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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by RangeRoad, Sep 5, 2017.
As promissed here are some volcano boarding pictures.
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Days 43 & 44 - Colonial Charm
I took it really easy, only a short ride from Leon to Granada and then a very relaxed afternoon in Granada. I really liked the vibe in the city and went for a short walk to the lake.
The next day I was on a mission to find a great cup of coffee, which was a success. Then a chocolate museum, some cool art cafe's, a walk through the colonial center of town and a stop for a haircut. The guy did a great job and it cost me 2 dollars. Better than what I would get for 30 or 40 dollars at home.
This picture is made using corn leaves which are cleaned, dyed and dried then placed in a mosaic.
The highlight of the day was the night tour to the caldera of the Masaya volcano. Rumour has it that when Nicaragua was a dictatorship, they would use the volcano to dispose of their enemies, leaving no trace. Brutally efficient but I hope it was just a rumor.
Seeing the glow from the molten rock deep in the mouth of the volcano was breathtaking. The red glow lit up the entire caldera creating an eerie atmosphere further accentuated by the gurgling sounds of the lava. The sight was unreal, but what surprised me most were the sounds. The air rushing upwards from the heat and the sound of rocks breaking off and falling into the magma could be heard over the rush of the flow below. 15 minutes is all you get but it is enough to really enjoy the atmosphere.
On my way back down I was talking to the driver and I noticed that the price to go to the caldera at night was $10. During the day there is a double standard for pricing, $4 for tourists and $1 for locals. But the double pricing standard only exists during the day, not at night when the best views can be seen. I had a sudden realization which didn't sit well with me. Most locals couldn't afford to see the beautiful sight I had just witnessed. I had just seen an amazing natural wonder as a guest of the people of Nicaragua even though most of these people would never have the same privilege.
Day 45 - Rain Delay
I was hoping to cross to Costa Rica but I woke up to another downpour that lasted until almost noon. With most of the morning gone I changed my plan and decided to head to San Juan Del Sur, a small coastal town known for its beachs and famous Sunday Funday party. It was a Tuesday so I wasn't going to be joining the party. Upon arriving in town I was unimpressed with the beach and the town in general. It was dirty and the beach wasn't very nice. I changed plans again and headed south down the dirt roads along the coast looking for some of the small beaches along this route. They were much nicer but the prices went up accordingly. Finding nothing for less than 50 a night I headed back to town. The dirt roads made for a fun ride and I did get to stop and see some baby sea turtles at one of the parks which was pretty cool. They are held in a container until night when they get released. Being released at night helps to protect them from birds and other predators until they can make it to the ocean.
My hostel was dirty and hot but I didn't feel like looking anymore and settled, it would do for one night. San Juan is a hotspot for ex pats who live here in the winter, especially Canadians. That was good because there was a Canadian bar that had the hockey game on TV! I may not have liked the town or my accommodation but at least I could watch the Oilers.
I woke up in the middle of the night sweating and with my heart was racing. Something was on my bed, and it had fur. After a few seconds of panic, I realized that the hostel pet cat had decided my bed was a good place to spend the night. He didn't seem to care that I didn't want him there and even after a few attempts to push him off the bed he just rolled over lazily and went back to sleep. What kind of place let their pets into the guest rooms?! Now I really hated this hostel.
Day 46 - The Storm
I arrived at the border early knowing it was a busy crossing. The storm that had been moving its way north along the pacific coast had started to get close and brought the rains with it. Intermittent rains all day, luckily though the border was dry. It was another easy crossing, just had to be really patient. It is obvious once accross the border that Costa Rica is a very different place than the rest of central America. The roads are better and the ditches aren't full of garbage. Even in rural areas people have houses, not small shacks and yards seem to be well taken care of with flowers and trees neatly placed.
I climbed up the mountains, moving towards the rain. I stopped to go look at some waterfalls, but it was going to be 20 dollars for a 1 hour walk, another reminder that I wasn't in Nicaragua anymore. With the poor weather and darkness only a couple hours away I voted against the walk and decided to find my hostel instead. Good thing because the rains got worse, the road got muddy and it was slow going the rest of the way to Monteverde.
Costa rica is just a place where I felt instantly comfortable. The people are friendly and laid back and it just feel like a great place to be. The only downside is the higher prices. I leaned the storm was going to be hanging around a few days and to expect a lot of rain. The last storm had washed out roads and caused landslides which meant not being able to leave town for over a week. Hopefully that doesn't happen again.
Day 47 - A forest in the clouds
Monteverde is famous for its cloud forest. A high elevation (1500 meters) rainforest with over 500 species of orchids and countless species of plants, birds and other jungle creatures. It is one of the most divers ecosystems in the world and I was lucky enough to enjoy it rain free for a few hours. It was a spectacular walk through dense jungle. The jungle here has a much thicker undergrowth that even the areas slightly lower elevation but the real difference is the Orchids. Every tree is host to dozens of them, with some having over 40 species on a single trunk. I walked to the viewpoint, where a dear had been killed in the night. It was a harsh reminder of the realities of the jungle. I was surprised that whatever had done the hunting hand done it for sport... there was no signs that it had hunted for food at all. Once the sun poked through the clouds, these fluorescent blue butterflies started whizzing around everywhere. I couldn't get a picture but it I sat and enjoyed the moment.
The rains started in the afternoon but no problem. I went on a coffee plantation tour which also included an overview of how cacoa and sugarcane are processed.
I've read about "Mike's Sky Ranch since the mid eighties! For me, a dream destination. Cool!
you wont be dissapointed when you get there!
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Looks like I am a bit behind, time to get caught up before boarding the Stahlratte tomorrow.
Days 48 & 49 - Rain Rain Go Away
The rain continued for most of the day. I explored an orchid garden in town and learned a lot about the plants native to the area. I wish I had done this the day before so that I could have recognized some of the plants in the jungle. Oh well, live and learn. By the end of the day the rains finally let up, just in time for the night jungle tour. I was skeptical of this tour, they talk it up saying you will see all kinds of animals, but I wasn't so sure.
My skepticism wasn't warranted. I had an excellent tour seeing a sloth, some kind of rare and endangered porcupine (they climb in trees in the rain forest not like the ones at home), frogs, insects, birds and a tarantula.
Finally the sun came out in the morning as I was packing up. I was excited to be back on the road and the sunshine energized me. Maybe a bit too much. I drove away from the hostel without returning my key. I had to ride half an hour back to the hostel once I realized what I had done. It was a fun dirt road through the mountains so I didn't mind too much. It set me back though, which combined with a temporary road closure due to a fallen tree meant I wasn't going to make the beach in time to try surfing again. I still got to my hostel in time for a run down the beach, a quick swim and on my way back I lucked out and found a tree with 3 different species of monkeys. I watched the monkeys jump and climb around the tree, the biggest of them chasing the smaller ones out of the tree. It was quite funny to watch this bully at work.
My wildlife viewing wasn't done though. While sitting outside at night 3 raccoons tried to sneak by me to get in the kitchen. I scared them off but they tried a different angle, this time trying to sneak in behind my back,. I heard them and turned around to scare them off. The cat also wasn't enjoying their company and chased them away from the hostel. Two hours later they returned, this time trying a third assault right up the middle and two more unsuccessful attempts from the flanks. I was really glad that they were flighty, being bitten or scratched by one of these masked intruders would really put a damper on the trip.
Day 50 - Reunion
From the rain and humidity there was a lot of condensation in my luggage. I used the hot morning sun as an opportunity to get all my gear dry. After repacking my luggage I got a late start to my ride. My plan was to push for the Costa Rican border, staying in a small town called Golfito on the coast and then crossing to Panama the next day. That plan lasted all of 5 minutes.
I pulled out of the hostel, headed up the hill through town and drove past a blue 1200 GS. That bike seemed very familiar. I decided to turn around and investigate. Lucky for me my instinct was right, my friends Lior and Dana were enjoying lunch at the cafe! We talked for a bit and I found out their plan was to go to Dominical beach, only 40 kms down the road and try some surfing. Looks like I was going to get the chance surf after all! Again, fate seems to make everything work out.
My surfing has improved from last time, although only marginally. I was happy with the progress despite the more challenging conditions of the surf.
Day 51 - And then there were three
Easy and somewhat boring riding throughout the day and a very organized and painless border crossing. Unlike many travelers through Central America I didn't have any major problems at any of the boarders. When I first thougth about this trip I was going to skip Central America because of the borders. Now I wish I had planned more time in each country.
We made our way to higher ground to the city of Boquete in the mountains. It was once listed as a top 5 place for Americans to retire, which prompted a boom in the real estate market for the area. I'm not sure it would be my retirement dream but I can think of worse places. There are hundreds of beautiful estate houses built on the hills overlooking he town and the valley. The best coffee in Panama is grown right here, the beach is only an hour away and the temperature stays consistently in the mid 20's. If that isn't enough, trails stretch in all directions for exploring the forest and access to the biggest peak in Panama is steps (read 2000 meter hike) away. Apparently you can see both oceans from its peak. Pretty good place to live.
Our little group grew to 3 that evening when we met Riccardo, an Italian traveling on a 1995 BMW GS 1100. The bike is in amazing shape, I couldn't believe it was 20 years old. He had some great stories to share, like the time he bought an Enfield in India and rode it home to Italy. Lucky for me I will be sharing the boat with him in a few days and look forward to more great stories.
Day 52 - Happy Halloween
Our little group split again, with Lior and Dana heading to Panama city to work out their crossing to Columbia and Riccardo was off to meet a friend somewhere close to the city. I decided I wanted one more beach day and found my way to Pedasi. It is a popular town with ex-pats, despite being very small. It is close enough to Panama city to make the drive from the airport reasonable, but far enough away that many of the beaches remain undeveloped. I found my way to the beach and enjoyed a run along the shoreline. I had the whole beach to myself, it was a very cool feeling. Because of the peninsula the beach faces north-east, which was disorienting after so many Pacific coast sunsets. I was still looking at the pacific, but the sun was setting over my left shoulder instead of showering the cost in colour.
Entertainment for the evening was found in the form of a 70 year old Frenchman named Joel who told endless stories from his youth. Some good, some were a bit hard to follow. But I soaked in the life advice and laughed at the jokes, when I actually understood they were jokes. His sense of humor was hard to understand. It was set against an energetic Halloween party being hosted at the American bar. I was happy enjoy the atmosphere even though I didn't have a costume.
This was just a mural that I liked in Pedasi. I don't know if the artist intended it, but the fence makes the bird look caged as you walk by. The first picture I took I didn't included the fencel. After walking past this a second time I couldn't help but feel sorry for the bird who looked trapped in a cage. I retook the photo with the fence included.
Days 53 and 54 - Panama city overlanders party
My first impression of Panama city was awe. I had not expected such a large and modern city. The skyscrapers are HUGE and there are thousands of them. I guess I had gotten used to the low rise cities in the rest of Central America and was expecting more of the same from Panama city.
I met up with Lior and Dana again. They had found a shipping company through some other overlanders they met online. The company does air freight from Panama to Bogata, for a very reasonable price. Plus the bike doesn't have to be crated, just stripped down a bit and wrapped up. Through this connection we were invited to a small get together of travelers at a nearby hotel.
Turns out most of the people at this party were going to be on the boat with me. We moved the party to the rooftop pool and swapped stories for the next few hours. It was a great intro to many of the motorcyclists I will be spending the next four or five days with on board the Stahlratte.
My last day in Panama was spent at the canal. I really wanted to see this marvel of engineering in action. The canal is about 80 kms long with locks at each end. The locks allow ships to be raised or lowered 26 meters, which is the height of the canal as it crosses Panama. I watched the ship pass through the Miraflores locks, being lowered down to the Pacific ocean. It is all so graceful and in less than an hour it is through the locks and continuing it's journey.
A very rude lady pushed her way in front of me when I was watching the locks in action. I won't complain too much but some people really need better manners. She could have just asked if she could stand in front of me, she was only 5 feet tall and I could easily see over her. She was probably in her 50's, shouldn't she know better by now? I was so annoyed with this lady I had to leave. She was completely unapologetic about the whole incident and it put me in a foul mood. This is why I don't like crowds. I found a solitary place to watch the rest of the process, the view wasn't as good but Mrs. Elbows wasn't there.
Whoever built Panama city's roads had no sense of direction. They are a mess that don't seem to follow any logic. I got lost a few times and ended up in some areas that I probably shouldn't have been. Crumbling buildings, garbage strewn everywhere and nicely dressed laddies standing on the roadside were all good signs that I should be on my way. I usually have a good sense of direction and understand when I am headed the wrong way, in Panama city I felt like I was always going the wrong way no matter which direction.
Days 55, 56 and 57 - I'm on a boat!
The road to the small port of Carti in San Blas is a twisty mountain road that was only recently paved. For years it was a mud track. Since it had rained in the morning I was happy that they had paved the route. Even the pavement was slippery, I can't imagine what the mud must have been like 5 or 6 years ago.
I pulled in to see most of my shipmates already waiting near the pier, sweating in the early morning sun as they attempted to strip down out of their riding gear. It was a mad rush of introductions, bike talk and confusion about what the procedure would be for loading bikes. In short order the gear was all loaded, bikes were parked on the pier and lunch was served on the Stahlratte. We were to head to an island for the afternoon and would be staying in a hotel that evening on the island, the bikes would be loaded while we lounged in the sun and swam in the clear blue Caribbean waters. The hotel was a great venue to meet all 22 riders who I would be sharing the ship with over the coming days.
The next morning we awoke to the sight of the Stahlratte anchored near our island. We boarded to find the bikes safely strapped to the deck and covered to protect them from the ocean. I quickly found Lola and checked to make sure she was secure. All looked good. There was no wind this morning, a trend that would continue for the rest of the voyage. Unfortunately that meant no real sailing, only motor power. We "sailed" for a few hours where we were escorted by dolphins to the outer islands of San Blas, then anchored for the day. I don't think I have ever seen dolphins in the wild, it was an amazing moment watching them splash and swim in front of the hull. Swimming, snorkeling, rope swings and some beach volleyball on a nearby island were in order for the afternoon. It was a great day in a picture perfect setting. We capped the evening with a lobster dinner before lifting anchor and setting sail after sunset. To end the day I lounged on the deck, letting the lobster digest and the cool breeze ease my sunburn.
It was a surreal experience to be out on the open ocean. Bobbing up and down with the swells, guided by the light of an almost full moon. Thunderstorms flashed in the distance, too far off to be of any concern. I was really enjoying this. Maybe I shouldn't have been concerned about boats after all. Then it was time to go below deck for some rest. Being below deck I instantly felt sick, but laying down helped and I was able to sleep through the night relatively easy. The occasional big swell would bounce me on my bed, compressing the thing foam mattress all the way to the wood. It wasn't the most restful sleep but could be worse. By morning I was feeling unwell, but much better than most of my shipmates who were in varying stages of unease. After a good breakfast and some dramamine I was napping in the sunshine and enjoying the ride again.
I don't know how sailors can spend significant time at sea. I was bored by lunch time and feeling very trapped. With nothing but open ocean around me I really wanted to get off the boat. Not and option. Nothing to do but lounge and wait for the ride to be over. Shortly before sunset we could see the tall buildings of Cartagena on the horizon. We pulled into port as the sun set behind us and watched the lights of the city come alive. From our anchored position in the port we had the best view in the city, the water was calm and the energy on board had returned as dinner was served. Everyone was excited to step foot on South American soil in the morning so the beers flowed easy and we played cards well into the night.
Day 58 - Back on solid ground
It felt very strange to be jumping off a small boat, onto a pier with no papers, passport and no officials of any kind. The ships agent was taking care of the paperwork, so not thinking about it too much I continued on into the city regardless of the questionable legality. I wandered the city with a few of my shipmates, checking out old town and finding a cafe to catch up on some wifi.
Old town Cartagena is completely surrounded by a wall, built to protect the city from pirates many years ago. The city was a hub for trading, including precious stones and gold and was under constant threat of pirate attacks. Walking the streets of old town and peering over the ocean from on top of the wall made me think of what it would have been like three hundred years ago, watching the sails of pirate ships approaching on the horizon. The city is also extremely beautiful, with narrow streets and colourful buildings. The buildings have almost all been converted to high end shops, hotels, restaurants and galleries but the architecture still makes it easy to imagine life before this was a tourist destination.
With nothing else to do but eat and drink I met some of the Stahlratte crew and proceeded to do my fair share of both.
Day 59 - Sitting, waiting, wishing
We were back on board the Stahlratte for a short sail to the pier to unload the bikes. With practiced efficiency all 21 bikes were unloaded in about an hour. We said goodbye to the ship and hello to our bikes. Luggage was strapped on and we formed a crazy convoy that weaved through city traffic to the customs office. There we met our ships agent shortly before 9:00 am. He was doing all the paperwork for us. Feels good to not have to deal with the boarder formalities for once so I sat back and relaxed
What was supposed to take half an hour quickly turned into two hours. No matter, there was a good place for breakfast within walking distance and progress was being made. The bike import was done and my passport was stamped, just waiting for insurance papers. By noon, still no papers. Four of the riders came walking back from lunch, papers in hand but bad news for the rest of us. The insurance agency had run out of the special paper to print the forms and were working to track down more. By 2 o'clock nothing had happened, and by 3 we were finding creative ways to deal with the boredom. By 3:30 we were informed that we would not be getting insurance today... this got the feathers ruffled of many. I stayed out of it and assessed the situation, there had to be a way to get insurance but it was late in the day already. I walked to 2 agencies and took a cab to another. Same problem, no papers. What the hell was going on! How can companies that sell insurance not have the paper they need to make a sale.
By 6pm I had given up and found a place to stay. One wasted day, but at least I had the bike back and would deal with the problem in the morning.
Day 60 - Sick and tired
By 10am I was sick and tired of trying to find insurance. Three more places, three more strikes. Then by noon I was just sick. I must have caught something, maybe from breakfast or from the water but for the first time on this journey I was a write off. I moved to a private room and slept the day away. My friends from the Stahlratte all elected to move on, risking the ride without insurance to Medellin. I was too sick to care about insurance anymore.
Days 61 & 62 - Back on the road
I was feeling good by morning and decided to hit the road, risking the two day ride to Medellin without insurance. The first day of riding was uneventful, although every time I saw a police officer my heart would skip a beat. They always just looked and gave me a thumbs up. The marshy plains south of Cartagena reminded me of the area west of Edmonton. Rolling hills and lots of pasture land dotted with small swamps and lakes. Although the palm trees shading the cows made it clear Alberta was a long way away.
The next day's riding was a lot more interesting. The road headed up into the mountains, twisting and turning as it passed by waterfalls and small villages. The temperatures dropped and the skies clouded over. Trucks rule this road though, and I was reminded of the constant danger they posses. An ambulance was driving in front of me and I watched it lock all four wheels in a skid trying to stop as a car hauler attempted to pass a line of traffic coming the other way. The car hauler pulled over just in time and saved everyone from the irony of an ambulance being in car accident.
Medellin is a wonder in itself. The orange brick buildings cover the sides of the mountains making for a very unique skyline. I didn't explore much, but did find a place to get that elusive insurance. 10 minutes and 14 dollars and I was driving legal again. Why was it so easy in Medellin and so hard in Cartagena? Oh well, just part of the adventure and I learned some good lessons. Mostly I was proud of myself for just taking it in stride and not worrying about it too much.
Dinner was a highlight, but not for the normal reasons. I went to a local place, only to find out it was actually owned by an American who joined me at my table. He proceeded to spout his vision of being a Colombian restaurant mogul. He has some kind of plan to buy small restaurants and fund his growth through American investment portfolios, creating a fixed income product in the US and owning hundreds of small restaurants in Colombia. In theory I get were he is going, but I think there are some serious flaws in this plan. I listened and asked questions but most of the time he was hard to follow and it started to feel like some kind of pyramid scheme sales pitch. I wish him all the best, and the chicken burger was pretty good so that if it all falls through at least he will be well fed. He will need to sell a lot of burgers at $3 each to fund a multi million dollar fixed income portfolio.
Right on dude, I'm catching the stahlratte on Monday
Now you can test your bike on the South American Continent! I better include a couple of pictures in case you wanted to come back. Wasn't much of a Fall season here, went straight into Winter! I was still riding last year!
Don't know if I missed, but how long did it take the crossing to Cartagena from Panama?
Following your adventure and gaining experience.
Enjoy and good luck.
I am not missing that! It can be a bit chilly up at the high altitudes in Colombia and Ecuador but nothing like that!
It was 3 days. First day we loaded the bikes and then slept on an island in a hotel, second day was a short ride to more of the San Blas islands, stayed on the boat and then the third day was all ocean until we arrived in the port at Cartagena in the evening. We slept on the boat again that night and were back on land first thing in the morning.
I have been riding every day to make sure I get to Quito in time to meet my parents who are coming to visit. It will be nice to have someone to share the sights with.
Day 63 - A lake in the clouds
My ride out of Medellin was to Guatape lake, where apparently Pablo Escobar had his summer home. I can see why. It is a beautiful place that reminds me of lake communities in Canada. The lake isn't actually natural, it is a reservoir for a hydroelectric dam, but given it's high altitude location it makes for a very unique body of water. I can't really explain but a picture says a thousand words.
There is a huge rock called Piedra del Penol that stretches 200 meters above the lake. Stairs have been built for a relatively easy climb to the top, although the high elevation left me breathing heavy after only a few steps. It was busy but worth fighting the crowd for the view. Other than the view it is really a standard lake community. Water activities abound during the day and the sounds of house parties carry across the still waters well into the night.
Day 64 - 2 Honda's to Honda
This morning was my second day onj my quest to find a good cup of coffee. Since leaving Cartagena I have been stuck drinking "Tinto", a local brew of low quality beans that is more coloured water than coffee The hostel coffee this morning was no better. They may grow some of the best coffee in the world, but most of it gets sent to North America and Europe. Frustrating.
On my route to Rio Clara I saw 3 bikers stopped on the side of the road, 2 Honda Africa Twins and a BMW GS800. I recognized the rental company stickers and soon learned the group was from Danemark on holidays. I followed them to Rio Clara where they were meeting 3 more bikers from their group. We talked very briefly and then went our separate ways. They went to swim in the river and I went to explore further into the park. Another beautiful natural area, the Rio Clara river and canyon are a private nature park protecting a wealth of species and creating a place for Colombians to enjoy and connect with nature.
After the walk i headed for the the Town of Honda, which is known for being one of the most consistently hot places in Colombia. Riding through the valley was like sitting in a sauna with a fan. The wind coming through my jacket did little to cool me as I raced towards the town. Honda is supposed to be a local tourist spot, but I can't figure out why. It isn't a very nice place but it would do for a night.
Day 65 - In Pursuit
The hunt for good coffee continues - but this day I was sure to break free from the curse of tinto. I was headed for a hostel called The Coffee Tree, it had to be a good sign.
First I would head up one of the longest road climbs on the planet. Starting at about 400m elevation the road climbs to a peak of over 3600m. Starting in a temperate rainforest temperatures were hovering near 30 Celsius. One hour later temperatures were in the single digits and I felt more like I was in the Canadian tundra than a few hundred kilometers from the equator. The sparse vegetation did little to block the cold wind that howled across the high plateau. The cold was short lived as the road plunged back down towards the city of Pereira, and hopefully towards that elusive brew that I had been chasing.
My goal for the day was Solento and on my way I passed an endless sea of coffee plantations. The coffee trees stretched out on both sides covering the mountains with their glossy dark green foliage. I was getting close... I could almost taste it. When I arrived in Salento, like a beacon at the end of the road, was a cafe that served proper americano's. I ordered, and was nervous as the server brought my salvation in a paper cup, not a good start. The smell filled my nostrils, hope was not lost. I could see the light brown froth characteristic of quality espresso drinks. Things were looking up. I pressed the cup to my lips and took a sip. Finally my pursuit was over. I savored this cup as rain began to fall and soak the world around me. It was a short ride to the hostel which turned out to be the nicest I have ever stayed at.
The coffee tree hostel in Solento is owned by Eddie, a Colombian/American who recently finished building the hostel. He rides a GS700 and was a most welcoming host. I recommend his place to everyone, it has places to park bikes and the facilities are top notch. The breakfast is also the best I have ever had at a hostel. Great place Eddie and I hope we meet again some day!
Day 66 - The White City
I started the day with a quick detour to see the tallest palm trees in the world. They can be close to 200 ft tall and a miracle they don't blow over in the wind.
The rest of the day's route was just a main highway through agricultural land, but ended up being an interesting ride. The most popular crop in the area is sugar cane which covers most of the valley. It was harvest time and men worked in fields cutting the cane. It looks like horrible, back breaking work. The canes are cut and loaded on trailers which are connected together and hauled down the highways in trains. These massive highway trains with up to 6 trailers lumber slowly down the side of the road, oblivious to the cars trying to pass them.
I made it to Popayan tired and wet. Popayan is known for its white walled buildings. The entire colonial center is white washed making for a stunning although somewhat earie effect. It also makes a great canvas for graffiti artists who seem to tag the walls with no appreciation for the unique beauty of the city.
Day 67 & 68 - Thanks for the coffee
Before leaving Popayan I stumbled on a place that was roasting coffee beans in the entrance. I figured they had to know what they were doing and sat down to order. A Colombian man, in his late thirties or early forties, clean cut wearing a casual Friday white shirt and jeans, started to ask me questions. He didn't speak English and my Spanish is still terrible but we managed to have a good chat. I joined him at his table for coffee, learned he rides a Tenere 1200 and answered his questions as best I could. He bought my coffee before leaving, just another example of the amazing hospitality of Colombian people.
Although the riding was good, my mind was already moving forward to the next few days. This was just a way to get there.
The next morning I hit the road to check out the west half of the Trampoline del Diablo. Colombian highway 10 between San Francisco and Mocoa has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous in the country. I was a bit scarred of it but my fears were short lived. The road was dry and hard packed with minimal traffic. The narrow route features a single lane with sheer drops on boths sides, but for a motorcycle there is almost always enough room to pass. Discipline and patience was key to make sure I didn't become a hood ornament on one of the oncoming trucks but riding the trampoline is more a mental challenge than a physical one. I was thrilled to be back on the dirt after so many miles of pavement and it felt good to be riding just for fun rather than to "get somewhere".
I ended the day in Ipiales, a boarder town at over 2800 meters elevation. In Ipiales I met Leo and his wife. Both fellow motorcyclists from Ecuador. Leo introduced me to a variety of whats app groups who support riders all throughout South America. I have to admit, his kindness was outstanding but I am intimidated by these motorcycle help groups. They are almost all in Spanish, hundreds of messages are sent each day and the thread is really hard to follow. I don't want to let anyone down or make promises I can't keep but I really do want to meet local riders. At some point I will give it a try.
Day 69 - A church in the valley
The main attraction near the boarder is Las Lajas Sanctuary. It is a beautiful church built into the side of the valley. I went in the morning but from what I hear night is the time to go. They light it up with all different colours to create a unique blend of old and new. The Sanctuary in its current form really isn't that old, it was built in the 1940's. The original sanctuary was built in the 1600's and has been renovated and rebuilt over the years to what it is today.
The boarder between Ecuador and Colombia was very orderly, despite some long lines. Another border crossed without problems and on to Otavalo for the night.
Day 70 - Markets and Mountains
Otavalo is known for its daily market, especially the Saturday market. Lucky for me I was in town on a Saturday. There are two markets in town, the main city market that covers the plaza and every street withing walking distance. You can buy almost anything but the primary items are textiles, art and jewelry. Unique to Saturdays is the Animal market. Just outside of town animals of all shapes and sizes are paraded around on leashes and carried by any means necessary. They are bought, sold and traded and then whisked away to their new home. It is a crazy place with animals squeaking, howling and running everywhere. People yell and advertise their goods, women breastfeed children while bartering for livestock and old men usher around cattle through the muddy central corral. It was a unique experience and I am quite lucky that I just happened to be here on a Saturday.
Once I had enough of the crowds I headed out to the mountains. What I thought was going to be a dirt road turned out to be 40 kms of near perfect pavement. I was surprised and thrilled as it flowed through the rural mountains and valleys of Ecuador. Another time to just ride for the pure enjoyment of riding a motorcycle.
Then it was off to Quito where I await the arrival of Mom and Dad. I am excited to see them and can't wait to share some experiences with them over the coming weeks.
Traveling with others makes it a lot harder to find some downtime to update the thread. It has been a great two weeks and I have really enjoyed sharing some great experiences with Mom and Dad. Thank you to both of them for letting me tag along on their adventures.
Meet the Parents - Days 71 to 74
The first few days were a bit of an adjustment for me. I had gotten used to my routine and things that are just second nature for me where a lot more work as a group. The combination of navigating two vehicles and three opinions was interesting and challenging.
We started our first day driving to Quito and settling into the very nice and affordable El Rosario hotel in old town Quito. The old town is an interesting mix of new and old buildings with the architectural highlights being the massive churches that line the old town streets. I have seen my fair share of churches by now, but these were more reminiscent of Rome than small town Latin America. Mom was drinking it all in and even attended the end of a Sunday morning church service.
Our first adventure out of the city started the next morning where we headed north to explore the rose growing capital of the world. The two hour drive sitting in the back of a tiny Chevy quickly made me wish I had taken the bike. Although it sucks following a car all day, it is a lot better than being stuck in the back seat. Complaints about pint sized automobiles aside, we made it to Bella Rosa greenhouse and lucked out with a private tour. The valley near Cayambe grows something like 80% of the worlds cut roses due to the unique combination of temperature, altitude and sunshine. Bella Rosa alone had over 80 acres of greenhouses with every colour and variety of rose you can imagine. The operations are efficient and very impressive. Being in the horticulture industry Mom was having a blast, I don't think the guy running he tour has ever had to answer so many questions.
After battling rush hour traffic back to our hotel we all agreed that it was time to get out of the city. We made a plan to head south, have coffee and breakfast south of Quito and then make the trek up Cotopaxi volcano. Rather than have me follow the car we agreed to meet at the cafe about an hour south. I arrived first, settled in and ordered a coffee. After 15 minutes of waiting I was getting worried. After 30 minutes I was done my coffee, still no sign of the silver Chevy. After 45 minutes I called them, luckily I was able to use the wifi at the cafe to call and get through to their phone. They were bouncing down some cobbled backroad, close but not sure exactly where they were. This was their first lesson in driving in Ecuador. The GPS can only get you so far, but common sense and some prior research goes a long way. I laughed and asked how did they miss the cafe... it was painted like a huge cow and was located right on the side of the main highway. They turned back to the highway and were soon at the cafe for breakfast, almost an hour late.
We drove up the road to over 4500 meters elevation, the scenery changing from forests to tundra as we climbed. We parked the car and started the hike to the refuge. At almost 5000 meters elevation it was unreal how the altitude affected our breathing and our moods. We all felt very tired and at times even lightheaded and a bit disoriented but we all made it to the base of the glacier. Any further up the mountain would be a proper expedition on the glacier, so we were satisfied enjoying a cup of hot chocolate at the refuge and resting while we absorbed the magnitude of the second largest volcano in Ecuador.
Are those multi colored Roses real? Never seen anything like that.