All posts by Julien Soudy

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Van Travel vs Motorcycle Travel

Taking a step back from writing about what we’re up to right now (at the time of writing, in Cali Colombia) in this post I’m going to answer some questions about the different ways to travel around overland. For many a motorcycle trip is a big step and seems dangerous, I would say the majority of people moving from A to B do so in a van and many have asked me how that compares to riding a bike.

Luckily as some may know I have been fortunate to have completed a series of trips around Australia in 2009 and 2010 in a van and a station wagon. In this post I’ll aim to discuss the pros and cons of each.

First, about the van. I traveled in a 1995 Mitsubishi Express (I know, sexy) from Melbourne to Perth then north from Perth to Broome and finally to Darwin. This took place nearly a year after I had completed my first trip from Melbourne to Port Augusta, through the middle via Uluru to Darwin and then back to Melbourne on the East Coast. Both trips I was not solo, traveling at the time with my then-girlfriend Segolene and (on the first trip) a friend of hers as well, Audrey.

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Looking wistfully over the Nullabor probably sometime in 2010.

We had bought the van in Melbourne for $1,800. An old plumbers van which we had “converted” into a camper van. This basically consisted of getting a mattress, putting up some blinds, and buying a gas stove and plates. The “refurbishing” process took less than a day and cost basically nothing.

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The inside of our van, with fully functioning mattress, sheets and even a curtain. 

It should come as no surprise that obviously when compared to a motorcycle, a van is leaps and bounds more comfortable to travel in. If you look at the picture above you can see a jerry can of fuel, something very useful when crossing the Australian desert. We also could carry days worth of food, water, and anything else you could possibly imagine.

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Taking selfies before it was a thing…too hip for 2015.

Obviously, our motorcycles simply can’t do this. I once saw a man in Thailand driving a scooter while carrying a mattress, but for us the effort required is simply too much. At the moment, we carry the bare essentials just whatever we can fit in our practical yet (when compared to a van) desperately undersized pannier boxes.

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We don’t even have the space for a sleeping mat, the ground is just fine for livedeleven.com

With a van, as you would guess from our mattress you can sleep inside your mode of transport which not only saves you time in looking for a campsite but also a significant amount of money as well. You don’t really need to carry a tent if you have the right set up, simply pulling into a somewhat safe-looking spot and crawling to the back to sleep is all you really need.

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Seeing this sign on a motorcycle would make us seriously consider our route, with a van this is no problem.

Of course, at least in Australia this isn’t exactly always legal and you can risk getting fines by parking officers. However if you are smart like we were and register the van in the name of a hostel you can just take these and throw them in the glove compartment, never to be paid.

Continuing on from the practicality of of a van in terms of what you can carry and how you can live, there is also the underrated pleasure of being inside, being able to listen to music, sit back in your chair, talk to someone, smoke cigarettes, and pretty much just chill and watch the world go by. This is not always necessarily a good thing however, something I’ll expand on later.

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On the WA-NT border.

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At Litchfield National Park

People often ask Thomas and I about how cost-effective it is to travel on a motorcycle. For anyone wondering, it isn’t. It isn’t for quite a few ways, but in keeping to the topic of this post I’ll compare it to a van.

Yes it is true that a van consumes quite a lot more petrol than a motorcycle. This can be generally offset by the fact that generally speaking when you travel in a van you are with at least two people and in many cases four or more (in this case you do need a tent). You can split the cost of filling up the tank, as well as carry excess fuel. This means you have more freedom to pick and choose where you fill up, saving money by filling up in cities where it is usually cheaper than remote areas.

You do use less fuel with a motorcycle, but you pay your own way. This cost splitting can be applied to other things, such as repairs as well as the purchase of the vehicle its self.

 

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Two young kids, just days after purchasing our babies back in September.

When we purchased the van for $1,800 ($900 a piece) we ended up selling it for $3,500 in Darwin, the reason being we sold it as a “camper van” because it had a mattress.

It is hard to discount safety as well when considering whether to travel via van or motorcycle. Crashing your van at 60kms an hour will hurt, but the same crash on a motorcycle can be life threatening.

So to summarize, a van:

  • Is more comfortable (out of weather, music, talking, etc)
  • Is more economical (splitting costs, carrying more food water)
  • Is more practical (It also is your house!)
  • Has higher resale value (selling it as a house/mode of transportation)

But given all this, it might come as no surprise to some that if given the choice, I will always choose my motorcycle over the van for long trips. My reasoning is best summarized from a quote from “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”

“You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness.”

For me (and I feel this is the same for Thomas as well) this quote resonates exactly how we both feel about motorcycle travel. It is a romantic view of not just getting from point A to B, but literally feeling the entire journey. You get tired, you can get hurt, you get wet, hot and cold but at the end of the day you’ve felt every centimeter of a country when driving through.

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Parking by the road at the Redwoods, on a motorcycle you can feel the humidity change when arriving. 

Yes in the traditional sense of the word, a van is more comfortable however it can also take you out of the essence of what it means to complete a big overland trip. I will always remember being under torrential rain in Seattle and Tabasco, Mexico; The freezing air going to the Grand Canyon cutting into me like a knife, and the scorching temperatures in Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama.

Another understated advantage of a motorcycle is both the sense of community among other motorcycle riders as well as the awe and interest of locals who are more than happy to help with anything you might need.

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Shane, a Harley enthusiast, let us stay at his home in Belize, and rode with us for a moment on the Hummingbird Highway.

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Our homeboy Al.

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Teo, Rob, Thomas and I…The Ferry Xpress biker crew.

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And let’s not forget the infamous “hoon squad”

Less people travel with motorcycles, and that’s exactly why I love it so much. There is no feeling like riding in to a town and having everyone stop and stare, children running after you and waving, large crowds forming where ever we go. You feel like a rock star. Locals will invite you to stay at their place for free, giving you a home cooked meal and real insight into their culture and way of life.

A van, you don’t need to worry about finding a place to stay but this in large part is the whole fun of travel.  Driving to a town that you have no idea what the name is, and ending up on some farm, sinking beers with a local.

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This family spotted our bikes, where we camped in an abandoned lot in Guatemala, they invited us in for breakfast (they didn’t have much but were happy to share what little cereal they had). 

I suppose it is a bit of a romantic view of motorcycle travel, but for those of us who have experienced it, it becomes a bit hard to put in to words. Hopefully the pictures will speak for themselves.

Traveling in a van is an immense amount of fun, something I’ll never forget and I would recommend to anyone. It is a logical, but not entirely necessary “first step” you can take if you’re wanting to start traveling overland. That is not to say that a motorcycle is by any means a “last step” or even the “second step”, it is what I am doing now and for the moment is the most amazing trip I’ve ever undertaken.

But hey, these guys riding unicycles around the world might have something to say about that.

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Maybe next year…

 

 

 

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The Great Journey Of Our Times…

When we last spoke, we were on our to way to Xela (Quetzaltenango) to learn Spanish. Well, we’ve decided not to write a blog post about that and concentrate on the bigger and possibly more interesting section of our trip: The epic drive from Guatemala to Cartagena, Colombia (where I am currently writing this post).

We were in Xela for two weeks, partied a bit and learned a lot of Spanish. See our pictures below for brief details.

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Taken at the central park in Xela, with children we met on the street, they tried on our sunglasses and are official friends of livedeleven.com

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This disgusting beard and hair has since been more or less taken care of

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Thomas and his Guatemalan family. We both stayed in separate families which spoke only Spanish, this was a huge help in improving our Spanish levels. 

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This was along with 5 hours of one-on-one lessons a day. Pictured here is myself and Francisco my, teacher.

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We were lucky enough to be here for Semana Santa, an Easter celebration which is celebrated all throughout Latin America. There are processions all day. Here about 60 men carry a huge float made of wood all over the city. 

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One of the coolest parts is the colored saw-dust paintings they make on the road. They work through the night and make these beautiful installations around the city. 

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The finished product.

Alllllrighty then

From here the great adventure would begin. We would end up crossing through El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama on our way to Colombia. After taking our time in Guatemala and Mexico we could get back to our roots and do some serious driving.

Our first stop on this great adventure would be El Tuco, El Salvador. After a relatively painless border crossing helped along with a man we hired to push us to the head of the line we arrived in El Salvador.

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Our GPS

The weather was uncomfortably hot but the roads were nice. Not as many pot holes as expected but you still had to be careful. Sometimes the lines on the road would randomly stop and none of the tunnels are indicated or lit, so sometimes you can do stretches of 500 meters without seeing a thing.

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Getting some gas in Guatemala before crossing the border to El Salvador. Fun fact – Gas has pretty much been the cheapest in the United States out of all the countries so far. 

We had heard of El Tuco from our friend Pollo James. A dude we met in San Diego at the famous OB hostel. Its basically a surfer town where he stayed 6 months and advised us strongly to go to.

So of course, we did.

The hostel was pretty cheap and the weather was sweet. We did a bit of surfing too. We were probably the least tanned and muscly people on the beach but we went anyway. The waves were totally above our skill level but we had a lot of fun.

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El Salvador, drinking on the beach…this is what we do.

One of the best moments of this was Thomas deciding to try and stand up on a wave as it headed towards a group of people, almost killing them and breaking the board in the process.

Surfer dudes watching from a restaurant were quick to laugh and suggest the following: “Maybe you should take some lessons, dude”

We would spend a night partying here as well with a really cool vibe of people and discover the national food of El Salvador the Pupusa, which if you ever go to El Tuco you have to get.

Sweating up a storm and keen to move on, we woke up earlyish and decided to make our way to Honduras.

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Somewhere in Honduras. A very dry and hot, and not so nice place. 

We had never heard anyone say anything good about Southern Honduras so the plan (like most bikers) was to blast through as fast as possible. The drive through the southern part of Honduras is only two hours to the Nicaraguan border but the biggest problem is the dreaded border crossings of Central America.

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More copies, please. See next window. I can’t sign this. You have to find someone else. I can’t do this. This costs money. You filled the form out wrong, etc. Traveling is FUN!!!

It can take anywhere from 2 hours (if you’re lucky) to most recently well over two days to cross from Panama to Columbia (more details about this below).

After the Honduran border we decided never to hire a “helper” again.  They tried to “sort out a problem” for us for 25USD each. When we checked at the counter, there was no problem they just wanted more money.

Upon arriving in Honduras (which is a surprisingly expensive country) we would drive a bit more before arriving in a “24 hour motel” which is basically a prostitute warehouse. They were friendly, the man of the house said he would protect us with his gun which he showed us was conveniently located in a side holster.

They let us camp in their backyard for cheap and we had a lot of fun joking around with the children, who were really interested in our trip and where we came from.

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We were teaching the children English, and helping them do their homework. 

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The boys wearing our jackets.

The next stop on our trip? Nicaragua. The border crossing here went surprisingly well, taking only 3 hours or so. We woke up at around 6am in Honduras and managed to make it all the way to Grenada in one day, stopping briefly in Leon.

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Thomas striking a pose in Grenada.

At this point we are really keen for a party, however we disappointingly arrive to a fairly dead scene. We attempted to go out, but decide to push on.

Where did we go? San Juan Del Sur, also in Nicaragua.

But we weren’t there long. We would hear some news that would put our goal of arriving in Argentina in serious jeopardy.

We met some bikers from the states who informed us that Ferry Xpress the only company that is able to ship our bikes around the Darien Gap, is shutting down. We heard this news on a Monday night, with the last ferry being on the following Monday. Ferry Xpress is notorious for being HIGHLY incompetent and the Panamanian border people being clinically retarded, we had to be in Panama City at 8am on Friday at the absolute latest, to begin the grueling paperwork and to purchase the ticket.

So what did we do that night? We partied hard of course, and woke up hungover on the Tuesday to begin the great journey of our time.

1,100 kilometers of Central American roads in the shortest amount of time we could possibly muster. In our way stood two border crossings and a shitload of driving.

We made it quickly to the Costa Rican border, but this border proved to be the second worst of the trip (can you guess the first?). Everything was going more or less smoothly until this happened.

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At the final step before being let in to the country, after 3 hours of paperwork and being sent around on various wild-goose chases in both Nicaragua and Costa Rica some dude at the customs office noticed that on Thomas’ title his name is spelled wrong but one letter.

He was very stern. He needed to see a lawyer to write up a paper saying that his name was wrong on this form.

We went to the lawyer office and were told that the lawyer would be there in half an hour. Nearly two hours later the guy showed up, and for the “reasonable” price of $50USD he wrote an official looking form saying Thomas is Thomas and we were able to enter Costa Rica.

At this point it was getting dark, and we decided to find a place to camp. A guy let us drive in to his living room and stay in his spare room.

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Not too impressed with the progress we had made, we decided to wake up at 5am and blast through as much of Costa Rica and Panama as we could. This would end up being one HUGE day of continuous riding.

Getting up as the sun rose, we hit the road. And Costa Rica is one fine country to ride a motorcycle in.

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Taking a short break at the beach.

It really is a shame we couldn’t stay here more, but we had to move on.

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Another bonus point for Costa Rica, their money features sloths. 

A highlight of our Costa Rica day was towards the southern part of the country when totally by chance I spot a dude riding a KLR riding in the opposite direction, wearing a yellow t-shirt. This was Al, a friend of ours we met over a month before in Flores, Guatemala. We had made no plans to meet up in Costa Rica, so we quickly pulled over for a quick re-union.

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A quick chat with our main man Al.

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Helmet left in the middle of the road for a risky picture.

We crossed the Panamanian border in the late afternoon (a further 3 hour crossing) and decided to push our riding as far as we could to try and make it to Panama City Thursday morning instead of Friday morning, to give us room to fix any issues with the paperwork.

This meant, however driving another 200 kilometers or so at night through Panama. It doesn’t sound so bad really, but when you realize that the Panamanians have started 250 kilometers of continuous road works and there are more trucks than people in Panama, the mission becomes a lot more daunting.

I had a scare on the freeway when one of these trucks left about a 100 meter stretch of oil on the road. I rode directly over it and lost control of my bike for what seems like ages, eventually the oil stopped and I was able to regain control with no issues.

We drove until around 11:30pm before camping by the side of the road. It had been a long day, and we needed to rest.

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Our campsite

We only slept a few hours here and got up at 3:30am to make our appointment in Panama City by 8am. We arrived on time, found the office and began the paperwork.

First, our bikes had to be inspected which for some reason only started at 10:30am. After this we had to wait to go to another office, which was only open from 2pm. We spent another 3 hours at this office getting the form we needed (DIJ) before finally getting some sleep.

We bought our ferry ticket the next day and finally we could enjoy the weekend in Panama City. We stayed at a great hostel with a table tennis table. I briefly held the title of king of table tennis before being embarrassingly overthrown by a local champ. We partied here, and even managed to visit the Panama Canal, which is a must-see for anyone.

We even went for free. Usually it costs 15$, but they hand out day passes, all you need to do is wait at the entrance for someone to leave and then ask them for their ticket. We managed to get three people in for free with this method which put a smile on everyone’s faces.

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Panama City by night

We left Panama City on Sunday to stay a night in Colon where our ferry was leaving from. Our boat was leaving Monday at 7pm but for some reason we had to be there at 8am, a full 11 hours before departure time. Upon arriving in Colon we realized what an absolute shit hole the place is. The hotels were expensive and everywhere we went we were heckled, people calling us gringos and telling us to leave. So we did.

We drove to a camp site for the Panama Canal workers, where it was explained that we weren’t allowed to camp there but if we hid from the police and parked our bikes behind the bushes it would be ok. Thomas began to set up the tent while I drove off to buy some dinner from the store.

When I got back the police was there, but Thomas was nowhere to be seen. The guard came up to talk to me and whispered “Your friend is here, come back in 15 minutes when the police have left” then proceeded to yell “YOU CANT STAY HERE, THIS IS NOT A CAMP SITE” giving me a friendly wink.

So I left and sat by the side of the road for half an hour smoking cigarettes. As I returned to the camp site the cop was just leaving, he made a u-turn and asked me what I was doing. The exchange went more or less like this:

“What are you doing here?” – Cop

“I am trying to find a camp site” -Me

“Oh, well you can camp at the police station with us if you like, we’ll keep your bike safe”

“Oh thanks, but I am looking for my friend, I think he might be in this workers camp site”

“No, there is no-one there, I was there for a while” (obviously I know this is not true)

“Hmm, I am pretty sure he is there, I am going to take a look”

“I’ll come with you then”

The security guard was there of course and started winking profusely at me while telling me the following “Your friend left to find you at the store, you should go over there, wait half an hour, and if he doesn’t show up come back here to see if he came back”

This is starting to get a bit ridiculous because I know Thomas is hiding about 5 meters away from me but I go to the store anyway, wait until the cop leaves and then come back. We proceed to hide behind this storage house for another hour before giving up and going to the police station to sleep the night.

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Our police station

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The official offices of livedeleven.com

We woke up early to start the big day of the ferry. Arriving at 8am we waited around for 2 and a half hours for a lady to show up, so we could hand her copies of the exact same form that we had gave them already several times in Panama City. She told us to come back at 12:30pm to hand in more forms. We arrived at 12:30, waited an additional 2 hours and handed those in.

Most of our day was spent waiting in the heat, and talking to some new found friends all of which were taking the last boat of the season to Colombia.

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Biker friends, Rob and Teo waiting and waiting and waiting.

Our estimated departure time of 7pm was quickly abandoned when we realized that we were still in line for immigration at 8:30. The boat would only end up leaving at 2:30am, an impressive 7.5 hours late.

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Ferry Xpress, the company best described as “highly incompetent” 

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About to get dog-searched

The boat, however was really nice and our cabin was clean and air conditioned. After an awesome sleep we spent the next 18 hours on the boat chilling and chatting with our friends.

We arrived yesterday in Colombia at around 11pm, our first experience being having to bribe some cops because of some convenient “no bikes after 11pm rule”. They were nice however and gave us a police escort to our hostel.

So here we sit now, in Cartagena Colombia in one of the biggest milestones of the trip so far. Nearly 20,000kms covered and officially in South America. In a few hours we will be meeting up with some friends we made on the boat who are traveling by van to camp with them a few days at the beach in a project we like to call “Project New World”.

I don’t know how that’s going to turn out. But when I do you’ll be the first to know.

Until next time friends.

 

 

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Welcome to the Gringo Trail

You can hear them from far way, shouting through the jungle. Laughing. The backpackers are always looking for a party, no matter in which beautiful corner of the world they are. It doesn’t matter which beautiful corner of the world it is, really. The parties remain the same. Austalians, Germans, British, French. Everyone gets drunk, a couple of sluts get laid and some lads have a good story for tomorrow morning. When they look back at their travels, they remember how much fun they had.

A girl asked me why I travel. ‘Cause it’s fun’, I said, being nonchalant, carefully trying not to come across as a try-hard. But I hope I’m traveling for more than that: fun. I hope I’m sincerely traveling for what everyone says they’re sincerely traveling for: exploring new cultures, finding yourself, becoming independent and understanding that our western way of life isn’t the one and only best way.

[Read in Cali girl accent]: ‘Oh my god it’s so amazing to see how happy these people are with so little!’ She saw a Mexican child smile at her when she went outside of her hostel to score some tacos, while being hungover from playing drinking Jenga.

I might hope I’m different, but I know I’m not.

Welcome to the Gringo Trail.

-Thomas Kuipers, 2015

The Gringo trail is an ambiguous line that stretches from “who knows” to “i dont know where” in Central America. It is hard to tell where it begins and where it ends, but all we know is that we made it.

When we last updated we were on our way to Guatemala after a brief stay in Belize. From what I hear the gringo trail might start in Caye Caukler (Belize) but we didn’t go there…too expensive. Continue reading

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To Belize, or not to Belize…

As you’ve read from our last blog post we had been working at the “Botadero” for five weeks. As my brake pads arrived after a long and painful process, plans were coming to fruition as to our reluctant but necessary departure from Paradise. As we both changed our oil filters and other boring mechanical shit on our bikes (Thomas fixing a leaking oil problem) it came time to leave.

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The destination of course, was Belize where I am currently writing this post. It was a short drive from our home near Bacalar to the border with Belize where we entered the “free-zone” or “la zona libre”.

For a small entry fee you can roll on in here and enjoy some dirt cheap duty free shopping. Everything is fake of course and bound to break within a month but for consumable items such as alcohol and cigarettes, a couple of weary travelers like us were in heaven. I bought an mp3 player for 200 pesos (around 10 euros), a headlamp for 40 (2 euros) and a bunch of other shit.

The main event of course, was the cigarettes. I hope you’re sitting down for this. If you have a history of heart problems I suggest you stop reading right now. Continue reading

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BPM Festival and Other Stories

I guess it would be around that time isn’t it? Yes, we finally have another blog post!

In keeping true to form, the following takes place around 2-3 weeks ago, in Cancun and Playa del Carmen on the lovely Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

Here at livedeleven.com the customer is king, and we do strive to bring you timely blogposts. Currently however, we have had limited internet access as we work on a camp site with a crazy englishman mere 25 kilometers from the Belizian border.

Keep calm, full details of that on-going adventure is underway and will of course have its own post. For the moment though, its time to discuss Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

We arrived in Cancun after a long journey from Mexico City, taking some time to take some glamour shots at Chichen Itza.

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Upon arrival we met up with our San Francisco couch surfing host and self titled “Equine Goddess of California” Deborah with whom we had enjoyed 3 weeks or so of jokes in San Francisco. She had flown to Cancun with some friends from her home town, a surfing community called Cupertino, California and now works as the “Head of Horse Relations” for livedeleven.com

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Me explaining to Deborah how horses don’t exist in real life.

The plan here is to spend a night or two in the hotel that her friends have booked (squatting their room basically) and spend some quality time getting hammered. Continue reading