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Posts Tagged ‘Island

Western Scotland & Northern Ireland

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A plan was hatched to do Scotland properly. I had been once before in 2003 when the Guzzi was in a friend’s barn in Shropshire. At that time, I only had a week and had only made it as far as the Isle of Skye before time ran out and I had to turn around and head south. Still, what I had seen was enough to whet my appetite for more.

A P.M. was fired off to a friend in Scotland, asking for a few route tips. Instead, he went far above the call of duty and provided Google maps and plenty of suggestions on where to stay. He even went as far as to arrange an oil change in Aberdeen for my Thruxton. I hafta doff my chapeau to him. I owe him the equivalent in return. Unfortunately, as I headed out the door to the airport, I left his maps and printed advice on the kitchen counter. D’oh!

After an overnight flight to the U.K., I arrived in Nottingham and loaded up the Thruxton. By 2 P.M., I was on the road and heading north along the A1. At Scotch Corner, I turned westward on the wonderful A864 across the Yorkshire Dales. It was at this point that the team orson photographer realized that he had forgotten the camera’s battery back in Nottingham. He tried to blame it on jet lag but, his actions were inexcusable

At around 6 P.M, it began to rain lightly (this would be a recurring theme) and decided on a nice inn near Hawes. The plan for the following day would be to make time on the M6 motorway in order to catch the final day of the 100th running of the legendary Scottish Six Days Trial held around Fort William. I got lost in Glasgow and ended up heading northeast instead of northwest. I finally realized my mistake when I reached Stirling but, it turned out to be a fortuitous mistake as, the A84 turned out to be a great ride. Ha! Let’s see yer GPS do that!

Back when I was but a wee lad, the Scottish Six Days Trial was a major motorcycling event, dutifully reported on by the U.S. bike rags along with the ISDT and the Motocross des Nations. Sadly, in this day of freestyle MX and stunt shows, the trial has lost it’s luster and like the Daytona 200, lives off its former glory. Still, I felt an urge to witness this unique event in which trials riders cover as much as 100 miles per day over 6 days.

From my hotel, I rode up towards Kinlochleven, not really sure what I was looking for. After riding through the town and seeing no signs of the event, I eventually came across many cars parked alongside the road. A short walk up a dirt road soon had me at one of the sections along a rocky creek bed. It was interesting to see how the different riders tackled the sections, from the apprehensive youngsters to the wiley gray beards. Although the skies threatened to rain, it stayed mostly dry.

I then rode a few more miles to reach the famous Pipeline Section. Since I didn’t have a camera. It’s difficult to convey how long and how steep it is. It’s so long, they separate it into four sections. It was amazing to watch the riders switch from unstoppable bulldozer mode to ballerina mode then back to bulldozer several times.

Later in the afternoon, I rode to Fort William for the awards ceremony and to walk around the pits. A couple of blasts from the past were there with the team Ossa truck as well as the newly reformed Greeves factory. I was hoping to score a 100th SSDT t-shirt but, they were sold out and I had to settle for a beanie.

The next day, I woke up to face of an ominous rainy weather forecast. I was to ride across the breadth of Scotland to meet up with my friend in Aberdeen on the east coast. Amazingly, I rode through bright sunshine all the way up until 2 P.M. when a brief shower finally lashed out at me. Upon reaching Aberdeen, directions from a friendly local soon had me my friend’s front door.

My friend lives in an amazing home, formerly a church. If you’ve ever watched a James Bond film where the protagonist is invited into Dr. No or Goldfinger’s lair, that’s what it was like. A vast open area with a couple Ducatis and a KTM motard overlooked by a huge stained glass window. I think having a Bond villain’s lair is everyone’s fantasy. Impressive!

Stained glass

Following his advice, we agreed to make the fishing port of Ullapool our base of operations on the west coast. We left Aberdeen the next morning headed towards, Edinburgh. As I was just following my friend rather than relying on a map, I had no idea where I was but, the sun was out and the traffic was light so, all was well in the world. The highlight of the day had to be the road on the north shore of Loch Ness. What a magnificent motorcycling road with fast, sweeping curves and lots of places to pass slower traffic.

Looking north from the south end of Loch Ness

Loch Ness

After a drenching rain, we finally reached Ullapool just after 7 P.M. A fish and chips dinner from the local chippie, a hot shower, a wee dram of scotch and it was off to never never land to sleep the sleep of the dead.

Sunset over Ullapool

Ullapool sunset
The next day we headed north, using the single track road that hugged the coast.

Heading towards Achiltibuie on the Coigach coast

Coigach coast

Go north

Continuing northwards

North

Encountering two other bikers heading south

Bikers

The coastline reminded me of Norway at times

Coast

Coastt

Despite the threatening rain, we remained dry as we approached the north coast.

Loch

Near the north coast, the Highland terrain opened up and offered vast vistas

Vast

Open

Lake

We reached Durness on the north coast at around 4 P.M. before deciding to return to Ullapool via the main highway.

Views heading south

South

Southh

Southhh

Southhhh

Dropping down into Ullapool from the north

Ullapool

In Ullapool, we managed to find a shop that sold cheap digital cameras so, apologies if the pictures aren’t up to snuff. We returned to our friendly hosts at our bed & breakfast just outside Ullapool for a hot shower and a nice steak dinner. After a good night’s sleep, we headed south from Ullapool, again following the coast.

Glen

Vista

Mountain

The Isle of Skye hoves into view off our starboard

Sea view

Belach na Ba kind of surprised me. Being so close to the coast, I wasn’t prepared for something that resembled an Alpine pass.

My friend heading downhill on his Ducati

Belach na Ba

Loch Carron. Somehow, dark and moody seems to fit this location better than bright sunshine

Loch Carron

By 5 P.M. we were still on the west coast and my friend had been hoping to make it to Aberdeen that night! At Locharron, we bade our farewells and went our separate ways, my friend back to Aberdeen while I headed back to Ullapool for one more night before catching my ferry to the Outer Hebrides.

Outer Hebrides

The following morning I woke up to more rain. I suited up and made the short ride into town to the ferry pier. Only three other bikes waiting to board. You must really want to go to get there.

Hebrides ferry

By the time the ferry reached Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis at midday, the weather had improved. The rugged Isle of Lewis and Harris contain some of the oldest rock formations in Europe. While the scenery might be stark and bleak, I’ve always been attracted to these “edge of the world” type places.

Desolate isolation on the Isle of Lewis

Lewis

The standing stones of Callanish whose meaning has been lost in the mists of time.

Callanish

From Callanish, I turn south along the rugged western coast of Lewis

Rugged

West

Westt

Westtt

I continued south until grass started growing out of the asphalt. A sure sign I was getting near the end and would have to turn around

Grass

I should note that these aren’t ideal sport touring roads or even motorcycling roads at all but, if you have an itch for remote places, the Outer Hebrides definitely scratches that itch.

Pointing north

West coast

I rejoin the main highway and head to the southern part of the island known as Harris which is even more rugged than Lewis

Harris

In the town of Tarbert, I find a cozy bed & breakfast run by an elderly woman who reminds me of my mother. I’m struck by the friendliness and warmth of the Hebridean people.

The next morning, I continue south to catch another ferry, this time to the Isle of North Uist. I make a quick detour to the small island of Scalpay where I again reach the end of the road and am forced to turn around.

Scalpay

Cross Harris

I’m surprised when the sun makes a rare appearance to reveal some pristine, sandy beaches on South Harris

Beach

Sandy

Sandyy

I reach the ferry port at Leverburgh to find that I am the only motorcyclist waiting in line. You must really, really want to get somewhere to be the only motorcyclist.

Leverburgh

The ferry ride to North Uist took about 50 minutes but, it was no simple crossing as the captain had to zig-zag his way amongst a veritable mine field of rocks and islets. He definitely earns his paycheck. Although not quite as rugged as Lewis & Harris, North Uist seems even less populated and remote

North Uist

Sunny

A lonely telephone box stands sentinel along a back road

Phone

North Uist is connected to the Isles of Benbecula and South Uist by a series of causeways. A local told me that during a bad, winter storm, a car and its occupants were swept off a causeway and out to sea by a rogue wave.

Another squall about to drench me blows in off the Atlantic. The wind was blowing the entire time I was on the Outer Hebrides. I can only imagine what the winter storms must be like

Squal

I made it as far south as the Isle of Eriskay off the southern end of South Uist before turning around and heading north. About 10 miles from my hotel, I was hit by yet another drenching squall. Suddenly, the Thruxton sputtered to a stop as if it had run out of fuel. Great! I was stranded in the middle of nowhere, with the rain pouring down. I peered into the gas tank and gave it a shake. I pushed the starter button again and, she fired right up! Hmmm. Maybe the carbs sucked in some rain or sumthin. I high tailed it to the hotel before she changed her mind again. That would be the only hiccup during the trip.

The next morning on the main road on North Uist (seriously, this is the main road), a herd of sheep blocks rush hour traffic. By the time they had been herded to their paddock, a four-car traffic jam had been created

Sheep

I made my way to Lochmaddy where the MV Hebrides would take me on the 2 hour crossing to the Isle of Skye.

MV Hebrides

Once again, I was the only motorcycle on the boat. I didn’t see any motorcycles that looked like they were ridden by locals on the Hebrides. The few bikes I saw were obviously touring. With their roads and their weather, you’d have to be serious to be a regular motorcyclist on the Hebrides.

Once on Skye, the weather let lose with a vengeance. The forecast called for two solid days of rain so, I did what every perfeshunal dilettante does and found a nice hotel to hole up in and get some laundry done.

Rain

Eventually, the rain let up a bit but, not enuff to give me blue skies. Portree is the main town on Skye

Portree

The Cuillin Hills in the distance on the Isle of Skye

Cuillin Hills

Ferry number 4 would take me from Skye back on to the mainland

Skye ferry

Argyll

The Morvern Peninsula is an isolated place of wonderfully stark scenery

Morvern

In the little town of Lochaline, I stumble upon the White House restaurant that serves locally sourced meals. It was here that I had one of the best meals of the trip. These unexpected gems that you happen upon by chance are part of the allure of travel for me.

Heading back north along Loch Linnhe with ever-present threatening skies

Loch Linnhe

Ferry Number 5 takes me across Loch Linnhe

Loch Linnhe ferry

Once again heading south, I make a detour thru Glen Coe. This is one of those places, like Yosemite, whose beauty stands out even in inclement weather

Glen Coe1

Glen Coe2

Glen Coe3

I continue south through the port city of Oban which kind of reminds me of small version of San Francisco. A western port with a slightly seedy underbelly. I make it as far south as Lochgilphead before a bit of rain followed by a strong, cold wind makes me stop for the night.

The next morning I head south along the west coast of the Kintyre Peninsula on the A83. With a good view of the ocean and a salty sea air, it stirs memories of my days in Northern California

Kintyre1

Kintyre2

Kintyre3

At Campbeltown, I fill up with fuel and turn north following the single track lane up the eastern side of the peninsula

Kintyre4

At Claonaig, I await ferry number 6 to take me across as the Isle of Arran looms in the distance

Arran1

Arran2

Impressive mountains of Arran

Arran3

I head east across the middle of the island and get a view of the Firth of Clyde with the Scottish mainland in the distance

Firth of Clyde

A one hour ferry ride takes me back to the mainland at Androssan where I make a quick hop south to get a hotel in Troon in preparation for tomorrow’s ferry to Northern Ireland.

I wake up bright and early on Friday and make my way to the ferry terminal. This is the day before the North West 200 race in Northern Ireland and this time, I surely won’t be the only motorcyclist on the boat. I’m one of the first bikes in line and get to watch the bikes accumulate

Ferry queue

I soon begin to notice a trend. Most of the race fans are in their 50s or close to their 50s. I see a few riders who might be in their mid-30s and none in their twenties. I’m wondering if high insurance rates are the cause of the lack of youth or maybe it coincides with the birth of the internet some twenty years ago.

Soon the signal is given and the horde of bikes is herded on board. I figure there must be between 200 and 300 motorcycles

Bikes

Northern Ireland

I arrive in the port of Larne at about midday and am met by fellow Guzzisti, BelfastGuzzi from the V11lemans web site and his friend, both on Guzzis, who have kindly offered to provide me a tour of the northern coast

Guzzi

The North Antrim coast road doesn’t seem to get much press but, it’s a fantastic ride. Much too tight and lined with stone walls for any kind of serious sport riding but, the scenery more than makes up for that

Antrim1

BelfastGuzzi takes me on a road less traveled that hugs the coast and offers spectacular views of Torr Head

Antrim2

The picture doesn’t adequately convey the steepness of the single track lane descending the hillside

Antrim3

Antrim4

Antrim5

Antrim6

Antrim7

Unfortunately, race day dawns with a windy rain. I walk from my hotel down to the grassy viewing area at the Metropole and by the time I find a place to sit, the rain is diminishing

Metropole

By the 11:00 starting time of the North West 200 race, the rain has stopped although the track remains wet. The 600 Supersport class leads off and Aussie Cameron Donald engages local lad Alastair Seeley in a ding-dong back and forth battle. Donald’s Honda seems to have the ponies but, Seeley’s Suzuki gets him under braking and manages to hold on for the win.

Unfortunately, during the Superbike race, a bike spews its oil on the racing line as it begins to rain again. Cleaning up the track and a bomb threat to the paddock throw a wrench into the works and, by 4 P.M. the organizers decide to call the event in the name of safety. I can’t say I blame them. following a mist of spray at 190 mph is no place to be.

Still, I’m glad I went as I got a good feel for the event and enjoyed the atmosphere. Excuse the crappy hand held photos

Entering the Metropole Section after a 160 mph straightaway

Metropole entry

The famous railroad bridge

Bridge

which leads up a slight rise into a blind right hand kink

Kink

I walked further down the coast to get a shot at the top of Black Hill

Black Hill

As luck would have it, the day before and the day after the race were rather nice. I mount up and head west towards Donegal in Ireland

NI

You can hardly tell when you cross the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. If there were any signs, I missed them. I make my way to Glenveagh National Park against a considerable head wind. I’m surprised by the sparse vegetation, almost looking a bit like New Mexico. Not what I expected of Ireland.

Glenveagh

After about 4 hours, I reach the west coast of Ireland

Rosses

I turn back towards the east and what was once a headwind, now became a tail wind…woo hoo!

A sectarian mural in Northern Ireland. Bobby Sands and Che

Sectarian

I continue eastward on the scenic Barnes Gap scenic route thru bucolic countryside

Barnes Gap

I had planned to go see the Joey Dunlop memorial in Ballymoney the following day but the weather once again foiled my plans. High winds with gusts up to 70 mph created havoc across Northern Ireland toppling trees and making it generally unsafe to try and ride a motorcycle. The high winds also forced the cancelation of my 5 P.M. ferry so, I had to book for the following day.

The next morning, the winds had subsided and I made my way back to the ferry port in Larne.

I don’t know which is more impressive…this guy riding an Aprilia 125cc two-stroke from Scotland

Aprilia

or this guy who rode a BSA Lightning from Switzerland

BSA

I arrive back on the Scottish mainland at Cairnyan and begin to make my way towards England across the Scottish Borders district

Scottish Borders

After spending the night in Carlisle, I begin my last day on the road with my last bit of two-lane across the scenic Northern Pennines

Pennines1

Pennines2

At Scotch Corner, I grab lunch then hit the M1 Motorway and make the final blast down to Nottingham. Despite all that rain in the forecast, I really only had about four bouts of riding in solid rain. The rest of the times I was dodging rain showers or riding in a drizzle which wasn’t hardly like rain at all and, even had a few spells of sunshine. I had previously rated the Kiwis as the friendliest people I had encountered but, after this trip, I think the Scots and the Irish are on par with the Kiwis. Outstanding hospitality.

Trip stats:

Mileage: 3000 miles
Travel days: 18
Rest days: 3 (due to rain & winds)
Ferry crossings: 9
Police encounters: 2
Police interaction: 0
Midge attacks: 1

Route Maps:

Scotland

NI Map

2010 Central Italy

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After a long layoff, a plan was hatched for a team orson reunion tour. While Greece was originally considered as a focal point, with team orson still recovering from their injuries and, with the Goose having been in mothballs for almost two years, it was decided to play it safe and stay close to home in an attempt to rediscover sport touring. The team was reunited at team orson world headquarters in Parma, Italy and was soon on the road heading southwards.

Tuscany

The first day would end with team orson in the Chianti region of Tuscany. The long layoff had affected team orson’s endurance and they were feeling mighty sore. In the past, team orson plowed ahead, staying in a new locale every night. A decision was made to stay at one place for a few days, making day trips before moving on.

Panzano in Chianti

Panzano in Chianti

Heading southwest from Siena

Southwest from Siena

Someone’s Tuscan weekend bungalow

Weekend Bungalow

Approaching the castle in Rocca d’ Orcia

Rocca d' Orcia

Narrow, cobblestone streets of Rocca d’ Orcia

Cobblestones

Heading south from Rocca d’ Orcia, Monti Amiati, the highest peak in Southern Tuscany looms in the distance

Monti Amiati

Castel del Piano

Castel del Piano

Tuscan autumnal landscapes

Harvest

Returning to Rocca d’ Orcia

Return

An elderly gentleman makes his way up the streets of Rocca d’ Orcia. Team orson had been recommended a nice room nearby with an excellent restaurant

Elderly Gent

Tasty twisties were also sampled

Twisties

We stopped to have lunch in this town whose name now escapes me.

Lunch

Team orson was becoming all too familiar with the pleasures of Italian cuisine where, one course simply will not do. Meals were consumed with no concern given to bulging waistlines. At one lunch stop, an Italian waiter chided team orson for ordering a coke rather than wine with lunch. The fact that I was operating a motor vehicle failed to dissuade him from his stance. It was simply un-Italian. Within a week, team orson had to cut out all desserts.

Something was amiss with team orson’s itinerary. Whereas in the past, an innate sense of wanderlust had propelled us onward, now, wandering aimlessly had caused a feeling of disorientation to set in. A chance meeting with a leather shop owner in Siena changed things. After learning that we were both motorcyclists, a conversation about trips and roads ensued. He mentioned the Isle of Elba and how great the roads were there. A seed had been planted and by the next morning, team orson was heading towards the Tuscan coast.

Approaching the coast through groves of olive trees

Olive Trees

I had planned to stay overnight at the ferry port of Piombino but, arriving by 3:00 P.M., I found that a ferry was leaving in 20 minutes. I purchased a ticket and was soon directed to the front of the line. I had barely enough time to get off the bike and snap this picture of the ferry before the load master was hollering at me to get my butt onboard

Ferry

Elba lies 18 kilometers off the coast of Tuscany so, it was a relatively quick 1 hour crossing. The island is about 40 kilometers long and roughly 10 kilometers wide. As with many islands, time seems to slow down a bit and life is carried out at a more relaxed pace than on the mainland. We found a hotel on a beach and made plans to explore the island the following day.

The cove where the hotel was located

Cove

The next morning we head west from the main city of Portoferraio, following the coastal highway, Monti Capanne, the highest peak on Elba in the distance

Monti Capanne

Approaching the town of Marciana Marina on the north coast

Marciana Marina

The roads of Elba are extremely twisty but, with the heavy traffic, traveling at a sporty pace proved difficult. It seemed that a moped with flip flops and a bathing suit to sample the passing beaches might be the proper choice. After Marciana Marina however, the traffic density was reduced significantly and things began to look up.

When the road broke out of the forest onto the cliffs overlooking the west coast, I was impressed by the view. If you squinted, you might think that you were riding the Pacific Coast Highway in California

West Coast

Cue Tommy Chong voice: Oh wow man! That’s California!

Like California

I stopped in the town of Pomonte for lunch. The primi platti of frutti de mari was absolutely delicious

Frutti di Mare

Unfortunately, the Highway 1 similarity only lasted about 20 kilometers. Heading back east along the south coast

South Coast

The next day would be spent exploring the east side of the island.

Overlooking the main city of Portoferraio across the bay

Bay

Approaching the town of Innamorata

Innamorata

Looking back west along the southern coast from the town of Innamorata

Southern Coast

After two days on the island, we boarded a ferry back to the mainland. Heading across Southern Tuscany, the landscape reminded team orson of Spain

Tuscany

It was on this day that team orson would rediscover sport touring. From the coast, the Strada Statale 322 climbs up into the Appenines with a mix of fast, sweeping bends followed by tighter, more technical twisties. Team orson meshed into a single, strada-strafing unit, dispatching what little traffic they encountered to turn the knob to eleven. The day would end along the shores of Lago di Bolsena which, when viewed on a topographical map, is revealed to be the crater of a giant, extinct volcano.

The town of Bolsena is one of those places, lined with trees and cafes and gelaterias filled with Italians enjoying life, that make one think, “Dang, it sure would be nice to retire here”.

Lago di Bolsena

Leaving Bolsena the next morning, it’s just a short hop to the hill town of Orvieto

Orvieto

Meandering through the narrow streets of Orvieto

Narrow

The mighty, mighty Goose patrols the rampart walls for any signs of approaching Honda hordes

Ramparts

Moto Guzzi V11 Le Mans

Guzzi

Lazio

Leaving Tuscany, team orson enters Lazio. While not as famous as Tuscany or Umbria, Lazio still has some wonderful natural beauty.

Heading into the Grand Sasso National Park north of L’Aquila

Gran Sasso

Team orson was surprised at the quality of the twisties on the eastern fringe of the Appenine mountains. Wonderfully traffic-free, twisty roads that rivaled anything the Alps have to offer. It remains a mystery to team orson why so many focus on the Alps while leaving other fantastic roads untouched but, we are grateful for the lack of traffic

Vast wide open spaces on the northern fringe of Monti Sibillini National Park

Monti Sibillini

The town of Civitella (I think)

Civitella

Umbria

Approaching Spoletto from the south

Spoletto

Tuscany

After almost two weeks of unflinching, sunny blue skies, a day of rain set in. With time running out, we began to head north towards home base. In Northern Tuscany, the mountains become steeper and the terrain becomes almost alpine-like.

The Northern Tuscan spa town of Bagni di Lucca where team orson found a nice little hotel overlooking the river

Bagni di Lucca

Sunny skies returned allowing for a beautiful ride through the Apuan Alps of Northern Tuscany

Apuan Alps

Resistance is futile. If you see the sign of a scorpion in your mirrors, surrender to your fate at the hands of an Abarth-equipped Fiat 500

Fiat

More views of the Apuan Alps

Apuan

Popping out on the Ligurian coast near Portofino

Liguria

Emilia-Romagna

After a rest day in Portofino, team orson begins the final leg of the trip from the coast back to Parma. Team orson was a bit surprised to find some of the best roads on the trip were within a day’s ride from Parma.

Impressive mountain views in the Emilia-Romagna

Emilia-Romagna

The castle overlooking the town of Bardi

Bardi

One final meal

Ravioli

Route Map:

Route Map

Mileage: a paltry 3200 kilometers
Riding Days: 17.5
Rest Days: 1.5
Carabinieri encounters: 0
Deer encounters: 0
Ferry crossings: 2
Bee stings: 1

Sri Lanka’s Hill Country

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In December 2008, I had my worst accident in over 30 years of riding. It’s been a long, slow climb back to something that resembles normalcy. In almost a year and a half, I’ve experienced more hospital stays and doctor’s appointments to than I care to remember. Now, with the healing almost complete, I was itching to get back out there and enjoy life.

I had originally hoped to fly to Italy to rejoin team orson for a long overdue reunion, but alas, the Icelandic volcano had other plans. I had to come up with Plan B in a hurry. I decided that it was best to get as far away from the volcano as possible, lest I get stranded in some airport. I cast my eyes eastward to the island nation of Sri Lanka. The Tamil rebels had recently given up their decades old separatist struggle, so now seemed like a good time to visit. post haste, I purchased air fare and made bike hire arrangements over the internet.

After a 5 hour flight, I landed at Colombo, the capital city on the west coast of the island. The bike hire guy arranged to have a driver waiting for me, and before long I was at the bike shop. The air was thick with humidity along with the corresponding tropical temperatures. There must still be some tension, as I spotted pairs of armed soldiers at most intersections in Colombo. As the island’s roads are mostly two-laned with lots of traffic, a Honda XR-250 was deemed sufficient for my needs.

After taking care of the pleasantries and paperwork, I was soon on my way, heading north armed with only a map and a camera. Within the first few kilometers, I had missed my turn, so business as usual ๐Ÿ˜€ A few stops for directions and I was back on the righteous path.

Even luke warm, coconut juice hits the spot on a hot day.
Coconut milk

A word about the traffic. I have experienced riding in Goa, so I assumed I knew what riding in South Asia was all about. I didn’t know Jack. Sri Lankan traffic “goes to 11”. As in India, might makes right, with trucks and buses ruling the roads with iron fisted authority. Motorcycles are somewhat lower in the pecking order, somewhere down there with the rikshaws and pedestrians. Drivers had no qualms about pulling out to pass, even with oncoming traffic bearing down. It was the wildest game of chicken I’d ever seen. As such, I occupied the 6 inches of tarmac closest to the shoulder, and at least on one occasion, I took to the dirt apron to avoid becoming a hood ornament :crazy: No one batted an eyelash at such shenanigans as it was just the way things are done.

The tuk-tuks were the worst. Little, three-wheeled vespa taxi cabs. These guys were insane, making U-turns without looking or pulling out into oncoming traffic. Besides that, they were so slow, they always had a string of cars waiting to pass, leading to impatient drivers to make dangerous passes.

May is the beginning of the wet season, and by mid-afternoon, the skies had begun to darken. Before long, the showers came. I sought refuge in a roadside Buddhist mini-shrine with a few other local bikers.

Rain delay
Rain delay

Maybe it was because I hadn’t ridden in so long, but the XR’s saddle felt like a rock. If the XR was the last bike left in the world, I would give up riding. It wuz that hard.

Fortunately, the showers didn’t last long and I was back on the road to Kurunegala. There was a giant, golden Buddha on a hill top, but I couldn’t get close enough to get a good picture. I continued on to Habarana, my stop for the night. I found my hotel just before dark and enjoyed a hot shower along with adult beverages and dinner.

The next day, I would begin the climb into the hill country. Along the way, I passed several elephant safaris.
Elephant safari

When I stopped to snap this picture, a tout ran out and insisted that I must ride the elephants. I was equally insistent, that I must reach Kandy before the afternoon rains ๐Ÿ˜€ Most Sri Lankans I encountered were gracious hosts. As in India, if you flash them a big smile, you are almost always repaid in kind. I passed several police checkpoints, but they seemed uninterested in foreign tourists.

I made my way to Sigiriya, a World Heritage site. Sigiriya holds the ruins of an ancient fortress built atop a rock of hardened magma.
Sigiriya

Another giant Buddha near Sigiriya
Giant Buddha

Many people don’t realize that South Asian culture is even older than that of ancient Egypt. With my bad hip, I was unable to make the climb to the top of Sigiriya, and was back on the road, climbing towards Kandy, the capital city of the hill country.

Numerous roadside stalls sold all manner of coconuts, bananas, mangos, papayas and other fruit I didn’t recognise.
Fruit stall

Giant trees stretched outwards in all directions offering copious amounts of shade
Shade tree

I didn’t quite make it to Kandy in time before the afternoon rains, so once again, I sought shelter, this time in a bus stop. After about an hour delay, I continued towards Kandy, with traffic getting progressively worse. By the time I made it to the city limits, traffic was pandemonium. I just wanted to get to my hotel and take a hot shower. Looking down, I happen to notice the key was missing from the ignition ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Now I had to be extra careful not to stall the bike before I reached the hotel.

After some searching, I finally located my hotel and called the bike shop. Amazingly, someone had already found the keys and called his number on the key fob. As I was too tired to backtrack, I made arrangements for a driver to go retrieve the keys for me.

The view from the hotel room overlooking the river
Kandy

They tell me that the film “Bridge Over The River Kwai” was filmed somewhere in the Sri Lankan hill country.

The following morning, I headed out towards the town of Nuwara Eliya, a former British colonial enclave surrounded by tea plantations. The traffic in Kandy was still terrible, and it took me 45 minutes just to negotiate my way out of town. Once I got away from town, traffic lightened up considerably and I was actuall able to strafe some twisties. The thought of a bus passing on a blind corner kept me from getting too frisky.

The road to Nuwara Eliya
Road to Nuwara Eliya

I decided to take a different way back to Kandy
Backroad

Seeing an elderly man walking on the scorching hot pavement in his barefeet reminded me of what a soft piece of milquetoast I am.
Backroads

More giant shade trees
Giant shade trees

Hill country views. Some trees were blooming fiery, red flowers
Red flowers

Terraces and drying laundry
Terraces

Another hill country vista. Even on these narrow backroads, you would still encounter the malevolent buses
Hill country vista

Another river crossing
River crossing

Back in Kandy. Kandy had a nice town lake with a walkway and park benches. Families were out enjoying the weekend.
Town lake

After 2 nights in Kandy, it was time to return the bike to Colombo. I left Kandy and made my way down towards the coast.

Low country images
Low country

I came upon a woman with 2 porcupines. I asked if they were good eating, but she said no. They seemed docile enough, but I wasn’t gonna stick my hand in front of their faces to see what would happen.
Porcupines

Leaving the hill country, the terrain changed from terraced tea plants to rice paddies
Rice paddies

One of the dreaded tuk-tuks approaches in the distance, searching to create some form of mayhem
Tuk tuk

After getting lost one more time, I ended up having to call the bike shop, and he came and rescued me. All in all, I managed to survive the crazy traffic and rainshowers to have an enjoyable time.

2004 Portugal To Croatia

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Starting out at my friend’s house near Porto, Portugal where my bike spent the winter months, I traversed southern Europe to reach the fortress city of Dubrovnik, Croatia. Whatta trip! 5600 miles / 9000 kilometers. 26 riding days, 3 rest days. I left Porto & headed east following the Duoro River. The road hugs the river & meanders through Portugal’s famous port wine growing region. It reminds me a lot of the road along the Mossel River in Germany. It definitely merits mentioning as one of the most scenic drives in Europe. I followed the river as far east as possible, almost to the Spanish border before turning south to check out the Sierra de Gredo. A smallish mountain range near Madrid.

Along the Duoro…

Duoro

From the Sierra de Gredos, I turned north, towards los Picos De Europa. Across the Principality of Leon, the land turns flat & featureless. This terrain along the Duero was where the border between the Moors & the Christians stabilized for about 100 years. As such, the region is chock full of castles & fortresses as both sides sought to fortify their positions. After passing through the city of Leon, the terrain started getting interesting again as I approached los Picos De Europa. I enjoyed Los Picos so much, I ended up staying a couple days in Riano.

Approaching Riano

Riano

Another shot of the tasty asphalt in the Picos De Europa

Picos de Europa

Whereas last year, I enjoyed picture perfect weather, this year was spent under the threat of rain. While I probably actually rode in the rain less than 10% of the trip, the ominous presence of dark clouds cast it’s shadow over the first 2 weeks. Here is another shot of threatening skies in los Picos.

Rain

Rainy

From Los Picos De Europa, I hugged the coastline along the Costa Verde towards the Pyrennes. I see what they mean by Costa Verde. I saw some spots greener than green. Every tree, shrub, bush & blade of grass was the exact same hue of green creating a “green out” effect. I crossed the Pyrennes at the Col du Somport. The weather was damp & foggy so…sorry, no pictures of the Pyrennes this time

I crossed the south of France using all the back roads. I saw one road on the map that followed a river so, it seemed like a good choice. It ran between Montauban & Rodez. I’ve mentioned before that I believe the French have some of the best motorcycling roads around. This road had some sweepers like I’ve never seen before. Lean right for 20 seconds, lean left for 20 seconds & on & on. It seemed surreal. I exited that section just shaking my head.

The French road engineers are true artisans. Here is another picture from the south of France. Mind blowing billiard table smooth constant radius 3rd & 4th gear sweepers. Just take this picture & multiply it by miles & miles. You get the idea.

French Roads

Continuing to work my way across southern France was hard work!

Work

Approaching the Maritime Alps on the French Italian border

Alps

When I got near Italy, I felt I had to choose between the Alps or Croatia. I sat at the fork in the road for about 20 minutes studying the map, pondering my options & arguing with myself I finally chose Croatia. Years ago, I had read an article in a car magazine that likened the coastal road in Croatia to California’s Highway 1. Seeing that Highway 1 is my all time favorite road, I was keen to sample the comparison. I blasted across northern Italy via the Autostrada in a bid to save some time but, after a half day of droning, I’d had enough. I veered north towards the Dolomites. In Merano, I took a well deserved day off to plan my attack of the Balkans.

I crossed over into Austria briefly before entering Slovenia via the Wurzenpass through the Julian Alps. Slovenia is a wonderful little country totally covered with mountains & with friendly people. The women seem to be an exquisite blend of German & Italian. The men…well, they looked like men to me ๐Ÿ˜€

The Wurzenpass.

Alp

The Julian Alps near the town of Bovec, Slovenia

Julien Alps

I entered Croatia after a cursory passport check. No problems getting in. Croatia lies but 15 hours from Germany so, they are used to German bikers vacationing there. I had to make do with a cell phone advertisement for my “Welcome To Croatia” sign ๐Ÿ˜€

Welcome

Making my way down the coast, the clouds seemed to be following me so, this clouded my perception of any comparisons with Highway 1. Here is a shot of the town of Rogoznica, totally covering a tiny peninsula. Lots of towns with strange sounding names like Zog seem to be places that might be ruled by Ming the Merciless.

Oh yah, the Goose sits in the foreground impatiently sitting through another photo session. Does this look like a bike that likes to sit around all day? No siree, Bob. She’s straining at the bit, raring to get going :naughty:

Coast

Right after this picture was taken, I suffered my biggest scare of the trip. A baseball sized rock materialized before me as I was waiting to pass a car. It glanced off my front tire & whacked my oil pan. I pulled over to check the damage. To my horror, the oil pan had a big chunk knocked out of it & it was dripping oil on the ground. I had remembered seeing an Aprilia sign a few miles back so, I turned around & headed back. The Aprilia shop couldn’t help me but, they knew a mechanic who could. I left the bike with him & took a hotel room. The next morning, he came & picked me up & took me back to the shop. He’d done a good job & patched the Tenni back up. Total lost time- 24 hours. Not bad. The roads in Croatia were pretty rough & uneven. My arm/shoulder sockets ached so bad by the time I got to Dubrovnik, I had trouble sleeping one night. All in all though, I’m glad I went.

I thought it would take about 5 days to reach Dubrovnik. It only took 2. Ooops…so much for good planning. Oh well, this provided me with more time to explore the coastal island chain.

Dubrovnik was shelled by the Serbians during the recent war but, the Croatians have done a great job repairing the damage. The place was full of vacationing Europeans. I saw buses from Poland, Hungary, Estonia and about a bazillion Germans. It seems the Croatia is the next south of Spain. The coastline is still wonderfully undeveloped. The Croatians are sitting on a gold mine. I just hope they plan well & don’t end up ruining it as they have the south of Spain.

The mighty mighty goose surveys the fortress city of Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Fortress

An abandoned section of the old Adriatic coast highway just south of Dubrovnik

Coast Highway

Heading back north, I began island hopping along the chain of coastal islands. The coastal islands are served by a whole fleet of ferrys making it easy to go from one island to the next. My favorite was the Island of Brac. A little gem of a rock full of sleepy little fishing villages. Oh…and great twisty roads made it seem like my own little Isle of Man…uhm until the local gendarme flashed his blue lights at me. oopsie

Here is a pic from Brac overlooking the little village of Povlja.

Povlja

Overlooking another village on the Isle of Brac.

Brac

The fishing village of Milsa on Brac where I had a nice lunch of risotto dyed blue with octopus ink

Milsa

Turquoise blue Adriatic off the southern end of the Isle of Cres

Cres

From Cres, I rejoined the mainland on the Istrian Peninsula, prized by the Romans for the quality of their olive oil. On the southern tip of the peninsula lies the town of Pula. The Roman amphitheatre at Pula is the sixth largest surviving Roman arena.

Pula

Heading north from Pula along the west side of the peninsula, I ran into tourist trap hell & the traffic that goes with it. I gave up on following the coast & headed inland. Much nicer. This is a fertile peninsula and was dotted with scenic farms.

I re-entered Slovenia, spent a couple days in the Julian Alps. I found that I still had 4 days left so, that left me a few days to play in the Italian Dolomites. I couldn’t believe how many bikes I saw in the Dolomites considering it was the middle of the week. The place was crawling with German & Austrian bikers.

On my second to last day, I spent rampaging through the passes around Cortina de Ampezzo. At around 4 P.M. I was passing through the town of Corvara when I felt a sudden shudder from the rear end. My first thought was that I had a rear flat. Upon dismounting, I found the tire to be fine. Hmmm. Seems the rampaging through all the passes had wasted my rear wheel bearing I made a call to my bike shop in Parma & we devised a plan. I would leave my bike at one of his friend’s house nearby then catch a train to Milan to catch my flight to Saudi. He would drive up later & pick it up. soooo, I wuz robbed of my last day of riding. I really can’t complain though. After a month on the road, I was well & truly spent. I was extremely fortunate the bearings gave out while I was going thru a town. It would have sucked to have broken down high up a mountain pass as the sun was going down.

This was my second rear wheel bearing failure. Both going out at about the 17,000 kilometer mark. Other than that, the Guzzi performed like an Abrahams M1 tank. Never missing a beat during the whole adventure.

Here’s a shot from the last day in the Dolomites.

Dolomiten

Cyprus

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November ’04…

Motoring east along the south coast of Cyprus near where the Goddess Aphrodite supposedly was born.

Heading inland into the Troodos mountains. The inland mountains reach a heigth of around 3000′ making it a wee bit chilly in November.

I traveled to the northwest end of the island to the rugged Akamas peninsula. The DR came in handy here as the pavement ended. I followed the jeep trail for a while but, with no cell phone or a flat repair kit, disgression became the better part of valor and I turned around.

I turned around and headed eastward along the northern coast. The road following the coast was a rather boring section of “s” curves and I had almost decided to turn around. I’m glad I didn’t! The road soon climbed into the mountains and began to resemble California Highway 1. Not quite as good but, not too shabby! It continued like this for about 30 km until I came upon the UN buffer zone between the Turkish controlled northern area & the Greek portion. A stern faced Greek Cypriot soldier making “turn around” motions with his hand indicated that my fun was at an end…BUT, I got to retrace my route on that fabulous coastal road! Exhibit A.

The same road along the northern coast. A domed roof identifies the church as a Greek Orthodox chapel on the shore.

Heading back to my hotel close to sunset…on the south coast of the island.

On my last day, I headed to a hilltop monastery I’d seen from the coast. No women visitors were allowed here but, the monks did grow their own wine.

Picture of the Hellacious roa…err…I mean, the heavenly road leading up to the monastery. Praise da lord and pass the Castrol

Last shot…heading down out of the mountains back to the coast to return the bike. The Big DR performed admirably on the pavement. The big single could have used a little more oomph but, it was still big fun in the twisties. Using this bike has me salivating at the thought of what a big 650 KTM Duke must be like. My only regret was that, I only had time to sample but a small portion of the roads on this neat island.

Written by orsonstravels

March 4, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Zanzibar

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Once again I managed to escape the yoke of the grindstone and head off to sunny shores, this time to the ancient trading post of Zanzibar off the east coast of Africa.

Zanzibar is an island of contrasts. It is one of the poorest places I’ve visited, yet it also has one of the richest cultures I’ve experienced, with influences from cultures all across the Indian Ocean. After a short flight from Dar Es Salaam, I landed at Zanzibar’s airport. It was a bit disconcerting as I descended the stairs to a tarmac that was almost in total darkness. I thought to myself, this must be what it was like during the raid on Entebe. I smelled the scent of wood fires burning. I liked this place.

A quick taxi ride got me to my hotel in the old quarter of the city named Stone Town, a World Heritage site. Stone Town displays Zanzibar’s Arabic influence in its exotic architecture.

Stone Town alley

As an ancient trading post, Zanzibar was subjected to influences from Arabia, India, Malaysia and even China. While the Roman Empire was covering the Mediterranean with trading outposts, Indian Ocean cultures were doing the same all around its shores. Most notable was the Arabic influence, as Zanzibar came to be ruled by the Sultan of Oman.

Arabic influences seen in the elaborately carved doorways

Freddie Mercury was born in Stone Town and lived there until the revolution of 1964 overthrew the Sultanate and chased his family to England. After the revolution, the new government chased out most of the Arabic merchant community and allowed the poor to take over the lavish homes in Stone Town. Unfortunately, the poor didn’t have the funds to maintain the buildings which led to overwhelming decay. Steps are currently being taken to salvage Stone Town but the country is poor and restoration is lagging. Stone Town’s alleyways are too narrow for cars limiting them to pedestrian and moped traffic.

School girls trade secrets in a Stone Town alley

An old man exits another exquisitely carved doorway

After sleeping the sleep of the dead, I got up the next morning and located a place that rented motorbikes. The guy showed up at the hotel on a Vespa and asked me if I wanted a scooter or a “boom boom”. I said boom boom ๐Ÿ˜€ He left for a bit and returned with a Yamaha dirt bike of some sort which I deemed worthy. I then asked him to take me to an ATM so I could pay him, so he hopped on and I hopped on behind him. What followed was one of the scariest thrill rides I’ve ever been on. I’ve ridden the Isle of Man on Mad Sunday and I’ve ridden in Italian city traffic….neither comes close to the experience of riding bitch behind a Zanzibarian local, flailing the bike through narrow alleyways, shooing pedestrians aside with a relentless beep-beep-beeping of his horn ๐Ÿ™‚

Yes…we rode through this…

We somehow reached an ATM without taking out any pedestrians. After paying him his money, he offered me some last minute instructions. “Very important…the horn button”, pressing it for emphasis, BEEP BEEP. “Very important”, he reiterated. I nodded my understanding. “And use the back brake. The front brake may make you lose the front end”. Uhmmm….hokeyyy ๐Ÿ™‚ :thumbsup: With those last words, I headed out into traffic. Zanzibar is one of those silly places that insist that driving on the wrong side of the road is a perfectly natural thing to do, so I dutifully fell in with the rest of traffic.

One of the wider roads in Stone Town

My first experience was trying to find gas. I pulled into a service station where the attendant said “No petrol”. What do you mean no petrol?? Finally I noticed the signs over the pumps. They all read DIESEL. I had pulled into a diesel station…not a gas station…D’oh! I asked for directions to a gas station, but when I got there, the attendant said,”No petrol. Maybe this afternoon”. D’oh! A little further down the road, I found another station with a line forming. Aha! A line means gas. There were 2 lines on each side of the pump. Mopeds taking the inside lane, with cars and trucks taking the outside lane. After about 30 minutes, I had reached the front of the line and received my allotment.

Lining up for petrol. The tanker truck in the background had just discharged its load.

Heading towards the north end of the island, I stopped to take a picture of this government building. I’m not sure what it was but, I liked its design. I hadn’t noticed the beaming local until after I had taken the picture. Just about all of the locals were friendly with ready smiles.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a road map, so I would have to rely on the memory of a Zanzibar map I had seen on the internet a few days earlier. Like Sir Shackleton making his way to South Georgia Island, I would have to rely on dead reckoning. I headed north, trying to keep the west coast to my left hand side. Most of the roads on the island were flat and straight, so they weren’t the best for curve strafing.

Zanzibar seemed to have an inordinate amount of police check points. It was an hour and a half trip to the north end of the island, and I must have gone through 4 check points, each one wanting to see some identification and a driver’s liscence, asking where I was going, etc. Some were pleasant, others were less than pleasant. In the end, they all let me go on my merry way.

I turned off the main road in a vein attempt to find the beach but alas, it dead ended

I must have taken a wrong turn because I ended up going in a circle and coming through the same check point I had been through an hour earlier. So much for my dead reckoning talent. The policeman just shook his head and laughed. I eventually made it to the north end of the island.

Fishing boats stranded at low tide

I found a seaside restaurant and enjoyed a fresh seafood meal. Octopus with a coconut sauce and mango chutney with sweet yams and Arabic bread

I made my way back to my hotel in Stone town in time for cocktail hour. The hotel had a nice veranda bar on the roof that offered a nice view of the old quarter.

The following morning, I repeated the gas ritual and then made my way to the eastern side of the island.

Zanzibar is known as the Spice Island as it produces most of its income from growing cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. the center of the island is where most of the plantations are. The island seems to have a fairly high rate of unemployment, as everywhere I went, I saw large groups of men sitting around in an idle mode. No one seemed to be starving though. Most people seemed to walk or ride bicycles. A few had mopeds or motorcycles, and even fewer had cars. Traffic away from population centers was minimal.

Returning to Stone Town, I took some time to explore some more. Where did western culture go wrong? When it comes to architecture, the organic beauty of Islamic architecture leaves the west in its dust.

The view from my hotel window.

The hotel roof

More intricately carved door ways

Fishing boats along the Stone Town beachfront.

A heckuva ferry ramp…although there aren’t any tire tracks in the sand, so maybe they were just picking up foot passengers.

The sun setting on my last day in Zanzibar. Many fishingmen used these small, fast sailing boats to haul in their catches.

Reunion Island

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Recently, a co-worker of mine had talked about living on Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean. Intrigued, I decided to do some research on the subject. I googled a map of Mauritius, when I noticed another island nearby. I discovered that it was Reunion Island. Why hadn’t I noticed it before? I had read vague references to Reunion, but had never paid it close attention. Why was Mauritius relatively well-known and Reunion under a veil? The reason is that it is a French possession. It is a French overseas Department just like French Surinam in South America.

Reunion is a volcanic island that has been compared to the big island of Hawaii. Apparently, the French don’t appear too keen on sharing their version of Hawaii with the English speaking world, thus they have thrown a cloaking device over the island. I’ve always been impressed by the quality of French road system and a Hawaiian-like island with French maintained roads seemed too good to pass up.

I set out to try to organize an expedition. It proved to be harder than I thought. The only direct flights to Reunion come from Paris or South Africa. Any other flights had to be made to nearby Mauritius, where a puddle jumper could fly you over to Reunion. They weren’t going to make it easy for me. Hotel reservations sent via the hotel’s web page went unaknowledged. The same with any bike rental web sites. Not to be deterred, I finally found e-mail addresses and sorted a room and a motorbike, and everything was arranged.

A six hour flight south out of Dubai got me to Mauritius, where I boarded a small prop plane to Reunion. Arriving in the capital city of Saint Dennis around noon, I made my way to my hotel and rested until the following day when I would pick up the bike. I had arranged to rent a BMW GS 650, the same type of bike I had used on Madeira a few years ago. Herve was the owner’s name who ran a one man operation out of his house. Why people would want to rent out bikes to people who are going to thrash them is beyond me, but I’m thankful for them ๐Ÿ™‚

While Reunion has some nice beaches, it’s the island’s interior that stand out. The island’s geography is dominated by three calderas, created when an ancient volcano collapsed. The collapse left huge natural ampitheaters with stunning scenery. I made my way south along the west coast of the island towards the first caldera known as the Cirque de Cilaos where I had booked my hotel for the night.

Tropical cyclone Lola was close enough to the island to lash her with scattered showers, so under the threat of rain, I found a suitably twisty line on the map and headed south along the west coast of the island.

Heading south:

The main road around the island hugs the coastline and is fairly crowded, but I used it for a bit in order to make some time.

At the town of Saint Louis, I turned inland and started to make the climb towards the town of Cilaos. You masochists who love switchbacks would love this road as it was packed with them.

Looking back down at where I’d been:

Continuing the climb to Cilaos, I was impressed by the island’s mountainous terrain

The little beemer proved to be well suited for these roads. My impressions of the GS are the same as the ones I had from my previous rental. The single cylinder engine could use a few more ponies, but the wide bars and the comfy saddle make for a good combination of a touring motard, nice and light to flick thru the tight stuff.

I found my hotel and settled in for the night. Sugar is one of the island’s biggest crops and with that comes rum. One of the favored spirits on Reunion is rhum arrangรฉ. This is rum that is left to soak in a variety of fruits. Every establishment seems to have their own concoction which they insist is the best and you feel obligated to try some, which is served straight up like a brandy. In the interest of impartiality, this reporter took it upon himself to sample some at every occassion and was particularly in favor of the orange-pineapple blend ๐Ÿ™‚

The following day, I set about exploring the narrow roads inside the Cilaos caldera

By noonish, the clouds had descended again, and I began to feel rain drops. In the interest of staying dry, I cut short the explorations and made my way back to the hotel for more rhum. While reading my guide book, I noticed a section that mentioned,”Avoid travelling to the cirques during times of typhoons, as frequent landslides occur from the excessive rainfalls, causing the towns to be sealed off for days.” A little too late for that now! Reunion Island is known for its prodigious amounts of rainfall, holding world records for 12 hours, 24 hours, 1 week, 1 month, and 1 year totals.

The morning of the third day, I awoke to the sound of the pitter patter of raindrops on my window. I decided to tough it out and head for the coast, hoping to find better weather. It was a 1 hour slog thru a misting rain back down to the coast, but fortunately, the weather began to improve.

I headed south along the shore towards the island’s remaining active volcano, the Piton de la Fournaise.

Unfortunately, team orson’s photographer decided to store his camera in the front pocket of his jacket during the rain, and the camera started to malfunction. I honestly don’t know why we keep the idiot around. So, there are no pictures of steam arising from the lava fields on the south coast of the island.

Instead, here is an artist’s depiction of the road cutting along the coast thru the laval fields with steam rising

Fortunately for team orson’s photographer, the sun began to work its charms and the camera began working again. Banana trees and mountains. Typical Reunion island scenery.

Heading up the eastern coast to the town Saint Andre, I hung a left and made my way up into the hills to the second caldera known as Cirque de Salazie. The word awesome has been severely overused in today’s lexicon, but the road heading up to the town of Hell-Bourg is truely awesome.

This was a truely amazing road reminiscent of the Norweigian fjords or Yosemite. While the road itself wasn’t the best, the scenery more than made up for it. It may not a match for Norway or Yosemite, but it was purdy darn close.

Waterfalls dotted the landscape:

and sprinkled the roadway

Looking up towards the Piton des Neiges, the extinct volcano that is the island’s highest peak at 10,069 feet.

Looking back towards the coast. The road to Hell-Bourg comes up the canyon and around the bend

After securing a room in Hell-Bourg, I took advantage of the clearing skies to take some more photographs during the golden hour. This would be my best day on the road as I rode all the way til sundown enjoying the spectacular views.

Another look at the Piton des Neiges.

Hell-Bourg isn’t named after hell itself, but rather Monsieur Hell, who was a French government official overlooking the island during the 1800s. On the morning of Day 4, the skies were clear and I took a look around the town. The Creole architecture of main street with the Piton des Neiges in the background.

Hell-Bourg has been called one of the most scenic French villages and rightly so.

Many of the homes were designed in what is known as Creole style. Notice the huge ferns in the front yard.

Heading back towards the coast…yet another waterfall

Ok ok ok…another waterfall…we get the idea…sheesh

Many of the peaks would be veiled in clouds by midday, as if to say,”Foolish mortals, do not tread here, for here lies the lair of the skid demon”

All that rum has to come from somewhere. Sugar cane fields stretched for miles and miles, resembling Hawaii.

All the signs in towns were in French and few people spoke any English, putting my high school French to the test. In the town of saint Andre, I came upon a Hindu temple and my brain did a backflip. It had to take a few seconds to figure out where I was. The South Pacific? India? France?…oh right, I’m on Reunion Island. It was a strange place in that way. The people were a mixture of French, African, Indian, Malaysian and Chinese. I have to say, I never encountered any of the French gruffness that sometimes seems prevalent on the continent. Everyone I came across was pleasant and smiling.

Perhaps due to the copious amounts of rainfall, almost all the secondary roads had big water channels along side them with no guardrails. Woe unto the motorist who loses his concentration for a moment.

Clip that apex, just don’t clip it too close!

There is only one road across the center of the island, and a great riding road it is! In the highlands, the temperature dropped into the high sixties and the terrain began to look a lot like the north of England. Again, my mind had to stop for a moment and remind me that I was on an island in the Indian Ocean.

Now that the weather had turned to mostly sunny skies, I decided to return to the Cirque de Cilaos to get some more pictures.

The road heading up to Cilaos:

Inside the Cirque de Cilaos

Morning dawns in the town of Cilaos on Day 5:

Heading back down towards the coast:

Approaching the coast, the terrain turned to gentle hills dotted with palm trees and sugar cane fields.

I headed back up the east coast back towards the capital of Saint Dennis

Stopping for a plate of Creole barbeque. No I didn’t finish it all, but I tried!

The food was a mixture of French, Indian and Malaysian. Boy, did I eat on this trip! Some of the meals had 6 courses. Only the French could invent a mini dessert placed between the apperitif and the main course. A small portion of coconut ice cream swimming in a bath of…you guessed it…more rum.

On the sixth and last day, I would return the bike to Herve, but not before checking out some of the Creole architecture in Saint Dennis:

I had a great time riding through some amazing scenery. While the roads may not have been up to the standards of the French roads on the continent, the scenery more than made up for any deficiencies. The little beemer again proved to be a perfect bike for riding tight island roads. Hopefully I’ll be able to test the new BMW 800 GS soon. I would have to grade Reunion as a solid A as a touring destination. Friendly people, challenging roads, good food, and stunning scenery.

Recap:

Time: 6 days
Distance: approximately 1000 km
Gendarme sightings: 2 (both times on motorbikes, both times going faster than me.
Puckers: 0
Bee stings: 1