I Am In Love, and Her Name is Colombia

November 2, 2015

Today started off like many others. That is, my GPS tried to lead me in the wrong direction.

It seemed no matter how many waypoints I typed in near Puerto Boyaca, the Garmin was determined to take me the way that it thought best. Which was basically the non-scenic, boring way. Much quicker, yes, but not the way I wanted to go.

I had seen a road on Google Maps between Villa de Leyva and Puerto Boyaca that was a bit more direct, but also a lot more jagged looking on the map. That’s the way I wanted to go. So before Garmin could lead me too far out of Villa de Leyva in the less scenic direction, I stopped and inserted some more waypoints closer to where I currently was sitting.

That worked.

I often use places I’ve been and am familiar with as reference points for comparison. Today started out as Colorado high mountain meadows and valleys. Then it began to look like the hills in middle and eastern Tennessee. Then it reminded me of the Lake District in England. Then I ran out of reference points. The only thing keeping my jaw from dropping any further was my helmet strap. I’ve never been anywhere before like this. Rolling hills. Deep deep green grasses. All of it looking manicured as if I was riding for fifty miles through an extreme Griffith Park. It almost seemed like the entire hills were manicured. I imagine it’s somewhat like I’ve seen in photos of New Zealand. But different of course. No matter how many photos I took, it would never come close to describing the beauty of this road and the countryside. And the crisp cool air, at times riding into the clouds, just added to the fantastic feeling of this road.

Dinosaur Crossing Sign just outside of Villa de Leyva. Feels a bit like leaving Taos, except dinosaurs instead of aliens.

 

 

 

 

A little bit of Central California wine country as well.

 

 

 

 

Up and over one mountain, down to the valley below and across then immediately up again.

Over the mountain in the distance, then down, across, and up this one. All very quickly, with little traffic and stunning scenery.

And about here is where two things happened. First, my camera died, then my phone. So the photos basically stopped. And here is also where the pavement ends. There are lots of new concrete bridges, none of them open. Much of the rest is slick, slimy black mud. And waterfalls. A hundred of them. Some small, some substantial.

Hey look, the top of that sign is faded. Doh! Nope, the road actually fades out just like that. And the next 70 miles is dirt, mud, and gravel. And absolutely gorgeous.

I pulled the GoPro out and shot about 45 minutes of some great one-lane dirt and gravel road along the edge of the mountain. I need to get in the habit of using the GoPro more, because these roads are indescribable. And there’s that old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words…

Tonight I find that my laptop doesn’t have enough space to edit the GoPro videos. So I’ll work on that over the next few days and see if I can figure out a way to do it. Meanwhile I guess a thousand words will have to suffice.

 

 

 

La Dorada to Santander de Quilichao, but mostly it’s all about Hwy 50.

November 3, 2015

Another fantastic day of riding. This country just keeps teasing me with incredible roads and breathtaking scenery. I had so much fun riding today that I forgot to take any photos. Well, okay, I took one.

I left La Dorada this morning and rode south past Honda, which looks nothing like a town named after a motorcycle┬áby the way. Apparently its’ claim to fame is that it was at the end of the navigable part of the Rio Magdalena in the early days, thus it was the port town.

At Honda I turned west on Highway 50. I really had no idea what to expect, but it looked a little squiggly on the map so it must be a good motorcycle road. That would be a monstrous understatement. If yesterday’s ride was the most scenic of the entire trip so far, today’s ride was far and away the most fun. I literally found myself laughing in my helmet.

Early on, before really climbing much but already in the twisties, I caught a glimpse of a super-moto styled bike in my rear view mirror. Unlike others who just wanted to see the weird “over-loaded” XT250 with Texas plates, this guy stayed right on my tail and seemed to be flowing with me in the corners. So I picked up the pace a bit, and he stayed right there. We rode like this — at the edge of good sense — for several miles, until I finally decided it would be wise to back off. When I did, the other rider pulled alongside, gave me a thumbs-up, and rode on. I stayed with him for a while, then slowed again. I could tell from his body position that he was an accomplished rider, and he was the first local I had encountered wearing high-end roadracing boots.

The road continued to climb and the temperature was getting noticeably cooler. Like in the 50s. Then the clouds settled on the mountain and I found myself in thick cloud fog, and quickly getting colder yet. Visibility dropped to about 20 meters. I turned my heated grips up to 100 percent, which helped, but the levers felt icy. I could see tire tracks in the wet pavement, and it almost looked like a dusting of snow. As I came around a bend a couple of miles before the summit, the super-moto guy was on the side of the road putting on his rainsuit for warmth. He caught up to me a few minutes later and motioned that he was going to stop for a drink at the summit, so I followed him.

He didn’t speak a word of English, so it was a great opportunity to struggle with my Spanish. We talked about the highway, the places I’d been and where I was going, and my bike. He bought me an aguadepanela con queso, which is basically hot apple cider with a large piece of goat cheese that you slice off and put in the cider until the cheese changes consistency, then you scoop it out and eat it. We both sat there shivering, trying to warm up with the cider.

At one point he asked what I did for a living and I told him. He said that he rode (or had ridden) a Yamaha 660 for work, and I asked what kind of job. He pulled out his National Police badge. I had to laugh. We had been racing up the mountain, passing in no-passing zones, probably staying at twice the speed limit or above. He definitely knows how to walk the line between work and fun. I was glad that my first encounter with a Colombian cop was chasing each other up a mountain.

With Ronald at the top of the mountain. Hard to tell we were shivering so bad we couldn’t even speak thirty minutes earlier.

 

Ha…same photo, but from Ronald’s phone. He emailed me last night and sent this along. Wow I am looking old. ­čÖé

We left the restaurant at the summit and again raced down the mountain. The sun broke out and it began to warm up quickly. By the time we reached Manizales it was warm again, and I couldn’t quit smiling. I was back in traffic now and as motorcycle traffic does in Colombia, young guys on bikes and scooters were passing slow-moving cars and trucks on the left and right. With my wide stance, I tend to be a bit more cautious.

As I was riding in a large group of motorcycles, I saw five or six pull out to pass a flatbed 18-wheeler just ahead of the car in front of me. There was too much oncoming traffic, including a bus, and there was no way I was going. The “passing lane” (hint: there wasn’t one; this was the oncoming traffic’s lane on a double yellow striped section of road) got very narrow as the bus passed in the other direction, and one guy moved over to the right slightly, directly into the young guy next to him, which pushed the young guy into the left rear wheel of the flatbed. In an instant I saw the kid’s bike jerk up and sideways as the truck tire grabbed it and spit it out. Somehow, amazingly, the kid stayed upright (his feet were flying), but the resultant jerk back to the right upon landing threw his body into the left rear corner of the truck. I watched his shoulder go under the rear corner of the bed and his helmet slap the upper side of the bed. Through little or no skill of his own, he managed to ride it out and eventually pulled over to the shoulder, one broken mirror and a lot of black rubber later.

I’m thankful that he wasn’t seriously hurt, and that he didn’t go down in front of the car. There were many more motorcycles beside and behind him, and the carnage could have been tremendous.

I had originally intended to spend the night in Manizales, but it was barely noon, so I kept going. Next intended stop: Palmira, outside of Cali. When I got to Palmira, I found that the city is much larger than I had expected, and the hotel where I had intended to stay was right downtown on a pedestrian-only street. So there was no way to safely park the bike. In light of this I continued on south with no plan. I figured I would find a hotel before dark somewhere before Popayan, or else I would find a safe place to pitch the tent.

As I rode through the town of Santander de Quilichao, I spotted a brand new hotel. I spun around and pulled in. The desk manager was extremely nice, and showed me where to park my bike out of sight of the street and in view of the front desk. The place is so new that I’m fairly certain I am the first person to stay in this room. Very nice, clean, new, with ceiling fan and a nice shower for $11 a night.

After the last two days of stellar riding, Colombia is firmly at the top of my list of the countries I’ve been through so far on this trip. The scenery is fantastic, the people are the friendliest and the food is great. Sorry Mexico, you have been bumped to Number Two.

Today was a long day, and in doing so I inadvertently cut a couple of days off of my Colombia schedule. Looks like Ecuador by the weekend…

Las Lajas, and Country Number Ten

November 5, 2015

Highway 25 south of Cali goes through a couple of severe climate changes. Near Cali the landscape is dominated by sugar cane fields. Several times along the road I passed orange warning signs: “Cruce de Trena de Cana” (Cane Train Crossing). If you can imagine a huge container trailer that looks like a shipping┬ácontainer on steroids — twice as high at least with an open top — and giant off-road tractor tires. Now imagine five or six of these linked together and being pulled by an 18-wheeler tractor truck. The whole thing is probably 200 feet long.

Beyond Cali I dropped in elevation considerably, and lost the lush foliage, replaced by low scrub and cactus. Still very green in many places, but definitely semi-arid desert. For a while I rode along a ridge above a large river, and couldn’t help thinking how much it looked like Big Bend in Texas.

I was almost convinced that this is what the rest of Colombia and Ecuador (and points south) were going to look like, when suddenly I began climbing again and the scenery returned to taller trees and more plants.

I had intended to stop just north of Pasto but had trouble finding the hostel where I wanted to stay. After three attempts, I decided I had enough daylight left to head a little further south. And while I am rather stubborn, I am slowly learning that I have to stop earlier. Once souh of Pasto, there is very little if any places to stay until Ipiales.

The sun set a half hour before I reached Ipiales. It was high elevation, and cold. I had the heated grips on high for probably an hour, and was too stubborn to stop in the dark and zip up the vents of my jacket, so I was shivering. I had a hotel in mind near Ipiales, but after 30 minutes of searching unsuccessfully I gave up on that one too. At this point it was full dark and I was wandering an unknown city and cold. I eventually went back near where I came into town and pulled into the Hotel Metropol to ask if they knew where I might find a hotel with secure parking for my motorcycle. By pure luck, the had a gated parking lot. A room with private bath and TV at this funky old hotel came out to $6.90  a night. I ended up having dinner in the hotel restaurant as well: a roasted chicken leg, rice, beans, plantains, and salad for $1.38. The hotel is clean and secure and I recommend it, with the caveat that it can be a bit loud until around 10pm due to the fact that the entire hotel is terrazo floors, so sounds really echo.

You may be wondering how someone can ride all the way through Colombia and manage to miss the three largest and most popular tourist destinations: Bogota, Medellin, and Cali. Well, I’m not a big-city guy. I’m sure there are amazing things to be seen there, and perhaps some day I will return to see them (I will definitely return to Colombia). But the traffic in these cities and the lack of secure parking for my fully loaded bike keeps me away. I’d rather see the mountains, the small towns, and the rural people.

The next morning I learned two things right away: first, my little 250 cannot maintain a positive charging rate with the heated grips at 100%, the GPS and the phone charger all running simultaneously for more than an hour. The battery was nearly flat. I was able to push it off, and about three blocks later I learned how close I was to running out of gas the night before, when I ran out of gas. Of course I had my spare can on the back rack, so it was just a matter of filling up and heading to the gas station a half mile away.

First stop this morning: the Santuario de Las Lajas. This incredible cathedral is built in a canyon, and rises 330 feet high.

Looking down into the canyon at the Santuario de Las Lajas

 

 

 

Fishes and Loaves Doors

 

Waterfall from the Sanctuary

At the sanctuary I met six people on three bikes with Mexico registration. Turns out they were three couples from Austria, Ireland and Australia who all work with the same organization in Mexico. The Austrian couple was moving to Bolivia, so they all decided to ride to Bolivia together. I met them again not long after at the Ecuador border crossing.

Ecuador is country number ten for me on this trip. The border crossing between Colombia and Ecuador was the easiest since Mexico. No “helpers” hounding me; just a guy that changed my Colombian pesos to US dollars (the national currency of Ecuador) and offered without expectation of pay to show me where immigration and aduana were located. Aside from having to stand in line for a while due to the large number of people crossing the border, it couldn’t have been easier on the Colombian side or the Ecuadorian side. I was able to park the bike within sight of each office and even had an elderly gentleman offer to watch it on the Ecuadorian side, for which I gave him a couple of dollars.

As soon as I left the border it began to rain and again got cold. This time I stopped and zipped up my vents and turned the heated grips all the way up, remembering to shut them off ten minutes or so before arriving at my destination.

It was a short ride to Ibarra where I am camped for at least one night and probably two. I spent the afternoon changing out the rear brake pads, and adjusting, cleaning and lubing the chain (first time this trip that I have had to adjust the little 428 chain; lack of horsepower has treated it well). I will need to replace the front brake pads soon but I have a fork seal leaking on that side and I don’t have the tools to change it, so will have to get the seal changed or borrow some tools in the next few days.

Home for the next night or two: Finca Sommerwind, on Laguna de Yahuarcocha.

A Little Rain Delay

November 7, 2015

I had planned to head for Quito this morning. With the help of the local Yamaha dealer here in Ibarra, I was able to locate a fork seal at one of the dealers in Quito, and was planning to be there early this morning in hopes of getting it replaced. Unfortunately it began raining last night and has not really stopped since. I’m not opposed to riding in the rain, but I hate to tear down my camp and pack a wet tent away, along with a wet bike cover, if I don’t have to. (By the way, it’s really just the rain fly of the tent and the footprint that are wet; the tent itself is nice and dry and I’ve spent the last 20 hours or so in it, nice and cozy, reading my Kindle and working on my laptop). I’m really in no hurry at this point, so I’ll wait out the rain for a day or two.

Yesterday I rode into Ibarra and up to Laguna de Cuicoche, a mountain lake at just over 10,000 feet elevation. Starkly beautiful is the only description I can think of. It is a park, but I was the only one there.

 

On the way through Ibarra, I happened across a Yamaha dealer so I dropped in to see about buying a fork seal. They didn’t have one, but were happy to track one down for me in Quito. They had two XT250s on the showroom floor identical to mine. When I pointed out that I was riding the same bike around the world, they were suddenly surprised, quizzical, and excited. Lots of questions about the bike (no English — I am actually really enjoying attempting to converse only in Spanish), how it has performed, speed, comfort, etc.

The guys at Yamaha Ibarra. Very friendly, very helpful, very curious why someone would ride an XT250 so far.

My campsite is literally across the street from the Ibarra Autodromo, a beautiful roadrace course. My tent is about 100 feet from the outside of Turn One. I’ve been yearning to ride around the track, but haven’t found a way to do that yet. The last couple of mornings before the rain, people used the track as a walking course for exercise, and in the evenings bicyclists and rollerbladers use the track.

Turn One at the Ibarra Autodromo. My tent is just to the left of this photo (that’s my bike in the lower left corner for reference). That’s the public road around the lake between the grandstands and the race track.

Just behind the trees in the middle of the photo above is a motocross track. Yesterday I could hear a couple of guys there, one on a four stroke and one on a two stroke.

I’m glad that the campsite has good wifi, since I don’t have much else to do while it rains. Looking forward to the ride to the equator (I’m just an hour or so away), then on to Quito, hopefully tomorrow.

From Wog to Shellback

November 8, 2015

My niece, who is a sailor, along with a few other people have been asking if I plan to perform a ritual when I cross the equator. Not being a sailor myself, and not having served on a ship, I had to look up the ceremony that is performed on ships as they cross the equator with first-timers aboard.

Today was my day, and although I still have no idea what the Overlander’s equivalent of the Crossing the Line ceremony may be, I am┬áhappy just to say I am no longer a Pollywog and am now officially a Shellback, or whatever the land-based version might be. And thankfully it didn’t require me to dress in drag or any other hazing.

It stopped raining last night and this morning dawned clear and beautiful. After giving my tent and bike cover some time in the sun to dry, I packed up, had a delicious breakfast at Finca Sommerwind, and said goodbye to Patricia and Hans.

Patricia (“The Boss” and Chef) and Hans (The Server and all-around great guy) from Finca Sommerwind Campground in Ibarra. Hans told me I wasn’t allowed to leave without supplying a replacement camper in my place. So I owe them one.

Heading south on the PanAmerican Highway, I passed through several┬átoll plazas. Unlike in Colombia, where there is a separate and free lane at the toll plazas for motos, in Ecuador motorcycles are required to pay a toll of 20 cents. I really wished it was 25 cents, because I started the day with ten quarters in my jacket pocket so I could easily pay the tolls, and at the end of the day I had more coins than when I started. Apparently there is no such coin as a nickel in Ecuador. You hand the toll operator a quarter and you get five pennies in return. Ugh. After the first couple, I quit waiting for change. I already have about five pounds of various foreign currency in my tankbag that I can’t exchange because nobody wants coins at the exchange places.

About 7 kilometers south┬áof Cayambe is the Quitsato monument for the Equator. Across the street is a concrete globe in a park, which is not on the equator. La Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World) is Ecuador’s official tourism equator monument, and at nearly 100 feet tall, it is impressive. Unfortunately, it was erected on a site marked by a French expedition in 1736, and they missed by a good ways.┬áAll of these were placed before GPS, and┬áI guess it was easier to fool people then (I think they were both honest mistakes at the time), but apparently the tour buses continue to take the hordes to La Mitad, even though it isn’t on the equator.

Impressive monument. Too bad it’s not actually at the equator.

It’s easier these days to confirm whether you’re at the equator or not, since even most smart phones will tell you GPS coordinates. I stopped at the sundial marker on the side of the highway and asked the guy at the gate if in fact this was really the equator. he not only assured me it was (and I confirmed it with my GPS), but he pointed out the “Fake Equator Museum” next door, where they have interesting information on the various scams that people fall for at the equator. (The Fake Equator Museum is actually the restrooms for this site, but it’s a great second use of the building….and you get to watch the water swirl counterclockwise in the toilets too!)

Actually straddling the equator with my wheels.

 

The restrooms at the real equator.

The guy at the monument gave a 15 minute presentation in good English that explained how the pre-Inca civilizations understood the techniques of charting celestial movement for agricultural purposes, and the many sites that have been discovered in Ecuador from pre-Inca times that confirm their use of these sun-tracking methods. His presentation also focused on how we have been teaching geography wrong and all maps are drawn wrong; north should not be “up”. North should be to the left, and the equatorial line should run top to bottom on all maps. The organization promoting this, Quitsato, makes an interesting argument promoting this theory. Although at first I felt like I was in a Flat Earth Society presentation.

After taking the obligatory photo at 0.0000 latitude, I continued south to Quito. I got lucky, and arrived into this very large city just after the rain had stopped, and on a Sunday so traffic was not a problem. I found a hostel with a one-car garage that was willing to let me store my bike there for a couple of nights. The downside is that it is four to five times the price of every other night I’ve spent in last week. Okay, that sounds extreme, but I’ve only been paying $5 a night to camp and $7 for a hotel room. But I need to visit the local Yamaha dealer tomorrow so I will be here a couple of nights. After that, it’s back to sleeping cheap.

Quito

November 10, 2015

Quito is a big city. It has a population of over 2.6 million, and a bustle and energy that can be felt just walking around. Of course walking around Quito is quite a challenge itself. The city sits on several large hillsides, so many of the streets, including the one my hostel is on, look and feel like San Francisco. Which if it was at sea level, like San Francisco, would just be a minor workout. But no, Quito sits at 9,300 feet elevation, so hiking back up to the hostel, and elsewhere, is exhausting. I’ve been at altitude long enough now that I’m not feeling altitude sickness, but I am short of breath.

Yesterday I dropped the bike off at the Yamaha dealer on the north side of Quito to have the fork seal replaced. This morning I decided to take a walk to the Basilica del Voto Nacional, about a mile away.

 

There are a lot of interesting gargoyles on this building, based on native Ecuadorian animals such as iguanas, armadillos, and Galapagos tortoises.

 

Turtles…hard to make turtles look very menacing but they did a pretty good job.

 

These guys look a little more intimidating.

 

 

Constructed between 1892 and 1909, but never completely finished, this is a beautiful cathedral to be sure. Apparently local legend says that when the cathedral is finished, the world will end.

As impressive as it is, I actually came here for the adventure. You see, for two dollars you can climb to the top of the tower for an incredible view of Quito. This is well worth the two bucks, and something you will never get to experience in the United States, for obvious liability reasons. There is no guide or anyone else with you; you are on your own, on the outside of a building over 100 feet in the air. And they let kids over the age of five do this, with an adult of course. No ropes, no harnesses. Nada. Personal responsibility. I love it.

You start by climbing ten flights of stairs (there’s an elevator at the other end of the building, but that seemed like it would take some of the spirit away). Then you walk across this creaking catwalk across the top of the cathedral, and up a ladder to the outside of the building.

Photo taken from the top of the ladder at the end of the catwalk.

Then you climb this ladder/stair on the outside of the tower.

Steeper than it looks.

 

Yeah, about that steep…

 

Not even a “watch your step” sign anywhere. This is what I love about other countries. No babysitting necessary.

It is indeed a beautiful view from up here.

I took a slightly different route back to the hostel, and ran across some more quirky stuff that is right up my alley…

I’ve always been a big fan of Pinky & The Brain. I wonder how many people even know who this character is any more. Cell phone store in Quito.

 

Some of the graffiti is really well done. Though I’m not sure I can begin to explain it.

On my way to pick up the bike. Will stay here one more night, then head south a bit more.

Ba├▒os

November 12, 2015

Leaving Quito, I decided to take the “Long Way Round” (sorry for the pun) and head east, then south through Tena to Puyo before turning back west to get to Ba├▒os. It’s about four times longer this way, but it’s also a road or two that I didn’t want to miss. And besides, I’m going to ride most of the way back towards Quito on the other road tomorrow anyway.

Climbing out of Quito, the road very quickly starts a climb that is much steeper than it appears. I could only manage about 40 kmh (about 24mph) for a good portion of the climb due to the steepness and the elevation of just over 12,000 feet.

Cotopaxi in the background, completely white with snow. This volcano erupted in August and is still going.

 

It might not look like much, but this is a steep climbing highway for miles between Quito and Papallacta. And yes, these are bicycle lanes on the side of the highway. My XT250 was unhappy climbing at over 12,000 feet, and apparently enough people do it on bicycles that they built lanes.

This highway heads into Amazon country, and once past the highest (and coldest!) point it descends into lush Amazonian forest and jungle.

One thing I’ve noticed on this trip: As I’m riding along and see something worthy of taking a photo, inevitably there will be power lines along the edge of the road. So, if you look beyond the powerlines, these are the Cascadas de las Tres Marias.

I lost count of the number of amazing waterfalls early on. It seemed like there was another every half mile or so, and in Ba├▒os they have the Ruta de Cascadas, or Waterfall Route that people primarily tour on rented bicycles.

They’re everywhere….the waterfalls AND the powerlines.

 

In Ba├▒os, I stayed at the Magic Stone B&B, which I have to say is not only the nicest place I’ve stayed on this trip, but the hosts, Danish couple Ove and Aase are incredible. They’ve lived in Ba├▒os for a long time and are a wealth of knowledge, very welcoming, and they make a great breakfast too!

Home for two nights.

After checking in, I decided, at Aase’s suggestion, to cross the San Francisco bridge and climb the mountain to the towers at the top for a view of Ba├▒os from high above.

San Francisco bridge. Baños is an adventure sports town, and in addition to whitewater rafting, paragliding, etc, you can bungee off of this bridge.

 

Looking back across at Ba├▒os from the bridge.

 

 

Looking down on the city from above. Unfortunately the clouds swept in before I got to the top, and I was unable to see the Tungurahua Volcano. On clear days (and especially nights) you can see the flames and hot ash spewing from the volcano. An added plus for the trip to the top: I met Gorm and Elisabeth, who are 13 months into an 18 month trip in their VW bus, having started in North America. They plan to ship it home to Germany from Uruguay in March. I’m considering stuffing my bike in the same container. Time will tell.

 

As I started to turn around at the top of the mountain, something caught my eye in a pasture that extended to the edge.

See the house in the middle of this photo?

 

Here’s a closer view. I want to live here.

 

Coincidentally, one of the things I came to Ba├▒os to see was “Casa del Arbol” (the Treehouse), but this isn’t it. It just happens to be another treehouse. Apparently people here like their treehouses.

Here’s Casa del Arbol. I rode there this morning. If you could zoom in on the photo above far enough, you might be able to see Casa del Arbol on the mountain to the far right. Famous not so much for the treehouse, but for the swing attached to the tree.

 

 

 

After leaving Casa del Arbol, I went a little further east to La Cascada El Pailon del Diablo, or the Devil’s Cauldron waterfall.

Very impressive waterfall. The volume of water is amazing.

 

Note the buildings at the bottom, and the swing bridge at the top.

There are four or five long tunnels between Ba├▒os and Rio Verde where Cascada El Pailon del Diablo is located. The tunnels have only been around for twenty years or less. The original road went around the outside edge of the mountain, and was one lane wide and paved with pavers and cobblestone. That road still exists, and if you pay attention, you can turn off before the tunnels and take the old road around the mountain, which is much more interesting.

The old road, before the tunnels. No longer in use, but still there if you pay attention. Not all of the waterfalls miss the road.

Ba├▒os itself is very much a tourist destination. There is so much natural beauty in this area and outdoor activities, that the city has managed to recreate itself as an adventure tourism hub. This of course is good and bad, as I’m not a fan of hanging out in a town full of tourists. Fortunately the Magic Stone is on a hillside above the town, yet only a five minute walk into town for dinner.

On the east end of town near where I’m staying is the Virgin’s Falls.

 

These falls feed directly into a large series of stone sinks which are used as a community laundry.

 

Laundry day? Load up and head to the sinks at the base of the Virgin’s Falls.

As I write this the clouds have cleared and I am sitting on my front porch watching Volcan Tungurahua belch ash. It’s been doing this for years now.

 

 

 

Tomorrow I am off to get a better view of more active volcanoes.

Hasta Luego.

Quilotoa Loop

November 13, 2015

This morning I said goodbye to Ove and Aase, the owners of Magic Stone B&B. I feel like I made new life-long friends in the two days I was there, and I definitely feel that I will see them again in the future, though probably in a different town.

Ove & Aase, two of the nicest people you will ever meet and one of the best places I’ve ever stayed.

I headed west and then north, back towards Quito, but at Latacunga I turned west again and headed toward Zumbahua. The climb up to Zumbahua was windy, drizzling, and about 42┬░F at 13,000 feet elevation. Most of today was spent between 10,000 and 13,000 feet.

The road from Zumbahua to Quilotoa is paved, but that doesn’t mean you have to go that way!

 

Laguna de Quilotoa sits in a volcanic caldera at just under 13,000 feet, and is the western-most volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. At least by now the sun was beginning to break out.

 

Nearly everyone in this area wears traditional dress. All of the women I passed, whether selling produce, herding sheep or cattle, or working in the fields, wore the traditional dress and hat.

 

 

Not long after leaving Sigchos on my last leg headed back to Latacunga, I met Ian Willcox on his KTM. He’s from Scotland, but started in Australia and arrived in Bogota, Colombia about a month ago. He has a tremendous blog/website. He’s also headed south with a similar time frame, so chances are good I’ll run into him again somewhere down the road.

Ian said I was the only other motorcycle traveler he’s met since he got to South America. I’m sure that will change.

I planned to stay in Latacunga because I had heard of this incredible festival called Mama Negra, that (supposedly) takes place on the second Saturday in November. I guess somebody counted wrong this year, because after I checked into the hostel I found out the festival was last weekend. Doh. Oh well. The “other” attraction here, Cotopaxi, is closed due to the recent eruption. So I’ll likely head south again in a day or so.

I’ve stayed in places in Japan and France where the bathroom was the shower, and the drain was just in the middle of the bathroom floor. It makes sense in a small bathroom. This one is a little different: the sink, mirror, light switch and electrical outlet are literally IN the shower. You have to step over the ledge and behind the curtain and stand in the shower to get to the sink. But the toilet is outside the ledge and curtain.

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 Vicu├▒a.

 

And this is my Vicu├▒a photo near the same spot.

 

Looking the other direction away from Chimborazo. Apparently Vicu├▒a fur grows slow; these guys only get sheared (shorn?) once every three years. Which explains why Vicu├▒a 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 Ba├▒os 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.

 

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 Ca├▒aris.

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┬áfrom 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.