Saturday, 28 April 2012


While hanging out at Casa Blanca hostel I met up with fellow bike tourer John from Oklahoma. John is riding the American Continent's on his BMW 650, he rides for 6 months and then returns home to work for 6. Together we did a day ride in the hills surrounding Cali, attended a BMW open day where we got to test ride the latest bikes and then did a 3 day trip out to the Pacific cost at Buenaventura. Was a fun week all up. After  a month or so on my own it was nice to have some company again.

Day out with "Oklahoma John"
The 650's in a tea plantation near Cali

Test riding the new BMW 800 GS
On our way out to Buenaventura we stopped off for the night at San Cipriano. There is no road and a rail trolley driven by a motorbike was an interesting trip down the line and into town. The climate here in Colombia at sea level is obviously a tad warm so swimming in the nearby river and some cold beers went down a treat.

Motorbike powered transportation down the railway line

On the line to San Cipriano

On the return to Cali we took the "old road" which has been made redundant due to the construction of a new highway. It's only used by a few locals, and at one point was drug running route. The military know have control over this area and it's one of the best rides I've done to date.

On the Old Road

Thanks to these guys we had a great ride

A necessary cool off

Another section on the old road from Buenaventura to Cali

It doesn't get much better than this!

And a overgrown concrete section in the middle of the jungle, nice.

John getting a shower

Afternoon thunderstorm back at the Hostel in Cali. Have I mentioned it's rained pretty much everyday in Ecudaor & Colombia!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Border Blues

Quito turned out to be quite expensive for me. The Dr was in need of chain and sprockets and after 5 months I was in need of diabetic supplies. For the bike I had a choice of cheap Chinese or over priced genuine Suzuki, nothing in between. The Suzuki parts really are expensive here but I think I would regret a Chinese chain when it starts to disintegrate somewhere out in the middle of no where, I know the Suzuki is a good chain.

Without the government subsidy I get back in NZ keeping myself up and running well is not too cheap either. Insulin is not bad but the test strips that I use for monitoring my sugar levels cost over a dollar a shot and with around 1200 finger pricking tests a year, well it soon adds up! Could be worse I guess, at least there is availability of what I need, wouldn't be possible to make this trip if there wasn't.

Court and Sylviar from in Quito where unbelievably helpful, guiding me through the city to the Suzuki shop and then helping out with the fitting of the new parts. They also gave me a few ideas on a good route to try out up the road towards Colombia, top blokes, thanks again for all your help.

Court from freedom Bike Rental in Qutio

First stop up the road was the equator where I parked up the bike and didn't need the side stand- it just stood up on it's own, no just joking! But I did watch some water spin down a sink hole clockwise and then anti clockwise directions only meters either side of the gps'ed equator line.

Up near the Colombian Border I took the loop recommended by Court at Freedom Bikes which had me traversing some really interesting country and had more than the usual rubber necking from the locals, every single person in every small village having a real good look at me as I rode through, very few gringos through here I concluded. It was an enjoyable ride which sadly due to some issues at the border later that day was not to be the most memorable part of the day.

"panela" production on the roadside, made from sugar cane, I think it's like caramel

Interesting flax like trees called Frailejon up at 4000m

After lunch at Tulcan I headed just up the road for the border at 1.30, thought that should be plenty of time to get processed and probably just stay at the border town of Ipiales in Colombia. Wrong, didn't even get past the first stage! Not much of a queue but problem getting stamped out. I had to wait in a room, the guy said no problem, well why am I sitting here for over an hour then? Eventually a guy helped translate, apparently I was not processed in right, that f...... useless immigration officer back at Zumba! I guess that is a risk of using very small border crossings. Anyway he said a officer would be bringing a different stamp that I needed, would be here in an hour, yeah right I thought but waited it out and got very pissed off. In the meantime got the bike signed out to save time later and sure enough it's now about 5pm and don't wont to be riding around or looking for hostel in the dark, bugger this I head back to Tulcan which is just 4 km back up the road. Fortunately found an ok hostel with private room for 8 us, bit of a walk for parking though but just clad to have a place sorted. back to the border tomorrow, hopefully better luck.

Frustrating times at the border

Back in customs around 8am, same shit, just wait a while they said. Couple of hours later and I'm getting really pissed off. A guy just hanging around speaks a little English said he is friends with one of the immigration officers, next thing an officer comes out to the bike and we go around the back of the building to a empty room, officer looks at passport and goes back into the main building with it, shit this is dodgy I think, am I going to get my passport back?

Mean while the helper dude tells me to wait outside and then said he wants 100 us dollars. I tell him no way, go and get my passport back I said. I go into the immigration room against the helper dudes whishes, the officer is on the computer. He comes out, and luckily he hands my passport back to me, he shows me the stamp and said it's all good. I hope so and leave. Looking back on the whole ordeal I'm sure the custom officers where just trying to delay me and get me annoyed so that eventually I would offer them a bribe.

In contrast Colombian customs very fast and helpful, no queue and I'm on my way. Meanwhile the helper dude came over the bridge and wanted to know if all ok and then showed me the customs place to get the bike sorted. He still wants some money of course, he now wants 5 bucks, he was helpful so I give him about 2.50, it's all I have in small change. I thank him and leave. What a drama!

Yeah, no more corruption would be good!

The first few days in Colombia and I just ride up the Pan American highway, firstly to Pasto and Popayan and then on to Cali. The scenery is nice with the road winding it's way through the hilly country side, lots of traffic though so it's slow going, bit of a change from the back roads of Peru where I generally had the them to myself. And theres lots of heavily armed military around, they seem very friendly lots of thumbs up and big smiles as I ride past.

Pan American Highway, Popayan to Cali

I'm heading North and David is heading South, he is 10 months into his 3 year RTW trip.
We exchange maps and route information over a drink and then hit the road. 

Cali is one of the larger cities in Colombia, I head straight for Casa Blanca Hostel which is run by Mike and Diana who also have a motorbike rental Business. The Hostel is the place to stay if you are travelling by bike. I order more bike parts here (prices are better than in Quito), get my bike trousers patched up, make a replacement number plate ( I lost a number of the end of the original) got everything sorted and didn't have to travel further than a couple of blocks from the hostel, great.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Enter Ecuador

My last day in Peru and managed to get pulled up at police check and officer was straight into a bribe, he said i didn't have my lights on which is impossible on the DR unless the bulb is blown, 100 soles or ticket he said. After showing him my light he persisted, I insisted on a ticket. He soon gave up. Bit lucky as was speeding a bit and I didn't even have to produce my false insurance.

Rice fields in northern Peru

Rice harvester

Loading by hand
These boys are strong, that sack is bloody heavy.

I had no queue at the border but still managed to spend about 3 hours there! Firstly the Peruvian immigration man was at lunch, then the customs guy's computer didn't want to work. Eventually rode over the bridge and into Ecuador. Ecuador immigration no problem, only had difficultly trying to explain my occupation which they all seem to want. Customs guy then went to unlock the gate, seemed to take him an age just to retrieve the key and then the bloody thing wouldn't work. Judging by the grass on the bridge and the seized up lock not many people on this border route. I later asked how many people a day on this crossing, he said 5.

He tried to break the chain but seemed to be hopeless, eventually another guy who was also waiting to go through broke it for him. So with the bike now parked up outside the custom office the officer preceded to produce my temp vehicle import. Once again it seemed to take an age just to print off an A4 page of paper with the bike info, eventually I was away. I was in a cruisy mood today just plodding along not feeling the best so wasn' too pissed at the length of time this had taken just sitting around, I knew Zumba was not far up the road and would easily make it by nightfall.

5 min up the road and I was really pissed though, swearing in my helmet out load at the useless official, it had just started to dump down heavy, the dirt road was turning slick, if the guy could do his job properly I would have made Zumba before the down pour nice and dry.

Challenging conditions on the road to the boader

Hoping to make some good ground today, riding started out on nice dirt road and then I guess it had to happen at some point ,just a matter of time before I come across a washed out piece of road with all the rain. Delayed about 2 hours. Could have possibly got through, just a couple of soft sections of mud, slop that would have had the bike up to the engine cases probably. Chain and sprockets on the way out didn't want to grind then up any faster in the grit and then the digger turned up so waited it out.

Held up by a slip

Blood sugar testing friendly dump truck drivers

More small towns and no signage, had to rely on some directions from locals several times and one guy sent me down the wrong road. Eventually made Saraguro on a fairly new concrete highway which seemed to be breaking up faster than it was being built. The next day was just a short ride up to the pretty city of Cuenca where I spent the afternoon checking out the town and managed to get some insurance for the bike, just $5.80 us for 2 months.

Roadside snack Ecuador backroad

From the city of Cuenca I planned to head north up the spine of the Andes, check out volcan Chimborazo, Ecuador's highest point at 6310 meters and then head for the coast and see some beaches. Early on in the day I thought this was a mistake, I was riding in white out conditions, it was terribly slow going, uncomfortable cold in the mist and what the countryside was like was anybodies guess. My eyes were straining to make out the road in front, it's not a nice feeling motoring along without the usual sense of space, this was no fun at all. It seemed to go on for ages as I traversed the mountain side deep in the middle of a cloud that just wouldn't end.

Thankfully It cleared and I got some views of the patchwork cultivated hills up high and luckily Chimborazo itself come into view piecing up above the cloud. I then descended down towards the flat lands and across to the coast. The decent was once again in the cloud and it just went down and down until I was in the tropics and surrounded in Banana's! It was now uncomfortably too hot and humid, and after a night well off the gringo trail near the flooded town of Babahoyo I just kept riding until I reached the coast and found a backpackers in the small town of Aympe.

Highlands Ecuador

 Mt Chimborazo, 6300m

Market in Babahoyo
Protesters and road block of burning tyres, not sure what it was all about, didn't hang round to find out.
In the middle of a massive Dole Banana plantation


Pacific coast near Peurto Lopez

Riding back across the flat lands, the heat and lack of signage was annoying me, I'd just ridden around in circles in the city traffic of Porteviejo, qued up for an hour just to get some cash from an atm and was heading down a road unsure if I was on the right track thanks again to more lack of road signs. Have I mentioned that theirs bugger all roadside signs around here!! Now I was loosing time and my plan of reaching the foothills and escaping the heat was looking doubtful. I parked up on the roadside ( in an area clear of any grass and Boa's, I'd just seen a few as road kill!) for a snack and a friendly local pulls up along side and offers me some accommodation at his place just up the road a while. It doesn't take me long to say yeah, that would be great thanks.

Barac, originally from Ecuador worked in the US for a few years and along with his wife Laurie from the US and there children Caleb and Becky returned to Ecuador, brought some land where they grow all sorts of fruits and veges and live sustainably from there 20 hectare farm. Barac and Caleb repair motorcycles from his garage at his home. They welcomed me into there home, fed me delicious food, helped me with directions up the road wished me well for the rest of my journey. Lots of thanks to Barac, Laurie, Caleb, and Becky. It was a real pleasure to meet you guys.

Caleb, Joe, Lauire, Becky and Barac

Soya beans growing at Barac and Laurie's property

It was then up the road to the Eco hostel of Secret Garden in the peaceful countryside surrounding volcan Cotopaxi. Here I planned a days break before the unpleasant task of doing battle with another big city, Quito where I need to buy new chain and sprockets for the DR.

Eco Hostal Secret Garden in Cotopaxi

Stone road to Cotopaxi
Quito City looking from Secret Garden Hostal, Quito

North Bound

Both Rob and myself pulled out of our hostel in Lima together, however I was travelling just around the block to a less expensive backpacker's and Rob had the big blast down the Pan American highway and on home to NZ. It was an unusual feeling as Rob veered right and I went straight on knowing that would be the last we would see each other for quite a while. We'd been on the road for almost 4 months together and covered close to 20 000km over some pretty amazing countryside. It was going to be a different trip from now on.

After purchasing new tyres and oil in Lima and a few days rest I was ready to hit the road. At the hostel I had bumped into the "fuel this mule" guys, Brad and Ash from Australia and Adam from Vancouver who were riding their motorbikes from Vancouver to Buenos Aires. Was good to get some info on what lay ahead for me as I headed north and also enjoy a few beers with some fellow bikers from down under.

Fuel this Mule boys about to leave Lima

Nice parking at hostel Pariwana in Lima

Heading back up to Huaraz to enjoy the stunning mountain scenery the day didn't get of to a great start. Two wrong turns on the motorway leaving the city took a while to correct in the horrible city traffic and the second put me into a police check point where for the first time on this trip I was asked for insurance. After pretending to not understand what the officer was wanting he eventually gave up and off I went.

I didn't get away with it second time round though. Further up the highway I knew there would be plenty of patrol cars on the road from our previous run in on the way into Lima so I was riding particularly carefully. Still, the gringo (foreigner)on the bike was good enough reason for me to be pulled over and again I was asked for insurance. These guys were more persistent and with the threat of having my bike confiscated after almost an hour parked up on the road side I paid a bribe of 50 dollars and was finally on my way. With insurance expensive for foreigners ( 400 us dollars for one full year the only option) most motorbike travellers don't worry about it in Peru and the police know it so it's a money making scam for the corrupt coppers in Peru. With all the delays I arrived in Huaraz just before dark and once again in the cold afternoon rain.

Pork for lunch in Huaraz

....or chicken

Day trip up onto the Cordillera Nergo range

Up on the ridge at 4500m
After several more days in Huaraz, a couple of day rides and replacing my worn rear wheel bearings it was hard to pull myself away. I was planning on doing a walk in the stunning Cordillera Blanca mountains and hadn't, or maybe it was because of the hostel owner's very sexy daughter! I convinced myself that I'd probably already seen more of the mountains on the motorbike than I would on a walk and I knew that if I was to see any more of the later it would be trouble so headed off down the unbelievable Canyon del Pato for a second time. Didn't get far before having to repair flat tyre.

A big climb coming up?

Riding up high in the clouds

More stunning roads, up and down to Mollopata, slow going though and difficult to navigate- no signs and villages not on the map. Only got half as far as hoped. Not much traffic on these narrow roads which is just as well, vehicles and gas is just too expensive for most of the people in these areas and most traffic was of the 4 hoof variety. Problem is when you do meet a vehicle it's often half a village all at once in a large bus or on the back of a truck so some major diversion is required. They don't seem to concerned about taking rather large vehicles along very small rough roads in these parts!

Riding through one of the many small villages up high in Peruvian mountains

Not a place to ride off the edge!

Dodgy Bridge

Friendly Locals at Mollopata helping out with Directions

A rare vehicle

Enjoyed the mornings ride, bit hard to relax in the afternoon-concerned about fuel range, not knowing exactly where I was and lack of distance covered. Good day though, stopped early in afternoon as was a bit knacked and the town of Huamachuco seemed nice.

Stopped and talked to lady drying out some grain of some sort (Trigo I think?), she gave me some to eat, very friendly. Passed through area where clay was being using to make roofing tiles. Rode around Cajamarca for a bit, quiet large city and then headed for Celedin. Overshot turn off and asked some people for directions, ended up getting offered some lunch too, more friendly people. Major road up grade going on here, will be a different ride in soon. Hostel a bit shabby but bike parked outside door and bed ok so that's all that really matters, 20 soles so cheap enough.

Trying out some local grub

Manufacturing clay roofing tiles

Found a fantastic narrow winding road from Celedin to Cachapoyas. Descended 30 km down into valley and then took 60km continuous climb all up to 3600m ( 2700m up), really nice riding, massive hills with lots of agriculture and people living up high in places, very green. Not much traffic either, passed a few dairy farms, biggest herd looked to be about a dozen cows and they use old fashioned milk cans to collect. This morning in town (Celedin) an old guy and his wife were selling leche (milk) on the corner, they just scooped it out of a big bucket and into plastic bags. Leche, leche, come and get your leche we was chanting out, pretty interesting stuff, bit of a time warp back a few years.

Old style milk collection

Arrived at Kelup ruins a couple hours before dark, just started raining so sorted out some accommodation in a very small village (Maria) up high in the hills and then shot off up the road a bit further to check it out. Got real pissed off as they sold me an entry ticket and then after a grunt up the hill the fortified ruin entry's were locked so have to go back manana.

Went back up to the ruins, very quite, was the only one up there. This is the most extensive ruins after Machu Picchu. I've shifted a few rocks around in my time and it can be very satisfying work but the shear scale of rock work here is just mind blowing stuff. Huge rock walls surround the ruins to provide a inpenertrable wall of protection from enemies.

Rock walls at Kullep ruins

Not much happening in the sleepy town of Maria

Had lunch back in Maria then got the shits, had to do a quick exit off the moto and it was raining too. Altitude and and exercise I think. Absolutely pissed down on way into Chachapoyas, took shelter in small town then carried on. Stayed in hotel on main plaza, rode moto through restaurant and out the back.

Decided it would be worthwhile to do a side trip and walk up to Gocta Falls. This place has just been opened up to tourism as little as about 6 years ago. It's indisputably the 3rd highest falls in the world, disputed I think because of it's two drops the first about 200m and the second about 570m. Pretty impressive all the same. Afternoon ride to Pedro Ruiz, had a game of courtyard soccer with the staff from the hostel, very enjoyable but may be a bit sore tomorrow, lots of exercise today!

Gocta Falls

I'd been considering a trip down into the amazon basin for a while and even though I was falling behind in my rough schedule I decided that I had to check it out. The road down off the Andes and out through Tarapoto ending at Yurimaguas on the edge of the mighty Haullaga River which is one of several major tributaries of the Amazon seemed like a good route. There has been some problems, (ie rode blocks and machine gun glad robbers) on this road in the past and Tarapoto is a little close to a large drug area so I spent a lot of time talking to locals about this one, everyone said no problem at all, just don't do it in the night.

I arrived in Tarapoto in good time and did not feel out of place down here on the moto as the whole town pretty much gets around on them, although I still got the usual stares as I guess my moto is a little larger. The main plaza in town was completely surrounded in motos, hundreds of them, and lots of scantly clad Beautiful jungle girls riding them too, not a bad place I thought! On arrival at the Misti Hostel the very helpful Roxanne was in no time on the phone to her friend Miguel who manages a guiding business. So the next day it was out into the true flat vastness of the jungle where I was greeted by Miguel in Yurimaguas and he tailored up a two day canoe trip in the Pacaya Samiria Reserve.

Tarapoto, moto's as far as the eye can see in that direction....

... and this direction too
Tarapoto Traffic

To get to the reserve I had to travel down river for 4 hours by water taxi that was essentially just a stretched out dinghy with two big out boards on back each with it's own 44 gallon drum style fuel tank supplying enough fuel to keep the motors pinned for 4 straight hours. Although long the trip was interesting, the massive river being a major transport corridor and centre of activity for the locals.

At the end of the boat trip I was met by my guide Welington and we were off in a genuine dug out wooden canoe into the reserve. Massive Blue butterflies, lots of birds, fish and monkeys all made for a enjoyable paddle down to our accommodation for the night which was a hut perched up on poles above the flooded forest floor. In the early hours of the nest day ( 2am ) we set of back up the series of river channels, in the dark we got to see owls, snakes and fresh water cocs and Welington impressed with his navigation skills as he accurately pointed us back through the flooded jungle under torchlight.

umm... one too many bananas on board?

everyone carries one of these around down here

5 hours flat out down the Haullenga River

My excellent river guide Welington

Welington and our trusty canoe, only needed bailing every 10min!

Accomadation for the night

While waiting for the return boat I went for a walk around town... 

....and found these characters, I'm pretty sure they where telling me that I needn't go to the jungle to see monkeys!

The very friendly staff at Hotel Rio Haullaga
I would like to thank Welington, Miguel and the staff from Hotel Rio Haullaga for a great experience, highly recommended Having just seen an area about the size of a pin hole on my map I found it hard to comprehend the size of this jungle flatland, it's huge. The next few days were spent back tracking up to Pedro Ruiz, more courtyard soccer with the staff, checked the valve clearance's on the bike and then gunned it for the Ecuador boarder near Zumba