yes, it has been a while since I’ve added to my travel blog. well, more than a while. and as most folks know (spoiler alert!!!!): I completed my journey through mexico, central and south america, made it back to the states in (more or less) one piece in the spring of 2010, returned to seattle for a year or so, then headed back to baltimore in september of 2011. as time goes by and I have a chance to look back at my adventures I am more and more motivated to write and share the rest of the story from bolivia south (then back north, then back west, and so on…..). please scroll down and enjoy the story so far and please check back in when you can. I promise there will be more. much, much more………………
made it through the dismal remainder of peru, into the brilliance of bolivia, conquered the harsh desert and crossed into the civilized tourist circus of chile.
many strange, wonderful, horrifying, inspiring, and lovely things have happened since my last post. it will take a little more time to process it all, but I will be certain to post as much as possible very soon.
big love to all
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the ride from cuenca to the border of peru at macara was simply the best day of motorcycling I have done on this trip and quite possibly the best single day I have ever done, period. all day above the clouds on mountain ridges full of fast, sweeping, smooth concrete curves with absolutely zero traffic, warm air, and blue skies with occasional thin white clouds. grant and I spent hours pushing the bikes as hard as we dared on some of the best roads I have ever seen while surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery I have ever witnessed. it was truly an extraordinary delight in every imaginable way. there were times that it was quite a struggle for me to decide between sight seeing or bike riding (the road was enough of a challenge that doing both at once was simply not an option). for the most part the bike riding won out and I spent what seemed like endless hours tearing through the curves with blissful abandon. at one point we rounded a sharp corner and were treated to the wondrous sight of a thick cloud line being blown up from one side of the valley, over the top of the mountain and across the road then down into the valley on the other side. we stopped for a few quick photos, then rolled through the wave of vapor. as it curled it’s way around and over me I actually opened my mouth and stuck out my tongue to see if the rock and roll rumor that clouds taste metallic is true. I’m happy to say I now know the answer…….
after descending from the hours of brilliant mountain carving we suddenly found ourselves at the border station at macara in the late afternoon. there was plenty of light left in the sky so we decided to have a go at what we were told by jerome (who crossed there the week prior) was a quick and easy crossing. we seemed to be the only people coming and going, there were about six total office workers and one guard, there were no lines at any of the offices, but for some unknown reason the bike paperwork took a ridiculously long time to get processed. we were starting to get a little concerned about the amount of daylight left but really had no choice but to push on once we were cleared to roll. finally, after close to two hours worth of waiting for paperwork that seemed like it could have easily been done in minutes, we were in peru.
the instant we crossed the border everything changed. the many immediate differences were actually quite remarkable and almost comical to note. the road went from being bright white concrete with fresh yellow and white lane lines to dark black asphalt with no markers of any sort. the lush, green mountainous twisties gave way to absolutely arrow straight and flat cut through stone and sand. boom. just like that. everything that I loved about the long day on the bike was gone and in a dramatic and shocking moment. it was also quite remarkable how many farm animals there were on the shoulders and on the sides of the road. cows, chickens, goats, sheep, horses, donkeys, you name it. all just wandering around on the side of a major highway, seemingly to remind me of how fast I was going and how quickly it was getting dark. after a quick stop in the first little town after the border, grant and I had a look at the map and decided to push for a slightly larger town about another hour down the road. we slowed our pace, kept a vigilant watch out for the endless parade of livestock and foul wandering the highway at dusk and made it to a small town just outside of sullana. just as it got completely dark grant spotted a sign for a restaurant and bungalows so we stopped. the place was full, but as it turned out there was a rather run down road house just across the street that we were able to check into. there was a slight complication, however, as both grant and I managed, by virtue of not being hassled by the usual barrage of money changers at the border, to forget to get any local currency. the guy at the hotel was having no part of the u.s. dollars used in ecuador, but agreed to let us slide until the morning. great, but what to do about food?
we wandered back across the street to the restaurant and hoped for the best. a guy who worked there told us that the kitchen was closed, but offered to hail a taxi and take us to a place he knew in town. very kind, but that still didn’t sort the money. we explained the situation to him and he was then good enough to change ten u.s. dollars for us which, with the exchange rate, gave us enough money for food that night. next thing we knew we were in one of the thousands of three wheeled 125cc powered moto taxis that run from one end of town to another heading to dinner with a guy who worked at a hotel we weren’t staying in. he even sat with us and engaged in some attempts at light conversation as we enjoyed our meal of some peruvian interpretation of chinese curry (?!?!?!). after dinner we returned with our host to his hotel where we sat in the outdoor lounge area and had some beers. there was a huge rottweiler wandering about the property that seemed friendly so grant tried petting him. the pup didn’t take to the kindness, snapped and promptly put a nice puncture wound in grant’s palm. the dog seemed well fed and healthy, so I wasn’t too terribly worried about infection, but the guys at the hotel gave us some lime to put on it which I thought might be a wise idea. not to mention, sick bastard I am, I wanted to see how grant would react to lime juice in a fresh flesh wound! needless to say, he screamed, almost passed out and spent a good half hour white as a ghost, head in hands and loopy with pain. I concealed my desire to laugh my ass off by trying to convince him of the scientific and medical benefits of the exercise. in his weakened state I think he maybe even bought a little of it! somehow, after a few more beers, he got his wits back enough to make the walk back across the street to where we were staying. after squaring up on our tab and giving many, many thanks to our gracious host, we returned to the hotel where I gave the puncture a proper saline irrigation before grant packed it full of antibacterial cream and taped it shut. the long day of riding followed by good dinner punctuated by minor medical drama made for a good night’s sleep.
the next day we woke up early, dealt with getting money for the grumpy hotel clerk by way of leaving my camera as collateral while we ran into town and found an atm, had a good breakfast at the hotel place across the road and began our battle with the stiff headwinds, bland scenery and mind numbing boredom that is riding in a straight, flat line down the pan american highway in peru. after quite an unremarkable day, we decided to stop in a town which was described in grant’s tourist travel book as being a “small fishing village”, but was in fact, a very developed beach community. there were no shortage of hostels and hotels to choose from, so we just parked in the middle of the main drag and had a quick look at our options. we spotted one particularly fancy looking place, joked about staying there, took a few guesses at what it would be a night, then decided to go find out just for a laugh. I guessed between ninety and one twenty u.s. a night and grant guessed a bit lower. with as much dignity as two stinky, road weary motorcyclists could manage, we confidently strode through the giant glass doors, up to the hardwood reception desk, and asked the sharply dressed attendant how much a room with two beds would be. our humor turned to delight when we discovered that the nicest beach view suite they had cost a whopping forty five bucks. cherry on the cake: it being off season we even managed to haggle that down and get the place for thirty five! so there we were in our penthouse suit with an ocean view through the glass doors leading to our balcony, gigantic flat screen t.v., ‘fridge bar, scolding hot shower and insanely comfortable and spacious beds for only a few bucks more than we payed for the bug ridden dump we (barely) slept in the night before. lesson learned? always ask!!!!! after a fine dinner of pasta with cream sauce from one of the countless fine restaurants on the block, we headed back to the hotel for a few beers, a couple double shots of tequila and a really solid night of sleep.
the next day we were back on the road pretty early considering all the drinking the night before (and how incredibly comfy those damn beds were…..) to do more battle with the flat and boring pan am. after a few more completely forgettable hours on the road we stopped at a gas station for a snack and a look at the maps. as we sat there planning a much needed diversion from the highway I saw some bikes pull into the parking lot. unbelievably, it was spencer, steve and marco! they had been days behind us at one point, but managed to catch up during my sick days off in riobamba. we had a good time catching up, trading stories and talking about routes. it seemed we were all heading off the highway on the same road and in the same direction, but they planned on stocking up on cooking supplies and camping for the night. grant doesn’t have proper camping kit and I didn’t want to leave him out, so I stuck with grant and we all agreed to keep in touch and catch up yet again somewhere else down the road.
grant and I then pressed on to what we were hoping would be a nice break from the monotony. there was a small road on our maps that headed east across the mountains, then connected with a southern route that looked to cut a nice path down a valley. we guessed by the distance that we could cover the eastern leg in about an hour and then have a good go at the southern stretch for the remainder of the afternoon.
the key on our maps described the road east as a secondary road, which is second in size only to a major highway. well, apparently secondary road in peru means something quite different than what we thought it did. after a few miles of smooth, wide, flat black asphalt the road climbed a bit and turned to broken, rutted chunks of concrete, then packed gravel. as it we rose in elevation the surface became a single track dirt path and started winding hairpin turns up the side of a mountain, then the single lane loose stone gave way to my favorite surface of all: sand! by the time it turned to sand and stone we were in far enough that it didn’t make any sense for us to turn back, so we had another look at the map (this time with a few rather large grains of salt) and decided to try and press on to the town of pamparomas. six hours after we set out to tackle what we though would be a mere hour or so of riding….. we finally made it to the top of the mountain pass just in time to witness a brilliant red sunset from the vantage point in the center of the tiny town square. just before dark we managed to get two rooms at a small boarding house situated above the general store across from the square. over a dinner of fried chicken and rice served to us by a very friendly and outgoing family (who, as far as we could tell, ran the place out of their living room), grant and I had a spirited laugh as we recounted the day’s unexpected but much enjoyed adventure.
after a somewhat restless night we were on the bikes at six am in hopes of getting a good view of the sunrise on the mountain. ummmmm. nope. all we got was blinding fog so thick I could barely see ten feet in front of my front tire. fortunately, we were absolutely positively the only two dumb asses using this road at that hour, so the only real danger was missing a turn and going off the side of the sheer cliffs. the fog was actually so thick that I didn’t get out of first gear for over an hour. and, to make things even more challenging, there were several “t” junctions in the trail that were marked with town names that were not on our maps. all we could do is guess and keep rolling until we saw the rare person tending cows and hope they knew which direction to point us in. after a few hours of narrow track we finally made it to a wider and somewhat paved section of the road that would head us south, but by that time we were at such an elevation that it was absolutely freezing cold. and then it started raining. and then the traffic started. on a road with pot holes so big and deep that people had to slow to a crawl to avoid ripping the wheels off their trucks and cars. I stopped and put on every last bit of my gear, but was miserably cold to the core. I was relieved when I saw a sign indicating that trucks should be cautious going down the severe grade and we finally began the long descent down the mountain. it took two hours of constant downhill before we reached the bottom of the valley. it had warmed considerably, the sky had cleared and the traffic had thinned a bit, but by then we were absolutely wiped out from the hours of difficult terrain followed by hard riding. we pressed on, made our way back to the straight, boring, windy coastal highway and humbly made our way further south. we stopped for a coffee and a snack and had a look at the maps. for some ridiculous reason we decided to make the push into lima and find a place to base down there.
long story short: the ride in was horrible. after running around in circles for almost two hours (and after fourteen hours on the bikes) we managed to find a nice little hostel in a decent enough district and get some much needed “off bike” rest. sadly though, between the horrendous traffic and the utterly disturbing amount of trash everywhere I would hardly call this place worth seeing or being in. I’m sure there are beautiful areas of such a large and highly populated city (over seven and a half million people here), but the shit that we had to deal with to get here all but ruined most of the desire I might have had to search for more. today grant spent most of his day looking for tires and I caught up on some much needed sleep and, well…. this.
so far peru has been a challenge that I won’t soon forget, but I am really looking forward to finding or experiencing something a little more interesting than the desolate stretches of nothing punctuated by filthy, broken down towns full of unfriendly people. hopefully I won’t have to wait until bolivia for that to happen.
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after a few days of rest and medication I started feeling much better and was looking forward to getting back on the road, but not until after I celebrated the beginning of the new year. grant and I welcomed in 2010 by having a big steak dinner and then wandering the streets of riobamba, ecuador. by eleven thirty there were thousands of people lighting off fireworks, drinking, cheering, and dancing in circles. there were also women dressed in costumes and some men dressed in drag stopping traffic to collect money for who knows what reason or cause. it was pretty amusing to witness and pretty amazing to note that (judging by the complete absence of beeping horns) no one seemed to mind being stopped or to have their car grinded by ugly queens. it is also a tradition here to make effigies of people and things that remind you of the past and then burn them in order to move into the new year, so there were hundreds of fires raging in the streets ranging in size from small bonfire to gigantic blaze as people let go of 2009. the most pleasantly remarkable aspect of all the festivities was the sheer absence of law enforcement. we wandered around for hours covering a few miles worth of streets and saw only one cop who was merely directing traffic at a slightly busy intersection. everyone was having a great time and really letting loose, but there was such a sense of peace and consideration that at no time did any of it seem out of control. I snapped off a few good shots as people counted the seconds down to midnight, then was given countless hugs and a shot of whisky by a family congregated in front of their house. as we continued further we were invited to join hands with a group of people who were dancing in a circle. after a few dizzying loops I was smiling big and really soaking in the wonder of the experience. there were handshakes and hugs all around as grant and I bid everyone buenos ano and started heading back to the hotel. at just half past midnight we in bed and well set for a good night’s sleep. as I drifted off I couldn’t help but laugh as I thought about how the evening’s celebration would have ended up if it had happened in the states. once again, it was such a bizarre blast to be somewhat shocked by witnessing people safely and happily enjoying simple liberties that would have resulted in lawsuits, property damage claims, fistfights, riot police and tear gas back home.
we woke up early this morning, cooked some eggs, made some coffee, packed the bikes up and hit the road. we agreed on taking a secondary route instead of the pan am highway south out of riobamba and it really paid off. it felt great to be back on the bike, but it was especially great to be treated to blue skies, warm air, smooth twisties and absolutely glorious scenery. we started the day by getting a really great view of the snow capped chimborazo mountain, then headed off into the endless rolling hills which were covered with multicolored squares of various crops and dotted with stout white sheep. as the day went on we climbed a bit higher and ran into some rough roads as well as some crazy cold fog which slowed us down quite a bit, but after a lunch break of pan fried pork and boiled corn on the cob we were recharged and ready for the curvy descent back down into the warmer air and clearer skies. we quickly made our way down the pass and into the town of cuenca.
grant and I agreed to not push any limits after being sick and off the bike so long, so we called it a short day and stopped for the night. we found a really nice hostel in the historic part of town, based down, grabbed a bite to eat and took a nice walk around the cobblestone streets and down to the tomebamba river. I’m looking forward to getting a good night of sleep, getting on the bike early and making the push to the border of peru tomorrow. away we go…….
happy new year.
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been feeling a little wonky for the last few days, so I hopped on the back of grant’s bike and went to the emergency room this afternoon. I didn’t figure anything was seriously wrong, but I supposed there would be a better chance of finding english speaking doctors in a big hospital. wrong.
what I did find, however, was a couple of very helpful nurses who got an incredible laugh out of my sorry attempts at using my pocket english/ spanish dictionary to tell them what was going on. after a few big smiles, a blood pressure and temp check, I was immediately admitted and seen by a female doctor who I managed to explain a few things to using the dictionary. she laid me down on a table and had a look at my throat. she made a sour face and told me I had an infection that would require a shot of penicillin plus some pills. we went back and forth for a minute or two as I tried to explain that I was afraid of needles and would prefer just taking pills. after a few more failed attempts at complex communication and a few hearty laughs, I gave up, erred on the side of caution, and agreed to take the shot in the ass. literally. she quickly wrote the prescription out on what looked like a piece of scrap paper, gave it to me and explained where the nearest pharmacy was. ever the saint, grant jumped on his bike, rolled to the pharmacy, grabbed the pills and liquid penicillin and was back within minutes.
when the doc saw I had the meds she notified a nurse and I was immediately taken into a curtained off area where I laid on a table and yanked my pants down. I am petrified of needles (yeah, yeah, yeah… all the tattoos… but that’s not hypodermic!), but I held it together pretty good as she pumped what felt like ten gallons of juice in my ass cheek. after a few more moments of smiles and bad spanish, I made my way back out the admission area to get the bill. the charge for the services rendered? nada. nothing. zip. and the prescription? a whopping nine dollars. all told, the whole deal took just over an hour and cost less than most people spend on lunch. not a bad deal, I’d say.
grant will be on a two day climbing excursion to the top of chimborazo, so I have plenty of time to heal up before hitting the road again. and here I sit, in a comfy bed in the super cool oasis hotel in riobamba ecuador, hoping that a few good nights of sleep coupled with the petri dish full of fungi in my ass will have me back on track sooner than soon.
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as I sit here looking at the blinking curser, thinking about all of the crazy things that have happened since my last post, I cannot help but quote my favorite george harrison song which is so appropriately rattling around in my head at this very moment:
“…..it’s all too much!!!!!…………”
too much to write about anything in great detail, so, here’s a quick rundown of “highlights” since the last post. border from costa rica into panama was an excruciatingly long (five hours at immigration), very hot, very confusing ordeal. boring, hot, flat ride through panama. quick visit to panama canal. aimlessly wandered around vacant shipping yards and a seemingly abandoned airfield at the end of a dirt road running parallel to some train tracks looking for a customs office in colon. stuck at hostel in puerto lindo for four days waiting for boat. bribed panamanian official to forge export documents for the bikes. finally load bikes on boat. here’s how that came down: four guys in a motorized canoe pulled up on the beach, lifted the bike by hand and put in canoe longways, the biggest guy sat on the bike, motored out to bigger boat anchored in harbor and tied off to it, the captain roped off bike and hoisted it onto the deck using the mainsail, roped bikes to railing, then covered in tarps.
the boat ride across the top of the darien gap with visits to the san blas islands was supposed to be the relaxing vacation highlight of the trip. it wasn’t. between the hot, stuffy, cramped conditions due to overbooking (by at least five people), the nonstop tension and arguments between the captain, his wife/ first mate and their hyperactive six year old son, the sometimes intensely rough waters for three of the four days, only visiting one small, mosquito ridden island for just over an an hour, not sleeping for any more than three hours a night, nearly running aground on a coral reef, having to swim to shore and hike for nearly two hours through the jungle to the immigration office in colombia, little or no fresh water on board, not being taken to the final destination we were originally promised by the captain, subsequently having to take a second small boat across incredibly rough water, unloading the bikes out of the second boat by ourselves onto a dock full of leering locals and pissed off federal police in a really shitty town, being wobbly and dizzy on land for two solid days, and so on….. I barely had a moment of relaxation or fun. long story short: there is a big difference between thrilling adventure and sheer horror. in all seriousness, there were quite a few moments on the voyage where I was quite concerned for my safety, and at least one time I sincerely feared for my life. certainly not the trip I hoped for, but definitely an experience I will never forget.
and despite all the tough stuff, three very good things did come out of it: first, I know once and for all that I do not get the least bit sea sick despite incredibly rough waters. second, I saw dolphins swimming off the bow of the ship one sunny morning. third, and best of all, meeting fellow moto traveller grant who has since joined jerome and I on our voyage south. he’s originally from south africa and lived in london and china before flying to new york, buying a kawaski klr, and hitting the road for central and south america. so far, riding with has been a blast and getting to know him as a friend has been an absolute delight.
we made our way from turbo to medellin, then to bogota where I had a great visit with my friends sebastian and angela who I met a few years ago when they stopped in seattle while on a motorcycle trip from bogota to alaska. they were kind enough to put jerome, grant and I up for four days in their beautiful apartment. on the way to lunch on the first day in bogota, my bike blew a gasket and I lost almost all my engine oil. another few blocks and my engine would have seized, for sure. sebastian made a few calls and within an hour my bike was transported by truck to his friend’s motorcycle repair shop where I was given space to work as well as a new gasket which one of the guys custom cut for me by hand. the leaky bike part was a bit of a bummer, but it was wonderful to be in bogota and catch up with sebastian and angela and to finally meet their motorcycling dog, naipe. we spent several nights trading stories, goofing off and causing each other such fits of hysterical laughter that our sides hurt. nothing beats time spent with good friends.
jerome, grant and I managed to catch up with spencer, steve and marco for a few days, but we split up again in bogota. j, g, and me have since made our way south through the whole of colombia on some of the most gloriously curvy and challenging roads I have ever ridden, crossed into ecuador where we stayed in quito for christmas, spent a night in ambato after a long day of off road riding in the cloudy mountains, then today made a short hop into riobamba where I practically collapsed from exhaustion. I am currently battling with some manner or another of fever inducing bug and am considering a visit to a doctor for a checkup and maybe some meds. jerome took off this morning for the coast. grant stayed behind with me to make sure I keep breathing (so far, he’s doing a fine job).
it’s hard to explain, but many things about this trip changed after the boat ride. I’m still enjoying myself immensely, but much the charm has worn off the challenges that I face. in all honesty, keeping up with the blog has become somewhat of a chore and I’m not sure how frequent posts will be as I head further south into what will probably prove to be the heart of the adventure. regardless of my posting or not, know that for better or worse (mostly better) I’m out there giving it all a hell of go!
cheers and all the best!
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taking a few days off in domincal, costa rica while we wait for the boat that will be transporting us from panama to colombia. spending my days eating good food, walking a block to the beach, swimming in the pool, and eating more food. then swimming again. in the pool. or the ocean. and then drinking some beer. and sleeping. believe it or not, I getting a little bored and am really looking forward to heading to panama soon. I think it’s being off the bike for more than two days gets me antsy. it’s been five so far. maybe a few more before we split.
today I went for a horse ride through a rainforest and visited the nauyaca waterfall. my horse was a bit of a brat, but I had a great time. the trails we were on went from being flat and wide open to very narrow and steep muddy tracks through big stoney paths. there is a stop on the way out and the way back for breakfast and lunch at a little restaurant where some interesting creatures came to visit. a tiny, tame doe and a wild toucan walked up and begged for some treats while we were eating. of course, I had to go feed them and say hello. the toucan made some really funny noises and was getting impatient if I didn’t get him snacks fast enough. I wanted to touch his beak but he was having no part of it. eventually he got bored or stuffed or both and flapped off.
when we got to the falls the tour guides swam out into the pools, got up on the ledges at the base, climbed the cliffs and tied a rope off near the top. then, one by one, they pulled people with a rope tied to an innertube across the current and to the base of the falls. you could climb to the top and jump off, but my weird fear of heights kicked into overdrive when the climb was coupled with rushing water, so I just sat it out at the bottom of the falls for a bit. it was kinda’ cold and really really loud, but it was an invigorating experience to be literally underneath the intense power of the falls.
a few times on the way back my horse got extra ambitious and revved it up a bit faster than I would have preferred, but I figured he knew the trail better than I did, so i just held on and hoped for the best. at one point we did a river crossing that was so deep the water came up almost to my knees. when we got about halfway across I could feel how hard the current was flowing. I was pretty sure that me and the horse were just going to get swept down the river, but I was having so much fun I barely minded. everything after that was kinda’ easy (except when he took the hell off on me so fast I almost fell off) and I arrived safely back where I parked my bike. as much as I enjoyed the time with the horse, I was glad to be back on two wheels.
so after yet another amazingly good dinner of chicken and avocado, I am sitting at the outdoor bar in the hotel courtyard trying desperately to keep my eyes open at 8pm. yeah, it’s a tough life, but someone has to live it……
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