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Crossing Canada | 2008

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Route across North America

Chapter 1: Return to North America

Map of Trip 1
Map of Trip 2

Ekke writes:

It was with a mixture of feelings that we boarded the Emirates flight to Dubai, United Arab Emirates on June 13th.  We were at once happy and excited to visit somewhere new and different while en-route to North America and at the same time very sad to leave Africa.  What an amazing adventure we had had.  We remembered in vivid detail the people of Sudan along the Nile who took six dusty motorcyclists in and the crash in the middle of no-where, Kenya.  And the first time an ostrich ran out into the middle of the road in front of us and the feeling of standing on top of the world at Uhuru Peak, Kilimanjaro.  And riding the motorcycles amongst the pyramids and passing by elephants in Botswana.  Wow.  Memories for a lifetime.

We had heard that Emirates was an excellent airline and we were not disappointed.  The overnight flight from Cape Town to Dubai on a Boeing 777 had decent legroom (though First Class looked like heaven) and an entertainment system capable of letting a person select from hundreds of movies and TV shows built into the back of every seat.  They even provided real silverware with dinner and a little package containing a toothbrush/toothpaste and eye shades.  Nevertheless we were pretty much zombies when arrived at 5:30 in the morning.  That was 3:30 AM in Cape Town.  The airport was quite busy and it was no problem claiming our luggage.  Much to our delight the United Arab Emirates stamp in the passport was small and the customs officer managed to put it on a previously used page.  Still one whole blank page left in the passport!  We flopped into a taxicab and stared at the new scenery gliding past the windows.  The highway was absolutely enormous but not terribly full.  I guess it was six o'clock in the morning.  Through the haze we could make out some of the architecturally interesting buildings we had hoped to see.  The cab driver drove around the Dubai Museum and then pulled up in front of the Arabian Courtyard and Spa.  With a "shukran" and a tip of a few dirhams we stepped out into the muggy heat.  We imagined the chances of checking in at six in the morning were slim but we thought we would give it a shot.  The lobby was a beehive of activity and the desk clerk didn't seem terribly surprised to see us.  Perhaps they're used to having people arrive at odd hours.  Our room wasn't ready yet (!) so he suggested we relax until 11 AM.  An in-house coffee shop provided us with a muffin and a jolt of caffeine.  We sat on their comfortable sofa watching BBC World acting like the zombies that we were.

Riding in a cab from the airport

We walked out of the air conditioned hotel and into the blazing heat of a late spring day in Dubai.  At 8:30 AM it was already hot and humid.  The museum across the street was in the old Al-Faheidi Fort and provided an interesting overview of the history of the area.  Dubai lies on a natural creek that provided a harbour for trade with neighbouring states as well as India and East Africa.  Dioramas were set up with the sights and sounds of Dubai a century ago.  From cloth sellers to pearl divers, the air conditioned, underground museum kept us entertained and educated until 10:30.  We wandered back to the hotel and were happy to hear that a room was available.  After a short nap and a shower we were ready to tackle more of Dubai.  Back in Cape Town we had printed out three walking tours from the internet and the tours were all conveniently located near the hotel.  On the way out we bought tickets for The Big Bus tour as we thought we could do that on Sunday to get a good overview of the city.  Starting with the shortest walking tour and the one closest to the hotel we strolled around the neighbourhood marvelling at the wind towers (used to cool homes prior to the advent of air conditioning) and the number of Al Abras shuttling people across the Creek.  Pretty soon we were cooked and since the walking tour had looped back to the Dubai Museum we retreated a few metres to the air conditioned comfort of the Arabian Courtyard.

Dubai Museum in the Old Fort


Not too far back to the air conditioned hotel


Enjoying the dioramas


How pearls were traded


A great display from underneath a pearl-diving boat


Wind towers like this were used before air conditioning


Locals out for a stroll along the creek


Later in the afternoon as things were cooling down a little, we walked the other two tours.  The first one on the same side of the Creek as the hotel led through the cloth souk and then along the Creek.  Coming back we stopped off at a small restaurant for a bite to eat before crossing the creek for the other tour.  The vine wraps and hummus were delicious and it was good to be back in an Arabic country.  Thinking that I would break a 500 dirham note I paid the 50 dirham lunch.  I guess I was jetlagged (and season-lagged for that matter) and hadn't been in a place for quite some time where it was essential to count your change, such as Egypt or Ethiopia, so I simply put the change in my wallet and prepared to leave.  Then the cashier came over and slapped me on the back with a big smile on his face.  He had kept 400 dirham as a joke to see if I would notice!  Mental note: Keep the guard up.  We crossed the Creek in an Al Abra and started walking in the direction of the gold souk.  A look at our Big Bus ticket showed that a dhow river boat ride was included in the price of the bus tour and a dhow left at five PM.  We hustled down the harbour, looking for a dhow that could be part of the Big Bus.  We found it a kilometre up the creek from where the Al Abra dropped us off and just a couple of minutes prior to departure.  It was too bad that the air conditioning didn't seem to be working very well otherwise it would have been a perfect way to relax for an hour.  In any case the tour provided some interesting facts and an opportunity to see the "real" dhows from the water side.  The architecture was simply amazing to see in the setting sun.  After the dhow docked we decided to walk back to the Al Abra by doing the third walking tour in reverse.  The gold souk was simply staggering for the amount on display.  Apparently more gold is sold here than anywhere else in the world.  Walking back in the dark to the waterfront via some side streets we didn't feel at all uncomfortable as we would have in other places (Nairobi and Johannesburg come to mind).  It seemed that in most Arabic countries people had no problem with ripping off tourists but serious crime was almost non-existent.  Back at the Arabian Courtyard we collapsed into the enormous king-sized bed.  It was freezing in the room.  A quick check of the fully automated climate control system confirmed that the staff had turned it to 16 degrees and the system was doing its darndest to get there despite the mid thirties outside.  Once that was set to a more comfortable temperature we could finally get a good solid night's sleep.

A wind tower and  minaret


Catching an al abra across the creek




Dhows are used to carry almost anything


All along the creek were piles of cargo


The Gold Souk


Colourful water pipes adorned a store front


Exhausted, we walk back past the Dubai Museum ready to collapse into bed


We must have slept for something like 10 hours before waking up to catch the first Big Bus at 9:20 outside the Old Fort.  The bus took us past the cloth souk and then under the Creek and in front of the dhows being loaded in the harbour.  The bus stops seemed to coincide with shopping malls and we soon found out why Dubai is famed for its shopping opportunities, there is no sales tax.  The commentary on the bus was very informative, telling us things like, "only 7% of Dubai's revenues come from oil."  This was the result of the foresight of Sheik Rashid Bin Saeed Al-Maktoum who decided to spend the oil royalties on infrastructure and diversification.  Perhaps it is a lesson that we Albertans could take to heart.  We passed by a fancy hotel complex designed in an Egyptian theme.  While, judging by the Lamborghini and highly modified Porsche parked outside, we couldn't afford to stay there, we thought that the Egyptian replicas reminded us more of Las Vegas than of Egypt.  Our next pause was at a beach to get a good photo of the famous Burj Al Arab hotel, the tallest hotel in the world.  The cost of a room there would fund our travels through Africa for three months!  The next stop was a shopping centre replica of an old-time souk but not nearly as dirty or confusing and containing souvenir and coffee shops rather than spice and cloth shops.  We hopped off to have a look and then hopped back on the next bus after having a "Cinnabon" and iced coffee.  Our next stop was a shopping centre that we were interested in seeing, Mall of the Emirates.  This place was enormous but its real claim to fame was an indoor ski hill.  Just like the West Edmonton Mall has an indoor wave pool and water slide to escape winter, Emiratees could escape the blazing heat and go for a ski.  Coming from a ski-rich country (or rather going back to one) we decided to skip the skiing.  Lunch with a view of the hill was expensive but good for entertainment value.  The rest of the mall consisted of the same shops one can find anywhere else in the world (except in the middle of Africa I suppose) and I picked up a pair of socks at a Columbia store to replace a pair gone missing at a laundry in Windhoek.  We checked out photo cameras but the waterproof, shockproof Olympus (perfect for the motorbike) I was interested in was actually a bit more money here than at Future Shop back in Canada.  We decided against buying it even though after tax (no tax here and 5% to 13% in Canada depending on the province) it would have been a few dollars less.  Lunch of "mall Chinese food" was just like at the food court in any mall in Canada, a great taste of home!  Back on the Big Bus to yet another shopping centre (where an ice bar had furniture made of ice and the ice in the drinks came from Canada).  A ride through downtown where all the amazing high rises are located got us to our final mall whose main claim to fame seemed to be that people were actually shopping here.  We transferred to the bus to take us in the general direction of the hotel and got off at a local market.  Finally!  Here were the ordinary people of Dubai; the construction workers and the cloth merchants going about their business.  We stopped at a bakery for a sweet treat, and then hailed a cab for the remainder of the journey back to the Arabian Courtyard, relaxing in air conditioned comfort.  Since we had an 8 AM flight out the next morning we made a rather early night of it.

Riding The Big Bus


Egypt?  Las Vegas?  Nope, Dubai!


Burj Al Arab hotel looks like a mirage


Approaching the Mall of the Emirates we wonder what that is...


An indoor ski hill


Dubai is world renowned for amazing skyscrapers


Burj Dubai, the tallest building the world





Enormous roads and Dubai Metro being constructed to service Downtown


Another in the series of "Ekke and the low doors"


Construction of Dubai Metro


The free shuttle bus to the airport left at 6 AM which we caught without trouble.  At check-in (which couldn't be done online) we got two aisle seats beside each other with a bulkhead behind.  This provided plenty of legroom and it was easy to get up and move around.  As an extra value bonus the plane didn't fill up and we had no-one beside us either.  What luxury!  The entertainment system was, if possible, even more advanced than on the flight from Cape Town so it was easy to keep ourselves occupied for 13.5 hours.  There were even cameras in the nose and belly of the plane so you didn't need a window seat to see outside.  Take off and landing were especially entertaining with the nose camera.  On the GPS screen we could see that we flew over Europe (near Munich) and then down over Newfoundland.  It sure looked like a long way from New York to Newfoundland…

Our plane to New York


U.S. customs gave us absolutely no grief at all, despite having stamps from such anti-U.S. countries as Syria and Sudan in our passports.  The officer even managed to put the entry stamp on a used page leaving the blank page for further travels and gave us a warm welcome to the United States of America.  Audrey spotted the British Airways Cargo building from the AirTrain and it turned out to be very close to the place where the hotel shuttle bus picked us up.  That would make things easier the next day when we picked up the bikes.  We checked into the Best Western and found a small package waiting for us.  I had contacted Jesse Luggage systems ( to replace a piece of my saddlebags that had vibrated off somewhere in northern Kenya and they had mailed it to the Best Western.  Great service!  As the hotel didn't have a restaurant, we went for a walk and found a Marriot hotel a few blocks away with a little diner in the lobby.  A couple of pasta dishes and sodas came to $40.  Wow.  The U.S.A. was going to be one of the more expensive countries on this trip.

We took the airport shuttle back to the Federal Circle pick up point and walked a few minutes to the British Airways Cargo building.  They gave us some forms that needed to be stamped by U.S. Customs and then summoned a cab to take us to the other side of the airport.  After we waited a few minutes a BA supervisor came over and said that he would get one of the office staff to take us over.  We piled into a company minivan, drove over to Customs and the driver waited while we got out forms stamped.  Other than having the incorrect address on the form (it should have been the Best Western, not our home address in Canada) it was a simple and quick process.  Back at BA they corrected the address and then got the clearance from Customs.  A few moments later a forklift brought our bikes out to the parking lot.  We took the plastic wrapping off, snipped the metal straps and started to reassemble the bikes.  Getting the F650's front wheel on was a real challenge until I had the bright idea to use the forklift to hold the bike up while inserting the axle.  All in all it took two and a half hours until we rode away, less time than it took to clear Egyptian Customs with fully assembled bikes!  We rode to the nearest gas station, paid almost $5 per gallon and went in search of some all-American food.  McDonald's!  Since their parking lot was full we just parked the bikes on the sidewalk in front of the windows where we could keep an eye on them.  People in the restaurant just smiled and then noticed all the African stickers on the saddlebags.  What a great way to start a conversation.  Back at the hotel we fine tuned the bike setup, repairing the F650's loose headlight assembly and setting up the handlebars to the right height.  The GPS found a pizza parlour in a nearby neighbourhood so we went there for an authentic pizza pie.

Off the forklift just in time for the lunch wagon




Now, how is that front wheel going to get on?


We acted like the tourists we were on Wednesday and caught the subway to Manhattan.  At the pier we reserved a seat on The Beast, where they promised a nice short tour out to the Statue of Liberty.  While waiting for our boat tour we walked over to Central Park where we checked out the zoo, looking for Alex and the rest of the gang from the movie, Madagascar.  Back at the pier, lined up for the boat tour we saw The Beast and understood how they could promise a 30 minute tour that had all the same sights as a 3 hour tour.  A 5,000 horsepower speedboat.  We laughed at the suckers who had signed up for the three hour tour as we boarded our boat.  Audrey and I decided to trust the tour director (even though he didn't look like Julie from the Love Boat) and took the seats at the very front, supposedly the driest seats on the boat.  A deep rumble signified the starting of the engines and we idled out from the dock.  Once on open water the pilot (Mad Dog) cracked the throttles, cranked up some rock and roll tunes and the nose of the boat rose into the air.  Sure enough everyone behind us was catching the spray while we stayed relatively dry even as the wind ripped at our clothes and hair.  We zipped past the island of Manhattan and in a few minutes came to rest near the Statue of Liberty.  A brief pause so that we could snap a couple of pictures of Lady Liberty was followed by the happy roar of the twin engines as we zoomed past the skyscrapers back to the harbour.  With big grins we stepped off the boat and followed the recommendation of one of our fellow passengers to go to Junior's in Grand Central Station.  There, without a doubt, was the best cheesecake either of us has ever had, a real New York cheesecake.  There was a spirited debate as to whether this cheesecake was better than any of the cakes we had in Bavaria but ultimately the issue was unresolved.  I guess we'll have to do a direct, back to back, comparison some time.

A walk in Central Park before the boat ride


Our "tour boat"


Being whisked along the Hudson River (looks like it could be a "bad hair" day)


The tour director doesn't really look like Julie from the Love Boat either


Anyone remember "Flock of Seagulls"?


The Beast stops long enough to snap a picture


Times Square


The world's largest department store


Dubai doesn't have a monopoly on skyscrapers


We had plenty of time to check out of the Best Western and were on the road north by Noon of the 19th of June.  A quick stop at an AAA allowed us to pick up some maps and free advice on how to get out of NYC while minimising the number of tolls.  While I have no objection to tolls in general I find them quite a nuisance on the motorcycle when having to dig for a wallet or change either with gloves on (awkward) or taking the gloves off (time consuming).  Northbound on I-95 we were very pleasantly surprised by the superb quality of the driving in New York.  We weren't cut off, no-one tail-gated us, people knew how to merge, we didn't get run off the road and nobody used their horn.  What a change from African driving patterns.  The heavy traffic would bunch up every now and again to slow our progress so we didn't make it to a KOA near Mystic, Connecticut until 5 PM.  There we were in for another shock, sticker shock.  How can $50 possibly be acceptable for one night of camping?  We didn't even have any services on our camp site so the ones with hookups must have been even more.  At least the wireless internet was included in the price.

At the camp store we found an interesting breakfast idea; pancakes in a bottle!  Just add water and shake, then pour the batter into the pan.  We had some water left over from making coffee/tea so added that to the bottle with a rather unwelcome result.  The batter expanded and became rock hard.  A quick review of the instructions revealed the reason.  Use cold water for the mix.  Oh well, the idea sounded good and the breakfast sandwich at Dunkin' Donuts up the road was actually reasonably tasty.  Getting away from the efficient Interstate we used small roads as much as possible for the morning, simply enjoying small town America.  One thing that really struck us (aside from a lot of cool town names like Griswold and Pawcatuck) was the sheer number of flags flying.  Americans must be amongst the most flag-wavingest people in the world.  The only natural response I had was to attach to my bike the little Canadian flag that had been tucked away in a saddlebag since the summit of Kilimanjaro.  Near Woonsocket, Rhode Island Audrey suddenly pulled alongside and motioned we had to stop.  She had seen a Tim Hortons!  This doughnut shop chain is a Canadian icon and we hadn't seen one for a year.  Never mind that we almost never went to a Timmy's while at home, we had to go to this one and have a Canadian Maple doughnut.  OK, it was no New York cheesecake but it was a taste of home.  When we crossed into Massachusetts we realised that it had taken us the whole morning to cross one of the smallest states in the Union.  While we really enjoyed the small back roads of Rhode Island we also had a plan to spend as much time in Atlantic Canada as possible so we jumped on the I-495 to go around Boston and got to New Hampshire in a few hours.  We found a private park just across the state line that had room for our small tent in their otherwise full campground.  Knocking off four states in a single day felt like quite an accomplishment!

Small town America


Welcome to Rhode Island


After breaking camp we rode to the coast and took Highway 1 north into Maine.  The going was slow with a lot of traffic and almost continuously built up with shopping centres, industrial areas and residential zones.  The Interstate took us around Portland to Street Cycles to see if they could patch a slow leak I had in the rear tire.  It turns out that it is illegal to patch tires in Maine so I decided to keep pumping (easier to do in North America compared to Africa since every gas station has an air hose).  We met a couple of riders who were interested in hearing of our adventures in Africa so we got to tell some stories.  Fred started to explain to us how to get to a locally famous seafood joint, Day's, and then said, "What the heck, I'm hungry too!" so led us there instead.  Once there I had a delicious haddock and Audrey enjoyed her battered shrimp while we kept Fred interested with Africa stories.  Saying goodbye to Fred we went a little ways up the road to Freeport, home of the L.L. Bean flagship store and spent a couple of hours going through their collection of clothing and camping gear.  Audrey even found a chair to replace the one she had left in South Africa.  In the parking lot I checked the rear tire pressure and noticed that a couple of the tread blocks were bulging out.  That didn't look good!  Very gingerly we rode back to Street Cycles where they were just closing shop.  They had two Metzeler Tourances in my size in stock, the same make that was impossible to get in Namibia and South Africa just a few weeks earlier.  I whipped the rear wheel off the bike and in a few minutes the mechanics had installed a new tire.  Thanks to the staff at Street Cycles ( for staying after hours on a beautiful Saturday afternoon to help out a couple of travellers!  With time marching on we decided to get to a campground right after stopping at a grocery store, our first full-fledged North American grocery store.  We were stunned by the selection of foods available and it took us a moment or two before we were able to get to the shopping.

Fred joins us for lunch


Finally!  Shoes in Ekke's size!


Sunday we rode along the coast of Maine to Acadia National Park, stopping in Castine for a haddock burger and lobster roll.  The bikes were perfectly set up for this kind of riding on twisty, bumpy roads and it was difficult to understand why cruiser style bikes are so incredibly popular here but there you have it.  It was wet and foggy when we set up camp so we decided to put up the tarp that we've dragged along for the entire trip.  It's only the second time we've used it, the time before being in Arusha, Tanzania.  The tarp had been very useful on our previous trip in Europe but that time we would stay at a camp for a few days and it was also the wettest summer in 15 years.  This trip we were on the move a lot more and we were fortunate not to have much rain.

Time to use the tarp


What a miserable night it was.  I must have caught a cold with the cool, wet weather and had to make a few trips out of the tent during the night.  Despite very little sleep we were excited about this day.  We would finally be crossing the border into Canada.  After a walk on the beach, where it was too foggy to see anything we packed up a soggy tent and took the loop road around the park.  While it was a beautiful road the fog still hadn't lifted so the views weren't as nice as one could have hoped for.  We stopped in Bar Harbor (pronounced Ba Haba by the locals) for lunch at Geddy's and started to wonder if eating enormous portions of all this deep fried food with would eventually catch up with us.  It was 130 kilometres through beautiful rolling country to the town of Calais, where the road crossed a bridge to St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada.  Seeing the maple leaf flying on the other side brought tears to our eyes as we waited in the queue to cross the border.  Tears of joy to be home or tears of sadness as the trip was winding down?  It was hard to say.

Over 30,000 km travelled and only 196 left to go...


Flying from Cape Town to Dubai and on to New York  


Riding from New York through to Maine


Almost back in Canada


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