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Old 09-26-2012, 01:52 PM   #136
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September 30, 2012 - We flew to the Galapagos twice. The first time, we were in sight of the runway basking in sunlight when the plane turned around supposedly for weather related reasons. Later we found out that this was not the case. Most likely, LAN was subject to a tiff over landing rights.

The net result of all this is that we ended up back in Guayaquil, in a top end hotel, courtesy of LAN. We made it on schedule to the Galapagos the next morning.

A few hours later we booked a week long cruise starting the following day. It proved to be a very good one on a large boat with lots of space. The sixteen passengers on board were mainly colorful Australians, with an Israeli "white hat" hacker thrown in for good measure. Conversations were lively and quite varied.



The wonders of the Galapagos do not start when you set foot on land and see your first blue-footed booby. Mystery starts at night, in the toilet bowl. Bioluminescence lights up the bathroom when you flush as seawater is used.

Our daily routine was quite rigorous, with a wake up call at 5:30 AM and a beach landing at 6:00 AM. Breakfast around 8:00 AM, snorkeling at 10:00 AM and lunch at noon. More water time at around 2:00 PM and a second landing at around 4:00 PM. No time was lost and during each excursion I shot around three to four hundred pictures. Night times were used for sorting through the chaff. A red-footed booby below.



Only three percent of the Galapagos is visited or routinely occupied by humans. The other part is left alone and visited by conversation officials only. The rules as to where each tourist boat can go is prescribed by the government, ensuring equal distribution of the tourist load but also allowing for some favoritism for those with good connections.

A large number of the species we saw only occur on the Galapagos, and of those, some only on specific islands. The phrase "endemic species" was uttered by our guide a number of times a day.



Aside from the variety of wildlife, the other unique feature is the animal's complete lack of fear and in some cases unhealthy curiosity. Snorkeling with sea lions was a blast as they want to interact. If you dive and corkscrew while doing so, they mimic your movement. More than once a sea lion would swim straight at your face, only to miss by a whisker and shoot past the length of your body with no room to spare.



Photo courtesy of Lucienne Oud

Wandering around the islands, always on a path accompanied by a guide, it was hard to sometimes not stumble over sleeping sea lions, or nesting boobies. The one below is a Nasca booby.



The surroundings were not too shabby either.



The Galapagos are volcanic, with a number of active hotspots.



The oddest and most unexpected animals on the the equator are penguins.



Of course there are Albatross as well.



And of course, blue-footed boobies are everywhere.



A young booby in its nest.



A picture of the boat we were on.



After eight nights at sea, we were happy to get back to land. The whole western side of the Galapagos is part of a different trip schedule, so that will have to wait for a next visit.
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Old 09-26-2012, 02:18 PM   #137
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The top seal pic is a top seal pic.
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Old 10-18-2012, 05:52 PM   #138
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October 17, 2012 - We relaxed for a few more days in Puerto Ayora. Initially, we were afraid we'd get bored but apparently we had successfully adjusted to the island lifestyle, which meant we were happy to do little and lounge around town a bit or walk to the beach to watch lizards. We were somewhat reluctant to leave the Galapagos.

There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of lizards on the beaches near Puerto Ayora.



Walking around in Puerto Ayora, I came upon a strange Friday afternoon ritual.



Eventually, our time was up on the Galapagos and we flew back to the mainland. Our bikes were happily stored at the hotel in Quito. The next few weeks were a bit muddled in terms of planning, with Jan needing to catch a flight out of Lima on October 25th. I had debated taking a paragliding course in Iquique, Chile, during the time that he would be gone, but was also considering flying back to Vancouver to swap out camera gear and touch base with friends back home. As it was, the decision to go to Vancouver was sealed with Anna breaking her kneecap in a nasty fall. Being immobilized and with an apartment that was in the middle of a renovation, I decided to leave for Vancouver right away. So a few days after being back in Quito, I left for Vancouver on October 3rd.



I had little time to socialize in Vancouver as setting up an apartment for someone who needs to hobble around on crutches takes some imagination. Additional skills acquired include installing "assisted living" equipment in the bathroom and other esoterica.

All in all, Anna's surgery and first follow-up were successful, but the path to health is measured in months with a second surgery in about six months followed by more physio.

I'd spent ample time thinking about the camera gear I wanted to have with me for the long run (just the D700 and 24-70 were not enough) and as such decided on the D700, 14-24, 24-70 and 70-200. I also took a 50 mm lens. It's a lot to pack on a motorcycle, but then photography is pushing more to the forefront in what I want to pursue longer term, not that I have any illusions of ever making much money with it.
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Old 10-25-2012, 02:22 PM   #139
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October 23, 2012 - I landed in Quito with a cold or something, because it took me out for close to a week. When I felt better, I went back to the Guayasamin Museum.

I was there on a Sunday and the place was deserted. I wandered around for a good hour at the old residence before going back to the museum.



I took a few more shots of the old cars with the wide angle lens.



The interior of the Model T.



The garden view, with the museum roof in the background.



My next stop was Baños, a small tourist town nestled in the mountains and surrounded by hot springs, none of which I visited. The half day ride to Baños sapped my remaining energy and I decided to park the bike till I was better.



I found Baños slightly depressing. The graffiti in town was not the most joyful either.



The mask below looked like an add-on at first, but it is actually painted on.



The only place of note in the centre of town is the monastery connected to the church.



Everything went well until I decided to visit the museum on the second floor. Aside from the more mundane religious paraphernalia, there were two rooms dedicated to stuffed Ecuadorian fauna, which was a tad disturbing, as some of our feathered friends had been consumed by moths. Snakes in formaldehyde jars were half exposed and stacks of what looked like antique statues were piled together in display cases. The places was a curator's worst nightmare.



Since there was absolutely nobody at the museum and the surrounding courtyard, I spent some time playing with shadows and wide angles.



Tomorrow I will start the bike again and head south via the eastern route, which takes me closer to the Amazon rainforest.
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Old 10-25-2012, 02:45 PM   #140
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Looks like you entered into Grotesque-ville.
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Old 10-25-2012, 06:33 PM   #141
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Looks like you entered into Grotesque-ville.
Yeah, but I'm leaving tomorrow via a brand new beautiful 500 km road through the Amazon jungle. Should be fun.
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Old 10-26-2012, 06:04 AM   #142
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That should be neat. I'd very much like to see the Amazon someday.
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Old 10-31-2012, 09:45 AM   #143
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October 26, 2012 - From Baños I rode along the eastern route down Ecuador, thereby staying off the Pan American highway. The latter is a much better road and quite fast but it passes by a lot of nicer areas.

The eastern route takes you down along the outskirts of the Amazon rainforest, although I failed to spot any Anacondas on the way. From the E45 I took the E40, which is a brand new road snaking together a number of towns and villages. Close to Cuenca, you get deposited on the Pan American again. For those who like an unending amount of twisties on a new concrete road, this is definitely the way to go.



In Cuenca, I ended up in a hotel that was probably of stature back in the 50's or 60's. Although grand in design, it had wilted over the years to become a caricature of itself, with staff dressed in museum quality outfits with an attitude to match.

Cuenca is reputed to be one of the nicest cities in Ecuador.



The downtown core has a number of worthwhile sights for sure, but personally I didn't understand the fuss about the place. I visited a few of the museums, including the reputed central bank museum with its mock displays of Ecuadorian life. The most interesting items where the shrunken heads, created by the natives.

The churches were quite elaborate inside.



All in all Cuenca wasn't my place and after a day of thoroughly crisscrossing the place on foot I decided to press on.
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Old 10-31-2012, 09:48 AM   #144
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October 28, 2012 - I pressed West to stay off the Pan American again. For the first time in months, I dropped below 2,000 meters and got all the way down to about 30 meters above sea level. The quality of the roads in places was excellent and using 5th gear again was a happy change too, with speeds to match for longer stretches.

The target for the day was a small town called Zaruma, nestled high in the mountains. On the way there, I went through all sorts of terrain, from desert mountain roads with endless gravel to lower Amazon-like vegetation and fog so dense I could not see my own front wheel anymore.

Slowly the road climbed out of the clouds and fog created by the Garua, the dry wind that hits the lower western slopes of the Andes during this time of the year. Zaruma is a small town that is on the UNESCO watch list to be a world heritage site. It's pretty unspoiled with scarcely a decent hotel to be found and restaurants that all serve the same food, three times a day.



I found a small hostal right on the main square with a room overlooking the square and church above. Since it is somewhat higher up, the sun seems to shine all day long, with clouds visible in the valleys.

Small, steep streets with stairs everywhere are the order of the day.



The tourismo office remained firmly closed during my time there. I met one other Western tourist in my three days here. Sadly she had to leave back home to Germany all too soon...



You can usually tell when people are not used to tourists in a small town. My Teva sandals caused glances and smiles wherever I went. The next stop from here is the Peruvian border.
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Old 11-04-2012, 05:00 PM   #145
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November 4, 2012 - I crossed the border into Peru a few days ago. It was relatively painless, probably one of the better border crossings to take. Mind you, I avoided the Pan American highway crossing and went for the crossing at Huaquillas.

The target for day one in Peru was Piura, a large town on the coast and quite far into Peru. The desert of Northern Peru is incredibly uninteresting but unlike Baja, there were some very long stretches of absolutely straight road that made for great day dreamers. There was no traffic at all for hours it seemed and the mind could work overtime as the bike practically floated by itself. Ultimate helmet time.

Piura came and went, and the next day I headed for Trujillo. On the way there, I had the unique opportunity to combine business and pleasure. I pulled off at six degrees south of the equator and peered into the desert. And there it was, a large shimmering salt lake, part of Growmax Agricorp. It's always good to go and take a look at your own investments.



Growmax is about to start producing potash and other minerals using simple solar evaporation. It's a sideline business to Americas Petrogas, an Argentinean oil company I invested in about five years ago.

More desert lay ahead and I pressed on, zooming out on the GPS to see how far I could go before cities would start to appear on the map. All twelve satellites were at more than 75 percent strength, something only seen when far out at sea usually. Emptiness redefined. I had a blast.

Arriving in Trujillo, I parked the bike in the lobby of Hostal Colonial, a huge compound with more than fifty rooms I estimate. It's a very friendly place to hang out and they got everything right.

Right in front of the hostal, a wedding was taking place later in the evening and I ran back to grab my camera.



The photographer was a bit of a strange character. He ran up to me and asked what I was shooting with while his assistant was duly waiting with some lights for the bride and groom to appear from the bowels of the church.



Trujillo is a very pleasant little town. I loitered around taking pictures pretty much every day.



On day two of my visit, I booked a Spanish speaking tour of the Chan Chan ruins, in part to force-feed myself some Spanish. It was a hopeless effort, as the guide rattled on at warp speed to the point where even the locals had to ask him to repeat himself.

Chan Chan is somewhat interesting. Although a decent set of pictures will do you more good than visiting the site itself.



The toy museum was a nice change from the mildly boring anthropological museum.



Tomorrow I head into the mountains, away from civilization.
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Old 11-09-2012, 03:16 AM   #146
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November 8, 2012 - I stayed an extra day in Trujillo to buy and mount a front tire. I was glad I did, because the day after, it got put to good use.

From Trujillo I went direction Chimbote, from where I cut up to Cañón del Pato, after seeing a GoPro video of it from a fellow rider. It certainly proved to be a challenge, with hours upon hours of rough gravel roads, some parts with extensive damage from construction equipment.

The place was barren and rugged, with not a soul in sight a lot of the time.



The canyon walls at places overhang so much they are separated by a mere six meters. Spot the bike.



And tunnels, endless tunnels. All covered in fine sand with hidden ruts and nothing to provide any reflection. Single track, all of them, so honking profusely is the only way to get noticed as a bike. This is a small one. Some of them were just featureless black holes you offer your life to.



The ride ended in Huaraz, a place I had visited in 1996. Close to the main square I found a small hotel. I decided to stay a day and fix my speedo which had lost the magnetic pickup when I changed the tire. It rained pretty much constantly for the 36 hours I was in Huaraz. I left in the rain early in the morning and was rolling by 7:00 AM.

The ride to Huánuco was really varied but not technically challenging. Aside from a muddy detour for about a kilometer, it was all paved.

About half an hour out of Huaraz, I found myself at 4,000 meters - the highest point for the day ended up being 4,667 meters. To my left I had a nice view of the Cordillera Blanca.



The roads twisted and turned higher and lower all day, with lots of blind corners and looming truck traffic. No near misses, but it wasn't a place to gaze off dreamily in the distance for too long either. Numerous small villages scroll past your visor, women dressed in traditional outfits, cows lingering on the road while suspicious looks from small children follow you.

A lot of people are "chimping" their phones and don't even notice me ride by. Nobody escapes Claro and Movistar's influence, even here.



And then I came upon this.



The Toyota van I'd been playing tag with for most of the day. He was faster most of the time, but then I overtook him when he was letting people on and off at various points. The van was toast as the drive train was laying on the ground. The truck was going to need a bigger truck to get moving again. The van was pulled backwards, leaving enough room to skirt around, which everyone did at the same time, South American style.
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Old 11-09-2012, 07:48 AM   #147
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What does chimping a cell phone mean?
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Old 11-09-2012, 10:51 AM   #148
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What does chimping a cell phone mean?
"Chimping", as in being transfixed by the pixels on your smart phone while at the same time manipulating the keyboard with both hands. Similar to what a Chimpanzee does when he examines whether something is edible.
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Old 11-12-2012, 07:33 AM   #149
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November 12, 2012 - From Huánuco to Huancayo, more stunning scenery and smooth roads made up most of the ride.

The road slowly winds its way higher and higher to Huancayo.



The route crosses the Altiplano, frequently well over 4,000 meters. The Altiplano is the second largest and highest plateau in the world after Tibet, with an average height of 3,750 meters. The main road is in perfect shape and there is little traffic. Unremarkable little towns come and go and sometimes the area is really deserted as far as the eye can see.



In Huancayo a waypoint from Adam Lewis leads me straight to Hostal America, a small leafy place a few blocks off the main drag with a spot to park the bike. In a small eatery I order the most expensive thing on the menu at about $4.

The plan from here was to go to Ayacucho and then onwards to Cuzco, following the highlands. The next morning a conversation with the hostal owner makes me question the wisdom of my route and twenty kilometers onwards, the paved road ends, with bumpy ruts snaking overtop a hill out of sight. A quick check with some elderly fixtures on the local main square confirms it's about eight to ten hours with a minibus for a mere 150 kms. Hearing of my plans, I am handed a bottle of water and some crackers by a woman from a nearby stall. Her gesture, in combination with the 500+ kms of brutal road from Ayacucho to Cuzco ahead make me cave in and I turn around towards Lima.

The ride to Lima is unremarkable and crossing the Carretera Cental is a snooze, although the route touches 4,781 meters at one point.

In Lima I head for Miraflores and take refuge in The Flying Dog, a fancier hostal with tiled floors in the bathroom and consistent hot water, a novelty, for a few days. From here the plan is to head to Arequipa and then Bolivia.
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Old 11-24-2012, 01:52 PM   #150
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November 16, 2012 - The ride from Lima was a novelty. Smooth tarmac, fast highways and no mud or ruts as had been the routine of the last few riding days. We made good time to Nazca, where we spent the night.

Having already seen the Nazca lines once, we passed on that adventure. We did take a quick detour to take a look again at Chuachilla, the dessert burial grounds where in 1996 we saw Inca mummies scattered in the dessert.

The place had been Disney-fied, with mummies propped up in their respective graves, skulls cleaned and hair put back where it once belonged. A far cry from the open pit graves and randomly scattered bones we saw before.



Nevertheless, it still had a certain charm and novelty, but it was a far cry from before.

The ride continued and by nightfall we reached Arequipa, a city I absolutely loved in 1996 and thankfully, not much had changed here. The central square hadn't changed a bit.



We rode around a bit and ended up in the same hostal Regis we stayed in back in 1996. It hadn't changed a bit but they had cleaned up the place a lot. A bargain for $12 per person, two blocks from the Plaza de Armas.

Nighttime photography was the first order of business.



There is no end to the interesting little backstreets.



I spent an entire day shooting inside the Santa Catalina Monastery.



After a few days in Arequipa, we moved to Hostal Pirwa, as our old place was now in the middle of the party district and we got little sleep. Our new hostal was a mini-palace, with a huge room, wood paneled siding and sculpted ceilings. We found it thanks to two Aussies, Linda and Andy, whom we had met in hostal Regis. At one point, we all went to the cathedral and suffered through the guided tour to allow us on the roof and to see some more of the interior.



Some of the hardware in the bell tower was quite impressive.



The tenth or so largest pipe organ in the world.



It's said that the Mayan calendar ends somewhere around December 18, 2012. The sun was certainly a little spooky at times.



Jan left a few days ahead of me to visit Colca Canyon. He returned the next day with an intermittent charging problem that we'll have to tackle before we can move on.
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