Thursday, October 30, 2014

Crossing The Darien Gap… New Ferry Service

UPDATE:  It appears that this ferry service has been suspended.


Crossing the Darien Gap just got a little easier with the operation of a much anticipated luxury ferry service called Ferry Xpress. The service runs from Colon and Bocas del Toro, Panama to/from Cartegena, Colombia.

Fees as of Nov 1, 2014 can be as low as US$99 per person for a seat (US$155 for a cabin) and US$180 per motorcycle.
This represents a substantial savings over air cargo flights with Girag Cargo which range from US$450 for passengers and US$900 for motorcycles.
Or with sailboat charters which range from US$450 for passengers and US$550 for motorcycles.

This new ferry service will certainly be a welcome form of transportation to cross the Darien Gap for budget minded adventure motorcyclists and travelers, but it will certainly take a little of the "adventure" out of the experience. Read about my experience crossing the Darien Gap at The Adventure Begins

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On Any Sunday… The Next Chapter

On Any Sunday!!!
Can The Next Chapter be any better than the original On Any Sunday? I'm looking forward to checking it out.
Check out the original on YouTube.

Monday, October 20, 2014

From Dalat to Ho Chi Minh City… All Good Things Must Come To an End

I was sad to leave Dalat. I had a great time hanging out with my new friends and seeing the highland countryside. However, I needed to press on toward Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, formally Saigon) because I was planning to meet another friend who was traveling from the US to meet me in the city.
According to google maps the ride to HCMC would be about 6 hours. I knew from experience that it would probably be longer.
So I departed Dalat in the rain. There was light rain… medium rain… heavy rain… let's just say that there was lots of rain. Luckily there were plenty of opportunities to pull over to the side of the road to rest. In Vietnam there are often these places to rest along the side of the road designed for drivers or riders that are called cà phê võng. At a typical cà phê võng there would usually be a little store with basic items such as snacks, drinks and noodles. The best part about these establishments are that they have hammocks spread beneath a canopy for short rest breaks. I think that they are designed to provide shade from the mid day sun, but in my case... the rain. I stopped at a number of these cà phê võng establishments along the way to HCMC. I attempted to wait out the rain, but it continued to rain all day. I think that it was the most rain that I encountered during the entirety of my trip.
I eventually arrived into HCMC. I believe that the journey took me nine hours. I reached the outskirts of the city within six hours, but then battled through the traffic and maze of streets within the city for an additional three hours. The ride was a blur. I was anxious to arrive in HCMC, but I was also reflecting on my journey and everything that I had experienced over the past month… cties, villages, farmland, caves, mountains, beaches, highways, dirt roads, strangers and friends.
I eventually found my way to the city center and an area with budget hotels called Phạm Ngũ Lão street. I had a reservation at a hostel, but had a little trouble finding the hostel… because… well… it was not along the main street, but located down this alley. I eventually found my hostel and settled in. This photo was taken during the day, but can you imagine trying to find this alley at night in the dark?
HCMC is a big sprawling city. The city is broken down into 19 inner districts and an additional 5 suburban districts. There are about 8 million people living in the city… and it often appears that all 8 million of them all traveling around on scooters. 
Arriving into HCMC would signify the end of the road... or at least the end of this little motorcycle adventure. My original plan was to travel Vietnam for about a month from north to south, Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, and see all that I could see in between. It turns out that I traveled further north, east, west and south than I originally planned. I visited more beautiful places, saw more interesting sights and met more friendly people than I could have ever imagined… mission accomplished.

Although there was one thing that I stilled needed to do.
I cleaned my motorcycle.
Changed the oil.
Gathered my documents together
And sold my motorcycle. The little Sym motorcycle that I bought in Hanoi, was sold in Ho Chi Minh City. 

I able to sell it for about US$100 less than I paid for it. Best $100 that I've spent in a long time. My helmet and boots… I donated to a local charity that helps underprivileged children. 
While this short motorcycle adventure came to an end in Ho Chi Minh City an adventure of a different sort would begin. My friend Bee traveled from the US to meet me in HCMC. We would begin traveling around South East Asia by any means possible.

Go back to the beginning.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Dalat… Rain, Shelter, Lakes, Farms and Friends

After two full days of riding, I arrived to the city of Dalat. I believe that it rained almost the entire journey.
By the time that I arrived in Dalat all that I really wanted to do was to find a dry place to rest and find something warm to eat. Luckily I found this little restaurant. You can tell from the photo that even my camera/phone was cold and wet.
I ordered this little bit of happiness… Vietnamese style chicken noodle soup for the soul… phở ga. While traveling, I tend to find great enjoyment in the little pleasures in life… like a good meal. After I finished my soup, I sat in the restaurant for a loooong time…. just resting… just watching the rain fall.
I waited and waited for the rain to stop… but it did not. I gradually accepted that it would rain all day and that I would remain wet most of the day. I contacted a friend of mine that lives in Dalat name Hoang Anh. I first me Anh when I was visiting the town of Hue. My other friend Phuong introduced me to him at the New Space Art Foundation. After a short conversation, Anh said that he would come and meet me at the restaurant. He met me at the restaurant, then he took me to his house, then he provided me a warm shower and allowed me to rest for a while. But I did not get to rest for long, because his mother prepared a huge home cooked meal for all of us… such generosity. 
I was feeling much better after the meal. Anh said that he would like to show me around Dalat. We went to a cafe and met some of this friends. Then we went for a motorcycle ride around the outskirts of the city. There were some beautiful roads in and around Dalat. But… then it started to rain… and rain… and rain. 
At one point it was raining so hard that we pulled off the road and found shelter under a little shack. We probably waited 30 minutes for the rain to stop, but it did not. We amused ourselves by taking goofy selfies… Ta Balo, Me, Ngo Ngoc and Hoang Anh.
There was a break in the rain so we had the chance to ride down close to the lake. The trail to the lake was wet and muddy. First, Ngoc fell over on her motorcycle. Then Anh and I feel over on our motorcycle. We decided to park the motos and walk the rest of the way. It was worth the effort because the view around the lake was quite picturesque. However, it was even more of a challenge pushing the motorcycles up the hill back to the road. 
Later that evening, we all met up again for dinner and were joined by some other friends at the house of Rong Reu. My contribution to the dinner was guacamole salad. You may notice that there are quite a few images hanging on the walls. Rong Reu is an award winning photographer and had some beautiful images of Vietnam. 
Actually, my friend Anh is a talented artist that produces large scale installations and paintings. 
The next day Hoang Anh, Rong Reu and I went for another ride around the countryside.
This part of countryside with all the tall pine trees reminded me of East Texas.
I believe the area that we visited was called Ho Tuyen Lam. 
We stopped by a farm that belonged to a family that was friends with Anh. 
They grew a number of crops… coffee being one of the principle crops.
They also grew oranges...
Oolong tea...
Bell peppers...
Lots of big bell peppers...
I think that even Anh was impressed with the size of this bell pepper.
The farm also grew flowers for export.
We had the opportunity to meat some of the farm workers and see how they seeded, planted and grew the crops.
After checking out the farm, the family picked some fresh vegetables and prepared them alongside some chicken and fish for us for lunch.
After lunch, we hit the road again and rode around the lake. Luckily the weather was nice and to my surprise there was no rain.
This lake was one of the few lakes that I have ever seen that had not been overdeveloped around the lakeshore. We were able to ride around almost the entire lake and we had an unobstructed view of nature.
I really enjoyed seeing the agrarian land and lifestyle around Dalat. Maybe it was the soil, the rain, the altitude or just the overall climate of the region that made the land rich. However, what really enriched my visit to the area was the kindness and generosity of the people of Dalat. Thanks Y'all!

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