Saturday, August 25, 2007

Am I dreaming?

It's like a bad dream.

I'm on my own today and for some reason am in a bus driving on the left side of the road. There seems to be red double decker buses everywhere and that tower over there looks remarkably like Big Ben. I'm also really, really tired but I could even swear that the river on my left is the Thames. I try to wake myself up and think of sunny Vancouver but its just not happening.

Hang on a second:

mmm, London

AARGH, F....K!! I'M IN LONDON!!! What the hell happened?

Gradually it starts coming back to me. I remember the long, emotional goodbye with Michelle in Vancouver airport the previous afternoon and a couple of days before that, taking my bike to the shipping agent in Richmond. Wait a minute, that's it- we're at the end of our Argentina to Alaska adventure and Michelle is flying home to Australia while I'm taking the 'Long Way Home' (...sorry) to Scotland by taking in some of Eastern Europe first. I'm en route to Munich via London to pick up my bike because the direct flight to Munich decided to be fully booked up when I called Air Transat. The flight from Vancouver to London is depressingly full up and they want $80 for extra legroom so I decide to forego it. I'm squeezed in against the window by a large guy and his wife who are pleasant enough to talk to but I know that I won't be getting any sleep tonight. I remind myself that the last time I was on a plane other than the little Cessna over the Nasca Lines, was arriving in Buenos Aires 9 ½ months ago. I'm relieved to find the 9 hour flight passes quickly enough though with some movies, telly and watching the planes progress on the electronic map. The cameras on the nose and under the plane are nice addition too.

I have an incredibly miserable train ride from Gatwick into London, looking around at the normality that I easily recognise but don't want to be a part of again just yet. Next to me there's a very loud, posh woman bleating away about the new bathroom cabinets that the inept joiner has recently fitted to her clearly very bored husband. Once I'm at Victoria Station, it's straight onto a direct bus to Stanstead Airport. I'm pleased it's all going smoothly so far as I couldn't handle any fuck-ups or delays right now. True to form though, the EasyJet check-in queue is the same as they always are, with the useless, miserable sods behind the counters doing their utmost to ensure the checking in process goes as slowly as possible.

With Michelle's words still ringing in my ear that I'd better not get chatting to any attractive women on the plane, Chrisa, a young Greek girl sits down next to me on the London-Munich flight who seems really nice. She's on her own and after chatting for a bit, invites me to meet up with her and her Italian friend, Enrico who lives in Munich so we agree to meet up following day. I'm pleased I've met some people to hang out with so soon. We land in Munich Airport at 3.30pm and I decide to get straight onto getting the bike cleared in Customs and out of the warehouse. The Swiss Cargo office is only one stop away on the airport train and thankfully it turns out to be a doddle. By 5.30pm, the paperwork is done, I've reconnected the battery and fitted the screen and mirrors again and I'm limping up the road to find some fuel as I'd practically run it dry before taking it to the shipping agent in Vancouver. Luckily a garage is nearby and the 22 litre tank takes 22.3 litres. I nearly choke at paying 30Euros to fill it up though.

I ride straight into Munich but find I'm starting to fall asleep so have to try hard to concentrate as cars whizz by all around me at what feels like 100mph. I find the hostel I'd booked and get checked in to a 6 bed dorm. I take a walk to find something to eat but the nice looking place up the road seems a bit expensive for me so opt for the ususal Subway sandwich and an early night. By the time my head hits the pillow, I've been awake for about 30 hours.

Although it would have been nice to hang out with Chrisa and Enrico for another day in Munich, I feel I have to get moving and decide to try and see Dachau the following day then head south to Berchtesgaden where Hitler had his holiday house. I first came to Dachau back in I think 1997 with my friend James when we did a bit of a Euro road trip on my old Suzuki GS1000G. We covered a fair few miles on that trip but I remember it seemed to rain almost every day in Germany so I'm hoping this trip is slightly less soggy. I pull up in the car park and it all seems very familiar, though this time the old parking attendant insists I leave my bike where he can keep an eye on it. The last time I was here, we didn't get a chance to see the museum so I headed for there first. As expected, it all makes for very educational but grim reading. The main sights can be seen fairly quickly if you know where you're going and these include the recreated accommodation blocks and the crematoria though I opt to avoid the huge memorials at the end of the site.

After a couple of hours, I'm back on the road to Berchtesgaden, which is all fairly tedious Euro motorway until I hit the more mountainous areas but typically, the weather is looking fairly crap it has to be said. I am aiming for the campsite but pretty much as soon as I arrive in the Bavarian town, the heavens decide to really tip it down on me so camping is now not on the menu. The hostel I find at first looks like it will cost 16Euro but due to being an old bugger without a membership card, it will actually cost me 26Euro for a shared dorm. I take a quick dash in the now incredibly heavy rain over to a nearby hotel which is full of Bavarian charm/clich├ęs including a proper Heidi manning the desk who informs me I must only use one bed. Its 33Euro but I get my own room. Oh well, there goes the budget again. After a not too bad dinner in the hotel, I'm out like a light by 8pm.

It still doesn't look good the following morning. You can't see the mountains from the window due to the solid cloud and lo and behold, its still raining. It's one of those days best off not being on a bike and Heidi informs me that its cheaper to stay a second night. Tempting but not at your prices, love. Luckily, breakfast is included and I eat enough to nearly make me sick. After grimly getting on the bike and riding out their garage into the pissing rain, I first head up the mountain to the Nazi museum at Dokumentation in Obersalzberg. I didn't know that the Nazis used this place as their second seat of power and by all accounts was a pretty busy place in its day and all the big-wigs had houses here though it basically got obliterated by the Allies. I end up going for one of those electronic English translator doo-dahs and I'm glad I did because all the exhibits were in German. Its actually pretty fascinating though some of the photos on display are pretty graphic. I particularly liked the bit about Hitler being portrayed by the Nazi PR as being this rustic, hard working, selfless man of the people but in actual fact he would normally sleep in till noon, eat a big lunch and then go off on one of his monologues for an hour or two, then it was movie time and after dinner it was on to another monologue that although Hitler himself frequently fell asleep during them, no one ever dared leave.

By the time I was done here, I'd hoped the rain would have disappeared but fat chance of that so I caught the bus up to the Eagles Nest, Hitler's 50th birthday prezzy from the guys. I thought it must be pretty good seeing I'd paid 14.50Euro to get there. You get dropped off up the mountain and walk to a rather nifty brass lined lift, which shoots you up 120m to the Eagles Nest. Apparently, on a clear day you can get the most spectacular views however all I could see was a total white-out. I quickly looked around the building finding only a busy restaurant and then discovered that's actually all it is. Bugger! As there's literally nothing to see, I just headed straight down again.

Canada- for the last time

Instead of the 2 days I assumed it would take us to ride from Prince Rupert to Vancouver, it took 3 days. En route, we stopped off in Fraser Lake and Lilloet where we stayed for free at the campsite as no one came to chase us for money. I even manged to severely block their loo so it was a good job we left. We took a really nice dirt road over some hills between Clinton and Pavillion. The locals told us to avoid it as it was dirt and had lots of switchbacks- decision made really. The scenery there was quite beautiful and reminded me briefly of riding in South America again.

I'd emailed Colin and Gill (we met them in Valpariso around Xmas) and we were on our waycaught the ferry over to Vancouver Island where they live. They were away for few days, and again we just needed to pick up the keys from their neigbour. Colin had said in his emails to just make ourselves at home and to make use of the bath, washing machine and had even left us beer in the fridge. We'd only met them once in Chile for really only a few hours but it was like meeting old friends when they came home a couple of days later after picking up Gills daughter from the airport and it was really nice to catch up again. Colin is a bit of a master at home brew wine making and we got pleanty of opportunities to sample his produce. On our last night in Victoria, I made everyone barbequed meat/veg on skewers with potato salad as a small way of saying thanks for our hosts wonderful hospitality.

We didn't get to see as much of Vancouver Island as we'd have liked though Victoria itself was very pleasant and I can see why ex-pats Colin and Gill chose to live there. It has a nice climate, you have all the outdoor activities you could want too. We spent most of our time there sorting out shipping and flights as unfortunatelly after nearly 10 months on the road, we're pretty much at the end of our trip. I managed to get my bike booked in with Motorcycle Express, and am to take it over to Vancouver Airport in a few days time. Michelle is off to Australia shortly after 8 years in London and I'm heading back to Europe for a few weeks on my own then its back to Scotland for me. I actually need to sort out visas and stuff there as I'm looking at also getting to Australia but I expect that will take several months to sort out. Although it will be weird being back and staying in one place, it will be fantastic to see my family and friends again though I'm not looking forward to paying UK prices again.

We next headed to Vancouver as we were staying at a friend of a friends place to the east of the city. Danny and Mia live in a very funky retro house with a huge assortment of animals. We stayed for a couple of nights while I got my bike over to the packing warehouse where Herr Bertie was strapped to a metal pallet and wrapped in plastic. The next time I'd be seeing him would be in Munich airport in a few days time. Michelle and I decided to get a hotel room for our last couple of nights together and spent a couple of days sightseeing in Vancouver and even managed to do the 'Grouse Grind' though our time of 1hr 40mins wasn't nearly as impressive as the people who do it in under 30 minutes. On our last night, we watched the sunset from Grouse Mountain and thankfully caught the cable car down rather than walking.

It was very emotional at the airport the following morning as Michelle saw me off. She was flying to Australia a couple of days later and would be heading to her folks place for a bit.
After everything we've seen and been through together, it felt really hard to be saying goodbye to Michelle however we will be seeing each other again in a few months.

Next stop for me, Europe!

South from Alaska

Well it seems like ages since I've done an 'update' so will try and be brief. After getting down to Fairbanks, I decided it would be a good time to change my now totally bald tires. And with a brief stop in Anchorage (where we got refused getting into a bar cos we didn't bring our passports!) we went to Tok which is at a bit of a crossroads so everyone goes there. And sure enough we bump into Bob and Angie again, having not seen them since Nicaragua so it was good to catch up. We were staying at the Sourdough Campsite, which in reality is more of an RV park. At least it had Wi-Fi but owner Ken's nightly 'Comedy' show was a bit too much to bear though the pensioners in their RV's seem to enjoy it.

We tried to book the inland passage ferry south but couldn't get anything for 5 days so decided to go to Valdez, which is where we had to pay for the most expensive hotel room on the trip ($90!). After a brief look around, including a bit of a ride up a dirt road, it was back to Tok where instead of enduring the painful Sourdough Campsite evening 'comedy show' again, we camped at a biker friendly campsite nearby for half the price. The owners, Brian and Vanessa have a 1968 Shovelhead Harley called Hazel and the campsite includes use of their sauna. They call each other from across the site by yelling 'Yo Mama!' or 'Yo Papa!'. Really nice couple and a very chilled out place to camp.

Dawson City on the 'Top of the World Highway' was next on the list, though its not really on the top of the world is it? It's one of those gold-rush town preserved for tourists and we find a campsite on the other side of the river, for which theres a regular and more importantly, free ferry to to other side. We take in Dimond Tooth Gerties show which is set in a old style casino. It consists of a few dancing girls and the singing Gertie who likes to get unsuspecting old men up onto the stage to remove garters from the dancing girls with their teeth. All good, clean family fun. On the way back to the campsite, we bumped in to another overlander from Switzerland called Werner on a well stickered Africa Twin who's also come up here from Argentina. I was pleased to hear that he didn't enjoy the Galapagos Islands as much as he had enjoyed the wildlife on the Valdez Peninsula in Argentina as we couldn't justify the huge cost of getting to the Galapagos.

We then aimed for Skagway to catch the ferry down to Juneau. The town itself is again one of those touristy places geared up for receiving regular cruise ships so you'd be forgiven for thinking that all the shops here only sell jewelry because they pracically do. With relief we got out of there and spent a few hours on a mini cruise of our own down to Juneau, Alaska's capital which a little bizzarely, is not on the mainland. We would only be in Juneau for a night so checked out a nearby glacier, which was receeding and although nice, not a patch on Perito Moreno. We just had time to go to the Alaska Brewery for a quick tour and to sample some of their wares. I reckon the IPA was the best as the rest all seem a little watery to my tastes, but hey, I wasn't complaining, it was free beer after all.

Early the following morning, it was back to the ferry port to catch the ferry for the 2 day trip down to Prince Rupert in Canada. Amazingly, the crew on the boats don't stock tie down straps for motorbikes so instead you get given a ball of string and are told to get on with it. Once the bikes had been thoroughly secured with the equivalent of garden twine, we got ourselves up to the deck. We had been planning to sleep on deck as the cabins were a tad pricy and had been talking to a couple of bikers from the US when one of them said he was just popping down to their cabin. A couple of minutes later, he returned with a key, and said 'there you go'. They'd only just gone and paid for a cabin for us for 2 nights! Yet another example of the incredible generosity of total strangers we have met on our trip. The guys were both ex-racers from the 70's and apparently had a great collection of around 30 bikes at home. So with our new cabin, we were able to stick our gear in the room and enjoy the next 2 days. The ferry goes down whats called the Inland Passage so you have islands on both side of the ship while it calls in at various ports. We stopped off at Sitka (they called out 'Sitka by the sea' on the PA) where we jumped ship for a few hours with a few people we'd met and went straight to some fairly lively pubs before having to get the bus back to port. The following day we only had 45 minutes in Petersburg or Little Norway as its known due to the colourful houses, which we put to good use by having the best cinamon buns we'd ever tasted from the bakery there. We manged to see a few whales etc from the ship but unfortunatelly nothing on a par with Valdez in Argentina. We did manage to see a couple of quite spectacular sunsets though in addition to some amazing scenery.