be. Keeping the sun to one side and following the most likely road was just the thing. There's very little traffic away from the major cities. Being alone made a big difference. Three bikes together can create something of a presence on the road with their three lights. A bike alone can easily be ignored, and no oncoming truck is going to give up its opportunity for overtaking a slower moving lorry for just the one bike. Throughout the day I became strangely more used to this. Still, quite alarming when trying to have a bit of fun on a windy road and coming quickly round a corner.

As I lowered in altitude, the temperature rose. The land towards Cartagena became flat and much more jungle-like. The road didn't seem to be in any danger of being taken back into it - as in Brazil - there was too much traffic, but the trees often overhung lowly as trucks spent most of their time in the outside lane, whenever there was one. Soldiers were everywhere again, and I was stopped four times and asked for documents. This was never a problem as the soldiers were always in a good enough mood.
The bike coughed at one point and lost all power. Hmmm!? I was toddling along a flat road when suddenly, for no apparent reason, the engine just died then quickly re-ignited. The rev counter went right to zero, but no lights came on on the console. Must be electrical. I stopped at a petrol station and had a wee look through the BMW manual. There was nothing describing this in the 'troubleshooting' section. I had a look around the electrics for loose wires, found none. Put it all back together and away we went.

But then, in town 40miles/60km later, just as I was getting to where I wanted to go, it spluttered again, but it got me to the hostel and I promised it some oil in the morning. (It was very low!)

It took 1litre(!) of GTX in the morning and off we went again, happy as . . . 20miles from the next destination (90miles/140km later) it started again. Another look around the electrics was fruitless and so I checked connections were tight and decided to go over them all with some WD40 and some vaseline as soon as I can get them, shade and some peace.

But then the whole thing worsened majorly just as I entered Cartagena. It wouldn't pull away and wouldn't rev above 2500rpm. It was cutting out and then quickly re-firing - like kangaroo petrol. Then there was some backfiring and some sharp, unpleasant cracks from the top ends, but it was still running! No good for riding fully loaded into a city so I left it in a car wash with Fernando and his pals, got a taxi and hoped it would still be there in the morning!

Getting to Cartagena on the public holiday of May Day was also a good idea. Light traffic meant I could cough and splutter further in to the city than I otherwise might have. Cartagena was well into party mode. Their idea of a party appeared to be the gathering up of piles of rubbish at various places along the street, covering them in water and then letting the unbelievable heat contribute to making a stench that made me gag. This is supposed to be a pretty, tourist city but this was no sort of a welcome. None of the native inhabitants seemed to notice, so maybe it's their way of keeping intruders to a minimum.

I settled into a comfy but cheap hotel and returned to the bike each day after negotiating new electronic tests with helpful people on-line. Cartagena was a very attractive city but the heat was intense. I could only manage to walk for a little bit before dodging into some cooler place. Fernando and chums seemed to appreciate my bringing cold drinks for all each day. They put the bike under a cover but I still leaked all over it even though I was in the shade. The problem was eventually traced and parts ordered, just in time for leaving on the boat.

A huge pick up truck took the bike to the quayside and Captain Mark and I strapped it onto the deck. The parts would arrive c/o Yacht in Transit, Panama Canal Yacht Club. Meantime - life on the ocean wave . . .