Saturday, 13 July 2019

Back in the land of the Haggis

My old mate Steve phoned and asked how I was, I started to give him a sob story about being stuck at home, recovering from my operation. "Don't be a wimp" he said, "I've got a nice little job for you, easy work sitting in the office, a couple of months work".

And so I found myself once again in bonny Scotland. I decided that as I was once again in the land of the haggis and lovely empty roads, I would get the Tiger brought up here so I could use it at weekends to re-visit some of the sights Scotland has to offer. 

For my first ride out I planned a nice little route, out of Aberdeen on the south Deeside road to Banchory then across country to the motor museum at Alford, then circle back to Aberdeen. At 130 miles it would be my longest trip this year on the bike; luckily there would be plenty of places to stop if it all got a bit uncomfortable "down there".

In the event, I managed it all the way to Alford without a stop, had a nice snack in the on-site cafe, and spent a pleasant couple of hours strolling around the museum and its grounds. A quick-ish blast back to Aberdeen and that was a great day to spend my day off. Here's a few random photos I took while there. I'm looking forward to next weekend, maybe a ride up to Braemar. Cheers!

At rhe Museum

Entrance with nicely presented scooters

Rare Triumph 350 Bandit - never made production

And old cars

Even stranger bike & sidecar

Small RV (!!)

Gypsy caravan

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Its not you, its me.

Triumph dealer lent me this Street Scrambler while the Tiger was having its 12K service. To be honest, I quite liked the look of it and had considered it as a possible lighter replacement for the Tiger as I'm finding it more and more difficult to wheel around. The strange thing was, though, that from across the showroom, the bike looked normal size, then , the closer I got, the smaller it seemed to be.

On its own, bike looks normal size
So here's a quick review - nice engine sounded good through those pipes, gearbox smooth, brakes good, seat hard as a plank, rear suspension travel extremely limited. I was going to add that it was also extremely small, I looked like a bear riding a monkey bike, but my pal Barry put it into perspective.

Seat just about level with my knees
He said "John there's nothing wrong with the bike, its you that's ridiculously tall"

When I collected the Tiger two days later it initially felt a bit heavy and seemed a bit tall, but after a couple of minutes riding it became comfy like a pair of old slippers. Can't wait to get back on it regularly - soon as I'm fully healed 'down there'.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Magnificent creatures

I'd come to the Dominican Republic to watch whales, so first I went online and booked several trips with Whale Samana, who seemed to be a professional company run by an American marine biologist. The area to watch whales was Samana bay, which is in the North-East of the country, well away from tourist areas. An online hotel search showed a number of rough-looking places in Samana town, with one luxury resort located 8km outside town but they were offering ridiculously low rates so I booked there, I needed a car anyway. On arrival at Santo Domingo airport I collected my rent-a-wreck (and this one really was!) and drove around to Samana, a five hour journey that went OK apart from collecting a speeding ticket and roadside fine from a couple of policemen who were determined to fleece this gringo.

When I arrived at the hotel they gave me a little apartment with a balcony overlooking the bay, and as has happened so often on this trip, I seemed to be the only guest! I don't know how these places manage to keep going, especially when they were charging me less than a run-down hostel in town.
View from hotel balcony
Bright and early next morning I was at the marina for my first boat trip. I climbed to the upper deck of the boat and found a seat up front near the captain. Sitting next to me was a young lady, holding a camera with the longest lens I have ever seen! I got out my battered Nikon coolpix and she started laughing. So Eva and I came to an agreement that I would just watch whales, and she'd let me have any nice photos; the next few photos are therefore courtesy of Eva. Within ten minutes or so from leaving the harbour, we came upon a pair of humpback whales, a mother and young baby. The baby was in a frisky mood, it kept coming near to us & the other two boats in the vicinity, jumping out of the water (breaching), slapping its tail and generally having a good time.
That looks pretty big!

Baby whale 'breaching'

Baby whale tail slap
 We were treated to this exciting, wonderful spectacle for about 15 minutes, the mother whale just gently swimming close to the baby, virtually submerged, when, after a particularly boisterous show, the mother decided to join in.
Bloody Hell thats huge!
 Thats when we realised how big she was!! She breached right beside the boat; the captain estimated she was around 40 feet long, and by the splash, must have been 20 tons or more! I have never had such an exciting experience!
Mother starting to breach

... higher

.... higher

 Just a fabulous sight to see first hand - right then I was happy that I'd made the journey. I'd actually booked two weeks in the hotel, so I had two more days when I had a trip out in the bay with Whale Samana, then on two other occasions I went out in one of those tiny fishing boats (much cheaper but pretty hairy!). Unfortunately the weather was a bit unsettled, so there were days I couldn't go out on the water, however, each time I did, we managed to see more of these magnificent creatures. I never saw Eva again though, so no more photos.
Yeah, another deserted beach!
 In between boat trips I occupied myself driving around the peninsular, finding some lovely deserted white-sand beaches, plus searching for elusive vegan restaurants (there were none!) although I did find a Falafal place in Las Terrenas, a sort of 'gringo' town that had a French supermarket where I bought supplies.

The rest of the time I just hung around the hotel - there was a nice pool and a private beach, and I was the only person there!

My own private beach!
Eventually it was time to leave - I'd left England on the 6th December with a return flight via Miami on 21st March - long enough time away, I reckon.

My only regret was that I'd felt ill for much of the trip, nothing specific, just 'under the weather'. When I finally arrived home I decided to visit a doctor; seemed I needed an immediate operation 'down there' so Wednesday 27th I was in hospital. I'm home now, feeling pretty uncomfortable but glad to be able to share these photos with you. 'Ciao'

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Postcard from Colombia

I'd decided to head to Colombia on the advice of my Indigenous friend Juan; the plan was to visit Cartagena, then up the coast to the Tayrona National park and Cuidad Perdida. I'd actually visited Cartagena about 20 years ago, and remembered a beautiful Spanish colonial city; the old town hasn't changed, but my, what a lot of tourists! Anyway, I found a nice little hostel right in the centre of the old town in a lovely restored colonial building, and spent a few days just wandering around, drinking in the atmosphere.
Colourful fruit sellers waiting for clients

Easy to get fresh fruit here

And plenty of Vegan restaurants

Looking across from the old town to the new hotel complex

After five days wandering around, chilling out in the Hostel swimming pool and eating good vegan food, I decided it was time to move on. Now in all the years I've been travelling, I have always relied on the Lonely Planet guide books to give me ideas about where to go. 
This next part of the trip showed me that perhaps I'm not now their target audience. The book recommended an island in the marine national park as worth a visit, and suggested driving down to a town called Tula a couple of hours south of Cartagena, then a side trip to Mompos, which was (supposedly) a wonderful, unspoilt colonial town inland on the Magdalena river.
So I hired a rent-a-wreck from a local car hire company and drove down the coast to Tula. It actually took five hours due to the incredibly bad roads; when I got there the town was a dump! No foreign tourists, just nationals. I'd found a hotel online that looked decent - I was actually the only guest. The staff were so amazed to have a gringo staying that they fell over themselves looking after me!
They booked me a trip out to the island for the next day, and even managed to put together a quick evening meal.
The trip out to the island was well worth the hassle! Clear blue sea, plenty of marine life, and those white sand beaches.A little slice of paradise.

Oh but the town itself was unbearable for this old vegan, barbeques billowing smoke on every corner, music blasting out of every bar until the early hours - I realised then that Im probably 40 years too old for the Lonely Planet recommendations!

Then came the really adventurous bit, driving inland to Mompos. Allegedly there was a direct road, my satnav showing a four hour drive. What no-one mentioned was that the direct route took me straight to the banks of the Magdelena river, with no bridges across! After some gesticulating and shouting with a couple of local guys, one of them showed me a dirt track that ran through a fishing village, across a farm to a ferry. It was the dodgiest ferry I've ever seen, basically two fishing boats tied together with a platform bolted on top, strictly one car at a time.

What, down there?
 Eventually, after an encounter with two policemen trying to extort money from this gringo, I eventually got to Mompos. Which was a real one-horse town, only the horse had left!

At one time it had been a major port on the river, full of rich merchants houses and boasting seven churches. It then fell on hard times, and became a forgotten backwater. I stayed in one of the lovely restored colonial houses, but there was absolutely nothing to do in the town once I'd visited the seven churches! I then got chatting with the other guests, all of whom were foreigners like me and had come there after reading the Lonely Planet.

Fishermen still use dug-out canoes
So after a couple of days melting in the heat, I drove back to Cartagena to return the hire car, and get ready for my trip up to Tayrona National Park. The only slight problem - they shut the park!!

Evidently the Arhuaco Indians actually own the park, and decided to close it for a month so they could hold some religious ceremonies. So I finally came to the realisation that I was basically just wasting my time hanging around, time to do something completely different.  Having thrown away my guide book, I went online to look for inspiration. What I wanted to do was something interesting; there we are - whale watching in the Dominican Republic. Perfect. Just a two hour flight and I'd be somewhere different. Bag packed, off to the airport - Humpback whales look out here I come!