Travelin' Light - Riding 2up through the Americas

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by csustewy, May 5, 2011.

  1. SS in Vzla.

    SS in Vzla. Totally Normal? I'm not!

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    I support your decision on Arauca. Saddly, that area has been getting hotter and hotter again lately. Last December I crossed at that border with my family, on Easter Week, I was advised not to take that route by some friends in Colombia who have good connections with the Police Anti-Terrorist Group (although if you call and ask the actual police, they'll tell you the road is under control).... Most surely, nothing will happen, but IMO it is not worth the risk (specially in my case with the wife and kids with me). John is fear-less :pynd and has an actual genetic adversion against traveling the same road twice :lol3, so he decided to take the road and as predicted, had no troubles... But we don't want to have a sequel of Two Wheels Through Terror, so it is best to stay out of the areas that have high narco-terrorist group precence at the moment (for those reading from abroad, something like 85% of Colombian roads are totally safe to travel BTW)

    One good thing is that they moved the the DIAN Aduana in Cucuta right where immigration (DAS) is, on the white building at the bridge, so you don't have to go in the city anymore and I hope that they arranged a faster process on the new location.

    Let me know if you need waypoints for the SAIME office inside San Antonio del Tachira (which is not right at the border and WILL save you a lot time).

    If you want to check out a VERY scenic area in Colombia, from Cucuta take the road to Pamplona and then instead of going down the normal Bucaramanga - San Gil Road, take the following road towards the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy: Pamplonita - Malaga - Capitanejo - Guican - Cocuy - Soata - Susacon.
    Once in Guican, take the (easy) dirt road between towards El Cocuy (it will take you about 1 hour) becasue there is a paved road that will take you about 15 mins, but the dirt road goes inside the Sierra Nevada N.P and gets you very close to the glaciers (if you want to get closer, once you get to a posada called Cabañas Kanwara, take a rdead-end road that goes behind the lodge... the views are worth the detour) You can camp safely next to the posadas on the Guican - El Cocuy road, but be advised the area is above 4.000 meters above sea level.
    The whole area has great scenery (even from Pamplonita to Malaga and from Capitanejo to Guican which are not within the N.P)...
    As long as it's not raining that is...

    Suerte y buen viaje.
  2. csustewy

    csustewy Motojero

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    Hey SS - your comments seem to match up with my thoughts exactly. Chances are slim that anything would ever happen, but I just don't feel like pushing it. And John is most definitely a madman with an aversion to taking the same road twice, even willing to sidetrack onto horsepaths to avoid it (I am still blown away by that ride he took in VZ, on a fully loaded bike nonetheless...). But like you said, the vast majority of Colombia should be as safe as anywhere else. I am very much looking forward to it! Thanks for that route idea. We are excited to check that area out.

    If you can, will you forward me those waypoints for the SAIME office in San Antonio del Tachira? That will help a lot. Also, is there a location to purchase just 1 month of SOAT insurance at this crossing, or is there mostly 1 year minimums?

    Muchas gracias por todo!
  3. Throttlemeister

    Throttlemeister Long timer

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    Sometimes I'm full of bad ideas what can I say, I still believe the probability of getting jacked traveling on a motorbike as a tourist is very slim, you have to have very bad luck. Ignorance is bliss:wink:

    +1 on El Cocuy, if the weather cooperates it is amazing, if it doesn't it is damn cold:deal You might have to spend a few days waiting for the cloud cover to lift, I waited two and got nothing but you can hike ~20Km from Hacineda Esperanza which is a great place to base out of if you want to hike.
  4. csustewy

    csustewy Motojero

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    Ha! But you've gotta admit - sometimes the bad ideas are the most fun. And yeah, the chances of anything like that happening are most definitely extremely slim.

    Thanks for the idea on the Hacienda. That sounds like a good place to check out. We are not going to be in the high country at the best time of the year for the weather to cooperate, but we will give it a shot and hope for the best. Besides, it's a lot easier to pack our saddlebags when we are wearing every item of clothing.
  5. SS in Vzla.

    SS in Vzla. Totally Normal? I'm not!

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    - SAIME (Venezuelan Immigration at San Antonio del Tachira) N 07 48'50.8" W 072 26'39.1"

    - DIAN (Colombian Customs in Cucuta) N 07 55'05.7" W 072 30'6.5"
    This is the main DIAN building where the bike's papers are (used to be?) processed. This waypoint, just in case the Colombian DIAN did not open a new office right at the bridge next to where the DAS is (passport control) for TVIP the way I was told by a couple of friends who crossed about 1 month ago.

    Regarding SOAT Insurance, you can buy it right there where you get the TVIP (there is an office right next to the old place with the gps coordinates above, and if they moved the DIAN office to the bridge there will surely be one there also)... The minimum they'll sell you is for three months, still better than a full year.


    I have purchased insurance for less than three months (actually for the duration of my intended visit) only at the Arauca border, but I've asked around Cucuta a couple of times and no company has offered less than 3 months... Let me know if you find someone.


    The guy that will sell you the SOAT right next to DIAN is called Vladimir Suarez "Yiyo" Cel. 315-623-9707.

    Just FYI, he can also help you if you have trouble with your paperwork or something like that (obviously, for a no-so-low fee)

    Hope this helps.

  6. TengaiJohn

    TengaiJohn Long timer

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    Hope this helps.
  7. csustewy

    csustewy Motojero

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    SS - once again you have pulled through big time! Thanks for providing the details - they definitely helped (and thanks TengaiJohn, too). We ended up getting through the border without too much of a hassle, but did learn a few things along the way...

    • SAIME (and VZ customs for the moto) is located in the big building that you have to drive through. Park right there in the middle of it all (it is madness). I didn't think to compare that location to your coordinates, because I still don't know how to really use this GPS thingy. The line wasn't bad even with all the traffic, maybe 15 min wait.
    • DIAN now has an office right next to DAS just after the bridge. Sadly, it closes at 5pm during the week (and of course we got there at 5:15).
    • We shopped around in Cucuta for insurance and only found what you knew already - they will sell you coverage for the length of your approved import permit. I asked DIAN for a 60 day permit to save a few (thousand) pesos, but the permit came with the usual 90 day stamp (well, 89 since we had to go back one day later...). In any case, 3 months of coverage at 87000 pesos is most certainly better than a full year's coverage.

    We are now in Bucaramanga, enjoying some couchsurfing hospitality and looking forward to dropping back south through that route you outlined. More photos and posts coming soon...
  8. SS in Vzla.

    SS in Vzla. Totally Normal? I'm not!

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    Great to hear you are now in Colombia.
    Just an FYI for anybody else crossing that border who might be reading this: the GPS coordinates in my other post are from a location inside the town of San Antonio del Tachira and is a different SAIME office than the one located at the big building. The office located at the big building normally has huge lines and has strange operating hours (as in the officials close shop whenever they want), so if you get there and it is closed or very busy, the other one is open late and has fewer people.


    Buen viaje!
  9. csustewy

    csustewy Motojero

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    Back in familiar territory - it had just been a few months since we stayed in the same hotel in Pacaraima, and gone through the same money exchange at the copy shop, and talked to the same lady at the customs office, we were just going in reverse this time. Even though we didn't need any insurance to enter Venezuela from Colombia at Paraguachón, we had to have Venezuelan insurance to get our import docs this time. Ahhhh, the consistency of South American regulations... Crazy part is that the insurance being sold at the border is a 1 year minimum for around 850 Bs, or 100 USD. In town, the MAPFRE insurance office (near the police station) offers 1 year minimum coverage for only 250 Bs. Too bad it's still 1 year min, but at least it's a lot more reasonable.

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    (Shelving in Sta Elena lived up to its crooked reputation)

    We spent a couple of nice days in Sta Elena de Uiaren, where we ran into an Argentine who was heading the same direction. So we rode with Rami for a few days through the Gran Sabana. It was nice to have some company for a few days.

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    This time through the Gran Sabana we took some time to explore and enjoy. The area is beautiful, great for camping, and has lots of good waterfalls to check out.

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    (on the way down the path to one waterfall, we ran across this little fella)

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    (he didn't seem to enjoy our presence that much)

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    (the falls were nice, and refreshing for a swim)

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    (a lot of the falls are located near indigenous villages, so some ask a small entry fee)

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    (a break for mate at an overlook hoping to catch a glimpse of the Roraima tapuy, covered by clouds in the background)

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    (us and Rami at another waterfall)

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    (camping on the Gran Sabana)

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    (this joke tells itself...)

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    (we made it up to Guasipati for our next night)

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    (Rami working on his rolling smoke technique)

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    (we found a cheap, stylin hotel with a couple of beds in El Tigre. What it didn't have was a bathroom door. Not even a curtain. So everyone got to take turns outside)

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    (Jill and Rami enjoying some empanadas and juice before we parted ways. Rami was headed towards the beach to try to find work. We were off to the mountains...)
  10. csustewy

    csustewy Motojero

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    Since we had already been through Venezuela once, we got through most of the country pretty quickly. There don't seem to be a whole lot of roads that cross the country, and we had already driven on the northern ones, so we took the southernmost route through Los Llanos, or the Plains. Overall, we found the landscape to be pretty boring, with the added unpleasantness of lots of trucks on the small two lane road. At the end of the day our faces were covered with the black soot from the diesel trucks. We ended up staying in El Sombrero, the Hat, for the night, which turned out to be a fine small town to spend an evening.

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    (in the Hat)

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    (elections are approaching, with Capriles running against Chavez. Most people we speak to are not fans of Chavez, but there is a lot of Chavez support shown in the poorer rural areas)


    Once we got further west, the road turned into a highway and it started to rain pretty good. At Guanare we decided to get off the highway and try to find some smaller roads. We were really happy with our decision. Not far outside of the city we found some beautiful mountain roads going through really nice small towns. This was our first view of the mountains after spending the past 9 months or so in the jungle, so we were really excited to have such a change of scenery.

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    (lots of toll booths in Venezuela...no tolls, though)

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    We stayed at a unique posada in Mosquey, just outside of Boconó on our way towards Niquitao. The owner of the place, Luis, was a really nice guy who had come to visit the region 20 years ago and fell in love with the town, he has now written two tour guides about the area. He was a great guy to talk to about our upcoming route to Mérida.

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    (a view over the town from the top of the slides at the Estancia Masquey. Yes, those are slides. The place is unique)

    We had couchsurfing lined up in Mérida, a town that most Venezuelans rave about. From Boconó, we had another long day of beautiful views and small mountain towns, although it definitely got more and more touristy the closer we got to Mérida.

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    (we stopped for a tasty breakfast of empanadas and chocolate milk...)

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    (...made with socialism)

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    We got up to over 4,000 meters or over 13,000 feet, going over Condor Pass. It was pretty cold, but we did meet some other Venezuelan motorcyclists at the top.

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    (stands at the top of the pass. We took advantage of some coffee and sweets to warm up)

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    (us with the other motistas from Maracay, on late model BMW's mostly)

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    (there were lots of spectators as we passed through these small mountain towns)

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    (lunch stop on the way down)

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    (on the way into town, we passed this party on horses, then got stuck for an hour waiting for a relatively minor accident to get cleared)

    Once we finally got into town, we called our host Jesus to meet up. He lived in a really nice place about a 20 minute walk from downtown. The first night he took us with him to a bar where he was trying to get a job. They ended up hiring him on the spot and he started working that night, so after we had a few beers he gave us the keys and we crashed at his place. He has a really nice wife and the happiest 3 month old baby daughter. Plus, he had a huge flatscreen TV and DirectTV, which had a channel where you could watch 6 Olympic stations at once! The first day we just sat around his house all day watching TV and catching up on the Internet. He probably thought we were bums (which isn't that far from the mark), but it was just perfect for us.

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    (us with Isabela, Virginia, and Jesus)

    After a full day of rest, we finally got out to see the town for a couple of days. Mérida is a nice university town, with a pretty small historic downtown that makes for some decent wandering.

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    (the omnipresent Simon Bolivar statue)

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    (a truck handing out food staples. It made me wonder how often this happened when an election wasn't fast approaching)

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    (We found a different food source, which was good and cheap, as always)

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    (some Chavez supporters...)

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    (...some not so much. It seems like a lot of the student population is not happy with Chavez. Their faculty, clases and schedules are extremely unpredictable, often adding years to their expected length of study)

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    (...more Chavez support. But maybe not the same person who painted the equality message at center...)

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    (...and some not so much.)
  11. csustewy

    csustewy Motojero

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    [​IMG]

    The border crossing at Cúcuta is madness. After going through that crossing, we decided we should have followed the advice from Throttlemeister to cross at Arauca, but some violence in that area in the 4-5 days before we were to cross was enough to steer us into the main route. We luckily got checked out of VZ with some ease, all right there at the border. Trying to get into Colombia was another matter. While the customs office is right there at the border, they close at 5pm and require proof of SOAT insurance. So we didn't get the bike officially checked into Colombia until the next day, after spending almost an hour at the insurance office, only due to the office staff being super nice and wanting to talk so much about what Colombia has to offer.

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    (our hotel was across from this little outdoor movie theater/taxi stand)

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    (a small piece of the madness at the border. Luckily we had all the papers we needed, so once we cut into the DIAN parking lot, we had our permit within 40 minutes)

    The riding outside of Cúcuta to Bucaramanga was beautiful and easy going:

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    We had a couch lined up in Bucaramanga, which was a sweet spot to stay, in the middle of suburban, super swanky Floridablanca. Sierra was a great host who knew the area well and led us on a nice hike above the city.

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    (us with Sierra and Jorge Luis above Bucaramanga)

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    (near the main market in town)

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    (the state of Santender is proud of the rebellious women that led them to freedom)

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    (Mike was sad that we missed the Demolition Derby - I mean what a great export from the states, right? (it even says "desde los estados unidos" as a selling point.) Jill didn't quite agree with his sentiments)

    While we had a nice, chill time in Bucaramanga, we were excited to ride on towards El Cocuy National Park, based on strong recommendations from SS in Vzla., seconded by Throttlemeister.
  12. csustewy

    csustewy Motojero

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    The advice from SS and Throttlemeister is now officially thirded by us. This area is stunning, full of great riding, cool little towns, and not many other tourists. It turned out to be a favorite of ours.

    Traveling south from Bucaramanga took us directly though the Chicamocha Canyon.

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    Although we heard a lot of good things about Barichara, we had lunch in San Gil, then turned east to Onzaga, passing through Mogotes.

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    (in Mogotes)

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    (the road is not paved, but it's a highway, complete with kilometer posts and buses)

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    (in Onzaga)

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    (we found a nice little hotel for 20000 pesos, and drew lots of attention around town)

    In the morning we got gas and asked the attendants how to get to El Cocuy/Guican. Instead of the main road out of town, they said that this smaller road leading out would be faster. They also offered the suggestion that we get a better map, which we agreed with, but couldn't do much about. After that turn, we pretty much didn't know where the hell we were but just kept trying to keep the general direction. And ask everybody we saw which way to go.

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    (we asked people driving cattle...)

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    (...we asked people in random houses...)

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    (...we tried to ask these kids which way to go, but they were less than helpful. Well, they were more helpful than the lady that we tried to ask who was utterly afraid of us and ran away. But the only answer that we got from these kids above us was to the basics, like it was the start of class...)

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    (...we even asked 2 crazy old guys at this little fork in the road. Thankfully, they were fun crazy, not sketchy crazy.)

    We eventually made it to Capitanejo, where we expected to get on track to get to Guicán. Somehow, leaving Capitanejo, we turned onto a side track which turned out to be a good mistake. We didn't know that the main road had been completely wiped out in a landslide (until we heard that rumor later in la Esperanza, and then managed to run into the deadend ourselves...ooops).

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    (the area provided plenty of scenic vistas during our meanderings)

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    After stopping numerous other times to ask adults, children, and animals (sometimes it was hard to tell which combination of those categories produced the people we asked, but everyone was super nice, and really most of them were normal, there were just a few that were especially uhhh...backwoods types...) which way to go, we eventually made it off the Capitanejo-Boavita sidetrack (to be picked up again soon...) and back onto the main road that took us through el Espino and then into Guicán. After some shopping for a place to stay, we found a nice one, Guacani, for 40000 pesos with good parking. We then planned our attack for the national park.
  13. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial

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    Chicago physically, Colombia en mi mente.
    Stumbled on this excellent RR just now. All of the great images bring back fond memories of my travels in Colombia. Subscribed!
  14. SS in Vzla.

    SS in Vzla. Totally Normal? I'm not!

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    Nice update!
    I'm glad you liked the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy NP.
    I'll be in Bogota next week, if you are around, drop me a PM and I'll be happy to buy you guys a beer.
  15. csustewy

    csustewy Motojero

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    Hey Parcero - glad that you are able to catch a glimpse of Colombia again. Man, this country is amazing! I just glanced at your RR and look forward to giving it a better read soon. Is your GS back with you in the states now?


    Hey SS - I would be pleased to meet you, and it's extremely rare that I would pass up a beer, but we are thinking of rolling out of Bogota tomorrow. You traveling throughout Colombia, or just in the capital?
  16. SS in Vzla.

    SS in Vzla. Totally Normal? I'm not!

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    Sorry amigo, only Bogota for work.

    Have a great trip south!
  17. csustewy

    csustewy Motojero

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    Thanks for the well wishes, and for all the advice for the region, SS. Hope to catch you along the road somewhere...
  18. csustewy

    csustewy Motojero

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    Guicán was an interesting little town to check out for a day, pretty chill. Except for the holiday that we happened to hit, which filled the plaza with school children.

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    (we still didn't have a good map for the area, so this filled in for some of our planning)

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    (on the way out of Guican towards the dirt road that connects it to El Cocuy)

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    (the ride itself was beautiful, hiking even better)

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    (our view from our room at hacienda la Esperanza)

    We stayed at Hacienda la Esperanza for a couple of nights and absolutely loved it! Highly recommended. Guille, who is now running the place, which has been in his family for generations, is one of the world's greatest hosts. He invited us to join him and friends for some drinks around a fire the first night, cooked incredibly tasty meals (10000 pesos for dinner, but well worth it. In fact, please don't expect this if you visit the place, but after our long day of hiking (which happened to be after the long night of drinking) he even brought us - in bed- home made bruschetta/pizzas made of lamb and eggplant along with some hot agua de panela ( a traditional sweet tea). Words can't describe how amazing that was.), and takes excellent care of all of his guests. We also enjoyed meeting some other travelers there from Germany and England.

    Our hike up to the Lagunas de la Sierra Nevada was timed perfectly. Somehow, we managed to be there on a sunny day, the first in a few weeks. While the hike was only reported to take 7 hours, we ended up taking 9 hours. Some of that had to do with the hospitality from the night before, some of that had to do with our lack of physcial activity over the past few months, and some had to do with the noticable effect that the altitude had on Jill - we ended up walking up to 4600 meters (over 15,000 ft). Jill ended up saying some pretty silly things near the top. And was definitely shuffling her feet more than at the bottom. So we fed her lots of chocolate and water and got back down to warmth and more oxygen.

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    (Jill before she got loopy)

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    (there was some steep walking to approach the lakes, and catch sight of the glaciers)

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    (we saw some specific evidence of pumas on the way back down)

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    Most travelers to the area are dependent on the milk truck for transportation to la Esperanza and other trailheads. It makes its rounds everyday.

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    (alternative transportation)

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    (our transportation)
  19. Parcero

    Parcero Mundial

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    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.
  20. srileo

    srileo dot Indian snakecharmer

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    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.