Peru, Part 4: Abancay and Cusco

July 5 – 9, 2010

From Nasca, I climbed back up the Andes, first to spend some time in Abancay before heading over to Cusco, where I stayed on a farm.

Stocking up on some bananas for the road ahead.

Distance board at Nasca. I was heading to Abancay today.

Climbing up in the shadows of the morning sun.

Looking back towards Nasca and the Pacific Ocean after the quick ascent.

Riding across the Altiplano at 4,170 m (13,670 ft).

A herd of wild vicunas, prized for their fur.

Taking their time to cross the road with very little traffic around.

Still altiplano lakes.

The road was straight with a few curves, making for an easy ride.

Coming down from the altiplano.

Llama pens on the hillside.

Looking back at his house. A llama heading down to his pen.

Having a peaceful lunch at 4,000 m (13,100 ft) of leftovers from dinner.

Heading into Abancay at 2,700 m (8,850 ft) having covered a total of 8,068 m (26,460 ft) of elevation changes today.

Having dinner with Tanja and Khalid through CouchSurfing, who are volunteers from Germany. Khalid’s father is Egyptian and he made a traditional bean dish.

The next day Kahlid took me around town. First, we’re having his favorite breakfast: freshly made sweetened pop corn with bananas and fresh sweet yogurt. Very tasty.

Khalid works in a plant nursery and his owner (right) prepares fruit trees to be sold to farmers in the surrounding hills. Khalid is implementing a compost project.

Palto, another name for avocado.

There was a resident parrot, who we took with us on our walk around the farm. Argggh, matey.

Happily eating some fresh fruit. Kahlid mistakenly killed the original parrot by trying to give it a bath, so this is his replacement.

The farm had a river flowing through it, making for this tranquil area, under the shady trees.

Visiting a friend of Khalid’s (center) who works for the local government with disabled persons. We had a good talk about the local politics and her aspirations for what Peru can achieve, but she feels the old school, corrupted people in power are holding them back. She said her boss doesn’t like to pay for special buses to transport disabled people around but will happily reimburse the petrol for a staff trip in one of their SUVs.

Visiting a nearby orphanage.

Where this cute little girl was waiting for her new parents to come pick her up. She sat there quite reassuringly, without making a fuss and being quite brave with the cards she’s been dealt.

Having a cheap lunch for S/.2 of pork ribs with yuca and potatoes, while catching a World Cup football match with everyone else in the little restaurant. Khalid was vowing the crowd with his Quechua (the local indigenous language).

Saying hi to some of his friends who are carpenters, busily working until the bleachers of the stadium.

Heading out the next day. I parked the bike in this nearby warehouse and the owners enjoyed going through my trip website. They wanted to give me a large bottle of water, but due to lack of space, I just asked for a small one.

A wide view of a river valley with interesting geologic views.

Looking up the river valley. Note the v-shaped rock in the center.

Riding along Rio Apurimac.

Seeing these farmers by the roadside, thrashing the grains out of their crops and walking two horses around in circles to stamp on the harvest.

The road flattened out near Cusco at 3,400 m (11,150 ft).

Taking in the expanse of Cusco, the largest city in the Peruvian Andes and a big draw for tourists.

The Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus in the grand Plaza de Armas – the name of the central plaza in most Peruvian towns meaning plaza of weapons because during the Spanish colonial days, this was where everyone gathered when there was a call for arms. Most towns have just one church in their central plaza, but Cusco, being the capital of the Inca Empire has four. I guess the Spanish really wanted to stamp out the Inca culture and impose Christianity.

The sun setting over the Portal de Panes in the Plaza de Armas.

Dusk falling over the main cathedral in the plaza and the really long steps where people gather.

Arriving at Christian and Marisol’s farm outside the city. I contacted Christian through CouchSurfing about staying a few days on his farm where they’re starting some projects to help out the local community and ask travelers who stay to help out a little.

Sunset at the farm, which was located on a hillside with great open views across the valley and towards these snow-peaked mountains. It was very chilly at night, elevation here was 3,700 m (12,100 ft) and the temperature dropped about 14 C (25 F) as the sun set getting near freezing over night.

Some of the other travelers who were passing through and stayed on the farm. Back L-R: Danny from Spain, George (Russian-Canadian), Karan from India. Front L-R: me, Karina from California and Anastasia, George’s wife. I had a good chat with Karan, being the first Indian that we’ve both seen since traveling. He’s from Delhi and used to be an automotive and motorcycle journalist, taking part in rallies. He gave me some good info on Brazil and I told him about the countries further north.

One of the tasks was filling up the water tank with water from a generous neighbor about 300 m (984 ft) away. We had to connect numerous long hoses to get to the source. L-R: David, Carlos (from Lima), Dave and Danny. Both the Daves were traveling together from the States and Dave’s father is involved with Nasa in trying to build a robotic explorer to go under the ice on Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Dave is studying for a PhD in High Energy (Particle) Physics and we had some good talks. Also, at night, with the super clear skies, our Milky Way Galaxy was very clear and we exchanged info on some of the cosmological marvels in the sky, like the supermassive black hole sitting at the center of our galaxy.

They had this cute VW bus for bringing supplies to the farm.

Marisol and others digging up the vegetable garden. Things were just getting started.

I helped in sawing up all the planks for this first bunk bed and then hammering them all in. As a reward for the work, I got to sleep on the bed, yeah!

After a hard days work, everyone gathered for a family-style meal. Beautiful views from the dining room.

Simple vegetarian food of rice, potatoes and some veggies.

Local kids that Christian invited to eat with them. Some of the programs they want to implement at the farm involve things like teaching English to some of the poor artisans to help them better sell their wares, educating mothers about nutrition and teaching yoga and meditation to the volunteers. Every morning started with 30 minutes of meditation.

Making some Chicha Morada, a drink from black corn, tasting similar to iced tea.

Marisol putting some finishing touches on the garden as dusk grew into night.

Taking a tour of Cusco’s streets at night.

Beautiful Inca stonework visible all over the city.

Norton Rats Pub, a famous location in the motorcycling community, run by a biker. And note the intricately carved wooden balconies, a signature of the city.

A corner of the Iglesia El Triunfo.

The famous Hatunrumiyoc street, known for its huge Inca stones that make up the foundation of most buildings in Cusco as the Spanish found it convenient to do so. Implying that the layout of the city harks back to pre-colonial days. It was constructed in the 12th century by the first Inca king, Manco Capac on direction from Inti, the sun god, to find the navel of the Earth by seeing where the ground would swallow his staff and there he founded the city that would be the capital of the Inca Empire. Cusco is regarded as the continent’s oldest, continuously inhabited city.

What’s amazing about the Inca stone work is their lack of use of any kind of mortar to join the stones. Each stone is cut to fit perfectly with its surrounding stones and one has to marvel how these structures have stood unshaken with all the seismic activity in the Andes.

Being the tourist and posing with the famous 12-sided stone. It’s a massive block that’s cut to match all its surrounding stones. This stone was part of the palace of the sixth Inca, Roca.

A corner of a building with Inca stones supporting the newer colonial buildings above. The small bits jutting out from the rocks might be places where ropes were tied to move the stones in place. Seeing that some of the stones have them and some don’t, perhaps there wasn’t enough time to knock of the handles.

Heading up to the artsy San Blas district.

A few tables in the open air with some appropriate relaxing live music.

Here’s a nice colonial wall and the hole-in-the-wall in the lower left is a small French restaurant.

Looking out over Plaza San Blas.

The streets of San Blas, lined with fancy restaurants.

Elephant raising its trunk in the window of an Indian restaurant.

Musicians gathering outside a pub just after a gig on a side street in San Blas. There’s definitely lots of foreigners in Cusco, as besides the charm of the city itself, it’s also the starting point for the journey up to Machu Picchu.

The main cathedral at night, which was constructed on top of Inca Viracocha’s palace.

Buying some dried fruits and nuts for the trip to Machu Picchu.

Next: Peru, Part 5: Machu Picchu

Previous: Peru, Part 3: Lima to Nasca

Peru, Part 3: Lima to Nasca

June 28 – July 5, 2010

From Huaraz, I took the more scenic mountain route down to Lima, through Huanuco. After taking care of some business in Lima, I headed south along the coast to see the lines at Nazca.

Heading south from Huaraz the road climbed up to 4,300 m (14,100 ft) and these snow-peaked mountains were just sitting on the altiplano without a grand prominence. Looked like an easy climb.

Warming up with some meaty noodle soup and mate de coca at the turn-off to Huanuco.

This girl, probably the daughter of the restaurant proprietor was tossing this poor kitten through the air for her amusement.

Traffic was much reduced on the road to Huanuco and the curves made for a fun ride.

Nice view all around with snow peaks showing up, now and then.

Interesting exposed geology. The sedimentary lines curve up to the peak.

The road was climbing higher through some picturesque landscapes. The rocks above look volcanic in the smooth shapes they take and the rushing sound of the waterfall made for an energetic setting.

The pavement was in excellent condition with jagged peaks all around.

A wide view of the mineral-rich peaks running along the road near the summit at 4,700 m (15,400 ft).

The road quickly dropped down on the other side to 2,900 m (9,500 ft), getting very narrow through this canyon.

The scenery changed, getting drier with more human settlements.

Distance board; heading to Huanuco for the night.

Having lunch surrounded by eucalyptus trees.

The road got in progressively worse shape until it was just gravel, which is much better than a misshapen tar road.

Passing by a local geologic feature called the Inca’s Crown, where the road peaked one last time at 4,000 m (13,100 ft) before dropping down to Huanuco.

There was heavy construction work going on and they stopped all traffic, but they let bikes through. These channels in the road made it quite challenging to keep the bike balanced with the front wheel skitting about.

Looks like they’re paving the whole stretch that’s gravel. Following some rollers back down.

Newly laid tarmac, which was less than a centimeter of asphalt over the dirt. I had to wait an hour at one section for the new tarmac to dry enough for me to ride on. The road dropped very quickly in elevation with switch-back after switch-back. A very fun ride.

I like the juxtaposition of the fluorescent orange bridge amongst the natural setting. With the road dropping down to 1,900 m ( 6,230 ft) at Huanuco, today was another roller-coaster of a ride covering 6,700 m (21,980 ft) in elevation changes.

After finding a cheap hotel in Huanuco, I was riding around trying to find a safe place to park the bike and this lady hailed me down and told me to follow her to their welding shop, where I could park the bike for the night. Very nice couple.

Heading out of Huanuco the next day for Lima, saw this motorcycle contraption – a cart added to the front steering wheels. I guess you don’t need a long chain this way.

This gas station attendant was flirting with me, so had to grab a pic.

Climbing back up to the altiplano.

The Andean Altiplano, high plains at 4,100 m (13,450 ft). This high elevation plateau, the largest outside of Tibet probably formed due to the weakening of the Earth’s crust after the Cordillera Occidental (western) and Oriental (eastern) formed leaving a wide gap between them.

The road continued across the bleak landscape for about 100 kms (62 mi), but there was something beautiful about it.

Passing through one of the many small towns along the way. It was chilly up here and I had on most of my layers and was comfortable.

Strange purple sculpture with trippy mushrooms in the center of one of the towns.

Towards the end of the altiplano ride, mountain ridges started showing up. Taking in the slanted sedimentary lines and the llama road sign.

Interestingly-shaped mountain. It wasn’t smooth like all the others around.

Having lunch at La Oroya, the turn-off down to Lima at a small road-side Cevicheria, which Peru is known for.

Chicken and rice with some ceviche, which is fish cooked only with lime juices and some other natural acids. Kind of like sushi, but it’s technically cooked, even though it’s cold.

I thought the road would be dropping down from here, but we were climbing again.

Passing by mineral rich mountains and like-wise, turquoised lakes. Their stillness reflecting the riches in the peaks.

With so many minerals within easy reach, hardly surprising that mining is the main activity in this high, desolate region. The mountains were being cleanly shaven off.

Another still lake reflecting a jagged peak.

A panorama near the summit of mineral-rich rocks and the lakes they’ve colored.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Peaking at 4,835 m (15,860 ft) before dropping all the way down to sea level at Lima, making this the most roller-coaster of a day so far, covering 10,770 m (35,325 ft) in elevation changes.

Dropping down the switch-backs with beautifully red-colored hillsides.

The road getting narrow as it wound its way through the guarding mountains.

Ooops, a case of STFFC (Speed Too Fast For the Conditions), taking this curve with a bit too much speed. Drivers down here definitely drive with a lot more abandon, especially the buses, keeping me on my toes all the time.

Cutting through some tunnels.

The road got very narrow in places as the route followed the easiest way down.

Since I was making good time into Lima, I took a break and washed the bike with these free water hoses. They’re connected to a river and the pressure is all natural, so they’re on all the time. Just rinsing the rims and the engine, no need to be carrying extra dirt around.

The cliffs at Miraflores in Lima, where the strong ocean wind against the raised cliffs provides for some great paragliding. And the overcast clouds that shroud Lima during their winter months. Didn’t see the sun or sky the whole time I was in Lima. The temps were also much cooler than I expected, having come down from the altiplano. The air is very humid, around 95% and that makes you feel much colder than what the temperature actually is. It was around 14 C (57 F), but felt like 5 C (41 F).

Meeting up with Yuri, riding a Honda Africa Twin. He’s a friend of Sargento’s (Mexican rider I met in Cartagena) and he took me around town to take care of a few things.

Welding up the corners of my panniers after the bike fell in Huaraz from the flat tire.

Riding 2-up on Yuri’s little Honda 125cc bike into a more seedy part of town to find an aluminum machinist.

When the bike fell in Huaraz, my helmet was on the rear-view mirror with my GoPro helmet camera attached to it and a piece in the bracket broke. The machinist did a fine job of replicating the plastic piece in aluminum. Cost $20.

My main reason for coming to Lima, to get my tourist visa for Brasil. The staff were quite helpful and processed my visa in a day.

Hanging out at a nearby McDonalds for their free WiFi while I waited for my visa pick-up time. A McChicken tastes the same everywhere and apparently, costs the same too, $1, S/.3. That’s my Acer/Gateway netbook that I’m traveling with and posting all these pictures from. It’s been working really good so far and the 10.6″ screen isn’t too small.

Meeting up with Edison through CouchSurfing at Parque Kennedy.

Riding back to his house near the airport at 1:30 in the night. I heard Lima traffic was terrible. Not a car in sight.

That’s Edison on the right and Carlos, another CouchSurfer from Buenos Aires.

Edison’s family’s narrow 4-story house.

A panoramic view of his neighborhood.

Grabbing a street snack while taking a walk around town.

It was a hot dog on a stick in a kind of waffle dough with ketchup and mayonaisse. Tasted quite good actually.

A fruit stand by the bus stop.

Grabbing some dinner of Lomo Saltado (beef stir-fried with veggies and french fries).

Doing an oil change the next day. I bought my own oil and just asked the shop if I could borrow an oil drain pan and they were happy to help. I caught bits of the dramatic Ghana vs Uruguay World Cup match in the store along with random customers and the employees. Whilst everyone else was rooting for their South American brother, I was all for Mama Africa.

Talking with the parking attendants on top of the Tottus supermarket (good utilization of space to have the parking on the roof). I finally bought supplies to cook on the road, such as lentils, quinoa, olive oil and oatmeal. I also stocked up on local varieties of granola bars.

In Edison’s house before heading out with some friends.

Having some cervezas (beers) on the terrace and taking in the sights of the neighborhood. That’s a football game, which might look like a pickup game of basketball in the States.

Carlos’ friend said we were going to a Mexican restaurant and I was looking forward to some nice tacos, but can you believe it, this is what they call a burrito? It tasted good, but nothing resembling Mexican food.

Catching a show of percussionists. Drums of all shapes and sizes played by a huge number of people. Good time.

Fueling up at the cheapest gas station on my way out of Lima. Petrol is quite expensive in Peru, averaging S/.12/gallon = $4/gal and here it was S/.10.83/gal. In most of Peru, you can only find 84 or 90 octane gas, so I’ve been using the 90 octane; not much price difference. And then only in Lima, where all the fancy new cars are at, they have 95 and even 97 octane. I was told the octane numbers are less than what they state.

Convertible trucks? Poor chaps braving the cold winds like us bikers to transport these chassis to their body builders.

The gloomy overcast clouds stayed with me for about 280 kms (174 mi) south of Lima. The winds were strong from the Pacific, crashing big waves against the rocks.

Riding the 4-lane freeway of the Panamericana to Paracas. Time for an audio book.

Staying with Jose Miguel in Paracas through CouchSurfing, at the edge of the desert-filled Reserva Nacional de Paracas. He’s runs a tour group with his brother and they go for dune rides in the buggy. Oh and nice to see clear blue skies again.

The small town of Paracas with the ocean up ahead.

Having breakfast with Jose Miguel (standing) and some of his friends. The couple on the right are CouchSurfers from Uruguay and Sweden who invited me to stay if I swing by Montevideo.

A hearty breakfast of tamales (baked corn meal) with pork and beef.

A view of Paracas and its harbor. Visiting the nearby Islas Ballestas is major business for the town and is supposed to be a smaller version of the Galapagos Islands.

The desert at Reserva Nacional de Paracas.

S/.5 entrance fee for a 30 km loop of the park.

Rocky cliffs butting the desert against the ocean.

There used to be this beautiful natural stone arch called the cathedral, but…

…it came crashing down during the strong 8.0 earthquake in 2007, which also destroyed most of the town of Pisco.

sanDRina riding the waves.

Taking in a different view of the cliffs on the shore.

There was a general path in the sand, but the track split with no directions.

Enjoying the sandy landscape.

sanDRina with a huge bay.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

The wave crashing and releasing its energy against the land, propelling me forward.

Back on the road south. Vineyards, most likely for Pisco, the national drink – a brandy made from grapes.

Taking a quick look at the desert oasis of Huacachina, surrounded by tall sand dunes, where sandboarding is popular.

It’s overrun with tourists and tour groups trying to milk as much as possible from this natural oasis in the desert.

Local legend of a mermaid that seduced people who visited the oasis. They were probably so thirsty, it didn’t take much to conjure up a mermaid to welcome them.

Back on the super straight Panamericana, heading south to…

The lines at Nasca!

You can either pay around $60 for a flight over the lines or S/.2 to climb up this tower and take in two diagrams.

Seeing this image on the left, it’s either a frog or a fish. The current thinking is that the lines were made by removing sun-darkened stones from the desert surface to reveal the lighter soil below. But to what their purpose was and who actually made them is still a mystery.

Even from the tower, you can marvel how these lines have lasted for around 2,000 years in the sand and amazing that they haven’t been vandalized yet or disfigured from erosion.

Looking south from the tower at the ribbon of tarmac that is the Panamericana Highway.

Staying the night with Ruben through CouchSurfing in the town of Nasca. He’s also a rider, having a Yamaha 600 and his brother has a new KLR650. They’re carpenters making custom furniture for restaurants and hotels.

Next: Peru, Part 4: Abancay and Cusco

Previous: Peru, Part 2: Canon del Pato and Huascaran

Peru, Part 2: Canon del Pato and Huascaran

June 22 – 28, 2010

This next part takes me from Cajamarca, down to the coast to the start of the Canyon del Pato, back up to the snow peaks and a ride through Huascaran National Park.

Staying with Adam (right) in Cajamarca for a night, through CouchSurfing. We were walking around the streets and ran into Holger and Anja who were happy to speak in German with Adam. They camped out at the bridge at Balsas the previous night and just rolled into the city. Adam is here on his year of voluntary service with the German government, which is required in place of military service and is done usually before heading to college. He invited them to the farm where he was staying but Holger was after a hotel after a few nights of camping.

Taking a tour of the city with Adam.

Trying ‘anticucho’, which is grilled cow’s heart, a local snack. Mmmm.

Climbing up some concentrically elevated steps for a view of the city.

The beautiful colonial town of Cajamarca. It’s known as the city where the last Inca king was killed by the Spanish. Atahualpa was tricked by the Conquistador Pizzaro into turning over a lot of gold and silver in exchange for his release, but they still killed him. What a brutal world view the European colonizers had, and all in the name of the church! Adam said in his talks with some Peruvians, they say the one thing they disdain about being colonized was being forced to take up a new religion.

Heading back down the circular steps.

Sun setting over a plaza in Cajamarca.

The disappearing sun still illuminating the towers of this cathedral in the main plaza.

Adam buying some groceries for the dinner I was going to cook.

At the farm outside the city where Adam and other volunteers stay. His project involves working with handicapped children.

Sunset over the hills surrounding Cajamarca. Venus shining through dusk up above.

I prepared a vegetable curry for Adam and his co-volunteers. They were interested in seeing the whole process and I tried to convey that lots of patience is needed when making a curry since you have to add each ingredient only after the curry has reached a specific phase. I also shared with them how the sound of the cooking pot (the water from the vegetables interacting with the oil) conveyed important info about the temperature, which is key in getting the desired consistency.

We enjoyed a nice meal together and Adam even tried eating with his fingers, which for me is the most natural way to eat rice. We like to say it tastes better then eating with a metallic object and the fingers can sense when the temperature of the food is right to put in your mouth.

Taking off the next morning after a nice evening at the farm.

Getting some fresh orange juice and a sandwich at a kiosk on the road.

A Bajaj autorickshaw with doors for the cold climate, something you’ll never see in India, where they come from.

After climbing up to 3,200 m (10,500 ft), the road plummeted down to the coast. Note the U-shaped sedimentary lines in the mountain behind.

A beautifully blue lake near the coast as the terrain started drying out.

The flat Panamericana highway running through Peru’s costal desert.

They were huge sand dunes right by the highway and many places with sand blowing across the road. The super tall Andes block all the rain that falls on the Amazon side, leaving the Pacific coast very dry.

Growing sugarcane in the deserted coast; putting marginal land to commercial use.

And the pollution that comes along with growing sugarcane. The fields have to be burnt to remove unwanted plants. I’m looking forward to the time when society will realize that you can’t continue polluting like this without adding the cost of pollution into the product. That would change everyone’s view on pollution and lead to a sharp curtailing of it.

Spending the night in Chimbote, a city known as the fishing hub of Peru and the stench of fish permeated the whole city. Back in the hey days, when no one knew about sustainable resource use, they over-harvested the seas and now with very little fish for the nets to catch, the local economy has slumped.

Staying with Juan Pablo, through CouchSurfing, who’s an aspiring artist.

We took a walk through a local fair and I was surprised to find a booth blasting Bollywood songs (India’s Hollywood). Seems like Indian culture is quite popular here.

Heading out the next day back up the Andes.

I came this way specifically to ride the length of the road through the Canon del Pato (Duck Canyon).

Beautiful views started soon after the walls of the canyon started to close in.

On the trail through the Canon del Pato. The road was quite rough and I was poddling along in 1st and 2nd gear, trying not to stress my rear shock too much with all the weight I have.

The canyon is very dry and vegetation is sparse, but there was a stark beauty, especially the clash with the clear blue skies above.

Taking frequent breaks as the engine was getting quite hot with the slow speeds.

Coming across the first tunnels in the rock, which is what this canyon is known for in the motorcycling community.

The rushing Rio Santa, which created this canyon, slowly carving down and carrying the minerals away.

The elevation was quite low for most of the canyon and shadows of cliffs provided some relief from the heat.

A fascinating geologic cut-away. The Earth’s crust is shaped like putty by the convective forces of the magma that circulates deep under our feet. We are but alive for a short blip in the story of this planet.

Entering tunnels cut right into the cliff-sides. The contrast of the brightness outside and the absolute darkness inside the tunnels and the delay in my pupils adjusting to that made it quite hairy to pass through, especially with lots of sand in the tracks.

Being passed by a bunch of bikes, which I later found out were part of Adventure Peru Motorcycling, a tour group.

Tunnel cut into the slanted bedrock.

Almost a tunnel.

A sleek waterfall by the road.

The construction of the road exposing various slabbed layers of rock.

The road following the path of the river.

Meeting up with the tour group at the next town. They’re based out of Cajamarca and Lima and run tours around Peru on DR650s. Dave is the owner and he’s from England with a crew of local and English guides. The clients were British. They were heading to Caraz for the night and Dave invited me to stay with them and ride for the next few days.

Riding past the hydroelectric plant that was built in 1913 and is the reason the road exists.

To Caraz.

The road started climbing and Dave said more tunnels were ahead.

Inside a tunnel with its jagged walls.

A series of tunnels.

sanDRina enjoying all the tunnels.

A good ride through the Canon del Pato.

That’s a huge rock topping this tunnel.

The light at the end of the tunnel, in a narrowing canyon.

The tunnels are one-way and this sign is asking you to toot your horn before entering. I didn’t encounter much traffic, but there is still some, mainly pickups heading to the hydroelectric plant.

The canyon got narrow in places with the afternoon sun receding quickly and shadows growing.

Reaching the pavement as the road got close to Caraz.

Having a nice dinner with Dave and his crew from Adventure Peru Motorcycling in Caraz.

A tasty meal of Lomo Saltado, a typical Peruvian dish of stir-fried beef with veggies and french fries.

The next day we went on a day ride to nearby Parque Nactional Huascaran, which encompasses the whole Cordillera Blanca (white mountains) above 4,000 m (13,100 ft). S/.5 entrance fee.

The shimmering turquoise and emerald Laguna Orconcocha, colored by the minerals from the glacier run-off. This lake is one part of the Lagunas Llanganuco.

Having some snacks at the nearby hut.

This lady was frying up some Papa Rellena, stuffed potatoes.

Freshly fried-up papa rellenas.

They were stuffed with minced beef and that’s some green hot sauce. Tasty and just the right thing for the chilly winds at 3,850 m (12,630 ft).

Having some Mate de Coca (coca leaf tea) for the first time. The alkaloids in the leaf help to deal with altitude sickness and other ailments.

The support crew of Franco and Carlos refueling the stock DR650’s and their 3.4 gallon tank for the run up to the summit of the park.

Climbing up to the peak with views of Nevado Huascaran, the tallest mountain in Peru at 6,768 m (22,200 ft) on one side with…

Expansive views of Nevados Huandoy on the other side. The view alternated with each switch-back from one snow peak to the other.

An almost 180 degree panorama of Parque Nactional Huascaran, capturing Nevado Huascaran on the left, the twin glacier-fed lakes of Lagunas Llanganuco in the middle with Nevados Huandoy on the right. A wonderful feast for the eyes, especially with the clean high-altitude air.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Crossing the narrow pass at the top…

At an altitude of 4722 m (15,490 ft). The highest yet on this trip.

It was fun riding sanDRina without the weight of all my cargo. I left the side panniers at the hotel room and emptied the top box.

A wide view of the sinuous track leading up to the summit under Nevados Huandoy.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

sanDRina posing under Nevado Huascaran. I like how as the glacier is getting more filled with dirt and rocks, the image blends it with her windscreen, flowing the energy of the glacier into the bike… Ommmm.

Heading back down.

Nevado Huascaran with its shrinking glacier turning into a stream running down to Laguna Llagucho.

Riding by the glaciated lakes on my way out of the park.

Heading back down to the main road as the afternoon wore down.

Strong sunset colors over Caraz.

Having some dinner at a chaufa (Chinese restaurant), which provides an economical meal anywhere in the world. The hot soup was good to warm up to after the chilly day up at altitude.

sanDRina enjoying the company of all the other DR’s in the courtyard at the hotel. The APM crew also had a Honda Africa Twin and a 250cc Tornado. One of Dave’s clients was a friend of his from the UK riding big BMW GS’s and he was complaining of the puny DR650s the whole trip and Dave loved it that I came along to show him what a capable bike the DR650 is.

Taking a walk through the market in Caraz. Ladies in traditional clothes. The hats vary between regions and almost every woman had a hat. They didn’t look to be the warmest design, but fashionable, for sure. It’s a smaller city than nearby Huaraz, which is considered too touristy nowadays and not as charming.

Cows’ hoofs, ready for a tasty soup.

A game of women’s football in the streets, as the excitement for the World Cup grew.

Heading out of Caraz to Huaraz.

Riding with the guys from Adventure Peru Motorcycling to Huaraz.

Stopping by the memorial to the town of Yungay, which was wiped out by a earthquake-induced landslide in 1970. This is a picture of the town below Nevado Huascaran before it got destroyed.

And this is the after shot. The entire town was buried in debris that came racing down the steep slopes and took 18,000 lives in one swoop. A lake that was formed with melted glacier water was unleashed during the earthquake to become the landslide.

The site of Yungay with a memorial built over the buried town. The new town has been shifted to a safer location.

Having lunch with the APM crew. L-R: me, Dave (owner), Carlos (support van driver), Steve, Alan, Peter (English guide), Franco (Peruvian guide), Allen (who didn’t like the DR650).

A tasty lunch of lamb chops.

Picking up a nail as we rolled into Huaraz. The bike fell over on her right side as the tire deflated after parking her.

Going about the process of removing the tube from the tire to get it patched up.

My right-side pannier got bent around the pannier frame as the bike fell on this side.

Carefully reshaping the pannier so that the lid would close again.

At a llantera (tire shop) getting my HD tube patched up. I had 3 punctures in the tube.

Dinner that night at Chilli Heaven, a restaurant run by world biker Simon preparing all sorts of curries. He rode around the whole world and decided to settle down here in Huaraz, where there are also many other expats.

I had to have the Madras Chicken Curry, but to be honest, it wasn’t that good. Tasted very much like a dish prepared by foreigners and yes, I think I can make a better curry, haha.

The tube went flat again over night and I think the old Kenda K761 carcass was just about done. I wrung as many miles out of it as possible, 17,230 kms (10,700 mi) and decided to mount the new Metzeler Tourance that I’ve been carrying since Medellin, Colombia.

I warmed up the new tire in the sun for a few hours (as I watched the England vs Germany World Cup game) and it was surprisingly very easy to mount the new tire. I didn’t even use any soap nor lubricant. I remember one lesson strongly from a tire-changing session to “never fight the tire” and thus you shouldn’t have to use too much force to get the tire on.

Putting some baby powder in the new tire to help the tube expand effortlessly and reduce chances of pinching.

I also figured it was time to change the rear brake pads (old on right). I mounted those before my Continental Divide trip and got 32,200 kms (20,000 mi) out of them. Looks like maybe a thousand or so kilometers left, so I kept the old one as an emergency spare. With dirt riding, I’ve been using more rear brake than front and with all the weight of the bike, even on the tarmac, I find the rear brake stronger than the front.

A pleasing sunset over the Cordillera Blanca and Huaraz.

Spending the night with Ivan from CouchSurfing who works as a local tourist guide.

Next: Peru, Part 3: Lima to Nasca

Previous: Peru, Part 1: Bague Grande and Kuelap

Peru, Part 1: Bagua Grande and Kuelap

June 16 – 22, 2010

Comprising the heart of the Inca Empire, Peru has become well known for its archeological sites, such as famous Machu Picchu. However, the varied landscape, ranging from dry deserts to rain forests up to glaciated peaks was the main draw for me. The Andes start much further north, but here is where it starts to become majestic. The sensation that this is the highest mountain range besides the Himalayas is felt as the road climbs ever higher and clings to cliff faces.

I followed a route staying primarily in the mountains thru northern Peru, climbing up and down the Cordillera Blanca down to Lima on the coast. From there, I rode the desert down to Nazca before climbing back up to Cusco for a trek to Machu Picchu and then exiting via Lake Titicaca.

There are three land borders with Ecuador and I crossed at La Tina. Tumbes is the main one down on the coast and La Balsa is further east in the jungle.

Immigration was a breeze, even with my visa needing to be inspected by national police, and as usual, getting the bike processed through customs is what takes more time. But everything went smoothly. This border was very relaxed and surprisingly there were no money changers around. I found a taxi driver who was willing to change a few Dollars into Nuevo Soles for lunch. I crossed with Holger and Anja (Anya), touring around the world from Germany. We met in southern Ecuador and would be riding together for the next few days.

Nice first impression. The road was in much better condition than just across the border in Ecuador. We spent the night in Sullana.

My route through Peru. Click on it to go to the interactive version in Google Maps.

The Nuevo Sole, Peru’s currency. USD $1 = 2.90 Soles (written as S/.2.90). The scene on the back of S/.50 note is of Huachachina, a desert oasis on the way to Nazca.

Regrouping after a toll booth as we watch a donkey cart pass. Motorcycles don’t have to pay tolls in Peru, but it’s very important not to go through the main toll gate, there’s probably a vehicle counter. We were directed to go around the toll booth, but there’s no dedicated moto lane like in Colombia.

Looking forward to getting back into the Andes. From Olmos, we turned east to climb up.

Nice, new pavement as we climbed into the clouds.

It got chilly and we stopped to put on our liners, but the road peaked at only around 2,000 m (6,560 ft)…

…before dropping down on the other side. Note the clouds caught in the hanging valley.

The landscape got dry as we rode into a rain shadow (all the water gets dropped on the other side).

It was getting late in the day and we figured we weren’t going to make it to Bagua Grande, so we stopped in the small village of El Arenal and asked if we could camp somewhere. The elders and children lead us to this tree.

Everyone was so excited to welcome these strange travelers. The kids grabbed some leaves and started sweeping the area for our tents. Very nice of them, but it kicked up a lot of dust. Almost everyone in the village came over to introduce themselves and curious onlookers hung around to see all the fancy equipment on display: tents, sleeping bags and stoves. Anja was entertaining the kids by showing the flags on her bike of all the countries that they’ve traveled through . You don’t get privacy when staying in a village, but at least there’s some security from banditos.

It was a pleasant valley and we prepared dinner as the sun went down on a warm evening.

The next morning, Naomi here brought over some mangoes. That’s her husband’s moto-taxi, a source of income.

Their home, made with mud bricks and an outside stove.

She allowed us to use her outdoor shower to wash up.

The kids showed up as soon as they saw we were up and about. Holger kept joking to the kids that he knew where there were two new tires (on my bike) that would make great toys. I cable-locked them at night, just in case.

This is their huge tunnel tent. Looks like they could park the bikes in there too. But with all that space, it’s nice to be able to cook when it’s raining. Another creature comfort Holger allows himself is a folding camping chair.

Heading east to Bagua Grande.

Passing by a busy market on the highway.

From Olmos onwards, there were these strange cuts in the otherwise good-conditioned road, about 5 cm (2 in) deep at varied intervals. We couldn’t figure out why they were doing it. Some of them were repatched and looks like a case of ensuring job security (“let’s cut holes in the road, then we’ll have to come back and patch it up”). Most of the edges were not ramped and it was quite rough on the suspension if you couldn’t avoid going into one. We rode the shoulder mostly.

Welcome to Amazonas state of Peru. I wouldn’t be going into the Amazon itself (not just yet, that’s for Brazil), but this state covers a lot of area.

The elevation dropped to about 500 m (1,600 ft) and the terrain flattened out.

Seeing coconut trees after a long time and rice (paddy) fields.

Being welcomed by Jeong-Rae (Julio) in Bagua Grande, through CouchSurfing. He’s an overseas volunteer from South Korea (similar to the US Peace Corps) and he’s teaching computing at a local school.

At the school where Julio works.

In our correspondence, Julio requested if I could speak to his class about my trip and India. They were quite excited and kept peppering me with questions about the food, culture and history. They even asked me to sing the national anthem of India and in return, I asked them to sing Peru’s national anthem.

I managed to keep them entertained for an hour and a half. It’s been about two and half months since I crossed into Mexico and my Spanish is pretty decent by now. I can convey most of my thoughts.

Can you figure out what I talked about? Location of India, close to China. Religious break-down in India (Hindus, Muslims, Christians). And how that makes up a population of over 1 billion compared to Peru’s 30 million. Time difference. They wanted my contact info. My route from Chicago. The heaven reference is because I was trying to explain how there’s no real heaven in Hinduism, compared to Christianity, which is the de facto religion across Latin America.

Talking with the teachers after the class session. I’ve been regularly asked what’s my mission, what’s my purpose? and I simply say, to know the land and its people and they understand.

With my students for the afternoon. I had fun sharing with them about my trip and India. Julio said in his experience, so far, he sees a general lack of ambition and drive in some of the students. Hope I could throw some inspiration their way.

Being treated to a dinner of cuy (roast guinea pig) by the teachers.

Later that evening, heading out with Julio to a yogurt place for a desert of fruits and ice cream with yogurt. Yum.

Next morning, Julio prepared a traditional Korean breakfast, which was very tasty and a welcome change to the taste buds.

I kept blowing fuses in my accessory panel on the bike and here, Julio’s moto-taxi friend, Percy is helping me buy some spares at a hardware store.

Re-routing all the main electrical accessory wires. A reader of my ride report on suggested that the Centech fuse box might have some debris, which bridged the positive and negative lines, causing the main Centech fuse to trip. It sounded right and since the next stretch of the trip was going to be rough roads, instead of trying to make the fuse box work properly, I just by-passed it.

Individual in-line fuses installed for the main electrical accessories (LED lights, head light, GPS, 12v power outlet). Everything was working good again but I would have to remember to turn off everything when I shut the bike down, since they were now hot-wired direct to the battery. The nice thing about the Centech fuse box is that it has a relay that knows when the bike is turned on or off, preventing an unaware battery drain. Oh well, I’ll fix it further down the road when I get some down time.

Julio took me on a tour around Bagua Grande and here we are at a lookout (mirador) of the town.

Riding with Percy in his moto-taxi. This is the standard low-cost way of getting around. It’s the front end of a Honda 125 cc motorcycle with a carriage welded on to carry two people and some cargo. sanDRina was feeling smug with her additional 525 cc’s to only lug me and my cargo around compared to what these little engines have to struggle through.

Percy took us to his sister’s house for a refreshing drink of coconut water.

Ducklings running about. Looks like a good representation of global human skin color, mostly brown with a few darker and a few lighter ūüôā

Panorama of a rice (paddy) field. Looks just like my dad’s fields outside Madras, India.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Percy promised us one more attraction. We went down this narrow, rocky pathway with branches snapping at us.

And what an attraction it was! Panorama of the beautifully still Laguna Burlan near Bagua Grande.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Lunch (almuerzo) of breaded beef with rice and some salad. Being Indian, my taste buds are accustomed to eating rice with something liquid (lentils, curry, etc).

Taking a walk through the local market and seeing these kids jumping up and down on dried corn to break loose the kernels. Not really child labor when they’re having so much fun.

Black corn (more like deep purple) that’s used to make the local beverage of choice, Chicha Morada, which tastes similar to iced tea and is served with most meals. The alcoholic version is called simply Chicha.

Colorful potatoes. I was told these were not potatoes exactly, but can’t remember the name and looks similar.

Well camouflaged parrot among green and yellow limes.

Dinner that night at Bagua Grande’s fanciest restaurant of ‘Pescado a la Chorrillana con arroz’ (grilled fish with rice).

Heading out of Bagua Grande to the capital of the region, Chachapoyas.

The ride was excellent, twisting through a narrow canyon with the sun shining strong.

Following Rio Utcubamba.

Well-maintained road heading to the turn off at Pedro Ruiz.

Full flowing river with the road cut into the cliff side.

Taking a lunch break at Chachapoyas, a small colonial city, which wasn’t that attractive but is used as a hub for nearby attractions.

On the dirt road to Cajamarca, about 330 kms (205 mi) away.

I ran into Holger and Anja again. They spent two nights in Chachapoyas and since we were all headed to the ruins at Kuelap, we rode together.

Riding up to Kuelap from the main road, about 40 kms (25 mi) up the mountain.

A beautiful two-hour ride. We kept leap-frogging each other as we took breaks at different times.

Being introduced to cliff-hugging roads with no guard rails.

Which was enjoyable besides the fear of reckless on-coming traffic around blind corners.

Anja got a flat in her front tire coming around this hair-pin turn. I helped out with my air compressor. They had a hand pump and Holger said he was going to buy an air compressor in Lima after seeing how easy it was with mine.

Halfway to Kuelap.

First glimpse of the fortified ruins of Kuelap, perched on the edge of a ridge at 3,000 m (9,840 ft).

The road ends at the park entrance and then it’s a twenty minute hike up to the ruins.

The fortress of Kuelap, a citadel built by the cloud-forest dwelling civilization of Chachapoyas around 1000 AD, before the Incas.

The stone work is very impressive and it’s nicknamed the Machu Picchu of Northern Peru.

Besides getting a glimpse into our human past, what I found even more interesting was this view from Kuelap with a glimpse into our geologic past. The lines in the rock tell the story of what happened to the land here. The lines were laid down flat at the bottom of the ocean, millions of years ago and through the process of plate tectonics, the Andes have risen. For there to be such a sharp kink in the sedimentary layers, imagine the forces at work and the strength of the surrounding rocks. Always impressed by the power under our feet.

Back to some human past and the respect that must be paid to our cousins for undertaking such a formidable construction project with very limited tools ten centuries ago. The thick wall runs around the whole fort. Note the llama under the tree.

The entrance to Kuelap. This little slit is the only entrance to the fortified compound, a good security measure.

The walls lean in towards the top and amazing that they haven’t fallen down yet in this seismically active region.

The entrance path squeezing down to this little doorway, the actual entrance into the compound. This is all very good for preventing invading armies but what about if everyone had to leave in a hurry?

The remains of the base of the buildings inside the compound.

A recent reconstruction. There’s on-going archeological research to understand who exactly built this structure and what its purpose was.

A funerary tower with the trademark design of the walls leaning away from the base.

Aww, the happy couple framed at the entrance of Kuelap.

Another look at the impressive walls of Kuelap.

The fort of Kuelap perched on the edge of a ridge with a view of the access road snaking across the opposite mountain. Being a remote and difficult destination to get to, the nice thing is, there’s very few to no tourists around. It was a very peaceful and calming site.

Walking back to the park entrance and the open space of the parking lot where we camped for the night.

Using my MSR Dragonfly stove for the first time on this trip.

It’s powered by pressurized petrol (no need to source another fuel) and has the ability to control the strength of the flame, useful for some real cooking.

I mixed a can of garbanzo (chick peas, channa) with some left over lunch of meat and potatoes. A dash of some spicy curry-leaf powder (homemade by my mom) and voila, tasty meal.

Beautiful sunrise. I got up early since I wanted to keep going, but Holger and Anja wanted to go back and explore the ruins some more.

I camped under this shed. I wore all my layers for the cold night and slept well.

On the road back down to the river.

I was aware of not getting too close to the edge. From Kuelap, the road drops 1,200 m (4,000 ft).

Passing by some farms.

Back on the main dirt route heading to Cajamarca.

Passing through the sleepy town of Leymebamba, the last bit of civilization for the next 150 kms (94 mi).

Riding past beautifully lush valleys.

The remote road climbed high into the Andes.

It was generally a well-maintained hard-packed, gravel, dirt road.

The road peaked at 3,600 m (11,800 ft) and the weather was iffy at top with fast moving rain clouds.

But I had to stop for this stunning panorama of the bare Andes.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

Another panorama with the road on the left and expansive valleys straight ahead.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

sanDRina enjoying the ride and the views.

The route slicing through some rock.

A look back at where I came from and a look forward at where I’m going.

A beautiful ride with great views all around.

Having a hearty meal for S/.5. I ate the soup and the yuca and saved the rest (don’t want to get the sleepies after a full meal).

The cut of man into the hardened rock to allow cultures to spread.

The road dropping down with beautiful erosional views.

Steep cliffs. This is where you want to pay attention to the ‘watch for falling rocks’ sign, if there was one, that is.

The enjoyable route following the contours of the geology.

The route dipping down quickly to the low point of Balsas before climbing back up the other side (off in the distance).

The bridge across Rio Maranon at Balsas, at an elevation of 860 m (2,820 ft).

A distance board at Balsas. It would be another two hours to Celendin.

Climbing up the other side with a look back at the route dropping down to Balsas. The dark clouds at the peak were just gathering when I went through there and it was spreading.

The route was drier on this final summit to Celendin.

Climbing up in the late afternoon.

More awesome geology on display. I can’t help but be stunned knowing the fact that these lines were once flat and some force has pushed them up right, that too without deforming them. Who needs television when nature provides so much drama that makes the mind ponder.

I was thinking about camping again but wanted to find a spot away from the road for security and this cliff-hugging track didn’t provide any opportunity for such a site. I decided to push for Celendin.

The road snaking up.

This climb was more gradual with the route snaking all over the gentle mountain slope, gaining elevation slowly but surely.

Near the summit it got back to road-sliced-into-sheer-cliffs. And yes, I’m taking pictures with my left hand while riding. Don’t tell my mom.

Peaking at 3,100 m (10,200 ft) and enjoying the setting sun as I dropped down into the valley to Celendin.

Well, hello Mr. Shadow. Today, from Kuelap to Celendin, together with climbing and dropping, in 230 kms (143 mi), I covered a total of 8,280 m (27,300 ft) in elevation changes! I knew the Andes would be fun. Good girl, sanDRina.

Stunning sunset lighting in the main plaza of Celendin, a colonial outpost. I found a room with parking for the bike and hot water for S/.15 (~$5).

Breakfast of Caldo Verde (green soup), a thin soup with potatoes and egg and a herb similar to mint giving the main taste and color. Quite filling for S/.1.50.

The route continuing out of Celendin towards Cajamarca.

The scenery wasn’t as dramatic as yesterday, but pleasing, nonetheless.

The pavement started about 70 kms (43 mi) from Celendin, down to Cajamarca.

Next: Peru, Part 2: Canon del Pato and Huascaran

Previous: Ecuador, Part 3: Cuenca

Ecuador, Part 3: Cuenca

June 12 – 16, 2010

Heading away from the snow-capped mountains and volcanoes, I spent a few days in colonial Cuenca and visited the Cajas National Park before heading for the Peruvian border.

As I was taking a break and warming up back at the Panamericana, Riccardo here pulls up on a 2009 Suzuki DR 650, touring around South America from Santiago, Chile. He had been riding up for 2 months and was now on his way back.

He was also headed to Cuenca for the night, so we rode together.

The Panamericana heading south, leaving behind the lofty snow-capped volcanoes.

Riccardo sharing his sandwich with me for a spot of lunch near Alausi.

The girls getting to know each other. His bike was mostly stock besides an engine guard, windshield and the full Givi pannier set. He was carrying two spare 1 gallon petrol canisters to supplant the stock 3.4 gallon gas tank. He expressed shock at my 9 gallon capacity.

More pleasing riding on Ecuador’s excellent roads.

Taking a coffee break and I just had to get a bite out of this juicy pig hanging by the roadside.

They blaze the exterior of the pig with a blow torch and serve up the meat during the day. You can ask for a specific cut. They said they go through about 2 or 3 pigs a day, with each one costing about a $100 to procure.

A panoramic view across a valley with low hanging clouds.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

That gadget on my helmet is my GoPro video camera. I enjoyed riding with Riccardo and he, likewise.

Meeting up with Juan and Pedro about 50 kms (31 mi) north of Cuenca. I contacted Pedro through HorizonsUnlimited and they invited Riccardo to stay, as well. They were riding KLRs and were part of the KLR club of Cuenca.

Being escorted into Cuenca as the road widened to a 6-lane highway.

Getting an idea of the city from the mirador (lookout). Cuenca is Ecuador’s third-largest city sitting at about 2,500 m (8,200 ft) with a population of around half a million. It’s known for its colonial architecture and charming cobblestone streets.

Pedro firing up the grill with the aid of a hair-dryer.

Juan grilled up a big, fat, juicy steak with plantains and arepas.

Besides the occasion of welcoming two riders, it was also Juan’s birthday, being celebrated with friends and neighbors.

The next morning, I had some maintenance to do. This is in my top box and it’s the wires from the solar panel running to the switch box up front. I was constantly rubbing this electrical junction taking in and out a liner bag with charging electronics and it was only a matter of time before it got pulled apart. I reconnected it and rearranged the items in the top box so that my softer sleeping bag was against this connection.

We then went on a day trip to nearby Gualaceo, about 20 kms (13 mi) east of Cuenca, known for their markets. A well-roasted cuy (pronounced cu-ee) (guinea pig), a delicacy in the Andes.

Skinned, speared and ready to roast. It might be a bit discomforting if you were brought up in the West, as guinea pigs are raised as pets, but in the Andes, they’ve been domesticated for about 5,000 years and the local people have been raising them for their meat ever since.

It’s a tender meat tasting similar to rabbit and the dark meat of chicken. There is very little meat, but what there is, is quite good. It’s high in protein and low in fat and cholesterol. The brains are presented to the guest of honor and it tasted like most other brains that I’ve eaten (chicken and goat), soft and mushy and quite fatty. The skin was quite good, as well. If you intend to try it, it’s cheaper in Peru. This roasted cuy cost $10 here.

Mmm, I’m loving this guinea pig.

Juan and his lovely little daughter in the mercado (market). Juan is a mining engineer, working for a Canadian company.

Taking a walk through the Sunday market in Gualaceo.

Juan’s son, Riccardo , Juan’s wife, Angelica and her sister, Lorgia.

The central plaza was quite charming with well manicured trees.

A super tall pine behind a bushy tree.

The whole crew at the main plaza in Gualaceo.

We finished our visit with a walk by the river, which looked quite swollen, flowing full.

The new cathedral of Cuenca in the main plaza at night.

It’s quite grand on the inside with cavernous domes.

Luck be it that we were there during the annual confectionary festival, held next to the cathedral.

Everything looked so good. I sampled a variety of sweets and chocolates.

A typical desert of a crunchy tortilla (crepe) with various spreads, such as Nutella and toppings of nuts, coconut, etc.

The well-lit Santuario Mariano.

Breakfast at Juan’s house. Riccardo took off a day before me as he had to pickup some items in a different town before continuing south. We agreed to meet up again along the way or when I make it to Santiago.

Angelica prepared a variety of tasty eats during our stay. Upper left: fried yuca, UR: arepas, LL: steamed corn (choclo). Lots of corn products, but they tasted different and very agreeable to my taste buds.

Taking in the weekday flower market in front of the Santuario Mariano.

A nice variety of roses and other flowers.

Juan having a flower tea.

Intricately carved door of the original cathedral (built in 1557).

The new cathedral (1885) with its blue domes in front of Parque Calderon.

Interesting stone work and nice colors.

It was pleasing to walk around historic Cuenca, lots of nice stone work.

A tiled street sign.

Mmm, meringue in a cone (whipped egg whites, sweetened).

And look what’s hiding under the cover. It’s a Classic Mini Cooper in the same color scheme as the one I had in Chicago. Juan said one of his friends is part of the Mini car club in Cuenca but he was out of town.

Cuenca is defined by the four rivers that flow through the city. There’s green space around each river for jogging and cycling and it’s easy to see why many ex-pats choose to settle down here.

Heading out with Juan for a day trip to Parque Nacional Cajas on the way to Guayaquil. It’s defined by its misty mountain tops and over 230 lakes. Elevation is around 3,350 m (11,000 ft).

Clean rivers rushing under misty peaks.

A closer look at the misty peak. Can you see the image of the Virgin Mary in the rocks?

Panorama of Parque Nacional Cajas.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

The lust setting looked quite inviting to go on some hikes.

White, fuzzy plants with bright yellow flowers.

A local tree with bark that flakes off like paper.

Rushing river.

Juan with his Mazda truck that we went around in. These are very popular down here. He said the Chevrolet Luv is the cheapest of the 4-door pickups, then the Mazda, topped by the expensive and well-reputed Toyota Hilux.

Leaving Juan’s house after a wonderful few days in Cuenca. Good luck on planning your Alaska trip.

Ecuador has lots of new concrete roads. On the one hand it’s good cause they’ll last longer, but they are more expensive, and I don’t like them as much since they’re not as smooth as asphalt roads and produce more road noise.

I was taking a break by the side of the road when Holger and Anja pulled up on their BMW F650GS’s. They’ve been riding around the world since 2007 from Germany and we rode together to Loja for the night.

Lunch stop in Saraguro. They come from a small town near Cologne and Holger’s a school teacher and Anja’s a modern dance instructor.

Their trip website is, which means 2 who are traveling.

I spent the night in Loja with Roberto from the local HorizonsUnlimited community. He rode his BMW R1150GS down from Washington, DC and took the Stahlratte just like me across the Darien. We’re picking up Holger and Anja from their hostel.

Roberto leading us out of town towards the Peruvian border.

The 3 BMWs showing love to the ‘Zook.

Anja on her BMW F650GS. They were setup identically to reduce the number of spares to carry. They did have a few rear shock failures and were carrying a spare shock. They had the expanded Touratech gas tanks giving them a total capacity near 38 liters (10 gallons). We all filled up with Ecuador’s cheap gas ($1.48/gal) before crossing into Peru.

The landscape of southern Ecuador getting hot as the elevation dropped and the lushness withered away to dry lands, an indication of the scenery ahead in northern Peru.

Ecuador was a delight to ride through. I enjoyed all the high mountain roads, dotted with volcanoes and misty mountains. There’s more to explore here and with all the nice friends I’ve met, another visit in the future is likely.

Next: Home page

Previous: Ecuador, Part 2: Volcanoes

Ecuador, Part 2: Volcanoes

June 10 – 12, 2010

I spent a few days in Ambato, staying with motorcycle friends from HorizonsUnlimited and visited Banos, the active Tungurahua Volcano and the glacier-covered Chimborazo Volcano.

Commercial, non-touristy Ambato, near Banos, staying with Xavier Leon from HorizonsUnlimited. In trying to stay with local people as much as I can, I’m not only saving on lodging costs but am also getting insights into local culture and how people are living today.

Ambato was leveled by an earthquake and thus no colonial buildings exist, but they’ve reconstructed with that architecture in mind.

Having a steak dinner at La Hueka with Xavier (stripped shirt), his riding friend, Carlos (L) and Carlos’ daughter, Karen and her boyfriend. Xavier and another riding friend, Enrique rode KLRs up to Alaska two years ago. He currently manages the family furniture factory. Carlos recently got into motorcycling and wants to tour South America.

A tasty dinner of grilled chicken with herbs, a few ribs and a salad.

Carlos and Karen on his brand new BMW R1200GS with less than 1,000 km on the clock on a day ride to Banos.

But first, upon hearing that I’m a mechanical engineer, Carlos wanted to show me his machine shop in the adjacent town of Pelileo.

He’s a tool and mold maker, making things like plastic bottles for Gatorade, shampoo, etc along with other plastic injection pieces such as parts for car interiors.

All the various drill bits used in the CNC milling machines.

With Carlos and a few of his machinists.

Nice to see him employing women machine operators, as well.

A surface grinder that’s…

…made in the USSR and still running strong.

Karen in her go-kart that she races in Quito.

Being treated to a local lunch of…

…broiled pork with corn, potatoes and friend plantains. Tasty, tender meat on big chunks of bone, where you have to work with your teeth to get all the meat. Just the way I like it. Not much of a boneless meat kind-of-person.

Heading down to Banos.

Those aren’t just regular gray clouds. It’s a puff from smoking Volcan Tungurahua (meaning throat of fire in the local language of Quichua).

Impressive to see an active volcano for the first time. There was no immediate danger as the volcano is simply venting pressure. A few weeks ago at the end of May, it was spewing bits of hot lava and was a sight to see at night. There was a glacier on the peak that has melted away now since it went active again.

However, it is a danger for the farmers living and grazing their herds on the flanks of the volcano and the army evacuated residents from the area.

A mud slide from the recent eruption and a strange sculpture of a giant bird??

In the hot springs town of Banos, a tourist destination for locals and foreigners. However, the recent eruption has suppressed the local economy as scared tourists are staying away, but the local vendors say everything is tranquilo.

Situated under Volcan Tungurahua (source of the hot springs) and graced by waterfalls and green peaks, it’s a pleasing location.

Having some sugarcane juice and guayaba fruit paste.

Riding up the backside of Banos with el volcan looming in the distance.

Volcan Tungurahua huffing and puffing over Banos. To get a sense of scale, note the house in the lower right of the picture. I’m always intrigued by people’s motivation to continue living under active volcanoes, thinking the big one won’t come in their lifetime. I guess it’s a two-fold problem of population stress (where else can they move to in this already crowded planet?) and the stress of migrating a family until being forced to is too much to bear.

Riding back to Banos in this lush valley with waterfalls in the distance.

The next morning, being led out of town by another of Xavier’s friends, Julio who toured all over South America on his KTM 525 and who now wants to make a big loop of North America.

Ecuadorian police using new Kawasaki KLR 650’s.

Riding the beautiful via Flores route from Ambato towards Guaranda.

The route slowly climbed from 2,800 m (9,200 ft) in Ambato up past 4,000 m (13,100 ft). The air was moist with fog.

The lush, high altitude valleys made for a pleasing ride.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

The road followed the river and curved tightly around the rocky cliffs.

sanDRina blending in with her natural environment. She likes green spaces.

Something about a road following a river in a canyon makes for excellent motorcycling (like Lolo Pass Road in Idaho and many more).

A wooden bridge across the rushing river.

Climbing out of the canyon the road twisted ever higher, until suddenly, around a corner, I was greeted by this view of…

Volcan Chimborazo surrounded by clouds and dry, windswept p√°ramo. I took a break admiring the view and trying to get a glimpse of the glaciated peak of this extinct volcano.

I followed the road around the base of the volcano towards Riobamba and was engulfed in thick clouds for a few kilometers. The road elevation peaked at 4,300 m (14,100 ft).

A small herd of vicu√Īa, a wild relative of the llama.

Vicu√Īa’s are renown for their extremely fine wool, which was prized by the Inca elite and today’s elite as well. They produce only about a pound of wool each year and aren’t easily domesticated, making it difficult to gather enough wool to produce garments. A yard of vicu√Īa fibre can cost up to $3,000 resulting in the $20,000 cost to have a suit made. I was bundled up in all my cold weather gear, but sure could use some of their wool in my sleeping bag.

Another view of Chimborazo, still covered in clouds.

Finally the clouds parted to reveal the majestic Volcan Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador at 6,268 m (20,565 ft). Its peak is also the furthest point on the Earth’s surface from its center due to the bulge at the Equator from the planet’s spin (think of a spinning ballerina). The radius of the Earth at sea level at Chimborazo is 6,378 km (3,964 mi), which is 4,748 m (15,573 ft) more than at Everest (29 degrees north, elevation of 8,848 m (29,029 ft)). This puts Chimbarazo’s peak 2,168 m (7,113 ft) further into space than Mt. Everest’s. On a clear day, the peak can be seen about 140 kms (88 mi) away on the coast in Guayaquil. It last erupted around 500 AD.

Next: Ecuador, Part 3: Cuenca

Previous: Ecuador, Part 1: Quito and Quilotoa

Ecuador, Part 1: Quito and Quilotoa

June 4 – 10, 2010

Ecuador is the smallest of the Andean nations, yet it packs a punch in the sights and sounds it offers. Its namesake comes from the fact that the important Inca and Spanish colonial city of Quito just about straddles the Equator. It’s also the most densely populated South American country, and one gets a feel for that after seeing almost every mountainside stripped bare for agriculture. And what beautiful mountains they still are. Ecuador’s skyline is defined by picturesque snow-capped volcanoes and others that are still active, as part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Volcan Tungurahua went active again in 1999 and recently erupted, albeit not too violently, on 28 May 2010. I was excited to see my first active volcano.

I stayed primarily in the sierra (mountains) of Ecuador, all though I hear its coastline and jungles are worth a visit too. I followed a route south from Otavalo to capital Quito, down to industrial Ambato, then onto colonial Cuenca and the junction town of Loja. I stayed with motorcycle friends, either recommended from other travelers or contacted through HorizonsUnlimited.

On the northern side of Ecuador, there’s only one land border with Colombia near Ipiales.

At the customs office, waiting 3 hours for the computer system to come back online so that I could be processed in. The yellow Bajaj Pulsar is Andres’, a motorcycle friend from Pasto, who accompanied me to the border. He wanted to ride a little into Ecuador, but the customs delay went late into the day.

My route through Ecuador. Click on it to go to the interactive version in Google Maps.

When I enter a new country, I’m excited to see what my first impression will be. The setting sun was painting warm light across the mountainous landscape was making a great first impression.

And what a beautiful welcome a rainbow is. It was in my sights for a good half hour and it always makes me smile to think about how simple a concept it is, sunlight being split by water molecules, and how gracefully nature shows us the complexity of light. The blue light towards the inside of a rainbow is on the shorter wavelength side of the light spectrum and is the reason the sky is mostly blue (blue light gets scattered first when the sun is overhead). The red light on the outside of the rainbow is of a longer wavelength and is the reason sunsets are red as the light from a setting sun has to travel through more atmosphere to reach us, leaving only red light left for our eyes.

Landscape reminding me of south-west Wyoming.

Volcanoes coming into sight.

The sun setting near the town of Otavalo, where I spent the night.

My hostel in Otavalo, Tamia Taki for $4. Otavalo is known for its Saturday street market and I got my motorcycle out the door before the entire sidewalk was covered in stalls.

Ecuador uses the US Dollar as its official currency. It’s original currency, the Sucre, was losing too much value (104% inflation rate) during the 1990s after decades of deficit spending and the then president, Jamil Mahuad, made the decision to switch currencies to stabilize the economy and prevent the government from printing money to meet its budgetary needs. However, nowadays, there is talk of going away from the dollar as the local economy is stagnating.

The vendors were selling crafts and other daily items for the locals. A typically dressed woman walking in front of me. Even in the chill air (2,500 m (8,300 ft)), the woman are dressed in skirts and wear hats typical of their region.

I slowly gravitated toward the food market, lead by my growling stomach.

Mmm, a welcoming sight first thing in the morning. Note how they’ve stuffed peppers in its ears and looking fang-like from its mouth.

Fresh meat on one side and fresh veggies on the other.

Don’t mind the roast pig staring you in the face as you devour some of its juicy flesh. At the eatery section of the market where different stalls are setup offering various fresh eats. If you’re accustomed to a Western way of life, your meat generally doesn’t bear much resemblance to its live state, but I think down here, the closer the resemblance, the fresher the food is considered, as in ‘I want to see where my food comes from.’

Various sausages and innards.

‘Get my fried skin off of me!’

Returning to find my hostal engulfed in stalls. The items aren’t only for the tour groups as locals were busy buying, as well.

Heading south to Quito on the Panamericana. The last bit of the Northern Hemisphere for the rest of the year.

At the Equator. Entering the Southern Hemisphere.

I’ve been as far north as 70 degrees (Prudhoe Bay, Alaska) and let’s see how far south I can go. For some reason, I didn’t bother taking my GPS off the bike to find exactly where 0’0’0 was. This is close enough.

Ah, here it is. The exact marking of latitude 0’0’0, the Equator. Straddling both hemispheres. As you’re coming south from Otavalo, turn left at Cayambe and you’ll come across this monument.

Having lunch with my hosts in Quito, Carlos and Christina Ria√Īo. Carlos is a rider and graciously hosted me on recommendation from Sargento, the Mexican rider I met in Cartagena, who stayed with Carlos on his journey.

Having a Chinese seafood stir-fry.

Walking the streets of Quito after lunch we came across this little cute pup.

Quito is situated in a 40 km (25 mi) long valley between snow-capped volcanoes, some of which are active. That’s Volcan Cayambe shining in the setting sun. Population is about 1.5 million at an altitude of 2,800 m (9,200 ft). I had a headache from all the varying altitude in getting to the city.

A tile sculpture of a jaguar in a store window.

Carlos is a musician, playing the keyboards in the back at club Naruba, with his salsa, cumbia and other forms of Spanish music band.

I discovered a crack in the corner welds of my Happy Trail panniers and figured best to get it re-welded before the crack spread down the sides. Maybe it happened when I had my small fall in Costa Rica, but I would’ve noticed it before then or maybe I’m stressing them too much, don’t know.

At the aluminum welder’s shop. Sign reads ‘god bless my work.’

Having a little salty snack of fried corn, plantain chips and varied beans.

I also found this complete crack of my steel pannier frame. Now this probably happened when I fell in Costa Rica and am surprised I didn’t notice it until now. All my bolts are in place and none are broken.

Getting it welded on the bike since it was too much effort to remove the pannier frame.

Victor Manuel doing a nice job on all the welds. 8 aluminum welds (4 corners of both boxes, beefed up the current welds before they started cracking) and this steel weld for $10. He’s located at Av. Las Toronjas and Av. El Inca. Hard to find good aluminum welders.

The pannier frame welded up and ready for another fall.

The corners of the panniers welded up.

At the main monument for the Equator, the Mitad del Mundo, about 35 kms (22 mi) north of Quito. The position of the Equator isn’t exact here as when the site was created, exact instruments weren’t available, but it is grander and has more of a theme park atmosphere, costing $2, compared to the free entry for the exact site at Cayambe.

Having one of many excellent meals at Carlos and Christina’s house. That’s Christina’s brother, Riccardo. I’m wearing my swimming trunks as I had all my regular clothes washed.

A typical meal of a bean soup with rice, fried plantains, avocado and arepas. Carlos and Christina are actually Colombians from Bogot√° and moved to Quito about 10 years ago. Can’t take the arepas away from Colombians.

Meeting up with Aaron and Carol, on the red KLR, who contacted me through ADVrider and along with Carlos (gray Motor1, Chinese 150 cc runabout), taking a tour of Quito by night. Carlos also has a Honda Shadow 800 cc for touring. This is the Palacio del Gobierno (government house).

Lots of beautiful grandiose churches in Quito, which has the largest and best-preserved historic center in Latin America.

The main cathedral in Quito, where there’s a painting of the last supper with cuy (guinea pig) as the main course. Quito was the first city to be inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1978.

The Monasterio de San Francisco, the oldest church and grandest colonial building in Quito, finished in 1604. Having features such as sunlight shining on the altar during the solstices shows how indigenous artisans brought their Inca influence to Christian architecture.

Having dinner at Mariscal, the center of developed restaurants and the nightlife.

It’s also a popular biker hangout.

Having a nice salad for a change.

Dinner with Aaron, some Harley riders, Carol and Carlos. Aaron is from Minneapolis and he met Carol there who’s from Quito. They got married and rode down here, he on the KLR and she on a BMW F650.

Their uber-expensive Harley-Davidsons. There’s about a 70-100% import tax in Ecuador, so these bikes cost around $60-$70,000!

Saying good-bye to Carlos and Christina after a good 5 days in Quito.

Interesting geology exposed by a road pass.

Climbing up to Quilotoa Lake from Latacunga and riding through the p√°ramo, a neotropical ecosystem that exists above the tree line and below the snow line in the Andes.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

First time crossing 4,000 m (13,100 ft) on the bike.

First sighting of a llama in the wild. They’re indigenous to the Andes and have been mostly domesticated for their fur and occasionally for their meat.

From Latacunga, the ride to Laguna Quilotoa climbs high and provides good views.

A small patch of trees remaining. Too bad most of the mountain sides have been deforested.

Wonderful twisting roads following the natural contours of the land.

The air is very clear up here and it makes for some nice photos. sanDRina with the cultivated mountainsides.

Arriving at Laguna Quilotoa, costing $2 to enter.

Panorama of Laguna Quilotoa, a crater lake which formed after a violent eruption in 1280 of Volcan Quilotoa. It sits at a height of 3,900 m (12,800 ft), is about 3 kms (1.8 mi) around and 250 m (820 ft) deep. The clouds and conditions were constantly changing.
Click here to see the high resolution version.

To reach the lake, you have to hike through this narrow, steep canyon.

The road to Quilotoa from Zumbahua is a bit sandy but nothing a heavy bike couldn’t handle.

Cactus on the road-side.

Heading back to Zumbahua across this high-altitude valley, situated at around 3,700 m (12,100 ft).

There weren’t that many options for lunch on the road back in the small village of Zumbahua besides a few shacks serving up fatty pork, corn and eggs.

For a dollar, I got a small bag with 2 pieces of pork fat attached to a few strands of meat and some oily plantains. I should’ve just gone for 2 or 3 boiled eggs instead. But I guess up here in the cold, pork fat is what’s needed to sustain the calories.

On the way back to Latacunga, the clouds cleared and I got a nice view of snow-capped Volcan Cotapaxi at an elevation of 5897 m (19,342 ft).

Sheep on the road back down to the Panamericana, grazing on the green hillsides.

Next: Ecuador, Part 2: Volcanoes

Previous: Colombia, Part 4: Cali, Popayan, Pasto

Colombia, Part 4: Cali, Popayan, Pasto

May 31 – June 4, 2010

After a week in Armenia and Calarca, it was time to get moving. I dropped down to Cali in the flat plains for two days. From there, I headed up to colonial Popay√°n and then to high-altitude Pasto and its stunning scenery. I was welcomed and hosted by local bikers in each city.

The road descends slowly down to about 1,000 m (3,330 ft) and then becomes a flat 4-lane highway heading to Cali, the third largest city in Colombia. Sugar cane fields with the Cordillera Central rising at the eastern edge of the plain.

Massive four trailer trucks used for hauling the bulky sugar cane from the fields to the sugar mills.

Stopping under a bridge with fellow bikers to suit up for the rain ahead in the city.

My host, Henry Morales from buying dinner at an arepa fast food joint. There’s even a drive through.

Arepa stuffed with beef and veggies, served with a corn meal drink called Claro, which is funny since it’s the opposite of clear. It comes with some honey but wasn’t enough flavoring for me, tasted quite bland.

All that sugar cane is processed into Panela, which is an unrefined solid piece of sugar made from evaporation of sugar cane juice. It’s big business in Colombia and is mainly used in aguapanela, a drink made by dissolving some panela in water and is widely consumed here. Besides sugar, it also contains good amounts of protein, calcium, iron and ascorbic acid. Cyclists in Colombia (a very popular sport here) usually chew on a small piece of panela for a dose of energy and aguapanela is said to have as many rehydrating minerals as Gatorade. It’s also popular in India, under the name of Jaggery.

Having lunch the next day at Henry’s parent’s house of Sancocho de Mondongo, a hearty soup made with beef and pig intestines and yuca and veggies.

View of downtown Cali looking north at the flat plains where all the sugar cane is grown. While Cali is generally flat, it is still quite hilly since it lies at the foothills of the Cordillera Occidental.

Getting the nice view of the city from the Cristo Rey site, a 31 m (100 ft) tall statue of Christ with open arms, similar to Cristo de Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro.

Henry was a great host in Cali. He rides a V-Strom and is getting ready to do a 3 month tour of South America starting in October. He works as an accountant and also manages a super market.

Getting a cholado, a Cali specialty drink of fruit with condensed milk on ice with a wafer; was quite refreshing.

On a tour of the city, we stopped by the Parque del Perro (dog park), which is a popular hang out for motorcyclists and other young adults with restaurants and bars around. It gets its name from this statue of a dog but it’s not really a dog park as one might think of in the States where dogs are allowed to run free.

Iglesia de San Antonio in the oldest neighborhood in the city, located on a hill with a pleasing park leading up to the church.

View of downtown Cali from the Iglesia de San Antonio. Some free spirits were hanging about, playing soft guitar music and creating a nice ambiance.

Along with the dog park, there’s a Parque del Gato (cat park) located on the Cali River, a peaceful part of the city.

There were various sculptures of cats, each dressed up in a funky way.

The working class neighborhood of Henry’s parent’s house, where I was having lunch before heading out for Popay√°n.

Mosaiced steps leading up to the terrace.

Henry’s wonderful mother making huge patacones for me after seeing that I liked them the previous day.

They asked a lot of questions about India the previous day and people generally want to find out what food is eaten in other cultures and I told them we eat a lot of rice with lentils (dahl) and so Henry’s mother made lentil soup here. So gracious of her. Along with that was rice with steak and huge patacones served with aguapanela. She even wrapped some extra patacones for me to snack on while on the road.

Heading up to Popay√°n, about 140 kms (85 miles) away.

Nice twisty roads climbing back up the mountains.

Meeting up with Fernando Alarcon in Popay√°n, a friend of Jorge Peto in Armenia, at his brother’s motorcycle accessory shop.

Getting a tour of the colonial architecture of Popay√°n. Iglesia de San Francisco, considered the best example of baroque style throughout Colombia along with a monument to local hero, Camilo Torres.

The handsome cathedral in the central Parque Caldas. Popay√°n was founded in 1537 and was an important political and cultural center. All its fabulous architecture was destroyed in an earthquake in 1983 and since then all the major buildings have been restored.

The facade of the Catedral Bas√≠lica Nuestra Se√Īora de la Asunci√≥n.

The white-washed buildings reflecting in the wet pavement.

The main symbol of Popay√°n, the clock tower, dubbed the ‘nose of Popay√°n,’ built in 1682.

What’s special about Popay√°n is that all the buildings are painted white.

Iglesia de la Encarnacion and Iglesia La Ermita in the back with the purple lighting.

Fernando has a few pizzerias around town and also runs a few hotels. He, too, rides a V-Strom and went on a month long tour of the Mediterranean coast of Europe.

sanDRina in Fernando’s garage that opens up into his living room, nicely setup. All the pictures on the wall are of his tour in Europe and other biker events around Colombia.

After seeing all the electrical work on my bike, he showed me his crazy car stereo that he’s hooked up to his V-Strom with 6-inch loud speakers inside the front fairings and tweeters mounted on the windshield. It’s even setup with an infra-red remote control. He says it’s nice to have music when they gather for bike events. Crazy, but very cool.

Fernando’s lovely house. His wife painted that painting above the sofa.

Leaving Fernando’s house the next morning.

I’ve been mostly on the Pan American Highway through Colombia.

Twisty roads heading up to Pasto, about 265 kms (165 miles) south.

Local bus with loads of potatoes and chickens strapped on the roof.

Ad hoc motorcycle trailer. The passenger is just holding onto the cart and check out his helmet-wearing style. Helmets are required by law in Colombia, but how you wear it is another matter. Looks like some people don’t like to wear helmets, so they just place them on their head, out of the way.

A multi-branched tree at a small break by the road side.

The scenery becoming more impressive as I neared Pasto.

Vivid skies with Pasto in the mountains ahead.

This image is level with the horizon, but note how the clouds follow the top of the ridge as it descends.

Pleasing scenery on the way to Pasto.

Deep, rugged canyons on the climb up to Pasto.

The road was very impressive, hugging steep cliffs and cutting through rock passes.

Steep canyons, nearing Pasto.

The weather changed into cold rain as the altitude neared 3,000 m (10,000 ft).

Crossing the last toll booth to Pasto and…

Being welcomed by the local motorcycle crew of Pasto. Dario Fernando, whom I stayed with in Medellin, is from Pasto so he informed all his friends that I was passing through. L-R: Andres, me, Raul and Edwin.

The guys were very welcoming and wanted to show off their sights. Here, we’re taking a quick picture of the volcano that looms over the city. They’re all on small bikes, 200cc and less and were worried they would be too slow for me, but it was just right as I’m riding slow anyways (around 90 kmph, 56 mph).

The main square in Pasto with the volcano looming in the back. It erupted earlier this year but didn’t cause any damage.

Andres, in the black vest, was riding the lead Baja Pulsar and since he works part time with the police in community-related events, he had flashing police lights along with the police horn on his bike. It made easy work of cutting through traffic. Here, he’s helping me buy some local chain lube for $2 as I know it’s going to be more expensive and harder to find further south. L-R: Ivan on a green Pulsar, Edwin on a dirt bike, Raul on a Suzuki GN125, Angela (Andres’ girlfriend who spoke some English) and Andres.

Stopping by a church that overlooked this park.

Where there was a sculpture of St. Francis of Assis, the patron saint of animals and the environment.

Having dinner at Raul’s place before dropping me off at…

Dario’s family’s home. Dario’s two younger brothers, Andres and Alvaro with Luz Dary, Dario’s girl friend and her two younger sisters. At night, it was cold here at 2,530 m (8,290 ft) and I got a bit of a headache with all the change in altitude.

The next morning, on the last day of my Colombia visa, Andres offered to accompany me to the Ecuadorean border.

Having some breakfast along the way of a fluffy, fried bread with cheese and coffee.

Andres and his good looking Bajaj Pulsar. The Pulsar became well respected after a rider rode one from here through South America, Africa and into India to the main Bajaj factory. Quite a feat on a 200cc bike.

The road from Pasto to Ipiales at the border was fantastic and had great views. It was more of the steep, cliff-hugging variety of twisties.

Enjoying the ride to Ipiales. From Pasto the road descends to about 1,700 m (5,660 ft) before climbing back up to 2,950 m (9,820 ft) at Ipiales.

The two bikes on the way to Las Lajas.

The impressive Las Lajas Sanctuary set in a canyon of the Guaitara River, about 10 kms (6 miles) from Ipiales.

The current church was built from 1916 to 1946 on the exact site that a vision of the Virgin Mary was seen and since then many miracles are purported to have happened to devotees who come and worship at the church. These plaques stuck into the wall leading to the church are thank yous and testimonies of the successful miracles.

The faithful traveling from far and near to have their prayers answered.

Inside the beautiful chapel, which is built right up against the rock face with the shrine where the image of the Virgin Mary was seen in 1754.

The engineering feat of building a church in a steep canyon is quite impressive.

With my guide for the day, Andres at Las Lajas Sanctuary.

Besides the church, the surrounding scenery is worth the visit.

Las Lajas Sanctuary with its foundations heading down to the canyon floor.

Three weeks was too short for Columbia, but I enjoyed my time there thoroughly, especially meeting up with all the local bikers. The people are very warm and welcoming and are proud to show off their country. I will return someday to spend more time exploring this wonderful country.

Next: Ecuador, Part 1: Quito and Quilotoa

Previous: Colombia, Part 3: Zona Cafetera

Colombia, Part 3: Zona Cafetera

May 24 – 31, 2010

After a nice weekend in Medellin, I headed to the coffee producing region, called the Zona Cafetera. Colombia is world famous for its coffee and its citizens are very proud of their product. I’m not really a coffee drinker but it sure did taste good. My contact was Jorge Peto, whom Sargento stayed with but due to lack of space, I stayed with one of his friends, Barba and he took me around for a few days. I then met Andreas, El Paton, a global motorcycle traveler who’s planning to do the Transamaz√īnica in Brazil this August, same time as me, so we’ve decided to ride together there.

Nice roads heading from Medellin to Armenia, about 260 kms (160 miles) away.

Yellow bridges and blue skies.

Well manicured roadside flora. I was stopped by police at a check point and they demand to see motorcycle insurance in Colombia. I was stopped earlier outside Cartagena without having insurance and it was a big racket, but they finally let me go saying I had to buy insurance in the next city, which I did for $15 and no problems after that.

Crossing a big single tower suspension bridge near Pereira.

My host in Armenia, Barba taking me around to visit a plantation. On the way, we stopped at a friend’s coffee plant nursery.

Plantains freshly cut from the groves. It was raining heavily and we had to wait until all the plantains were cleared from the road.

Cutting the plantains from their stem, washing and preparing them for the market.

A pineapple field.

Weigh bridge at the entrance to the plantation to measure how much produce is being taken out.

Lunch at Barba’s house of rice with steak, potato salad and patacones (twice-fried plantain, so tasty).

That afternoon we played a bit of pool at one of the numerous ‘billiares’ pool houses around.

The break. The aim of the game we played was to put in the balls chronologically, with a small bet placed on who would sink the black 8 ball, which I accomplished thrice. You can see the smaller numbers are placed on the outside with the larger numbers in the middle.

The more popular game at this pool house was played on a table with no holes and only 3 balls.

Downtown Armenia. It’s a modern city as the original town was destroyed by earthquakes. Elevation is about 1,500 m (5,000 ft) and it was pleasantly cool.

A modern-looking church in the central plaza at dusk.

An interesting thing about Colombia is these cell phones for hire by the minute. People wearing numbers indicate how many pesos a minute (100 pesos = $0.05) it costs to borrow their cell phone to make a call. Very handy and more available than phone booths.

The promenade in Armenia.

Another cool thing about Colombia is these guys walking around with thermoses filled with hot coffee. It was usually served in a small espresso-sized cup.

That evening, Barba’s friend here, Cordoba, who’s a retired policeman, invited us to dinner after playing pool.

Having some fine Ron Viejo de Caldas Colombian rum, aged 3 years. Was very smooth.

Cordoba let me inspect his revolver, a Llama Scorpio. It’s a Spanish double-action police revolver and is chambered for the 0.38 Special cartridge with a 2-inch long barrel and fixed sights.

Six chamber cylinder. I’ve never fired a gun and thought I should at least try it before leaving the US, but never got around to it. Make love.

The 0.38 Special cartridge bullet.

Cordoba’s house was in this tightly packed row of houses.

Having to reverse down the ramp into the underground parking at Barba’s place. It’s so tight that even compact cars have to make a 3-point turn to get down.

Taking a day trip the next day to nearby Salento, a small colonial town with Barba and some of his friends.

Lunch at Cocora’s Restaurante in Salento of Cayana de Trucha Dorado, which was a smoked fish similar to Salmon with a huge crispy tortilla.

From Salento, we headed down to Valle de Cocora.

It’s a lush valley surrounded by mountain peaks.

It was raining slightly and the clouds were hanging low. Dairy cow enjoying the pasture all to herself.

The strange thing about Valle de Cocora is the super tall palma de cera (wax palm) tree that thrives in the cloud forest. They grow up to 60 meters (200 ft) tall.

Having some hot chocolate, which is different from hot chocolate in the States. It tastes watered down.

In Colombia, a slice of cheese (very tasty on its own) is usually served with hot chocolate and the crazy thing is you’re supposed to put the cheese in the drink so that it becomes soft and stretchy. I don’t know, but it didn’t seem to go well together.

But she was making it look so tasty. The women in Colombia are definitely very beautiful and a lot of emphasis is placed on beauty, encouraging a booming plastic surgery market, sometimes even for teenagers.

A freshly made Arepa con Queso (corn pancake with cheese).

Getting a clear view of the peak as the clouds cleared. I was told there’s a dirt road leading along the valley to even more spectacular sights. I need to come back and spend more time exploring Colombia.

It was Thursday night again, so bike night in Armenia.

One of the riders had this beautiful 2009 Suzuki GSX-R600 (I had a 2004 model) and he let me take it for a spin. I’m such a squid, riding in sandals but the thrill of hearing 15,000 rpm again threw ATGATT (all the gear, all the time) out the window. With high import taxes, this bike cost $17,000 here, compared to about $9,000 in the US.

The bike night then moved to Jorge Peto’s new Beef Parilla (BBQ). V-Stroms again were very popular with a few sport bikes, a KTM and a 2 BMW GS’s. A rider on a Yamaha R6 owned a motorcycle shop in town and said I could use his shop and mechanics for the day if I needed anything done on the bike.

Two Suzukis, built for different purposes but both thrilling in their element.

Barba’s cute little two month old Chinese Pug. A lot of character in a small compact body. The way it was hoping around all over made it look like a robotic toy.

Spending a day at Otto’s motorcycle shop. I had a few small tasks to do on the bike. Here, Roberto is helping me figure out why my Solstice LED lights keep on blowing a fuse. He pointed out that the metal tab on the seat was making contact with the frame and the exposed part of the fuse from my Centech fuse panel and shorting out the lights. Easy fix.

Doing my first valve check of the trip from San Francisco and everything was in spec. The bike has been running great with no problems. I also inspected and cleaned the spark plugs, washed and re-oiled the air filter and installed new in-line fuel filters in anticipation of dirty gasoline further south. Barba and the others were impressed that I was doing my own maintenance, a must in my view on a trip like this, to make sure you’re aware of all aspects of the bike.

Being escorted by the local police back to Barba’s house after a late dinner. They were friends of Peto’s and were glad to oblige. They liked the bright Solstice LED lights.

Meeting up with Andreas, El Paton who lives in nearby Calarca and has traveled the world on a Honda Africa Twin. He’s been around South America, up to Alaska, spent more than a year in India, then did South-East Asia and Mongolia to the Stans and Iran. He’s planning to ride the Transamaz√īnica highway through the Amazon in Brazil this August and has bought a DR650 for the trip, saying the Africa Twin is too heavy. Right on. Since I’m planning to ride through there at the same time, we’re hooked up and plan to meet in Porto Velho. He’ll be coming down the river from Colombia to Manaus.

Having a tasty steak with a great view.

That night, we were invited to Andreas’ friend’s farm house near Armenia.

Our host grilling some steaks under the watchful eye of his aging great dane, 11 years old and showing it.

Steaks and arepas. I was having a bit too much red meat for my liking by this point, but hey, who’s complaining. Can’t wait for Argentina.

They had three great danes and even though they weren’t allowed in the house, they all gathered near the door and Dorris here is staring at the dining table.

We spent the night there after finishing off a few bottles of aguardiente, splashed with good conversation. Nice view.

Outdoor hot tub and lovely farm house.

Dorris looking so cute. Awww.

Having Sunday lunch with Andreas and his parents at the newly opened Bakkah restaurant in Calarca. Having some fried fish with shrimps and calamari in a yellow sauce with mashed potatoes.

Spending the afternoon at Bakkah with Andreas going over maps of Brazil, Chile, Peru and Venezuela. He’s an interesting guy and we had a lot to talk about. Plus, he was the first and only English speaker I came across in Colombia. My Spanish is pretty decent by now, as I’m spending time with only Spanish speakers and can hold a decent conversation, but need to learn more vocabulary. Looking forward to our trip on the Transamaz√īnica.

Spending the night at Andreas’ apartment in nearby Pereira. He got a real kick out of serving me hot chocolate in this toilet bowl of a cup, haha. The crazy things you can buy in America.

A hardy Toyota Land Cruiser truck at Andreas’ farm in Calarca. I’m enjoying seeing proper Land Cruisers, Land Rovers, Nissan Patrols and Mitsubishi Pajeros being used as they were intended down here, compared to all the soft, luxury versions in the US plying the Interstate. I grew up with Land Cruisers in Zambia and nice to see the design hasn’t changed much. I bet these models wont be suffering from Toyota’s recent poor quality and faulty brake computers. Keep it simple.

Andreas is into birds and has collected various parrots from around Colombia.

Colorful, noisy parrots in their huge tree cage.

Entrance to Andreas’ farm.

Onwards to Cali.

Next: Colombia, Part 4: Cali, Popayan, Pasto

Previous: Colombia, Part 2: Medellin

Colombia, Part 2: Medellin

May 19 – 23, 2010

From Cartagena, I headed south to Medellin, about 700 kms (440 miles) away. I broke up the trip, spending a night in Caucasia, about halfway there. In Medellin, I met up with friends of Fernando Morales and Sargento who are also on, Jaime Andres and Dario Fernando. I planned to buy tires in Medellin as the choices and prices would be best, being the motorcycle capital of Colombia. Jaime was a great host and took me on day trips during the weekend to sights around the city.

On Route 25, heading south to Medellin. Most of the highways in Colombia are tolled, but it’s free for motorcycles. There’s a special lane on the far right for two-wheelers. Wish all countries would follow this example.

My route through Colombia. Click on it to go to the interactive version in Google Maps.

The route was generally flat until past Caucasia, but the scenery was still pleasing.

The roads were well-signed all through Colombia.

Good quality roads and shaded routes made for pleasant riding.

Dinner in Caucasia for COP 4,000 (Colombian Peso, COP 2000 = USD $1). Rice with chicken and potato in sauce with a slice of avocado and yuca and a radish/onion salad. I stayed in Hotel Genesis for COP 18,000 plus another 1,000 for secure parking.

Heading south to Valdivia…

…from where the road starts climbing up and over a ridge.

Hitching a ride uphill.

Lots of slow trucks on the ascent leading to unwise overtaking maneuvers. I know, I’m guilty too.

Eucalyptus trees on the top of the ridge before descending down to Medellin.

Nice views from the road. Elevation was about 2,100 meters (7,000 ft) and Medellin is down in a valley at 1,500 meters (5,000 ft).

Meeting up with Jaime Andres (pronounced “hy-mee”) at a gas station in the north of city. Jaime is a friend of Fernando in Cartagena through the national Colombian motorcycle forum of Jaime’s riding a bright green Kawasaki Versys.

Thursday nights all over Colombia is bike night and Jaime took me to the local hangout to meet all the other bikers in town.

After meeting up with everyone, we took a ride around the city. First stop was this lookout with a fantastic view of the city at night. Medellin is in the narrow north-south Aburr√° valley. It’s the second largest city in Colombia, under the capital Bogota, with a population of 2.4 million.

The Medellin TouringColombia crew at the lookout.

Heading back down the fun twisties. Having huge mountains nearby provides lots of fun riding.

Next stop was Pueblito Paisa, a representation of small towns typical of the region. People from Medellin and surrounding areas are referred to as Paisas.

Around 10 at night we pull into the traditional biker restaurant for some grub.

They have a very active crew and get together for rides and other events quite frequently. Reminded me of bike nights at Strats in Chicago with

A welcoming change from all the rice and chicken; ribs and wings with fries.

The next day, Jaime took me around to shop for tires. Getting some fresh sugarcane juice.

My bike was at Jaime’s girlfriend, Ana Marie’s Suzuki shop for a complimentary service and we were scooting about the city on Jaime’s fetching blue/white Vespa. Also note the Bajaj shop there. Bajaj is an Indian motorcycle company and is the most successful motorcycle company in Colombia in the sub-250cc category. It made me proud to see so many bikes from the homeland doing so well abroad. The 180cc and 200cc Pulsar have their own following and are well respected. The Bajaj’s are assembled in Colombia by Auteco, thus skipping the high import tariffs and making them affordable to the masses.

Had to get a picture with the cute Vespa. Note the spare wheel in the back. And the vest I’m wearing with the license plate of the two-wheeler is required in Colombia for safety reasons. One reason is for quick theft identity as the helmet also has to have the license plate number on it and the other safety reason is that the reflectivity of the vest provides additional visibility for truckers, who’ve run into numerous riders. However, this is not required for foreign riders and I wasn’t given any trouble by the police when I was on my bike.

Picking up sanDRina from Ana Marie’s Suzuki service shop. She said all passing travelers get a free servicing. Since nothing really needed servicing, I had them just lubricate my clutch cable and properly set the tire pressures. Lubricated clutch cable was much needed; so much clutching in city driving.

Leaving the Suzuki shop. Suzuki is by far the most popular and well represented big name Japanese brand, probably partly due to the fact that they have a factory in Colombia near Pereira and assemble a lot of the bikes there, making them cheaper than the imported competition.

Picking up some new tires for the road ahead. I got a set of Metzeler Tourances (non-radial) for $107, a really good deal. My Kenda’s still have some live left in them, so I’ll carry these and mount them when needed.

Strapping the tires to the bike. The bike shop alley had lots of tire and spare part shops, but I couldn’t find a spare 525 Master Link for my chain. I have one spare, but was looking to see if another one was available. I picked up some heavy duty PVC rain pants for $10 since my rain liners require removing my pants to put them in; not convenient for afternoon rain showers.

I stayed with Dario Fernando in his new motorcycle spa business. He recently moved from Pasto to seek better opportunities in the big city and having so many motorcycles here, a bike wash seems like a good idea (car and bike washes are all the rage in Colombia). He’s riding a 180cc Bajaj Pulsar and has toured all over Colombia on it, that too with his girl friend on the back. He’s getting ready here to give sanDRina a good wash, the first since I bought her in 2008, haha.

Colombian currency, the Peso. COP 2000 = USD $1. It’s easy to become a millionaire here but hard for those still learning Spanish since having to say big numbers is harder than small numbers, but I learned fast.

Hanging out in El Poblado, the central area with all the fine dining and bars and clubs.

Getting some fresh crepes from this eatery…

…filled with beef and cream cheese. Very tasty and filling. Cost about COP 8,000.

Walking around and people watching.

Having shots of Aguardiente (meaning burning water), the most popular liquor in Colombia. It’s an anise-flavored liquor derived from sugarcane, similar to Absinthe in taste, but was only 58 proof alcohol and not that strong. Even after a couple shots, I wasn’t feeling any effects. It came with some raw mango that went well with it.

My hosts in Medellin. L-R: John David’s girlfriend, John David (Dario’s brother), Jaime Andres, Ana Marie, Dario Fernando and me.

Being presented with a Colombian friendship bracelet from Jaime.

Taking off for a day ride with my newly washed sanDRina. She was sparkling thanks to the treatment at Clean Xtreme Moto Spa.

Following Jaime and Ana Marie through the fun traffic of Medellin. I had no problems lane-splitting and haven’t scraped a car yet. It helps that the panniers aren’t wider than my handle bars, just.

Meeting up with the crew at an Esso gas station, where the route for the day was discussed.

Taking the Fernando G√≥mez Mart√≠nez Tunnel (the longest in South America) at 7.4 kms (4.6 miles) through the mountains heading to Santa Fe de Antioquia. The ventilation wasn’t that good in the tunnel and the air was heavy with exhaust.

Lunch break.

Having the typical meal of the region: Bandeja Paisa, a heart attack on a platter: rice with steak, chorizo (different from Mexican chorizo), pork blood sausage, chicharrón (crispy pork rind with some meat on it), a fried egg, a potato, fried plantain, a small salad of tomatoes and onions, bean soup and an arepa (typical Colombian corn bread, thicker than a tortilla) along with some fresh lemonade. What a meal to have while riding. And can you believe, this was the half portion! Cost about COP 16,000 ($8).

Waiting it out for a bit before hitting the road. I can’t believe I ate all that.

At the main attraction of the day, Puente de Occidente (Bridge of the West, so named as it lies in the west of Antioquia department).

The handsome Puente de Occidente, constructed in 1895 connecting the towns of Olaya and Sante Fe de Antioquia across the muddy Cauca River. It was designed by José María Villa and when it was finished, it was the longest suspension bridge in South America with a span of 291 meters.

The riding crew from Medellin’s TouringColombia chapter.

Riding across the Puente de Occidente. The wooden boards clatter as you ride across and the sound echoes in the valley. Initially, it was only meant for pedestrian traffic but later one-way vehicular traffic was allowed.

The towers of the Puente de Occidente covered in galvanized sheets to protect the underlying wood structure.

Riding 30 kms (18 miles) further along tight twisty roads to Olaya, a small remote town that was once a FARC stronghold. The church was riddled with bullet holes.

Relaxing in the square in Olaya. Good riding crew and nice to be on a group ride.

Having a few drinks and snacks in the central plaza of Sante Fe de Antioquia, the capital of the region before Medellin got the honors. It was founded in 1541 to facilitate gold mining and the cathedral was completed in 1799.

That evening was the birthday party of Cesar, one of the riders in the chapter and he invited all his TouringColombia friends for a celebration. Sparklers in the cake.

After dinner and a comedy show, the dancing began.

It got a bit wild.

And since none of the other guys were dancing, all the girls were dancing with me ūüôā The party went on till about 3 in the morning and we had to be up for another day ride.

Day ride on Sunday to Guatapé with Radman on the Suzuki Bandit 600.

Good roads heading to Guatapé.

A small part of the flooded landscape that is part of the reservoir of the Pe√Īol-Guatap√© hydroelectric project.

El Pe√Ī√≥n de Guatap√©, a large monolithic granite rock, rising 200 m (656 ft) above the ground.

Panorama of the Embalse de Guatapé, the reservoir that was formed in 1970s. Click here to see the high resolution version.

The four bikes of the day at El Pe√Ī√≥n de Guatap√©: Suzuki V-Strom (very popular all over Colombia, costing about $12,000 here), Kawasaki Versys, Suzuki DR650 and Suzuki Bandit 600.

Typical food on display: fried fish, chicharrón and sausage.

There are 649 steps leading to the top that were built into crack of the otherwise smooth and unbroken granite rock. Taking a break half way up.

A dizzying look at the remaining steps leading to the top. It took about 20 minutes and was a bit dicey as it was raining and the steps were slippery and that too I was in my motocross boots.

But the 360 degree panoramic view from the top was worth it. Click here to see the high resolution version. Rain clouds were moving in but the view was surreal. Islands dotted the landscape as far as the eye could see. The flooding for the reservoir began about 40 years ago and it looks a bit ill-conceived. Jaime said swimming is not advised since lots of trees and plants are just below the water surface.

The climb back down the narrow, slippery steps. At least there were separate staircases for uphill and downhill traffic.

View from about half way down. The bikes are in the lower left.

Lunch of fried fish, Corvina with rice, fries, patacone (plantain), a salad and a gorda arepa. I didn’t really like this kind of arepa as the center was uncooked and tasted of raw corn, but it was offered with most every meal. There are many different kinds of arepa and I liked most of them, especially the ones that were re-fried with an egg and some meat.

Last night in Medellin at Dario’s Moto Spa. I had a wonderful time in Medellin and truly felt welcomed with the warm spirit of the Paisas.

Next: Colombia, Part 3: Zona Cafetera

Previous: Colombia, Part 1: Cartagena