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Old 08-05-2008, 10:42 AM   #1
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Chickens hogs and other road hazards

I thought I would use this thread to list things I have learned about riding in Latin America. Not where to go but the little things that make riding in Latin America so thrilling and different than other places. Figured it might help people heading for their first trip south.

At this point there is no particular order, just as it occurs to me. I'll continue to update it as more things come to me. Please contribute your own advice and/or debate the validity of mine if you feel like it. Maybe down the line it can morph into a pretty good Latin American Riding Guide Thread that summarizes the collected "wisdom" of the board.

Orange Cones

As in the states orange cones usually mean a road hazard ahead. Unlike in the states a single cone may be used to indicate a fallen bridge or that most of the roadway is missing. In Panama, I came across a single orange cone that was used to indicate that the other side of the road was closed up ahead and traffic was now coming from the opposite direction in the left hand lane. That was a surprise. In South America, especially Colombia, orange cones are used to denote urban areas and roadside checkpoints and basically mean to slow down and drive with less abandon than usual.

Tree Branches

In Mexico and Central America tree branches are often used to indicate a road blockage ahead, often an accident or stalled vehicle. If you see a branch in the road that looks unnatural, maybe laying perpendicular to the roadway, slow down.

Panamericana

The Panamerican Highway has a special set of rules. The majority of it is one lane in each direction, although at points there are two lanes. Always ride in the right hand lane if there is one and as far right in your lane as possible when there is only one. Passing against opposing traffic is common and expected. If there is a shoulder on your side, cars and trucks coming the other direction will pull into your lane and expect you to use the shoulder to avoid them. This is not considered rude or inappropriate but expected. It is rude and dangerous not to get out of the way when they do this.


Passing

Most of the roads in Latin America are one lane each direction and filled with trucks, buses and other slow moving vehicles. Covering ground means passing more aggressively than you may be used to. Everybody does it and you must be ready for it. If you ride in Latin America for any length of time, coming around a turn to see a bus passing a truck in your lane will not be unusual. Seeing a truck passing a bus passing a truck, will only be slightly unusual. Be prepared.

Often times there are twisty roads for miles with no easy opportunity to pass. If you want to cover ground you will have to take some risks to pass that train of cars behind the train of slow moving trucks. One nice thing is that pretty much everyone expects to come out of a turn and find a vehicle coming the opposite direction in their lane. This means that you can ride much farther toward a turn in the opposite lane or even through a turn if there is good visibility.

One technique I use for passing slow moving vehicles in twisty roads is to ride just off their bumper behind them and in the opposing lane through the turn. If a car comes the opposite direction, it is easy enough to dodge right and avoid them. When you can see far enough ahead coming out of the turn all you have to do is roll on the gas and pass quickly.

Animals

Animals often move in groups. If you see a goat running across the road in front of you, look for his friends coming after.

Animals are also spooked easily and are unpredictable. Slow down more and give them more room than you think you need to.

Road Work

I always ride to the front of road work lines. In Guatamala, without fail I was allowed to pass as soon as I got to the front. This didn't mean that there weren't cars coming the other way or that big machines weren't going to send boulders rolling my way, just that the road workers figured I could take care of myself. I liked that. Most other countries I had to wait till they let the cars through, but at least I was at the front of the line.

Ferries

I always ride to the front of ferry lines and talk to the person directing cars. Since motorcycles don't take nearly as much room as cars and trucks, there is no reason to wait behind all of them. Usually they will stick you up against a wall or between two trucks where nothing else will fit.

Tollbooths

Ecuador, Chile and Mexico on toll roads, motorcycles must pay. Ecuador is minimal at 20 cents. Chile and Mexico depend on how close you are to major cities and can get spendy. Colombia usually has a narrow path to the right for motorcycles to avoid the pay lanes. Use the lane so as not to trigger the counter in the other lanes. Peru, motorcycles don't pay but don't really usually have a motorcycle lane. Often I was asked to go against opposing traffic to bypass the counter in the toll lanes.

Turn Signals

A turn signal is used for so many different reasons that it cannot be reliably used to predict the behavior of a vehicle other than that, if you see the turn signal come on, it might mean that the vehicle is about to take some action or the driver of the vehicle would like you to take some action. It might also mean that the driver accidentally bumped the turn signal while simultaneously ashing his cigarrete and reaching back to grab another beer.

On the Panamerican Highway left hand turn signals are often used to indicate to following drivers it is clear to pass...... or that the car signaling is about to pass another vehicle..... or that the vehicle is about to veer onto a left hand exit, shoulder or dirt lot .... or are just left on continuously by slow moving trucks.

In Central America a turn signal may be the only light still functioning on the vehicle and as such is left on at night so that you have a slight chance of seeing it as you speed blindly up behind the truck in the cloak of invisibility created by the black diesel fumes.

Stop lights

Seems that in many cities stop lights are optional for motorcycles, especially at night. This was certainly the case in Cali, Colombia. If the way is clear, motorcyclists tend to pause and head on through. I understand this is also the case in Buenos Aires and most of Brazil, although I haven't been there myself.

Gas

Gas is plentiful everywhere except Northern Chile, Southern Argentina and Southern Bolivia. I never had to worry much with my 28 Liter tank. Gas is often low quality in Bolivia and Peru where I used octane boost additives. It is useful to have a small MSR bottle to carry the additives in as the plastic bottles it is sold in often leak.

Talking to cops

Use Usted and Señor a lot. Always carry copies of your passport, drivers license and import documents and only ever give these to a cop. He/She has you over a barrel while holding the original of any of those documents. A quick way to piss off a cop is to snatch a document from his/her hands.

I have full color laminated copies of both my passport and drivers license that have been very useful.

Bribing Cops

I have had to bribe cops in Costa Rica, Panama and Peru. A cop usually tells you he wants a bribe by emphasizing the huge amount of the bribe and detailing an amazingly complex process for paying the fine, usually involving turning around and going to a town in the other direction. Your expected response: "Is there any way I can pay the fine here?"

Always bargain the price way down and always carry small bills. My first ticket cost me $40 in Costa Rica. I got better at it,though, and my ticket in Peru cost me less than $3. I figure $10 is a good goal in Costa Rica and Panama and less in Peru. Never attempt to bribe a cop in Chile. In Colombia, I am not sure any driving offense would attract the attention of the cops. I have ridden the wrong way down one way roads, run many a red light and even ridden on the sidewalk in front of cops with no response but a wave.

Bike Parking

Throughout Mexico and Central America, I parked my bike inside hotels, often in the lobby when there was no courtyard. They expect it. I can think of only a couple times when I left it on the street and sure didn't sleep very well when I did.

In South America I sometimes parked the bike inside but often used nearby carparks which are usually pretty cheap. If you want to get an early start or use your bike for quick trips it is a lot easier driving it out of a lot than up/down the steps of the hotel lobby.

Useful words and phrases for parking a motorcycle.

Carpark == estacionamiento, aparcamiento, parquedero, playa, garaje

To park a motorcycle is to estacionar a moto as in Puedo estacionar mi moto?

You might have better luck asking to guardar your moto which makes more sense if you are parking it someplace like a hotel lobby.

Puede guardar mi moto? or Hay un lugar donde puedo guardar mi moto?

To get your motorcycle out is to sacar as in Puedo sacar mi moto?
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Old 08-05-2008, 03:09 PM   #2
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This should be stickied.

I would like to add one thing: use your horn a lot. It might not help much, but it's very therapeutic. Everyone does it. Beep when you're going to pass. Beep when you're passing. Make eye contact and beep again. Beep when you're roundint a curve. Beep when you're running a red light. Beep after you ran a red light. Beep when you're stuck in traffic. Beep when you're lane splitting. Beep at kids, people, animals, when you're having fun, when you're not having fun. Just beep, honk, and make noise. Otherwise the traffic can drive you mad. I got this tip from a swiss fellow in Peru. It works.
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Old 08-06-2008, 07:38 AM   #3
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Good advice. Reminds me to get my docs color copied and laminated.

Night riding? Not something I would advise, but then everyone has a different comfort level with that.

Crooked cops? I would suggest that you try to get somewhat familiar with traffic laws in other countries to avoid giving a cop a reason to pull you over in the first place. A lot of people who have had trouble with crooked cops fail to mention that they had broken the law. Also I try to avoid urban areas, seems to me that urban areas have a much higher incidence of cop problems than the rural areas.
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Old 08-06-2008, 09:22 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bananaman

I would like to add one thing: use your horn a lot.
Just this morning I was lane splitting in slow traffic when the bus to my right started to do the slow merge left. I don't know whether he was just avoiding a stopped car or wanted a left hand lane change by slowly pushing traffic out of his way. Either way I was getting pinched like a young jedi in a trash compactor. I layed on the horn and he noticed just as my mirror was getting folded back.

You are so right

LOUD HORNS ARE ESSENTIAL
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Old 08-06-2008, 09:36 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kiko
Crooked cops? I would suggest that you try to get somewhat familiar with traffic laws in other countries to avoid giving a cop a reason to pull you over in the first place. A lot of people who have had trouble with crooked cops fail to mention that they had broken the law.
Good advice. Every time I cross a border or approach a major city, I slow down to try and suss out the local driving scene. Not only does police behavior change but driver's habits change as well. A riding style that works well for you in Ecuador may get you quickly killed in Peru.

Down here I don't really think of cops taking bribes as crooked. It is kind of like tipping in the states, expected and figured into their salary. Every time I have been pulled over, I have been speeding. Not hard to imagine since I speed pretty much whenever I ride.

Off topic, but a couple gringo kids recently had some trouble with "crooked" cops here in Cali. They were trying to buy coke off the street in a bad part of town and the "dealer" turned out to be an off duty copy, or in cahoots with the cops or some such thing. Anyway, after getting scared half to death, they got driven back to their hotel to get their credit cards and then to an Atm to withdraw money to their daily limit.

While, yes I would say the cops were crooked, I also look at those kind of things as a stupidity tax. I haven't had the cops be anything but respectful and straightforward with me here.
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Old 08-07-2008, 05:50 PM   #6
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Re: turn signals. I am constantly confused by their meanings. However the more that I ride in Latin America the more I can start recognizing their context. I'm sure that local drivers have a much better idea of what they mean than I do. Once I've been in a country for a couple days, I start to get a better idea of what they mean. The first day though, I just take the stance of heightened awareness.

Great post!
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Old 12-10-2009, 11:24 PM   #7
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Old post, but it deserves a bump!

I'm just getting my feet wet in Mexico now, heading for C.A.

One thing that gets me is the lack of ANYWHERE to pull over!
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Old 12-11-2009, 07:59 AM   #8
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Always a merry discussion. Deserves brandy and cigars.

Should be folded into Jeff's thread here
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Old 12-11-2009, 01:35 PM   #9
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Good stuff. Didnt realize this thread was so old. Ba, ba bump.....

I would like to add a couple of things. When youre riding mountain dirt roads in Michoacan and you come up on guys wearing cowboy hats and sporting shiny new M16 A2's with grenade launchers, turn your ass around pronto. Dont wait for them to tell you to get the hell out of there.

If you do wind up riding at night, you better have some kick ass lighting. I have two 50W HIDs and they turn night into day. Even so, I wish I had 4 of them. You can never have too much light when riding south of the border. Oncoming traffic? If you blind them, so what. As long as you can see, you can avoid things that go bump in the night.
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Old 12-31-2009, 06:13 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Antontrax
One thing that gets me is the lack of ANYWHERE to pull over!
Just stop in the middle of the road like everyone else does..
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Old 12-31-2009, 09:09 PM   #11
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You my friend BoyScout are a good learner !!!!! ...muy bien pequeño Saltamontes !!

You´ve made laugh ... very very descriptive and realist !!
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Old 01-01-2010, 08:24 AM   #12
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Crosses

OK, I do have something constructive to add not just a smart aleck response...

A local I befriended in Mexico taught me that those little altars along the sides of the road (very common in Mexico, and less & less so as I head south) either signal salvation or expiration -- that if the little altars have a cross or crosses on them, this indicates death and if no crosses a monument to God for saving them -- either way, she explained to me, they are a good thing to watch for as they signify dangerous places in the road.
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Old 01-02-2010, 01:44 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by moto-treks
If you are wondering why it takes time to make any mileage down south, this video may help.



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Try watching this without leaning, grabbing the brake, standing on the pegs, and wanting more throttle. My only critique would be, MORE HORN!!!
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Old 01-02-2010, 03:32 PM   #14
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Wow..... blast from the past.
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Old 01-02-2010, 09:50 PM   #15
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I second the beeping advice. In Rio de Janeiro, lane-splitting motos beep constantly to warn you of their approach. Also, if it is dark in Rio, both cars and motorcycles are expected to only pause for a moment at red lights to avoid car-jacking. It's not only tolerated, but recommended by the police.
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