Joined: Feb 2009
Location: Houston, TX
We left Quito early so we could get in some good riding time and be able to take some remote roads that we had been told about at the hostel where we were staying. The person that told us about them had done this part of the ride in 2003 and said that it was really beautiful and that there were few cars or trucks and that it would be high in the mountains. On our way to our next stop, Cuenca, we were on E35, which is the Pan American Highway, and we would stay on that highway all the way to Loja where we would begin the ‘scenic route’. By the way, the highway markers like E35, as with all road markers, are few and far between and in most towns, especially the small ones, there are no markers at all. Quito is at an elevation in excess of 8,000 feet and we worked our way up to a pass that was 11,900+ feet. The roads were in great shape and made riding them a pleasure as we descended and rose throughout the day. The countryside was green and well-tended with a patch work of small plots of farmland. As we headed to Cuenca the area changed to a much more rural setting and we began to see indigenous peoples dressed in their traditional clothing. I had often though that the red and blue wool clothing and hats on the women that one sees in photographs of the people may have been staged and wasn’t really what they would be wearing on a daily basis. To my surprise, the majority of them dressed and looked exactly as the photographs one sees of the indigenous peoples in the rural areas.
So you know we were there, here is street in the old section of downtown Quito as well as the central square.
Our plan was to ride from Cuenca to Jaen, about 200 miles, including crossing the border into Peru. That was a bad plan, or at least it didn’t turn out as well as we had hoped. At Loja we took the road less traveled and found ourselves on a bumpy and winding gravel/dirt road where we were unable to do much over 20 mph. The road was narrow due to overgrowth and the turns were often so tight that one would be in first gear slipping the clutch to make them as they would many times be at the start of a steep grade. There were also trucks and buses using the roads and there were some interesting encounters at some of the turns. Our speed was so slow that we could clearly see that we would only make it about half way to our intended stopping point so we picked the next town that we came to as a place to stay.
This doesn't look too bad and it wasn't, at first.
The town was Valladolid and it was our first encounter with, how should I say it, less than the accommodations that we have become use to having. As we arrived in town, a town of a few hundred at most, we asked if there was a hotel and were told to go one block, turn left and that it would be the big house. We did as told and didn’t see anything that looked like a hotel so we stopped in the town square, only one block from where we started, and asked again. People pointed back to the middle of the block we had just ridded to a half built building that looked as though it could fall down at any time. We rode over to it and a woman said that it was the hotel and it would cost us about $4 each for a private room or the same to share one. She said we could park our bikes inside the building so they would be safe. The beds were like rocks, the TV in the sitting area got three channels, one with the soccer match, the bathroom was shared by the building and had no hot water and a very crude wall and door for privacy, but it was a roof over our heads. We went to the square and after much asking found something to eat. Somewhere in our hotel, which was still under construction, there were many people living as they would come and go all night as well as all get together early in the morning and eat before leaving about the time we got up and went for breakfast. Everyone was nice to the ‘gringos’, although the whole town stared a lot, and we were on the road around 8 or 8:30.
Here's the outside of our 5 star hotel.
Great parking. We didn't have to carry our things too far.
And here's the nice sitting room.
I'm not sure if the wiring is up to code. But, all the fixtures were the same throughout the building..
The town square was nice with a playground and church.
It's kind of what one would think of finding in the old west. Where's Miss Kitty and Matt?
San Ignacio 10/17
As we headed toward the border it seemed that the day would be about like the previous one with some slow going but not too difficult. We had our first stop at a military check point where all they wanted to see was our passports and ask us a few questions about our bikes. It was a pretty standard thing and was at a permanent checkpoint with a building (shack) and crossing arm. A short distance later we stopped to fill up at the last gas station with the government subsidized gasoline, $2.00 per gallon for premium. There were more military members at the station and they took down our license tag numbers as well as our passport numbers. I think they are there to keep people from filling up with subsidized gas and selling it in Peru since the same gas on the Peru side costs about $6 or $7 a gallon.
As we go to the border, things went downhill for us. All seemed well at first and we had our passports stamped with exit stamps. It also started to rain about this time which should have indicated that things were not going well. We then went back to our bikes and waited for the crossing arm to be lifted and when nothing happened we asked why and were told we had to see the customs agent about our bikes. He asked for the papers we received when we entered from Colombia and we both told him that we were told by two different officials (true too) at the Ecuador border that we didn’t need anything. He said no documents, no exit. He said we would have to go back to Loja and sort it out. That would take us three days to do and we didn’t like that prospect. We asked if there was any way to take care of the documentation there, pay a special fee or anything at all. He kept saying go to Loja. The border guard seemed to understand our plight and kept talking to the agent and finally got him to call his superior. We could hear him saying that we were from the USA, had been to the Galapagos Islands and were tourists. Finally, after a long conversation, we were told to just go let Peru handle the problem because when they checked the bikes in they would be covered by a multi country agreement. The agent didn’t like it but he let us go.
We got to the Peru side of the bridge and the border agent was not to be found and we waited and waited for over an hour until the customs agent in Peru decided to process our papers even though we were not officially in Peru until the border agent stamped our passports. Over an hour has now passed and our bikes are sitting on the bridge behind a crossing arm, oh did I mention that it is raining too. Finally after an hour and a half the border agent returns, has us fill out some papers, go to the police building (across and down the street that is now deep in mud) and get a security clearance. We return to the border agent and he stamps our passports, the customs agent gives us the papers for our bikes and after about two hours we go out to our bikes on the bridge, the arm is lifted and we are officially let into Peru. Oh, it is still raining, and very hard too.
We ride, slipping and sliding for quite a ways until we finally get to some fairly dry road and begin to speed up all the way to 20 mph when we actually hit pavement and begin to feel better. The pavement doesn’t last long and we come to new road construction which means new dirt. The new dirt wasn’t too bad except we got to a place where there had been a landslide and traffic was stopped. We spent about an hour and a half stopped before the road was opened. By this time it had begun to rain again. New dirt, lots of rain, lots of trucks, buses and cars equal mud from half an inch over rocky areas to four inches in some areas. Oh, on top of all of that, it was now getting dark. For a real experience try riding through deep mud for miles, in the rain, in the dark. There were times when we were walking our bikes through places where we were doing all we could to just stand up. Some places the trucks and cars were having trouble inching up hills without slipping off the road. We did the last two hours of the ride in first gear. I would say that it was the worst riding that I have ever experienced…that is until two days later. Anyway, we did find a decent hotel, the Gran in San Ignacio and stayed there for the night.
The road to the border didn't start out too bad although it was narrow.
Then came the border. Just starting to rain and wishing we could get past the bamboo gate.
We saw this view way too many times as we waited for the border agent.
Some of the German riders that were on the same path as us. They had helped us find a hotel the previous night.
They had to be on BMW's.
A little road side stand where we took a break. Notice how close it is to the highway. They like to be where the speed bumps slow the traffic.
The ride to Chachapoyas started out in the mud but soon we were on asphalt and enjoying a ride up a long river valley. It was one of the best rides that I have done (although anything on a hard surface would have looked good) with smooth sweeping turns, the mountains rising on both sides of us and everything as green as I have ever seen. We climbed several thousand feet and turned off the main road to ride on up to Chachapoyas. Chachapoyas is a nice little town with the standard central square surrounded by shops, hostels and restaurants. We stayed at the Amazonian Hostel, where by the way the owner spoke pretty good English. There was a secure parking lot only a block away and we had a private room with bathroom. We were there well before dark and had time to relax a bit. We met some German travelers (Almost all travelers are from Germany and I don’t know if there is anyone left in the country) and had dinner with them at a restaurant recommended by the hostel owner. They also knew some other riders that we had met and talked to a couple of days before. They are driving through North and South America.
Nice road up the valley with the river to the left.
Another photo of the road up the valley.
Here is in front of the Hostel Amazonia with the owner in the doorway.
The square across the street.
Leaving Chachapoyas a little late, we had breakfast with the Germans and visited a while, we headed toward Cajamarca and what Joe said would be a good hotel. We did have some more dirt/gravel road to do but it didn’t seem too bad other than pot holes and large rocks as big as one’s head that were sticking up from time to time. Once again we met up with the construction crews. They stopped us when it was dry and let us go when it started to rain. We were riding at about 12,000 feet and it was a bit cold too. We had a bit of tricky riding for a while because of construction, rain and mud but finally made it through to a dry stretch and soon we were picking up speed. Just when the sun was out and we were moving again here comes another construction zone. We didn’t realize it but that zone went on for miles and miles and the road was closed for hours at a time. When we stopped it was 2:00 and when we started it was after 5:30, oh and did I mention that by that time it had been raining hard for the last hour and would keep raining for the next several hours.
One good thing that happened while we were stopped was that we met Larry and some of his fellow friends. Larry spoke some English and he would come in handy when we got to Balsas. Larry was traveling with his wife and three other couples on their way back to Lima. We talked a while and he helped us understand when we would be going again.
When the road did open again we found ourselves on more new dirt/crushed rock/clay. In places it was not too bad to ride on and was only a little soft. The work crew had been driving rollers over the new surface and had compacted a lot of it. Well, as it kept raining the clay in the new surface kept sticking to the rollers and it would come off in big chunks all over the road and it wasn’t compacting it as well. We followed some of the equipment for several miles as they slowly backed down the road. Oh, the we included several cars, a bus and some trucks. This road was cut into the side of a very steep mountain with sheer drops of several hundred feet. It was so narrow that in almost all places only one car could pass at a time. When a car or truck was met going the opposite way one of the vehicles would have to back up to a wide spot and let the other pass. As it grew dark I radioed a comment to Joe that perhaps it was a good thing that we could no longer see how far down it was because it was less frightening. There was one place where Joe was on a new piece of road, inches from the edge, with me behind him, waiting for trucks and buses to jockey around so everyone could pass. We couldn’t see how far down it was and could only see an empty void a few inches away at our sides. We had to think about how well the new road surface was adhered to the rocks.
After a couple of hours we got past the worst of it and were on surface that had seen a lot of traffic and was more drivable, however, one still had to watch out for some corners and low spots that were soft and inches deep in mud. We arrived in Balsas and had already decided that we would either stay there or find a place to camp because we were not going any further that night. We stopped at the police station and were asking an officer standing outside about a hotel when Larry appeared. He talked to the officer and then went across the street and talked to a man and old woman in a little shop. The man showed us to a room down a side alley. It had three beds in it and he said we could move a table and put our bikes in the room. He then took us two blocks down the street and around a corner and showed us the public toilets. You wouldn’t want to go there, trust me. Anyway, we said we would take the room. Most of the negotiating was by Larry and it worked out. We put our bikes in the room, just fit in by taking the side cases off, and we went to the only restaurant in town. In the restaurant we found Larry and his friends and joined them for dinner. Larry told the cook what we wanted the next morning and he and his friends left for Lima. The night was not our best but at least we were off the mountain and the roof didn’t leak. And, now I had a new worst riding experience…in only two days too. I hope to never best this one.
The road didn't start out too bad.
The views were nice as we climbed past one of the many small villages. You can see part of the road on the right.
We were moving pretty well until we hit this.
And as soon as we got started again, we had to stop and get in rain gear.
Then we got moving again and the roads were dry.
But wait, not so fast'
Now you know it's going to be a long wait.
For the hotel room, see the woman behind the blue door on the right.
Second door on the left is the hotel room.
Ever love your bike so much you wanted to sleep with it?
Nice and close.
At least the police station looked nice.
We were out of Balsas by 8:00 and headed for Cajamarca. The road was narrow, very rocky with ruts where vehicles had traveled and very rough but for the most part dry. It wound its way up from a river valley to elevations of 10,000+ feet. The best part was that we knew that at some point we would be on pavement. After what we had encountered we didn’t really care about much as long as we found a paved road. We rode on for several miles and came to the town of Celendin where we thought the road would be paved. Our bikes were coated with mud and they had been running a little hot too because the radiators had mud packed in them. We searched for a place to wash them and with local help found a car/truck wash place where a pressure hose was used to blast off all the mud and grit and clean out the radiators. It was while waiting for our wash that we discovered that both front fork seals on both our bikes were leaking. After some time on the internet, we found that the closest KTM dealer was in Lima and so we decided to head there. We had originally planned to bypass Lima because we’ve figured out that big cities really don’t have much to offer but big crowds. Our route had been planned through more mountains but with leaking fork seals it doesn’t make much sense to ride on bad roads.
We headed to Cajamarca and a nice hotel. While a lot of the ride was paved, we did have to do some dirt/gravel at the start and ended up getting our bikes dirty once again as it rained on us again. Our hotel was on the city plaza and it would have been a nice place to visit and stay awhile except we need to leave for Lima in the morning. The difficult thing in Cajamarca was finding the center of town and the square. I had read before the trip that sometimes the most difficult thing is being able to find ones way into and out of a city and I believe it. Few signs or directions so one really needs to have a GPS and some maps. It was raining when we got to Cajamarca so all we did was walk to a nearby restaurant, eat dinner and return to our hotel.
The road out of Balsas wasn't too bad.
You know you have a problem when you see oil on the brakes and wheel.
Nuevo Chimbote 10/21
As we headed to the coast and the Pan American Highway the roads, traffic and weather changed a great deal. The poor roads gave way to nice asphalt and we found more trucks than cars. Passing the trucks hasn’t been much of a problem though because the road is generally straight and flat. The coastal weather is very cool because the Humboldt Current flows north along the coast from Antarctica to near the equator. I remember way back when I learned world geography that the Humboldt Current is what causes the deserts along the coast because it cools the air and as the air passes over the land and heats up it dries the land and there is little or no rain until high in the Andes. The air heating and rising over the land is evident by both desert landscape and a very strong wind blowing in from the sea. There is sand blowing across the road and the wind keeps us leaning our bikes into it. If this keep up we will wear out our tires on one side and have like new ones on the other side. Occasionally the desert is broken by fields of sugar cane or some other crops but they must be irrigated.
At Nuevo Chimbote we found a very nice hotel. As we approached it we began to become suspicious because the neighborhood doesn’t look too good. Fortunately it was only a couple of blocks from the highway so we kept going and when we got there a gate was opened to reveal a very secure place which resembled a spa. The hotel is all built on two stories and there is an open air walk past the pool to our room. Parking was secure inside the walls and there was a 24 hour watchman. The owner and his sons and daughters run the place and they were very engaging to talk to. We ordered pizza delivered and had a nice conversation with the owner as we ate. Breakfast was also available. The name of it is Hotel Buenos Aires. The owner is a former attorney named Max. The rate, although I don’t remember it, was very reasonable for a nice place.
The Hotel Buenos Aires
Nice area inside the walls.
At breakfast with the owner between us.
My bike and Joe's new cloths drying rack.
We left early for Lima so that we could be sure and be at the KTM dealer before they closed. Riding was routine with a cool coastal wind and overcast skies. The highway was being worked on, but not the part we were driving on. There is already a four lane divided highway for about 150k before Lima and they are working to extend it further north. Lima is a huge city and were it not for our GPS’s I don’t know how we would have found the dealer. There are freeways and toll roads but they are not the same as in the US and there is still a lot of traffic entering and exiting in a less than controlled manner. After about 45 minutes of heavy traffic we finally came to the place where the KTM website said we would find it and guess what, it wasn’t there. In fact the map location wasn’t even in the right numbered address area. We drove around a while looking and then Joe saw a blond woman that he assumed must speak English so he stopped and asked her if she did. She replied that she spoke all the English that he would require and although she is a local, she was correct in that she spoke fluently English. She too Joe inside a business while I watched the bikes and he emerged with some maps and other information that would help us get to the dealers. While we were getting ready to go her father walked up and we both though he was a priest because of his dress. It turned out he was just a business man but he and his daughter were very helpful.
After arriving at the KTM dealer they took our bikes inside and spent the next couple of hours trying to find us a hotel. We ended up in a hostel for one night and moved to a real hotel on Tuesday. It will take until Wednesday evening, today as I write, to make the repairs. We were able to leave a lot of our things at the dealers and will take a taxi over there in the morning and continue our ride by heading toward Cusco. We haven’t done much today except walk around a little and work on our blogs. You know, this blog writing takes work and I now appreciate all the effort that folks put into it.
The road to Lima.
More on the way to Lima. That's the Pacific Ocean in the distance. I really wasn't trying for a photo of the phone pole but from a moving motorcycle anything can show up.
Here's what you end up with when all the hotel rooms are full.
Joe finds a hamburger joint where he's pretty sure of what he'll get. And he was mostly right.
Oh, before I forget to mention it, I want to say something about gasoline and gasohol. I usually get mileage somewhere in the low 40’s at home burning gasohol. Ecuador has nothing but pure gasoline and we both got over 50 mpg while riding there. So, don’t let the green folks tell you that gasohol is such a great fuel because gasoline gave me 25% more mpg. Oh, and here in Peru they have gasohol but they also grow lots of sugarcane which is much more efficient in converting to ethanol. But then in the US we have companies like ADM and their lobby helping to pass the laws to use corn.
"Right is still right if nobody is right, and wrong is still wrong if everybody is wrong," ~Archbishop Fulton J Sheen
Cisco_k screwed with this post 10-25-2012 at 08:45 PM
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