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Monday, January 31, 2011

Press Release - Please circulate

Contact: Darren Baptiste                                                                                          FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tel: +1 647 407 0118
Trini-born Man Rides His Motorcycle Back Home -- From Canada

“I wish that everyone dared to make their dreams come true.” 
Everyday we hear people talk excitedly about their dreams and goals, yet act as though they are unattainable. One Trinidadian-born man now living in Canada decided to live out his dream and ride his motorcycle 16,000 kms from Toronto to Trinidad. At 7:30 PM on Wednesday Feb 2, Darren Baptiste and his motorcycle Rebecca, will get off a ferry boat in Chaguaramas and begin crossing the 12th country of their 4-month long journey.
The trip that began Oct 3 in Toronto, will end this weekend under the lighthouse in Toco.
The journey is called “Goin’ Toco” and has been documented on a web site set up to follow the trip.
At a time when many are feeling overcome by their circumstances, and others are stagnating in their same old boring routines, this one man’s journey has allowed hundreds of others to, at least for a moment, live vicariously through his adventures.
From accidents to illnesses to crooked policemen, interspersed with teaching children and learning Spanish, all the twists and turns of the journey have made for many interesting stories.

As one woman commented on the web site,
I love how everything you happenstance upon is such an exciting experience for you, and how you in turn make it exciting for me the reader. Yes, keep the tales coming!

# # #
If you’d like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with Darren Baptiste, please call or text 647-407-0118, or email

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day 118 - Caracas

Yes, it's true. Gasoline in Venezuela is ridonkulously cheap.

A 600ml bottle of Coca-Cola costs B $12.

Filling my 'becca's tank with 20 litres of gas costs B $2. To each other, Venezuelans sell the locally produced oil very cheaply. On the world markets, it has a much higher price. I wish the Canadian government could understand the inherent benefits of using national resources to improve the national standard of living...

I'm happy to report that the roads improved immeasurably East of Lago Maracaibo. Once I passed through that hot city, we were onto paved, divided highways with 2-lanes in each direction.

Random thoughts on the road:

- The highways can be signed with different speed limits for different lanes.

- The collection of tolls has been discontinued. The toll booths remain, but are "staffed" only by local folks hawking everything from toilet brushes to cellphone chargers.

- Just beyond each toll booth, one or more police officers, backed by soldiers clad in fatigues, rifles and bandoliers stop vehicles seemingly randomly for spot checks. I've been told they're looking for stolen vehicles, contraband goods and illegal drugs.

- All of the regional roads, aside from the major highways, have countless topes (aka "sleeping policemen" or speed bumps). The majority of the ones I encountered are not marked. Their presence can be determined by looking for the random child selling bags of plantain chips, or old men selling rubber slippers.

My second night in the country was spent at a no-tell motel... and that's all I'm saying.

Confusing Caracas traffic got the better of me. I did manage to find and checkout 3 different hotels, each with a price tag more shocking than the last.
Finally after fatigue had set in, I stumbled across the Hotel Las Americas. Again, it was ultra expensive, but by then my resolve was shot. At least they had Internet en la habitacion, y agua calor.

Saturday morning I met with Roberto and his girlfriend Maybi.

A quick stroll through a nearby square on the way to breakfast had us pass a statute to the only Black Admiral (the Navy equivalent of a General) in Simon Bolivar's revolutionary forces.

We spent the afternoon looking at condo units for Maybi and Roberto to buy.

Lunch was a lovely garlic fish
with rice at Laguna Beach. The midday views from the beach next to the restaurant were stunning. I can only imagine the sunset...

Roberto is still working hard to help me sort out how 'becca will get to Trinidad. In the meantime it was decided I would spend at least tonight, and perhaps the next few days as well at his home. It's up in hills west of Caracas.

Getting through the city to the base of the hill was simple enough - even though it involved several of my least favourite moto situations: driving on a big highway at night, while lane splitting through mad traffic.

Bonus: how many things wrong can you spot in the previous sentence?

Half-way up the hill we pulled over to buy some drinks. I had to shake Roberto's hand and acknowledge he had far more guts than I. Even though he's only been riding for 2 years, tackling that hill, in that traffic, with those potholes as part of his daily commute ... I'd say the man has a pair of brass ones, size extra large.

Following him up the hill we passed on curves, lane split between giant busses and sheer drops. I suggested that simply waiting in the line behind the other vehicles might be easier (to reduce the little-girlish shrieks inside my helmet).

That idea went over like a lead zeppelin. So off we went!

But we made it. Through all the craziness I still didn't Troy my shorts, so that's a good thing.

Sunday will be a day of rest (for Rebecca) and a day of code writing for me.

Still Goin' Toco...

Location:Carretera El Junquito

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day 116 - Venezuela

As usual, the pundits were wrong. For some silly reason I heeded all the naysayers predictions of corruption and malice being ready to greet my entrance into Venezuela.

As it happens, this border crossing has been the easiest since leaving crossing into the US from Canada, some 112 days ago. (I'm deliberately not counting the ease of entry from the US into Baja, Mexico. I still consider that a trap by the Mexicans...)

Leaving Colombia was simple. The hardest chore was lining up in a room full of chairs for 20 minutes. We were expected to maintain the order of the line while seated. So as one person was processed, the next in line would walk to the counter, then everyone still seated would stand up, and shift over 1 seat to the left. It worked, after a fashion, though was very tiring in the heat of the office. Naturally, throughout the process there was always at least 1 person in line for whom this concept proved more difficult to solve than a Rubic's Cube.

That said, my paperwork was processed smoothly and as efficiently as any bureaucratic process I have encountered in Latin America.

Getting into Venezuela was just as simple. I was looking to find where to register my bike, and it was pointed out by one of the money changers hanging around.
Unlike all of the other borders, the only non-official people working at the border were the money changers. And they we not pushy at all. Actually, bettet than that -- they were helpful. No fixers needed. The money changer even accepted that bank conversion rate I had on my iPhone's XE Currency Converter app.

No haggling.

All told, it took 1hr and 40 minutes to completely clear both borders. I consider that a smashing success. And it cost me nothing.

Oh, yes, and about that myth that you need a Visa to cross by land into Venezuela? Consider it busted. (At least for Canadian passport holders)

The roads in Venezuela are horrible. Well, perhaps not ALL the roads. Just the first 96 kms worth when crossing at the northern border.

I was ever so glad I had obeyed my gut and stopped to buy a new front tire this morning on my way out of Riohacha. I felt a lot more secure on the crappy surfaces that kept shifting from red dirt to once-upon-a-time-this-was-pavement...

I opted to stay in the Millennium Hotel that's charging and outrageous $65 USD per night!
Sadly, I still didn't buy my mini-USB cable so my GPS has not been loaded with Venezuelan data yet, so I'm riding blind.

Within 45 seconds of removing my riding boots in the hotel room, some little bugger has bitten me several times on the shins and my Achilles tendon. Now the poison in my system has me all weirder out, constantly scratching at phantom bites all over my body. I am actually dreading the thought of sleeping in this room tonight.


Both the hotel staff, and the taxi driver (who took me to the mall to buy a cable) are excited to take pictures with the bike :)

L-R: Eddy, Kelmary, and Keiber


I have a date! I have 2 dates!

Next Wednesday Feb 2, I hope to catch the ferry to Trinidad. This could change.

On Sunday Feb 13 I shall return to Canada (this is definite).

Still Goin' Toco...

Location:Calle 3,Maracaibo,Venezuela

Day 115

A quick, short ride up the coast from Santa Marta to Riohacha. The road was straight, at times a little boring, but did have a few worthy sights along the way.

We're on the Caribbean sea here :)

I could have easily made it to the border but would have gotten there quite late in the afternoon.

You could say I'm a bit less than optimistic about how long a border crossing can take.

So, I'll spend the night in the Barbaosa Hotel in town. They allow me to park Rebecca in a ground-floor meeting room -- and there are only 2 stairs to negotiate to get her inside. I'm a happy camper.

Down on the Malecon I visit a local museum and learn that the Riohaca area was first settled by Europeans in 1545. As a result of their intensive quest to convert the locals to Christianity, there's a strange mix of Catholicism and ancient local religions.

I guess that make it no different that a place like Haiti, which is only a few hundred miles north of here.

The museum is styled nicely. Quite modern for it's surroundings.

The angular lines of the building contrast with the traditional fish market that forms on the beach when the daily catch comes in.

Golla @ the hotel looking after Rebecca.

Irina took care of feeding us in the morning.

Though it's a tiny hotel, they've taken the time to fill it with some rather nice original pieces of art.

Vamos a Venezuela!

Still Goin' Toco...

Location:Calle 13 15,Riohacha,Colombia

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Day 114 - Separation Anxiety

Hard to believe but today marks only 4 weeks since I started riding with the TerraNova boys.

Wow, in that short month it feels like we've compressed an entire year's worth of adventures.

The title of the post, Separation Anxiety, describes exactly what I've been feeling all weekend. We had great fun in Barranquilla, as promised by May and Toni.

But all along I was looking forward to, and dreading saying the goodbyes.

I know for sure I will see Toni again. Same with May - the next time I'm in 'quilla --- maybe next Carnaval :)

Tim and Troy, on the other hand..... I feel really bonded to these guys. I sure hope they remain safe until out paths cross again.

Naturally, I left town a little later than planned and ... surprise! got caught riding in the dark a bit.

Riding Eastbound along the coast road from Barranquilla you see the mist-shrouded Sierra Santa Marta mountains, dominated by the Pico Cristóbal Colón, which rises almost from the seashore to a commanding 5,775 m

It really does look like there's something behind the fact that virtually everyone I've met in this country suggesting I visit Santa Marta. I can hardly wait to see what it looks like in the daylight...

I finally pull off the road when I see a Hotel sign pointing to a very impressive 6-storey immaculate, while building.

This, I figure, has got the be nicer than the Hotel Canadienese (which, of course, is not hard to do)

Unpack bike as the sounds of Bob Marley's No Woman, No Cry is heard coming from the hotel's restaurant. It was one of the last tunes I played last night while liming at the pool....

The hotel is brand new. I may have been the first to stay in this room, as I had to ask them to turn on the water taps in the room.

Dinner is quite average, but more distressing to me is that being the only patron in a 56-seat restaurant pretty much means I can expect them to notice the fact I'm leaving about 3/4 of the so-called "steak" on my plate.

Not much else to report today. I'm settling down to tackle writing some Hot Wax code, and will be off towards the border in the morning.

Ahhh... The pool area looks spectacular in the sunshine.

And they're still playing Bob on the stereo ...

Still Goin' Toco...


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Day 111 - Oh what a night!

I'm very happy to report we've all beat whatever bug had us down for the last couple days.

Oops, I was kinda out of it the past couple of days and forgot to post this whack video I shot out the front of the hotel in Bosconia. A Panamanian group was busking. Just listen to the rhythms -- it sounds like home. It was a call-and-response bit with the lead being sung by a very senior woman made up in her Carnaval finery.

We rode straight and fast from Bosconia right up to the coast.
In Ciénaga, where the road branches North East to Santa Marta, we took the Western route to Barranquilla.

The town is built on the edge of a saltwater swamp right along the coast. The road only shows on some of my maps. The marshy plains is sadly, home to a sprawling collection of shacks and ramshackle homes. This is the most distressing looking slum I have seen yet on this trip.

We made into into Barranquilla in the early afternoon. You know the time of day when the sun is at it's maximum intensity. When it's so hot that if you even think of moving a muscle, you start to sweat.

That is my favourite kind of weather. And, of course, Tim's worst nightmare. Ahhh..we can't win 'em all :)

We had trouble connecting with May, and so ended up NOT heading to one of the hotels she suggested.

We had stopped at on a side street after determining the GPS was determined to guide us to a 0-star "hotel".

Alongside of us pulls us a pair of cops, riding in their usual style, 2-up on a 125cc Honda.

Our helper
The cops ask me what we're looking for and I say a decent hotel.

They discuss it for a minute then tell us to follow them. I wish I had remembered to turn on the video for the next 10 minutes. These cops led us through their city -- down 1-way streets, through 2 clearly marked illegal left-turns, and finally riding on the sidewalk for the entire final block before finishing at ... wait for it... the Hotel Canadienese.

Tim and I smiled. Troy, the Aussie of the group, had more ammunition for his Canadian Conspiracy story he is building..

Turns out the hotel is not really that good. The furniture is not structurally sound (don't ask how we know --- trust us, this), the windows onto the main street below are paper thin (all the better to hear every single car horn in a 12-block radius).

We resolved to find a new motel in the morning. Troy was ready to checkout less than an hour after we unpacked.


We took a taxi to the restaurant where we had agreed to meet May. The ride to la Cueva was supposed to cost $4,000 COP, but the freakishly large taxi driver (did I mention they all drive a Chevy product that is so small it makes a Nissan Micra look like a Hummer?) wanted more.

We resisted the urge to bargain our way into paying more.

The restaurant is one with a lot of history. Between our first round of drinks, and the arrival of the meal, we were led into a small theatre in the back to watch a short film on the it's origins.

Essentially since the 1940's the place has functioned as a meeting place for intellectuals and artists.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The great Gabriel Garcia Marquez was perhaps the most notable of Colombian writers to spend copious amounts of time there, essentially liming with his peeps. In his Noble Laureate work, "100 Years of Solitude" he even immortalizes some of his La Cueva compañeros.

The dinner was lovely.

We took another taxi to Rueda de Cumbia to check out the preamble to Barranquilla Carnaval.

This was true, true Carnival -- instantly recognizable to any Trini. The street was filled with thousands of people. In the middle of the intersection, a truck was parked with musicians playing some jumping beats on African drums accompanied by other percussive instruments.

Every time the band struck up a new tune, the crowd danced round and round the truck in a thickly knotted circle of feverish bodies.

This is my element.

Your boy put down one set ah wine on them bonita Colombian mujhers, and I'm happy to report, represented T&T properly.

Tim and Troy did their part to rep Canada and Australia. Their results were pretty much ad expected :)

We left that joint after just an hour, and headed for our final destination for the night - La Troja salsa bar.

This is a historic spot in Colombian salsa history, and such is being preserved just as it has been since the 50's, even though the entire neighborhood around it gentrifies.

There are only 2 whorehouses left on the street.

Here we basically partied till out butts fell off. For those who know me, that probably sounds like a 10-minute affair. In reality we kept at it until about 2 AM.

The crowd took a shine to us. The DJ even played Sparrow's "Mr. Walker" as a dedication to yours truly.

At some point in the night, the Carnaval spirit crept into the proceedings, and we let loose with powder flying everywhere.

Ahh.. Once again, a good time was had by all :)

Many photos still to come in from the other cameras present. Be sure to check my Flickr Photostream for the additional pics in the next day or so.

Still Goin' Toco...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Day 110 Muy Enfermo

Yesterday was another big riding day. The road has finally dropped down out of the mountains onto a wide, hot plain.

The road is straight, arrow-straight at times, and filled with transport trucks and long-distance busses. All of that adds up to some very fast, if not interesting, riding.

Fast riding, that is until we hit another 2 traffic jams each 2.5 kms long. In each case the cause was a washed out bridge.

It looks like this will continue to be a daily problem for all cars and trucks traveling Ruta 45 to and from the costa.

Once again, thankfully, motorcycles are allowed to creep right up the front of the traffic jam, and so avoid any lengthy wait. We were delayed for perhaps 30 minutes, whereas the for the truck drivers, that's probably a good 4 hours spent in that one line.

We stopped for lunch a small truck stop. We were instantly swarmed by a bunch of local kids looking for money, food and just plain curious about the travelers.

We ended the night a little further up the road at the Hotel Ejecutivo, in Bosconia.

Here's a picture of little Juan Camillo and his Mom. She works at the small take away restaurant next to the hotel.

We're all sick right now. Around dinner time, Troy's stomach was too bloated and upset to eat. A few hours later he had feverish chills, and was throwing up.

Around 3:00 AM both Tim and I began throwing up as well. We all had diarrhea.

I'll spare you the photos..

All of us are too sore, weak and tired to even consider riding today

So, we have to stay one extra day in this little truck stop along this dusty highway.

Still Goin' Toco...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Day 106 - San Gill y Norte

Up early, we managed to get some yoga practice in on the tennis courts of the campground.

This place has a virtual forest of outstanding trees laden with hanging mosses.

Then came a day of some of the best riding any of us have experienced. We spent most of the day on Ruta 45, as it winds its way northward along the top of a mountain range.

We passed along the edge of a fantastic gorge overlooking the Rio Chicamoca.

We stopped for a short break at what we later found to be one of the world's longest cable car installations. It's a very recent structure, done up with lots of amenities and filled with tourists. What they did not have though, was a place for us to spend the night.

After that the road dropped over 500 meters in altitude in about 5 kms.

I would suggest this road is a must-see for any bikers coming through this country.

We ended the day at La Venta Hostal Hacienda just off the main road in Piedecuesta. Once again, it looks like our heroes have landed in their feet.

The hostel is on the grounds of a 200-year old slave plantation for sugarcane. Apparently it was the centre of the slave trade in this area.

It had been converted into a roof and flooring tile factory. Now site of romantic small weddings in a natural setting surrounded by the lush tropical rainforest.

To be continued...

Location:Carrera 7C,Piedecuesta,Colombia

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day 105 - Into Colombia

Inner courtyard of Cranky Croc

It only feels like we've been in Colombia for a month, instead of 5 days. I'd say that's because of the casual and comforting environment of The Cranky Croc hostel. Despite it being an unheated building in a city where it's cold enough for people to wear winter jackets, scarves, hats and gloves... I rate it highly.

Oh yeah, and the small issue of the tp needing to be thrown in the trash instead of the flushed down the bowl...

Otherwise the place is great. The owner Andy, does a wonderful representing the legendary Aussie hospitality.
Plus the man cooks up a great barbie on Friday nights. 

Now that's a barbie!
For the equivalent of $6 US we had bread, salad and about 4 kinds of meat, including some juicy ribeye steaks. Yum.

In Bogota they have entire streets of vendors selling a single product. For instance, the optical shops are all along Carrera 19. Near Avendia Caracas and Calle 15 is the moto district.

This place is magical! I think there must be literally hundreds of vendors selling any, and everything to do with bikes.
From helmets to shocks, custom decals to rain gear, just about everything is here.

Top original, with new
Everything that is, except for handlebar risers for a 2008 KLR 650 (Troy's bike).

However, he was able to get his centre stand straightened (a casualty of the flight from Panama). They also installed the offroad footrests he's been carry in his luggage since San Diego, California.

I found a suitable bolt for my rear top rack to replace the one that while rising back from the airport the other night.

Plus I got a little strip of sunblock with some custom text added to my face-shield. Luger who did the work at Calcomanias LA 17 (Calle 17 No 14-20 C.C. Megacentro) was excellent. He's a perfectionist, and so made sure the finished product came out exactly as requested. If you're ever in Bogota and in need of custom graphics for your vehicle, drop by and tell 'em Darren sent ya...

Also, you can check his buddy Willi in the shop next door selling some very nice LED lighting systems, for bikes and other vehicles.

We thought we'd leave early on Saturday and head north. That plan hit a snag when we couldn't find the house of a guy Troy wanted to purchase a drift cam from.

If you've ever driven in Bogota, you'll remember how insane their street numbering schemes can be. The address we were looking for was on Calle 67, No 97-41

Not a problem finding Calle 67. Well "no problem" is quite relative. More accurately i should say, "No problem that can't be solved by consulting 3 GPS devices, asking 10 locals for directions, and driving around for 45 minutes.  

So we found the street. But this No 97-41 business sunk us. No one we talked to in the neighborhood could figure out where that could be. :(

So, no DriftCam for Troy.

Finally heading out of town we discovered a really cool feature of Colombian highways -- motorcycles pay no tolls! We even have our own special lane, 2 feet wide to bypass the toll collectors. Now how cool is that?!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Day 102 - Bogota Liming

Well, there had to be some reason that so many people come to visit Bogota. I didn't get any sense of it my first 2 days here, but today was quite different.

We spent a large part of the morning trying to source some rear tires for the KLRs. We'll have to go tomorrow to actually see what's available. Our tire of choice (well, Troy's tire of choice), the Avon Gripster, is only available on a 1-week special order for a whopping $COP 375,000 (pesos) ~ $200 USD.

And that's per tire.

So clearly, that's not going to happen.

It looks like we may end up with some Pirelli's. That will have to wait for when we visit the shop.

Just before noon, a new friend that Troy made last night at the pub, May, showed up at the hostel with her friend Elkin. They're both originally from Barranquilla, but Elkin has since moved to Bogota, and May is just visiting here for the long weekend.

Tim, Troy, Elkin, May and myself spent the rest of the day wandering about Bogota. We didn't go to any of the official tourist sites, but simply walked around checking out the city.

We had a lovely lunch at a small restaurant. The soup starter was hearty and excellent, though with a touch too much coriander for my tastes. The rest of the crew had no such complaints however.

We all (except for Tim -- he's hyper-allergic and has a very restricted diet) ordered the local speciality "Bandeja Paisa". It's a full lunch plate with white rice, a fried egg, baked beans, fried plantain, ground beef, and a dumpling-like thing I couldn't handle :)  Excellent overall.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering about snapping pictures. There's quite a strong tradition of graffiti in this city. Enjoy some of the pics.. more have been uploaded to my Flickr photostream -- just check the narrow column to the right of this text.

We found a guitar shop and Elkin tested their handiwork.

The verdict? Too 'tinny'

This is bar. Who sits up there?

Elkin testing some guitars. The man can play!


 In the evening, Troy and I rode Elkin and May back to Elkin's place where we chilled for a bit. Troy got a chance to play on some excellent guitars.

I can't believe I didn't take a pic. The man had a perma-grim plastered on the whole time we were there :)

We were also introduced to some great music from their home city.

Then we took May to the airport to catch her flight back to Barranquilla. I have never in my life seen such grid-lock. Maybe my friends living in LA are used to it, but last night was ridiculous. It took us well over 90 minutes to do a 20 minute trip.

We did manage to get her on flight just in the nick of time though.

Word to city planners in Bogota and elsewhere -- do NOT rip up ALL of the highways AND major roads at the SAME time. It's just plain dumb!

Temp fix
Coming home from the airport, my right rear pannier broke loose. Troy was behind me, noticed and frantically signalled to me to pull over. The main support bolt that runs through the bike's existing luggage rack is broken, so I'm not sure how this thing is ever going to carry much load again. A quick application of some tie down straps got us back on the road temporarily. I'll deal with a proper fix tomorrow...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day 101 - Reunited

Reunited and it feels so good
Reunited 'cause we understood
There's one perfect fit
And, sugar, this one is it
We both are so excited
'Cause we're reunited, hey, hey

Today I got my Rebecca back!

Not again!
She was a little bashed up from the flight, but nothing a little banging can't fix..

It's just quite amazing how much we all missed our bikes. It could possibly be considered embarrassing even -- but we don't care. For the duration of this journey, these bikes are almost our entire world.

Maybe that sort of dedication can be transferred to a person when I get back...

Sorted and ready to go...

Tomorrow we buy some new tires..

Much thanks to those who have pressed the Donate button. You've helped me a lot. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.