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Old 08-18-2012, 08:23 PM   #241
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Parcero View Post
No, my GS is parked in Medellín awaiting my return next month. After a bit more riding in Colombia, I will resume by travels south into Ecuador and Peru.
Nice! Glad that you will be back to riding in Colombia again soon. Hope to have a chance to run into you along your way south...

Quote:
Originally Posted by srileo View Post
Jill and Mike,
thanks for a fantastically informative RR. yours is a rare journey through Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname and Brazil. I almost wish you had taken the boat out of Manaus along the amazon :-) I'd love to know what you had heard about the float down to peru. as far as i know, no moto has done that before.
Hey srileo - I'm glad that you have enjoyed the RR so far. Venezuela and the Guyana loop was a great experience! I'll have to admit that we are a little sad to miss out on Iquitos, in particular, but being able to spend a little time in Colombia more than makes up for it.

And while moto travelers may not have posted much info on the float between Peru and Manaus, there have definitely been local bikes on those boats, maybe even a few overlanders. It's certainly doable. Cost and time can vary greatly, though. Being a good haggler in Spanish will help with cost. Going downriver from Peru to Manaus will help with time. Either direction will require a few different boats, for instance: (1) Manaus to Tabatinga then (1.5) canoe to Santa Rosa then (2) to Iquitos then (3) to Yurimaguas or Pucallpa. Upriver (as listed) travel time would have been around 10-12 days, excluding layovers. It would have been interesting, but we couldn't have carried enough books to keep us occupied for that length of time. Riding is more fun anyways. Especially through Colombia.
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Old 09-02-2012, 03:07 PM   #242
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Wandering towards Bogotá

Random meanderings around Colombian carreteras continued on our way out of El Cocuy, particularly once we hit the landslide that closed down the main road from Guicán to Capitanejo.


(there was no getting through this stretch)

The funny part is we were probably going down the wrong road anyways, since this was the way to Capitanejo, which we had passed through on the way in. We should have been on the other side of the valley to go through Guacamayas and on to Soatá. As we turned back we found a small house with a tiny turn off marked "a Boavita". Those signs had led us before, allowing us to arrive in Guicán originally (little did we know at the time that our sidetrack along that tiny little road helped us that much). The ride along the Boavita road turned out to be a highlight, once we got over the frustration of feeling trapped in the same valley as before. (It was also a highlight once we got past a couple of very rough and steep sections right after the turn off.)


(Everyone we passed was friendly, even if they were busy, and the views were incredible)

Boavita was a pleasant surprise. It's a small little town with a really warm feel. They get a few tourists through but not that many, which makes it a good blend of having infrastructure without obnoxiousness. We found a nice hostel for 20000 COP (just over USD 10) with a garage across the street. At that hostel, we met a lady who, along with her daughters, had been displaced by violence from Antioquia 3 years ago. Violence in Colombia is still currently affecting people's lives, even though there has been such improvement in many regions in the past few years.





(guess what 2 options this little restaurant did not have...)


(we found this little restaurant that made us cheese filled arepas. the ladies got a kick out of talking to us for awhile, too)


(breakfast tamale in the plaza in Boavita)


(dogs seemed to favor the meat section of the market)



Heading out towards Monguí provided more great riding, interesting sites and towns, some full of curious kids.


(Mike being interrogated in Soatá)


(an elaborate shrine along the road)


(high altitude plains)


(Monguí sat at the base of this rainbow)

We had heard that Mongui was a highlight from the English guy we ran into at la Esperanza, so wanted to make it there. It's a well manicured, whitewashed colonial town with a tradition of hand making balls. (Sadly, a soccer ball souvenir would not fit very well in our luggage.)






(It was surprisingly difficult to find a hotel that was open and within our price range. In another example of Colombian hospitality, we were guided across town to one hotel by a woman walking with her 2 kids, but we ended up not staying due to cost. On the edge of town there was a little cottage with a few rooms for rent for around 30000 COP (less than USD 20).)

Villa de Leyva is also supposed to be a highlight of this area, but we didn't even put the kickstand down once. It looked similar to Mongui in that all buildings were well maintained and whitewashed, but the setting was not as beautiful and the feel of the town was as if they were trying real hard to make the place what it is. See below for a fly-by photo.



Arriving in Chiquinquirá late in the afternoon, we decided to find a place to stay. As we rolled through the old town a couple of cops on a moto pulled up beside us to ask us about our bike. they told us about a hotel with parking just one block over that turned out to be great. And the city was a really nice place to spend the day. It definitely had its share of tourism, but the town surrounding it continued on its daily routine.


(Chiquinquirá plaza)






(we even made friends while we had a beer on the pedestrian street. After that, we found a Mexican food restaurant. Even though Colombian food is good, Mexican food was very much appreciated.)

On our way into Bogotá, we rejoined the masses of tourists at the salt cathedral in Zipaquirá. Jill had been doing some research in advance to find good sites to visit as we traveled through Colombia and this was on the list. Amidst that research, she had associated pictures of another church (which we hope to still see on our way south through Ipiales) with this place. It was very confusing to her that this salt cathedral was all underground. But since this cathedral was formed within an old salt mine, it is most definitely all underground.


(you are guided down the mine past a number of these smaller "salt cathedrals," which translates more accurately as "cavern with a cross in it," before reaching the big daddy cavern with a cross in it)




(supposedly the world's biggest salt cathedral (against what competition, I'm not sure...))



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Old 09-04-2012, 05:21 PM   #243
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The Colombian Big 3

We decided that since we are in Colombia, we might as well see the 3 biggest cities, Bogotá, Medellín and Calí. Bogotá is huge with over 7 million people. We drove something like 15 miles on the highway through the city before we got to La Candelaria, the neighborhood we stayed in. La Candelaria is old town, with lots of tourist attractions, tons of restaurants and hostels, and nice parks, plazas and churches. We stayed at Musicology Hostel. We were able to park the bike in the smoking area out front (2 bikes would not be feasible here), the staff was nice (there was even a crazy ER doctor from Denver/Boulder who was working reception when we checked in), and the best thing was that both breakfast and dinner were included in the dorm rate (only dorm beds), and the dinner was actually pretty good and filling. It was definitely a party hostel and there was a steady flow of gringos checking in and out. It was actually nice to have so many people to talk to for a few days, and we enjoyed partying in the hostel a couple of nights. Which led to a walking tour of Bogota at 3am, followed by a day of watching Will Farrell movies on the hostel big screen.

We weren't complete bums though, we did get caught up on blogs and emails and were able to make it to the Museo del Oro (the Gold Museum), which has a huge amount of gold artifacts. We also went to the Botero museum, which is completely free and has a large amount of Botero's work but also has the works of Picasso, Dali, Degas, Monet,....


(The Mona Lisa, by Botero. Botero is a famous Colombian artist who specializes in making art of fat people.)


(some of Picasso's work)


(and Dalí's)

We also happened upon a parade with a huge amount of spectators for the recently returned Olympic Athletes. Medalists got to ride on top of the firetruck while everybody else got pulled behind the firetruck on a trailer.


(Waiting for the athletes to arrive)


(the winners, a Colombian won gold in the women's BMX, along with 7 other medalists)

It was really nice be able to find whatever kind of food we wanted to eat for super cheap. All in all, Bogotá was a pretty cool city, but the weather was enough to deter us from wanting to stay too long. Every day was either rainy or overcast and cool to cold. According to locals, it is like that all year. Another disappointment was that we took our laundry to a local lavanderia and the owner lost Jill's riding socks and Mike's t-shirt. She found the socks, but was never able to find the shirt. Which is sad because Mike only had 4 shirts to start with.

Here are a few more pics from Bogotá.




(Graffiti seems very popular in the city, and the artists were amazing)


(If you want to go on a llama ride or get your picture taken with pigeons (see lady with pigeons on her arms and head), this is the plaza to do it.)


(We also happened upon a movie set while walking around the area)



We took 2 days to get to Medellín. The drive to Medellín from Bogotá isn't very impressive and there are massive amounts of diesel trucks (mainly gasoline trucks for some reason) going up and down the mountain passes, which makes for some slow traveling.


(this truck lost its berries, possibly the most exciting thing we saw on the way)

We arrived in Medellín during rush hour and the traffic was pretty crazy. We had planned on couchsurfing, but only had our host's phone number. So, we stopped to call her but were unable to get ahold of her. So we checked email and found out that she would not be able to host us until the next day. We wrote down a couple of hostel addresses and tried to find somewhere to stay. Even with the correct address it took us about 2 hours to find the hostel we were looking for, and we only found it because the man we asked on the street physically led us to the right place by walking us there (have we mentioned that Colombians are extremely nice people?). As luck would have it, we arrived on a Friday of a long weekend and the hostel was sold out. But, they were able to point us in the direction of Kiwi Hostel, which was in a very nice area of town called El Poblado and had a really nice setup, although it was a little noisy to sleep. The next morning our host, Diana, came to get us and took us to a really nice vegetarian restaurant (that we greatly appreciated as all we have been eating lately is meat plates). Diana lived in a suburb just south of the city called Sabaneta. We actually really liked Sabaneta as it still has a very traditional old town feel to it, but also is developing with tons of new high rise condos. Diana is working a lot, but we still got to hang out quite a bit. The Metro station was easily accessible from Diana's house so we went downtown a couple of days and checked out the Botanic Gardens and walked from there through varying levels of sketchiness to Botero Park and Parque Bolivar.



(us with Diana in Sabaneta)


(View of Medellín)


(The Botanical Gardens were very nice. So nice that apparently small children get dressed up to have photo shoots there on a regular basis. We saw 4 in our short time there)


(Statue commemorating women's rights)


(A Botero backside)


(A fat cat in Botero Park)


(Another crazy church)

South of Medellín is what is called the coffee triangle. Manizales is one of the points in the triangle. We had been invited to stay by there by a couchsurfer, but once we arrived we discovered that he could not host us because his grandmother had been in an accident. Everyone will be fine, but we ended up only staying in Manizales for a night before heading to Calí. It seemed like a decent town, and we took the cable car from our hotel to the bustling center of town.





In Cali we stayed at the Casa Blanca Hostel, owned by an ADVrider inmate, kaiserkyl. The hostel is very motorcycle frendly, with a wall of photos of overland travelers. It also happens to be just 2 blocks away from the reputable big bike shop Asturias. Mike was able to find garage space to work for a couple of days and help was always close by if he needed it. He was just doing some maintenance, and getting new sprockets (the ones from Manaus were already shot), but Jorge's shop Asturias is highly recommended if you need any work done. Even if not getting work done, Jorge and his staff are great all around and very knowledgable about all routes south.

Calí is known for being the salsa capital of the world and also for being a bit of a dangerous city. Since neither of us are any good at, nor enjoy, dancing, we missed out on the salsa scene. We walked around town on a Sunday, when most shops are closed, and we quickly felt that the city could definitely get dodgy quickly. We were even warned by a nice woman to get out of the area we were approaching. All in all, we were happy to have found a good shop to work on the bike, and a good place to stay, but we were ready to get out of the city and cities in general. It is time for us to get back to some rural areas.


(Calí is also known for its cholados, shaved ice with lots of flavoring, fruit, and toppings)


(One of the theatres)




(Outside of Casa Blanca with our new friend Gabriel)
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Old 09-15-2012, 08:15 PM   #244
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Tierradentro

Leaving Calí took us to Popoyán, a fine little colonial city that actually would have been a better town to explore than Cali, but what can you do. Even so, all we did was a moto tour of the downtown area.





We headed directly out of town to Aguas Hirviendo hot springs, which we heard were hot (seems like they should be given that they are called "Boiling Waters") and had a place to stay. Turns out when it's not vacation time, this little place all but shuts down. We decided to rent out a room in a cabin for a few reasons, it included unlimited access to the springs and would be much warmer than trying to camp nearby.






(Spacious accomodations)


(the water was more sulfury and green than hot)


(dogs loving the milk truck was about the most activity we saw)

Our ride to Tierradentro was cold, wet, and muddy. For the first stretch, the road was packed enough with rocks that the riding was still pretty easy. But soon construction work slowed our progress substantially, and turned the road into a mud pit.







But then we got near Inzá and the construction became too much for us. So we all decided to lay down. It must have been a hysterical sight to see, which some people did, as we were right next to a group of people. We came to a stop behind a big truck in deep mud, extremely rutted by heavy truck traffic. Getting moving again, Mike -- in his proven off-roading style -- managed to get the front wheel in one rut with the back wheel stuck in the other parallel rut. The attempted correction was the last straw. So all 3 of us took a nap. In really deep mud (which actually made for an extremely soft landing). At basically no speed. And for the rest of the day our left sides were covered in mud. We got lots of laughs when we asked directions in Inzá. No pictures are available for 2 reasons: our camera, while waterproof, does not have a lens cover so when it's raining pictures don't turn out and more importantly, our hands were so muddy that we did not want to touch the camera. We looked absolutely ridiculous.

We found a nice little hospedaje, Mi Casita, directly across from the Tierradentro museum for 24000 COP a night (~US$ 13). The couple running the house helped us clean all of our gear and gave us a good place to dry it out. They were super nice. Staying down by the museum was better for us than staying up in the little town of San Andres de Pisambala. It was chill, whereas the places in town seemed a bit more done up. So chill, in fact, that we only had one place to choose from for dinner and we had to let her know a couple of hours early if we were going to eat. But at least she was a good cook.


(vino de coca helped fill in the gap between ordering and eating. This is the only town we saw it in. Which is too bad. It was good)

Tierradentro is one of Colombia's 4 archeological parks and is well worth the visit. It is situated in a stunning valley, the locals are happy to see and talk to visitors, the hiking is great, museum well put together, and tombs really interesting to see. The tombs date back to around 600-900 AD, are the only type like this found in Colombia, and are even more intriguing because nobody knows what happened to this civilization.


(the tombs are dug down up to 6m deep)


(up at Aguacate there were tens of tombs found, some in better shape than others, on a leveled plateau)


(many tombs still have red, white and black paintings evident)


(the hike itself was fantastic)


(an exposed tomb)


(if only chickens could work the coffee grinder)




(the tombs were generally second burial sites. The bodies would decompose at the first site, the remains would be placed into ceramic urns like these, and then reburied in the deep tombs)


(lots of the tombs had columns. Some of those had faces)




(this little guy was still alive)


From Tierradentro we rode to San Agustín, another one of Colombia's arqueological parks. On the way, we found some more Colombian hospitality and usual sights.


(this guy stopped to talk with us as we were taking a road side break. He was taking this cilantro to market in Pitalito)


(this bus isn't full yet)
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Old 09-15-2012, 08:41 PM   #245
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San Agustín

As we were rolling though San Agustín looking for a place to stay, a guy pulled up next to us on a little 125 and said he could take us to one. We were skeptical, but he had a genuine smile, told us there was camping at his place, and we were in Colombia after all, so we followed him. He took us to Hostel Gamcelot, which happened to be the one place that we had seen info about. The room rate was cheap enough compared to camping so we sprung for it for 2 nights (50000 COP total) , and walked up to the park the next day.


(hostel Gamcelot, about 500 m out of town towards the park)

San Agustín the town leaves a lot to be desired. San Agustín the park was impressive. There is a large collection of statues and tombs in the park, which takes about 4 hours to walk through.








(this is obviously not from the park, but gives you some idea of what the town has to offer. Check out the health food options)

On the way from San Agustín we ran into Georg and Anke, who we chatted with for a few minutes on the roadside. They were great, full of good info, and have traveled alot. In proper contrast to our cool rainy day, they were looking forward to getting to the Carribbean coast for a beach.


(Georg and Anke)

They recommended a hostel just outside of Mocoa that turned out to be sweet - Casa del Rio hostel. Run by a Belgian guy, it's located just a few km out of town on a nice plot of jungle land. He is full of recommendations for waterfalls, swimming holes, and other day hikes, as well as offering a tennis court and plenty of beer (he's Belgian). A great place to stay, but be sure to bring some food with you.
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Old 10-01-2012, 04:02 PM   #246
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Trampoline of Death

The road from Mocoa to Pasto is called la Trampolín de la Muerte, or the Trampoline of Death, by locals. It is a non-paved one-lane road that has straight down drops of 1,000 feet or so much of the time. The German couple we met the day before told us they had a beautiful sunny day and the views were unbelievable. We had decided that we would maybe stay another day in Mocoa depending on the weather - we didn't want to do the Trampoline of Death in the rain if possible. When we woke up, the weather was borderline with lots of clouds but nothing too ominous, so we decided to attempt it.

We found out pretty quickly why they call it a trampoline. The road is very rocky and it feels like you are constantly bouncing on a trampoline as you start going up, especially on the pogo stick stock shocks of the 1989 TA. In the beginning we did get a few beautiful views. But within the first hour of driving, it got very rainy and very foggy and it stayed that way for the rest of the day. This was the last thing we wanted because while the corners are hard to see around in good weather, they are impossible with such low visablity due to the fog/cloud cover.





Plus we were at over 10,000 feet for most of the day, so it was cold, cold, cold. By around 2 we had made it to a small roadside town about half way to Pasto. We went into a restaurant to eat and warm up. We were quite an attraction, but after 2 cups of coffee and soup, we were finally able to stop shivering and get back into the rain. The rest of the trip was much less trampoliney, as it was paved for the most part, but still pretty slow going because of lots of construction and still very low visability. Since Jill has developed a somewhat irrational fear of falling off the side of a cliff on this trip, probably the biggest positive of the day was not being able to see those beautiful sheer drop-offs that we knew were there but couldn't see. We were very happy to make it to Pasto in the late afternoon, although a hot shower would have been ideal after such a long day (you get what you pay for...).



The next morning we crossed the border into Ecuador. On the way, about 8 kms outside of Ipiales we stopped into to see the las Lajas cathedral. This is the church Jill thought she was going to see when we went to the Salt Cathedral outside of Bogotá. This church was outside. See story of the history of the church HERE.


(We passed a group doing a pilgrammage on the way)


(From the parking lot you walk about 1/2 a mile through back-to-back tourist stands, including llama ride photo ops)





We changed some money in Ipiales and hit the border soon after. On the Colombian side, we were able to check the bike out in about 2 minutes. We then had to wait about 5 minutes to get ourselves checked out. We loved Colombia from beginning to end and were a little sad to be leaving after a very enjoyable 5 weeks.

Then we got to Ecuador... We had to wait in line to get our passports stamped for about 2 hours



We are fine with waiting, but the infuriating part was that people kept getting out of line and coming back to the front later. We had to wait outside first, and a police officer was monitoring who was allowed to come inside to wait more. But once we were inside we found that people kept sneaking inside and going to the front of the line. Everyone seemed to have a special issue that warranted their cutting in front of everyone else. After finally getting stamped in, we had to go around the corner to get the bike legal. Luckily, there was no line. The man working was a complete dick though. Our title does not have our license plate number on it. The man kept saying that in Ecuador, the paper has the number on it. Ok, we get it, but that is not how our state works (well, kind of... our registration, which does have our license number on it, is expired). We were afraid he wasn't going to accept our paperwork, but finally he did. Then, after talking to his co-worker for way too long about where he was going to eat lunch, he started filling out the computer form. He was having trouble understanding the drop-down boxes so asked Mike a few questions. Mike suggested that he change the date of the motorcycle to the correct date as that would affect his options for type of bike. He then told Mike not to tell him how to do his job. Uh, yes sir. Finally, the form was completed correctly and we were on the road.

We stopped in a small roadside restaurant for a late lunch. We must admit the food was good. But, when we had to pay, he charged us $20 US. Unfortunately, we only had a $20 bill. We both asked him several times for change, but he wouldn't give us any money back. To keep this huge rip off in perspective, in the rest of Ecuador we paid about $5 total for the both of us for each meal. We know, we know, we should have asked how much the meal was going to be in advance, and we usually do, but this was ridiculous.

While we were eating, another traveler on a big bike stopped. It was Alain, who Mike had met at the motorcycle shop in Cali. He is French but has been living in Calí with his wife and 2 kids for about 20 years. He takes a couple of months every year to cruise around South America. We traveled with him for the rest of the day and hung out that night in Otavalo. He is quite a character, and likes to talk.



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Old 10-01-2012, 05:33 PM   #247
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wow

your perseverance and energy are amazing. to see the land, mingle with the people and taste different cultures is such an experience. that's a lifetime gift to oneself.

thanks for sharing.
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Old 10-01-2012, 09:34 PM   #248
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NSFW View Post
your perseverance and energy are amazing. to see the land, mingle with the people and taste different cultures is such an experience. that's a lifetime gift to oneself.

thanks for sharing.
Hey Joel - Thanks for the accolades. I completely agree that the experiences we've had will stick with us for a lifetime.

We are happy to post this Ride Report, especially knowing that it's appreciated. Now we've just got to work on getting caught up (I'm typing this in Lima, hoping to rally a few posts in short order). Stay tuned...
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Old 10-01-2012, 10:38 PM   #249
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Staying warm in Quilotoa

Otavalo is a nice little town completely geared towards tourism and selling tourists wool clothing and other goods. Every other shop is stockpiled with these goods. The town also has a large market every day. We stayed across the street from the market, so were able to see the stands go down at night and back up in the morning. It is amazing how much work goes into getting the stands ready each day. Jill has been cold since we hit the higher mountain altitudes of Colombia, so this was the perfect time for her to buy a wool sweater with fleece lining, which she loves. It is extremely warm and she wears it all the time. It is also extremely big, so when she does not wear it while riding we now have to tie it onto the side and it takes up almost as much room as the pannier, but it is worth it.



From Otavalo, our next destination was Quilatoa Lake. we had to take the Panamerican most of the way, where we passed Cotopaxi volcano


(pretty sweet views from the Panamerican superhighway)


(this doesn't have anything to do with anything, but I think Ecuador has the most fun ped crossing signs)

From Latacunga we were able to get off the Panamerican through several small indigenous towns to Quilotoa. After paying the $2 each fee to get into the town, we stayed at Pachamama Hostel, just across the street from the lake. We were at approximately 3900 meters and the wind was ripping through all night. (Jill was very glad to have her new sweater.) The hostel cost $10 per person per day, but includes a pretty decent breakfast and dinner. It also had a wood stove in the room, that got very toasty and a shower that got surprisingly hot (when they had the water on).




(Claudio and Franklin stoking the fire)

The lake sits in a few km wide caldera, or collapsed volcano, and is truly stunning. (It is around 250 m (over 800 ft) deep!) We had met a couple from Boston, Roy and Emily, at dinner and hiked with them down to the lake and back up.






(These school children were loving their field trip, and seemed to hike much faster than us)

There is a hostel at the bottom of the hike, run by Andrés, who is paid by the community to keep the hostel open. Seems like a somewhat solitary job, but would be a beautiful place to stay and it was much less windy down there.


(Community run hostal at Lago Quilotoa)

The hike back up was pretty steep and Emily, who was already not feeling well from food/altitude issues decided to take a nap while the three of us hiked the perimeter of the volcano. Andrés told us that most tourists hike it in 4 hours, but the locals do it in 2 1/2. The hike ended up being fairly rigirous but absolutely beautiful. And we used our full 4 hours.


(the path led around the rim of Quilotoa)






(we weren't the only ones walking around)



After a very full day of hiking, we thought that a beer was the perfect thing for us. The town is extremely small with only a couple of shops, most of which are artisans trying to sell their wares to tourists. We were chased down by this little girl, sent by her mother to sell us beer. It worked.



We felt like the town had an interesting dynamic as it consists of only 2 markedly different groups of people: very reserved indigenous people and tourists there to hike the lake. Most of the townspeople seem to not want anything to do with the tourists except to sell them something. It seems a bit awkward and forced on both sides. Even so, the indigenous people that we had the chance to meet were all very nice (especially Andres, he was extremely sociable...and maybe just really lonely...). Hopefully the tourist money provides the community with a better standard of living, but who knows.

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Old 10-02-2012, 06:50 AM   #250
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Very Nice! It's interesting to see some different areas, as normally most ADVers just ride through Ecuador without much sightseeing.
Quilotoa seems like a pretty interesting place... I'm adding it to my "to-do" list for the next trip
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Old 10-02-2012, 12:03 PM   #251
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Originally Posted by SS in Vzla. View Post
Very Nice! It's interesting to see some different areas, as normally most ADVers just ride through Ecuador without much sightseeing.
Quilotoa seems like a pretty interesting place... I'm adding it to my "to-do" list for the next trip
Hey SS - glad that you will steer towards Quilotoa, it is well worth it! Ecuador has some amazing natural beauty that is worth checking out. (And there is a dirt road that you can ride all the way around Quilotoa, but it was under construction so it may be less entertaining (ie, paved) in the near future.)

Upcoming will be some interesting highlights from northern Peru, too, that you may want to add to your wishlist. We really enjoyed wandering around the mountains near Chachapoyas and Cajamarca, which is a beautiful area full of history and, best of all, keeps you off the Panamerican!
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Old 10-02-2012, 08:04 PM   #252
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Bustin outta Ecuador

We both saw Ecuador as a country we just wanted to get through quickly, largely because we were already there a few years ago and because we would rather spend more time in Peru and Bolivia. Also because once we were in Ecuador, we thought the people were not very friendly and that everywhere was trying hard to be a tourist trap. Ecuador has three major North-South routes - the coast road, the mountain road (also known as the Panamerican) and the jungle road. There are other small roads that you can take, but it doesn't seem like there are that many. Since we wanted to travel fast, we thought we would take the Panamerican the whole way, but everytime we take the Panamerican we reaffirm to ourselves how much we hate it. We much prefer smaller, more rural roads. Even so, some of the sights in Ecuador can be pretty amazing from the Panamerican or close to it, for instance, views of Cotopaxi and other random sights:


(field workers outside of Latacunga)


(women working hard while on the road construction while wearing their traditional skirts and hats)

From Latacunga (access to Quilotoa), we went to Baños, a well known tourist destination located in the valley of the Tungurahua Volcano, which is very active and actually had an eruption in late August. People often go to Baños for extreme sports, bicycle riding to several waterfalls, hot springs, etc. There are plenty of hostels, tour agencies, and bars for everyone. We were lame and cooked dinner in the hostel kitchen, walked around just a bit, and spent the rest of our time on the hostel internet and watching cable.

The next morning we decided that instead of getting back on the Panamerican we would take the jungle route through Puyo down to Macas. The road was in good shape, taking us through lots of small towns with nice views of the mountainous jungle. Even though the Panameican has nice views, this road can compete.





South of Macas we cut across the mountains to Cuenca. This road was beautiful and in very good shape, except for the numerous construction zones (where the road will be in very good shape soon).





After a long day of riding, we got to Cuenca after dark and after searching for quite a while for something in our price range, finally found Hotel Pichincha for $6 per person (GPS coords: S 2 deg 53.788 min / W 79 deg 00.404 min). Cuenca is a very nice colonial city which seems to have quite a bit of money both locally and from the large amount of retired American tourists who have moved there. We found a delicious pizza place that was much more affordable because they forgot to charge us for the liter of wine we drank.

In the morning, we drove down to Loja, where we decided to stop for the day because we were pretty exhausted from our previous day. Of course, it was a Sunday and everything was closed, so we took the opportunity to rest and catch up on our American reality TV shows on cable. From Loja we headed directly south to the border.

The Panamerican crossing, as well as the crossing over close to the coast, is a major crossing. The one we took is most definitely not, feeling a lot like some of the small Central American crossings that we used (partially due to its rural nature, mostly due to the silly order of operations...). The road is unpaved and very rural. They are currently in the process of paving the road, which is unfortunate for several reasons. For one, the lack of pavement deterred traffic, keeping the area uncontaminated. Also, the dirt road was in very good shape, except for areas of construction. Where they were working, the road was a complete mess - very muddy and unstable. We saw a bus almost get stuck just getting through a work area.


(Ecuadorian construction zone)


(the bus barely made it through here)

The construction also stops traffic a lot. We had to wait for the bulldozers to scrape off the side of a mountain and load it into several dumptrucks for an hour and a half before we were allowed to pass. Had we known it would be such a mess, we may have gone the Panamerican route.


(our view for an hour and a half)

We ended up staying in Zumba just north of the border. It is a very sleepy little town, but the exchange rate was great. We got 2.60 soles to $1 when the official rate was 2.53. In the morning we ran into 2 other motorcycle travelers and had coffee with them. They were two very amusing and entertaining characters. Matt, from the US had bicycled down to Colombia, but got impatient to get to Ushuaia, so bought a Suzuki DR200 and raced 3 other travelers south, making it in 30 days. (Sadly, 2 of the other guys ended up wrecking and having to go home.) He is now working his way back north with plans of doing an around the world trip before he finishes. The other guy, Ollie, is a German in the middle of an around the world trip. He bought a 70cc in Pakistan, sending his nice XT600 bike home. He is a wild man and has an awesome clown horn to match is bike. He also gave Mike his hand warmers, which are truly appreciated.



Just outside of town we met, Steve, another traveler on a bike from England. He has been on the road 3 years and thinks it will take another 3 to get all the way around the world.


(Steve taking a break on a long uphill into Zumba)

We made it to the border at lunchtime and had to wait for the officials to get done eating. Las Balsas is very, very sleepy. There is one hostel on the Peru side, a couple money changing shops, and a restaurant or two. Once the Ecuadorian officials got done eating, the checking out process was very quick.


("Ecuadorian National Police - ¡Much more than a good Friend...!")

The circus really began as we crossed the bridge into Peru. The huge, 2 lane spanning gate was down, and even in the bowed up middle, it was shorter than the TA. The police officer just 15 meters away signalled that we should just come on through, and then proceeded to watch our struggle instead of unlocking the padlock to raise the gate. So with Jill pushing up on the gate with all her might, and Mike walking the fully loaded TA at a solid lean angle while crouching, we made it (gracefully) into Peru. Yet again, we had to wait for officials to be ready for us. The very same police officer who was watching our entry instructed us on where to find the immigration officer.


(this turkey was about as helpful as the officials)

So we walked down the street to find him, ended up waking the guy up, who told us he had to finish eating. Then when he came to help us, we had to wait for that very same police officer to approve us, but he had chosen the very moment when we walked into the immigration office as his lunch break (full well aware that he was our next stop in the process). So we ate in the same restaurant as him (where they served the equivalent of beef jerky for lunch). Once he was ready, he approved us and sent us back to the sleepy official. After that, the bike was super easy to check in, by the one official who smiled, was helpful at all times, and didn't make a show of his authority. If our timing wasn't so bad, we would have been through the border in less than 30 minutes. As it was, it took about an hour and a half but was very, very low stress... just a bit ridiculous.

This border provided the additional bonus of getting us into an area of Northern Peru that we wanted to see as opposed to the northern coast which we have already been to in the past (and really isn't all that exciting).

(in Peru!)
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Old 10-05-2012, 01:12 PM   #253
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Chachapoyas and more

Once into Peru, we headed south with Chachapoyas as a goal. We stayed in San Ignacio the first night, finding a great deal of 20 soles for a room (about $8). All the roads are unpaved in the area, but are very well maintained and easily drivable. There is still a lot of construction, but even in work areas the roads are in very good shape (they could teach those Ecuadorians a thing or two...). Plus, the delays at the work areas were much, much shorter than in Ecuador. The people, although still reserved, seemed happier and more curious to see us than in Ecuador. These are some very rural areas, so we mainly saw farmland, farm animals, dogs, adobe houses, and people sitting around passing the day.





Chachapoyas is a nice little colonial town with a good feel to it. The main plaza is full of tour agencies offering to take you to the numerous archeological sites in the area. There is a nice hotel with great parking just 1 block off the plaza (across from official tourism office that will provide you with good info and maps and not try to sell you anything) that offered rooms from 25 soles and up. Perfect! We decided to check out a couple of sites on our own before heading south. The first place we went was los Sarcafogos de Karajia, about two hours away through some very small towns.



The site is a 1 km hike from where we left the bike. There are six mysterious stone sarcophogi literally built into a cliff. How the builders of the site were able to access the cliff face is a mystery to us. In the cliff we also saw what looked like another burial site, but without such obvious stone figures guarding it, and either a natural or man made face. We also found human remains on the rocks we hiked by under the cliff. It was a pretty powerful place.






(the woman on the left collects payment to visit the site ($2) and has never actually visted the site because it is too far away. The women were great, but a bit hesitant and shy to get their picture taken.)

The next day we left Chachapoyas for the Kuelap ruins, about three hours south, also on unpaved roads through very small towns. Kuelap is known for being a high altitude fortress, built with very tall walls (up to 60 meters) with very narrow doors, and only 3 of them for the entire length (greater than 1 km). If an invading army came, the community could both see them from a long distance and easily fight them as at most two soldiers could come into any entrance at one time. They would be easy targets. It is thought that over 1,000 people lived within the walls of Kuelap, and it makes sense - there is lots of evidence of dwellings withing the compound. This site was truly impressive.

















From there, we were able to make it south to Leymebamba, another small town.
The next morning, we visited their archaeological and ethographical museum. About a three day hike from the town is a volcanic lake called Lake of the Condors. In this area, over 800 mummies were found at several burial sites. The local population stole many of the artifacts from the graves, and ruined many of the mummies in the process, but the museum holds over 200 of the bodies. The entirely community run museum (no government support, but some large private contributions) was extremely well done and worth visiting.






(they also found this fashionable hat on site)


(an intricate knot tying system was used for counting, as shown on this piece)
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Old 10-05-2012, 01:15 PM   #254
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Making Cajamarca

The riding in northern Peru continued to astound us as we made our way to Celendín. This sure beats the Panamerican!!












(we even made friends in the little town where we stopped for lunch along the way. They invited us for a beer, but something about these roads, motorcycling, and beer just doesn't seem good)

Celendín has had some violent protests recently against the Conga mine. Newmont, a Denver based mining company, is planning on extending an already existing gold mine by moving the water from 4 lakes to reservoirs, that Newmont would build. The community is against it as they say the reservoirs do not adequately replace the lakes, which also provide groundwater for agriculture and irrigate pasture for livestock. In Celendin, several hundred people were involved in a protest that left 3 of them dead. The state of emergency was lifted just 3 days before we passed through. There was still plenty of evidence of people's sentiments, but all was mellow.







Besides all the Andean culture, Quechua influence, and curious looks, what we appreciated most was finding a restaurant that served all sorts of different foods all in one place - Peruvian traditional plates, Chinese, pizza, Italian (heavily influenced by the Chinese), burgers, ahhhhh it was overwhelming! SO we ate there twice.

Riding out of town was beautiful again, but much of the way to Cajamarca was construction, only allowing cars to pass at noon and after 5pm. Thankfully, we were rolling out of town at about 11am, so it worked out. In fact, as a motorcycle, we may have been able to just go through at any time (they love making you feel like you are a part of the construction work). Instead, we got a 5 minute head start. Which just meant that a lot of crazy fast Peruvian drivers were passing us within about 10 minutes. It wasn't too crowded or hectic, just dusty.

Cajamarca was another city that we enjoyed checking out. Sadly, we followed our pattern of mostly seeing it on a Sunday (how do we keep doing that?). Even so, many of the restaurants were open and there were people out enjoying the day. We had planned on soaking at the Baños del Inca outside of town, but after taking a hot shower (!!!) at our hostel and getting dressed again, we lost motivation to get back out there. So we wandered the streets for a bit.



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Old 10-05-2012, 03:25 PM   #255
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Wow.... just came across this post! Looks like you are having an awesome time. What a trip.
A long way from Higginsville, hugh Jill? My wife and I grew up in Sweet Springs... Just down the road a bit.
Sorry you had a bad experience near Lake Pleasant in AZ. We live in Wickenburg toooo bad we did not have a connection.
Anyway I'll keep up with your li'l adventure from now on...
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