Trans-Continental Mambo

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by lildrling, Nov 2, 2013.

  1. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on 2014-01-12:

    We arrived at Tikal National Park on January 9th under overcast skies. It had been raining for roughly two weeks at Tikal so we were happy that there weren't any raindrops falling from the sky.

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    The ride from Coban took roughly 6 hours and took us from city to windy, curvy mountain roads, through small towns and rural farmland, across a river via ferry (no road crossed said river) and finally into the jungle. We only had one mishap on the way in when Adam was bit on the back of his neck by an unseen insect while riding. Riding through the jungle and feeling a sharp stinging-biting sensation on the back of your neck is never really a good thing especially when you flick said stinging-biter away before investigating. After pulling over to check out his now red-enflamed neck with rapidly swelling bite-sting site, we decided to carry on, checking in with each other frequently to ensure that Adam wasn't hallucinating or losing feeling in his extremities. No symptoms were present (although at one point he did say that he saw a unicorn by the side of the road which turned out to be just a horse...), so we can only assume that whatever it was that attacked him was non-lethal. I digress...

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    A little bit of history...Tikal National Park is located in the northern part of Guatemala in the Peten district. The ruins were discovered in 1848 and opened to the public in 1955. In Mayan, Tikal (Ti ak'al) means "in the lagoon" but it is also known as "the place of the spirit voices". The Mayan civilization dates from the year 800 BC until 900 AD. At the height of the city's glory days, the city's nucleus occupied 65 square kilometers.

    We decided to stay at the Jaguar Inn, which was located at the interior park entrance, and offered camping for the same price at Tikal National Park, only with flush toilets and hot water in their showers. It had been raining for the past two weeks at Tikal and the small grassy area that was reserved for tents inside the inn's courtyard was very soft, wet, and mushy. The idea of setting up the tent on the grass wasn't terrible appealing since 1) we would get wet and muddy crawling in and out of the tent, 2) the tent itself would be near impossible to pack up when we left due to previously mentioned wet and mud, and 3) I questioned the waterproofedness of the floor of the tent since we opted not to bring the footprint in an effort to reduce weight and increase space. Luckily the desk clerk also gave us the "penthouse" as another option (basically the roof of a permanent shelter in the courtyard, which housed the inn's rentable tents). I was skeptical, but once we climbed the spiral staircase to the top, it was a tiled patio-esque surface, a little wet, but no mud. We decided it was the better option.

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    I was still feeling some hesitancy about sleeping in the jungle despite the romantic idea of it all. As some of you many know, I'm not the biggest fan of bugs and the idea of sharing my bathroom and bed with them sends me screaming out into the night. Part of the reason why we opted to camp was so that we could have the most control over our sleeping environment (that and the $80 price tag on a double room at the inn). Despite the fact that it's a hotel, it's still in the jungle, which means that creepy-crawlies of every size and variety can wander in through cracks, gaps, and drain pipes. People have reported large spiders, cockroaches, ants, and termites in their rooms which is completely understandable since it's the JUNGLE. We were easily able to exercise pest control by simply keeping the tent zipped up, which worked remarkably well, and we slept bug free and super cozy until the alarm went off at 5 a.m.

    The key to seeing Tikal is to beat the crowds. Did I mention that Adam set the alarm for 5 a.m.?? The park opens a 6 a.m. (if you don't opt for the 4 a.m. sunrise tour), and we were through the gates shortly thereafter. Now some of you might be thinking, "wow, isn't that really early??" Well, as some of you may know, I'm not really a morning person either, but the early start was well worth it.

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    We had the park largely to ourselves and the thick layer of early morning fog created an eerie, mystical feel. For almost three hours we explored ruins and scaled temples that were thousands of years old without barely running into a single soul. The sounds of howler monkeys screaming out rang across the jungle landscape and mixed with the calls of exotic birds. We saw different varieties of parrots, lineated woodpecker with their radiant red heads, and packs of colourful occellated turkey.

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    I was particularly fond of the golden oriole, who also frequented our campsite, and whose call was complex and captivating. We also saw howler monkeys (including a juvenile who fell almost 50 feet from the top of a tree and survived) and spider monkeys, coatimundi, and Central American agouti (a large jungle rodent resembling capybara). And the insects?? Well, we are covered in a number of new mosquito bites (thankfully we are taking our anti-malarials), and aside from a large spider who had a lovely web in a plant outside of the bathroom at the inn (he was about the size of dock spider, as Adam says, only more exotic looking), we didn't see any.

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    We managed to see the entire ruins area (yay, us!), and it only took 8 hours of slogging through mud, sliding on slippery rocks, traversing over tree roots, and climbing up and down countless rustic staircases. The tour groups started showing up around 9 a.m. but because of the vast size of the park, we weren't really too bothered by them since we had already visited the most popular sites earlier in the morning. The good thing about Tikal is that you can come and go as you wish throughout the day, which allowed us to take a lunch break outside of the ruins area while foot traffic was at it highest and then go back later to see the lesser travelled sites, which turned out to be my favourites anyway.

    It seems though, that common sense escapes some people who visit Tikal, and even though we were quite amused at some of the footwear choices we saw (flip flops, high heels, and fashion sneakers), we couldn't help but wonder why people would consider those particular choices in footwear as being appropriate for a jungle trek. Also, and quite disappointingly, many of the ruins had been vandalized by persons scratching their names, initials, and professing their undying love for each other on the ruin walls. Perhaps through desecrating sacred ruins they could harness the power of the Mayan people and their love would be everlasting or it would bring them good luck (sarcasm). Whatever the reason, it was ugly, disrespectful, and senseless.

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    That evening, after we had had a hot shower in the outdoors showers and cleaned the mud off of ourselves, and were enjoying a well-deserved beer on the patio, we were entertained by spider monkeys playing in the trees, while parrots and other exotic birds maintained the soundtrack.

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    After another night in the jungle, pack up was relatively easy, and after a breakfast of ham and eggs (huevos revueltos con jamon), frijoles and tortillas, it was back to Coban (and Hotel La Paz) to dry out, do some laundry, and rest. There are lots more photos in our gallery (almost 500 photos of Tikal - yowzers!), so feel free to check them out here.
    #21
  2. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on 2014-01-16:

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    When we finally bid Cobán goodbye for the last time and continue our trip South, I think I will feel a bit sad. I have grown quite fond of Cobán and will be sorry to see it disappear in my rear-view mirrors. It's weather can be a bit shifty, but the people here are friendly, cheap and delicious food is abound, and Hotel La Paz has become like a home to us. The owner has given us the same room each time we stay (habitacion 4), and people in the neighbourhood know us now to say hello ("buenas" or "hola") and smile each time we pass. We have been able to get just about anything that we need here, and have discovered that they have the market cornered on tasty cakes. In the heart of coffee country, their "joe" is pretty darn good too. It's a regular small city that doesn't have the draw for tourists but rather a place to pass through on the way to Tikal or Semuc Champey.

    Today, another rest day, has been spent sleeping in, eating breakfast, trying to dry our gear out, and looking for a tailor to repair Adam's motorcycle pants. Adam has been plagued with loose seams in his pants almost from the moment he received them from Motoport, but upon arrival yesterday he noticed that a large hole (blewn seam) had developed in the crotch/upper leg area complete with fraying around the seam. Aye... Luckily there never seems to be a lack of tailors in Latin American towns and cities. Unfortunately most tailors don't have machines big enough for the Kevlar material (which is quite thick and strong) and we ended up on a bit of a goose chase trying to find someone who would take on the job.

    For those of you who have never travelled long distances by motorcycle, sometimes the riding gear takes on a 'lived in' sort of smell. Getting caught in a downpour yesterday on the way back from Semuc Champey resulted in the gear taking on a sort of wet dog-stale sweat-hot ham sandwich sort of odour, so we are hoping that tailor's turning down the job was truly because of their small machines and not because of the rank smell wafting from Adam's pants.

    Anyway, we started with the tailors, then tried shoe repair guys, and eventually ended up at a upholstery repair shop. The clapboard, corrugated tin-roof shack looked like it had mere minutes to stand, but the guy happily accepted the job and told us to come back in a few hours. Actually, we kind of felt odd leaving the expensive pants in such a ram shackle joint without a receipt or anything else.

    We had wanted to take the coffee tour which included a tasting session and education on the different flavours of coffee grown at different altitudes but it was no longer in operation. We were able to find a hotel that had a garden featuring many of the different varieties of orchids that grow in the area, so we were able to admire their beauty for a while. Apparently this area is known for orchids, so being able to see them without travelling outside of the city was a bonus. We also had coffee and cake. Probably the best chocolate cake I have ever had: dense and moist with a light fluffy whipped cream icing, delightful.

    Let's backtrack a bit...

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    A few days ago, we decided to go see Semuc Champey. It was on Adam's list of things to see since his last trip but his route didn't take him this far north. Speaking with a local tour guide he told us that Semuc Champey is roughly 85 kilometers from Cobán, along a twisting paved road, which then turns to dirt before the town of Lanquin. The road, he said, from that point wasn't very good but that he rode it on his motorcycle so we decided to give it a go.

    Since the distance wasn't too far, we decided to take it leisurely in the morning: sleep in, a nice breakfast, take out time packing and then head off. As promised, the road out of Cobán was a lovely, winding, paved road (with only the odd pothole) for about 60km. We turned onto the road to Lanquin to find hardpacked dirt that descended into a valley and dipped and turned its way into the town. No problem. Once through Lanquin the road quickly deteriorated into one of the worst roads that I have ever been on.

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    The sign pointing to Semuc Champey indicated that it was only 9 KM outside of town to the park. Rounding the curve out of town the concrete in-town road dipped down sharply and rapidly turned to chunky rocks. This was, by no means, the worst of it. Steep mountain roads, loose gravel, slick mud, large rocks interspersed with the smaller slippery rocks, kept us on our toes as we negotiated our way, bit by bit. After roughly 3 or 4 kilometers it became apparent to me why most people opt to take a shuttle to Semuc Champey. The first reason being that most people don't drive their own vehicles through Central America, but secondly because you would have to be completely iNSaNE to want to!

    It was around this time that we came across one of the aforementioned steep mountainside hills and as I bounced and struggled my way to what I was sure was the top, I was instead greeted with a switchback (surprise!) with a dramatic bank and loose gravel and dropped the bike.

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    My advice to anyone who might be considering riding all the way to Semuc Champey - don't do it - unless you are confident in your off-roading skills, really enjoy that sort of a challenge, and are on a small bike, it might not be for you.

    After finding a flat bit of ground to park his bike, Adam walked back down the mountain to help me pick mine up. Righting the bike on an incline isn't the easiest of tasks and it took the both of us to get it upright again. Luckily Adam was willing to ride the route twice and had to take my bike to the top while I hiked up the rest of the way. Falling on rocky hills and risking getting hurt isn't exactly my idea of a good time, and while I do enjoy a bit off-roading, this was far beyond anything that I had ever done before and way outside of my comfort level (and skill set). As a result, Adam graciously offered to take my bike over a few of the more difficult sections of the road, while I hiked them (embarrassing!), and we eventually arrived at Posada Las Marias (a hotel/hostel located close to the park), after only one wrong turn. It took us almost two hours to navigate the nine kilometers to the park and we rewarded ourselves with beers from the posada's bar immediately upon arrival.

    [Adam adds: Jenn might be understating some of the technical aspects here. We are riding fairly heavy bikes, from the perspective of off-road riding, and have a lot of gear. While our bikes are "dualsports", or dual purpose, they are only presently set up for mild off-road. I am, by no means, an expert off-road rider but do have some experience here. Even having changed out our "drive sprockets" a number of weeks back as to obtain more low end torque at the expense of being able to ride full highway speed, the bikes were struggling, especially at the start of ascents. This was due to the combination of incline, road surface and curves in the road and our weight. I think we would have risked frying our clutches had we stuck with the stock gearing. With respects to the harder sections, I couldn't tell you what the grade was, but steep enough that in certain sections these tracks have been paved with rough concrete (about 16" wide) under each tire track or else they would probably be impassable by the 4x4 vehicles that commonly run the route. One essentially has to choose a track and go, and hope that a bus or truck isn't around the corner. So riding this stuff takes a combination of experience, body strength (versus the bike), good clutch control, and a strong nerve. Jenn shouldn't feel embarrassed here as it is probably quite smart to bow out when she thought something was too much for her. Even if you are physically capable, if your head space doesn't say "go", then it probably won't work out well ;) ]

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    Despite the road, the scenery was breathtaking - blue skies and sunshine above us, jungle and mountains surrounded us, and our accommodations were idyllic. Small cabins scattered over the mountainside directly across the road from the Cahbon River which flowed turquoise green in colour through the jungle. When we arrived there was only one room left, and at Q300 per night (about $45) we opted for the camping option which was Q50 per night. The sites were located directly alongside the river and we even had a bit of a private beach beside our tent. We also discovered that they had a rope swing built in one of the trees over the river, and Adam took full advantage of it during our stay.

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    At first, I was a little hesitant to be sleeping away from the rest of the hotel and the bathrooms but it turned out to be some of the best sleeps that I have had this whole trip. Some people may cringe at the idea but the thing that I like about the tent is that I have complete control over the environment. The bedding is my own, the environment is familiar, and creepy crawlies are kept out if the zippers are zipped up (I am somewhat militant about it, so you can bet that they are always zipped up!). Which is to say that hotel rooms in the jungle are not sealed shut and are open access to any sort of bugs that wish to come in. And according to the other guests, they certainly do. It's a bit of a different ballgame than sleeping in Algonquin Park [a popular wilderness camping destination in Ontario, Canada].

    Unfortunately, Posada Las Marias also had some of the worst bathrooms we have seen yet. No toilet seats meant that many people opted for the 'hover' option to do their business and the stalls were in various states of dirtiness (no cleanliness here!). Flushing was also a bit of an issue (hold for a count of three, then let go for a complete flush), and since it took so long for the tank to refill, people didn't really hang around to ensure that the flush had been successful. No soap, overflowing garbage, and no electricity until 6 PM meant that the stalls were dark even when using the bathrooms in the middle of the day. I tended to use the same stall, where I made friends with the giant spider who lived there, figuring that where there are giant spiders there probably aren't a lot of other bugs, and whom I never saw in entirety but made sure to check that I could see his legs dangling over the edge of the wall before committing to drop my pants. But enough potty talk...

    We were kept constant company by a group of children who we named Los Niños de Chocolate since they hovered around the hotel entrance all day trying to sell chocolate to the turistas. They were lovely little kids - Jose, Anna, Anna, Eddy y Olga - and they spent a lot of time talking with us and swimming with Adam on the rope swing. Of note, we are pretty sure that the chocolate was home made, to the point of including the actual chocolate base, or cacoa which grows here locally.

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    There was also a large group of sort of "hippie" type people staying at Las Marias who were a part of, or hanging out with, a collective called Projet Nuevo Mundo that promoted permaculture and organized festivals. While we didn't quite understand what they were all about completely, we enjoyed hanging out with them, joining in on their campfires, and participating in their music making.

    We spent the next full day at Semuc Champey, which was a short walk (thank goodness for walking!) away. Despite the park being located in the jungle, we didn't see any wildlife, although the park is known to have toucans, howler monkeys, boa constrictors, and a myriad of other animals. Semuc Champey is known for being somewhat of a 'natural waterpark', and its main attraction is a series of limestone pools. It is also home to many waterfalls and natural waterslides.

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    It was a warm day and we were ready to swim so we immediately followed the path to the pozas (pools) and were impressed by their beauty. The limestone pools were laid out in a series of cascading levels with small waterfalls joining each. The water was quite warm and we enjoying jumping, diving, and swimming there for a few hours. The water was very clean and clear and home to many small fish who decided that they liked the taste of my dry skin and gave me a bit of a pedicure.

    After we had had our fill of swimming in the sunshine we followed the riverside path to the main gate to find food. We ate a roadside stand just outside of the park where we had grilled chicken (with the amount of chickens about we knew that it was fresh!), coleslaw, salad and rice. I was also feasted on by hoards of small, black bugs (botlas flies, I believe, not to be confused with the botfly who lays its larvae under your skin) who produce an incredibly itchy bite that quickly ooze once scratched. Oh yes, I am so pretty right now...

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    After lunch we took the path that lead to the mirador (lookout). It was a very difficult hike that incorporated many, many, many steep stairs many of which were over a foot high. There were narrow pathways over and around boulders, rope handrails to assist in hoisting oneself up particularly steep areas, and plenty of mud, and slippery surfaces. It took us about an hour to traverse the entire length of the trail, but the view from the top was well worth it.

    We were quite hot, sweaty, and stinky when we reached the bottom and made for the pools again. This time they had been inundated with a number of tour groups who were hooting, hollering, and making general ruckus; a stark contrast to this mornings swim when we were two of six people enjoying the water. We tried swimming at one of the lower pools for a while but the quiet didn't last long and we soon headed back to our campsite to swim in the river. It was also quickly closing in on beer o'clock and time to get within range of a bar.

    We made friends with a pair of travelling Belgian friends who kindly shared their rum with us, and we spent a number of hours talking with them as the sun went down.

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    It was raining in the morning when we woke up, and the roads were quite slippery and muddy. I was already experiencing yucky feelings about riding out of the area due to the previous day's ride in, without the added anxiety. After much debate whether we should spend another day there, whether we could hire a truck to cart my bike out, or whether we should leave as planned, we decided that it would only be prolonging the inevitable ride out and we decided to head back to Cobán.

    The first bit of road was extremely challenging (it didn't help that we departed while I was already feeling defeated), and I did more hiking uphill than riding while Adam rode many of the hills twice (once on his bike, once on mine). It only took an hour and a half this time, but once off of F*ckery Road (sorry, kiddies) and back onto the concrete roads of Lanquin, I broke out into operatic song. Soooooo happy...

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    Once back onto the paved road back to Cobán (I've never been so happy to be on a curvy mountain road) we were surprised at how much cooler it felt being back up on the mountains. We had been working quite hard on the rocky road and sweating up a storm. I figured that we would be dry in no time travelling at faster speeds but instead we started to get a chill. In addition, we had been watching dark clouds above us and about 20 minutes outside of Cobán it started to drizzle which quickly turned to full on rain (one of those - I-can-see-the-wall-of-rain-type rains as you ride into it). It was the first rain that we have ridden in since we left Texas so long ago, and by the time we reached Cobán we were soaked and cold.

    We decided to stop for food right away near the park, where we got french fries and a sandwich followed by a slice of amazing coconut cream pie (the filling was creamy and thick and full of coconut shavings) and a coffee. It gave us the fuel that we needed to continue the next few minutes to the hotel. We were both looking forward to a hot shower and crawling inside our sleeping bags, but a few seconds into my shower the lights went off as the power went out (only a drizzle according to the Cobán weather report) which was quickly followed by the hot water heater shutting off (electric powered). Since I had already started to lather up with the soap, I had to at least rinse of and with no hot water that meant a cold one was in store. Unfortunately the water pump also runs off electricity and soon my shower flow turned to a dribble and petered out. Thankfully there was a bottle re-purposed coffee jar of water in the room and I was able to at least finish rinsing the soap off. Even more cold and defeated, we threw our dirty clothes back on and crawled inside our sleeping bags to wait out the power outage. After two hours it came back on and we were able to finally get clean and warm.

    In the next few days, after we dry out, we are planning to head back to Antigua where we will need to do some bike maintenance (Adam needs a new rear tire and an oil change) before bidding adieu to Guatemala and heading into El Salvador. Here's hoping for some drier and sunnier weather so we don't start growing mushrooms in our duffel bags.

    Semuc Champey gallery link is found here.
    #22
  3. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2014-01-20:

    We are currently in Santa Ana, El Salvador. I am going to backtrack for a moment and then catch up.

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    JP wrote about our ride back from Semuc Champey to Coban. To just take you back a bit, this involved us slugging up various tropical mountainous roads. My black Kevlar mesh motorcycle jacket had white sweat stains on the outside of the mesh, which is the first time I have seen that, because I was sweating so hard. Not long after exiting these roads, we hit cool rains, and having our rain suits packed away, and not willing to deal with them led to some pretty cold riders. Keep in mind that we are in Guatemala at this time which is well below the Tropic of Cancer. I was shivering and probably getting close to hypothermia - albeit, knowing that this was my own fault.

    Having craved nothing else but a grilled cheese sandwich (even plastic/American cheese food product) and fries, we decided to stop at the nearby bakery that also serves breakfast and lunch. Having ordered our sort of ham and cheese (whatever we could rustle from the menu), our toasted-on-a-grill sandwiches arrived and were tasty enough. Following another visit to the same eatery, I asked one of the staff about the “pink stuff” which was provided for dipping your fries (papa fritas), and also used to butter the inside of the bread. It is a combination of mayonnaise and “salsa dulce” (ketchup). I kind of figured this would be the answer, but it is an interesting combination and seemingly popular. Lines of salsa dulce and mayonnaise from squirt bottles seem very popular, having first shown up in Mexico served on things like roast corn on the cob, and various fried treats. It seems like this is also a winning combination with Guatemalans and Salvadorans as well.

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    We saw a strange sight during this much needed warm up “food fest”. Eating our lunch close to a cathedral, we were direct witnesses to a funeral procession, in that all of the sudden a parade of people passed by with hoisted casket, and various Chapins wearing purple outfits including these forward facing purple hats that were not unlike Smurf hats, and a marching band. I tried to find a direct reference to these purple outfits on the internet, but the only thing that transpired was that they were devote Catholics, but I could be wrong. Even the casket was enshrouded with a sort of cape and said purple hat. I am guessing that the dearly departed was fairly important in his circle.

    Besides various processioners and at least one hearse, as mentioned, the procession was accompanied by a marching band equipped with various brass instruments, drums and cymbals. I must admit that this was some of the strangest music I have heard. In Guatemala, besides popular music you might hear back home, you hear marimba driven music (an instrument something similar to a xylophone), various “cowboy” type bands which are prominent in Mexico, and other types with local flavour. Now, this funeral music was quite bizarre. Imagine a procession, with all of the sad people, and a band following up the line playing something almost catchy, but then deliberately mixing in discordant horn lines that just sounded discordant and out of tune.

    It is hard to explain, but it almost sounded like a moderately sad song done in horns with various lines being deliberately out of tune as to almost emit sounds of “failure” and “pessimism”. JP and I discussed this later and both agreed that it almost sounded like “band camp went wrong” but we figure that it was very, very deliberate. I might not be mistaken when I say that even the cymbals were slightly delayed as if to add tension and possibly grief. I only wish I could have recorded it to better portray it.

    The next day was spent relaxing in Coban as we had several hard days of swimming, hill climbing, and riding. I was looking for a new rear tire and managed to scope one out. Although our friends back home generally consider a 650CC motorcycle a very small bike, if not a beginners bike, we have very big bikes for down here. Most bikes are between 125 to 200 and sometimes 250. A DR650 is a very large motorcycle compared to what is ridden locally, at least by the general populous. Our 32 litre translucent plastic aftermarket gas tanks often bring a moment of pause, discussion, and ultimately questions posed upon us (and lots of thumbs up).

    The exceptions to the lack of large motorcycles observation is that some police - those not riding 200s - ride Suzuki V-Strom 650s. The other exception to this is that we have seen a quite a number of seemingly wealthy Guatemalans riding BMW 1200GS, which seem to be quite popular, as well as Suzuki V-Stroms and some other bikes, including Harley Davidsons. It seems that you either cap out at 200-250, or you have 1000CC+. 650 seems to be an awkward size in these parts. Around Guatemala City we have seen many, many BMWs - I would say that they represent the majority of large bore motorcycles. We were passed by a bunch of bikes the other day on our way back to Antigua which included a V-Strom, multiple BMWs and some Harley Davidsons. A little later we ran into some of the guys from this group. To our surprise it was a BMW GS rider and a Harley Davidson rider pulled over at the side of the road chatting. This is a first for me. In North America, BMW and Harley riders do not mingle.

    Having found the previously mentioned tire, I decided to sleep on the purchase. Jenn was a little hesitant to let me do this as she figured it might not be there the next day. It is simply an odd-ball tire for Guatemala and I was pretty confident that I would find it the next day. That said, we returned and purchased the Kenda 761 tire for about $100 (apparently prices for tires in Guatemala have increased). This is a bit of a discount brand tire, but not a “no name” tire, and has a bit of a following. I takes what I can gets in these parts. After purchase I had it installed for about US$6. Deal. It is between $40 and $60 to get tires installed in Toronto, Ontario.

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    In addition, we also bought a gallon of Shell Rimula diesel oil and did an oil change at the same little place. Oil can be a complicated subject. I already have a mental image of some of our readers as they start to cringe. There are over two million “which is the best oil” forum posts on the internet. Ok. Who’s counting? But you get the picture. For our non-motorcyclist friends out there, I should mention that one shouldn’t just use “any old oil” in a motorcycle, especially ones with a “wet clutch” (submerged in oil). Some automotive oils, arguably most in the developed world, are known to contain various additives marketed at aiding efficiency, extending engine life, and the like but many report that these oils cause your clutch to slip.

    South of Canada and the US, it gets trickier to choose oil. There are motorcycle specific oils but it is hard to get a picture on “whether they are any good”. For example, they might be fine but they are generally used in much smaller engines which are not running a heavy load. A fair number of motorcyclists in Canada and the US use various engine oils which are intended for diesel trucks. The rationale for this that they don’t contain additives which are harmful to wet clutches, tend to be cheaper especially when bought in bulk. Most importantly, they are also known to be chemically stable for hard working machines in that they are reported to last longer with hard working, large single cylinder engines and don’t break down and become thin quickly.

    My casual observation here is that some of the “motorcycle oils” we are using in Latin America seem to be thinning out too much. Don’t take this as an empirical statement, though. So while Shell Rimula is not available in Canada and the States (at least through regular channels), it seems to be similar to Shell Rotella, which you can’t get down here, so we are giving it a go. Note that while Rotella has been used in motorcycles for quite some time, it has recent been officially approved for use in motorcycles, at least it contains the JASO certification on the bottle. While the Rimula bottle contains no such designation, I am hoping that its formulation is close enough to Rotella. With that being said, I have used it before without obvious ill effect, and using decent fresh oil is sure to be a better choice than running used oil too long.

    Joking with the gentleman who’s shop we were using, I saluted the pretty much done rear Avon Gripster tire and feigned a tearful gesture. “Respect” the man said in Spanish. It sounds silly, but it is hard to give up a tire which has been so many places with you. This one had a little life left, but eventually one has to make a decision in that I might as well get it when I can, as if I leave it too long, I could run into issues. Kudos, however, for Avon Gripsters. Front tires always last longer. I am sure that both of our front tires will last into South America. Jenn’s rear tire, I am quite confident will finish Central America as well. I am heavier, my load is probably heavier, and I ride with a little more “zeal”. I think +13,000km was a decent run for the Gripster. I am sure I would have got another at least another 1000km out of it, perhaps 2000km, but there is not reason to delay the inevitable and make for unsafe riding. The Gripsters were always intended to be a high mileage tire for us which would be swapped out in South America for affordable, made in Brasil Pirelli tires.

    Incidentally, we chose Gripster for their reputation of being a high mileage, relatively inexpensive tire. As well, with Heidenau K60s being such a fashionable tire, we decided to “go retro” - if Gripsters were good enough for Austin Vince and Mondo Enduro back in the day, they are good enough for us :) Had we used K60s would we have been changing them out now? This is a good question which we can offer no tangible answer. K60s are also know for being a high mileage tire. Having a set installed currently installed on my KLR650 back home, and a set on Jenn’s old DR650 which was sold with the K60s, my gut instinct based on remaining tread was that we weren’t getting high mileage results out of them. YMMV.

    For those who might be reading this blog for your own trip planning, remember that with a little planning, tires are available everywhere. You might have to do some work to find your size, and definitely don’t expect to find your desired model, but I don’t personally think a specific tire model is going to make or break your trip. We have been having a great time with these Gripsters. We also see all sorts of Latin American motorcycle riders booming around on their small bikes with a vast array of different tires and they don’t seem to be bothered on most of the unpaved road surfaces we find. During my previous trip to Latin America, in the US I installed Continental TKC80s (a well known 50/50 tire) thinking that I “needed” them. They are a nice tire. I like them a lot.

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    That said, their mileage sucks and I burned through a rear between New Mexico and Guatemala City. Incidentally, I had left on a pair of Mefo Explorers which were the bees knees before K60s became popular and they were melting in the the summer US heat - cracking and shedding layers like a snake and I had to get rid of them pretty early. So, ask yourself what you really need. Are you riding Dakar? Are you going to be doing serious off-road with that heavy bike, or riding a lot of mud and sand? Probably not in Central America, nor a lot of South America, unless you choose to, such as taking more out of the way routes. Later on during my last trip, I was pretty happy to have purchased very affordable Pirelli MT-21 aggressive tires for use in Bolivia, but I chose to ride some fairly sandy tracks but probably could have gotten away with something milder had I chosen more common routes.

    So getting back on track here... having completed our mechanical work, we got ourselves organized for departure the following morning. Coban isn’t that far from Guatemala City. On the the down from Coban to Antigua, we decided to change things up a bit and try a different route as to avoid going back through Guatemala City. We opted to take the CA5 (CA being short for Central America). Our map indicated that it was partially unpaved. We went for a while and after a while, slightly unkept asphalt led to mild gravel surface, and shortly mountain dirt tracks. If you have been following our reports, this wasn’t nearly the sort of inclines as on the way to Semuc Champey, but noting that we had three hours of daylight left before arriving in Antigua with 100km remaining, and average 25km/hr, it didn’t look promising that we would make it to our destination before sundown.

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    We continued bit by bit, always questioning how far we had to go before we reached the “path or no return”, i.e. we have gone too far to warrant turning around. We found ourselves in some pretty remote places, from time to time

    following various local pickup trucks, and buses, and passing through some pretty removed rural villages. The ride itself, while only moderately challenging (this is relative, of course), led us through some road construction areas which including some slightly squirly sand areas, and various mud-on-an-upward-switchback sort of conditions. (Note again, no real problems at all doing this with mild mannered Gripsters plus my new Kenda).

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    After some time, the desolate mountain track turned into active “road work”, and after almost too long, it became asphalt again. We made it back to Antigua with

    enough light to pitch our tent. Being our second visit to Antigua, and really a transit stop, we opted to crash for free on the premises of the tourist police. This is a service offered for free and especially appealing to those on a tight budget, as well as those who would like to park an RV, car, or truck and camp.

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    We had a pretty basic dinner, went to bed and packed up for the ride to the border with El Salvador. Things were going pretty well at the border — borders are always a bit of a pain - but nearing what we thought was the end of the customs part for the bikes, Jenn caught a spelling mistake with her name. And then with her nationality. And then we noticed that the forms cited bike models differed from that on our title documents. We were literally holding up

    more than a couple of guys wanting to process more than a couple of tractor trailer importation documents each. Not our fault though. If it takes three tries to get an officially stamped document correct at the expense of having issues leaving the country later, then so be it.

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    We arrived in Santa Ana without issue. I have been here before. We decided that we would look for the hotel I had stayed at before, however, we had just gone through my previous blog, as a refresher, which hadn’t cited the name of the hotel. I had two landmarks, one being a fast-food restaurant and the other being a supermarket. We found both and I was sure that we were in the correct area. With the process of elimination, we passed by the area several times, carefully navigating the grid pattern - many streets being one way. During this process, I was realizing that something wasn’t right. I wasn’t finding what I was looking for. I was considering that a lot of things can change over three years, but a fully functional hotel? At the same time we heard whistles. And as we cycled back around the blocks, more whistles. And then a car horn. Eventually we were met by a gentleman at an intersection. I proclaimed “Orlando?!?” Like an old friend (I guess we are), we were ushered past the hotel gates and led to our room from where I write. I was thrown off as it looked different. It turns out that our host had moved the location of the hotel (now across the street from the old location) and the old one is now a local government office.

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    After a quick shower, we were whisked off in Orlando’s car for dinner, and we soon arrived at a nice “pupuseria” - in this case a fairly nice restaurant which makes pupusas on a natural wood fire hearth. It seemed that Orlando knew half of the people in Santa Ana and spent a good deal of time chatting with various people as they came and left. We devoured our nixtalamized corn cheese, bean and mixed pupusas under Orlando’s attempted English guidance of “attack!!!”.

    Having finished dinner, we heading back to Orlando’s hotel. Besides being a hotelier, he also sells cars, as well as is trying to get into the business of importing old school buses from North America to El Salvador for use as public transit. Actually, on the way to dinner Orlando proclaimed that “that was one of his” as a bus rolled away. At the hotel, we spoke with his daughter who spoke pretty good English - but a type of English which was hadn’t seen a lot of practice with native speakers in a while. She explained to us that she had private English lessons an number of years back, and kept in practice by watching US TV programs, but with becoming married and having a child, all of this had become out of practice. As sort of a surprise, she revealed that she is a lawyer, and that her father Orlando, our host, is also a local judge. Huh.

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    I think we are both happy to be here, have had some unexpected happenings, and I think that Jenn has been a little thrown with regards to her preconceptions of what El Salvador would be like versus where we lay now. It was a very interesting day.

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    Today we did regular travel stuff like wash some clothes, clean our riding gear and took some time to rest. We later had pupusas, coffee and a banana liquado for breakfast, and headed around town for a stroll through the markets, bought a few local soda pops, ate some pastries (as is

    apparently our thing), said “hi” to some local daytime prostitutes while looking for a Lonely Planet recommended cafe which we decided to “not bother”, and eventually made it back to the hotel.

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    We are taking off tomorrow without much of a plan, so far at least.

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    Our Cobán to Antigua via CA-5 photos can be found here.

    Our Santa Ana, El Salvador photos can be found here.
    #23
  4. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on 2014-01-25:

    We are currently in Granada, Nicaragua relaxing by the swimming pool at the Oasis Hostel. It was recommended to us by Peter (AKA Senior Kiwi), a retired Kiwi who is riding around Central America on a local bike, Suzuki GN125, and who we met in Leon at the LazyBones Hostel.

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    This is our fourth day in Granada. A quiet day after partying the night away with a bunch of Torontonians (as well as Italians, Nicaraguans, Germans,...) at the Mombacho Cigar anniversary party. A few days ago we took a tour of their facility - not really a factory, but rather a beautiful and quaint colonial compound where all things Mombacho happen, including storage, assembly, rolling, etc. During the tour we were invited to the anniversary party, although hadn't really strongly considered it, as we had originally only planned to be in Granada for a day or two.

    It turned out that Mombacho cigars have a strong connection with Steam Whistle Brewery, and while we were not familiar with Mombacho cigars, we are quite familiar with Steam Whistle brewery. Incidentally, Adam attended high school with the sister of Cam Heaps, one of the owners of Mambacho and Steam Whistle, and interviewed his father, Frank - also in attendance - the owner of now defunct Ontario craft beer pioneer Upper Canada Brewery for a grade 12 urban studies class. It also turned out that many of the staff from Toronto had flown down for the celebration. The tour was informative and we got to see a sampling of the daily life of a cigar, as well as meet the cigar master, Claudio.

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    I also had a chance to explore the cemetery here in Granada. Central America has some amazing cemeteries, with above ground graves and underground tombs. As we were riding out of town yesterday, we passed by Granada's cemetery, the tombs gleaming white in the bright sunlight. I convinced Adam to stop so that I could take a few photos and admire the grandeur with which the locals memorialize their dearly departed.

    The tombs were largely located underground, with a low, flat structure above ground and a tiny little door that opens onto a staircase or ladder in order to get below. Above ground, some were decorated with elaborate statues and crosses, but many were plain, and although in many of the cemeteries that we have passed by the markers are painted in bright colours, Granada's cemetery markers were solely painted in white. This cemetery was truly a work of art, as well as a place of sanctuary, spirituality, and remembrance.

    We have also had a chance to taste some of the local food specialties.

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    Our first day here, we rolled into town hungry and sweaty, so after a quick shower and change we headed off to Parque Central to find some sustenance. Instead of food carts, we found a few permanent restaurant stands with tables, and sat down to a mixed plate that included fried cheese, plantains, chicharron (fried pork skin), pinto gallo (beans and rice), and a bit of chicken and beef. Adam wasn't a big fan of the chicharron which was thick and fried crispy (edit: we didn't know it was a part of our dish), but the jury is still out with me on what I think about it.

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    Other than that Granada is a beautiful city; quaint, colonial, with many buildings with brightly painted facades. There are number of old churches, a fort, and plenty to see. It's also quite touristy, and many of the prices at restaurants and hotels reflect the popularity of the place. We have been finding it a bit of a challenge finding affordable places to eat, and have taken advantage of the hostel kitchen and nearby grocery store to prepare some of our own meals. Thankfully one of us knows how to cook...

    Since we haven't updated our blog since Santa Ana (three countries ago!), here's a quick recap of what has also been happening:

    From Santa Ana in El Salvador, we crossed the border into Honduras which was a fairly painless process, although incredibly hot with temperatures in the high 30s (Celsius). Honduras didn't end up being the nightmare that Adam had previously described, and we didn't have any problems with corrupt cops or at the border (but have heard problematic recent reports from other travellers). The high temperatures, strong winds, and blowing dust that started shortly before the border crossing into El Salvador continued right across the country and into Honduras. Although we are here at the end of the rainy season, it is very dry and some of the landscapes resemble what I imagine dry African landscapes to look like: long, dry, yellow grass with stunted trees, and blowing dust. Adam has commented that these landscapes look completely different to him, having passed through during a rainy period (actually, being chased by a hurricane).

    Once into Honduras, we headed to Choluteca, a city half way across the southern end of the country, and where Adam had stayed three years prior. As we stated before, we aren't necessarily trying to stay in all the places Adam stayed before, but if a place was clean, close to amenities, and bug free it seems like a good place to stop once again, especially when we are solely in transit and just looking for a place to shower and sleep. It's also a little funny to see Adam get all nostalgic on me. Unfortunately, once we arrived, the area had changed and Adam was unable to find the hotel where he previously stayed. After a few laps of the area and the hotel strip, we spied two other travel bikes parked in a the courtyard parking lot of a fairly upscale-looking hotel on the main strip.

    Upon pulling into the parking lot, we discovered two things: one) that the bikes had Canadian license plates (one from British Columbia, and the other from Alberta), and two) that the hotel was both expensive and full for the night. By this time the owners of the bikes had seen us and had come out to say hello. Lee and Joel were heading back north to Canada after riding around Central America for the past few months. They also offered to share their room with us, since it had four double beds and more than enough room. We gladly accepted their invitation.

    Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), I was quite comfortable with the idea of sharing a room with two strange men (and one that I was quite familiar with). It wasn't long, anyway, before Joel and Lee didn't feel so much like strangers any more. All it took was a good meal, a few drinks, and some great travel stories. There is also a bit of a kinship amongst us motorcycle travellers, and combined with that special something that makes Canadians Canadian, it was a no brainer.

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    In true fashion, I fell asleep shortly after returning to the room while the boys stayed up to swap stories. I have to admit that it was probably one of the best sleeps that I have had outside of the tent. Perhaps it was a 'safety in numbers' sort of thing. Perhaps we were spoiled by the air conditioned room (our first, since we have been opting for the non-AC rooms to save some cash). Perhaps I just like sleeping with strangers (is it getting old yet??). In the morning we parted ways (after one flat tire change - theirs, not ours), and even though I was a bit sorry to see them go, it was great to meet other Canadians on motorbikes and to have a bit more company even for one night.

    Before long, we arrived at the border crossing into Nicaragua which proved to be fairly straight-forward but the fixers were a royal pain. We repeatedly told them that we didn't need any help nor were we going to pay for any of their services and still had a young boy force his services on us, going so far as to follow us across the border from Honduras to Nicaragua. It created a very tense situation when, at the completion of the process the fixer repeatedly asked for money, as he was draped over the bikes. I don't understand why they just don't leave us alone when we clearly state that we are not interested and that we don't want to pay for their services.

    The borders have improved enough that most of the buildings are clearly marked and the process is largely the same at each one (immigration signs you out of one country, then aduana signs out your bike; then you drive up the road and immigration signs you into the new country, and aduana registers your bike, sometimes with insurance and sometimes not). The high pressure tactics adopted by the fixers which can include jumping out in front of your moving vehicle, touching and draping themselves over your bike, and not taking no for an answer, can be very intimidating and confusing.

    Since there isn't exactly a shortage of security at the borders, I would hope that one day they come down hard on these guys who are nothing but a pest and are poor representations for their country. Needless to say, it left a bad taste in our mouths and it certainly wasn't the way that I wanted to enter Nicaragua, as I was looking forward to visiting this country after hearing some amazing things about it. Since we were both tired and quite disheartened we decided on a short ride day, and decided to stay close to the border, in Leon.

    I had read some nice things about Leon, including pinpointing a few sites but we didn't really get to see much of it. We arrived at our hostel mid to late afternoon, and after a quick shower we set off to find some food (are you seeing a pattern yet??). The buildings were brightly painted and had colonial flare, but there wasn't a convenience store in sight despite combing a number of blocks around our hostel (Lazybones). We did find a phenomenal pizza place nearby which was one of the best pizzas that we have had since leaving the USA, and possible one of the best pizzas that I have ever eaten. Our hostel was nice enough, very clean, and our room on the second floor overlooking the swimming pool caught a lovely breeze in the evening which helped to quell the soaring temperatures.

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    Ok. Back to the party. So, yesterday we had actually packed up and had headed out of town, on our way to our next location but Adam was a little disappointed in having forgotten to grab a photo of us and the bikes in front of the Mombacho cigar factory before we left town, so we turned around and headed back into Granada and to Mombacho (the cigar factory, not the volcano). Not too many people were around but we did get our photo, and a formal invite to the party, so we decided to stay in town and headed back to the Oasis.

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    The Party: When arrived, the party was actually gated and we needed an invitation (which we didn't have since we had been told by two people that it was an open party). It all worked out though since someone eventually came out with a stack of invites and gladly let us in. That someone turned out to be one of the owner of Mombacho cigars, Markus Raty, who we never formally met but whom we want to thank for opening his doors to us and inviting us inside!

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    It was quite the swanky soiree, indeed, with open bar serving beer and seven year Flor de Cana, sexy cigar girls offering up Mombacho's finest, a drum and horn line complete with dancing girls in costume, lots of dancing, beautiful people, and rubbing elbows with some of Toronto's finest.

    Initial awkwardness eventually and soon we were out on the dance floor (yes, Adam too!), and celebrating with the rest. Adam actually danced and even joined in the limbo with the feather head-dressed dancers. Rum flowed like water, cigar smoke wafted into the night, and a great time was had. A huge thanks to Claudio, Markus, Cam, Victoria, and everyone else for their hospitality and for being a part of our journey! It was an amazing thing to be a part of!

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    [Adam adds: I also basically lost one of my zippered travel pant legs on the swimming-pool-now-dance-floor as my zipper snagged on something, came off and also started to remove my whole leg providing me with a new look - one leg in pants, and other in shorts. I roughly corrected the issue the best I could, fixed one of the zippers the next day. I still have to perform surgery on the upper zipper but I have no need for long pants at the moment].

    Next stop: San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua - a surf/beach party town.

    Photos can be found here: Leon and Grenada, Nicuagua, and Choluteca, Honduras.
    #24
  5. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    We write on 2014-02-04 from Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica:

    Hi folks. We just arrived in Costa Rica having spent seven days in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua and are overdue for our regular update.

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    Party zone! For the most part of a week, we have been oceanside in San Juan del Sur which is on the Pacific coast in Nicaragua not too far from the border with Costa Rica. It's a vibey little surf town with a varied population of surfers - both newbs (like us !) and those with withered tattoos and grey hair, retirees, backpackers, and motorcycle travellers (also us!). It is an official tourist town with lots of beachside bars, restaurants, clothing stores, ATV and motorcycle rentals, and funky coffee shops.

    The mainstream prices (especially beachfront) are tourist prices but, if you pay attention, there are many deals for the more “economically minded”. We sort of just came here as per general recommendation at previous hostels, and while we were initially thrown by the pure tourism of the place, we have really grown to like it. SJDS is, in no way, shape or form, similar to Puerto Vallarta, or even Puerto Escondido in Mexico. Nor Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica - from where were will eventually post this blog entry.

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    We have met many people on our journey, with certainly no exception in this eclectic surf town. Being a popular travel spot - at least relative to Nicaragua - you run into a bunch of different characters - most of them pleasant (such as our new Chilean friends) and some friends from earlier places - but some really frustrating people have also reared their ugly heads: From the annoying town drunk “Juan”, who is a self described “coyote”, who seems to get into everyone’s hair, to the really, really annoying clueless Argentine girls from Buenos Aires who, not only don’t know how to clean up their own kitchen mess, even with a very bilingual sign, and who don’t know how to keep their mouths shut at 2 a.m. with literal screaming and shouting and kitchen chases.

    The cream of the crop, however, was a pushy, disrespectful Brazilian guy who became upset that we wouldn't buy his jewellery which was supporting his journey in a VW van as he fumbled through attempts to guilt us through the process - we should feel guilty for not supporting someone on their travels when we really have no interest in what they are selling. The engagement ended with him insulting us for attempting to speak in Spanish (“stupid Gringo Spanish”) not knowing that he only spoke Portuguese and English, as well as insulting an entire culture by stating that “Spanish as a nonsensical” language that he cared not to learn (the obvious irony being that we was travelling through Latin America). What a piece of work. Fear not, however, most people we have met a great.

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    Other people we have hung out with include a number of French, German, American, British, and Canadian people all who have congregated to SJDS to worship the surf gods. Our friends, Mark and Philip (Fry), two would-be surfers from Germany who we met at Hostel Oasis in Granada also made an extended appearance here in SJDS and we have enjoyed running into them daily. Perhaps it was their charm during the repeated proclamation of the catch phrase “The Ace of Spades” (from the Motörhead song) with their German accents in Granada each time said card (Ace of Spades) was revealed by a would be playing card “magician”.

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    Having intended to only spend a night or two, our time at Beach Fun Casa 28 (they have parking!) extended into an entire week. All things said and done, life on the coast proved to be pretty laid back. We slept late. We ate breakfast. Followed by puttering around the hostel usually doing some bike maintenance or internet stuff, then hitting the beach in late afternoon. Actually, we have spent a few hours cleaning up some sticky brakes and replacing brake fluid so it isn’t all fun ;) The evening and night time was reserved for a late dinner, and exploring the bars where the rum flowed like water.

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    It's also been pretty windy here and the mini sand storms on the beach rivaled any microdermabrasion treatment in any spa. San Juan del Sur is also home to the second largest Jesus statue in the world (the first being in Rio de Janerio, Brazil). The wind proved to be a blessing since it would have been quite hot without it, as the temperature constantly hovered around 31 degrees during the day.

    There was a Canadian pub next door called “The Loose Moose” that celebrated its grand opening only this week. To our disappointment they didn't serve any Canadian beer (a logistical issue, no doubt), but they did have Caesars, poutine, and sushi on the menu. It was nice to immerse ourselves in a bit of familiarity while we were on the road. The owner, Karim, is from British Columbia and has quite the cozy setup. Funky decor, Vancouver Canucks pennants, and retro concert posters, it was a little slice of Canada on the coast of Nicaragua.

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    So finally, we also shouldn't imply that we are staying in some sort of beachside paradise. Our hostel (Beach Fun Hostel Casa 28) is a typical surfer house. Barebones rooms for $8 per person per night with shared bathrooms and a filthy kitchen, because who has time to clean up after yourself when there's waves to ride...?? There is also a funky smell coming from somewhere that is somewhat reminiscent of puke (or maybe methane), and the refrigerator should be condemned as a health hazard. It was not without it's charm, however, with private onsite parking, palm trees, and hand wash laundry facilities. The owners and security are also pretty friendly. Time sure passed quickly here when rubbing elbows with surfers.

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    On our second last day (which was originally supposed to be our last day), we decided to learn how to surf with One Love Surf School. We signed up, jumped into the back of a pickup with surfboards attached to the roll cage, and headed down a somewhat remote road to a private beach called Playa Hermosa. Our instructor Nicole was pretty laid back. Being in Nicaragua for a couple of years, some friends as well as her recently birthed baby attended our lunch time basic verbal instruction under the palapas.

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    As soon as the tide was correct, she has us out learning how to catch a wave (we spent hours “practicing” that via body surfing at SJDS main beach days prior) and eventually we attempted to stand up on the surf board. Adam only really managed to get himself up on his knees before plunging into the water loosing his balance attempting the full “surf stance”, but Jenn was an instructor claimed “natural” and rode a close to perfect (or at least acceptable) surfing stance from her third attempt. Our time at our secluded beach soon came to a close and we both agreed that we had a great time surfing (Adam does not share this opinion about snow boarding). The next day was spent eating inexpensive seafood dinners, complaining about our aches and pains, followed by our eventual departure to Costa Rica.

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    San Juan Del Sur photos can be found here.
    #25
  6. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    We write from Boquete, Panama on 2014-02-10:

    We are writing from Boquete, Panama. We were here three and half years ago (or so), and it felt somewhat like a dream returning. We crossed into Panama several days ago after what was the most frustrating border we have crossed, so far. We felt like a bunch of show poodles jumping through hoops at a dog show. While we have been making it a point to research border crossings ahead of time through websites like Border Helper and Life Remotely, and had compiled (what we thought was) a conclusive list of steps, several surprises came up due to contradictory statements by officials, and general disorganization.

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    Even the gentleman who “fumigated” our tires - or having haphazardly squirted some unknown chemical on our tires - and certainly not the entire circumference of the tire - making our $1 payment each in aid of the prevention the utter filth and biological contagion we were carrying in from “dirty Costa Rica” - null and void - was somewhat critical of his own border crossing process. Adam did gest with the fellow at how “dirty” neighbouring Costa Rica must be to warrant “fumigation” of all vehicles (we can only imagine that the act of fumigating a motorcycle is a political statement) and that he must use more liquid, he joked back to the effect of “yes, Costa Rica is very, very dirty” (almost with a wink) and then stated to us, almost seeming embarrassed, at how disorganized his border was with us believing we were finally done but requiring his assistance to get one last missed stamp - a customs declaration which another official indicated to us was not necessary.

    While there are always many windows and offices to visit, Panama seemed to have more of them, and more cryptic ones. This gong show also included having to showing proof of financial insolvency - by way of pulling out a fat stack of bills in the amount of $500 (each), copies of financial records, or credit card statements and/or other safe and obvious things carried by travellers (sarcasm). In our case, we evidently achieved “proof of financial insolvency” with a single ATM receipt from Nicaragua carried by Jenn which we might well have found on the ground as the official only took a cursory glance at it. The official, of course, having memorized the current exchange rate of Nicaraguan currency was able to make the appropriate mental calculation without issue (not!).

    This is also the first time we have had all (or any) of our luggage searched. Funny enough, while in front of his face, the rather stoic official missed the small amount of fruits carried by Adam which technically should have been a problem since this gentleman, while probably responsible for collecting our customs declaration (that definitely asked if we were carrying any fruits or vegetables), hadn’t asked for it yet. We wish we had a picture of his face when we explained to him that one of our little nylon ammunition bags we use as external pockets, which he was "feeling up" contained "both oil and hot sauce" as we explained in Spanish. Senior Serious. And we weren't even presenting a joke.

    Having watched the sunset in our rearview mirrors at a police checkpoint just down the road from the border, the whole experience was topped off with Adam being pulled over by one of Panama’s finest for exceeding the 80km/hr speed limit by 12km/hr. This was a deliberate speed trap if we ever saw one and in all probability, preys on the exuberance of those departing the crappy border to find safe harbour in David, and is conveniently located just beyond a somewhat obfuscated or non-obvious sign in an area with much variance between 100km, 80km and 60km. There is a sucker born every minute!

    We had intended on heading straight for Boquete (an area that we both really enjoyed the last time around) but it was too dark by the time we cleared the monkey business at, and around the border, and we were both tired and smelly, so we decided to stop in at The Purple House (a backpackers hostel in David, where we had spent a number of days in 2010). Fortunately, our host Andrea had a private room available and we took it.

    [​IMG]

    The next morning, there was some administrative business to take care of (including paying said speeding ticket so Adam and/or his motorcycle could later leave the country), and dealing with the warranty return for one of our Sena helmet communicators - DHL wanted US$115 to California - (no way! ), and then it was off to Boquete, a town nestled at the base of Volcan Baru, and well-known for its coffee. We were looking forward to revisiting the twisty two-lane road that lead up the mountain, but to our surprise the road had been completely redone, repaved, and widened to a four-lane highway. Gone was the sense of being off on a jungle adventure, replaced with gas stations, restaurants, and hotels, almost the entire 40 kilometres into Boquete. It seemed that the predictions were true and the gringos - those deciding to try something that is not Costa Rica - finally discovered our little piece of paradise. [Edit: according to some internet sources, this trend started as early as 2007].

    The town, however, remains much the same, only with a more touristy vibe, more advertisements, more spas, and many more options for sleeping. There are also more cafes, and upscale restaurants. We have opted to camp during our stay here in an effort to recuperate some of the money we spent in Costa Rica, and so far I think we have done quite well. Camping is costing us $8 per night and it's nice to be back in the security of our tent (i.e. no bugs).

    Planning our passage from Panama to Colombia

    We don't have too many plans while we are here in Boquete other than to sort out our passage to South America, which is proving to be a little challenging. For those of you not familiar with the local geography, there is no road from Panama to Colombia. The is a small expanse of jungle know as the Darien Gap which is home to various poisonous snakes and insects, drug runners and leftist rebels. Currently, it is really not a place for even the most daring adventure traveller although various successful overland passages have been made in the fairly recent past with much effort.

    The current options are to fly or to take a yacht or similar ship, as well as the obscure option of island hopping in small boats. There has been an attempt (as well as some other rumours) to get a Ro-Ro (roll on-roll off) ferry running. In the most recent case, this Sanblas Ferry seems to have made an honest attempt at getting running this past fall, but there were issues with permissions and landing in Colombia. We had been patiently waiting on news here but they are still waiting for permissions. While we were not holding our breath, we were crossing our fingers.

    The specific crossing (Caribbean coast of Panama to Cartagena, Colombia) is neither new, nor unpopular. There are dozens of boat captains ready to sail individuals, such as backpackers, out to the picturesque San Blas Island to be hosted by indigenous Kuna people as part of the passage to Colombia. While such adventures are often touted as a mini-vacation in a vacation as you head out to sandy islands to enjoy eating lobster, have sandy bonfires, snorkel and drink beer and rum, there are probably as many reports of people having the time of their lives as there are of unmet expectations, boat captains breaking promises, and on and on

    When you factor in that at this time, the seas are quite windy and rough once you leave the protection of San Blas and head out in to open water, the desirability of taking a smaller, random yacht including taking our motorcycles, becomes less desirable. Beyond discomfort and seasickness, it is not outside of the world of possibility that one or more bikes could be damaged or lost at sea in the process. Ideally, we would be catching the Stahlratte - arguably the best ship for motorcycle passage, and a de facto institution in the motorcycle travel world - but it is currently doing a different touring until early March.

    Since there is not too much of Panama that we wish to see at this point, what we would end up essentially playing a waiting game. For example, if we wait for the Stahlratte, we will probably spend the difference of taking a ship or flying, in cost for accommodations and cost of living (even on the super-cheap) and pretty much nullify any benefits. Or at least come pretty close.

    While the Stahlratte is the ship that makes sense, it turns out to be one of the relatively cheap options compared to some of the other smaller, less desirable (to us, at least), vessels charging several hundred dollars more (x2) - and some less, but at what "cost"? If we were here months earlier when the winds were lighter, we would probably be considering different options. That said, the prospects of getting on a small sailboat, using small fishing boats or dinghies to get our bikes on board, and then spending several days being uncomfortable or sick, to only save a couple hundred bucks and probably spending a lot more in accommodations both near the point of departure, and at the destination where we might have to wait several days to clear customs, just doesn't seem like the right way to do things right now. While that said, we are still working through this, so anything could happen.

    Oh yes! We did manage to get that Sena communicator sent by way of another courier for $15 ($100 less than DHL) while originally attempting to use Panama’s postal services with their no-tape-must-be-wrapped-in-paper-bring-your-own-glue-and-scissors system. It was really a bargain compared to DHL, and would have been more so if we hadn’t just purchased our manilla paper and arts-and-crafts glue.

    Some Catch Up

    A little bit of an update since we haven't written since Nicaragua...

    Having left San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua (*sniff, sniff), we crossed into Costa Rica, hoping to be wowed by the country that many people adore. As Jenn says, “I have to say that it didn't happen for me”. The border crossings were disorganized and annoying and was another round of waiting in long lines, hunting down random officials who may or may not be in an office to obtain even more random stamps and stickers, and filling out forms that don’t really seem to serve any purpose.

    The mood perked up, as when we left the border, we were pleasantly surprised at how different Costa Rica looked. The surrounding jungle was lush and green and enveloped the road, just as one would imagine it would, however as we ascended over a mountain and descended the other side the jungle gave way to the dry landscape that had become familiar to us since eastern Guatemala. Apparently the rainy season in Central America was quite short this year and has resulted in dry, dusty landscapes throughout most of the region. Like much of Central America, Adam “swears that it was lusher and green in late spring of 2010”.

    From the border we headed to Playa Tamarindo, another surf town on the ocean, if only because it was a known destination (Adam passed through here on his previous trip). Although we had had a great stay in SJDS, apparently Adam hadn't quite had enough of the surf. Jenn had heard that Costa Rica was very Americanized and the area around Tamarindo definitely lived up to this. Papa John's Pizza, McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, and Texaco stations were amongst many of the familiar sites that we passed on the way. Playa Tamarindo could have been any oceanside town in Florida, complete with luxury accommodations (5-star hostels!), surf shops selling beachwear and souvenirs, spas, cafes, and fast food - all at American (or even Canadian!) prices!

    [​IMG]

    Our preliminary research hadn't resulted in much luck finding somewhere within our budget to stay, and after circling around for a bit (travel guides and addresses are really only helpful if you have a map or GPS coordinates since many streets do not have street signs), we ended up at the hostel that Adam had stayed at previously, the Bruja Verde (the Green Witch). It had had a facelift since his last visit, as had the the really crappy road having been graded and widened and completely unrecognizable compared to 2010, we only found Bruja Verde by chance having past right by it. There may have also been a bit of a price hike, but we managed to negotiate a whole (micro) dorm to ourselves for $30 (ouch!). Note that what are now "dorms" were single or double occupancy "overflow" rooms several years ago. The room did have air conditioning (two settings - plugged in or not) which turned out to be a blessing since there were no screens on the windows and seeing the size of the bugs flying about immediately put a stop to any notion of sleeping with the windows open.

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    We were quick to find out that everything in Tamarindo had a price tag attached to it. We stopped for pizza slices (at $1 each, a pretty good deal) and a pop/soda. The guy at the counter had the food brought out to our table and when we went to pay the bill, we noticed that there was a surcharge added for delivering pizza slices to the table, added tax, and over-charged for the beverages compared to that of the menu post outside. Food in the grocery store was also much pricier than what we were used to (think back home prices, and much more for things like cheese), and we were having difficulty putting together a meal and stay within a reasonable budget.

    Back at the hostel, we met some of the other guests which included a troupe of fire dancers who had rented out the entirety of the main house (which used to be the main hostel), a couple from Argentines driving south to north in their Citroen - Citronautas de America Mestiza, a couple from Alaska, as well as a few Canadians, and Germans. As night fell, there was also a family of howler monkeys who slept in the tree above our heads. And who will apparently crap on your head if they feel territorial. Cool stuff. Err, warm stuff. Uggh. We digress. Fortunately, the giant bugs (6 inch long “grasshopper”!) stayed outside and we managed to get a crawlie-free sleep (although Jenn was probably up for most of the night worrying about bugs crawling on her in her sleep) (of which there were none, but in the jungle you can’t be too sure and it’s better to check rather than leave it to chance - two people crammed into one twin bunk is company enough).

    The price of things basically guaranteed that we were not staying in Tamarindo and we headed in-land to a different landscape. From Tamarindo we made our way across Costa Rica in search of more affordable pastures. Jenn had pinpointed a hostel (through Lonely Planet) called Montana Linda in a town called Orosi that had sounded affordable, and even though it was a little off the beaten path in a mountain valley, we were both in need of a bit of a break from the beach.

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    Passing through the busy bustling San Jose (GPS - why do you hate us so!) we arrived in Orosi, and at Montana Linda. Even though this area had obviously been affected by the shorter rain season too, the mountainsides were still covered in greenery and very brightly blooming flowers. Orosi turned out to be a lovely stopover and we ended up staying two days to try to catch up on sleep. The hostel, itself, was very chill and a nice, comfortable place to be. Prices were cheaper for food as well as sleeping, and the slow pace of the town suited us just fine. Venturing out into the streets we found ourselves once again in a place with not too many tourists around; aside from those staying in our hostel we didn’t see any others.

    [​IMG]

    As it turned out, Orosi was a quaint little farming valley town, nestled between coffee covered mountain sides. Aside from the tropical vegetation, the town somewhat reminded Jenn of Beaverton with a single main street running through town lined with stores, and well-kept houses of the middle class kind. The temperatures were quite a bit cooler than what we had been experiencing, and even though they were still in the mid-20s there was a bit of a mountain breeze, and we both found ourselves a little chilly, donning hoodies and long pants at night (like being in Coban, Guatemala all over again). It was definitely a departure from the 30 plus temperatures we had been having along the coast.

    Despite the quiet locale and much more comfortable room, sleep did not come easily for either of us due to the constant barking of local dogs (which we will take over the sounds of partying surfers, and late night intimacies shagging, any day). In contrast, however, it seems as though neither of us is able to get a good sleep without roosters crowing in the distance ;)

    There wasn't a lot of free stuff to do in Orosi, aside from visit the church in town, which was incidentally the oldest church in Costa Rica. Trips up volcanoes, hikes to waterfalls, and tours of coffee or banana plantations all cost money and at American prices it was difficult to justify when we knew we could pay less elsewhere.

    [​IMG]

    We, did however, finally find dulce de leche - basically “sweet of milk”, or a caramel type confectionary made by heating milk and sugar and used as a topping or filling - in the form of filled pastry horns in a bakery in town. Jenn has basically been on the hunt for dulce de leche since we arrived in Mexico, with Adam, as if sort of shaking his head, “its not time yet - we aren’t far south enough”.

    From Orosi, we jetted towards the border (having had enough of paying inflated prices), over high mountain passes including the highest point of our trip so far at over 3400 meters (or over 11000 feet), down winding roads, along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, and finally to the CA2 highway which lead us into Panama, and its crappy border.

    Photos can be found here:

    Playa Tamarindo & Orosi, Costa Rica, David & Boquete, Panama
    #26
  7. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2014-02-18:

    Some catch up:

    About a week ago, we arrived in Panamá City, Panamá, after spending a day lazing on the beach in Santa Clara, just down the coast. Santa Clara was a rest day for us. While we enjoyed Boquete, we felt that it was time to move on, since we were not really taking advantage of the area and growing somewhat tired of the windy conditions (Jenn). We were not quite ready to head to the big, bustling Panama City with all of its humidity, and instead planned to spend a day or two at “XS Memories” which is billed as Panama’s only RV park.

    [​IMG]

    Since XS Memories is just over 100km from Panama City, we intended to head straight from there to the airport cargo terminal to touch base with Girag air cargo and firm up our plans to ship our bikes to Colombia. Having arrived at XS Memories, we found that it was not only closed, but also for sale. A Canadian couple who were parked at the gate in their car were also scratching their heads as we arrived. Our RVing friends from England, Alan and Julea, who we met on the Baja, had stayed there only one week ago, and recommended the place. Surprise!

    It had sounded like a good place and even had a swimming pool which would have helped beat the coastal heat. The area, being close to some large hotels such as the Royal Decamoron (one of Panama’s “fly and fry” destinations), raised some concern about finding affordable accommodations. The couple in the car mentioned that there was a restaurant on the coast that provided camping on the beach and they pointed us in right direction.

    We found the restaurant in question and they offered to let us “camp on the beach”. In hindsight, it didn’t actually make a lot of sense, because I don’t believe that they could have even owned the part of the beach that they were offering to let us use. The restaurant was fairly small, and seemed more like an expensive snack bar (but with plated food) and beer with a 300% markup from “corner store” prices. They apparently had a good location with a decent parking lot and were milking their public access point to the beach.

    Camping at this beach location, however, didn't sit right with us. The camping area was quite out in the open (i.e. right on the public beach), and they did not provide any sort of nighttime security at the parking lot (except on Saturdays). We would also have to drag our stuff across a small stream-like water feature (housing enough garbage to be a bit gross), leaving our bikes in the parking lot which were not even sure got locked at night. The bathrooms were open to the public and the showers offered no privacy so we would be showering out in the open chancing encounters with any strangers who happened to walk by.

    We had asked the proprietors of the restaurant if they thought the area was safe, and they basically said “yes, more or less” which somehow didn't seem convincing. Their lot was adjoined to a hotel - which was apparently full - and offered cabanas close to the $100 range. We got the strong impression that they did not offer camping, but did have security at night. They also rented palapas on the beach which we probably would have felt better tenting under as they were close to the restaurant and cabanas. This option, however, was not presented to us, and the proprietor made sure that it was clear that the camping happened on the beach and not underneath the palapas.

    Somewhat frustrated, we headed back towards the highway to the police station we passed earlier as to inquire about the safety in the area. We had heard many horror stories about people who chose to camp on beautiful beaches in tropical locations becoming the victims of horrendous attacks, and we didn't want to take any chances. Before long a few officers were involved in the conversation and next thing we knew, we were following a police officer on a quad (ATV), who took us back to the same area, pulled out a phone, and after some furious hand gestures, and a raised voice, he explained to us that we could speak with the woman on the adjacent lot next to the previously mentioned small “upscale” hotel and negotiate a price with her. And that we did.

    [​IMG]

    Having driven through a different gate into a different parking lot, it wasn’t exactly clear as to where we were. We saw what seemed to be a rudimentary primary school, plus signs indicating something to the effect of “Ministry of Education”. At this time, the various small fences and buildings all sort of blended together for us.

    Having negotiated a price of $10/night to stay in her gated area under a tree, we were pretty happy with our find - or the officer’s find. We were significantly far away from the main gate which, as it turns out, is shared between this lady, the school, and several other lots including homes belonging to her father and her sibling. The elderly father had subdivided his lot and provided portions to several siblings who all were attempting to make a go at offering beach side amenities, such as palapas, hammocks, and perhaps beer and snacks. So essentially, we were nestled in her sandy yard - chickens, dogs, and all - and not visible to outsiders from the access road or directly from the beach. Our amenities included toilets, showers, a picnic table, access to the very small “kiosko” - a rudimentary shop operated by her elderly father at which you peered through the barred window and asked for things like eggs, cookies, potatoes or limes.

    It was a pretty sweet deal as we were camped right next to her set of palapas, including hammocks, which was directly on the beach - which we did take advantage of. Our early request for hot water (we could do our own on our stove but she had a room with a kitchen very close to our tent) was met with an invitation to use her kitchen when we needed to. In the morning we cooked our breakfast eggs there, and she suggested that we purchase some “parga roja”, or red snapper, fresh from one of the families within her little community. Having watched various fisherman bring their catch from their boats, packed in giant sized “beer coolers” with ice, followed by an almost constant stream of trucks taking the fish to market, our host pan-fried our snapper with onions for us that night in the local traditional manner.

    [​IMG]

    It was an interesting little environment there. On the one side of her lot was the little upscale restaurant/hotel, and then the restaurant who offered us the camping. On the other side of her, was her father’s place, presumably another siblings place, and then if your were to follow the “lane” which was outside of the previously mentioned parking lot, it lead to the “kiosko” as well as bunch of small homes which were all involved in fishing. The remaining area - where the lane terminated - as well as the entire area opposite to the houses when walking down the lane, was all fenced off and it seemed to be a sort of a “DMZ” or no-mans-land for a high-rise hotel (Hotel Farralon) which was not to far down the road. There was nothing particularly nice about the apportioned land but it seemed that they were either wanting to keep it in their back pocket for future growth, or just wanted a large track of land separating the local community from the hotel.

    As you may have noticed, I just stated that the “kiosko” was outside of gate. It turns out that this is only one way to get to it. I had noticed that our host had disappeared through another little gate in her yard into the neighbouring lot and had come back with some provisions. We found out later that this was her father's place and she also invited us through the gate into the neighbouring densely filled yard as a short cut to buy the previously mentioned fish. We had passed some neighbours, who seemed a little alarmed by my presence, as in “stranger danger”.

    So far, I have understated the presence of poultry. While there were some friendly dogs here who were pretty quiet, I had made a joke to Jenn early about the symphony of “poultry in paradise”.

    [​IMG]

    While there were a couple of white roosters, in our yard - one who had a very distinctive crow - and the other one been virtually mute. Having arrived fairly late the first night, the poultry was not quite evident until morning - really early in the morning - when White Rooster #1 would bay out his song closing it off with a little rasp that of a chain smoker. In the distance, we would here a constant call and response - but it was a little denser than we have heard before - with an almost gospel choir element to it.

    [​IMG]

    Shortly into this, we realized that White Rooster #2 was virtually mute which was oh-so-amusing, but also a little sad. Roosters love to get up on their perch and bay out their song. Well, said mute rooster would prop himself up, prepare to amaze the world with his proud song and all the would come out was mainly air and a little bit of a raspy whistle as a refrain. It was kind of like when a colleague shows up at work with laryngitis and you can almost here words, but not really. I felt pretty bad for laughing at him as much as I did, but it was a sight to be seen. Apparently it did not turn off the local lady hen, as he was still managing to get lucky with the third dark feathered chicken who seemed to relish in getting stuck in the tree above our tent.

    So, it turns out that the rest of the gospel choir was owned by the next lot. Having passed through the lot once with our host, I ventured to try again by myself but with some ill results. Having passed the gate, and turning a corner around a building, the dog who was usually my friend started baying with all of his back fur up, a fleet of chickens started freaking out which caused the elderly woman (perhaps our hosts step-mother) in a walker at the house to standing up with alarm, and the seemingly disabled woman sitting near hear to violently turn her head with horror in her eyes and sort of bared her gnarly teeth. Perhaps I was not meant to take this short cut by myself, but whatever the issue was, my presence seemed to invoke the response of “home invasion”. In this case, I skirted around the rear of the Kiosko, bought what I was buying, and proceeded to take the long route back, even taking a gamble as to whether the gate would be locked knowing that I would have to walk way over to the restaurant and take the beach route back - I wasn’t going back there alone - the whole scene was just to “Ozarks” for me.

    In the end, we had had quite a good time. One of the evenings we hung out with our host, as well as her companion (who we believe was her secret lover - a secret to her father who runs the kiosko), and the friendly companero dog "Sorro" - who barked up a storm at me earlier. The morning after night #2 we head off to Panama City.

    Arriving on the outskirts of Panama, Jenn and I had our GPSes set different - one of us was pointed directly to the airport, while the other had just a rough course to downtown Panama. At the last minute we veered towards downtown missing the much desired by-pass, and not being able to return back to recover from our mistake, we took a long, hot, sweaty route to the airport via downtown Panama. We arrived at the cargo terminal, and after some waiting, and discussion, we were told to bring our bikes back bright and early in the morning for preparation for shipping.

    We set a course to the Hostel Mamallena, a hostel which Jenn and I stayed at in 2010, and which has parking for motorcycles. We booked ourselves in, proceeded to repack our luggage as to optimize what we were sending with the bikes via cargo, and attempting to reduce the weight of our duffel bags. Girag had suggested that we come as early as possible - my suggestion of 10am was met with a response that earlier was better. [Edit: they have had our bikes for over a week.] We got up fairly early, got on our bikes and proceeded to do a sort of “snakes and ladders” approach finding our way to the toll road. We don’t normally like to spend the money on toll roads, but we figured it would save us some valuable time in the rough Panama traffic. When we showed up at the booth with money in hand, the attendant - in a rude manner which seems to be common to customer service in Panama City - tried to express to us that it was not possible to pay cash to use the toll. Apparently we had to pay $8 each for access cards which then had to be loaded with fare money. We had only expected to pay a couple bucks each and ended up turning around. In hindsight, if we had been able to cross using one card, or had used the toll road more often during our stay in Panama, it would have made sense, but this was not the case.

    [​IMG]

    After a rather interesting route through the city to the airport via the free roads (thank you, GPS, you never seem to take every opportunity to make it known how much you hate us), we made it back to the cargo terminal.

    We dropped the bikes off after a typical waiting period where someone takes your information and forms and comes back much later. Thankfully the waiting for the "much later" happened in an air conditioned office (you don't realize how wonderful it is until you have it). The process of actually dropping the bikes off was fairly straightforward although I had expected to help put the bikes on pallets and assist with the shrink wrap process like I did in 2010. Other than that some fuss was made with how much gas was in the tanks. I am sure that it is only because we have translucent tanks, but I had to basically insist that we did not have too much gas. Although we have 32L tanks, we made sure that were almost in reserve which is probably about 4L. I have heard time and time again that Girag isn’t too picky about how much gas is in your tank as long as it is about 1/2 or 1/3 full. In any respect, the optics of our big Safari tanks probably make it look like we have a lot of gas in the tanks. An empty tank isn't really an option since we needed to ride the bikes to the airport, and will need a little bit on the Colombia side to get us out of cargo and find a gas station.

    [​IMG]

    Having dealt with customs (and probably one of the most friendliest ladies in customer service in Panama City), she emerged from her gated booth, took us under her wing, and made sure we flagged down an official cab, rather than a fly-by-night one, as she had concerns that we might not make it to our proper destination. Arriving back at the hostel, we didn’t do anything particular exciting. Ate food, drank some beer, walked to the grocery store, got my hair cut, and started to get catch up on Dakar Rally footage (which ended back in January) with anticipation of our flight to Bogota.

    [​IMG]

    Santa Clara photos
    Panama City photos
    #27
  8. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2014-02-18:

    Hello from barrio Suba in Bogotá, Colombia. We arrived here safely yesterday on our mid-day flight with Copa Airlines. There was nothing to report about the flight, and not surprisingly, it lacks the familiar good nature and humour of West Jet in Canada.

    The only two points of drama were that a) we almost were not let on the flight, and b) our bikes are not yet in Colombia.

    To start with point “a”, apparently Colombian government regulations are strict about tourist entry and you are supposed to have proof of a return flight out of Colombia, or bus ticket of onward passage. From a brief survey of various travel forums, there is much written on the subject. While we were aware of this restriction, I also took a similar flight without issue in 2010. I am not sure if these are new regulations but the internet forums suggested that sometimes you can get by without having a return ticket, while others offer solutions such as buying a completely refundable return ticket (which you never intend to use), or showing a print out from a web session just prior to actually hitting “submit” (i.e. before you have spent any money).

    I guess we sort of took a chance with this, but I kind of figured that we could talk our way through it so we opted to do nothing and just show up with our e-tickets one-way flights. For me, if a bus ticket to Ecuador offers enough currency that one will find his or herself out of the country, then having one’s own form of transportation (motorcycles), as well as a passport filled with stamps indicating consistent transit, should be sufficient. As luck would have it, one of the first things the Copa agent asked for was proof of a return ticket out of Colombia. Crap. We sort of just stood there as if not to take “no for answer” and were insistent that we had motorcycles waiting for us, and showed her the related paperwork. We made certain to mention, whether it will be true or not, that our trip would be ending at one of the further countries away from Colombia, being Argentina, and naming off all of the countries in between.

    She disappeared for a while, and then came back and was sort of baiting us to answer questions as if she would settle for a carrier name and flight number without the paper work. She suggested Air Canada, and I stated “yes, yes, si, si. Air Canada”. After a pause, she finished typing and handed us our documents. In hindsight, I was half inclined to have listed our “return flight” as “Air Canada 767”, choosing an airplane model, so that I could effectively declare ignorance and reference a clear language misunderstanding.

    As a note, if you are another motorcyclist following our posts, YMMV, you may well find yourself returning from the airport, finding internet, and somehow providing proof of your return flight. Actually, your best bet might be to hop on the free airport shuttle over to the cargo terminal and use the computers at the business centre to book a refundable ticket, as I don’t think there is any internet available to unchecked and uncleared passengers at Tocumen.

    Speaking of cargo, this leads us to point “b”. Once landed in Bogota, we took the airport shuttle over to the cargo terminal, lugging around our big duffel bags, daypacks, helmets, and of course, wearing our big riding boots. Having secured “security clearance”, and eventually finding the proper office at Girag cargo, a gentleman took the paperwork from me and went to check on the status of our bikes. Some fifteen minutes later another gentleman handed it back to me informing me in a curt manner that the bikes had not yet left Panama. No apologies or anything to that respect and said I should call Girag in the morning.

    We were disappointed but not completely surprised. Having visited Girag’s office on Thursday, we dropped our bikes off with Girag early on Friday, as per their strong recommendation (they made it seem like sort of a big deal), for a flight on Saturday. It was explained to us that we would not be able to retrieve them on Sunday, but they would definitely be there on for Monday. It is generally better to make sure your bikes arrive before you do, and we took a bit of a gamble with this, but we are not too concerned at the moment since we are now told that they should be here Thursday [edit: now realistically Friday].

    So, having found ourselves at Bogotá’s air cargo terminal without motorcycles, we went to a little business centre and made some phone calls to our local contacts. In 2010, I met a fellow in Bogotá by the name of Jorge Orlando who I stayed with and did a day trip with, and who is an avid motorcyclist. In fact, he is now just becoming the regional manager for KTM, Kawasaki and Bajaj. This, in its own way, is a minor problem - but not really. As we were getting closer and closer to Panama, we had been making more plans with Jorge but, as it turns out, he had just change jobs, moving from Kia to the previously mentioned organization.

    Because of this, he would to be in Medellín, another city in Colombia, for the next three weeks. Having been provided with some contacts by Jorge, I called his wife, Gloria Patricia, as planned. Gloria’s English isn’t too strong, and while my Spanish is slightly better, it was not enough to piece together a conversation on the phone. Luckily, Jorge’s brother William was home and took the call. We were instructed to hop in a taxi and head on over to their place. We had already been invited to stay with Jorge, but plans changed slightly and we would now be hosted by his wife, brother, mother, and father while communicating with Jorge on Skype.

    <img src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/Colombia-Bogot%C3%A1/i-ngdQfRk/0/M/P1010932-M.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="450" />

    We arrived in the barrio of Suba (a neighbourhood, which is not quite a suburb). Having stayed with Jorge briefly in 2010 who was living with his parents at the time, I hadn’t realized that now married, everyone was still living on the two level housing unit above the small store which Jorge’s parents operate. As we pulled up in a the taxi, it became clear to me that, yes, we would be staying in his parent’s house and I must admit that I had questions about the practicality of Jorge’s generous offer. In 2010, it was a bit of a tight fit, and Jorge gave up his bed to me and squeezed into his brother’s bed.

    <img src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/Colombia-Bogot%C3%A1/i-hFn3z69/0/M/P1020800-M.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="450" />

    Carting our gear up to the third floor, it became apparent that some renovations had been performed and what was once sort of a roof top storage and laundry area had been converted to have an additional bedroom, bathroom and living room. This certainly solved the question as to whether they would be space for us here, but also how they fit Gloria into the house on a full time basis as well.

    So in Jorge’s absence, Gloria set us up. I suggested that we had camping beds and so forth, and that we could put them in their mostly empty living room (presumably recently added) and she would have none of that - and insisted that we take their bed. She is presumably now crashing in what was Jorge’s old bedroom, the one I stayed in previously. Jenn and I were admittedly both hungry, and having thought about grabbing some food at the cargo terminal, decided to just make contact with our hosts. Gloria inquired as to whether we would like some lunch, and we gratefully accepted. In short order, Gloria returned with some nice bowls of soup and a banana. Perfecto. Shortly after, plates of food arrived, including tuna, rice, potatoes, and some fried plantain. And then a small dessert! We were stuffed!

    The whole meal was shroud in a subtle humour, as while the kitchen is visible from the dining area, Gloria was carting the food up the stairs. I presume from the store downstairs but having asked her, not all of it came from there - she may have been running off to a restaurant to make sure that we were fed. Wow. That is hospitality. [Edit: yes, there is another kitchen downstairs]

    Breakfast was similar. Gloria sort of disappeared to the family shop to grab some things: bread, chocolate bars for hot chocolate and some cheese. While ultimately convenient, this was a little unusual for us and resulted in a little chuckle - and very appreciated.

    <img src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/Colombia-Bogot%C3%A1/i-8h5d9h7/0/M/P1040918-M.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="401" />

    Following breakfast, Jenn, Gloria and I headed off for downtown, taking Bogotá’s TransMilenio transit system to the Bogotá’s world renowned Museo Del Oro, what has been coined as the most important gold museum in the world. We spent a good part of the day looking at all sorts of indigenous artifacts, had lunch while watching the Colombia version of “The Price Is Right - El Precio Es Correcto”, before heading home, and eventually sending Gloria off for her 7pm to 7am shift at the hospital where she works in the ER as a nurse. That, to me, seems like a long day for her.

    <img src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/Colombia-Bogotá/i-gPkdk7m/0/M/P1040864-M.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="401" />

    While, this morning, I ran into Jorge’s brother, William, who speaks English very well, Jenn, Gloria, and I have been putting some effort into language skills. Gloria is trying to learn English, and we are trying to learn Spanish, so this is win-win. As per “El Precio Es Correcto”, I have been quizzing Gloria on the English names of some common objects with accolades in the form of me mimicking the game show host: “corrrrectooooo!!!”.

    <img src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/Colombia-Bogot%C3%A1/i-ktqg5nZ/0/M/P1040854-M.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="401" />

    [Edit - some additions on 2014-02-20:]

    There has been a change of plans and we are now in the hostel Crazy Croc in the historic La Candelaria district. A number of personal events are taking place with our hosts, so we are going to continue our travels toward the coastal areas of Colombia to the north and eventually circle back to Bogotá at which time Jorge will have returned from his work trip. As of today, we still do not have our bikes but expect to pick them up Friday morning.

    Gloria, who has been a star, came along with us to our hostel this morning at the suggestion of Jorge. We have been trying to get a concrete update concerning our bikes for some time. They were supposed to be here today (Thursday) at mid-day but we have really been jumping through hoops with Girag to get someone on the phone who could answer our questions definitively. I am a little annoyed with them right now as we were originally told that bikes fly only on Thursday and Saturday so I have no idea why someone (specifically Xenia) would have alluded that we might see the bikes earlier.

    We should really not have been told that the bikes would be available for Monday, when they didn't end up on a plane until Thursday, and would only really be ready to be picked up on Friday. All things said and done, Gloria has been very helpful as she managed to find the local Bogatá contact for Girag - person's name, telephone number, etc. So while we were told "noon" - it probably really meant that they would be loaded on the plane at noon, landing at 2:30pm, and only unloaded at 4pm. This sort of information makes a difference. When I used Girag in 2010, they seemed OK and easy to deal with. I would say that this transaction has totally sucked.

    <img src="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/Colombia-Bogot%C3%A1/i-9628WBZ/0/M/P1010950-M.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="450" />

    We are not dwelling on this though. Jenn and I had a nice walk through La Candelaria this afternoon, had some good, cheap pizza, and a coffee and local treat. The <a href="http://www.bogotabeercompany.com/" target="_blank">Bogotá Beer Company</a> - apparently Bogotá, partly due to its "English" weather, is the beer capital of Latin America - is close by. While we don't usually drink at bars (money pit), the BBC apparently makes some very good beers. Ironically, having arrived in Bogotá, Jenn and I both agreed that we are not really all that interested in beer at the moment - the weather is just a bit murky for the sort of bland, fizzy beer common in Latin America and which is very refreshing on a beach, and were thinking that a bottle of red wine might be nice. But now, the BBC is sounding pretty good...

    Bogotá <a href="http://gallery.t-c-mambo.ca/T-C-Mambo/Colombia-Bogot%C3%A1/" target="_blank">photos</a>
    #28
  9. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam Writes on 2014-02-21:

    [​IMG]

    Today is Jenn’s birthday. Unfortunately it hasn’t been the greatest of days so far. Who wants to have a nasty head cold, as well as well spend four hours at the airport retrieving bikes and two more hours commuting? I would not be happy either. To top it off, it is raining and miserable here.

    The process of getting our bikes wasn’t too complicated, all told, but like everything else, there is always a story to tell.

    We woke up this morning, gently trying to bring Jenn back to life. She wasn’t feeling all that well last night when we had our pint at the Bogotá Beer Company, and she began to feel worse and worse as the night progressed. It is probably fair to say that most people would prefer the comfort of their own home while nursing a bad cold, and trekking out to an airport to deal with bureaucracy is probably at the bottom of most lists. Having fed Jenn with breakfast and some warm panela (raw cane drink), we dragged ourselves to the local TransMileneo (metro) station, and after a couple of of transfers arrived at the airport.

    For the most part it was signing in here, going here and going there, and observing strange contradictions.

    For example, having gone up to customs, the customs agent wanted to inspect the bikes in my presence. When we entered the “secure zone”, Jenn was require to stand near the entrance and me surrender my bag (with all of my important stuff in it), my helmet, etc. I had to sign in using my passport number, walk 20 feet, sign in again with my passport number, be frisked, put on a reflective vest, and then proceed to assist the customs agent with the inspection of the bikes. Now returning to the starting point, I was frisked again - perhaps I stole something from my own motorcycle in the presence of a customs official (?!?).

    Having finally completed the customs paperwork, and that of the cargo carrier, we proceeded back to the cargo building. This time we were basically whisked in to the open area, were forklifts played bumper cars (almost), and again were asked to “hurry up and wait”. Apparently a gentleman was supposed to assist us with our bikes and he then sort of just disappeared without a word. He finally came back, in a very nonchalant manner, and instructed me to move the bikes close to the loading bay. What? No hoops? No song and dance? In other words, I sauntered over to the “high security” zone without question. No sign-in, no frisking, no reflective vest. What the hell??? I mean it didn’t bother me but what an insanely stupid process.

    Having signed all of the necessary paperwork, we started to remove our riding gear which was attached to the bikes with a security cable and get out our rain gear. Shortly into this, said gentleman started to get slightly impatient with us. Besides that this guy was in no rush to help us earlier, and had just left us hanging, Girag as a whole let us down by delivering our bikes to us five days late, and had provided us what seems to be false promises, and just poor communication. We only really got somewhere when Gloria somehow got the phone number for someone in Bogotá who had real answers, that we could feel comfortable with the status of the bikes. I wish I had enough Spanish language skills to tell him where to go.

    When we were finally ready, I proceeded to start to roll one bike down the ramp, and then realized that there were about four guys behind me all trying to stabilize the bike. For those of you who ride bikes out there, you probably know that there are times when you don’t want any other hands on the bike as it screws up your balance. I politely asked them to back off, and may well have even impressed them as I gracefully rolled both - rather large by local standards - down the wooden ramp in the rain. No problemo.

    Ready to leave, we look around for our “new best friend” to see if there was anything else to do. We weren’t really sure whether he was absolutely finished with his process, but it seems like we gave him enough time, and nobody came running when we started to depart.

    Getting into this compound on foot involves signing in with your passport, getting a photo taken, and fingerprint scan, and being swiped through a turnstile by a guard. Exiting the premise on motorcycles, however, involved nothing more than driving through gap of some tire puncturing spikes at the exit gate, no questions asked. Nobody asked to see paper work, passports, nada. We had inquired at the exit gate with the officers if they want to see paperwork and they just waved us through. What the hell??? Another insanely stupid process.

    We arrived back at our hostel without much fanfare and are parked in the public, but pretty secure lot next door.

    ——

    For those of you who are interested in shipping your bike with Girag in the future, here are some useful contacts.

    Xenia Juardo
    xenia.jurado@girag.com.pa

    She either speaks something English, or uses Google Translate. She is the one who sort of have us the runaround, but is seems to be the most common contact (Panama)

    There is also a contact in Bogotá by the name of Rosalinda (or something close) at 57-312-457-2305. She is speaks Spanish, but using various “friends” we were able to get real answers about where the bikes were at.
    #29
  10. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2014-02-28:

    I am writing from Aguachica, Colombia, a via point to northern Colombia. Over the last couple of days, having left Bogotá, we have stayed in Villa de Leyva (a small non-quite-UNESCO-but-should colonial town), and San Gil (a tourist hub to adventure sports enthusiasts).

    We arrived in Aquachica yesterday evening following a long, hard day riding through the winding Colombian Andes, which for the most part, involved crawling behind trucks at 25km/hr while repeatedly attempting to pass, only to end up behind another parade of trucks. Much of the scenery was very beautiful, but it is often hard to get a good view of the landscape, especially on hairpin turns, and winding switchbacks. Over the last couple of days, we have had more than our fair share of homicidal drivers, and at least a few were tractor trailer drivers. Yes, Jenn was actually forced onto the shoulder deliberately by a truck driver who felt that she was holding up his progress. Yes. I did get a photo of his license plate and "how is my driving" phone number.

    Aquachica seems to be a nice enough place. While originally a simple overnight stop for us, we ended up staying the day to perform our much needed oil changes, and some other general clean up, including brake work and giving some attention to my front bearing. We took a room at “La Nueva Hosteria Del Viajero” - with their super friendly staff - we were encouraged to bring our bikes into the lobby, which we did. Noticing a parking lot next door that was affiliated with the hotel, we obtained permission to perform prior mentioned work.

    [​IMG]

    The parking lot also housed a small hand-wash for cars and motorcycles and is operated by a bunch of nice “kids” (early 20's?) - mainly young women - who, in some way, reminded me of the “Junk Yard Gang” from Fat Albert. They sort of just hung around and lazed about until a client showed up, at which time they scurried together and and got washing. Upon completion of our work, Jenn and I ended up “splurging” on a couple of COP5.0000 (CAD$2.50) bikes washes. While not absolutely spotless, they did a pretty good job including degreasing and waxing so our bikes look pretty sweet and renewed (and spared Jenn, for at least a little while, from having to clean her chain. We ended up hanging out with them for a bit , showing them Canadian money at their repeated request, and basically having them make fun of us for our poor Spanish.

    [​IMG]

    Evenings have involved somewhat of an 'eating tour' of the city. We wandered around sampling the offerings at street carts - pizza, chorizo on chopped tamales, BBQ beef with yucca, etc. Its not a particularly big city, but bustling with motorcycles. While I have never been to places like Bangkok, I would imagine a similarity here. We counted for a bit, and it could be a minute or two before a car passed on the street, while it is teaming with motorcycles - probably 20 motorcycles per car or truck. You can imagine that we looked pretty cool on our "super tall" motorcycles when were were cruising around today looking for oil. More than a few heads turned. Jenn commented that she felt like Charlie (Boorman) and Ewan (MacGregor) with such a large caravan of motorcycle riders behind us.

    [​IMG]

    We agreed that our experience in Aquachica was similar to that of other towns and cities where we were - or so it seemed - the only tourists around. It is not that we don’t enjoy more touristy areas at times, but it is nice to just find ourselves somewhere, without English, forcing us to communicate in Spanish, mingling and eating locally, and not partaking in a service-to-tourists culture. Surely it is nice to have these options from time-to-time - for example, the other day we could have had sushi in the Colombia Highlands. We didn’t but it would have be a curious familiarity. Not that we don’t want to change it up from time to time, but we didn’t come to Colombia to eat Japanese cuisine. That said, eating “Chifa” - or Chinese food as it is prepared in Peru - in Colombia is intriguing. We did stop at the place serving this, but we reconsidered.

    [​IMG]

    Prior to Aguachica, we stayed in San Gil. We didn’t really know what to make of it. It was supposed to be the adventure sport hub of the region offering rafting, climbing, and other activities like this for your average adrenaline junkie. For the most part, we are riding motorcycles which is adventure enough and we don’t really have the money for frequent day excursions. The town seemed charming enough, but was a little touristy for us from what we saw of it. We stayed at “Sam’s VIP Boutique Mansion”, seemingly a new addition to “Sam’s VIP Hostel” and being an old hotel which really needed a refresh, including proper locks on doors, and working hinges. We landed here specifically because it offered secure parking, and since we arrived at dark, it became treacherous going up and down the steep side streets. I would go as far as to say some where at a 40 degree grade. In the end, our “private room” with private bathroom (which we wouldn’t have paid for if there was another option) was a six bed dorm (only us) which didn’t exactly scream “boutique” as is “Sam’s” self-described image. We have, however, noticed a trend when checking in - if we say that we are only staying for one night we are put in the rooms that are less attractive.

    Prior to San Gil, we spent three nights in a lovely spot just outside of Villa de Leyva at the Hostel Renacer (and Colombian Highlands tour operator) sleeping in our tent. On the way, we stopped in Sutamarchan at a BBQ spot where Jorge took me three years ago. Hostel Renacer is super affordable (if you camp) and the hostel grounds are very nice, nestled in the foothills above Villa de Leyva. Here we met some new friends including several couples from Europe driving in massive over-landing trucks (MAN and Uni-Mog), as well as a couple and their daughter who were originally from Brazil, living in Toronto, and driving an RV down to Brazil, before heading back to Toronto to save up for their next adventure.

    [​IMG]

    In Villa de Leyva, we spent a day on a self-guided foot tour of the village, and another day trying to obtain insurance for our bikes. Having retrieved our bikes from the airport a few days prior, we asked the customs agent if insurance was mandatory for motorcycles in Colombia. She told us that it wasn’t, but her response didn’t sit well with me. A little research showed that it was indeed mandatory, and while some successfully travel without it, it can be risky and not without a hassle if you are asked for an insurance slip at a police or military check-point.

    [​IMG]

    By the time we had retrieved our bikes, on the Friday, and with short business hours on Saturdays, we realized that obtaining insurance wasn’t going to happen immediately. We did some more research and attempted to find a place on the way to Villa de Leyva but we were not successful. In Villa de Leyva, we found a place that sold SOAT, or the type of insurance we required, and while the agents were very helpful and spent a little time with us, the process wasn’t going to be straight forward to buy a short term policy. Colombians are generally required to buy a years worth - they said that they could sell us three months worth but somewhere within the transaction, it was explained to us a that a nearby town had an office of insurance specialists that could sell us a short term policy.

    [​IMG]

    Leaving Villa de Leyva, we headed to Tunja, on the way to San Gil. A series of delays took place due to road repair on the way to Tunja which resulted in our arrival at the Previsora Seguro office at 11:30am. Most official offices in Colombia seem to take a full lunch from noon until 2pm, as is apparently custom in much of Latin America. Arriving in their office, it was clear that we were not in Bogotá. Apart from language frustrations, I was probably one of the only non-Colombians to ever step foot inside of their office. While I believe that my basic request was understood, it seemed that instead of one person speaking more slowly and…being…better…understood, they preferred to add another person and then another to the mix in an effort to bring clarity. At the height of the conversation, there were four staff trying to speak to me at once, including the security guard.

    I am sure that they were having a good go at me with my poor Spanish and directly laughing at me. Without the ability to retort, I could only mention to them in my head that they should be on their best behaviour as they would soon be the subject of a blog post. Laughing and making fun of "the Gringo" is not good practice - and becomes worse when your are in a relatively nice office, dressed in business clothes. I guess the joke is now on them.

    With our 650cc motorcycles being such massive beasts in Colombia, we weren’t even listed on the price chart, and with the closest vehicle being a “motocarro” - or a part motorcycle/part car sort of vehicle. Being so close to lunch, staff - including the cashier - started to take their leave. Several people sat with me (actually I was standing) presumably well into their lunches. Originally it was “impossible” for me to get a one month term with terms being mentioned such as “equality amongst all Colombians”, etc. In addition, the young lady at the desk was not able to answer my questions with regards to price until she had basically completed the entire form in the computer. This included stumbling around with my first names, and 'strange' single last names. In Colombia, it is common to have two given names and two last names. Perhaps she was too proud to ask questions, although I had inquired whether she had any.

    As time went on, the young lady seemed less in the mood for humour at the expense of me, and was appreciating my attempt at a bit of cultural exchange, and my explanation that two last names is not common in North America. She turned out to be fairly pleasant once the "circus left town". Speaking of circuses, it seems strange to me that it is acceptable for the security guard - who is wearing the mark of an outside security firm and not this company - to cross on the inside of the desk, start looking at passports for his own interest, and generally getting involved in areas of specific process which would seem to be outside of the job of providing security. This is not the first time that we have seen this recently. It seems like they must be bored, listen to enough of the day-to-day business, and act as auxiliary staff - strange - at least for me.

    So back to this “equality amongst Colombians” statement. I found this strange as one of the women who had left for lunch was very insistent that two months was the shortest term I could get. I had stated that “many tourists have received one months” (as per the internet). She seemed a little shocked that I had access to this knowledge. That being said, her statement didn’t make a lot of sense but I may have been missing something. If we were working with price equality amongst all in Colombia, surely I would either be stuck paying for a year like the average Jose, or perhaps only three months being “pro-rated” to the maximum stay as per our visas and temporary import permits. Where two months comes from is beyond me. So with most people on lunch, I was quoted for two months for two bikes. I explained that this was a little expensive for one month. A gentleman chimed in that it was a good price for two months and I retorted that I only needed one month. He volleyed back “but for two months” and I retorted “but not for one”. Like some magic had taken place, all of the sudden, I was offered insurance until the end of March, magically changed to one month a little later.

    I was satisfied with US$15/month/bike. That said, being lunch, we were required to return in 1.5 hours when the cashier was back. With Jenn waiting patiently watching our bikes outside (“You wait here, I’ll be back in a few minutes” - or not!), we took turns finding a bathroom, and then fetching a simple lunch - a big soup, juice, and chicken, rice, pasta, potatoes and salad for about US$2.50 each. I guess you have to look around, and it's all about location, but we spent about ten times this amount on lunch in downtown Bogotá for three people early this week with less food.

    At five to two, I was at their door and found the security guard doing security. After exactly 300 seconds of waiting, I was let through the door and I paid for our insurance in cash. Strangely it was slightly cheaper than quoted to earlier since they slips were magically changed from “the end of March” to 30 days. My name also wasn’t listed on the policy, but Jenn’s was on both with one of them prefixed as “CANJENN” - presumably she confused our country of original for one of Jenn’s names. While I inquired about the the issue (lack of my name) she said it would not be a problem, but there was an issue with the entry in the system and since the rest of my info matched (it did) there would be no issue.

    [​IMG]

    So having left San Gil the following day, we were stopped by police at a random check point on the way to Aquachica. I was definitely asked for my insurance slip which the simple presence of met the office approval. Let’s just say that I am glad that we got insurance and didn’t just ignore it. Maybe they would have let it go, but it is within their right to impound our bikes - i.e. super big hassle. In the end the cops were friendly, had questions, got

    involved in photos and were insistent that we took photos of the vista behind their booth looking down into deep valley. Perhaps some of it was Jenn playing her “female card”. Having removed her helmet, there was some surprise that she was female . Us noting their police issue Suzuki DR650 sitting across the road at their post, it was probably more of a surprise to them to find a female piloting the same model of bike as they ride - and probably one of the two rides on the back. I wasn’t about to get into smart remarks about riding “quatro cajones”, but let's just say that it was tempting.
    [​IMG]

    Villa de Leyva, Colombia photos can be found here.

    Aguachica, Colombia photos can be found here.
    #30
  11. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2014-03-06:

    I am writing from Hostal Finca Escondida near Palomino, Colombia. We are on the Caribbean coast, and not too far from Santa Marta.

    [​IMG]

    Finca Escondida is a very nice spot. We found it via an internet search as is boasts camping amongst other amenities. We are finding the cost of travel living in Colombia more expensive than most of the Central American countries we travelled through, so camping is a welcome relief to our budget. Finca Escondida, nor the other handful of accommodations “on the strip”, are not obvious to find but there is a fair amount of tourism here. For the backpackers, they are basically dropped off by the bus in this very small town, and are most likely relying on a couple of maps painted on brick walls showing where the hostels are, or they take a “moto-taxi”.

    While the main road is a little ways from the shore, one would have absolutely no idea that these amenities were right here. To get to the beach you have to choose any number of small dirt (sandy) roads (tracks) and meander your way through a grid pattern until you find the beach. Since we came to Palomino via the east, there were no signs indicating anything in the way of a beach in the vicinity, even though the internet promised signs pointing the way. One pass through the town without seeing signs, we turned around and immediately the signs and maps became evident. Apparently once one approached from the west, we found the hostel pretty easily, but it is about a 30 minute walk “into town” to buy provisions.

    [​IMG]

    The restaurant here is a little pricey. This isn’t really a surprise. I would hardly call the town “stocked”. One can buy the basics but there isn’t really a supermarket. You aren’t even going to necessarily find much more than very common fruits and vegetables here (common for the area, that is, but quite exotic for back home). In this sense, the restaurant has to be carting in supplies from somewhere, which seem to be delivered by wheelbarrow, as we have not seen cars or trucks coming into the hostel. Backpackers coming in generally take a “moto-taxi” - i.e. their backpack goes over the handlebars, and they get on the back of the motorcycle.

    In terms of the restaurant, we ordered fried fish for dinner the first night. When we are getting planted somewhere, the first night we often just “press the easy button”. We haven’t gotten organized yet, found the places to buy food more cheaply, and are tired. The fish wasn’t bad, but it was kind of small and overcooked. Coming in at US$20 for two people, it wasn’t really worth the money and a bit disappointing. Breakfast can be had much cheaper so we usually eat the breakfast, then walk into “town” for a bigger lunch, and bring some stuff back for dinner. Last night it was a sausage pasta with an onion and tomato sauce with avocado on the side. Tonight it will be a macaroni and tuna salad. No decent avocados to be found today. Cocktails here - besides the happy hour selection - are about US$5.00 each, which while a little cheaper than Canada, it is probably on par with US prices (a little high for our budget), so we just grab some beer from “town” as well.

    The grounds, themselves, are quite lovely [note: there is a chicken near my foot as I write], with palm trees and mango trees, decent bathrooms and showers, and all of the buildings covered with palm fronds roofing. We can almost see the ocean from our tent, and can certainly hear it. I would say that it is one of the nicest looking beaches we have seen to-date. The ocean itself is warm, full of big waves and signs on the shore that you can be dragged out to sea to your death, but we have found wading in the waves very enjoyable - I would say “swimming” would be difficult and unpleasant. We liked it enough to stay a couple of days.

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    The temperatures here are warm. It is fine to swim during the full sun, but we didn’t much feel like sitting on the beach for any amount of time until milder sun in the afternoon. We are not using the fly on our tent, and only our silk sleeping bag liners and it is still quite warm in the late evening. It eventually “cools” off a bit, but not enough to even consider getting underneath a sleeping bag. We have had no lack of sun, and have had the opportunity to enjoy it, which isn’t always the case on the bikes.

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    Since we left Aquachica, we have had a lot of sun. We are seeing temperatures just shy of 40 degrees Celsius while riding the bikes and we drink a lot of water. Colombia is a country of “road work” and we have scarcely has a day which we didn’t have at least one stop of 15 minutes or so. During this time, our bike thermometers that measure the ambient temperatures of our bikes are hitting 50 degrees Celsius. While this isn’t reflective of the actual temperature outside, it does reflect the temperature around the engine of a motorcycle which we are sitting on top of; let’s just say that it is hot!

    Our stop prior to Palomino was in a city called Valledupar. This city was suggested to us by our new friend, David, who we met in the hotel in Aguachica. He indicated that it would be a great party on Saturday night and while we had intended on getting there on a Saturday night, it didn’t work out that way and we rode in on a Sunday. It also seemed to make sense as a mid-way stop before we reached Santa Marta and possibly Tayrona National Park. Needless to say, we were not completely enamored with it. There was nothing wrong with it, but being tagged as the “greenest city” in Colombia, we were both felt that there was a little lacking in this statement as all we really saw was a lot of mango trees. The central square was sort of typical. Nice but not unique (although it did have quite an interesting statue). Upon arrival at the Hostal Provincia, we hit the Exito supermarket. While it was a very well stocked supermarket rivalling those in North America, the lines through the cashiers were painfully slow - why not operate all cash registers during rush hour?? - and errands cut into our evening.

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    Hostal Provincia was a bit of a strange place. It had easy to access secure parking on the rear, and quite a nice private room with a comfortable bed and A/C, although a little more than we would have liked to have paid. I think that it might be a part of this “boutique hostel” wave that seems to be taking over Colombia. A few things surprised us. For one, there was no mention of coffee in the AM, nor any guidance to how to go around making it. One basically had to look around for coffee, then the utensils, etc. This was a first. Also, while we were specifically invited to use the kitchen, and it looked like a normal hostel kitchen, in the AM a staff member was basically lined up to get breakfast going for herself and another staff member. While there weren’t many guests staying here, and they were not lining up for the kitchen, I felt more pressured to get finished with the kitchen than other hostels which didn’t seem right. Paying guests should probably come first. The vibe seemed to be that of a husband and wife who had bought a hostel, then moved in with the idea that they could make some money and pay off their home while having strangers stay there, yet not quite knowing exactly what they were getting into.

    The riding in general, while not particularly challenging, is scenic enough and varies a lot. For quite some time, we rode through what resembles, and what I would imagine riding through African savannahs would look like. While we know that we are in Colombia, we almost expect to see lions or elephants lazing under the shade in the afternoon heat. Quite a surprise to our eyes. Cactus have shown up again, and at times almost desert conditions, and then dropping down into valleys, things become green and lush without warning. And back into to palm trees again.

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    Another thing to note that while gas is expensive in central Colombia, say around Bogota, it is dirt cheap up here. We have gone passed a number of strips where people were selling gas out of barrels amongst defunct gas stations. I don’t know for certain, but I am imagining the the local gas stations must have been put out of business by people carting in cheap gas from Venezuela, as we were riding very close to the border. In Bogota, I am sure we were paying close to COP8.000 (or US4.00) per gallon. We are now seeing gas for COP6.000, COP5.000, and even COP4.000 - so unless I am mistaken, this means a gallon of gas can be had for about US$2.00. Yes! We will be filling up our 8.5 gallon / 32litre gas tanks often.

    Palomino photos are here.

    Valledupar photos are here.
    #31
  12. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on 2014-03-11:

    Hola from Cartagena! Today is our first full day back on the grid and it’s been grand! Cartagena is a beautiful city perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in the Caribbean, and we spent this morning exploring the walled city, and its fantastic colonial architecture, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

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    We arrived in the city on Sunday afternoon, sort of by chance. Over the past few weeks we have been making our way north from Bogotá and while we had it in our minds that we would like to visit Cartagena, truth be told, as we neared the Caribbean coast we weren’t really feeling the city vibe any longer.

    Colombia has a lot of cities, and as we have griped before, our GPS-es like to take us through the heart of each and every one of them which is surprising a) since I repeatedly check to make sure that I have it set to the ‘fastest route’, and b) that Colombia doesn’t seem to have grasped the concept of a ‘by-pass’ - assuming that the GPS is always truly selecting the fastest route. We had grown weary of fighting the tangles of traffic in the oppressive heat.

    By chance, however, as we left Minca (I will get back to our adventures in Minca shortly) we passed by a fellow motorcycle traveller parked on the side of the road just outside of a small fishing town. We stopped to say hello and David, who had arrived in Cartagena via the Stahlratte (the boat that we were going to take but was running a different route when we were ready to depart Panama) a few days ago, told us that the city was beautiful and that it was a “do-not-miss”. He also gave us the name of the hostel that he had been staying at with the other motorcycle travellers who had also come to Colombia by boat. As we found, three or four in total who were still at the hostel. As we exchanged contact information, said our “see-you-laters”, and went on our separate ways, we decided that we would go to Cartagena after all. It was actually a lot closer than was apparent on the map.

    To back track a little, lately it’s been a little rough for me on the ole motorcycle traveller’s road. I have been feeling quite homesick, missing my family and friends, and many of the comforts that come from being stationary and not living out of a duffel bag. When we left Palomino and arrived in the beautiful and isolated mountain village of Minca, my only thoughts were of how quickly I could turn around and get back to Bogota in order to catch a flight home. While the idea of this type of travel sounds exciting and adventurous - which it is - it is also a lot of work. It’s a nomadic lifestyle that often results in many compromises in terms of comfort level, which can become tiring. I’m not sure if Colombia represents a bigger leg of our journey (i.e. the realization that I am just that much further from home), or if I am truthfully getting tired of the travel lifestyle, or if we just started South America off on the wrong foot (cold and wet weather, a head cold, intermittent stomach ailments, and increased tension between us), but ever since we landed in Bogota things have been slightly miserable for me.

    As I eluded to earlier, we spent three nights camping on the beach at Finca Escondida in Palomino, then packed up and headed to Minca which is roughly fifteen kilometres from Santa Marta, a major beach and tourist destination, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. We pitched camp at San Souci (a Life Remotely stopover), from where we could see Santa Marta on the coast (the view was particularly nice at night with the city lights shining in the distance). We were greeted by Chris, the owner, who showed us around his property which was lush and dense jungle with great groves of bamboo and mango trees towering above us.

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    What we thought was a rain shower turned out to be male cicadas leashing forth their liquid pheromones in order to attract female cicadas (yes, thoughts of being swarmed by female cicadas passed through my head, as I stood their dripping with pheromones, as I surely appeared to be the most attractive and largest cicada in the jungle). Apparently we had arrived just in time for the height of cicada mating season, and as we were soon to find out, the evenings, nights, and mornings would be filled with dodging juices from above, avoiding their kamikaze flight paths, and trying to ignore the shrill squealing that is their song. It was seriously loud but at least we had a nice view.

    We shared our tent space area with Masa, a fellow from Japan who had been touring the world on a Honda Africa Twin motorcycle for the past five years. We had first caught wind of Masa in Villa de Leyva while we were staying at Hostal Renacer, where he had been staying for a few days prior to our arrival. It was nice to catch up with him finally.

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    The village of Minca (just below us along a broken dirt road) was quite small, but seemed to be on the verge of a breakout in terms of tourism. Amongst the town’s offerings (though you wouldn’t necessarily know it from the outside) were many hotels and restaurants including a cafe where you could get a cafe latte, a few shops, and a market on Saturday. As we had been lucky enough to arrive on the weekend, we decided to check out the market. The market turned out to be two stalls on the church grounds, one of which was manned by another guest at Sans Souci. He (Gin) told us that the previous week there had been six stalls, so it was a little disappointing that only two had shown up and no patrons. We did, however, sample a couple of cups of “hot chocolate” which was made from locally produced cacao, sugar and water (no milk).

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    Alright, back to the camping… Our tent space was down a little pathway into the jungle, perched on a hillside overlooking the flora and fauna of the trees. It was idyllic and quite something. Fortunately, Chris had reassured me that creepy crawlies were few and far between and that cicadas were probably the worst of what we would see during our stay. The area was a bit of an “island” and, as such, snakes and scorpions were fairly rare. This turned out to be true (*phew), aside from the sand fleas, which I thought we surely would have left behind at the beach at Palomino. My legs were already covered in bites from these nasty little buggers but I was soon to discover that they have no qualms about feeding off of sites already bitten by other sand fleas. I no longer have to worry about mosquitoes, it seems, as sand fleas seem to have the market cornered in terms of itchiness and annoying-ness.

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    On day two of our stay in the hills of Minca we decided to go for a swim (not in the swimming pool at the campsite since it looked a little murky) at the natural pools and waterfalls, a short hike away. On the way we stopped for lunch at Asadero Camarita En La Sierra - where we dined on roasted chicken, smoked pork, chorizo, yucca, and potatoes in the company of some very nervous looking chickens, and one large and exceedingly handsome rooster. The owner, who reportedly is seventy years old, slaughters and smokes his own meat, and did a great job of it, at that.

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    The view from where we ate was one of the most spectacular places that I have ever eaten lunch. The hike to the Pozo Azul (blue pools) was along a dirt jungle road that dipped and twisted down the mountainside to the river. When we arrived we were greeted with what appeared to be a family reunion, about thirty people of various ages swimming, and cooking lunch in a big pot over a fire. I was a little turned off to see a woman cleaning a raw chicken in the river that I would be swimming in, but since she was doing it down stream, apparently that made it alright. The swimming hole wasn’t very big and with so many people at it, it was definitely crowded. It was quite beautiful though with a waterfall emptying into the pool. The water was pretty cold though (think a swimming pool in May in Ontario) and we didn’t end up staying too long.

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    The evening ended on a bit of a high note though with a sighting of a pair of keel-billed toucans in the treetops, fallowed by a visit from a group of Colombia spider monkeys at nightfall (Adam missed the monkeys). Despite these great wildlife encounters, and great sleeping in our tent, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. It was a beautiful place, but the constant barrage of biting insects (despite long pants and bug spray), the swarms of cicadas from above, an upset stomach, and a feeling of a lack of privacy all put a damper on my mood. I was itching for a bed in a room with a door, and a phone call home.

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    As we left Minca, and headed back down the dirt road to the highway (and the one and only by-pass we have seen in Colombia - around Santa Marta), the mood was pretty low. Being out of touch with back home for almost a week, not feeling great, and now covered in bug bites, we weren’t sure what direction our trip was taking. Would this be the end for me?? Was I truthfully ready to pack it in and go home? In some ways, doing so would be admitting defeat and giving in to my fears, which I didn’t want. Also the complaints that I have been hearing on Facebook about the snow and cold don’t really sound appealing, and as much as travel is work, it’s not sitting at a desk and I am certainly not ready to go back to that type of work just yet. So we pressed on and now we are in Cartagena.

    The ride here, along the Atlantic coast was marvelous. The roads were flat, paved, and fast, and took us through some amazing landscapes. One great thing about Colombia is that motorcyclists don’t have to pay tolls, of which there are many. We have our own by-pass lane to the right of the top booths that allow us to cruise through without having to struggle with taking of helmets, gloves, and find change - it’s incredibly convenient and something that ought to be adopted in the rest of the world.

    We arrived at the Amber Hostel on election day - traffic was light, but unfortunately alcohol sales are banned on election days, so that beer that we were craving was not to be found at the end of our ride day. There wasn’t any obvious parking but the owner brought out a plank of wood to lay across the steps and curb in order to get the bikes inside the hostel, through the lobby, and into the courtyard. As promised, there were already two other bikes there: a BMW F800GS belonging to Sheldon (Australia) and Eve (Poland), and a Triumph Tiger 800XC belonging to Johnny from Alabama. It was great to be amongst other motorcycle travellers and feel a sense of connection, and to finally be able to swap some of my own stories with theirs.

    Johnny, a southern gentleman - complete with his Cajun accent, is fairly new to motorcycle travel and sounds like he is having the time of his life. Sheldon, and more recently Eve who joined Sheldon a year ago, has been to dozens and dozens of countries and had many stories to tell and a wealth of knowledge. Jeffrey Polnaja, a man from Indonesia, also made an appearance having gone for a quick trip up the coast and not present the first night. Being probably the first and only Indonesian to ride around the world on a motorcycle, Jeffrey had many interesting stories to tell as well. We hope to keep in touch with them all, and see them down the road.

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    Speaking of roads, city had decided to start tearing up the road in front of our hostel, so Tuesday morning was spent hucking all of the bikes, except for Jeffrey’s - who couldn’t get his bike to the hostel in the first place - over the concrete rubble with a gradual bunch of send offs. Seeing off our new biker friends, we also realized that we had lost some strong biceps and opted to move our own bikes to a local secure parking lot rather than risk being stuck at our hostel due to road work.

    All things being said and done, our room is comfortable with air conditioning (which is greatly appreciated in the 30 degree heat) and we have a private bath. It is definitely nice to recharge after being outside in the elements for a week (I know, where has that Girl Guide in me gone?).

    Minca photos
    Cartagena photos
    #32
  13. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on 2014-03-25:

    Woah! We have some catch-up to do! It's been an eventful twenty-odd days since we last checked in!

    We are currently back in the Andes in a city called Pasto, approximately 100 kilometres from the Ecuadorian border. Although not a very pretty city, it does have some pretty nice colonial buildings (all in various states) and some pretty amazing churches. We are here trying to intercept a package that contains a replacement screen for Chromebook which cracked badly some time ago. It's been a little tricky having only one computer, so it would nice to have two again. Receiving the package, however, has so far turned out to be a bit of a hassle. At this point there is a chance we are going to have to just "return to sender" and try something else - while it has been in Colombia for more than a week - it doesn't appear to be clearing customs and arriving in Pasto in a timely fashion.

    Anyway, what have we been up to, you ask?

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    We stayed for two days in Cartagena (wow, it seems so long ago!). There was a bit of excitement on day one when we returned from our day wandering to find a construction crew in the process of ripping up the street in front of our hostel. Not too much of an issue for your average backpacker, but for those of us who had rolled our bikes up a plank, through the front doors, and into the courtyard, it was somewhat of a big deal. As previously mentioned, there were a handful of other motorcycle travellers staying at the Amber Hostel, so the next morning we had somewhat of a motorcycle moving party, where we all pitched in to help each other wheel, carry, and push the bikes through the door, down the plank, and over the broken road. While we stayed an extra night, we bid farewell to our new friends - Johnny (Alabama), Jeffrey (Indonesia), and Sheldon (Australian) and Ewa (Poland) - who were pushing forward on their adventures.

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    There is not too much else to add about our Cartagena experience, except that if you ever have the chance to see it - you should take it. The walled city is beautiful and filled with colourful colonial buildings, boutiques, restaurants, and cafes. The walls themselves are well-preserved, and afford nice views of the ocean from the top. Saying good-bye to Cartagena, we began our return trip down south through the Cordillera Occidental (the western section of Andes). The temperatures continued to be consistent in the mid-thirties which made for some hot, sweaty riding, and peaked at an overnight stop in Caucasia.

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    The city itself turned out to be nothing special to look at so we ended up taking a room at a hotel alongside the highway (Hotel Chambacu). Behind its red and white exterior, it had a swimming pool, a restaurant, lots of parking, and rooms with private bathrooms. It also was connected to a love motel, in case one should need that extra bit of privacy. Although it was late afternoon when we checked in, we hurriedly unpacked the bikes and changed into our swimsuits in order to take advantage of the swimming pool, which was warm, refreshing, and just what we needed after a long, stinky hot day in the saddle. Upon returning from our swim we discovered that the lock was broken (not as in 'broken into' but as in 'the lock is broken and now we can't get into our room to get our stuff'- i.e. change out of our bathing suits). After the hotel custodian tried in vain to get the lock to work, he ended up removing the bars and screen from the window and breaking in so that we could get our things and move into a fully functioning room.

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    After our mini break in the jungle (although technically not in the jungle, this place felt just as jungle-y as some of the places that we had recently camped with cicadas, lizards in the room, and mosquitos abound), it was time for another long ride day as we headed to Medellin.

    From day one in Colombia, I had been looking forward to visiting Medellin. In its former days (1980s), Medellin was known as the most violent city in the world as a result of an urban war started by drug cartels. Since then, and since the death of Pablo Escobar, things have chilled out and Medellin is now one of the top tourist destinations in Colombia. When we arrived at rush hour on a Thursday afternoon, however, it was far from on the top places that I wanted to be. I had read that Medellin had the worst traffic in Colombia, and it certainly held up its end of this rumour. We were later to discover that since it had been raining for a number of days prior to our arrival, part of the metro tracks had been flooded out, which also contributed to the clogged arterial roads. Luckily we had done our homework and had pin-pointed a hostel to stay at upon our arrival. It's no fun searching for accommodations in the dark, especially in a big city, so this was a bonus, and we set our GPS in the direction of Casa Kiwi.

    Arriving there at six p.m., we were surprised to hear that although they boasted being biker friendly and had on-site parking, they were totally unprepared for when bikers (us) actually showed up (to which it was explained that we are travelling rather late in the season and most bikers had already passed through). The garage, into where we managed to cram our bikes, was full of bicycles, renovation materials, the hostel garbage receptacle, and the cat's litter box. The hostel was located downtown in the Zona Rosa (i.e. expensive bars and clubs), and was pretty nice, in terms of appearance; lots of bamboo, a bar that stocked craft beers [edit: including an excellent American Pale Ale] , a theatre for television viewing, a very clean kitchen, rooftop swimming pool, fountains, etc. We, however, were once again checked into the ghetto room on the ghetto side of the hostel. The closest bathroom looked like a bomb had gone off in it. Our bed was broken. And, as we were to find out later, our room was also above the bar area and faced the street, which is apparently where people went to drink, smoke, and be loud until the wee hours of the morning. They also had the gall to charge the same amount of money (and in some cases, more) for our crap room as the renovated rooms on the zen side. In any case, it turned out to be a party hostel with revellers going strong until 6:20 a.m. Saturday morning, and not really our thing. Very disappointing, Casa Kiwi.

    That evening we met up with Jorge, whom Adam had met in 2010 in Bogota through a series of unusual events. Jorge brought along his colleague, and we all went out for dinner. This evening we would be dining at Chez Subway, and then hit a bar for a few beers. I was somewhat confused when the waiter brought me a straw through which to drink my beer, but looking around it was apparent that this is what Colombian girls did. I'm not sure whether the purpose is to save their lipstick, but since I wasn't wearing any, I forwent the straw and drank it as a good ole' Canadian girl would drink it, straight from the neck. Adam had a good catchup with Jorge, a long awaited meeting.

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    As we had arrived late on Thursday, and we were eager to see some of what Medellin offered, we stayed the next day and headed off to Parque Arvi, which was located a short metro ride away, and up a series telefericos (cable cars) to the mountain park. Once there, we soon discovered that we should have left a whole day for discovering, as the park was quite sizable, and it was a little unclear as to where the attractions actually were. An English speaking park representative informed us that there were tours available (in Spanish only), and that there were very limited walking trails open at the time. After a short walk down the road, we decided to have lunch, and then take the cable car back to the hotel. Another miss for Medellin. But the cable car ride was very enjoyable, very scenic, and quite an amazing thing in the middle of a city. As neighbourhoods were built on the side of the mountain, the cable cars were integrated into part of the public transit system, and people were taking the cable car home as one might take the subway or bus.

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    After a second sleepless night at Casa Kiwi, we decided that we had had enough of Medellin, and headed off to coffee country. Our journey took us along the Ruta de Café - a beautiful, scenic part of the Pan-American highway that winds its way through valleys, and clings to the sides of the mountains, all while showing off its lush greenness. Great riding. A little chilly. And a short burst of heavy rain.

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    We arrived at Hacienda Venecia, a coffee farm and hostel outside of Manizales. It was time for a bit of R &amp; R, and a break from the cities. The hostel offered camping, and we pitched our tent on a hillside overlooking a river. It was a quaint finca set amongst coffee plants, and complete with a swimming pool, and a red and white house that served as the hostel. We joined the other guests that night for dinner, served family style, where we met Rich and Mikel, two travellers who were volunteering at the hostel (one doing web design, and the other, an architect, designing a new hostel for the owners).

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    We would spend two full days here, enjoying the swimming pool, catching up on some reading, and taking a very informative coffee tour. It was a paradise. And somewhat difficult to leave when it was time to move on, although not very close to town, we were looking forward to reaching Salento, another town in the coffee region with a campsite a mere ten minutes (walking) outside of town.

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    The road into Hacienda Venecia, a single lane, dirt and gravel road that snaked its way down a mountainside, while fun to ride and not a problem on the way in, proved to be a whole other monster on the way out. As it had been raining off and on for the three days we were there, the dirt road was now quite wet with some slick mud spots, new ruts, and some gravel run-off. I have never boasted to be a good off-road rider. And we had not been on the road for five minutes before we encountered one of those mean elbow turns on an up-slope, that has always been a challenge for me. While I clearly can see the mechanics of how to tame the beast, it just doesn't seem to be within my skill-set to make the mechanics happen. This particular morning, I decided to try for the constant speed tactic coupled with the wide tire track. It all went well until I hit the apex of the turn, and realized that the shoulder was coming just too close. Confidently, after a mild panic, I knew that I had to turn the bike sharply to the left and back onto the road, but when I leaned on the bars, the bike did not go the way I intended, and realized that the soft should had already had me in its grips. The bike slid sideways into the ditch, as the front wheel buried itself into the mud, and my bashplate hit a concrete support. I launched off the bike and lay in the middle of the road, unsure whether I was hurt, but clearly shaken. Not a great way to start off a day's ride.

    Adam came back to rescue me, and collect me off the road. I now knew what it was like to be thrown from a bike. I can't say that I would recommend it, but now know that it is possible to survive minor throwings. Although a woman had rushed out of her house to see about all the commotion, it was apparently too much for her to put down her beverage and help, as Adam and I struggled to pull Millie from her muddy resting place. Caked in mud and grass, she didn't appear to have any damage, and shortly enough I was back in the saddle and back on our way, climbing the road back to the highway. Thankfully the rest of the road wasn't much of a challenge, and we were back on paved ground again before long.

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    Salento was only a few hours ride but a super amazing place when we got there (and after my spill, I was grateful for a shorter day on the bike). Although small, Salento turned out to be one of my most favourite places in Colombia. It is quaint, and full of artisans, restaurants, and hotels. We headed down another dirt road that lead out of town (a much less challenging road), to La Serrana, a beautiful ranch-style home perched atop a mountain, surrounded by rolling fields for grazing cattle. The grounds were covered in tropical flowers, and were frequented by many types of birds. Again, we opted to camp, and set our tent up amongst a small community of other tenters.

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    If Hacienda Venecia was a paradise, La Serrana was the paradise of all paradises. Hours could be spent (and were) simply lying in a hammock watching the world go by, admiring how the shifting clouds changed the landscape within seconds. Not much to do, and just the way I liked it. As it turned out, the food there was also amazing, and we eagerly signed up for BBQ night that night, and burger night on our last night (finally, a good burger!). On our second day in Salento, we ran into our friends Sheldon and Ewa (whom we met in Cartagena), and met them for dinner at one of the local eateries. It's been nice meeting so many travellers since arriving in Colombia, and especially since Cartagena. It makes me feel more like part of a community and less like we are out here on our own. While many people are interested in the bikes, and very interested in me as a female rider, it can feel a bit isolating.

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    Originally we were supposed to head back to Bogota to meet up again with Jorge, but Adam and I were starting to feel a bit pressured about our schedule. Jorge seemed to be a busy man, what with starting a new job, and we had already been in Colombia for over one month. With insurance about to expire, we decided to forgo a return trip to Bogota and continue south on our way to Ecuador. As a result we stayed in Salento for an extra day (doing not much of anything - perfect!) before heading to Cali.

    Cali is known as the salsa capital of Colombia, but for us, it was somewhat of a quick stopover. We ended up at Casa Blanca, a well-known haunt for motorcycle travellers, that boasted having parking. When we arrived, however, the parking turned out to be a lot down the street, even though the photo showed a garage clearly out front. Said garage had been walled over and now housed the room that we would be staying in for one night. The owner, an experienced motorcycle traveller himself, also owned Motolombia - a tour company - and a shop across the street from the hostel. And he was also in the process of selling the hostel, which would explain the slightly uncared for characteristic of the place (clean, but no hot water in some of the showers, handles falling off the toilets). We did spend some time at a local bike shop, getting acquainted with some of the locals, while we inspected my rear brake and o-rings in the carburetor. There is a pretty big culture of big bikes in Cali, with many big bore BMWs, and V-Stroms, as well as cruisers (especially Harley Davidson's). In the end, Cali turned out to be just another expensive city, and we headed to Popayan.

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    Known as the Cuided Blanco (the white city), due to the large number of whitewashed buildings in the historical district, Popayan was a real treat, and somewhere I wish we could have stayed longer. In fact, had I known what Pasto was like, I would have pushed for it a bit harder. Not to say that Pasto is a bad place, but Popayan is just prettier and more my speed. After hours of searching for somewhere to stay (it's hard to find places with on-site parking), we finally landed at La Caracol, a hostel with one room left and a parking lot nearby, on the edge of the historical district. Hot water in the showers and close to the main attractions, it was all that we needed for the night. The city turned out to be my speed, and we were able to walk to the main square, peek into some of the churches, and grab a bite of pizza before heading to bed.

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    If I might interrupt my blog post for a second, I have to say that Colombians really know what they are doing with pizza. In Guatemala we avoided it like the plague, but here, we have had pizza that rivals or bests pizza we have had in North America. In the fast food places where you can order by the slice, they bake the crust first, then put the toppings and cheese on and leave it unbaked until the customer orders it. You have to wait a little bit longer, but it makes such a difference to have freshly melted cheese rather than cheese that has been sitting out, cooled down, and is then re-melted. So, pizza in Colombia has been good. Not all of it. But a lot of it. But when it good, it is very good. Hint: we usually pass on the Hawaiian style pizzas as the candied pineapple topping is a little too sweet.

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    Which brings us to Pasto. I had heard that Pasto was sort of ugly, with not much going for it. Driving around for hours (again) during a mostly dead Sunday late afternoon, looking for a place to stay within our budget (and with most places running at around $100 per night, and not many hostels in sight), we took a place that cost $60 (Nogal Suite Inn). Still way out of our budget, but it included breakfast, and had very secure underground parking. It unfortunately didn't have any hot water (as promised) which is somewhat of a necessity here in the Andes, and somewhat unacceptable for a hotel charging $60 for one night.

    On our way way to the post office, which turned out to be closed on Mondays which is in contradiction to official hours on their website, we scoped out some new hotels in anticipation of dealing with this package we are waiting for. Again, there was nothing for under $100. We even humbly asked one hotel receptionist who said that it would be "impossible" to find something in the USD$40 range. Not quite believing this as a fellow we had just me the other night told us that he stayed at a decent place for about USD$20 near the main square. So our hunt for this $20/night hotels started to look less promising and we finally decided that we would have to see if we couldn't find a public parking place for our bikes and stay at the Koala Inn - the only hostel in the city. Not the best option, but workable. During our hunt, Jenn realized that one of the signs for a hotel she had seen earlier was on Pasto's second town squares. Yes - confusing, they have two town squares. There is presumably a main one, and a second one called "Plaza Carnaval". The latter being somewhat Soviet in characteristic with its cheerful Andean backdrop, and not so cheerful "working girls". While said hotel didn't have parking, the price dropped considerable. A moment later, Adam spotted a sign indicating that a hotel had parking.

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    Alas, we found Premier Hotel - almost an oasis for us. For well under half the price of the previous night, we have a nice, bright room which is much larger, lots of hot water, a roof "terrace" where we could wash our clothes, and a decent, multi-story fairly secure parking with an entrance not far from our room. While the previous place boasts a fancy website, and the chic look of a trying to be a fancy hotel, the Premier is much more approachable, seems to be family owned, and the operators bend over backwards to make you feel at home. We are going to make sure this place ends up in Open Street Maps for other motorcycles travellers.

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    Admittedly, Pasto started to grow on us - specifically with all of its interesting shops - many being a little gritty and offering things that we don't need. That said, it is amusing to walk down the street and talk about what we could buy if we really wanted to: baked goods, shoes, sausages, motorcycles, chainsaws, pressure cookers, art supplies, agricultural supplies, clothing, and you name it. While we have seen this vast array of goods on the main strip in much smaller towns, Pasto seems to have a lot of everything with walking distance of each other. And perhaps one of our favourites was a store called roughly in English "The Palace of Jackets" with the head of a Photoshopped smokey nostril fire breathing pussy cat as its logo. Meowwww.

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    Checking with the post office on Tuesday, we found nothing. This was a bit disappointing but not really a surprise. Having finally got some more information from DHL after having pressed the vendor (a second time), DHL has informed us that the package could be held for up to two weeks in customs. Not ideal and probably not workable. In the meantime, we spent some time buying some cheap new underwear and getting my battery tested (something is either not right with my battery and/or charging system). Luckily, the correct size battery is available locally for a reasonable price.

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    Associated photo galleries: Cartagena, Caucasia, Medellín, Manizales, Salento, Cali, Popayan, Pasto
    #33
  14. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Trans-Continental Mambo writes on 2014-03-29:

    Hi from the Equator! Well, not exactly. We were staying in a lovely little town called Otavalo roughly 37km north of the Equator, and are now south of the equator in Quito, a bustling, busy city.

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    A relatively short ride from Otavalo to Quito, we arrived here passing through many impressive landscapes, including by the snow-capped volcano Cayambe, and then being beaten by hail upon arrival at our destination. We had a quick ride through the old town (in the rain), then returned to the new town where we are now staying at the Backpackers Inn where we are surrounded by bars, clubs, and restaurants. It is somewhat confusing as there is no shortage of signage in the hostal warning its guests not to carry valuables, passports, etc., due to the high rate of petty theft in the area, however the area seems to launch into a full-fledged party zone at six p.m. with no shortage of people, and police.

    While we aren't quite sure of our plans in Quito, just yet, we are considering riding up a nearby volcano (depending on the condition of the roads due to all the recent rain), and perhaps a visit to a nearby church to see the painting of The Last Supper featuring cuy (guinea pig) as the main dish. As we mentioned, today's commute from Otavalo to Quito was relatively short, although we did cross the equator again, having visited the Quitsato Sundial monument yesterday.

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    While you can also read about it on the Wikipedia page found here, there are several aspects to its significance. What we learned is that, like any object standing at the Equator, on the Equinox (we were a week late with the spring Equinox being on March 21) an object such as the Quitsato sundial will have no shadow at noon as the sun is directly above it. And that objects on the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn will have no shadow on the summer and winter Solstices (June and December 21st).

    This monument, however, is part of a local movement to foster awareness and research into prehistoric (as explained, Pre-Incan) knowledge of the sun movement and astronomical calendars. As it turns out, a nearby volcano called Volcan Cayambe (yes, a snow-capped at the Equator - which I believe is unique) is almost exactly on the Equator. On the Equinox, the sun rises ever so slightly south of the peak of Cayambe making it a very interesting geographical phenomenon. Apparently, this is a globally unique. If you have visited the previously mentioned Wikipedia site, you will have seen the interest star-like line patterns around the Quitsato.

    The monument itself is not special in a historical sense, but is demonstrative of the sun's position at various times of the year. As it turns out, an organization called Quitsato who operate this "attraction" are investigating what seems to be a prehistoric representation of the patterns represented by the Quitsato Sundial over a fairly wide area of Ecuador archeological sites. In other words, the placement of archeological sites seems to suggest that these people were locating them based on the understanding of the sun's patterns as represented by this sundial.

    As interesting as our information session was, we also took some cool photos around the monument as well as sending a SPOT beacon (an SOS/messaging GPS device) right on the Equator line. Having passed the Tropic of Cancer in Mexico, hanging around the Equator is just plain cool. Remember, the Equator (North-South) is a real geographic and astronomical feature, whereas East-West with the zero mark being in Greenwich, England is an arbitrary human construction.

    While the Quitsato Sundial was the close of our day's adventure, we spent a good part of the afternoon riding the foothills of Volcan Cayambe. During my 2010 visit to Ecuador, I rode high enough up Cayambe (4.3km above sea level) to see its snow cap. As it had turned out, with an absolute stroke of luck I had arrived at Otavalo on the Summer Solstice and during local indigenous Inti Raymi, or the Festival of the Sun, and thus was riding around Cayambe on a rather special time of year, at least based on what we had learned above.

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    Cheat! Borrowing a shot from Adam's 2010 shot. This is the Cayambe we were aiming for...

    Jenn and I made a good go of re-tracing my Cayambe tracks from 2010 but not having any record of the specific route, we were not entirely sure if we were following the correct paths. Memories fade and features change. Much of what was dirt track, seemed to have now be converted into rough cobble with field stones - which is actually more jarring to ride than hard dirt track. In the end, it started to get a little late and we decided not to continue as far as I had in 2010, assuming we were heading in the right direction.

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    As we were bidding farewell to the cows, furry pigs, llamas, and local indigenous children, as well as the trucks, buses, and motorcycles that frequent this route, my bike started to feel a bit squirrely, and alas, I found my rear tire to be completely flat with a nice, big, rusty nail sticking out of it. Of course. But of course, while leaving most of our gear at our hotel, I did bring our mini-air-compressor, patches, etc. We pulled over and pulled out the tools and patches and got to work and eventually got it fixed, in good time. Being about 5 or 6 KMs from the Equator, we made a quick visit and got back to our hotel in Otavalo as the sun was setting - well, almost.

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    We closed off the night with a good meal at a local (gringo) pub. I say "gringo" as I had assumed that it was mostly frequented by backpacker types. That said, the other guests tonight included a table of young indigenous woman in traditional skirts sipping on cocktails, laughing their heads off, and seemingly avoiding playing with their mobile phones by stacking them at the end of the table (we have all done that once or twice, haven't we?).

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    The previous night's dinner consisted of pizza and beer at a very cosy pizza restaurant I visited four years ago and ate alone thinking that Jenn would enjoy the place - she has a little thing for pizza. Again, not another place that I would have dreamed that I would be back at, nevermind bring Jenn. Funny enough, I had totally forgotten in interesting aspect of this pizza. On our way there, Jenn had asked me what the pizza was like. I had thought about it for a sec, and basically said, "you know, gourmet pizza".

    When it arrived at our table and having started eating, it struck me that this pizza was unique (at least to me) in that they don't us yeast raised bread dough, but dough much closed to a pie crust. Doh! It totally came back to me, and I had actually took this idea home with me in 2010 and Jenn and I tried making pizza with store bough pie shells as en experiment - obviously not standing the test of time or else I would have remembered the originals. I wouldn't eat this style of pizza everyday (this is an inside joke, as it seems we are actually eating pizza everyday for the past while) but it is definitely interesting and definitely tasty.

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    Other than that, we basically left Pasto, checked out Las Lajas Sanctuary (a very interesting church built into the side of a mountain near the border of Ipiales), dealt a smooth exit out of Colombia, a fairly smooth immigration process into Ecuador, and then a very slow vehicular import process, and later an hour-long and very dusty road work blockage as we watched various heavy equipment operators drive bull-dozers and other equipment down steep, crumbly grades from perhaps a 100 feet above the road. We were doing quite well for time...until...Yet Another Road Block - while we really do try to avoid riding at night, this road work isn't always in our favour. Other than that, our wallets are now thanking us for Ecuador's cheap gas - $0.40/litre - it is much, much cheaper than gas in Colombia.

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    Photos from Otavalo found here.

    Adam's 2010 photos of Volcan Cayambe are found here.

    ——

    Fact or Fiction?

    The world's tallest mountain is in Ecuador?

    Fact!: (Sort of .)

    It depends on the method of measurement.Ecuador's Volcan Chimborazo stands at 6,310 meters (20,560 feet) from sea level. Mt. Everest stands at 8,848 meters (29,029 feet) and is the tallest mountain in the world assuming that you are taking the measurement from sea level. Because of the shape of the Earth not being exactly spherical, but "bulging" at the Equator, if you were to compare the distance of Chimborazo to Everest with a tape measure from the exact center core of the planet, you would find that Chimborazo is "taller" than Everest. In other words, Chimborazo extends further into space than does Everest.

    That said, for practical purposes, such as the "thinness" of air (i.e. lack of oxygen), Everest would still be considered a more challenging climb to mountaineers because that is dependent on the physical surface of the earth, rather than the shape of the planet.
    #34
  15. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Trans-Continental Mambo writes on 2014-04-01:

    We are writing again from Quito, Ecuador. Only having been here for a couple of days, we have already had quite an eventful time in the city.

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    The area we are staying in is called Mariscal, or affectionately "The Zoo" by one of the more elder guests at our hostel. The name comes with no surprise having spent a bit of time here. It's an area frequented by "the young people" and is abound with trendy nightclubs, cafes, restaurants, and shops. That said, in the morning when we wandered around in search of a -cheap- economical breakfast to suit our budget we found very little, and The Zoo was a bleak dead zone compared to the previous afternoon and evening, with the streets littered with empty booze bottles and graffiti-ed metal roll-up shop fronts.

    We spent our first full day in Quito (Saturday) running errands, travelling across the sizable city in search of motorcycle shops, outdoors stores (of which there are a few), as well as computer stores that may be able to repair our Chromebook.

    We finally replaced Jenn's Big Agnes sleeping pad (for camping) which started to fail back in Guatemala. While Big Agnes gave it an earnest shot in sending us a replacement, due to no fault of their own it was returned to sender, at which point it was held up in US customs for what seemed to be an eternity. Perhaps a political penalty for all things Colombian? If you haven't been to Colombia, it is not all about cocaine and narco-trafficking but this stereotype seems like a hard to break for North Americans. As a common statement about tourism in Colombia goes: "The only risk is -wanting to stay- the bloody awful drivers". Anyway, we digress and should now be talking about Ecuador

    Support from Big Agnes fizzled out for a while, and while someone finally suggested sending a second sleeping pad instead of waiting for US customs, it was sort of too little, too late, but we were able close the deal by purchasing a comparable sleeping pad at the local Tattoo outdoor for what we would call a reasonable price, which seems to be a little contradictory due to the high import taxes here.

    Rather surprisingly, we ended up spending a number of hours at Tatoo, which is a South American chain similar to MEC in Canada and REI in the US. This was not so much due to a shopping extravaganza (one item) but because of a torrential rain storm outside, and then we met a nice couple from Liechtenstein travelling on bicycles since Guatemala, so we sat around, drank free espresso, and exchanged travel stories. Strange but true.

    After our stint at Tattoo, we returned to our hostel and headed out to The Zoo to find some grub. We ended up at a tasty little shawarma place (apparently a Quito fave), had our dinner, bid farewell to the staff with a "see you tomorrow!!!" only to find out that they are closed on Sundays (booo!). In search of dessert, which we did not end up having, we heard some ruckus nearby, saw increased police presence and realized that we were standing at the corner of where a political protest was about to pass by.

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    Have no fear, it is somewhat difficult to depict the surroundings, but the area is actually fairly swanky and you would not realize that you weren't in a club district back home. The general character of the people involved was familiar, at least to Adam, having been witness to many political protest and various demonstrations during his days.

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    It turns out that in we stumbled across the La Marcha de las Putas, or as we know it, the Slut Walk (which apparently started in our home city of Toronto three years ago) has been making an appearance in various cities on the international scene. From what we could tell from the Spanish language signs and placards, the demonstration also included messages speaking out against violence against woman, the right to reproductive choice, gay rights, and gender equality. Having not brought our cameras (Did we say this publicly? Poor excuse, but we were only going to eat, and with so many warnings signs in the hostal about petty theft in the area, it had as a little paranoid) we bee-lined back to the hostel to grab our cameras once the parade stopped at the bandstand. We ended up spending a good amount of time amongst the crowds taking photos and listening to various musical acts.

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    It was a bit of an interesting scene. Surely many of our readers have some preconception of what they might think Latin American culture might be like. You might be surprised to hear that this event hosted a (death/black) metal band, a sort of folksy acoustic singer, and some hip-hop artist. There were all sorts of people in the crowd including obviously local indigenous people, hippy-types, those wearing Motörhead t-shirts amongst various other bands, a couple with very obvious skinhead and chelsea haircuts, a couple of somewhat burley biker guys (Inti MC Club?) who seemed to be indigenous bikers, and many more. It was really not dissimilar to a crowd me might see back home, including stilt walkers, various people in drag, costumes, are lack of clothes, and on and on.

    To have been here at that exact moment was something in itself. It was very moving, and brought Jenn to tears to have been a part of the event. Travelling through Latin America, we have witnessed and been subjected to the machismo that still reigns popular amongst many. It made Jenn feel proud to see people standing up for what they believe in, and fighting for change in a developing country. Although the parade was much smaller in scale than protests we would see in Toronto, it warmed our hearts to see people not afraid to be who they are, and put a voice to a change that needs to come.

    As the night went on, we noticed three guys with motorcycle helmets and obvious signs of riding big motorcycles such as Klim gear, KTM logos, etc. and we sparked up a conversation. Our focus ended up switching away from what was now a small concert, to going to look at bikes, including a smashing pumpkin orange KTM 990 Adventure, a Ducati 1200cc Multistrada, and Kawasaki Versys. We soon found ourselves wandering away from the concert with Dennis, Alex, and Mario, in search of beer in the bustling district.

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    We ended up at Finn McCool's, an Irish pub, serving cans of Guiness for USD$14 (and you thought Toronto was expensive for beer!!). Our hosts ordered up a 'giraffe' which is a three foot tall cylinder full of beer of choice with a tap at the bottom in order to serve bar-style. We aren't sure which local swill brew we were drinking that night, but drank two of the giraffes, in addition to a plate of fries smothered in what appeared to be spaghetti sauce and cheese. It wasn't apparent if this was an Irish dish or an Ecuardorian take on something, or perhaps a mixture of both, but it was somewhat of a confusing dish.

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    Dennis, whose knowledge and appreciation of 80s music was just as extensive as Jenn's, spoke excellent English, and entertained us with his singing and dancing. Jenn voiced that she may have finally met her match as a walking jukebox. Anyway, it was a great night and the guys had lots of pointers of where to go and what to see in Ecuador, as well as the inside scoop on a motorcycle convention in Cuenca (about six hours south of here) this coming weekend that we are keen to check out.

    On Sunday we decided to check out Volcan Pichincha. Adam had been planning a return visit to the summit ever since he visited it in 2010, so we heeded the warnings that the road might muddy since the area had received a copious amount of rain recently, and headed out to check out the conditions ourselves. The day did not start off very well, as we hit rain not two blocks after leaving the hostel. No fear, we had rain gear and pulled over to put it on. The ride out to Lloa, the town at the base of the volcano, was quite far through dipping, winding, and busy city streets. After an hour or so we found the gateway that marked the entrance to the volcano road.

    We were pleasantly surprised to find a road that was hard-packed dirt and not very wet at all. It seems the rain didn't make it to this side of the volcano. There were a number of ruts that made Jenn feel nervous, but didn't present much of a challenge. There were, however, a whole lot of steep elbow curves that did present a problem for Jenn, and Adam found himself riding both bikes over these obstacles and Jen exercising her hiking skills. It was soon apparent that walking up the steep roads wearing 30 pounds of riding gear and at altitude (3500-4000 meters), would be a little more difficult than previous hiking incidents. Jenn was easily winded and tired very easily, having to stop after only a few steps uphill.

    As we continued along the road at our slow pace, the mud and difficulty increased. On Jenn's part it seemed as though she was now doing more walking than riding, which is both embarrassing (The Walk of Shame), and tiring. Really tiring at this altitude. Many times we would send Adam off as a scout to check out the road ahead, then come back to report on the condition, and where it would be ideal for Jenn to stop in order for Adam to take over piloting her bike. As the day started to wear on, and finally the summit came into view, dusk was quickly approaching.

    What would take a -car- 4x4 two hours to drive, had taken us almost five hours. Nearing the summit, we decided to ride two-up on one of the bikes in an effort to reach the climber's refuge at the car park which marked the pathway to the summit. Against Jenn's better judgement, and at the mercy of Adam's will, we began the steep ascent. Jenn's bike had other ideas, and part way up started sputtering for air and gave up its gusto. Adam killed the engine and stopped the bike, however the loose surface gave way and we started sliding backwards.

    Before we knew it, and despite Adam's valiant efforts to keep the bike upright, Jenn had fallen backwards, Adam landing on top of her, and the bike landing on top of him. Luckily, a staff member (we think) from the refuge rushed down to help, and soon the two of them were gingerly lifting the bike up from on top of Jenn (it was a strange fall - somehow Adam managed to land on all fours so not to crush Jenn or be crushed by the bike). Jenn's left leg was wedged underneath the bike with her foot underneath the skid plate. Her right arm was in a great amount of pain and we were worried that it had been broken upon impact.

    Fortunately we had invested in high quality Motoport gear which has a very strong reputation for being mighty protective in the event of a crash, and Jenn has had ample opportunity to test this claim out. The gear has lived up to its reputation with every spill, and aside from lasting pain which was to become evident over the next few days, we suffered no broken bones.

    As for reaching the summit of the volcano - it didn't manifest. After the spill, the wind was taken out of our sails and we decided that since it was already 4:30pm, and daylight was waning, that it was time to begin our descent. The volcano had kicked our asses, despite a valiant effort. The bikes were not equipped with proper (knobby) tires, and we would have been better off using premium gas, and so forth. So, with the cross mounted on the summit in sight, we turned our backs and began what would a very difficult descent. It had taken us five hours to reach the point where we turned back. Adam estimated that it would take no more than an hour to get back down. Boy, were we wrong.

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    Shortly into our descent it became painfully apparent that the tires on the bikes were performing much worse on the descent than they had on the ascent. The road had also seem to become wetter (from either rain or mist) and Jenn's treads were soon packed full of mud, making them as effective as an inner tube on the slick surface. We slipped and slid our way down slopes, and back around the pesky elbow curves. During the process, the bikes had been dropped perhaps four or fives times. For descents greater than mild, particularly elbow curves, Adam was riding one bike down, and walking back up to get the other bike. This was a slow, drawn out process, and very, very tiring. We should suspect that even those much fitter than us would be taking their time climbing these ascents due to thin air.

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    We had never been so happy to find loose gravel on the road, as it provided as least some grip for our tires. We managed to lug, pull, push, and paddle our way through the tricky parts, with more hiking involved, and much more frustration. It soon became evident that we would not be getting off the volcano before dark. We had left our camping gear behind at the hostel in an effort to lighten the bikes for the dirt road, so we had no other choice but to keep going.

    Reaching the 'Y' in the road which signified more a more level road, and breathed a sigh of relief. We have outfitted our bikes with decent LED lights which provide pretty decent illumination and let's just say that we were glad that we did. Our LEDs and high beams lit up the road reasonably well and it didn't prove to be such a bad ride once we were on flat ground again. We only came across a few cows wandering on the road, and while there was a little less visibility concerning the road surface (i.e. ruts and rocks weren't as evident), the final ride out was a breeze compared to earlier. We reached the town, and set off through the darkness, and patches of fog back to Quito.

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    What had intended to be a few hours adventurous ride up a volcano, ended up taking us eight hours in total. Exhausted, we skipped the shower and set out for food (we hadn't eaten since breakfast), devoured what we found, then headed back to the hostel for a well-deserved beer. Our new friend, Dennis, showed up around 9:30pm to see if we wanted to go out, to which we politely declined, and retired to bed soon afterwards.

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    Needless to say, Monday was spent doing, well, not much of anything. We were both very sore, and very tired, and spent a good portion of the day in bed, sleeping and resting. It wouldn't be out of line to say that it felt like we were recovering from a marathon. We did a little laundry, and Jenn treated herself to a haircut. We did, however, manage to cash in our raincheck with Dennis and went out for dinner and a beer with him. Today (Tuesday) found us doing much of the same - sleeping in, napping, and doing not much of anything. A little bike maintenance. A little ice cream. Tomorrow we head out to Baños. We woke up today with the intention of heading off, but...well...we went back to bed.

    Adam's Corner: As an aside, several weeks ago, we ran into a fellow traveler who has been on the road for several years and only using other peoples' used tires, and to the point that they were beyond bald and with the casing exposed. We ran into this fellow while we were having a look around to see what tires were available. Eventually we are going to need some new tires, and are probably going to get something more aggressive since we are going to be hitting more dirt roads (nothing like the volcanoes, though!). That said, this fellow basically made fun of us with such questions as "What? Are you riding the Dakar Rally? Just get used tires! Look what I use. You can just use what other people throw away. Don't waste your money!".

    I felt pretty annoyed by this guy on the volcano. I don't think he really influenced us one way or another - we didn't want to buy new tires too early, and want to get the best price we can within reason. That said, I was admittedly bugged by this guys determination in trying to convince us that was right for him, is right for us, even though I had mentioned that we would be doing some off-road riding such as riding volcanoes. Note to self: stick to your guns and don't listen to blowhards.

    Adam's brief history with Volcan Guagua Pichincha


    [​IMG] My friend Tyson Brust wins the best photo for 2009 Horizons Unlimited calendar.

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    Inspired by such imagery, I headed up Volcan Guagua Pichincha in 2010.

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    Jenn and I didn't make it to the summit, but we were close enough to see the cross (actually a shrine).

    Photos from Quito found here.

    Adam's 2010 photos of Volcan Guagua Pichincha are found here.
    #35
  16. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on 2014-04-14:

    Hola from hot and humid Guayquil! We have descended from the Andes mountains and are moving towards the coast of Ecuador for a much needed break from the chill of the Andes. The Andes can be challenging with its steep grades and twisty roads. Our final decent was enjoyable and rather abrupt in that with little warning, we found ourselves in hot, humid flat lands.

    We are staying in a basic hotel (Mi Casa Hotel) in a bustling part of town, within walking distance of some of the more major attractions of the city.

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    Iguana keeping a watchful eye over the Metropolitan Cathedral.



    Today we visited the Seminario Park (or Parque de las Iguanas), the Metropolitan Cathedral (which was packed for mass and lent), Malecon 2000, and the neighbourhood of Las Penas. The Seminario Park was a little unreal, full of iguanas (dozens and dozens) parading around and putting on quite a show for the masses of people, and the highlight of our day's outing. The Cathedral was full to the brim with standing room only and had shrouds covering all paintings and statues leading up to Easter (we are guessing). Malecon 2000 is a 1.5 kilometer promenade along the city's waterfront with food stalls, playgrounds, a cinema with IMAX theatre (actually, the first in South America), museums, and a McDonalds. The Las Penas neighbourhood is full of brightly painted houses, some which are home to artists' studios and shops, that wind up a steep hillside. Yes, Guayaquil has some gems, for sure. But let's go back, shall we?

    Once we left Quito (one gets tired of rain in one place and needs to move on to see rain in new places), we headed south to Baños, which was recommended to us by our new friend Dennis. We had originally planned on attending a motorcycle rally in Cuenca last weekend, but decided not to after we fell in love with Baños.

    Baños turned out to be a small town in central Ecuador, and popular for its hot springs, volcanoes, and hand-pulled taffy. Located alongside a river and nestled at the base of Volcan Tungurahua, it certainly made for a picturesque break from our travels. Every street corner boasted a tour operator ready to whisk one off on a rafting, bungee jumping, rock climbing, or jungle adventure; or to rent out an ATV, motorcycle, or dune buggy. We didn't delve into the adventure side of Baños or partake in any of the many spa offerings, in fact we didn't really do much at all. As much as we wanted to, this stopover turned out to be mostly about sleeping and recharging our batteries, and giving some much needed attention to our bikes, which by this time required some TLC, especially on the brakes.

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    View of Baños perched on the edge of the river


    No matter. Baños produced quite a bit of excitement for us, without even having to look for it.

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    The cozy chimney fireplace



    We arrived on a Wednesday afternoon, and quickly found a hostal that could accommodate us with parking and a room on the ground floor. Santa Cruz Backpackers turned out to be, to date, probably the best place that we have stayed so far. In addition to a kitchen (which we didn't use because eating out was cheaper than buying food and making our own), there was also a chimney fireplace outside of our room in the common area which we warmed ourselves by each night. We had a private bathroom, the bikes were parked right outside, and there weren't too many people around. Paradise. Well, an Andean paradise.

    On Friday evening, around 6:10pm, the volcano exploded. We didn't notice. And neither did anyone else, it seemed. We only heard about it the next day when Adam was researching a possible excursion to the top, or part way, and found that our neighbour had made the international news. Even Al-Jazeera and the BBC were reporting it on the "front page", at least the on-line versions. It seemed funny that the international community gave it so much attention, while the local community barely made a peep. At the time, we were out having dinner. The low cloud cover obscured any smoke plume that we might have seen, and every day life continued as usual.

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    Volcan Tungurahua erupts!


    On Tuesday afternoon, the volcano erupted again, and this time, under clear skies, we could plainly see the steady stream of vapour billowing up into the blue sky. The volcano sounded like a steam cooker, frequently letting off pressure, accompanied by a few rumbles here and there, and the rattling of the windows in our room. Scary stuff. We asked a local man if it was anything to worry about, to which he replied "tranquilo" which loosely means "stay calm". Nothing to worry about. From my limited amount of volcano knowledge, I have deduced that pluming clouds are a good thing, since it means that the volcano is steadily releasing pressure thus avoiding a violent explosion. Apparently the explosion on Friday dislodged a blockage in the cone so now pressure could be released in a manner that didn't send the population fleeing for the hills. In any event, two eruptions in one week was enough to make us a little nervous.

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    Volcan Tungurahua (Courtesy BBC/Reuters)



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    Taffy and other sweets on display


    The rest of our time in Baños was spent doing very little. Mainly, Jenn needed some time to rest and regroup. The past five and a half months on the road had caught up to her, and she was feeling quite road weary. Pondering whether it was time to perhaps end the trip, it was some much needed time spent trying to inject a bit of normalcy into the travel. We worked on bikes, we watched movies, we went to the supermarket and bought toothpaste, hand lotion, and soap. We ate hamburgers, cheap pizzas, and shawarma on french fries at fast food joints. Normal things. In contrast to what most people to perceive as a great adventure (which is has been), motorcycle travel is not the glamourous lifestyle that many make it out to be. It involves a great deal of moving around which is difficult for someone who is somewhat of a homebody and has never ventured too far from home for such a long period of time. It also gets a little tiresome living out of a bag. Although we are travelling relatively slowly, adapting to a constantly changing environment and being surrounded by strangers can be a little stressful and scary.

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    Roasting cuy/guinea pig



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    Mmmm… frozen choco-bananas…


    We were also able to give some much needed attention to our brakes. Jenn's rear brake gave her a bit of trouble when descending Volcan Pichincha near Quito,likely due to boiled brake fluid from minor drag plus hard braking, so it was time to flush the system, and give them a good cleaning. We were still running DOT 3 fluid which we had put into the system in Nicaragua, and it was likely proving unsuitable for the Andean riding since it has a lower boiling pint. Without too much trouble we were able to purchase some good quality imported DOT 4 fluid in town, but it was a few days before we were able to actually complete the brake job due to rain. Since water and brakes don't mix well, Adam would start the job only to abandon it shortly thereafter due to rain.

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    Getting a little work done before it starts to rain again


    After our restful week it was a little difficult to say good-bye to such a perfect place, or as perfect a place can be without a beach. We were able to lighten our load once more by dumping a few more extraneous items from our gear which managed to take a few more pounds off of our bikes. And so we packed up and headed out under cloudy skies. After not being on the bikes for an entire week, things felt a little funny. In addition to some adjustments we had made to Jenn's bike to make it slightly lower, she was still feeling a little shaky from the fall on the volcano, and experiencing less confidence than normal. Unfortunately, the leisurely ride that had been expected turned out to be seven hours on a winding, undulating road that took us up and down through the mountains, and through a long stretch of road that was completely obscured by low-lying clouds. We have also been having fitment issues with our Pin-Lock anti-fog inserts for or visors and previously took them out of our helmets. Unfortunatly, since we were now travelling at altitude, our visors were fogging up with every breath, making things even more difficult. We found ourselves riding with our visors open with stinging cold rain hitting our faces as we followed the only thing visible - the white line that marked the edge of the road. The going was very slow and pretty scary. It is also rather frustrating as, our helmets weren't cheap, and we can't get the anti-fog inserts to stay in place which is not our experience with other helmets using the same item. Design flaw of the helmets with not enough clearance and too much interference? But we made it through and arrived in Cuenca at dusk.

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    That’s some heavy cloud cover!


    While we were looking forward to Cuenca it turned out to be quite a large city, much bigger than what we had expected, with many options for accommodations and a lot of traffic. Little did we know that we had also arrived just in time for the start of the city's annual festival, which we were able to take in some of the goings-on. Unfortunately we were unable to stay for the main attractions on Saturday, at least at our hostel as it was booked solid, and parking isn't straight forward in downtown Cuenca.

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    Pretty girls in colonial costume at the Cuenca Festival


    Our short stay at Yakumama Hostal was a bit of a disappointment. The hostel itself was very tastefully decorated, and our room was huge with a private bath. They even let us park our bikes in the corridor. Unfortunately, the hot water was near near non-existent (don't get us wrong - we can deal with cold showers, but if a place boasts having hot water then it better be HOT), and the internet was the worst we had seen so far. While it was clear that there were intermittent issues with the internet provider, when it was working, it worked in the hostal bar, but not very well at all for the rest of the hostel - easy way to siphon guests to the bar for overpriced drinks? The staff seemed pretty complacent about the bad internet (i.e. didn't do anything to try to solve the issue but were well aware of an issue with one of the access points), and seemed to share a common desire to keep the availability of cheaper open beds a secret. It turned out that there were cheaper two-bed dorms right next to and across from our more expensive room. Adam, having already mentioned that price was an issue, wasn't made privy to either of these rooms. Not cool.

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    One of the twelve churches in our area.


    Although we didn't see much of Cuenca, we did manage to find a brew pub that served a pretty good stout and a somewhat home-brewy IPA, which somewhat made up for the farce that was the brew pub in Baños. As Adam celebrated his birthday while we were there, we thought that we had hit the jackpot by stumbling across a brew pub in the quaint little town. Unfortunately, the beer in Baños was terrible - very sour and it tasted like it had a bacterial infection - a great disappointment. Beer report: beer in Cuenca was "good for Ecuador" but not as good as in Colombia were some of the beers were just "good" and would be purchased back home! As for the rest of our sight-seeing, Cuenca had a lot of churches (12 within walking distance of our hostal), as well as many restaurants, bars, and shops.

    We are also happy to report that we managed to successfully and easily pick up the replacement screen for our Chromebook at the local post office in Cuenca. All it took was a $5 handling fee and a copy of Adam's passport and we had the package in hand. This screen is actually the second one that we ordered, after the first one sat in customs so long that it didn't make sense to stay in Colombia and pay more and more money to stay in hotels in Pasto waiting for something to arrive in the mail. This is probably a good thing since by the time the tracking information was updated on the DHL, the package had already been refused delivery by the post office and was back on its way to the USA. We had also been checking the Colombian postal mail systems tracking daily and the first time the system had actually retrieved the tracking ID, the package was "returned to sender" - we were never going to receive this package.

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    That’s one happy customer!


    So we left Cuenca. Jenn was feeling quite nervous about the ride again (the 'going up' thing really has her rattled), but fortunately the roads were graded in a reasonable manner (rather than someone who designs roller coasters), and there was plenty of sunshine to light the way. What we missed in the thick cloud cover the first time around was the the countryside here resembles what we imagine Scotland or Ireland might look like - very green rolling hillsides, with agricultural patchwork and livestock dotting the landscape. It was quite beautiful. We also decided to check out the ruins at Ingapirca which were supposed to be quite impressive. The road, at first, was in good condition been aving recently paved and winding through small towns. About two and half kilometers before the ruins, the pavement stopped and the road deteriorated to gravel where a work crew was busy prepping the road for paving. Unfortunately this made the road a little hairy and, after a scouting mission by Adam, we abandoned the ruins and headed back to the highway mainly due to parking congestion, hordes of people, and really no where to parking the bikes securely.

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    The ruins at Ingapirca


    One thing that we are quickly figuring out, is that many attractions are not geared toward the motorcycle traveller. Sites noted in guidebooks are often geared toward backpackers taking buses and taxis to sites where they don't have to worry about the security of their vehicle. The parking at Ingapirca was non-existent with persons parking alongside the roadway. Unfortunately for a person travelling with a fully loaded motorcycle, the condition of the road, as well as the security of the parking is an issue and we have abandoned a few sites and attractions simply because it is not safe to leave the bikes unattended or the roads have been to hairy to risk injury to ourselves or our bikes. So no Ingapirca for us. Maybe it would have been better to go on a week day.

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    Can you see me now??


    No sooner had we left Tambo (the town closest to Ingapirca), the clouds descended again and we were once again shrouded in thick cover. This time the riding wasn't as bad, although our attempt to prevent fog in the visors using the shaving cream method didn't work out so well, and we were riding with wet, cold faces once again. Our LED lights have proven to be very useful in these situations making us the brightest vehicles on the road, and our fluorescent rain jackets do a good job as well.

    The common dish in the region appeared to be 'hornado' (roast pig), cut from the pig as it hung from a hook in front of the restaurant. We decided to grab our lunch from one of these stalls, and admit to thoroughly enjoying the fare. Our pork, served with skin and a think layer of fat, was accompanied by a potato, mote (two types - boiled and roasted), and plantano, and eaten with one's hands.

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    Lunch time!


    After a couple of hours riding through the clouds, we descended to sea level and warmer temperatures. As we hit flat ground, our bike thermometers had risen almost ten degrees and we quickly pulled over at a gas station to shed our rain suits and base layer merinos in favour of our summer riding gear. Our destination was to be Milagro, and the (beautiful) flat road took us past wetlands and many Dole banana plantations. Milagro turned out to be a scuzzy town with no real center and a lack of hotels, so we hastily beetled it out of there and headed to Guayaquil - the largest city in Ecuador - where we were sure to find some place to stay. Unfortunately, there was only one hostel listed in our GPS (a multiple-floored mid-rise at $35 for a room) so we ended up driving around the city many times in an effort to find somewhere to stay. We were unable to predetermine some place to stay before leaving Cuenca due to the <del>cruddy</del> lack of internet at Yakumama, and places listed in our GPSes were either shut down, relocated, or not appropriate. On our way around the city for the fourth time, we took a chance on Mi Casa, which had been renamed to Casa Hotel, but ended up being affordable ($25) with air conditioning, great internet and free parking on a multi-storey parking lot . Since it was dark by now, we took the room and were happy with our decision.

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    Another iguana. Because they were pretty cool.

    Tomorrow we head for the coast. Since it is Santa Semana, we are hoping that everything isn't booked up and we will be able to find some place to stay for a couple of days. While we love the Andes and its charm, it is time for some warmth of the coast and hopefully some beaches and swimming.

    We should mentioned how surreal it is at times here in Ecuador. Adam recently commented that it was really rather strange to be wandering around the Malecon 2000 and eating Ecadorian Chifa were as 24 hours prior we had been eating an indigenous meal in the rain and fog of the Andes some 3500 meters higher.

    Photos galleries:

    #36
  17. Farkles

    Farkles South America bound.

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2008
    Oddometer:
    56
    Location:
    From Toronto, Canada.
    Adam writes on 2014-04-24:

    Máncora is nice little beach town an hour or so south of the border with Ecuador. We arrived here a few days ago following a fairly straight forward border crossing having stayed the previous night in Machala, Ecuador. There wasn’t too much to report with regards to the border crossing except that we had a cost surprise with the mandatory Peruvian auto insurance. We expected to pay US$8 each based on notes from Life Remotely. As it turns out it is $8 for a car and $35 for a motorcycle so we forked over US$70 instead of $16. This makes Peruvian insurance one of the most expensive to date. Mind you, $70 is probably cheap compared to the hassle of trying to talk our way out of a situation with the police.

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    Máncora Beach

    While it is fair to say that we are both enjoying ourselves here in Máncora, I (Adam) apparently arrived with a bit of baggage which pertains to my 2010 trip. Four years ago, having arrived in the dead of darkness from a long ride down from Quito, Ecuador, and feeling bagged, I immediately found a hostel (by way of one of the many helpful aggressive moto-taxies), and immediately went for food. Having had pizza and a beer, I woke up the next morning feeling a little queazy. It had been a long day prior, and I chocked up my mild headache and queasiness to sleeping (hard) in the heat of the second floor under a ceiling fan.

    Having packed up my stuff, I stopped for breakfast on the main strip. At the time I felt that the heat, wearing riding gear and the temperature being above 30 degrees, was attributing to my sense of mild nausea. I was definitely hungry but was hoping for something simple and dry like pancakes. Or at least until I was “upsold” on a lobster omelette. It sounded like a deliciously good deal. Waiting for the “queaze” to end as I sat sipping on a jumbo papaya juice, the omelette arrived. I had a few bites of toast then started in on the eggs. Within minutes my mild nausea turned into a burning sensation and I ran for the bathroom. The extra seconds spent looking for the bathroom that said “men’s” was enough of a time delay that I couldn’t get to lifting the toilet seat and simply sprayed down the walls with what was mostly papaya juice.

    Feeling, “better”, I continued riding on, but in hindsight, maybe should have stayed another night. Having ridden for a couple of hours through the desert of northern Peru and attempting to replenish my fluids with Inca Kola, another wave of nausea came upon me and I ended up puking in my helmet. I ended up taking a room and wearing all of my polar fleece under all of the blankets as I nursed myself back to health from what could have only been acute food poisoning. You can read about it here if you wish.

    Now that you have a little background here, you, dear reader, probably have a good idea as to why I was pretty intrigued (and slightly apprehensive) about coming back to Máncora. It was also a good opportunity to further the theory that I faked my first trip to South America. We say this as so many things I have mentioned to Jenn just haven’t come to fruition. It is almost like I'm telling big, fat porkies from time to time. “I swear this was here”, etc., etc.

    As with trips down memory lane, I was in search of the two restaurants in question and curious if he could find the hostel where he previously stayed. At this point in time, I am pretty sure that the two restaurants aren’t there anymore. Máncora has undergone a bit of a makeover so the place where I had breakfast seems to now be taken over by clothing stores, etc. There are a number of pizza places, but if the one that I ate that fateful anchovy and olive pizza (nice combination Adam, was I pregnant?) at is still around, they have reconfigured things. We are not sure that we would have run into either place to eat, even had we found one.

    We did manage to find the hostel, which really only served the purpose of proving that I am not going mad. Jenn has heard all sorts of little tidbits, but think she might now think that I am a compulsive liar. For example, I had wholly expected that coffee would be served as a glass of hot water which you flavour to your taste with coffee liquid (not sure of it was strong brewed coffee, or pre-diluted instant) but then we were served “normal” instant coffee. What the hell? That said, the hostel - having taken no photos - did match my description almost perfectly. [Edit: we were served pre-diluted coffee this morning].

    It is a strange sensation to came to a place again but to have an almost completely different experience with it. In my experience, I say this about one or two places, but imagine what Ted Simon must have felt traveling the world in the early 1970s a la Jupiter’s Travels, and to have retraced his steps some 27 years later (Dreaming of Jupiter). In 2010, having left the border at dark, I saw literally nothing except shadows of dunes as I got closer to Máncora. As a side, one of the fundamental “best practices” for overlanders is to not travel at night. As it turns out, it is not about banditry, or giant potholes, but that you miss shit.

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    Riding through northern Peru

    It was definitely interesting to see what I had missed the last time, at least from an intellectual point of view. I had no idea that northern Peru hosted rice paddies before it turns into a big, beige desert. I was also hustling for time in 2010. I can hardly believe that I didn’t even swim at Máncora’s lovely beach, or any beach for that matter. While it felt a tad cool due to wind today and the derma-abrasion from the blowing sand grew old quickly, Máncora has one of the nicer of the beaches we have visited to date.

    It is easy to miss out on things when you travel quickly. Another advantage of travelling more slowly, so it seems, is that we seem to be doing something correctly with regards to eating. Neither of us has been violently ill so far (knock on bamboo) which is probably because we have been building up a resistance to certain food-borne illnesses slowly. Don’t get me wrong, we use a degree of caution but definitely eat at places not recommended by the Lonely Planet guide or travel med commercials. This is not to say that we haven’t had “mild adjustments”, but nowhere near the sort of episode as described above - which was violent.

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    Evening in Máncora

    While every place is always a little different, I would say that Peru marks a bit of a departure. While we have seen many different places while mambo-ing about, Peru, from what is obviously visible, marks a more than subtle change, at least in terms of South America with respects to standards of living, housing conditions, etc. I am sort of “cheating” here as I already know this, but Jenn was a little “taken” by Peru (so far) in that the “landscape” has really changed even compared to their northern neighbour of Ecuador. While I think she expected to be riding through desert, the change in housing conditions came as a bit of a surprise. There are many more “shacks” of materials such as bamboo, and what we perceive as fairly rough housing conditions along the highway and through various towns we have passed.

    With Máncora being a popular tourist spot, while being “rough around the edges”, its problems are not immediately apparent. In many ways, it resembles one of the many beach towns we have visited. At the same time, my understanding is that various factors, including overfishing by foreign “mega-trollers”, have drastically changed the economy over the last couple of decades with a greater reliance on tourism. As a stroke of co-incidence, I discovered over the last couple of years that my old friend Josh (Toronto) is involved with Para el Mundo, who provide various social and community programs to the Máncora area related to health and education. The things you don’t necessary see or think of when you are simply a visitor.

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    Fun in the sun.

    We have apparently arrived in Máncora at the tail end of rainy season and it sure doesn’t seem to be the “high season” here. Máncora is fairly well known, and is definitely known as one of the nicer beach spots in Peru. That said, the beach here is not crowded, restaurants are not full and we feel like we have the “place to ourselves” a bit and I don’t think that we will have trouble find seats in the various restaurants. This is definitely in contrast to some of the other beach “party” hubs we have visited.

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    A side of ceviche. Fish "cooked" by the acid of citrus fruit.

    As travellers, we are trying to make our dollar stretch. I would say that the prices for basic restaurant food has come down a bit. US$3-4 buys a pretty decent two course meal here including a fruit juice. This could be fried plantain or ceviche (seafood “cooked” with lime, marinated really, but not actually cooked) as a starter, and then a good piece of fish with rice, or a seafood rice plate. It makes you wonder what the daily cost for food is for people who are not eating at restaurants.

    On the subject of food, and still with vomit on the brain, when we ordered our breakfast we were offered pineapple or papaya juice. I went immediately for the papaya. Over the last while it has taken me a bit to get back onto papaya, but I think I have finally exorcised my reflexes and can stomach it again. This is not a bad thing since papaya can be fairly mellow compared to orange or pineapple. In addition to this, we felt like pizza for dinner and having sussed out all of the menus (and cheaping out economizing) - and pretty much confirming that my pizza place was no longer around - we found a nice little place on the beach that served decent pizza. It actually looks a bit like a dive from the outside - ramshackle and plain - but it is run by a woman from Lima, Peru and a man from Argentina. I could instantly tell that neither were from Máncora by their accents, appearance and demeanor. Looking past the bamboo and dimly lit area where a bar might have been, there was a large earthen pizza oven. The pizza was good - not fantastic - but the humble atmosphere and the fact that it didn’t seem to be completely aimed at tourists was most enjoyable - and even romantic.

    I said it! I had papaya juice and pizza (but no omelette). How is that for facing one’s fears?

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    Time for an oil change.

    I will move on here a bit as to recap our last 10 days or so. Our first full day here in Máncora involved me retracing the “vomit trail”, swimming in the ocean, and finally changing our oil which was well overdue - at least by our metric which should leave some room for safety. We picked up some pretty decent oil (Mobil Delvac 1300 Super truck oil) on the way out of Ecuador, changed out our oil at a small sort of shop which handles the local motorcycles and moto-taxis. I should mention that these moto-taxi guys are both persistent and annoying. The drive around in their motorcycle-on-front-chariot-on-back cabs and repeatedly ask you if you need a hostel. One. Then another. And then another. And if you don't need a hotel, then they are quick to try to sell you kite-surfing lessons.

    Actually, if any of you feel like you might like to visit Máncora, just hop on a plane to Lima or Guyaquil, hop on a bus to Máncora and get off the bus. I promise you that you will have absolutely no problem finding an accommodation that suits your fancy. Pool? A/C? Restaurant? Massage? On the cheap? Camping? These moto-taxi drivers have a dossier of all of the local places to stay and would be most willing to take you to one for a small tip. Yes. It is that easy. Actually, you probably want to hit an ATM on the way but they will gladly stop for you. For us? We needed a place to change our oil. Who else to ask? Simply: a moto-taxi driver.

    By now, it is time for a little “catch up again”.

    The previous night was spent in a town an hour north of the border in Ecuador called Machala. It was nothing special, but a decent stop over (albeit an little 'roachy'). We stayed at the Hostal Saloa for $30 which was quite acceptable. A/C, internet, secure parking and a number of cheap restaurants nearby. Yes. Two can dine on Chino for $5.00.

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    Chifa in Machala.

    Having left off our last blog post at Guayaquil, you might remember that we were headed for the coast. At this time, I will hand things over to Jenn, who has diligently prepared our segment on coastal Ecuador - or the south part, at least.

    Jenn writes:

    We have been enjoying our time by the ocean in a few different stops along the coast. It's probably the last thing our friends and family want to hear right now as they battle the snow and frost that is still plaguing everyone even though the calendar clearly says that it is spring.

    We have had hot weather ever since descending from the Andes, so if you are looking for somewhere to escape the cold, Ecuador is a swell place to do it. The other day we met a woman from Saskatchewan who was doing just that very thing, and not returning until the weather got warmer. Not a bad plan. Ecuador - by the way - has been one of our favourite countries so far with so many things to see and do in such a relatively small area. We are trying to pitch their tourist board on the new slogan: “Ecuador: what Costa Rica aspires to be”. Zing!

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    Montañita, Ecuador.

    So we left sweltering Guayaquil and headed for the coast. Our destination was Montañita, a small town famed for its surf culture. It wasn't a very long ride but we were both surprised to see the lushness of bananaland quickly dry up to desert. Once again we were riding on straight roads that lead through dusty towns with sparse vegetation. This is not really what we expected so close to a large - the largest - body of water in the world.

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    The beach at Montañita.

    Montañita turned out to be a very, very small town with most of the action compacted within a few blocks nestled beside the ocean. At first we checked out a few places to stay in the center of town, but then branched out to the 'quiet' side of town, just across the river. We chose a place on the main strip called Alta Montañita that offered us parking and a room with a private bathroom for $10 per person. It was a basic room, but we could park right outside, and it was clean, but a little on the warm side.

    We soon discovered that even though we were on the Pacific Ocean, seafood was not cheap. At prices that could be found in Red Lobster, we were a little disappointed that we most likely would not be able to enjoy the local catch of the day. Adam reminded me that potatoes, mussels and lobster are not particularly cheap in the Atlantic province of PEI, Canada either. The town was full of ceviche stands, surf shops, tour operators, hostels, bars, and craft stalls. Of particular happiness was an entire street lined with cocktail stands, or "Alcohol Alley" as we liked to call it, with impressive bar selections that would rival any permanent establishment. In front of these little stalls from heaven was a single table and a collection of plastic chairs for the patrons to sit at while enjoying the sunshine and sipping on their cocktails.

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    "Alcohol Alley"

    We frequented Coctales Darwin where we found the best piña colada on the strip, made with fresh pineapple, condensed milk, creme de coco, coconut flesh, and lots of rum. In Skype calls to Jenn’s parents, we jested that “they wouldn’t like it here”. The inside joke here is that Jenn’s father, Bob, is a wizard of tropical cocktails, and they both relish in the tropical lifestyle.

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    A Piña Colada

    We sheepishly took some photos of various cocktail menus to export back to Beaverton, Ontario - perhaps there will be some interesting ideas to be found. We should also mention that - like most fine bars, including Bob’s Comfort Zone in Beaverton, Ontario, almost every bar here stocked a bottle of Fernet Branca - a liquer popular with Argentines, often mixed with cola in a large vessel and drunk communally.

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    Coctales Darwin

    With a large hippie culture, Montañita had a fair share of street performers, as well as people selling handmade jewelry. It also had quite the reputation for being liberal with marijuana and we saw a number of people selling trays of 'pot brownies' (we think). While some of them looked rather tasty, sprinkled with coconut and berries, that really isn't our thing (neither is prison on drug charges) and we bypassed them for other treats that were on offer.

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    Rastapan

    We discovered a stand selling Rastapan - a dough pocket filled with cheese and a variety of other toppings folded into a bundle and baked fresh into warm goodness. We also ate fried rice at a Chifa restaurant which included soup for US$2.50. Yikes, that is a bargain. Adam also indulged in deep-fried empanadas filled with cheese and ham. So while we didn't have any fish - except for the first day for lunch, and which we suspect made us mildly ill - there were plenty of other tasty things to fill our bellies. And when in doubt, there was always piña coladas.

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    Sunset in Montañita

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    More fun in the sun.

    We decided that our next stop would be 40 kilometres north in Puerto Lopez. We were interested in checking out Isla de la Plata, otherwise known as the Poor Man's Galapagos, which is just off the coast of Puerto Lopez.

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    Puerto Lopez Coast Guard

    When we arrived in Puerto Lopez it appeared to be everything that anyone ever said that it was - dirty and dusty, without much to offer. It had apparently also been raining and the roads were transformed into slick mud tracks, at least those that were not paved - which accounted for many.

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    One of many fishing boats.

    Our hostel, Hostal Maxima, was located a few blocks from the beach. Although our room was on the third floor and lugging our gear up the stairs was a bit of a pain, we caught some pretty amazing breezes from the water, which helped to cool us off. As we had arrived during Santa Semana (Easter week) things were filling up quickly, and we didn't look around too much before taking the room.

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    As in most places in the world, it seems that if it's a holiday, then things are more expensive, namely room rates, which can almost double. While we had already agreed to take a slightly increased rate, for some reason we were put back to our original rate for all four nights. We suspect that a small flotilla for Ecuadorian motorcyclists who stayed for only one night threw a wrench into their holiday expectations and they provided an incentive for us to stay.

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    Encebollado - fish soup

    Once settled in we headed off for lunch. Walking past three or four restaurants that looked to be serving exactly the same thing and who boasted no customers, we went a little further and found a place that looked unique amongst its peers. We had encebollado - which is a type of fish soup - served with fried plantain chips, for $2.50 and then headed off to secure a booking for our tour to the island the following day. Fortunately, the hostal also booked tours and we easily reserved our place through them and took advantage of their laundry service, as well. The hostal had somewhat of a Dr. Dolittle feel to it, with a number of pets throughout the grounds. The owners have a cat and a dog (Staffordshire pit-bull), an iguana, a number of cockatiels, and a kinkajou. It's quite the animal-arium.

    We took a short walk along the beach and were a little dismayed to see a great amount of trash on the beach. Along the water line, where the wet sand met the dry, stretched a row of litter. It's the first time we have encountered such a lack of care on a beach, and it was greatly disappointing. But then, the town itself it also littered with garbage, so it spoke volumes about the people who lived there. We also noticed that there wasn't a single garbage can on the beach, but frankly we weren't sure whether that would have changed any behaviour. Tossing one's garbage out of a window from a moving car also seemed to be acceptable behaviour in Central and South America, but this had been the dirtiest beach we had been at thus far.

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    Caterpillar ride

    Continuing our walk around town, we ended up at the main church square and came across a caterpillar train, all pink with neon lights and music blaring. Having seen a video of the same train by our friends Sheldon and Ewa posted a few days earlier on facebook, we took this as a dare, and hopped on. We anticipated a leisurely ride around town, but we were in for much more. Apparently we did not watch the entire video prior to setting foot on the train. We paid the driver our $1 and settled in for our tour. When we started moving, the driver did an abrupt u-turn and headed down a dark street, where he proceeded to do donuts at high speed. He then he circled around and did donuts in the opposite direction. It wasn't what we were expecting at all. But in a good way. A kamakazee caterpillar train doing donuts at high speeds on pubic streets. Que divertido!

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    Doing donuts.

    We then swerved down a road towards the beach strip where we bumped and troddled our way along to a volleyball court to do more donuts then turned around, retraced our tracks along the beach, and headed back to the main square. Many locals stared as we went by as if thinking "not that atrocity again…”. I also couldn't help but think that perhaps Beaverton, Ontario could use one of these amusement rides to help boost the local economy, but then realized that the permits and insurance would be through the roof. Is it even legal to drive an amusement ride on the street? What sort of insurance would you have to have? And it would probably be necessary to install safety cords across the doors as well as seat belts, in addition to plenty of signs stating that riders are boarding at their own risk, yadda yadda. Ahhh, North America has taken all the fun out of everything.

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    One of two circuses in town.

    When we had first arrived, we had noticed that the circus was in town. (Upon leaving Puerto Lopez we realized there was, in fact, a second circus in town along the main road). A large red and yellow tent with various country's flags could be seen from the balcony of our room. We decided to check it out, so at 9:15 p.m., when the doors opened, we headed over, paid our money ($2.50/pp), and took our seats in some rickety looking bleachers. It was quite busy and the small tent was almost filled to capacity. There was a bit of a buzz in the air, mostly from Adam as this was the first circus that he had ever attended.

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    On the tight rope.

    A small concession stand was selling popcorn, candy apples, and bags of cheezies. We waited for what seemed like forever before the lights dimmed and the music started. This attraction was also all in Spanish and was a little difficult to understand for the only 'gringos' in the audience but we caught the gist of much of it. For such a late start, there were quite a lot of children in the audience, and it was well past 10pm before things got under way.

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    On the trapeze.

    While there weren't any animals in the acts (do they even use animals in the circus anymore?), the clowns were very amusing and very talented - with mildly obscene jokes in no short supply much to the childrens' amusement. They also had a few dancing girls who doubled up on acts on the high rings, as well as tight-rope walkers. The most confusing part of the whole thing was a group of 'theme-park characters' who came out, danced around, and made out with each other. Well after midnight we stumbled out of the tent and back to our hostal, happy we had went, but a little bewildered.

    Sleepy eyed, if not somewhat traumatized, we were up bright and early and ready for our trip to the island. There were 16 of us on the boat plus 4 crew. It took over an hour on a speedboat to get to Isla de la Plata, but underneath blue skies with the sun shining down, it was quite a nice day for a cruise on the ocean. Unfortunately for us (and for another Canadian on the boat) the entire tour would be spoken in Spanish, including the boat safety tidbits. Thanks to an Italian woman on board, however, she was able to translate the important stuff so we would know exactly what to do in case the boat capsized.

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    Turtles

    When we arrived to the island, we were greeted by sea turtles, who eagerly arrived at the edge of the boat in anticipation of watermelon rind tidbits thrown overboard. They were quite amazing to see as they soared through the water, popping their heads up for a breath or a bite. Many birds soared overhead, mostly pelicans and frigates.

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    Dry-spell on Isla de la Plata

    The terrain was far hotter and drier than we had anticipated. The guides explained that there hadn't been any rain on the island for months, and that many of the trees that would normally be green were dry and bare. Soon we reached a small mountain and started climbing the stairs (for what seemed like forever) that wound their way to the top. We have been constantly amazed by the footwear that we have seen in the most inappropriate places (neck-snapping heels on the cobblestone streets of Antigua, flip-flops in the sopping mud at Tikal), and this trip was no exception.

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    Scenic vistas.

    For every person who wore suitable footwear, there were two who wore flip-flops, jelly shoes, or fashion flats. It wasn't scaling Mount Kilimanjaro, but it also wasn't a Sunday stroll through the park. The paths were dusty, dry, and made of dirt, strewn with rocks. There were also plenty who did not bring something to throw over their bikinis, and thus spent many hours in the sun without protection and probably now resemble bacon. I don't want to sound like a Mom or anything, but sometimes I really just want to give people a shake.

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    Blue footed Booby.

    Anyway, we reached the top of the climb to find a shady gazebo with benches, a breeze, and a view of the ocean cliffs. We were given two options for exploring the island - the long route or the medium route. We chose the medium route, which turned out to be the short route, and which we coined "the flip flop route" which took us down to the coastal cliffs in search of the blue-footed booby. While we were expecting to see the cliffs crowded with the birds, we were surprised to see that this wasn't the case. While we didn't have to search for them, there wasn't exactly a lot of them. But true to the Galapagos, the birds were not afraid of us, and we were able to get quite close. They were certainly curious and sized us up carefully, but did not appear to be alarmed at our presence, in most cases. With exception was the juveniles who were mostly brown in colour and whose feet had not yet turned blue, and a chick (3-5 months old) who appeared to be quite nervous without Mom and Dad.

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    Isla de la Plata vista

    Our guide did a good job of teaching us about the habits of the boobies, and we returned to the landing site with much more knowledge. Back aboard the boat, we had a lunch of fresh fruit and sandwiches, where we also got to enjoy the company of a group of sea turtles. Once everyone was back on board we took the boat around the island for a bit of snorkelling. The water was quite murky and a bit rough which caused me some concern. But while everyone rushed off the boat and left only a handful on board, the captain started chucking bread crumbs off the boat. Soon a school of large and colorful fish were eagerly gulping up the morsels floating in the water and putting on quite the show for the people in the boat.

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    Jenn takes the plunge.

    After a few minutes I joined the rest of the snorkellers only to find that visibility was quite poor in the water and that the fish show had been better on the boat. But it was an experience to be snorkelling in shark-infested -present waters (yes, there were sharks; no, we didn't see any) off a small island in the Pacific. Then it was time to head back to the mainland. And boy, were we in for quite the ride. The water was considerably rougher than on the ride to the island, and more than one of us was feeling slightly nervous. As we booted it across the large swells and big waves with the boat leaning at a bit of an angle, the boat slamming down onto the water as it came down off of the large waves, the ride resembled more of a speedboat ride down the Niagara River. A little scary.

    But we made it back to dry land, and everyone seemed to be grateful.

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    A drink with Graham on the beach.

    Our second day in Puerto Lopez was reserved for rest. Unfortunately our sleep was not so great with plenty of noise from the street disturbing us. We didn't have much planned so a nap was well within our plans (which happened after breakfast). We also took a stroll down to the beach for a swim and some beers. Adam got stung by a jellyfish but didn't seem to phased by it. As the sun went down (or rather behind some dark clouds), we went back to the hotel, showered, and got ready for dinner. We decided to head to a pizza joint on the beach making artisinal pizzas for $5. When we got their we were surprised to see our new friend Graham (who we met on our tour to Isla de la Plata) sitting there, as he was scheduled to leave for Quito that morning. We had had a good time talking with him the day before so were happy that he was still in town, and happy for the opportunity to spend some more time together.

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    Sunset in Puerto Lopez.

    Our third day (and Easter day!) was reserved for sleeping in, having breakfast, grabbing a good cup of coffee (Colombian style), then hitting the beach. Since there were no chocolate eggs for us, as apparently the bunny doesn't know his way to Ecuador, beer on the beach had to suffice. And in lieu of a traditional ham dinner, we had one of the best meals of the trip so far - breaded langostinos, rice, patacones, and salad. At $7 a plate it was also a steal. The lady of the kitchen also let us sample her tortilla de camerones (sort of like a shrimp omelette, but thin like a crepe) which was to die for. We were somewhat kicking ourselves for not trying her beachfront shack earlier, but were happy that our usual place was closed and that we took a chance, because it was so worth it.

    After our stay in Puerto Lopez, it was time to head towards Peru, with our stopover in Machala, then forward to Mancora.

    Gallery links:
    #37
  18. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on 2014-05-05:

    Greetings from high in the Peruvian Andes mountains! We have already spent almost an entire week here, in Huaraz - "the Switzerland of the Andes" - and it's pretty spectacular. We haven't taken advantage of any of the offered tours (mountain trekking mostly) but the surrounding scenery is simply marvelous and the city itself (at a population of 100,000) has retained a strong sense of cultural identity. There are plenty of indigenous women in traditional dress wearing tall hats carrying their goods on their backs via colourful sling. Yet it's a small city complete with all the amenities you could ever want, nestled between the Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca with a river running through it.

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    Lots has been happening since Máncora, our beach-side surf town stop. After spending a few days on the coast, eating our fill of fresh fish and seafood, and frolicking in the surf, we packed up and continued our journey south. Knowing that our time on beaches would soon come to an end (at least the sunning-swimming beaches that we have come to know and love), it was a tough one to shake the final grains of sand out of our bathing suits and head out of town.

    The ride to Piura took us a few hundred kilometers through windy coastal desert, at first undulating over sand dunes and eventually evening out to some of the flattest desert that we have ever seen. The cross-wind from the ocean kept us vigilant about keeping in the far tire track, especially since Peruvian drivers have a real issue with motorcycles driving in what we know as, proper blocking position. It seems that in Peru, motorcyclists are second class vehicles on the road, and other drivers have no qualms about forcing us onto the shoulder so that they can pass (us or other vehicles, in either direction).

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    On our map, we noticed that our route would take us past the most westerly point of South America, and that there appeared to be a lighthouse there, so we decided to take a little detour and check it out.

    At the city of Talara, we veered off the Pan-American Highway, to the town of Negritos. Here we followed the road through town and down towards the coast. The red and white striped lighthouse soon came into view and we headed off into the most logical direction. Adam was quite impressed to see a number of off-shore oil rigs in the water, and with the number of plants along the route, we deduced that this area is heavily involved in gas and/or oil production. The road wound its way through more sandy scenery until it deteriorated into a sandy track. At this point we had made it as far as we could to the lighthouse, which was still a number of kilometres off in the distance. Somewhat disappointed, we took a few photos with the lighthouse off in the distance, and headed back to the highway.

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    The western most point in South America, roughly.

    We arrived in Piura in mid-afternoon and headed straight for Los Cocos Inn, one of the only budget options that we could find with a presence online (why, oh why more hotels don't list their prices is beyond me). The inn was located in a grand old mansion that was once probably quite the talk of the town, but now had definitely seen better days. This is probably why it was now one of the cheapest places in town. Our room was basic and a little rough around the edges, with the bathroom being the obvious victim of neglect, as well as the uncomfortable sagging foam mattresses on wooden slat beds. The grounds and common areas were nice enough (but rundown) with a games room, a bar (not stocked), and outdoor seating. The owners were obvious animal lovers and there were a number of fish tanks dispersed throughout the establishment (in need of cleaning), a large cage in the center of the courtyard housing budgies and cockatiels, and even a tamarin monkey.

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    Los Coco's games room.

    We were starving. Having pulled another one of our eat-breakfast-then-ride-all-day-and-not-eat-again-until-we-stop days, our first priority (after a shower) was to find some food. Apparently this is a difficult thing to do at 4 p.m. in Piura because all the restaurants close up between lunch and dinner to prep for the evening's rush. After wandering around the city for over an hour, it became apparent that we would have to wait until six o'clock before we could have something to eat of any real substance. So it was off to the grocery store for our good old standby - Doritos - Mega Queso to be specific. Yes, we have become quite the Dorito's fans, usually wolfing down a couple of bags a week. Not the most nutritious of choices, but tasty nonetheless, and sufficient for when a snack is needed.

    At six p.m. we headed back out to a burger place that we had scoped out earlier, called Carbon Burger, for one of the best burgers we have had during the entire trip. For once, there was actual discernible beef on the bun with great toppings, grilled over an open flame right before our eyes. It almost brought tears to our eyes. Adam has been enjoying the Latin American burger as they tend to add a fried egg to most. I opted for the Hawaiian burger which was topped with ham and fresh pineapple - not the super-sweet almost candied stuff which is typical - another flavour combination popular in Latin America, especially on pizza.

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    Burger is not as small as camera depicts.

    As promised in most accounts of Peruvians cities, crossing the street was like an event out of American Gladiators. If motorcycles are second class on the roads, then pedestrians are bottom of the barrel because nobody was letting anyone on foot cross the street. We even stood on the street corner for so long, a cab stopped to ask if we needed a hotel for the night. I almost replied "No, but a ride across the street might be nice." We even thought that crossing near an accident would cause the other drivers to slow down, but they whipped through the obstacle like nothing was happening. Peru must have a large population of of doctors who are late for a lot of emergency surgeries. How else can the fast, erratic driving be explained???

    With bellies full and traffic evaded (eventually) - crossing in a herd seems to be the best way to dodge traffic with the highest rate of survival - we headed back to the hotel to our saggy beds.

    The next morning, it was straight out of Piura, and on to another surf town - Huanchaco. Adam had a brief stay in Huanchaco four years ago, so we headed straight for My Friend Surf Hostel, where he had previously parked for the night. This hostel was also quite bare-bones and basic (what is it with the crappy bathrooms, people?), but also quite cheap and close to the beach. The restaurant downstairs was quite good, and had a daily spaghetti special that came with your choice of sauce, garlic bread, and a Coke for 10 Soles (about $3). They also served pizza and a wide variety of seafood dishes, and was crowded for most meals. They also let us roll our bikes into the restaurant after closing so that they would be secure overnight. It would do for a few days.

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    Bikes stay outside until closing time.

    By happy happenstance, our friends Sheldon and Ewa (who are travelling two-up on a BMW GS 800) soon rolled up, and ended up getting a room at My Friend, as well. They had spent a few days riding around the area and were now plotting their course south. We hadn't seen them since Cali in Colombia, and it was great to catch up with them over a few drinks on the rooftop patio.

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    Handsome gentleman - A Peruvian hairless dog.

    It was definitely off-season in Huanchacho with cloudy skies, a little rain, and empty streets. The beach was not suitable for swimming (rough water), and it was a little cool to do so, anyway, but it didn't deter the hardcore surfers who were braving the tsunami-looking waves. The beach was also quite dirty (much like much of Peru, who seems to have quite the garbage problem, or a population that just doesn't seem to care), and even walking along the sand was a bit of a disappointment.

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    You add the super-strong coffee to your hot water to your taste.

    I can imagine that Huanchaco is quite the destination in the high season. The beach malecon was lined with hip restaurants, (almost) high-class hotels, and happening bars, and there was good activity on Saturday while we were there. Unfortunately during the rainy season, tourism mostly dries up and the music pumping from the establishments was a desperate cry to get anyone through their doors. Despite this, the beach was busy with artisans, and many totora boats, famous in Huanchaco and regarded as one of the first known crafts for surfing.

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    Surfs up! Totora boats.


    We also visited the Chan Chan ruins, located a short distance from Huanchaco. Chan Chan is the largest pre-Columbian city in South America (850 AD until 1470 AD) with an area of twenty square kilometres. It is also the largest adobe city in the world. We splurged and got a guided tour, which was well worth the 35 Soles (about $10) for the amount of information from our guide, who was animated and really seemed to enjoy his job. There is much criticism of the site as many of the buildings have been reconstructed due to heavy erosion. But it was pretty cool, if you ask me. The site has been heavily looted and virtually none of the treasures once buried there remain in Peru (which made for somewhat of a sad exhibition at the Chan Chan museum). It could also benefit from increased funding in order to preserve the site, but unfortunately due to heavy corruption in the government, there would be no funding this year to further digs or preservation, according to our guide.

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    Hard to capture but these walkways widen in public areas and narrow denoting private areas. Interesting optical illusion in terms of perspective.

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    Ancient pool at Chan Chan.

    From Huanchaco, rather than just shooting straight down the coast towards Lima on the Pan-American, we decided to check out some amazing scenery at Huaraz. The road that branches off into the mountains is 100 kilometers, or so, south of Huanchaco in Santa, and travels another 200 kilometers through Canon del Pato (Duck Canyon). This route, although not terribly long, reportedly takes a bus five to eight hours to travel. Since part of the road is not paved, we decided to check it our first before committing to the entire ride. Our investigation didn't reveal much, as the road from Santa continued paved for at least the 20 kilometers that we rode before turning back deciding to stay the night nearby and get an early start in the morning. We didn't want to risk being caught in the mountains on a dirt road in the dark.

    The closest city was Chimbote. From everything that we had read, Chimbote was a definite skip on the tourist trail. With no attractions, people also reported it to reek of dead fish (due to its fish oil processing plants), and to be extremely unsafe during both the day and night. The internet was lousy with vague reports of muggings and attacks, and even warned about taking taxi cabs, but, it was only 12 kilometers from the turn-off and looked to be our only viable option for accommodations. So, with skeptical hearts we headed off for Chimbote.

    Whilst circling the main square in Chimbote searching for a hotel with parking, we were approached by a young police officer who more-or-less explained to us that he was a member of a local motorcycle club, and that another club member had a moto-posada (posada being private guesthouse, moto being - well - moto) that regularly hosted motorcycle travellers from Argentina, Colombia, and Ecuador. He, Angelo, offered to take us there. We were a little concerned when he said that it would take 15 minutes to get there and we pictured us camped out in some remote location outside of the city with no available food in the area. As it turned out, the house was located in the new part of town which was connected to the old part of town via a major thrufare. It was a busy, bustling ride but we eventually arrived at Ivonne's house which was nestled in a small courtyard off the main road.

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    One of our Ecuadorian counterparts.

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    Mamma.

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    Dinner at the Chimobote Moto-Posada.

    We were greeted by Ivonne with open arms, and she welcomed us into her home. She spoke some English and explained to us that her son Jorge was the president of the local motorcycle club and hosted people on a regular basis. Over a glass of chicha morado, Ivonne explained that she didn't want any money in exchange for our stay and we were invited to use her house as our own home. Before long we were sitting down to eat lunch that was prepared for us by Ivonne and grandma Astura. By nightfall, there were also four Ecuadorian and three Colombian travellers also staying at the house. It was amazing that she managed to cram us all in (including herself, grandma, and Jorge), and fed us all without asking for any sort of repayment. It just goes to show you that there are good souls in this world who are willing to open their hearts and homes to strangers.

    It seemed as though Ivonne would have had us for a week if she could, and was sorry to see us go in the morning. I was somewhat of a celebrity, as it appeared that they had not hosted a female rider in the past. We were told that should we be in Chimbote again, we were to come to Ivonne's as we would always have a home there. As it was, we didn't leave until 11 a.m., and after a short tour of Chimbote, we were on our way to Santa with a police escort in Angelo (our rescuer from the day before).

    We reached Santa and headed out along the paved road that wound through the countryside in the direction of the Canon del Pato. The canyon followed an old railroad that was destroyed in a major earthquake in 1970. Many towns were also devastated at that time including the ones we were headed through, and our final destination of Huaraz. The road followed the Rio Santa for the entirety of the way, carving its way through the cordilleras, and passing through 40 or so tunnels etched through the mountains. As I was still slightly nervous about mountain travel, we weren't sure what the day would entail, in terms of challenges presented by the road. We already knew that the road was dirt for part of the way, and that the ascent to 3000 meters was gentle, unlike some of the other roads leading to Huaraz. So off we went with optimism in our hearts.

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    As promised, the pavement ended in Chuquicara and we began our journey on the dirt portion of the road. At first, the road was covered in loose gravel and neither of us were all too keen about riding on that surface for another 60-80 kilometres, as it makes the bike feel rather squirly as the tires track in search of traction. Luckily, this was not the case and the gravel subsided into hard-packed dirt with the odd patch of rock and gravel here and there, mainly from what had rolled down the steep mountainsides onto the road. The scenery was spectacular with mountains on both sides of us as we looped our way down the canyon! We passed through ghost towns, underneath gravity-defying overhangs, and through mountain landscapes that seemed to change in colour every time we came around a curve. Simply stunning. Although a fairly popular route, traffic was very light and we only passed the odd truck or bus, which was good, since most of the road was single-lane and we had to pull over for safety reasons to let oncoming vehicles pass.

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    Happily, the road was fairly flat and presented no great challenges. As we approached the 60 kilometre mark, where the pavement was promised to start according to a number of locals and the map that we had, pavement was nowhere in sight. As we traversed every curve and increasingly more switchbacks, hopes that pavement would be just around the corner were quickly dashed as there was only more dirt road ahead of us. Just when it appeared that all our resources were liars, we passed through Huallanca and the road surface hardened. We had found pavement! It was covered in a thin layer of sand, but it was pavement nonetheless. I had never been happier.

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    Tunnel-ly goodness.

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    Can you spot Jenn?

    Over a few more switchbacks as we climbed higher up the mountainsides, through a few more tunnels, and . . . road work. We pulled up behind a truck stopped in the roadway before a sign that stated that the road was closed Monday to Saturday from 7 a.m. until noon, and from 1 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. As it was only just after three, we now had a decision to make. With rapidly enclosing rain clouds overhead and an estimated two hours left until Huaraz, we could either wait until 5:30pm for the road to reopen and arrive in Huaraz after dark, or turn around and head back down into Huallanca, which didn't offer much in the way of hotels. We decided to wait.

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    Yellow sign indicates traffic passes only between noon and 1pm.

    And wait, we did. As the only source of entertainment on the mountain, we attracted quite the crowd of people who were all very interested in the bikes.

    With over an hour and a half to wait, I was dismayed that we had arrived at the road block with no visible bushes and a full bladder. With the line of traffic quickly building, it was now time whip it out, that is, to try out my She-Whiz, a female urinary device or pee funnel, as I like to call it, marketing at women travellers and campers for those moments when a loo just isn't available or desirable. This was a time when squatting wasn't even an option. So I grabbed some tissues and my She-Whiz and sauntered on down the road towards the tunnel that we had just passed through where there was a large boulder that would provide some privacy. Sneaking around the back of the boulder, I unzipped my Motoport riding pants to where I could properly position the She-Whiz, and . . . hesitated. Would this thing actually work? Would I actually be able to pee standing up? Or would I end up peeing my pants anyway? With a final prayer I 'let 'er rip' to great success. In a steady stream, I was amazed that the She-Whiz was actually doing its job and that I could now pee like a man. I leaned against the boulder and rejoiced that my days of squatting in the bushes, while quickly scanning for passersby were over. Feeling a little bit cocky with a swagger in my step, I went back to the awaiting Adam and the huddle of men around the bikes. Boys, you ain't got nothin' on me now.

    Shortly after five we were on our way. The road continued to be single lane (although paved, yay!), and wound its way through many more tunnels and alongside sheer thousand foot drop-offs to the river below. The roadwork had ensured that traffic in the opposite direction had stopped but it didn't deter impatient drivers behind us from speeding and tailgating their way along the hair-raising road. As it was only a single lane, we weren't really sure where they expected to pass, so rather than risk our lives, we pulled over when possible to let them pass by. Only to catch up with them later as they tried to squeeze past the line of on-coming traffic that was waiting to pass by in the opposite direction.

    As we made our way out of the construction zone, I gave a whoop of excitement as the road widened to two lanes once again and started to resemble a typical driveable road in any sane country. Daylight was quickly waning, and with an hour left to go, we caught our first glimpse of snow-covered mountain peaks highlighted by the red setting sun. It was magnificent. And had we not been in such a rush we might have stopped for some better photos. The road was nicely constructed, however, with many towns along the way and gentle slopes upwards until we reached Huaraz in the dark.

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    Parking at Jo's place.

    We located a place to stay at Jo's Place (a Life Remotely recommend) and quickly set out to find food (yep, another one of those ride all day without food days). Chifa was on the menu and we quickly stuffed ourselves silly with soup and a dish called aeropuerto (airport) that appeared to be somewhat of a clean-out-the-fridge dish consisting of fried rice, sprouts, and noodles.

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    Aeropuerto.

    In daylight, we discovered that Huaraz was bordered on one side by the Cordillera Blanca with many of its snow peaks in sight. Breathtaking. Hauraz seemed to have drawn us into relaxation mode where it was hard to get motivated to do much of anything. Whether it's acclimatization to the altitude, needing a bit of a relax, or staying up late and drinking with our new friends, Huaraz certainly had the laid-back thing down pat.

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    Pork.

    We managed to see quite a bit of the city, and wandered to Jose Olaya street which was the only street to not be destroyed in the 1970 earthquake. It retained its colonial architecture and was now filled with streetside restaurants. It was here that we finally sampled Peru's famed national dish - cuy. For those of you who don't know, cuy is guinea pig. In Huaraz it is served picante style, with a spicy sauce over potatoes. Our plates arrived with a quarter cuy each. Adam was served the head, while I took the hind quarters. The skin was very thick and crispy (almost like chicharron, or pork crackling), and there was very little meat and a little tough to eat. It tasted somewhat of pork with a touch of pet-cage, and was a little tough to eat. We are happy that we tried it, but not sure that it would be something that we would seek out intentionally.

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    JP chewing on GP!

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    Did the waitress place our cuy in this position deliberately?

    We have also frequented the central market which boasts a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that are grown in the region and many varieties of potatoes, accidentally but artistically displayed in bountiful sacks. As you may know potatoes are actually about as Irish as kebabs and are originally from the Peruvian Andes. It is actually our intention to check out a potato museum in Lima in the coming days.

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    SPUDS!

    Huaraz also has quite the showing for craft brews. On our first night, we joined a group of friends from our hostel (Mark and Tammy from England; Jaunty (sp?) from Australia; Ben from Germany) on an outing to a local brew pub. Our first stop was Cafe Bar 13 Buhos that offered a blonde, a roja, and a negra by "Luchos" which Adam described as a decent attempt at home brew. Our second stop, Trivio, served Sierra Andina beer which was far better. Adam had a good IPA and Jenn had the porter. Good beer=happy travellers.

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    IPA!

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    Porter!

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    Abbot Ale!???

    Our second day, after somewhat of a brutal night of upset stomachs and headaches, we slept in and then went for breakfast (full english style complete with BACON - hooray for Peru and their bacon! - beans, fried tomatoes, fried eggs, bread, juice, and frankfurters/salchicha), enjoyed while gazing on the snow-capped mountains from the third floor of the hostel. After eating it was down time and then another walking tour where we stopped at Cafe Andino for cappuccinos and chocolate cake, served warm with coconut. We also took a trip to the archaeological museum where we saw mummies and monolith statues.

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    Mummifed remains.

    Huaraz has turned out to be kind of a gastro delight. You can get almost (relatively) anything your palate desires here, from very traditional dishes to typical American fare. From breakfast burritos, cuy, chocolate empanadas, steaming bowls of Chifa soup, and some great coffee (if you know where to look for it), our stomachs have been well-fed.

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    Jenn and her stash.

    Since arrival, we both have been feeling slightly under the weather. This isn't surprising since Huaraz has quite the weather system itself. Sometimes it's hard to believe that the warm, sunny morning that has turned into thunderstorms and torrential downpour was even the same day. Our stomachs and heads have been battling altitude, new foods, and colder weather. We have been drinking coca tea to try to help and have dug out our recently-buried long underwear. Brrr! It may soon be time to head back to the coast.

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    There goes Jesus!

    Gallery links:
    #38
  19. rideforsmiles

    rideforsmiles Sheldon

    Joined:
    May 7, 2011
    Oddometer:
    4,261
    Location:
    Byron Bay Australia and Earth
    Was great to catch up to you guys again Adam and Im glad you and Jen restarted your blog here on Advrider, im sure there are heaps of fellow female riders in awe of what Jen is doing and I don't think she really appreciates just how much an inspiration she is to not only to other women but also the guys out there dreaming of doing such a ride or even just in daring to step outside of the comfort zone, make a change in life and go for it and see where it leads. The saying rattling around in my head is "when the going gets tough the tough get going". Your an amazing woman Jen and I hope the positive feedback I know you will get from the Advrider family will help inspire you to continue on some more to wherever your adventure takes you. Safe riding always.
    #39
  20. lildrling

    lildrling Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    No fixed address (originally Ontario, Canada)
    Jenn writes on 2014-05-11:

    Bright lights, classy city, crazy drivers - greetings from Lima!

    We arrived in Lima mid-afternoon after a long day's ride through more coastal desert. This time the road had us travelling up and down over mountains (or sand dunes?) as we coasted alongside, well, the coast. The weather wasn't ideal and we rode all day underneath damp, overcast skies with a pretty hefty crosswind.

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    Dry desert with a little coast from time to time.

    In some places the sand dunes looked like paintings, with rich golden swirls, engulfing abandoned houses buried up to their rooftops. As always, picturesque places don't mind where they are and often they are alongside inopportune places to pull over. We also encountered a lot of road work where the highway was down to a single lane for re-paving, usually on a hill, usually stuck behind a truck doing 20 km/hour, or slower. As our motorcycles are more agile we were able to pass by most slow-moving vehicles by skirting around the pylons.

    Let's backtrack a bit, shall we?

    We managed to pull ourselves out of bed long enough to leave Huaraz. A sad day, as I had grown quite comfortable there. It truly is a great little city in a spectacular setting with mountains on all sides, sunny days, and plenty to see and do. It has great cafes and almost any kind of food that you can imagine. From cuy to pizza to chifa to great beer, our bellies were kept happy with Huaraz's culinary offerings.

    Unfortunately it seems that we still haven't figured out the mystery of the battery draining grip warmers on my bike, and when we went to start the bikes up (after not riding for almost a week), my battery had certainly been drained since I had forgotten to turn the switch off after arriving in Huaraz. Adam believed that he had addressed a wiring issue but hadn't confirmed the fix - apparently there is still an issue.

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    Our sleepy Chilean friend.

    After that excitement we were off, heading out of Huaraz and up to the highest point of our trip so far before descending back down to the coast. About twenty minutes outside of Huaraz, we spotted an adventure bike pulled over on the side of the road and the rider lying on the grass. It turned out that the chap was taking a quick nap and not hurt (phew!), and that he was travelling north from his native Chile. After a quick meet and greet and a few photos we were back on our respective ways.

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    A view from the road leaving Huaraz.

    The road continued its gentle climb upwards, at first passing through small towns, then rolling countryside, up past the tree line and into high Andean plains. The riding was magnificent with very little traffic and beautiful scenery around every curve. Magnificent rock formations, snow-capped mountains, and rolling grasslands surrounded us as we traversed a land that seemed forgotten by most. As we rode on, dark clouds started to roll in and we could hear thunder in the distance. Pretty soon we were donning our rain gear as the rain came down and the temperature started to drop. At 4000 meters, it became quite chilly (the temperature gauge on my bike read 12 degrees Celsius (including ambient engine heat), something we hadn't seen since Baja Mexico many months ago).

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    Some nice scenery.

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    Some fun switchbacks.

    Passing through Conococha (a mining town also known for its local cheese) we reached our top altitude of 4085 meters before starting our descent through the clouds and down one of the most amazing roads that I have ever ridden. Switchback after switchback lead us down past sheer rock faces, purple flower covered mountainsides and down, down, down between dry desert mountains dotted with cactus, and reminiscent of scenery in Utah or Colorado, USA. Great curves, smooth roads, and landscape that never failed to impress. If you happen to be in this area, it is not to be missed (just don't take a bus since they all travel at night and you won't be able to see a thing).

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    Mining equipment being dragged up the Andes piece by piece.

    Our destination was Barranca since we didn't know how long it would take to ride the road, and we wanted to check out the ruins at Caral, the Sacred City, but didn't know how long it would take to visit.

    We were previously contacted by Cesar who was friends with Jorge in Chimbote, who also ran a moto-posada in Barranca and who invited us to stay with him while we were in town. We were undecided and decided that a hotel might be more simple and allow us an early morning departure time as opposed to staying with someone. As fate would have it, as we pulled away from Hotel Chavin, due to laughable rates (85 soles per person, about USD$60 ), we were suddenly surrounded by a group of bikes, with some familiar faces. Our Colombian friends from Chimbote were amongst the riders and were heading out of town to Lima accompanied by Cesar and a group of riders from his club.

    Never ones to turn away happenstance, we followed Cesar to his shop (he's a mechanic) where he explained that the bikes would be parked, a few blocks away from his house. Anyone who has seen our bike set up and packing scheme knows that it's not ideal for us to be too far from our bikes as packing and re-packing is somewhat of a production and we explained that we would prefer to be close to the bikes. Cesar, who was happy to accommodate, lead us to his house where we measured the doorway to see if they would fit through into the courtyard. The bikes were just too wide. Without taking the panniers off, it wasn't meant to be. Fortunately, Cesar knew of a hotel close by, so it was off to check it out.

    When we pulled up in front, Adam stated that his bike felt a bit squirly like he had a flat, and indeed he had. The owner of the hotel showed us into the parking space where we started a tear down of the luggage and removal of Adam's rear tire. This would mark our sixth flat of the trip; six flats in six months. The flat was actually caused by a hole in the patch that was put on in Huanchaco. Adam can only imagine that having removed a small piece of wire repairing the previous flat, he must have missed a small piece.

    A funny thing about the hotels in smaller cities in Peru is that many of them tend to double as love motels, and this one was no exception. Piel de Angel offered complete discretion with private parking and 21 adult channels on the TV, or so says its sign. It was a bit like the love motel that we stayed in near Salina Cruz in Mexico. I wasn't quite sure if it was one or not (I hadn't noticed the 21 channels thing yet).

    The rooms were decorated with a homey flair yet signs on the wall asked patrons to keep control of their body fluids (or see we believe), in not such a direct way, as well as a menu on the wall featuring food, alcohol, toiletries, and prophylactics. I suppose in small towns without much in the way to attract tourists, hotels need to offer other services such as hourly rates in order to survive. No matter. We were given a good rate (40 Soles, or about US$15 for a triple), the owner was friendly and helpful, the room was clean, and there was secure parking. And Cesar didn't even bat an eyelid, leading us to come to the conclusion that love motel, or at least those that double as a love motel but probably accept families as well, are just a part of the culture and completely acceptable.

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    Our first moto-taxi ride. Lots of fun being in one, rather than nearly splattered by one.

    We had heard that Barranca was not a safe place at night, but we had spent more time than expected repairing the tire, and so venturing out for food would now be done in the dark. The owner of the hotel, Juan, assured us that it was completely safe to wander around at night and we set off for the main square to find some sustenance. Admittedly it was a dark walk and we passed through an area of warehouse fronts that seemed less inviting, but we never felt threatened or afraid. Barranca is just a regular town with regular people going about their business and nothing to be afraid of, in my personal opinion.

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    Stupid big chicken dinner for S/10 (USD$4). Actually, it was probably rooster.

    We eventually seated ourselves down in a restaurant serving roast chicken. We ordered a quarter chicken with fries and salad for 10 Soles each (under USD$4). When the food arrived it was enough to feed a family of four. The chicken was most likely a rooster, and the pile of french fries was embarrassing. The salad was more of a salad than we had seen in ages with avocado, beets, and carrots. It was way too much food, and we stuffed our empty bellies until full, still leaving about half the fries on the plate.

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    We weren't hungry but it was dinner time (9pm or so) again.

    It wasn't long before we were back at the hotel when Cesar showed up for our coffee date. He brought along his wife, son, and daughter, and we all hopped in a couple of moto-taxis (our first) in the direction of a cafe. Even though we were stuffed we couldn't turn down and offer for a sampling of papa rellena (a ball of mashed potato filled with beef and vegetables and deep fried). The conversation was somewhat pained due to the language barrier - they spoke absolutely no English - but we managed to get a bit of verbal exchange in. We agreed to meet for breakfast the next morning before we headed off, and said our 'good nights'.

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    A market which we had breakfast in.

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    A hardy Peruvian breakfast.

    For breakfast the next morning (which we were hoping to spend an hour at, at most, for a 10 a.m. departure time), Cesar and his wife whisked us away to a market for chicharron and tamales. Service was slow, and our tamales were mediocre at best (we really missed out by not ordering the chicharron), and our early departure time slipped away. But it was nice to be hosted in a city that was supposedly very dangerous, and to be made to feel welcome.

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    Saying goodbye.

    Once we left we headed out along the Pan-American Highway to where the dirt road started in the direction of the Caral ruins. Caral is the most ancient city of the Americas, equally as old as the pyramids at Giza, and was inhabited between 2600 BC and 2000 BC. The ruins are scattered across 35 square kilometers throughout the Supe Valley. We were keen to see them and hoped that we had left enough time before heading into Lima.

    The first few kilometers of road were typical hard-packed dusty dirt shooting straight off through farmland. No problem. About 5KM down the road, however, we started to hit a bit of mud. It also appeared that they were either getting ready to pave it or lay new gravel as one side of the road was blocked with mounds of deep dirt and gravel. Down to one lane, this side of the road was being passed over regularly by a watering truck making the road a slick mess. Unfortunately, our tires were not suited for this kind of riding and Adam's front kept slipping out from underneath him. We decided to turn back with the knowledge that there were three other roads that lead to Caral from the highway, south of our first attempt.

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    According to the sign, I am riding through a herd of cows.

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    Still not convinced that these are cows.

    At Huacho, the road most travelled by buses taking tourists to Caral from Lima, we headed off to Caral on our second (and last) attempt. This road was similar to the first one, only with much more 'washboard' surface. We passed through a few small towns, cane fields, and came to a river where we hung a left and started to follow alongside. Soon the gravel grew deeper and sand started to become a bit of an issue. Twenty five kilometers of struggling through loose road surface on poor tires, wasn't appealing and we gave up on our Caral dreams and turned back to the highway.

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    Slippery mud no match for our worn Avon Gripsters.

    Lima was only a few hours down the coastal road (the windy, desert, blowing, overcast coastal road), and we made our way past sprawling open spaces to the busy city. If you listen to the hype, you do not want to drive in Lima. It is very dangerous and you will most certainly get into an accident. This had me worried. Soon, however, we discovered that while Lima has its own special kind of crazy drivers, they really didn't seem to be any worse than any other drivers we have encountered in Latin American cities. There are certainly a lot of cars, and a lot of drivers doing bonehead maneuvers, but on the whole I found Lima drivers to actually be a little bit polite. They at least check their blind spots before making a lane change whether there is someone there or not. And they will kindly honk their horn to alert you to their presence before they run you over. A bit of an improvement, if you ask me.

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    A very interesting "piece"...and anti-drunk driving monument made out of pieces of automobiles.

    We stayed at the Hitchhikers Backpackers Inn/Hostal that had ample parking and supposedly camping, in the Miraflores area. The receptionist at the desk, however, clearly stated that there was no camping unless you were sleeping in your vehicle, despite there being a photograph on their website showing tents pitched in their parking lot. We opted for the room with private bath, and at $34 per night, isn't terribly expensive for a city, but quite pricey for our Peruvian experience, so far.

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    Ample parking but no tenting (despite their website portraying tents next to overlanding trucks).

    Adam was quite keen to show me around Miraflores and some of the places that he had visited when here previously. For our Toronto friends, Miraflores is much like a grandiose Yorkville, complete with swanky restaurants and cafes, nightclubs, high-end shopping, and luxury hotels. There is even a Starbucks here! It didn't disappoint and I could even picture myself renting out an apartment here for an extended stay.

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    Guayaquil, Ecuador has their "Iguana park". Lima's version includes many gatos.

    We also learned that our friends Sheldon and Ewa were still in town, and close by, so we dropped them a message and made plans to meet for a walk and some dinner that evening. They showed us around to some areas that we had not been to - the waterfront, Parque de Amor, and a high-end shopping centre along the ocean. I can't say that we have been suffering for a lack of anything on this trip, but Lima will be one of the most difficult places to watch grow smaller in my rearview mirror. So many places to shop; nowhere to stash it on the bike (*sigh*), what is a girl to do?

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    Ewa, Sheldon and Adam pondering the mysteries of life.

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    A very interest archeological site in the heart of Mira Flores.

    Our culinary adventure also continued with our first tasting of tacu-tacu: a rice and beans pancake, fried on the grill. Variations include a breaded and pan-fried steak and/or a fried egg, although ours did not. In any case, it was tasty. As a rice lover, my stomach has been more than happy to see so much rice on my plate. Chifa is super abundant here with a number of restaurants on every block, and if neither that or typical Peruvian foods suits your fancy, you can always hit the McDonald's, Pizza Hut, KFC, one of the numerous gourmet burger joints or steak houses (Tony Roma's or T.G.I. Friday's). Lima is a world-class city with heavy North American influence. Even Canada Dry is on the grocery store shelves, in the imported foods section.

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    Cappuccino is so "civilized".

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    Modernity in the desert.

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    Adam adds:

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    Muchos Pirellis en Lima.

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    And more.

    Finally, one of the main reasons we opted to spend some time in Lima, is that it was time to change our tires. We departed Ontario running Avon Gripster tires, a well know, economical, high mileage "classic tire" - and not really in fashion at the moment. Not having run them before, we expected to run them for as long as necessary as a sort of commuter tire. At first, they were to at least get us out of the US, and then Mexico. We didn't figure that they would get us through Central America, and then Colombia, and then Ecuador, and definitely didn't expect Peru.

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    They served us well.

    This is not entirely true as I replaced my rear Gripster in Cobán, Guatemala with a Kenda K761. This tire was replaced somewhat prematurely as it probably would have lasted through most of Central America - and by the looks of Jenn's set, perhaps Colombia, but we didn't really want to "chance it". Traveling like this, is a good plan to buy something when you see it, rather than delay and hope to find it later. With this said, we had always planned on replacing tires before reaching Bolivia to something more aggressive, and probably in Lima.

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    Their tire mounting machines make easy work of what would have taken me a good few hours.

    It seems that my rear tire Avon Gripster did quite well once outside of the USA, but it seems that my heavier body weight, extra gear (before we got rid of some stuff - sending it home), and just hard riding with relatively fast speeds on course highways did a number on my rear tire before we even reached Texas. We recall several stops where we could smell the rubber of the tires due to heat build up. We haven't seen this situation having left the USA and suspect that my rear Avon Gripster took some abuse (perhaps 1/5 done) within the first week of our departure. In the end, Jenn got over 22,000km on her set as I did on my front tire. We changed my rear Gripster at 13,000km and the Kenda at about 10,000km. The Kenda had quite a bit of tread life left but was starting to get an annoying wear pattern.

    After much fussing and visiting the best places to by tires in Mira Flores, we settled for Brazilian made Metzelers - Enduro 3 Sahara on the rear and Karoo 2 (T) on the front. We decided not to go with a much more aggressive tire like the Pirelli MT-21, or actually this was partially decided for us due to lack of availability. They would have been excellent of road, for example, in certain parts of Bolivia, but their wear life is not great.

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    Business up front (sho-).

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    Party out back (-lo). Actually, this Enduro 3 is a little grippy to be considered a full mullet configuration.

    In the end, we have decided to put together a sort of "mullet" configuration. Shorter life tire on the front, longer life tire on the rear (sho-lo), which also happens to be a more aggressive tire on the front for more tracking (business up front), and let the more road oriented tire on the rear tags along, perhaps even getting a bit squirmy at times (party out back) - hence the use of the term "mullet". If we need to get precise about our terminology, I don't think we are using a true mullet configuration since the rear Enduro 3 Sahara is a bit more off-road oriented and not strictly a long-life road tire - I guess you could say that we have gone with a partial mullet.

    Our new set of tires have been a joy on the highway so far as our previous tires were starting to feel "sluggish" as they were starting to flatten out and become less responsive feeling. I suspect that we have chosen a pretty good combination for Bolivia and the journey ahead of us.
    #40