Searching For Beautiful Peru? Found it! WOW

November 30, 2015

I found the Andes mountain scenery I was looking for today. And then some. Wow. Unbelievable. I can’t really describe it, so I think I’ll just post some photos and let them speak for themselves. I’ll add a few (very few) words where necessary.

In the center of this photo you can see snow pouring down the mountain. I had my back to this taking a photo in the other direction when I heard what sounded like a truck behind me. For a long time. When I turned around I realized it was an avalanche. I was so stunned watching it that I forgot to get the camera out for a while.

 

16,053 feet, on a fully loaded 18 horsepower XT250. There is a tunnel through the mountain about 600 feet lower, but this path leads over the tunnel and down the other side. The little 250 had no problems at 16,000 feet. To paraphrase Ed March of C90 Adventures, if you tell me you need a $20,000 adventure bike to do this ride, I will kick you where it hurts.

No photoshop. No playing with color scales. This is the real deal.

 

Yes, that’s a “2RideTheGlobe.com” sticker on the top of that sign at the top of this pass. 15,289 feet.

 

Dirt/rock/shale road down the mountain in the rain.

 

Llanganuco Lake. Natural color.

I will try to post a few short videos tomorrow as well.

Cañon del Pato

November 29, 2015

I met up with Ian again on the coast in Huanchaco, and we decided to ride together toward Chimbote and then up the Cañon del Pato to Caraz.

Looking north at Huanchaco beach. It’s not exactly Manhattan or Hermosa Beach, but it has a nice little walking strand and a lot of seafood restaurants.

 

Looking south.

 

These hand-woven boats made of reeds are very popular here.

 

 

Leaving Huanchaco, we rode south on the Pan American Highway for about 80 miles. The surroundings are pretty much entirely sand, although in a few places people have managed to farm.

At one point these trees provided a wind block (against blowing sand mostly) so that farmers could work the land. The bright red against the green on the trees really stood out.

 

I don’t know what kind of trees they are, but they had these huge pods and then the extremely bright red blooms, but only some of them.

 

Further along the dunes became quite impressive.

 

 

 

 

At Santa, we turned east on Highway 12, which would take us through the canyon.

A small village on 12 heading into the canyon.

We met a couple from Scotland on bicycles headed out of the canyon towards the coast, then south toward Ushuaia. They said they traveled six months a year and worked six months a year. Not sure how long it will take them to get to Ushuaia.

The road turns to gravel for a good portion of the ride.

 

Ian up at the next bend.

 

There are about 33 of these one-lane tunnels (it’s a one-lane road) along the way. Most of them are near the east end where the road is paved again. None of them are very long, but some curve quite a bit in the middle, so they have signs at both ends warning drivers to honk before entering the tunnels. We met large trucks and buses on the road.

I took some video with my GoPro but as I’ve mentioned before, I can’t edit it on my laptop due to a lack of space. However, one of the videos seemed good enough without editing, so I was able to upload it to YouTube. Here’s a couple of minutes of the paved part of the Cañon del Pato (sorry, I didn’t know the GoPro would pick up my random whistling while riding):

Best if you watch it full screen, and glance off the left side of the road every now and then. I have no idea how far down it was, but it’s a long way.

 

A short intermission for a little KTM troubleshooting and maintenance.

 

 

 

 

Impressive multi-tiered waterfall.

 

At the east end of the canyon we pulled into the town of Caraz for the evening. We had gradually climbed from sea level to a little over 7500 feet elevation in the last half of the canyon route. From town you can look up to the snow covered peaks of the Cordillera Blanca mountain range.

Tomorrow I hope to do a loop up over 12,000 feet again, eventually arriving back here for one more night.

 

Mileage/Trip Comparison

November 28, 2015

I was looking at my GPS track on my Delorme Inreach page today, and I realized that if I had ridden the most direct route from Austin, Texas to Chimbote, Peru (where I am now), it would be about 5,000 miles. It has taken me four months to get here.

A year ago I did more miles than that in one month on the Super Tenere from Texas to Canada and back. But I rode more miles per day (over 800 miles one day), stopped less, saw less, and did less (other than sit in the saddle and ride).

Unfortunately many people who decide to ride to the bottom of South America from either the U.S. or Alaska do it similar to my Canada trip: they ride the Pan American Highway for weeks, covering huge distances every day, and never see any of the amazing things along the way. I don’t blame them. Many of them have a limited time to complete the trip, and the only way to make their goal before returning to work or their “real lives” is to spend their days on the highway. It is a shame though. I hope they see enough to decide to return to South America later and spend more time exploring, because there are some amazing places here, and most of them are nowhere near the Pan American Highway.

Happy Thanksgiving! In search of Beautiful Peru…

November 26, 2015

Okay, that’s misleading. There is no Thanksgiving Day in Peru. At least not the U.S. version. But that’s where my Thanksgiving Day was spent. I set a number of personal records today for this trip:

  1. Longest mileage in a day (for this trip): 570km (353 miles)
  2. Fastest border crossing
  3. Longest mileage in a day with a border crossing included
  4. Longest ride on the Pan American Highway

I also broke several of my personal rules today:

  1. Don’t ride more than +/- 200 miles in a day
  2. Don’t ride after dark (I might have made it before dark if I hadn’t run out of gas five miles before my destination!)
  3. Don’t ride the Pan American Highway any more than necessary

There were some highlights to the day as well. So “let me start over” (inside joke….only one person that may or may not read this will get that):

After leaving Vilcabamba I rode a short day to Macará, Ecuador, which sits right on the border with Peru, and checked into a hotel there. Macará is a rough looking border town, but the hotel was a high spot — nice and clean, with a large secure garage. This allowed me an early border crossing the next day.

This morning I left Macará and got to the border by 9:30. I wish all border crossings were a carbon copy of this one. The entire process, including checking myself and my bike out of Ecuador, crossing the bridge, checking myself and my bike into Peru, and purchasing the obligatory SOAT third-party insurance for Peru, took just under one hour. The officials on both sides of the border were very helpful. The guy at Aduana (customs) in Peru even had his own copier!!! Amazing!! I didn’t have to walk down the street to a food vendor to pay to have copies made like in Central America. And he didn’t charge for the copies. Aside from the insurance, the entire border crossing was free. Note that this is not the high-volume border crossing; that one is further west at Huaquillas. There was one other person in line at immigration and I was the only person at customs.

Several miles south of the border, I came upon a checkpoint. The officer asked for my paperwork, and then the fun began. This guy had my sense of sarcasm, and I loved it.

Officer: “Let me guess (insert sarcastic tone)…you are going to Patagonia.”

Me: “Isn’t everybody?”

Officer: “Everybody has to go to the tip of South America to take a photo.”

Me: “It’s a long way just for a photo.”

Officer: “Yes… It is.”

A clear indication that although I was not on the main Gringo Trail, I was still on Gringo Alternate 1.

And with that he handed me my paperwork and wished me a good day.

As I continued south towards Piura, the scenery very quickly changed to desert. For the first time in weeks, I was below 5,000 feet elevation and still dropping, and my surroundings were looking a lot like the high desert of southern California. The quality of life seemed much worse than I had experienced in the mountains of Ecuador and other countries previously. I’m not sure if it’s just the difference between the houses being exposed in the desert, as compared to the lush greenery of Ecuador, or if it is truly that much worse. But when you live in the desert, you are forced to make do with much less in terms of resources and building materials.

Entering Piura, I noticed a couple of things. First, even though I had been warned by Judith, Ian, Mike & Shannon, and others, this was my first real exposure to the “suicide” driving method here in Peru. The thinking seems to be, “Your lane? You don’t have a lane, amigo, you are on a motorcycle. I will go around, over, or through you.” People pull directly out in front of you in an intersection (without even slowing down as they approach it), even if you are on the larger road (highway) and moving at 50mph. They will pull into the opposite lane and come straight for you. And they are not playing chicken. Or if they are, they always win, because they never pull back in. They will pass you on the right shoulder. They will pull off in the dirt to pass (in town) and then turn in front of you. Cars, buses, 18 wheelers, moto-taxis, it doesn’t matter. Which is when I noticed the other thing: there are no traffic lights in Peru. At least not many. I rode through several good-sized cities today, and never once saw a traffic light. Which might explain the suicidal driving, or at least part of it. At one point today, having just survived an 18-wheeler pulling across the intersection directly in front of me and several cars, I began to think that there must be a limitation on driver licenses in Peru: if you have an IQ over 60, you don’t get one. At least they drive like that’s the case.

South of Piura, the desert turned to sand. Pure sand. As in dunes. For close to two hundred miles. If you are familiar with California, think about Highway 395 from Victorville to Mammoth Lakes. The road itself is a lot like that: two lanes, very straight. Now think of driving that same straight, two-lane road through sand dunes the entire way, with a 35mph crosswind blowing sand across the highway. And that’s the Pan American Highway from Piura to Trujillo.

 

I hate to be negative, but I feel I have to in order to give the full picture here. What happened to self-respect? For more than two hundred miles. with few exceptions, it looked like I was driving through a landfill. Plastic trash bags everywhere. Thousands. Tens of thousands. The amount of trash was unfathomable. You could tell when you were within ten miles of a town: the trash suddenly got much thicker. This was definitely different than previous countries. There’s no way you can hide that much trash, even in the mountains. And I didn’t see trash bags piled and blowing around in the mountains.

I kept heading south, thinking “I’ll stop when this gets better.” But it never really did. I know this isn’t representative of all of Peru. I’ve been telling everyone the best is yet to come. And I was thinking of the mountains of Peru and Patagonia. I know Peru won’t disappoint me. I just need to get off the Pan American Highway.

I ended up riding all the way to Trujillo, on the Pacific Coast, which was supposed to be my destination four days from now. It was looking like I was going to make it to the hostel just before dark. And then I ran out of gas. I had been pushing into a strong headwind and crosswind all afternoon, and I knew my mileage was suffering. But that’s why I carry a spare couple of gallons on the rear rack in a Rotopax container. So it was just a minor inconvenience. A few minutes later and I was on my way.

As I pulled into the hostel, I met Les and Catherine from No Agenda World Tour. They are traveling from Canada on their KLR650s. Way back in El Valle de Anton, Panama, a woman who was staying at the hostel there gave me a Post-It note with Catherine’s email address on it. She said she had met them on the road, and that they were also traveling with motorcycles. Her final comment was “But I know you’ll never contact them.”

Well, I did one better: I met them face-to-face!

I plan to spend a couple of days here at the beach, then head into the mountains and do some exploring.

 

Back to the 60’s: Why is it still called “New” Age after all these years?

November 25, 2015

After five days in Vilcabamba, I decided to re-write my original post, which was rather scathing. This morning at breakfast I realized that it went against what I have believed all of my life, which is that all people should have the right to believe what they want to believe and worship as they see fit, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else, and they don’t force it on me.

I definitely didn’t feel like anyone was forcing anything on me in Vilcabamba, but at times (especially on the weekend) I had moments where I felt like I was drowning in New Age eccentricity. Either that or I had somehow been transported to an alternate universe along with many people from Haight Ashbury in 1967.

I have to admit that my feelings for the place have rolled like a sine wave. When I first arrived and saw the village, I had a very positive feeling about it. The next day (Saturday) when I saw the large volume of ex-U.S. hippies converging on the square, my feelings weren’t so positive. By Monday, the square had returned to a very Latin American “normal” and a ride through the surrounding countryside helped to bolster my positive feelings about the place.

My house-host Anya took me for a ride outside of Vilca, through some nice countryside. It helped restore my faith in the area.

 

 

The tiny village of Tumianuma, near Vilcabamba. Down a nice road, past million dollar homes, this place is unspoiled and original.

I really, really wanted to like Vilcabamba. I read articles over the past decade about the “eternal spring” temperatures here, and the “Valley of Longevity”. Supposedly people lived long lives here, well in excess of 100 years, claiming up to 130 years or more. Of course, that study was later proven wrong, but people here still embrace the concept, so much so that even the signs with the town’s name on them show an old guy with a cane in the logo.

Town information sign in the city’s central park. Notice the old guy in the town logo. Oddly, he doesn’t seem to be wearing a flowered peasant shirt from the 1960s, or Aladdin flowing trousers, or sandals, and doesn’t have dreadlocks or braids. Obviously needs updating to reflect the current Vilcabamba.

When I arrived, I walked around town, looking at the village from different angles, taking it in. It’s a beautiful valley. There are a large number of restaurants and coffee shops in town for such a small place. (and TWO sushi bars, which as I’ve said before is a warning indicator for me). It’s generally a quiet, sleepy little community.

Typical Latin American central park in town. Very nice, very comfortable to just sit a while and people watch. It’s the people that make this one different.

Beautiful church on the square.

I was walking along the edge of town when I saw all of these chickens lined up on the sidewalk, equally spaced apart. I thought that was strange until I realized they were all tied in place. The opposite sidewalk was exactly the same.

Vilcabamba makes Austin (whose slogan is “Keep Austin Weird”) look like a far-right conservative midwestern farm town. None of the people creating this effect in Vilcabamba are natives. And the natives seem split over it: the business owners seem to just grit their teeth and go along with it because at least some of them are benefitting from it. The local residents that were here before all of this “New Age” eccentricity arrived clearly aren’t thrilled with what has become of their little town.

I’m reminded of a cartoon from years ago, showing a Harley Davidson rider wearing a leather vest, leather chaps, boots and a do-rag, and pointing out all of the accessories on his Harley Davidson, all of which he bought to show his “individualism”. Of course, he and his bike were exactly like all the other “sheep” that spent a ton of money to “fit in” with a culture. They were trying so hard to be accepted and to look accepted that they lost their individualism entirely.

That’s what the ex-pats of Vilcabamba look and feel like.

Perhaps, as someone suggested, it is possible to live outside of Vilcabamba and only go into the town when needed. This sounds sort of like my love affair with Austin, having lived a distance from the craziness in a slightly more sane rural environment but still able to take advantage of what the city had to offer. But Vilcabamba isn’t a city. It’s a village. There isn’t much here, especially culturally. Not like Austin. I heard there are other “communities” on the outskirts of Vilcabamba that have a different feel, and that some of these communities have their own “energy”.

Looking around the city center for a few days, it would appear that all of the people who lived to a ripe old age in the Valley of Longevity have moved on. The percentage of New Age spiritualists seems to be increasing. And it’s my opinion that they have a right to believe what they want to believe. As do I. And I believe it’s time to hit the road.

Miscellanea: Trucks and A Little More Bathroom Humor

November 22, 2015

It was time to create another miscellaneous post, because I had a few photos and thoughts I needed to put somewhere that didn’t fit elsewhere, and, well, frankly, because I have a couple of more days in Vilcabamba and I don’t want to publish my thoughts on this town until I am well clear of it.

Since Mexico, I’ve been attracted to the large number of old-school Toyota Land Cruisers. I had no idea there were so many of them, and that so many still exist in Latin America. I love these old trucks, especially the “B” series with the diesel engine.

Not all are Toyotas. There are Nissan versions, as well as others.

I would love to have one of these, especially the diesel version, but I looked at what they are selling for both here and in the U.S., and I could buy a new fully loaded pickup truck instead.

The other vintage vehicle I saw in Colombia that was extremely popular there was the Renault Master. The current Renault Master looks a lot like a Mercedes Sprinter van, but the older generation Master is a much smaller, “Fiat-like” wagon. These things are everywhere in Colombia.

 

Finally, here’s a few shots from a recent hostel I stayed in. This place was actually great; very comfortable. Just an example of the building process here.

Is one of these doors for giants, or is one of these doors a bit on the short side? Note: this is NOT an optical illusion. The two doors are side-by-side.

 

Answer: the bathroom door is a bit on the short side. I almost knocked myself unconscious twice in the middle of the night.

 

And a few other things came up “short” in the bathroom as well. There wasn’t quite enough room between the sink and the shower stall for the toilet, so the toilet is half way into the shower.

These are the kinds of “design considerations” that make a place like Magic Stone B&B in Baños stand out, where the design and construction were done right.

Oh, and all that stuff I posted a while back about the different names for flat fixers in the different countries? Well, we’ve come full circle: just like in Mexico, in Ecuador they are again referred to as Vulcanizadores. Odd how quickly things change just crossing a border, even in the same general language.

Flirting with Peru: Doin’ the Zumba Loop

November 20, 2015

The road from Loja south to Zumba is 96 miles, comprised mostly of fresh two-lane concrete road, occasionally interrupted by sections of gravel, because the highway builders haven’t been able to widen the road, divert the water, or prevent the landslides in those areas yet. In fact, in some areas where there is new concrete, the road is covered in dirt from landslides, or the concrete has collapsed due to a landslide under the road. Regardless, this is an incredibly scenic stretch of road. If you could turn the volume down a couple of notches on the scenery between just south of Vilcabamba and Zumba, you might think you were somewhere in Wyoming, near Yellowstone or Grand Tetons, or perhaps somewhere in Montana, but with higher, more jagged mountain peaks. It’s that good.

That would be the normal route from Loja south to the border at Peru. But that’s not the way I’m going. Oh, I’ll do that stretch of road, but I’ll do it at the end of my two-day ride, from south to north. Instead, I’ve been invited by Ian Willcox to ride along on a more remote route that loops through the Yacuri National Park.

I arrange to meet Ian at a petrol station just south of Loja at 11am. Unfortunately, at 10:45, I am still at my hotel. The parking arrangement at this downtown hotel is such that there is basically a one-lane garage about 6 cars deep in the lobby of the hotel, and my motorcycle is in the very front of all of the cars. As I’m waiting for the cars to move so I can get my bike out, I’m watching a video crew shoot a promotional video about the newly remodeled Villonaco hotel. The video crew takes an interest in the “American in the astronaut suit” standing in the lobby and asks to interview me. What the heck, I’m not going anywhere…

After the interview, and a few photos with the hotel staff and video crew, I finally get the bike out and head south to meet Ian, a half hour late.

Video crew (Martha — also the wife of the video producer). Note the “front desk” of the hotel directly behind the bike. Yep…riding through the lobby, again.

Ian is there waiting for me and we head south to Malacatos, then start west toward Gonzanamá, where we stop for lunch. The locals here also look at us like astronauts, or something else they’ve never seen. This is clearly not the typical tourist route.

 

The road out of Gonzanamá is freshly paved, with nice new concrete curbing. It’s obviously new, and we keep thinking it will end and turn to dirt soon. But it continues nearly all the way to Amaluza before finally turning to construction. We find a hotel (the hotel) in Amaluza and check in.

Looking out my window at the Hotel Escorial in Amaluza the evening of our arrival.

In the morning we awake to low clouds, but at least it isn’t raining.

Next morning….hmmm….clouds are low.

This is the garage where we stored our bikes down the street from the hotel. Note that the garage door slides across where the “living room” window is. Also note the “front door” on the far right.

 

Same place from the inside. Note the “front door” on the far left. When I mentioned it, the owner explained that after he bought this land, he bought another place on the other side of town and built the house there. “Hey, it’s secure” was his main point. I agree.

From Amaluza on, the road is dirt. The clouds are low and we climb into them. Visibility drops to less than 100 feet, it starts to drizzle, and it gets colder.

Ian leading the way. It was like this for quite a while.

We ride like this through the Yacuri National Park. I can “feel” that the views would be spectacular if we could see anything. We stop at the Lagunas de Jimbura and climb the hiking trail, but after about 500 feet of vertical climbing, we realize that we will not see further than 100 feet regardless of direction, so we return to the bikes and keep riding. Incredibly, within a quarter of a mile of cresting the summit and heading down the other side, the sun breaks out and the views are fantastic.

Hiking up to the great views. Oh yeah, can’t see a thing. Never mind…

 

Suddenly out of the clouds.

 

Looking back up the valley. See the house right in the middle of the photo? No road in, other side of the river. This is true isolation.

 

Closer shot of the tiny house in the middle of nowhere.

From here on, the weather warms up, the roads dry up, and it gets dusty. Yet there are still waterfalls everywhere. We ride through San Andres, just about touching the Peru border, and continue to follow the Rio Jorupe for another 20 miles or so. Eventually we round a mountain curve and Zumba comes into view below us. It takes another 30 minutes or so to descend the mountain into Zumba. On this last section, my GPS dies a quiet death. It won’t do anything.

We stop at the PetroEcuador petrol station and fill up, then say goodbye. Ian heads for the border and I head north for 120 kilometers up that incredibly scenic road to Vilcabamba. Without my GPS, I’m left to find my way back to Vilcabamba by “feel”, finding the road out of the other side of small towns. It’s actually a pretty easy route.

 

(Post-Ride Note: I got a text from Ian after I arrived in Vilcabamba. He had made it through the Ecuador border process and was officially out of Ecuador — a big concern, since he had lost his paperwork for the bike — but when he got to the Peru side, there was nobody there. So Ian is in No Man’s Land….not officially in either country. Sounds like he may be camping there tonight to wait for the Peru officials in the morning.)

Cuenca

November 18, 2015

Several years ago, I read a Wall Street Journal article about Cuenca, Ecuador. It was all about how people from the U.S. were moving to Cuenca because the weather was “eternal spring” and the cost of living was cheap. I made a mental note all those years ago to check into Cuenca as a possible place to live. I even talked about flying to Cuenca for vacation just to check it out.

Then a few weeks before leaving on my trip, my brother showed me a Smithsonian magazine article about Cuenca, Loja, and Vilcabamba. These three southern Ecuador towns were becoming very popular as retirement spots for ex-pats from all over. it reminded me to do a little research on Cuenca. That’s when I discovered that Cuenca is not a small town; it’s roughly the size of Portland, Oregon, with around 400,000 people in the urban area and about 700,000 in the larger metro area. That was enough to convince me that Cuenca was too big for me. I’m a small town guy.

So when I got to Cuenca, I was surprised that it didn’t feel that large. The downtown area is only a couple of miles long by maybe a half mile wide, and easily walkable. It’s listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site for the architecture and colonial buildings in the downtown area.

Central Park, downtown Cuenca.

 

The park made me wonder who copied who…it reminds me a lot of the park in Main Street Disneyland. Except without all the screaming kids wearing mouse ears.

 

 

 

Part of the Flower Market downtown.

 

Street vendor, with the Latin America version of a delivery vehicle.

 

Street Art

 

My residence for the past couple of nights. Nothing fancy, but the bike fits through the front doors, and the owner is another incredibly nice gentleman.

As I was headed out yesterday, I asked the hostel owner if he knew where I might find Super Glue for my grips. He immediately went upstairs and came down with a small tube. Unfortunately it was dried up, but I was able to find some at a tiny hardware store a few blocks away. So the throttle grip is back in its’ correct position and hopefully will stay there for a while. I was a bit surprised at the lack of residue left when I pulled the grip off. Usually you have to use acetone to remove that stuff. All that was left inside my grip was a little white powder.

I walked the downtown area fairly extensively, and there is no doubt that if you go to the places where the American ex-pats frequent (I went to an Italian restaurant and the Sunrise Cafe), you will see a lot of people from the U.S. speaking English. But it’s not over-run with them, since it’s such a large city. For the most part, everyone still speaks Spanish. I didn’t have that Antigua, Guatemala feeling that all the locals were going to speak English to me, and although some of the menus are in both languages, not much else is. I like that. I’m a firm believer that you should learn the language of the country you are in (that applies to those choosing to live in the U.S. also). But enough of my soapbox.

As I packed up to leave this morning, Daniel and Josephine came to send me off. It sounds like they are leaving tomorrow, possibly (I love that non-commital in-no-hurry attitude).

Great people. We’re all on the “gotta get to Ushaia before it snows” schedule, so I have a feeling I’ll see them again somewhere down the road.

As I sit here typing this, the garbage truck is going by, and I am reminded to mention that….

The garbage trucks here (Ecuador, at least), play the same music as the ice cream trucks at home. I suppose it reminds people to bring their trash out to the curb. But it is funny. An American woman at dinner in Baños one night mentioned it and told a story about running out to get some ice cream there, only to meet the garbage man.

I’m in Loja tonight. Tomorrow morning I will meet up with Ian (see Quilotoa Loop post) and we will spend a couple of days riding some fairly remote off-road in the mountains of southern Ecuador. So I will be without wifi (or electricity, or restaurants, or hostels) for a couple of days. Next update from Vilcabamba in a few days.

Ingapirca

November 16, 2015

First stop this morning: the largest Inca ruins in Ecuador. Ingapirca is an interesting site that was occupied at different times (and together) by the Incas and the Cañaris.

Ingapirca ruins, including the Temple of the Sun in the center.

Incan lawn mowers

 

Part of the original Inca Road that went from Argentina to southern Colombia. It’s in better shape than a lot of the highways I’ve ridden.

 

The stonework is pretty incredible. These stones were all cut and shaped by hand to fit perfectly together. The tolerances are amazing.

 

Here’s one of the blocks with the notches for the Incan forklift…

 

Looking off the backside down into the valley. Beautiful.

 

Traditional dress. Well, okay, maybe not the sneakers. But the hat is cool. And traditional.

I met Nick at Ingapirca. Nick started in 2012 in Alaska on his bicycle. He took about 6 months off, but he’s back and headed for Ushuaia at the southern tip of South America. And he prefers off-road. The security guard was a really nice guy that watched my bike while I wandered around the ruins. We talked for a while (in Spanish of course). He thought I was “brave” for riding alone, and he thought Nick was just “crazy”.

After leaving the ruins, I rode another hour or so to Cuenca (I’ve noticed the locals pronounce it “Kwenk”) and headed straight to the local Yamaha dealer to have my oil changed. The store is beautiful with all the current “Revs Your Heart” signage and colors. The guys here were extremely accommodating, changing my oil immediately.

Looking down from the second floor museum and offices. They had a lot of nice 70s and 80s vintage machines up here.

 

I had one of these before I left on my trip. I hope I still have it when I return. (First year YZ125)

 

My same motorcycle. Except that due to import tariffs and other taxes, it’s $8,900 here in Ecuador instead of $5,200 in the U.S. They had a Super Tenere on the floor also…$28,000 here. Also, note the 2015 DT175 two stroke in the background. Amazingly similar to the 1981 model.

 

Why aren’t U.S. dealerships this nice?

When I arrived at my hostel, there was just barely room for my bike in the lobby. That’s because there were two BMWs already in there….belonging to Daniel and Josephine from Germany. Daniel made a movie a couple of years ago called Somewhere Else Tomorrow that won several awards. I met him in Flagstaff, Arizona in May 2014 at Overland Expo and he presented the movie there. Small world, again.

Daniel and Joey are also headed to Ushuaia by February.

I plan to explore Cuenca a bit tomorrow, then move a little further south.

 

High Altitude, Bike Problems, and Pets of the Incas

November 15, 2015

I left Latacunga (elevation 9300 feet) and immediately noticed something was wrong with the bike. I was headed for the Visitor Center at Chimborazo Volcano. The visitor center is at an elevation of between 14,000 and 15,000 feet, so I was concerned about whether or not I was going to make it. At just over 9,000 feet my bike would only run 40 mph on flat ground, and around 27 mph while climbing up the road towards the volcano. I was determined to make it to the visitor center, where I had decided I would set up camp early and start working on the bike.

As I rode along I made a mental checklist of what I wanted to check:

  • Cam timing (it really felt like the chain had jumped a tooth since it was still smooth just lacked power)
  • Valve clearances
  • Fuel quality (I had been buying “Extra” which is the equivalent of regular unleaded instead of “Super”)
  • Air filter
  • Air leaks
  • Error codes in the fuel injection system (none were showing but I would run through the checks anyway)
  • Spark plug (unlikely but it needed to be changed anyway)
  • Spark arrester (I’ve never had to actually clean one of these on a modern 4-stroke, but it’s included in the Periodic Maintenance in the Owner’s Manual, so I figured I might as well check it….maybe the lower grade fuel was contributing to carbon buildup)

I was having to ride with the throttle all the way open most of the time, though if I forced it harder, I could get just a little more acceleration out of it. (This should have been a clue.) The closer I got to 14,000 feet, the more I was convinced that the problem wasn’t related to a fuel/air mixture issue, as it didn’t get worse with altitude; the bike ran the same at 14,000 feet as it did at 9,000 feet. I was convinced it was a mechanical issue.

When I pulled into the visitor center, it was very cold, the wind was howling, and there was nothing to hide behind to work on the bike or to set up the tent.

That is the Chimborazo Volcano behind the bike, in the clouds. I’m at around 14,500 feet, and the summit of the volcano is at 20,564 feet. The top of Chimborazo is completely covered in glaciers.

 

Here’s what it looks like on a nice, clear day (courtesy of Wikipedia), including a Vicuña.

 

And this is my Vicuña photo near the same spot.

 

Looking the other direction away from Chimborazo. Apparently Vicuña fur grows slow; these guys only get sheared (shorn?) once every three years. Which explains why Vicuña fur coats are so expensive.

So I decided since the bike wasn’t running any worse I would head back down the mountain and find a hotel in the next town and work on the bike there. As I was riding down the mountain (much easier than up with only about 9hp on tap), I happened to look down at the heated grip on the throttle side and noticed that the wires running from the grip were touching the throttle housing. Apparently in all of the heat cycles from using the grip heaters, the glue had melted, the grip had rotated, and then it had re-glued itself in a position that caused the wires to bind on the throttle housing, not allowing the throttle to turn all the way. Doh. Never overlook the simplest of things. I had thought at one point that maybe the throttle valve wasn’t opening all the way, but I was going to check throttle cable free play, cable stretch, Throtlle Position Sensor adjustment, etc.

I stopped and forced the grip forward into its’ original position, and power was instantly restored. Phew. And embarrassing.

I rode for the next three hours in drizzle, in the clouds at 10,000 feet, with visibility at less than 100 feet. And since I had the grip heaters turned on, I had to forcefully grip the throttle to keep the grip from slipping. Tomorrow I’ll search for more Super Glue (that’s right….Super Glue. That’s what the grip manufacturer supplies with the heated grips, as regular grip glue is rubber cement and would melt when the grips were turned on. Just like these did, with Super Glue on them).

So, in keeping track of bike problems I’ve had in the first 15,000 kilometers of this trip:

  1. Blown aftermarket headlight bulb
  2. Leaking fork seal (aftermarket suspension work done prior to departure may have contributed)
  3. Loose aftermarket throttle grip

That makes me 3 for 3 on problems NOT related to the original motorcycle. And ZERO problems related to the original motorcycle.

Funny story #2 from today: When I met Ian on the mountain a few days ago (see “Quilotoa Loop” post) I gave him a card for the Magic Stone B&B in Baños where I had stayed. That night I posted the photo of Ian from our meeting. Yesterday, Ian pulled up to the Magic Stone, and the owners greeted him as if they had been expecting him. They had read my post, and recognized him from the photo. It’s a small world, but nice to feel like you’re being welcomed home in a foreign country.