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The main purpose of this blog is as a permanent record of my adventures throughout the Americas by motorcycle. Feel free to comment or ask me any questions - I'm an open book.

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Thursday, 29 March 2012

New York City

NYC. The Big Apple. A thousand nicknames, 8 million people, and virtually unlimited things to see and do. The last time I had visited was in the 90's, so I was keen to find out what had changed. As it turns out, both nothing and everything.

New York seems to polarize people - there are those who love it, and those who hate it. I am a little of both. I love that there is always something to do, and love the history, architecture and central park. However, I don't like the relentless pace and aggressiveness of life here. There comes a time where the crazy lady on the subway next to the beggar stops being quirky, and starts being annoying (less than the time it takes for her to squeeze her huge ass out of the doors, for those of you playing at home). And after you've seen all the shows, buildings and Central Park, you're left with the lady shouting in your ear. In short, I love to pack my suitcase for the big apple, but am not in any rush to pack my stuff into moving boxes.

This trip to NYC was a whirlwind stopover - 2 nights, and really only 1 full day. There's no way you can see half of what New York has to offer, so I had to pick and choose what I wanted to seee.

Central Park is a must for everyone. One of the world's largest inner city parks with an estimated land value approching $529 billion, Central Park is undoubtedly the centrepeice of New York. On a slight tangent, New York seems to be obsessed with Tulips and Daffodils. They're as ubiquitous as a yellow cab around these parts. They were literally the only flowers on display throughout the city.

The most obvious change to the landscape is the big open space downtown that used to be occuopied by the world trade centre. The city was left with a veritable scar, and the memorial dedicated to 9/11 has yet to be completed. Accoridngly, very few tourists were getting through the gates, and I had to continue on, disappointed.

For the tv fans out there, I visited the home of NBC studios at 30 Rockafeller Plaza (hence the show 30 Rock) as well as passed by Dave Letterman's studio. Still yet to see any celebrities mind you.

Food looms large in any New York itinerary, and Bagels for breakfast, hotdogs for lunch and  fried chicken (in Harlem) for dinner took care of that. On a related note, I'd forgotten how good real fried chicken was. KFC just doesn't stack up.

If I had had more time, I would have visited Nathan's in Brooklyn, the Met, as well as the bronx. I have the sneaking suspicion that sights well off the island of Manhattan often get missed, and this trip is no exception. A show on off or off-off broadway would have also been nice. Most Broadway shows (Wicked, Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia) travel the world, so it would have been nice to have seen something that would have only played in NYC.

Overall the city has become a cleaner, nicer version of it's 90's self, remaining true to its roots and attractions, while becoming more accessible to the average tourist not comfortable with 4 letter words and piles of bodily fluids on pavements.

36 Hours in Limbo

And so it begins. My life has been packed up into a few suitcases, defying the laws of physics by remaining under the maximum weight. I did resemble a pack mule though. Handy hint for the day: wearing a motorcycle touring jacket in an airport will get you noticed, and not always by those you want to take notice. As the security officer pulled me aside and explained the procedures for a explosive residue scan in a thick Russian accent, it was all I could do not to snigger, as a dozen hollywood blockbuster moments suddenly came to mind. But I suppressed my inner James Bond, and the scanner obviously missed the copious amounts of fuel and oil residue on my jacket and boots.

The flight plan: Perth to New York City via Sydney and Los Angeles, with long delays at each stop. The damage: just short of 36hrs.

The first flight was good. But then, it's unlikely to be a terrible flight when it was free (go frequent flyer points!) and the booze (also free) is flowing.

In Sydney, the first major obstacle presented itself. It appears that US customs require proof of purchase of a flight out of their country, regardless of how you plan to exit. My flight home from Santiago wasn't going to cut it. So 1 fully refundable ticket to London from New York later, I was ready to head to LAX. In the end, it's probably a good thing I had 8 hours in SYD, as it meant things weren't rushed. As it turns out, the immigration department didn't even check.

The 14 hour flight to LAX obviously messed with my head, as I left a bag in the baggage claim and passed through quarantine. I realized pretty quick, but security being what it is, couldn't go back and pick it up. I'm seriously considering changing my name to Murphy at this point. Again, things turned out ok, as the staff at LAX were able to get my bag onto my NYC flight.

If there's one thing I've learned about air travel it's this: the most important decision to make other than the carrier is the plane. It sounds obvious, but how many people would choose their flights based on the kind of plane that will be flying that day? I chose the SYD-LAX route based on one factor - the Airbus A380. The largest commercial passenger carrier in the world, the A380 is a marvel of technology and engineering. 

First flown in 2005, the Airbus A380 has a maximum takeoff weight of 600 tonnes (larger than this will damage the wings), and could accomodate 850 economy class only passengers. At full capacity, it requires 2.75km of runway to get off the ground, and must shed 200,000kg before landing. QANTAS, as with most other airlines, carries around 525 passengers, the difference representing the extra space requirements for the higher classes. It can travel for 15,000 km on it's 320,000L fuel tank. Assuming it used a full tank of fuel to move 850 passengers, it represents 39.84 passenger km/L. the 4 Rolls Royce engines each produce 320kN of thrust, yet remain quieter than the engines on a 747.

All of this adds up to an enjoyable experience, critical when you're expected to sit in a seat for up to 14 hours. On this note, it appears the US TSA forbids passengers congregating in numbers (eg lining up for the toilet) on any flight bound for America, although how they'd police such a policy is unclear. But back to the A380 - in seat screens and legroom are far more important to me than which airport around which I will aimlessly wander for a few hours. LAX though has to rank as one of the most hopelessly designed airports ever. Terminal 4 alone has several screening areas, all with inadequate space. The result - a team of employees moving travelers through waiting areas resembling cattle pens.

For all my flights I chose QANTAS, for several reasons. They were reasonably cheap, especially when frequent flyer points are considered. From a patriotic point of view, QANTAS are the logical choice. But more than that, it's the comfort factor, and a feeling of home. At the end of the trip, a familiar accent sounding over the plane intercom is a welcome pleasure. Factor in the (still) superior safety record, and QANTAS is a clear winner.

Monday, 26 March 2012


So, this week I've been completing the most dreaded of all holiday tasks - packing. And it's been brutal.While I'm sure I could find a use for my st Paddy's day Guinness hat, when you have to fit all your worldly possessions on the back of a motorcycle, it simply can't come. The vast majority of stuff I'm packing involves the bike in some way - riding clothes, helmet, spares and toolkit. After that, there's room for a few tshirts, guidebooks and a laptop. Only time will tell what was needed, what proved as useless as t**s on a bull, and what I rue not bringing while stranded on the edge of the road in the middle of nowhere.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Route (nearly) sorted

I've done it. After alot of deliberation, the planned route for the trip is sorted. It will undoubtedly change as I travel, as roads prove boring or difficult, and as I learn more about different places from fellow travelers.

Much thanks to whoever set up Travellerspoint.com, as it has proved pretty easy to put the list of destinations on a single map.

I have broken the trip up into several legs, according to region and transport.

Leg 1 will be the Trans Labrador Highway in Canada, a recently completed circuit through sub arctic tundra, passing icebergs, polar bears, moose, and (apparently) the weirdest of all - the locals, or Newfies. It's about as remote as a unassisted motorbike can go (~200km between towns), before planes and boats (and dog sleds) become the favoured methods of transport. A good journey to test out the bike, with 1st world support should something go wrong.

Leg 2 is the good ol' US of A. While I'll never debate the attractiveness of the US from tourism perspective, my main focus here is catching up with friends.

Leg 3 (Central America) is where things start to get more challenging, as I expect the road condition to deteriorate somewhat, but things will also get cheaper, so there's always a silver lining.

Leg 4 is the big one. From Colombia through the Guayanas, up the Amazon through to Peru and the infamous sights of the gringo trail. From Rio, I turn south to Buenos Aires, and then race to Ushuaia in Patagonia.

Leg 5 is possibly the most exciting, and yet, the most effortless. Antarctica. One of the most isolated, driest and coldest places on the earth. And I'm going for a swim (check this out).

Leg 6 is the dash home before Christmas, with a few stops on the way.