It would be so easy to undertake this trip in a van. We could easily carry everything we needed to be comfortable and self-sufficient. We would have fewer concerns about safety and security on the road, especially when we’re off on an adventure away from the vehicle. We could easily sleep in a van when we’ve found that amazingly perfect spot, but it’s too cold or wet to bother with a tent. We could charge all of the gadgets and doo-dads we’d need to keep us entertained and on our pre-determined path. Cruising in climate-controlled luxury. Best of all, overlander rigs are a dime a dozen all across South America. We could pick any destination we fancy, and I guarantee that within a week we’d be the proud new owners of an appropriate vehicle that fits our budget. Absolutely no international vehicle shipping required. Maybe… maybe just a nice little van…
But you know what else comes with a cage? Insulation. Isolation. You don’t really smell the ocean spray or the freshly cut fields. You don’t feel the rain or the warmth of the sun. You pass over the road as a means to an end, instead of really experiencing the road as an integral part of your journey. You close yourself off, intentionally and unintentionally, to interactions with other people. Simply being in an enclosed vehicle, especially as a family unit, makes people less inclined to approach you. As a result, you’re less likely to hear about that incredible road-less-traveled, that little gem that only the locals know about. But possibly the most critical thing missing from a caged journey? The community. There is simply nothing in the world like the motorcycle community. I can’t imagine taking a trip of this magnitude without the motorcycle community being an integral part of it, both because of how important it is to me and because I want Monty to fully experience it for herself. This is truly the best community in the world.
Case in point: My last blog post. I was (am) at my wits end trying to come up with a shipping option for getting the sidecar rig (at bare minimum) to South America. I ran through the full-picture drama in that post, but the Cliff’s Notes version is that nobody really wants to deal with vehicle export from the USA. We make life difficult, apparently, and nobody wants to willingly subject themselves to that. Cue the Amazing Motorcycle Community! Within hours of that blog going live, I had literally dozens of messages from friends and followers offering help and suggestions. Some provided contact information for freight forwarders or transport services that they had used. Others offered to put me in touch with contacts in other regions – friends, business associates, experienced travelers – who might be able to help. Still others offered up ideas for approaches that I might not have thought of. That’s why I love this community! Even though I’m not sitting on the side of the road with a flat tire, riders saw another rider in need of assistance and jumped right in.
So through the power of love and brotherhood, we solved our transport troubles and are excitedly planning all the other aspects of our journey, right? Um… not so fast. Turns out I didn’t just have a flat tire, I had a massive blowout with no tire shops in sight. I submitted for a bunch of quotes to fly the bikes between North and South America, based on recommendations of friends and fellow travelers (albeit from transactions that happened a number of years ago); I received a New Record High Quote of $8,000 to fly both bikes from Los Angeles to Chile. No problem; we’re just as happy to ride up to Canada and fly down from there. Canada on the whole is far more amenable to facilitating (or at least not impeding) international vehicle transport, and we do love the heck out of Canada. Air Canada doesn’t have any routes into South America on their Fly Your Bike program, but they can still fly motorcycles as regular cargo. I approached them for information and, not to be outdone, they quickly provided me with a New Record High Quote of $9,600 to fly both bikes from Toronto to Bogota. We’re Number One! (sigh.) It seems the harder I work, the more research I do to make sure I’m providing all the right information in the right way, the higher the price tag is getting.
It’s time to come at this from a different angle, so we’re mulling over a number of different options. The US is a bust and Canada doesn’t seem to be any cheaper. Or at least, it’s not cheaper to South America. Just for interest sake I also asked Air Canada to quote transport to Glasgow, Scotland. Glasgow IS on the Fly Your Bike program and we also have family in Scotland. Turns out we could get both bikes to Europe for under $2,500 out the door. At that rate, it would be substantially cheaper to fly the bikes to Scotland, explore for a while, then ship from Europe back to South America. At least then we’d get some cool adventure for our money rather than just tossing $10k directly down the drain. Another possibility would be to go South to fly South. We could ride down through Mexico and fly out of Mexico City or Merida, or possibly ship out of Cancun. Mike isn’t nearly as apprehensive about riding Baja California (or as he called it, Southern Southern California), and from there it’s an easy ferry ride across the Sea of Cortez then a quick zip across mainland Mexico. Piece of cake, right? Maybe?
Then again, if we’ve already broken that Central America seal, why not just keep going? There are two reasons why we were not planning to ride through Central America: First, Mike didn’t feel like it was safe. It took me so long to talk him into South America that Central America was a concession I was more than willing to make. So what has changed? Believe it or not, Mike was actually the one to suggest riding down through Mexico and shipping from there. I think he’s actually getting pretty enthusiastic about this trip, and doesn’t want to see it derailed before it starts. He’s willing to make some concessions to make it happen. I gently presented to idea of the yacht cruise and he said “Why the heck aren’t we doing that?!?!” Because that option requires us to get ourselves to Panama. “Well,” he replied, “you talked me into South America.” A little glimmer of hope, perhaps? I think maybe the myriad of travelers saying “My only regret about Central America was not having more time to enjoy it” just might be starting to sway his opinion a tiny bit.
The second consideration was that, at the time, it seemed to be nearly the same price to ship from the US to South America as it was to ship around the Darien Gap. Once you’re in Panama, they know they have you over the tourist barrel. There is really no reasonable away around The Gap aside from shipping or flying; you can easily get sucked into a mire of surprise fees, shipping delays, paperwork struggles, bribe attempts, and language barriers. And once again, the sidecar really throws a wrench in the works. It’s definitely a lot harder to just show up and hope to sneak in on a shipment with the sidecar, especially based on the number of “We don’t handle sidecar” replies I’ve received on transport inquiries. It just seemed so much easier to handle everything in the US and arrive in South America ready to roll. But that was before, and this is now.
To recap, what are some of the options around The Gap? We could fly, which is the fastest and typically has the fewest surprises. We could share a container, which is the cheapest but also the slowest, with the highest probability for delays and added costs. There are any number of countries and ports/airports where we could depart from, depending on how far we wanted to ride. Travelers often report flying their bike and themselves from Central America to Colombia for around $1,000, but then again I’ve heard people say they got an entire container out of the US for $2,600, so I’m taking all these numbers with a big ol’ grain of salt.
And there is another option around the Darien Gap: Yacht cruise. No, I’m not joking. Sailing along with your bike on an island-hopping vacation-within-a-vacation is actually a very popular choice for motorcycle travelers. They load up you and your bike, feed you glorious meals, stop for snorkeling around little desert islands, and deliver you fat, relaxed and happy to the port in Columbia. Depending on which company you select, either all or most of the fees and expenses are included in the price of the trip. It’s not nearly the cheapest option, but at $3,300 for an all-inclusive four-day cruise for three people and two bikes, it’s not nearly our most expensive option either. (That $10k quote for Air Canada is going to be hard to top.) The down side is that our travel schedule had put us in the area of Uruguay in early October. If we’re just hitting Central America in October, we’ll be arriving right in time for hurricane season. A lot of the ships start rolling in their sails at that time, so we’d either have to leave home much earlier than planned or come up with a different option.
So, yeah. We’re still at an impasse. We’re not paying $8,000 to get our bikes to South America. I wouldn’t be thrilled about paying half that. I would sooner pay $2,500 to ship the sidecar, then just buy a second bike down there. I gave a good overview of that option in the last blog too, so if you haven’t read that one yet, head over there to see all the pros and cons of buying down there. What happens if we can’t come up with any palatable options? Then plans need to change. Europe is an possibility that neither of us are opposed to, but the cost of traveling around Europe will definitely shorten the duration of our adventure. Asia is a possibility too; Mike has traveled around Thailand, but I’ve never been to Asia. Or what about… staying a little closer to home?
A big wrench in the works is if we stay anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, with an October departure date, winter will be upon us. This past October we had some solid weeks of freezing rain in South Dakota. We’d have to head south pretty quickly, and that’s assuming that the weather treats us well for our departure plans. If we’re leaving from the US and heading south through Mexico and Central America, we should be in good shape weather-wise (assuming we can dodge any hurricanes.) So what if we were to explore around Central America through spring, then head back north to explore Canada and the US? I know I said that we didn’t need a year to explore North America because it is so more accessible than South America; when I said that, I didn’t realize that South America was virtually impenetrable from here. It is also much more expensive to embark on extended travel around North America, but by avoiding expensive shipping we will have that much more to spend. I would be extremely disappointed to give up on my South American dreams (for the time being) but I don’t want to entirely miss out on the opportunity to travel before Monty starts school. I also don’t want to tank our family financially by plowing ahead with a “nothing money can’t fix” attitude.
I sent out some new quote requests today. I still have a few friends putting out feelers for us. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling pretty defeated. Persistence, in this case, only seems to be making things worse for both my stress levels and shipping quotes. Pending receipt of these last few quotes, I’ve pretty well exhausted all my resources. While I was writing this, I received an email from my last yacht-cruise option with the news that they don’t accommodate sidecars. I’d happily buy a couple cheap bikes in South America if finding a sidecar was a reasonable expectation. I’ve done my due diligence and come back with nil. So what does the future hold for Third Wheel Adventures? Only time will tell…