Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pasto to Palmira, March 29

The hostel in Pasto was right downtown on the main square.  Actually, there seems to be two main squares in Pasto, the traditional one opposite the grande iglesia physically square in configuration,  and a much larger rectangular one adjacent to some government buildings with modern sculpture and a vast expanse of interestingly sloped and terraced stone and concrete surface - we faced the latter of the two.
There was not much happening in Pasto on Sunday night, and we were lucky to find a restaurant open for dinner.  At LeMerced, we had a delicious Camarones Criolla - jumbo shrimp in a tomato and onion broth.
We're pushing hard to get to Bogota and arrange shipping to Panama for March 31st, so we were on the road by 7am.  Getting out of Pasto was easy, as the street beside the hostal actually linked directly into the Panamerica Norte.  The ride started with a mountain ascent in a slight drizzle, but by the time we descended the range we hd left the rain behind and the climate had changed from tropical to semi-arid desert and 38 degree C heat.
We got stopped by the Nacional Policia at a checkpoint around El Estrecho.  The guys weren't interested in official business, but they wanted to have their pictures taken with us and the bikes!
After  another mountain pass, we were back in the tropics again all the way past Cali to Palmira.

We stopped at a hostal in the countryside outside Palmira after almost 500km of riding.  It was  a "rustic" place; a swimming pool, but so murky you couldn't see the bottom, no shower heads in the bathrooms  etc. -  the property has only recently been acquired as a family operation, and although a considerable amount of renovation has been completed around the grounds, and much more is in progress, there is still alot to be done.

Petra went to grab a quick shower, and as soon as she turned on the water a pipe burst in the vanity, sending a geyser of dark brown water up to the ceiling.  Once we'd dried out a bit, we hit the sack for an early start tomorrow to try and get to Bogota - it's only 450km's away, but apparently a 10 to 12 hour ride!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Machachi, Ecuador to Pasto, Colombia - March 28

We had an early start with intentions of crossing the frontier into Colombia today.  Breakfast was at 7am and we left the Estacion before 8am to get a jump on Quito traffic.

We by-passed the main part of Quito to make good time northbound, and stopped for a quick lunch in the tiny town of Bolivar, about 55km south of Tulcan.  Just outside of Quito we crossed the equator.

Tulcan is the border town on the Ecuadorian side of the border.  We arrived there about 2:30pm, and were checked out of migraciones and aduana and into Colombia by 4pm - welcome to country number 6!
The ride north to Pasto was up and through the Colombian Andes - steep and green, with deep canyons and sheer cliffs coated in some type of Spanish Moss.
This part of Ecuador and Colombia can be very dangerous off the main routes.  There are drug issues on both sides of the border, and FARC can still be active on the Colombian side.  As a result, there is a significant policia and military presence, especially in Colombia.  We rode past dozens of heavily armed soldiers with a smile and wave, and were ushered through three military checkpoints on the 80km ride north to Pasto.

Tomorrow we head for Cali.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Machachi, Ecuador - March 27

We had an excellent dinner last night in this beautiful old hotel,  the "Estacion", and then a real breakfast of eggs, toast and fresh fruit this morning.  The surroundings are so nice and the people are so friendly, we decided to put our feet up for the day after 8 straight days on the road.
The central courtyard, doubling as moto parking.

The hotel grounds include a farm and some beautiful gardens.  The building is 180 years old and has been operated by the same family for five generations.
We've sorted out a small problem with the internet connection, so I can get caught up on the blog, and we've got access to a washer and dryer to get caught up on laundry while our gear dries out from yesterdays downpour.
Proprietor Jose, and some of the locals from around the farm.
 Another local from around the farm.
Machachi Station, right outside the door.

Tomorrow we're heading for Tulcan, on the Colombian frontier.

Pallatanga to Machachi - March 26

We had a late start this morning.  I had a bad reaction to my anti-malarials and was knocked off my feet for a few hours, so we got underway after 10am.
The road north from Pallatanga was a long ascent into the Andes.  It was a beautiful, but surprisingly cold ride at 14 degrees - especially after the last week of 35 to 40 degree heat.
We stopped for lunch at a traditional restaurant in Mocha. I had Cuy for the first time - it's a Guinea Pig like animal that's actually the national dish in Peru, and also very popular in Ecuador. What can I tastes like chicken!  It's a little fattier, but really does taste like a delicious roast chicken.
More tollbooth drama of a different kind today.  I mentioned previously that motos are charged 20 cents each - so what could be easier than pulling up to the booth, paying 40 cents and being on our way?  Well, we'd been through three tolls doing exactly that when at the fourth, I paid, the gate lifted we proceeded and the gate crashed down on Petra!  She was OK, but the gate was made of plastic and literally shattered to pieces!  We can't get over all of the bizarre incidences we're experiencing at tollbooths.
Darkening clouds were chasing us from Ambato, and we rode into Machachi in a downpour and soaked to the bone.  It's still surprisingly cold at only 16 degrees, so cold and when we searched for a hostal only to luck out again! We are in a beautiful 180 year old hotel with tudor style beams, and antique furniture.  The bikes are safe and secure in the garden coutyard, and the owners have been very friendly.

Tumbes, Peru to Pallatanga, Ecuador - March 25

We were at the Peruvian border outpost just after it opened at 9:00am.  The Aduana and Migraciones officials were very friendly and efficient and we were on our way across the border to Ecuador within minutes.

Peru is an amazing country; its landscapes and climates are remarkably diverse and its people are extremely warm and friendly - perhaps we were just fortunate to avoid the bad apples - but the fact is, everywhere we went we encountered genuine, outgoing, helpful people.  Even the Policia were all smiles and waves as we passed (but I chalk that up to our initial donation to "Santa Rosa"!)

One riddle we were unable to solve was what we came to call "tollbooth roulette".  In Peru, motos are not charged for the use of toll roads, but the trouble is the officials also won't allow motos to pass through a toll gate, even when there are no safe alternatives.  In many cases as we'd approach a toll, an attendant would run out wildly gesticulating in some direction where we were expected to ride - often crossing up to 5 lanes of traffic (including oncoming lanes) just to get around the gates.

In one instance, in Lima, the attendant actually physically blocked the lane and insisted we ride around, but I had already inspected the by-pass, and even if our bikes would fit (which they would not) it was unsafe as it was gated above 4 feet in height!  We kept explaining that we wouldn't fit, but he stood holding our handlebars and refusing us passage.  Once I had his full attention, I told Petra over the radio to ride through. She did, and he was furious!  I consoled him by asking him to show me again where he wanted me to ride, and then bolted the second he relaxed.  He actually chased me and tried to tackle me off my bike - crazy!

In Ecuador, they charge us 20 US cents per bike to pass the tolls - we gladly pay.

There is a heightened police and military presence in Ecuador right now.  They are concerned with narcotics trafficing and some form of civil unrest that's focussed in the major urban centres. We rode through multiple checkpoints on our way north, but were merely waved on our way.

As we stopped for water at a gas station outside Santa Rosa, a family pulled up in a car beside me - husband, wife, three boys, and grandmother - all curious about the bikes and our trip.  The man was so excited he asked if he could photograph me with his wife and boys.  I said, "sure", he took the photo, and then his wife wanted one with just the two of us and her arms around me! Hilarious.

Ecuador is one of the most bio-diverse countries, but most of the day was spent riding alongside banana plantations and passing slow, black-smoke belching banana trucks.  Late in the afternoon we rode back into the Andes, now densely forested with tropical jungle.
It started to rain heavily so we decided to stay at a hostal outside of Pallatanga for the night.  It was quite a find, a few kilometres off the highway on the other side of Pallatanga, but it is beautiful.  There's a fast moving stream running past my window with an incredible number of trout trapped between two waterfalls.  I can hear the sound of the waterfalls as I write this - Oh! and we just had a pretty significant sismo (tremor), it shook my bed hard and made the roof boom above Petra's bed.
Cabinas at the Hostal.
The river runs through it. Literally.

We ate a local meal at a restaurant in town.  The road outside the restaurant was closed for repairs and the local kids were running soapbox races down the steep hill - they would fly past us at about 40kmh, careening out of control, bodies flying everywhere, peeing themselves laughing - only to run back up and do it over again.  They got even more reckless once I had camera out!

Tomorrow we'll continue north towards Quito.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Piura to Tumbes - March 24

We rode west out of Piura on the Panamerica Hwy and then north along the coast to Tumbes just south of the Ecuadorian border.
The landscape was mostly desert badlands, although around El Alto we passed through a deep canyon with some fun twists and turns.

The word of the day is - HOT - most of the day we were riding in 39 degree C heat at 110kph.  The wind feels like an oven door when you open it too quickly!  All of my gear smells like hockey bag.

We stopped for lunch in Mancora, renowned for surfing and good seafood.  I ordered Cangrejo Revantado, which I was told was whole crab.  Turns out the literal translation is "exploded crab" - as though the whole crab had been run through a blender and served on a plate - every mouthful containing a dozen shards of hard crab shell.  Impossible to eat, so a hungry afternoon ride for me!
Tumbes was busy, but again, remarkably friendly.  Each time we would stop to investigate our location or a hostal, we'd be surrounded by smiling, curious, helpful locals.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Huanchaco to Piura - March 23

We had a long, hot ride north today, with a lot of slow trucks on the road.  Riding temperatures rarely fell below 35 degrees C, and we were not keen on stopping to take pictures of more sand etc. - so I thought I'd share some of the interesting signs seen along the road so far...
Como se Llama!?
Viente! (actually, the trees blew away  a long time ago)
Slow - no road ahead.
 Jesus Christo - brought to you by Coca-Cola.
Not dat boton, DIS boton!

Tomorrow we head to Macara, and the Ecuadorian border.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Huarmey to Huanchaco - March 22

Just outside of Huarmey I noticed a small parking area in the dunes close to the ocean, so we decided to see if we could get to the shore.  It turned out the dunes were fairly hard-packed and we could ride on them long distances.
It was a lot of fun riding up and over the big rollers, and the views of the ocean and cliffs were amazing.
At one point I rode down a steep slope right to the water.  There were a number of large vultures sunning themselves on the rocks, and we found a very strange skull on the beach.
We stopped at a tiny desert oasis part way to Casma, where we met Clemante.  He runs this restauarant, literally in the middle of nowhere, but he has incredible storys about travellers and he keeps logbooks for people to write a short message about their journeys.
The storys were amazing, including one about an Ingleses Gulf War veteran who was on a ten year journey around the globe without the aid of ships, planes, trains, cars, buses, trucks or even bicycles.  He was towing all his gear in a handcart as he walked along!

You can see his webpage with this link:

I was invited to add my piece to the journal, and did so humbly because our trip seems to pale in comparison to the accomplishments described in those pages.

In Casma, we stopped at Sechin, a pre-incan temple that dates back 2000-3000 years B.C.
From Casma we rode to Chimbote - a filthy place - but then on to Huanchaco.

Huanchaco is actually a bit if a surfing Mecca, and has developed as somewhat of a resort town.  We ditched our gear at a nice hostal (bikes in the lobby again), and went straight to the beach to watch the incredible waves, the last of the days surfers, and the setting sun.
Dinner was fresh seafood of course, and I ordered something that must have translated to "mountain of food" - a spicy stew of scallops, shrimp, squid, octopus, onion and tomatoes set atop a full crab, alongside a huge portion of freshly caught grilled fish.  It was delicious, but the crab was incredible - the meat was so tender and sweet it tasted as though it had been cooked in maple sap!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Chincha Alta to Huarmey - March 21

Today we began our run up the coast of Peru.  It's good timing, as we'll pass through Lima with Sunday morning traffic (no place for anyone with the slightest self-preservation instinct to ride a motorcycle).
The landscape on this northbound route varies from dusty rock to massive sand dunes 100 or more feet high, intersperced with green river deltas with small agricultural communities and a multitude of fruit and vegetable stands along the roadside.
With the Pacific ocean just off to our left, every now and then we were presented with a spectacular vista of surf, sand and rock.

The Panamerica Norte into Lima is a four to six lane divided highway, the first we have seen since leaving Buenos Aires over 13,000km's ago.  As we rode closer to Centro Lima, we zigged when we should have zagged at a Y in the road and ended up off the main highway.  I needed to upload new maps to the GPS, so we pulled into an open and empty parking area to do that before continuing.  In the meantime, Petra struck up a conversation with a group of young people in their Sunday best.  None of them drive, so directions weren't forthcoming until I opened the GPS map on the netbook.  Beatriz was quickly able to point out where we were, and showus a straightforward route back to the Panamerica.

One of the kids had gone to fetch their Pastor, an American Mormon, who was able to speak to us in english.  He told us once we were on the Panamerica, "don't stop for the next 10 or 15km's, because it's a very bad area."  Helpful advice, but nothing my eyes didn't tell me as we rode along!

Lima Centro is beautiful, and I regret not passing through it, but it's just too difficult to navigate two bikes through traffic.  We spent the next 20km's exiting the city in a rugby match with collectivos and mini-buses, eventually stopping for lunch at an open air restaurant in Chancay.
I had Lenguado, a prehistoric looking fish with a mouthful of teeth from the Sole family - grilled and then lightly fried - a house specialty and delicious.  The picante salsa on the side was like molten lava!
We continued north through more impressive dunes and a mini-sandstorm, eventually stopping in Huarmey for the night. 
The hotel lobby doubled as a parking garage for the night.