story and photography by Werner Wachter, founder/owner of Edelweiss Bike Travel[Discover Our Earth Expedition is an around-the-world organized motorcycle tour, the first ever of its kind. It began at Edelweiss Bike Travel‘s headquarters in Austria in November 2010, and will conclude there later this year.]
Well, we have progressed and just completed the route from Peru in South America all the way north to Mexico and California. We have been en route for four months and there are countless roads, sights and activities that we’re privileged to have experienced.
The North of South America
Here the Incas definitely left their traces. This can be observed particularly in Bogota, the capital of Colombia and home to eight million people. A real experience is the gold museum in the city center. You not only observe jewelry and statues made out of this precious metal, but also the entire technology the Incas were using over 2,000 years ago. Of course, one thinks it may not have been the best thing to nearly destroy this culture completely. Thankfully the Colombians are very proud of their historic roots from the Inca Empire and have preserved it and share it with tourists like us. If you ride your motorcycle from Colombia to Panama, the jungle imposes a barrier that cannot be surpassed. Through the 100-mile stretch of Panama known as the Darien Gap there is no road that can be negotiated by a motorcycle. Some motorcycle adventurers tried it, and nearly all have failed.
With the Motorcycle from Bogota to Panama City
Traveling by sea takes about three weeks. Traveling by airplane is quicker: 5-7 days, if all goes well. Our group has 14 motorcycles to transport. There are many forms to be filled out. It took two days in Bogota and three days in Panama before the motorcycles could legally hit the road again. There was enough time to test our patience and to read the Lonely Planet Central America in its entirety while dealing with border control and customs officials in Colombia and Panama. Time has a different meaning in South and Central America; it seems to pass more slowly than elsewhere. We sat under an almond tree for six hours and waited as the computer in the Panama Airport customs office crashed and was rebooted again and again. We watched the traffic go by, we thought about the almonds that had fallen on the ground and that removing a single nut from its tough shell takes about five minutes. After that the almond tastes a lot better.
Visiting the SOS Children’s Village
The next day all of us rode to the SOS Children’s Village, located high above Panama City. This was a joyous experience for the kids and for us. First, the kids approached very slowly, reluctantly leaving their houses. Their mothers were very skeptical when they saw and heard 14 motorcycles roar into the village. Soon, enthusiasm replaced hesitation and one of us lifted a small boy onto the tank of a motorcycle and rode him around the village. After that there was no holding back. Some of the kids got in line five times to take rides with us. The joy on the kids’ faces was a great experience for us. Our donation was a great help for the village and the mothers smiled with appreciation. The village has been in operation for 25 years and needs new beds and other furniture, and our donation will help.
The Panama Canal and the Oceans It Connects
On our last day in Panama City we visited the famous canal and were duly impressed. The giant ships that pass here are built precisely for the width of the waterway, with only about three feet between the ship and the sides of the canal. Some of us traveled north to see the Caribbean Sea, where we discovered an empty paradise: palm trees, beautiful sandy beach and waves that invited body surfing. Afterwards some of us rode 100 miles south to swim in the Pacific Ocean. To swim in the sea and the ocean with a 100-mile motorcycle ride in between—who has ever done that? We felt like Columbus and Magellan at the same time.
8 Countries from Panama to Mexico
All of these countries have very interesting histories. Though we share a common bond of humanity, folks are very proud of their home country and of their unique culture. Some neighboring countries are not the best friends, to say the least. As we rode through these countries and we saw lots of police and military. Many people are poor, but they are proud; women and children often wear brightly colored traditional clothing. And everyone seemed to laugh much more than people laugh back home. Music is a very important part of life in Central America. We heard music in nearly every village we rode through, and the louder the music, the more couples would dance spontaneously on the side of the road. We thought, “Why is that not happening at home?” In Costa Rica we rode through wonderful hilly scenery. The country is very fertile and nobody has to be hungry here. Vegetables, fruits and other plants grow all along the road. When the asphalt ended and a gravel road with deep holes continued into the distance, we carefully negotiated the last 10 miles to the hotel, where we were rewarded with a thermal bath, big swimming pools, an elegant restaurant and luxurious rooms.
The Mayans Have Been Here
In Honduras we experienced another great surprise: the Mayan ruins in Copan. There are excavations of Mayan ruins at various places along our route to Los Angeles, but the most impressive one is in Copan. Our guide told us about the Olmecs and the Mayans, about kings with names like Moon, Smoke Jaguar and the Great Sun Master. We spent three fascinating hours in Copan and learned much about the highly developed Mayan culture that reaches back 3,000 years. It was fascinating to learn about architecture, the structure of society, tools and modes of transportation, even human sacrifices, all without the use of wagons, horses or cattle. We fully appreciated living in the modern age and being able to travel effortlessly by motorcycle over long distances.
Another 3,000 Miles to Los Angeles
There are many traffic rules in South and Central America. Maximum speeds are fairly low, lanes are marked by white and yellow lines and laws exist, but nobody adheres to them. But somehow it works. We’ve learned to expect the unexpected. We pass carefully but quickly and deliberately. We yield to old men passing on the highway without looking. Concentration is the key, an absolute must at all times. Our team has done great so far. Nobody has hit another car, truck or bus, and we are working very hard to keep it that way. We have ridden about 20,000 miles and there is another 20,000 miles to go before returning to Austria in July.
The Road Ahead
From Los Angeles we are taking the plane again to Sydney, and from there we will discover the fifth continent. We’ll start in the east, continue south, cross the continent heading north and finally ride along the Indian Ocean, which we hope to swim in.