Thursday 5 February 2015

Last Days of The Trip...

By Sanne

And so it came down to the final 2 weeks of our trip. After 5 continents and 42 countries we found ourselves in what was to become our last destination: California.
As to not spend a lot of money we had become members of HelpX, a website that connects hosts and volunteers, similar to woofing in the sense that you work for board. We had arranged to do this on a horse ranch just north of LA in Tujunga Canyon. Our host was Barbara, a sweet, older lady who had been running The Lipizzaner Connection for many years. The ranch used to breed and perform Lipizzaner horses, the white horses they use at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. She no longer breeds but still has horses on the ranch, a mix of Lipizzaners and other peoples horses.

Barbara picked us up from Burbank Train Station and took us straight to a supermarket where we were given $100 to do our food shopping. Without a shopping list or the faintest idea of what to get we had to think quickly and managed to hit the mark very closely - the bill rang in at $103.
Afterwards we drove to the farm where Barbara took us to the cozy cabin that was going to be our home for the next 2 weeks.

The next day we started working. It wasn't back breaking work by any means; the work consisted of raking leaves, feeding horses, driving a tractor etc. Barbara kept reminding us "not to work too hard" and was really sweet. Sadly, her friend of many years and partner in the ranch had just passed away a few weeks beforehand of cancer and you could tell it was hard for Barbara to carry on without her friend's death so recent. We talked a lot, the three of us, of her friend and life and death and she told us she was grateful that we were there to help out and take her mind off things.

Life on the farm was good. We only worked 4-5 hours a day and had two days off a week. There wasn't a whole lot of work to do there so we did whatever we could see needed work, like cleaning the pool and sanding down and painting the sign out in front of the ranch. Barbara had a Mexican worker, Manuel who lived on the ranch with his family. They invited us to a Mexican fiesta one night as they were celebrating the birthday of his son. It was nice to get a chance to speak a bit of Spanish again although I can feel it disappearing quicker than I expected from my vocabulary. I think I will need to join a Spanish course upon my return to Oz in order for it not to disappear completely.

We enjoyed being in a country setting and were surprised how remote the ranch felt although it was just outside of LA. The ranch was situated in a canyon in the Angeles National Forest and when we weren't working we would go on day hikes on the trails in the area. It was a really relaxed, healthy lifestyle we had there. Pure and simple. It was also nice being around animals again, whether it was the horses, the donkey, the cat Mango that came to sleep with us in the cabin at night or the black labradors Willy and Holly, Holly that was just a big pup and waaay to excitable and Willy the older dog who after spending his whole life among horses now thought of himself as one and if you squatted down over his back he would start walking and grunting like a horse! There was also lots of chickens running around freely, some nights a coyote would come and take one and you would hear the commotion.

While we were here we contacted the shipping company to get an update on our bikes. They got back to us to tell us that the bikes were being held up in customs as they hadn't been given all the required paperwork from us; they needed a temporary import form that we should have been given in Miami but never received. Now they needed to create a temporary import and then cancel it straight away in order for the bikes to leave the country...bureaucracy! All this meant that the bikes never went on the ship they were meant to go on and so shipping became delayed. After all the times we have shipped the bikes, more often than not shipping is a headache. It just never seems to go after plan. Who knows when they will arrive in Australia as we do need them there for transport.

After two weeks the day had come when we had to leave the ranch and head to the airport for our flight back to Australia. Our looong flight that is. We had booked the tickets back in Colombia in October and had forgot how many hours of travel we had to do. Turns out it was around 35 hours! We could have chosen a much shorter direct flight from LA to Sydney but that would have been much more expensive and we simply couldn't afford to choose. Our flight route was: LA-Tokyo-Singapore-Sydney. I'll never do that again. It was horrible.

We landed in Sydney in the evening on January 16, feeling a little worse for wear after the long flight. Most of Mark's family was waiting for us in the arrival hall with hugs and kisses. It was absolutely fantastic to see them all again, all these people we had been missing for so long on the road, and we all went back to Uncle Colin's house near the beach where we spent the weekend eating, drinking, sailing on Sydney Harbour and swimming at Bronte. The sun was shining and the water was warm and I thought to myself: life is pretty good still...

As I sit writing this I am sitting on the couch in Mark's sisters home. We are back to reality and it's a strange feeling knowing that this is the very last blog post on Handful Of Throttle. The blog that I never wanted to start with but ended up enjoying to write. So, I feel that now is the appropriate moment for me to sum up the trip. To write a grand and poetic ending... But how do you summarise 4 years of travel? Two months shy of 4 years to be exact. 200 weeks and 3 days or 1403 days or 33,672 hours. That's a long time to be on the road. Some might even say life-changing. Well, yes and no. Mark and I are in many ways much the same people we were when we left, yet in other ways we are forever changed...

"Once you have travelled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey".

Our thoughts on life and how we see our future has changed. We both have new goals that we want to achieve (for once non-travel related) and we are going to give it our best to make it happen. The trip definitely contributed to this "clarity of mind" by putting everything into perspective and making us realise that we are the creators of our own luck and designers of our life. So why make life an average one? Why not try to make it the best life we can get? We already made one dream come true: to travel on our motorcycles around the world. Now we can tick that one off the list, it's time for the next dream.

I want to finish this blog by sending out a huge thank you to all the great and amazing people we met on the trip. You changed our trip for the better and made us see the world through someone else.
I have learnt that the word 'Stranger' can so quickly turn to 'Friend'. People whom we would have probably never socialised with at home, unexpectedly became our comrades on the road. For when we travel, we become free to be who we really are. We start to live by a different set of rules somehow and all the irrelevant clutter that we worry about at home disappears and after a while living on the road we just...are.

The challenge for now for Mark and I is to adjust to "normal life" although I'm not so sure I know what that means anymore. One thing is for sure, travel is in our blood now and we will never stop travelling. And we will stay true to the motorbike as our mode of transport because travelling in a car is like watching a movie but travelling on a bike is like being in the movie.

Have a nice day.

The Handful Of Throttle team - Mark & Sanne

List of countries visited:
  1. Australia
  2. East timor
  3. Indonesia
  4. Malaysia
  5. Singapore
  6. Thailand
  7. Laos
  8. Cambodia
  9. Nepal
  10. India
  11. Pakistan
  12. Iran
  13. Turkey
  14. Greece
  15. Bulgaria
  16. Romania
  17. Hungary
  18. Austria
  19. Italy
  20. Slovenia
  21. Croatia
  22. Bosnia-Herzegovina
  23. Switzerland
  24. Monaco
  25. Spain
  26. Andorra
  27. France
  28. Belgium
  29. Luxembourg
  30. Holland
  31. Germany
  32. Denmark
  33. United Kingdom
  34. Argentina
  35. Brazil
  36. Uruguay
  37. Chile
  38. Bolivia
  39. Peru
  40. Ecuador
  41. Colombia
  42. USA

Mark cleaning the pool in Tujunga Canyon

Me raking leaves in front of our cabin

Looking up Tujunga Canyon

Mark with Willy and Holly

Mark getting a ride from Willy

Then it's my turn!

Young Lipizzaner horse (they don't turn white until they are older)

And donkey

The "king" of the ranch - the stallion "Gunner"

Our house cat - Mango

 Hiking in Tujunga Canyon

Mark driving the tractor in one of the arenas

Barbara with Holly and Skippy

Waiting for our flight in LAX

Back in Australia!

Good times!

Tuesday 13 January 2015

San Diego

By Mark

After Adam dropped us off at the bus station in what seemed like Little Mexico we waited patiently for our bus to arrive, within minutes we were bored of this charade and were already missing the bikes. Over an hour late we boarded our bus (we were the only non-Mexicans on board) for San Diego where our next ADV rider host was awaiting our arrival. After a long bus ride for the distance we were in San Diego. Our host Keith came to pick us up at the terminal.

Straight away he had us sightseeing, driving up around through the suburbs in his big bad arse Ford F350. It was dark when we arrived so Keith thought he should show us the Christmas lights that have been a favourite for the locals to visit for many years. My word - they were over the top! I am sure that they could be seen from outer space. They do not only put up lights here but they also make Christmas themed displays in the windows of their house, like something you would see in a department store. It was so busy navigating the busy streets so we decided it was time to head out for some dinner at one of the many local Mexican restaurants.
Sitting down to dinner with Keith we got to know one another well and quite quickly as he likes to talk. After dinner he took us back to his humble abode, a 36 foot cruiser docked at the San Diego Yacht Club. What a great place to stay, we had access to the hot tub, sauna, swimming pool, bar and restaurant and gym (not that we ever used the gym). The best thing was the view, every morning waking up on the water was awesome, I could not get sick of that. The mornings were always still and calm and the sunsets were just as impressive.

Over the coming days we started to get a bit of a feel for San Diego, I really liked the whole laid back feeling to the place, especially around where we were staying and Ocean Beach. We went to check out the front of SeaWorld to see if there were many people rallying out the front but it was quiet and free of protesters. After the release of the movie Black Fish, SeaWorld has seen a massive decline in visitors to their parks around the USA where Orcas are being kept in very small confines. If you want to know more click here.
We had access to a couple of bicycles that Keith loaned to us so we also rode around the bay area, through the city and also Balboa Park which had some beautiful buildings and gardens. We also went to La Jolla where Keith showed us around the gorgeous coast line, parts that were lined with seals and Elephant seals. The tour finished of course with a few cold beers.

Our Christmas was a quite one, we were still with Keith and had been invited to one of his friends homes for lunch and meet up with some others later for dinner. Keith and I started pretty early with a couple of beers before we walked up to EJ's house who was holding the get together. Andy his wife put on an incredible spread which we gladly tucked into, including a few more cold ones to wash it all down with and not to forget dessert. EJ was a great guy, a 51 year old professional paddle boarder who puts many a young guy to shame out on the water, he also builds custom paddles for a living and he gave us a tour of his setup that he has in his garage. After a chilled afternoon hanging out with Keith's mates we headed out to dinner with Rick, Tamara and Rick's two kids Mo and Matt. We were still so full from lunch that we just had a snack for dinner and a few more beers. There was not too much drinking involved as I had been invited out to the desert the following day to go riding with Keith, Rick and his two kids along with another of their friends and his four kids. It had only been about one week since we had said goodbye to the bikes but I could not wait to throw a leg over a bike again, especially a dirt bike.

I woke to a stunning sunrise on the boat on Boxing day, Keith and I shot off early to get out to the dessert which was roughly a two hour drive away. When we showed up everybody else was already there. In total there was close to 15 bikes including quads to hoon around on. Most of the bikes were mini bikes for kids but there was also a Yamaha banshee quad, a YZ250f and a KTM200exc and of course Keith's WR250. I had a ball on the banshee hanging out sideways everywhere I went, it was so much fun but really I needed to be on 2 wheels! After a quick spin on the WR250 I got to throw a leg over the YZ250f, boy was that fun. It had been so long since I had been on a dirt bike, let alone one with no panniers or all that other unnecessary stuff. I did only have jeans, hoody and cons on so I had to take it easy but the bike begged to be ridden hard so I gave it some and the smile just got bigger on my face with every twist of the throttle. We were not alone out here though, being the day after xmas everybody had made their way out to try out their new xmas toys. Wow, was there some money out there. People were showing up in huge RVs, huge pick ups with toy haulers as they call them here. Luckily enough there is plenty of space to ride and not have problems with other riders, the same can not be said for Glamis dunes just down the road.

We also had the chance to get out onto the bay of San Diego for a bit of light sailing, I mean light because there was not much wind which made for easy sailing all the same, there was quite a few people on board so many hands to do the hard work and well my hands were left free to drink some rum!
The time had come to part ways with Keith and head onto our next hosts, a younger couple than us who also ride and are part of ADV riders tent space. Funnily enough Keith said to us before we left that if we had any problems we could always call him and he would come get us and we could stay with him. So we met up with Anthony and Chelsea and they were a lovely couple if not a tad quiet. The next few days saw us heading around a different part of town, but by foot now. There are many cool places all over San Diego but we were now staying in enemy territory, the mighty hipsters were in high numbers here and well it was not a place for me to want to stay to long. As nice as our new hosts were it was so difficult to get any conversation going and with our time up here we called Keith and asked if we could stay with him until we left San Diego. Thankfully it was not a problem and the following morning he was parked out front ready and waiting in his big truck to take us back to his cosy boat.

Straight away we felt so comfortable being back in his company, the conversation flowed freely and it was all smiles and happy times, even more so knowing we had another chance to get out onto the water which Sanne passed up after a few too many beers on New Years eve. It was also a quiet affair. We started the night drinking with Keith on the boat and I cooked us all dinner before meeting up with some more of his friends on their yacht before later crashing the yacht club's new years shindig. It was funny to see how quick the place emptied out after midnight, the oldies just could not take too much partying and we stayed out until about 1.30am.

Well Sanne did not miss out on too much on the boat. It was a nice day out on the water but the wind was dead and we were meant to be participating in a friendly race. There were no shortage of others out on New Years day and in total about 50 boats were going to compete. We were the last to leave after some problems on the start line and by the time we got up the bay the decision was made to pull out and go eat and drink. I like that idea much more.

Sadly our time was drawing to a close so we made the most of it with a ride over to Sunset Cliffs to watch the sunset for our last night on the coast. It was just what we needed to wind down our past twelve days. We were so lucky to have gotten into contact with Keith and all his friends that all made us feel so welcome. Keith is such a great guy and we so hope to see him in Oz in the future, if not I am sure we will be back to crash on his boat again in the not so distant future. For now we have horses to attend to.

Chilling out looking over Sunset Cliffs, San Diego

Surfs up in OB

This big guy was hanging out around the local fisherman waiting for a little fish

Downtown San Diego

USS Midway, retired aircraft carrier

Balboa Park

Could not ask for a better view, and this was taken from the boat we were staying on

A few seals hanging out in La Jolla

The surf was going off on Christmas eve, here a few body surfers taking advantage of it

It's a hard life but someone has to do it.

La Jolla coastline

Ahhhh, sunshine

Hanging out at San Diego Yacht Club

Keith's boat

Sunset from our boat on Christmas eve

Sunrise from our boat

Desert riding time

My first ride on a Banshee and it was fun, I must say I prefer 2 wheels

I think it's this way back

This is  a sign we came across in the desert for the Mexicans crossing the border into the USA illegally

Time for some sailing

Sanne with our awesome host Keith

Not a bad day out on the water to take in the city skyline

And we are sailing

Enjoying a meal with Keith on his cosy boat

Sunset Cliffs