A blog to record our motorbike adventure through the Americas

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End Of The Road – Buenos Aires

Time has gone so fast.  We are heading for Buenos Aires…….but not before a quick stop off in Uruguay.

The roads have melted from the heat which makes it tricky to ride, keeping between the tyre tracks and changing from left to right to find the smoothest bit.

02-Road to Buenos Aires

We were due to sell the bike in the next few days so I decided to get the bike washed – the first time in months.

It was bad timing as the following day we were following behind a double-decker cattle truck which sprayed us and the bike with a mist of cow dung and urine.  I sometimes ride with my visor open, especially on hot sunny days or early in the morning before the caffeine kicks in.  It took me a while to realise the water on my face and lips was not coming from the cloudless sky…..

03-Cow Shit

Entering the final country of the trip at the Fray Bentos border, just 250km north of Buenos Aires.

04-Uruguay Border

We picked up another biker en route to Uruguay as he was traveling the same direction as us.

Ernesto from Germany started his travels 20 years ago in Canada and even rode through the Darién Gap but only made it as far as Venezuela where he met and married a woman from there.   He now gets to ride around South America whenever he likes!

05-Fray Bentos Uruguay

We stocked up on US dollars from an ATM machine in Fray Bentos and would be able to change them on the “Blue Market” in Buenos Aires when we get there.  The Argentine Peso isn’t great at the moment and everyone wants a stable currency like the US dollar so people are willing to pay above the official rate to get hold of it.

After filling the wallet, we rode back into Argentina the next day and stopped in the town of Gualeguaychu, which is just over the border.

06-Gualeguaychu

Gualeguaychu is famous for Carnival and we timed it right to catch the last one of the season.

07-Gualeguaychu 2

08-Gualeguaychu Carnival kids

09-Gualeguaychu Carnival

Emptying a can of foam in someones face is funny in any language.

10-Gualeguaychu Carnival 2

11-Gualeguaychu Carnival 3

1-Gualeguaychu Carnival Hair

Meet Tobias and Suzanne from Holland.  They are both students that are planning to ride around South America by motorcycle Transalp.  Ooh, we just might be able to help them out there! 😀

12-Gualeguaychu Carnival Tobias and Suzanne

The carnival gets going late into the night and carries on until 3am.  We had plenty of beer and wine so no worries….

14-Gualeguaychu Carnival 5

13-Gualeguaychu Carnival 4

15-Gualeguaychu Carnival 6

16-Gualeguaychu Carnival 7

18-Gualeguaychu Carnival 9

19-Gualeguaychu Carnival 10

20-Gualeguaychu Carnival 11

21-Gualeguaychu Carnival 12

22-Gualeguaychu Carnival 13

1-Gualeguaychu Carnival 14

24-Gualeguaychu Carnival 15

25-Gualeguaychu Carnival 16

The next morning was more sober as it dawned on us that this was the last day of packing up and riding the bike.

26-Gualeguaychu - Last day of packing the bike

Brave face!

27-Gualeguaychu - Last day on the bike

Lisa showed her view as pillion on the bike for the last 10 months in the previous post, and this is mine.  I think mine is better.

28-Ruta 14

Buenos Aires is in sight.  Shame it was cloudy – but not raining so can’t complain!

29-Arriving in Buenos Aires

We ride past slums in the northern part of the city.

30-Buenos Aires - Northern Slums

31-Buenos Aires - Northern Slums 2

This is it.  We have arrived at our destination!

Photo taken outside the Congress building in Buenos Aires.

33-Final Destination - Buenos Aires

For some reason I took this photo at the start of the trip so had to take another at the end……

01-Start of the Trip - Halifax Nova Scotia

The bike has weathered pretty well – I’m not sure the same can be said for me.

34-End of the Trip

Mapa completo….

36-Travel Map Complete

We struck a deal with Tobias and Suzanne for the Transalp (although it is obviously priceless) and set about servicing the bike ready for their 5 month trip around South America.

Over the next few days, we replaced the head-bearings, tyres, chain, sprockets, broken bulbs, spark-plugs, balanced the carbs and gave it an oil change.

38-Working on the bike

There is plenty to see in the city and so we took a break from bike stuff and started at La Recoleta cemetery.

40-Recoleta Cemetery

Evita’s mausoleum is a shrine and probably the most visited here.

41-Evita Grave in Buenos Aires

42-Recoleta Cemetery (2)

43-Recoleta Cemetery (4)

Lisa is back in her element while navigating us around the cemetery…..

44-Recoleta Cemetery (3)

45-Recoleta Cemetery (5)

46-Enjoying Cheap Wine in Buenos Aires

After staying for a couple of weeks in the city, it’s hard to ignore some of the problems that Argentina still has.

There are various protests everyday and night.

47-Street Protests in Buenos Aires

1-Buenos Aires Graffiti

Homeless live in and around Congreso Plaza.

5-Congreso - Buenos Aires

Confitería El Molino building.  Positioned next door to Congress, it was once a fancy cafe and has been declared a national monument.  It is in a terrible state and in need of urgent restoration but squatters have since moved in and taken over.

1-'El Molino' abandoned cafe in Buenos Aires

Casa Rosada is the prime location for protests and demonstrations.  It’s also where Madonna filmed Evita.

49-Protest Graffiti outside Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires

“Malvinas” graffiti can be seen everywhere too.  As a Brit, it’s best not to mention the war!

4-Malvinas Graffiti 2

2-Malvinas Graffiti

If you look past the pavements covered in dog poo (although you will probably get poo-shoe), constant protests and the economic problems, Buenos Aires is a great city with a lot to offer and some quirky sights.

A house rebuilt on the top of an office block…

50-Small House on top of office blocks

Organised mass bike ride causing traffic chaos…

35-Organised ride through the city

Weird old superhero….

60-Crazy Guy in La Boca

3-Evita - Buneos Aires

News broke of the newly selected Pope and after discovering that he is from Buenos Aires, we walked to the city cathedral to check out the Pope celebrations.

51-New Pope Celebrations in Beunos Aires

52-New Pope Celebrations in Beunos Aires (2)

Che is another national icon and his face is everywhere…..

54-Che Guevara

55-Che Guevara (2)

A painting of President Christina Kirchner and her late husband Nestor……she is an icon for some.

56-Cristina and Nestor Kirchner

We took a taxi to Caminito in La Boca.  It’s a real tourist trap but only has a couple of streets that you would want to venture down….

59-Colourful La Boca Streets

58-Colourful La Boca Streets (2)

…..the rest of the La Boca looks like this.  It’s off-limits to tourists in the day and even the police keep away at night.

61-Streets of La Boca

The time has come.  The bike is now prepared ready for Tobias’s and Suzanne’s adventure and I must relinquish her.

It’s strange to think that the Transalp will no longer be a part of our daily life.  I’ll definitely miss it.

62-Farewell Bike Pics

We watch as they ride away…..

63-Farewell Bike Pics (2)

64-Farewell Bike Pics (3)

A few stats from the trip:

314 days
45,000kms
15 countries
12,000+ photos
4 sets of tyres
3 punctures
0 speeding tickets
0 bribes/bent cops encountered
And no breakdowns!

Motorcycle travel gives the freedom to go pretty much anywhere and without the hassle that comes with using public transport.  There is more uncertainty of what might be around the next corner – but that’s what makes it so exciting!

We’ve met some great people on our travels and made new friends along the way.  It’s been an unforgettable experience.

As our adventure ends, another one begins.  Good luck Tobias and Suzanne,  it’s gunna be awesome! 😎

P.S. If anybody would like any further information on our trip or wants to get in contact, drop an email to: transalp.touring@gmail.com

Dan and Lisa.

The Final Countdown……

After the fun of the great Ruta 40 roads, we spent a few days in Mendoza. The city is fairly modern compared to a lot of the places we have visited on this trip, but still a pleasant place to hang around.

We even stumbled across an old red telephone box….just like being home!!

01-Lisa Phone Box - Mendoza

Of course, the main reason to hang around here is the countless vineyards. It is the largest wine producing area in Latin America so it would have been rude not to sample some of the local Vino.

We took a trip out to the CarinaE vineyard and were given a tour by the French owner.

02-CarinaE - Mendoza

Naturally we had a tasting session too….none of this taste and spit business, we just drank it :).

03-CarinaE Mendoza 2

04-MarinaE Transalp

Before leaving Mendoza, we bumped into Johnny Depp….

05-Edward Scissor Hands - Mendoza

We carried on further south along more of Ruta 40, which although mostly paved, was still an enjoyable ride.

06-Road to Chos Malal

07-Road to Chos Malal 2

08-Road to Chos Malal 3

09-Road Chos Malal 4

11-Ruta 40

It got pretty windy on our way to the town of Chos Malal. It’s hard to capture just how windy it was in a photo….but I had a go. We had to ride leaning into the wind and big gusts kept pushing us over into the other lane! We had heard that the Patogonian wind was tough on bikers.

13-Road to Chos Malal 6

When we finally arrived in Chos Malal we checked into a nice little hotel in town for what was supposed to be a one night stop over. Unfortunately when we attempted to leave the following morning, we discovered that both fuel stations in town had run dry.

We had heard about ‘fuel issues’ in Argentina in previous years, but had figured all was now okay. We were told the problem in this town was a one off due to strikes holding up deliveries (mmm, sounds like the UK!!!). After riding around the town making unsuccessful enquiries to try and buy some fuel elsewhere (the problem was that it was Sunday and any mechanics’ or other type of shop that might be able to help were closed 😦 ), we rode back to one of the fuel stations to see if they had any news – still nothing. Oh well, it looks like we’ll have to stay another night.

We met a Argentinian guy who was also stranded so we hung around with him in the plaza for a couple of hours.

14-Chos Malal

On the plus side, we got to try ‘mate’. This is a traditional South American infused drink made from the Yerba plant which is really popular in Argentina. When we first arrived across the border we noticed loads of people wondering around with thermas flasks, wooden cups and metal straws. After some research we found out that Argentinians rarely go anywhere without their ‘mate’. This was proven when Tomas invited us to drink ‘mate’ with him and grabbed all the necessary instruments from his bike. There is an etiquette involved in the drinking, hopefully we didn’t break any of the rules as we passed the drink around!!

15-Trying Mate - Chos Malal

Tomas didn’t need as much fuel as we did to get to the next town, so we gave him our spare which meant that at least he could get on his way, there was no point us all being stuck!!

16-Waiting for Fuel in Chos Malal

They finally had a delivery towards the end of the day so Dan queued up with the locals for about 50 minutes to get the Transalp filled.

17-Gas Queue in Chos Malal

If only we had known that the next day things would be worse!! We rode onto the town of Zapala and then decided maybe we would carry on further – so off to the fuel station. Oh dear, no fuel! Here we go again. After checking into a hotel Dan headed down to fill up at 6pm as they said they were expecting a delivery. By the time he got there the queue was unbelievably long – it took him ages to just find the end as it snaked along blocks and around corners. This time it took 3 hours of queuing, and from chatting to the locals he found out this issue had been going on for 10 days and affected a large area of the country.

There was only one thing for it….super economic riding!! So economic, Dan even had chance to put his feet up :).

18-Road to Bariloche

We did manage 73 mpg though…amazing work by the Transalp!

19-Road to Bariloche 2

Cruising through Patagonia…..

20-Road to Bariloche 3

21-Road to Bariloche 4

There are a huge number of people who do this trip by bicycle…crazy people, what they need is an engine!! And, believe or not, there is also someone doing this overland trip on a unicycle :).

22-Road to Bariloche 5

The views in Argentina’s ‘Lake District’ are pretty awesome!!

23-Road to Bariloche 6

24-Road to Bariloche 7

25-Road to Bariloche 8

This area of Argentina is really amazing, I would love to see it in the winter!

Next up we were heading for the town of Trevelin. This is one of the places that the Welsh settled in after searching for somewhere to start a new Welsh nation in order to protect their language, religion and traditions.

26-Road to Trevelin

And one tradition they have bought over to Patagonia is ‘tea’. These towns are full of Tearooms and Welsh souvenirs so we bought a Welsh dragon sticker for the bike and ate cake….lots of cake!!

28-Tea House - Trevelin 2

Yes we ate the lot….and drank the best tea we’ve had since leaving the UK :).

27-Tea House - Trevelin

Not satisfied with just experiencing one Welsh town, we headed to town of Gaiman – once visited by Princess Diana, she also stopped for afternoon tea.

29-Trevelin to Gaiman

In the true style of Wales…it rained a lot. We had to get the ponchos out but still got our feet soaked as the only restaurant in town was across the other side of this road!!!

30-Flooding in Gaiman

The lady at the guest house we stayed at in Gaiman was 3rd Generation Welsh and spoke the language after being taught by her grandfather and also traveling to Wales to study. She now teaches Welsh to others.

So, Welsh Patagonian is the furthest south that we go. From here it was time to start heading north towards Buenos Aires. After over 43,000 and nearly 300 days the final countdown has begun.

Here’s a pic of what I’ve been staring at almost every day for the last 10 months 🙂

12-Ruta 40 - Dans Head

Our first stop on our way north was the coastal town of Las Grutas….our first view of the Atlantic Ocean since way back at the start of the trip….

31-Las Grutas

32-Las Grutas - Beach

We’ve got some more places to visit and some more time to enjoy the trip yet….but it is drawing to an end soon!

And Onwards To Argentina…Let’s Ride Ruta 40

From Sucre we decided to head back into Argentina. As we did not want to back-track along the same roads, we decided to take a different route and travel through the town of Tarija – this would also mean we could avoid using the border at Villazon which was unpleasant and super slow.

The roads in Bolivia were so much better than we expected, they seem to have paved a lot more of the major routes now so some of the horror stories about ridiculously long journeys are becoming a thing of the past – at least on the routes we took!!

01-Road to Tarija Bolivia

We did come across one stretch on the way to Tarija which hadn’t been quite finished – they were working on that though. They had very kindly spread thick sand all over the road as part of their construction works…..thanks, bikes and thick sand are a great mix 🙂 Dan tried to ride along the side as much as possible….and we hoped this didn’t go on for miles!!!

02-Road to Tarija Bolivia (2)

Thankfully it didn’t. It returned to regular gravel road…..and then came to a halt at a river! Mmmmm, we watched a truck ride through and it looked fairly deep so decided (actually ‘I’ decided – Dan wanted to take his chances with the bike through the water!!) to try and find a route to a bridge we could see further up the river. After getting a bit lost we found the road to the bridge – although the it did look like it had seen better days and no one else seemed to be using it – but it was fine – despite the large gaps between the planks it was structurally okay 🙂

03-Road to Tarija Bolivia (3)

05-Road to Tarija Bolivia (5)

A new tunnel had also opened which reduced the travel time to Tarija….and it had stunning views on the other side!

06-Great views enroute to Tarija Bolivia

We had previously met a group of Canadian bikers when we first arrived in Bolivia who had taken this same route, but had problems buying gas in the town of Tarija. The had been refused at every station they tried and ended up having to get a local to go and fill up some cans so that they could fill up their 5 bikes!!! This had always been something I had worried about – the fuel situation in Bolivia is kind of strange. Foreign registered vehicles are supposed to pay 3 times the local rate per litre and should be given a special receipt. But for some reason some gas stations just refuse to serve a foreign registered vehicle. We had previously read some tips and advice on this website by some other overlanders who have done a good write up! http://www.liferemotely.com/trip-shenanigans/bolivia/276-the-art-of-buying-gas-in-bolivia-.

Our experiences of buying gas whilst traveling in Bolivia had ranged from sometimes paying the local price, sometimes paying the full tourist price and sometimes paying a rate somewhere in between after a bit a bartering.

For some reason Tarija does seem to be one of the more difficult places and after being denied service at the first two places we tried, we did manage to get fuel on our third attempt!! Here’s Dan doing his best to try and get service after initially being refused – a queue started to form behind, people started to gather around us, we tried being super friendly and nice, then tried ignorance, then tried just not moving out of the way from the pump…..no joy here though – eventually we got bored and left!!

07-Trying to by gas in Tarija Bolivia

The next day we enjoyed our final ride through Bolivia on the way to the border….Bolivia had been amazing, and although we didn’t get to see everything we had planned, we had really enjoyed the places we visited.

The ride to the border took us back down to a lower altitude as it twisted alongside a river….there were a few obstacles to avoid though – lots of fallen rocks and animals to avoid!!

08-Road to Bermejo Border

09-Road to Bermejo Border (2)

11-Road to Bermejo Border (4)

12-Road to Bermejo Border (5)

The border at Bermejo / Aguas Blancas was much quicker and easier so before we knew it we were back in Argentina. Most probably our last border crossing with the bike….woohoo 🙂 I dread to think how many hours of our lives we’ve spent in total at borders over the past 9 months!!!

13-Welcome to Argentina

Our first stop was the picturesque town of Salta. We decided to hang around for a few days and take in some sights whilst figuring out a route to take around Argentina.

14-Salta Architecture (2)

15-Salta architecture

16-Salta architecture (3)

After reading some other blogs and information online, we decided the best route would be Ruta 40 down to North Patagonia. Ruta 40 is kind of Argentina’s version of Route 66 in the USA. The more I read about Ruta 40, the more I loved the sound of it…..crossing through loads of national parks with spectacular scenery, we were in for a treat.

Before hitting Ruta 40, I had read about a route from Salta to the small town of Cachi which would take in another couple of amazing routes – we hit the road to ride Ruta 33 and 42.

The day started off well with a mixture of tarmac and gravel…..along with great views.

17-Ruta 33 from Salta to Cachi

18-Ruta 33 from Salta to Cachi (2)

20-Ruta 33 from Salta to Cachi (5)

Then we hit Ruta 42, little did we know what we were in for!!

21-Ruta 42 to Cachi

It all started off very civilized….nice gravel road and stopping to take photos with the cactus…..

22-Ruta 42 to Cachi (2)

23-Ruta 42 to Cachi (3)

Then things got interesting…….the nice gravel road was no more!!!

24-Ruta 42 gets a bit tough on the way to Cachi

Riding in a straight line became a bit tough….

25-Not easy keepinga straigth line on Ruta 42 to Cachi

At least the scenery and views made up for the hard riding conditions 🙂

26-Amazing Views on Ruta 42 to Cachi

The wheels were now caked in the muddy, sandy, clay like red stuff!! No tread anymore….

29-No tread anymore on Ruta 42 to Cachi

30-Ruta 42 to Cachi (6)

31-Ruta 42 to Cachi (7)

32-More Amazing Views on Ruta 42 to Cachi

As we went around each bend and over each brow of a hill I hoped that the nice gravel road would reappear!! I even suggested turning around – I guess I’m not as adventurous as Dan, as he was enjoying himself and wanted keep going. I knew this section of road was about 30km and we had taken ages to just ride 8km…….how much longer would the rest take?…

33-Ruta 42 to Cachi (8)

The answer to that is ‘a long time’!! For the first time on this trip (apart from the stationary topple over in Nicaragua which we don’t count) the Transalp was on her side….only a very slow speed incident, but our first proper ‘off’ none the less.

34-Oopps on Ruta 42 to Cachi

Having picked the bike back up, the Transalp and ourselves were now looking pretty dirty!! No harm done and we needed to get going….we were still not even half way along the road!!

35-Hard going on Ruta 42 to Cachi

It got worse before it got better……

36-A bit wet on Ruta 42 to Cachi

Oops…it happened again!

37-More Oopps on Ruta 42 to Cachi

38-Tough roads on Ruta 42 to Cachi

But then Dan realised why it was proving so hard to ride, yeah, the roads were bad – but the problem was that all the clay like mud stuff had clogged up under the front mud guard and the front wheel wasn’t moving.

So….take the mud guard off – problem solved 🙂

39-Taking off the mud guard on Ruta 42

We managed to stay upright for the rest of the ride!! And eventually the nice gravel road did return….happy days!!

40-Ruta 42 to Cachi (9)

42-Ruta 40 to Cachi

We made it to Cachi in one piece 🙂

43-Cachi Rainbow

The next day was another day of off-road….but at least this was mostly dry and not muddy – with the mud guard re-fitted we hit the road on Ruta 40.

44-Ruta 40 to cafayate

45-Ruta 42 to Cafayate

46-Ruta 40 to Cafayate (2)

It’s amazing how the scenery changed throughout the day….we took so many photos – the views were incredible!

47-Ruta 40 to Cafayate (3)

48-Ruta 40 to Cafayate (4)

49-Ruta 40 to Cafayate (6)

51-Ruta 40 to Cafayate (8)

52-Ruta 40 to Cafayate (9)

53-Ruta 40 to Cafayate (10)

54-Ruta 40 to Cafayate (11)

55-Ruta 40 to Cafayate (12)

56-Ruta 40 to Cafayate (13)

Time to take a break and relax!

57-Ruta 40 to Cafayate (14)

The scenery changed yet again, it’s hard to describe how spectacular this route really was 🙂

58-Ruta 40 to Cafayate (15)

59-Ruta 40 to Cafayate (16)

61-Ruta 40 to Cafayate (18)

Wow!

62-Amazing Views on Ruta 40 to Cafayate (19)

63-Mud buildings on Ruta 40 to Cafayate

We spent the night in the town of Cafayate….a really nice tranquil little town – I could have stayed here longer.

64-Cafayate

The next morning we headed for the town of Belen, a less exciting ride in terms of scenery and the roads were all paved….so an easier day for riding – apart from the fact we got a puncture!! Still it’s our first one since California back at the start of August so we shouldn’t complain really….

65-Puncture in Argentina (2)

66-Puncture in Argentina

We were on our way again in no time. We spent the following night in the town of Chilecito after another easy day on nice tarmac roads.

67-Ruta 40

That night it rained….and it rained hard!! Maybe the most torrential rain I’ve ever experienced – the nice little guesthouse we were staying in developed several leaks in the roof as the rain was so intense!!

Our plans for the following day were hampered as we headed for the town of San Jaun via the mountains. There was evidence everywhere of the amount of water that had fallen overnight – not because everything was flooded – the water had all subsided, but the rivers and streams had carved out new and deeper paths overnight. We barely recognised the road we had driven in on as a small stream had created a ledge and small cavern through the road. This was easily passed, but less than a hour into our journey we came across a road block. It seemed that the road ahead was not passable due to problems further along – probably a landslide I would imagine. And where we stopped you could see that a small (now non-existent) river had risen up and over the road and swept through a family home.

68-Aftermath of flooding in Argentina

There was evidence everywhere of the problems that must of occurred overnight – quite a few buses were abandoned / ground-out on the sides of the road….I was amazed that there was no sign of the water considering how much there must of been just a few hours before!!

69-Aftermath of flood in Argentina

We had to take a different, longer, flat and unfortunately less interesting route, diverting from Ruta 40.

We’re now in the wine region of Mendoza….time to check out the local vineyards and unwind for a few days before continuing south to Northern Patagonia….I wonder what the roads will be like further south 🙂

Now…….off to get some wine!

Destination Bolivia

San Pedro De Atacama was nice but after 5 nights and food poisoning from one of the restaurants (never eating ice-cream again!) we brimmed the tank, had our passports stamped, cleared customs and headed out of town in the direction of Argentina’s border 100 miles down the road.

We half considered taking the off-road route to Bolivia instead which takes a couple of days but the recent heavy rain and flooded salt flats along the way would make it too tricky.

On the way we achieved a new high of 4830m and rode past salt lakes with flamingos and the odd volcano.

01-San Pedro to Border

02-Paso De Jama (2)
Chris did the same border crossing a few days before but forgot to check out of Chile – whoops!  Luckily Argentina’s border control were not bothered and allowed him to continue.

03-Paso de Jama

We planned on passing quickly through Argentina on their good asphalt and taking the road north to Bolivia.

We only spent a day in the country but took in some good sights along the way.

04-Salt Flats Argentina

05-Road to Tilcara

06-Road to Tilcara 2

07-Road to Tilcara 3

Wow!  I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of this country later on if it is more of the same!

08-Road to Tilcara 4

09-Road to Tilcara 5

Unfortunately Argentina’s border to Bolivia isn’t as spectacular.  It took five hours of waiting at the Villazon border for Argentina to do their stuff.  I think there was only a dozen people in front of us but the border guys were so disorganized, it was like everyone first day on the job.

The Passport Control and Aduana guys were giving contradictory information to us and a few other bikers that were waiting patiently in line.  That’s when I lost my cool with one guy who was sat behind a desk playing with his mobile phone.  It could have gone one of two ways – he could have made us wait even longer but as it happened he took my temporary import paper, looked over at the bike and waved me onto the next window.  Thirty minutes later, we were on our way with a temporary import permit for Bolivia.

10-Villazon Border

We were expecting to ride dirt for much of our time in Bolivia as we had heard there was only 400 miles of sealed roads in the whole country.  As it happens they have now sealed a few of the main roads through the country.

It seems strange to see beautifully sealed roads surrounded by mud houses though!

11-Mud Huts in Bolivia

We arrived in the city of Potosi and planned on exploring the worlds highest city over the next few days.

12-View from Hotel in Potosi

14-Potosi Square

15-Potosi Boy

16-Potosi Streets

17-Potosi Streets 2

19-Potosi Streets 4

58-Potosi Streets 5

Before we arrived in Potosi, we had heard about the mine tours so booked ourselves in to see what all the fuss was about.

We had to sign the involuntary voluntary disclaimer before we began……

20-Potosi Mine Disclaimer

First stop is the miners market to pick up supplies.

Everyone stocked up on cigarettes, alcohol, coca leaves and dynamite………yes dynamite……

23-Buying Mining Supplies in Potosi

21-Potosi 96 percent alcohol

Everyone gives the alcohol a try.  96% and pretty disgusting.

22-Potosi 96 percent alcohol 2

We get kitted up ready to explore….

24-Lisa Ready For Mine Tour

25-Mine Tour Potosi

The guide shows us around the refinery plant…

26-Mine Tour Potosi 2

A worker adjusts the mixture of cyanide and some other dodgy chemicals…..

27-Mine Tour Potosi 3

28-Mine Tour Potosi 4

29-Mine Tour Potosi 5

Lisa hands a bottle of soda to the workers that are extracting the mineral from the rock….

30-Mine Tour Potosi 6

We then take a bus to the the mines at Cerro Rico.

This mountain has quite a history.  It has been mined since the 1500’s, firstly by the Spanish who gained vast amounts of silver.  They say that enough silver was mined to build a silver bridge from Bolivia to Spain with more left over to carry across it.

African and indigenous slaves were used to mine the silver during Spanish colonialism and the terrible conditions caused an estimated 8 to 10 million deaths.

59-Cerro Rico

Our guide stocks up on coca leaves in his cheek pouch before we enter one of the mines….

31-Mine Tour Potosi 7

It doesn’t take long to realise that health and safety doesn’t apply here.  There are very few supports in the tunnels.

32-Mine Tour Potosi 8

We stop to chat to miners that have already started celebrating the Miners Carnival which starts the next day….

33-Mine Tour Potosi 9

34-Plenty of alcohol flowing in the workplace

35-Mine Tour Potosi 10

36-Mine Tour Potosi 11

Another miner prepares some dynamite…..

37-Mine Tour Potosi - Setting Dynamite

The miner lights the fuse while we take cover around the corner.  I’ve got to admit that it was a little scary sitting there in the dark while waiting for the explosions.  They were bloody loud and echoed through the tunnels.  Nobody has ever mapped the hundreds of tunnels that have been mined in Cerro Rico and it is thought to be like a Swiss cheese.  There is concern by geologists that one day the whole mountain will just collapse.

38-Mine Tour Potosi 12

After a couple of hours underground, we resurface and hand over some gifts to one of the miners.  Looking at the dodgy stain on his jeans, I think they started partying a while before….

41-Potosi Miners with Gifts

39-Mine Tour Potosi Dog

40-Mine Tour Potosi 13

We all cram into a small mud hut while more coca leaves and alcohol is passed around.

42-Mine Tour Potosi 14

It’s considered impolite to refuse alcohol and you are supposed to drop a bit on “Pachamama” (Mother Earth) before drinking.  Lisa misunderstood (so she says) and poured it all on the ground to the miners amusement.

I think most of the tourists sighed with relief when the alcohol finally ran out but then they found another bottle and cracked it open…..

43-Mine Tour Potosi 15

After chatting in broken Spanish to the miners and sharing more of their drink, we took the bus back into town.

What we thought was just another tourist attraction turned out to be a real eyeopener.

Men usually start working the mines in their teens (some as young at 12 even though it is illegal), they breath dangerous gases, asbestos and silica dust and face dangerous conditions every single day.  Some earn barely enough to get by and the average life expectancy is just 40 years old.

It’s possibly the worlds worst job and a visit to the mines will put things into prospective.  Getting up on a Monday morning for your 9-5 office job doesn’t look so bad after all….

We walked around the famous National Mint of Bolivia the next day.

44-National Mint of Bolivia

Among the exhibits was a painting used by the Spanish to help bring Catholicism to Bolivia.  They portrayed religious figures around Cerro Rico.  I wonder if they would have still bothered if it wasn’t full of Silver?

45-Potosi Religious Painting

46-Dark Paintings Potosi

The Mint is no longer used as it is cheaper to have Bolivian currency produced in Chile.  It was also once used as a prison but is now just a museum.

47-National Mint of Bolivia 2

Interesting/uninteresting fact for you:  The dollar sign is thought to originate from the Potosi monogrammed mark on pieces of eight (PTSI)

48-Potosi coin

These are the only remaining metal rolling mills from the 1700’s in South America which are still intact.  Three machines with the help of 4 mules were used to roll the silver to 0.5mm thickness ready for the coin cutting process.

49-National Mint of Bolivia 3

51-National Mint of Bolivia 5

Iron chests with 12 locking mechanisms were built by the Spanish to transport the silver back to Europe.

50-National Mint of Bolivia 4

52-National Mint of Bolivia 6

53-National Mint of Bolivia 7

54-National Mint of Bolivia 8

Later that day, the Miners Carnival was now in full swing….or is that full swig?

55-Drunk Parade in Potosi
I’ve never tried to play a trumpet at altitude while drunk but it looks pretty difficult.

56-Drunk Parade in Potosi 2

57-Potosi Miners Festival
It was time to get back on the bike and ride to Sucre.  A beautiful colonial town at only 2700m so feels better on the lungs after Potosi.

1-Sucre

Free WI-FI in public areas…..in a 3rd world country!

66-Sucre WIFI

60-Sucre Beggar

61-Sucre Man

We have been in Sucre for about a week now as a Spanish language refresh was in order, so booked in for some lessons at a local Spanish School.

Break time at school.  What to do with a bag of water balloons on a third story building?

62-Spanish School Sucre

More dancing and festivals through the week….

63-Sucre Festival

64-Sucre Festival 2

2-Another parade in Sucre

65-Sucre Square
We are now A2 certified at Me Gusta Spanish School.  One for the CV :).  It’s been fun learning here and I highly recommend this school to anyone.

We’re getting back on the bike tomorrow, not really sure where yet but that’s half the fun.

Me Gusta Spanish School

The Highest Lake To The Driest Desert

We spent our last day in Cusco doing a final spot of sightseeing, I think everyone was pretty tired from the early mornings on our side trip to Machu Picchu, so we just wondered around the picturesque town, checked out the Inca museum and made a trip through San Pedro market.

01-Cusco Streets

The skills of the locals are incredible, if only we had more space for souvenirs on the bike. It’s amazing watching the ladies weaving without any pattern to follow – the textiles they produce must take days and days of work.

02-Peruvian Weaving

03-Peruvian Weaving (2)

The trip around the market ended up being an interesting one….to start with it was just the normal things you might see for sale….

04-Cusco Market

07-Cusco Market (2)

But then it got weird…..okay, frogs legs I can understand!

06-Frogs Legs at Cusco Market

…..but what on earth are these for!!! Ergh!

05-Weird Things at Cusco Market

Our last night in Cusco involved the first of three goodbyes. After Mike’s accident he was flying back home to Canada (to buy another bike and plan his next trip no doubt 🙂 ). It’s strange to think we wont be riding together again.

08-Farewell Meal with Mike

Mike waved us off the following morning and we headed out of town with Chris to Puno. My parents were taking a slightly more luxurious and warmer method of transport – the Andean Explorer Train which is part of the Orient Express.

Their train left before we headed off, partly because we were struggling to get the bike out of the hotel reception! In fact Dan almost took one of their glass entrance doors off whilst trying to ride up the steps onto the street. It all got a bit messy and passers by were helping out, definitely the most difficult exit yet!!

A couple of hours down the road and we caught up with the train. I was waving frantically as we rode along – I’m sure everyone else on board was probably wondering why 🙂 I was starting to feel quite envious of the passengers as we gained altitude and it got colder and colder.

09-Andean Explorer Train

Luckily the scenery made up for the chilly weather…even on a dull day it looks amazing.

10-Ride from Cusco to Puno

11-Ride from Cusco to Puno (2)

Chris bought some small LED torch’s from the UK and hands them out to the locals – they love them! Although it does look more like he’s trying to light the young boy a cigarette….haha – he really isn’t!

12-Chris chatting to the locals

We met back up with Mum & Dad in the town of Puno, which sits on the edge of Lake Titicaca. The town wasn’t quite as beautiful as Cusco, but a great base for checking out the highest navigable lake in the world.

13-Lake Titicaca

There was a huge street party going on one evening…we never did find out what it was in aid of – but as we’ve experienced in the past, they do enjoy a good street party in Central and South America!

14-Puno street celebrations

15-Puno Street Celebrations (3)

16-Puno street celebrations (2)

We took a day trip out on Lake Titicaca to visit the nearby Uros Islands – floating islands made from the reeds. It was interesting meeting the local Uru people who live here.

These guys look like they’re waiting at their local ‘boat’ stop, maybe to get back to the mainland.

17-Uros Floating Islands Lake Titicaca

18-Uros Floating Islands on Lake Titicaca (2)

19-Uros Floating Reed Islands

A local inhabitant explained the construction of the islands….it was weird to think people live out here. The base of the islands is made from cutting and floating sections of reed roots, they then lay several layers of reeds to create a surface on which they can build and walk around. The top layers rot and have to be replaced regularly and the islands are not permanent – some only last for 20 years before being rebuilt. The whole island feels squidgy under your feet as you walk. They have to anchor the islands with rope to the bottom of the lake to stop them from floating off and into Bolivia as they don’t have passports 🙂

20-Uros Floating Islands on Lake Titicaca

After nearly two weeks, it was now sadly time for my parents to head back to Lima for their flight home. Goodbye number two. I hate saying goodbye to my parents…but we’ll be back in the UK in March, so not long until I get to see them again! They had seen quite a lot on their holiday, including the Dakar Rally, Cusco, Machu Picchu & Lake Titicaca…..quite a tiring trip but I hope they enjoyed it 🙂

As they headed for the airport, we hit the road with Chris towards Chile. We reached an all time altitude high of approx 4650m and we stayed at over 4000m for hours, it was super cold and I hadn’t put enough layers on. Plus is was really foggy and at times we could barely see anything. Every time we started to descend a little bit I was hoping we would be on our way to the warmth of sea level…but then we would start ascending again…it went on forever!

21-Andean Llama and Alpaca

22-Atacama Desert Road (2)

23-Great Twisty Roads in the Andes

Finally we reached the warmth near the coast and after about a month in Peru, we crossed into Chile. I had read that people compared crossing from Peru into Chile as being like crossing from Mexico into the USA….they were kind of right. Peru was really poor and there was a definite noticeable difference entering Chile, it almost instantly seemed richer. Unfortunately they have prices to match….fuel is super expensive as is accommodation and food. I guess we wont be spending too much time here then.

24-Welcome to Chile

Our journey from Puno to the coast and into Chile had taken us into the Atacama Desert – the driest place in the world!! No need for my waterproof linings for a few days then 🙂

I’ve never seen scenery like it before….you would think driving through a desert would be boring – but this was far from boring.

25-Atacama Desert (2)

26-Atacama Desert

27-Atacama Desert Road

28-Atacama Desert (4)

29-Atacama Desert (3)

Some of the roads were long and straight, but that just gave us a chance to relax whilst still riding along – although I don’t have anywhere to put my feet up!!!

30-Chris relaxing on the long desert roads

A new country means new beer……for some anyway – I’m just here for the wine 🙂

31-Sampling the Chilean Beer

We hit the coastal road for a couple of hours before heading inland deeper into the desert.

32-Chilean Coastal Drive (2)

33-Long Atacama Desert Road

As we neared the town of San Pedro de Atacama the scenery changed again…so many different landscapes in one day on the road!

34-Road to San Pedro de Atacama

35-Views on Route to San Pedro de Atacama

36-Road to San Pedro de Atacama (2)

It was time to relax for a few days in San Pedro…..the sun was shining and we needed to plan some more of the trip – where will we go next??

37-Relaxing in San Pedro de Atacama

We also used the day off to check out the local salt flats of Salar de Atacama…..

38-Lizard on Salar de Atacama

…which along with being home to lizards are also home to one of the rarest flamingos in the world – the Andean Flamingo. Quite a strange thing to see at altitude on slat flats, but this is where they migrate to in the summer months.

46-Flamingos on Salar de Atacama

39-Flamingo at Salar de Atacama (2)

40-Flying Flamingo at the salt flats in Atacama

More great roads and scenery en route to and from the salt flats.

41-Salar de Atacama

42-Salar de Atacama (2)

43-San Pedro de Atacama (3)

44-San Pedro de Atacama (2)

Now time for our third goodbye….Chris has to be in Buenos Aires before the end of the month, so he’s headed off for the Argentinean border. Now we’re back on our own….other than the odd day here and there, we’ve not been on our own on the road for months – time to hunt down some more overlanders I think 🙂

45-San Pedro de Atacama

Planes, Trains And Motorcycles

After a very lazy Christmas and New Year in Huaraz, it was hard to get back in the swing of biking but we needed to get to Lima to meet Lisa’s mum and dad and to see the start of The Dakar Rally 2013.

Mike and Chris had already set off a couple of days before and were heading deeper into the high mountains before getting to Lima.  We later found out they’d had quite the adventure after getting lost, breaking down and then they lost each other for over a day in the difficult terrain on New Years Eve.

The route we took was a beautiful winding road from the chilly mountains to the humid coast as we joined the Pan American Highway into Lima.

01-Huanca to Lima

Lisa made a surprise visit to her mum and dad at their hotel in Lima  (We originally planned on meeting them in Cusco a couple of days later).

We then met up with Mike and Chris the next day to check out the Dakar Village on the beach.

10-Dakar Lima 9

02-Dakar Lima

03-Dakar Lima 2

04-Dakar Lima 3

Team HRC gained quite a bit of attention after 24 years absence from the event…..Go Honda!!

05-Dakar Lima 4

06-Dakar Lima 5

07-Dakar Lima 6

08-Dakar Lima 7

09-Dakar Lima 8

Lisa was taking a few days off the bike and flew to Cusco with her mum and dad and we arranged to meet up a few days later.

I didn’t mind as the next 1000km’s would be all boys stuff anyway – The Dakar and riding the Nazca to Cusco road!

Mike, Chris and I rode out of Lima down the coast towards Ica to check out The Dakar spectator zone.

We were staggered to see thousands of locals out on the streets waving and cheering us along!
(They might have been confusing us with someone else but we didn’t want to disappoint and just waved back)

Lima to Ica

The first few stages was in the desert sands.  We managed to get pretty close to all the action.

11-Dakar - Ica 2

12-Dakar - Ica 3

13-Dakar - Ica 4

14-Dakar - Ica

15-Dakar - Ica 5

16-Dakar - Ica 6

17-Dakar - Ica 7

18-Dakar - Ica 8

19-Dakar - Ica 9

20-Dakar - Ica 10

21-Dakar - Ica 11

22-Dakar - Ica 12

After having our photo’s taken all morning with Dakar fans who think that all Gringo’s on bikes must be part of the race, we made our exit and headed to the small oasis town outside of Ica in the dunes.

We met up with some other bikers in our hostel, chatted, drank beer and Pisco Sours, before getting some sleep as we had a long day of riding the next day.

23-Lima to Nazca

With our tanks brimmed with fuel we agreed to meet up later along the road if weather and light permitted, otherwise in Cusco a couple of days later.

This was to be the last time all three bikes would be together unfortunately…..

24-Nazca

There was still another 600km of windy roads to Cusco and as I needed to get there within two days to meet up with Lisa and her mum and dad, I headed off in front to cover some road quickly.

The road out of Nazca was spectacular!  Amazing scenery and beautiful bitumen….

25-Nazca to Cusco

You know you are at altitude when Llamas are around…..

26-Nazca to Cusco 2

Later that day, a man overtook me in his pickup truck and was frantically trying to flag me down as I rode through the town of Puquio.

It was bad news – his friend had telephoned him from just outside a town 20kms back and told him that my friend on a motorcycle had been involved in an accident with a taxi.

I raced back to the scene of the accident as quickly as I could.  Chris was not far behind.

27-Nazca to Cusco 3

Mike had been in a head-on collision with a minibus taxi but was thankfully okay.  The taxi driver was on the wrong side of the road going around a corner which unfortunately is not uncommon in Latin America.

The KLR was dragged along the road for several metres but Mike only suffered bruising and shock after the accident.  He was unbelievably lucky.

28-Nazca to Cusco 4

The impact was so great that the front wheel on the taxi was shunted back.

We loaded Mike’s battered bike into the back of the taxi and attempted to get to the town of Puquio.  The taxi was in a poor state too and the driver had to pull into a mechanics to get the front axle banged out.

29-Nazca to Cusco 5

The guy who pulled me over earlier that day left me with his mobile number in case we needed any help so we called him from our hostel in Puquio that evening.

The payphone ran out of credit while I talked to him and so I fumbled around for some more change when he entered reception and greeted us all.

Osirise with Mike – this guy is a hero and went well out of his way to help us out.

31-Nazca to Cusco 7

He drove us around town all night as we tried to arrange for Mike’s bike to be transported to Cusco in the hope of getting it fixed in a bigger town.

Osirise negotiated a deal with a truck driver who was heading to Cusco that night so we loaded it with the help of Osirise’s family.

30-Nazca to Cusco 6

Mike took a night bus to Cusco and we hit the sack after a long day.

Chris and I got up at the crack of dawn as we planned to catch up with the truck driver and meet him in Cusco.

32-Nazca to Cusco 8

More great riding as we rode up to over 4500 metres.

33-Nazca to Cusco 9

34-Nazca to Cusco 10

Mike arrived before us in Cusco in time to collect his bike with the help of some guys at the hostel that he had checked into.

He decided that the bike was not worth salvaging as the frame was bent pretty badly so made a deal with a local mechanic and sold it to him after some negotiating.  Mike’s trip is sadly over.

We have enjoyed traveling with Mike on and off since Guatemala and are both gutted that his trip has ended so suddenly.

35-Cusco

Cusco main square – tourists everywhere!

36-Cusco 2

We pre-booked the trip to Machu Picchu so caught the train to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu.

37-Train to Aguas Calientes

Bev and Dave enjoying the train ride…choo chooo!

38-Train to Aguas Calientes 2

One of those hairless sun-smart dawgs….

39-Aguas Calientes local Dawg

40-Aguas Calientes

We woke up at 5am the next morning and arrived at the ruins early to beat the crowds….

41-Machu Picchu

To quote Dave (Lisa’s Dad) “It will be nice when it’s finished”

42-Machu Picchu 2

I can see why it is one of the Seven Wonders Of The World.  It’s amazing!

43-Machu Picchu 3

44-Machu Picchu 4

45-Machu Picchu 5

46-Machu Picchu 6

47-Machu Picchu 7

48-Machu Picchu 8

49-Machu Picchu Llama and Sheep

We are now back in Cusco for a day but we ride to Puno tomorrow, where we will see Lake Titicaca, the largest, highest lake in South America.

Much Ado In Peru

We arrived in San Ignacio after a long day of dirt riding and checked into the best hotel in town to rest up for a couple of days.

Luckily Peru seems pretty cheap so even dining in the hotel restaurant you will struggle to spend more than $5 on a main course.

I’m gauging from the amount of stares we received, that not many gringos stop in this town.

Moto Taxi with extra bling…..

Blinged Moto Taxi

02-San Ignacio

Met a Peruvian couple on a BMW GS when riding from San Ignacio towards the coast. They didn’t speak English and our Spanish is still rubbish but we managed to exchange some info about our trips.

03-Meeting Bikers

We rode through beautiful landscape on the way to Chiclayo, getting in some foggy mountain riding before dropping down to lower altitude.

04-Northern Peru

05-Northern Peru 2

Sharing the road with some wildlife too…

06-Donk in the Road

07-Pig in the Road

08-Northern Peru 4

09-Northern Peru 3

10-Northern Peru Truck

Our first taste of crazy Peruvian traffic – in Chiclayo.

11-Chiclayo Traffic

Our hotel was right in the thick of the city with constant noise from car horns and alarms going off.

We found a chicken grill restaurant that evening and had to shout over the table to hear each other over the traffic outside, the TV on full volume and kids running around, apparently excited to see the large fishtank that was centerpiece in the restaurant.

We left on the bikes the next day and decided to head over to a small relaxed town on the beach called Huanchaco.

On the way we noticed how dirty some parts of Peru can be when riding through the smaller towns. Rubbish is dumped on the side of the road and can be seen for miles in some places. Sometimes they burn it which creates massive smoke clouds that blocked out the sun as we rode through it.

12-Peru Rubbish

14-Northern Peru Fire

Huanchaco. It’s been a while since we were on the Pacific coast and the water was freezing!

13-Huanchaco

We met another Brit on a bike as we were heading out of town the next day.

Chris started in Colombia a couple of weeks ago on his KTM 950 and decided to tag along for the ride…..

Chris on KTM

….with his sheep.

Sheep

Riding through the Peruvian desert was pretty hot but also picturesque so we pulled over to take some snaps and take in some liquids.

Northern Peru - Bike Stop

16-Northern Peru Desert

A llama with extra bling….

15-Llama

18-Northern Peru Desert 2

Dodging more animals on the road….

19-Cows in the Road

20-Northern Peru 5

We rode up to an altitude of 4,200m before dropping to 3,100m when we arrived in the town of Huaraz in the mountains.

Many of the roads in town were closed due to roadworks, so we had trouble finding a place to stay but eventually found somewhere before it got dark.

21-Huaraz

We walked around the town later and bought some cheap fireworks.  It’s funny the stuff you can find to entertain yourselves after a long days’ riding….

17-Bored Kids

The next day, it was Christmas Eve so we decided to find somewhere a bit nicer in another part of town to spend the Holidays….

23-Huaraz Christmas

22-Huaraz Sunset

Canyon Del Pato is only 100kms from Huaraz so we unloaded the bikes and set off early on Boxing Day for some offroad fun.

25-Canyon Del Pato 3

26-Canyon Del Pato 2

35 hand carved single lane tunnels meander alongside a river which makes from some spectacular riding.

28-Canyon Del Pato 1

29-Canyon Del Pato 4

30-Canyon Del Pato Chris

31-Canyon Del Pato 6

As it was only coming up to midday when we finished riding through all 35 tunnels (twice!), we rode back to Huaraz but took a detour to Laguna Paron in the Cordillera Blanca Mountains.

32-Laguna Paron 3

27-Laguna Paron 2

It was hard riding and all 3 bikes got stuck in the sand and mud.

Evidently the mountain that towers behind the lake is the one depicted in the Paramount Pictures logo.  Unfortunately the cloudy weather had set in by the time we arrived there so you’ll just have to imagine it instead 🙂

33-Laguna Paron 4

Chris helping the locals (over) load a moto taxi on the way back down the mountain…

34-Laguna Paron Road

We spent the last few days just walking around the town of Huaraz, checking out all the popular restaurants and generally not much else….

35-Huaraz 2

36-Huaraz 3

37-Huaraz 4

38-Huaraz 5

39-Huaraz Dinner

40-Huaraz Rainbow

The view from our hostel….

41-Huaraz City

Chilling out in the thermal pools in the town of Monterrey nearby….

43-Huaraz Baths

We still have a couple of days to kick around here before doing some pretty exciting stuff – 2013 Dakar, Nazca to Cusco road, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca.  I can hardly wait!!!!! 😀

42-Huaraz Hotel

From The Rainforest To The Mountains In Ecuador

Well, if you believe the predictions made by the Mayans a few thousand years ago, this may well be the last post! However, all being well we will be able to do another update next week as we have just entered Peru and still have many places to visit 🙂

Anyway, back to Ecuador….

We spent a few nights in the Amazon, near the small town of Misahualli. Nearby our lodge was a pretty impressive, and no doubt an extremely old tree.

01-Amazon Big Tree

We forgot our hats and suncream when we went walking to find the tree and the Amazonian sun was pretty strong – Dan had to unzip the legs from his trousers to make himself a hat….very fetching indeed!!

02-Amazon Dan

He also went for a swim as our lodge was right on the banks of the river. Having read all sorts of stories of the creatures that live in these rivers, I declined to join him. He was looking pretty nervous as he entered the water – particularly as I was shouting about Piranha’s and Crocodiles as he was stepping in – recent rain in the mountains had reduced the visibility to zero. He did make it back out in one piece though, despite a really strong current – this river joins onto the Napo River a few meters downstream, which is one of the largest tributaries of the Amazon River. If he had been swept away he might of ended up in Brazil 🙂

03-Amazon Dan Swim

We had a bit of a giggle later that night as we sat in a restaurant in town and watched a monkey shoplifting! There were some monkeys roaming the streets trying to find food and one of them was staking out the local supermarket, hovering around the door waiting for the staff to turn their backs. As soon as the coast was clear he ran in and grabbed a bag a crisps before running back out and into the darkness….very intelligent animals!

04-Amazon Streeet Monkey

You have to be pretty careful in Ecuador (in fact this goes for pretty much all of Central & South America). Quite often the drains and manholes don’t have covers – it’s pretty hazardous wandering around at night in the dark – not to mention the hazard of riding the bike along streets that look like this…..

05-Lost Manhole Cover

The following day we took a day trip along the Napo River to see more of the Amazon.

06-Amazon Boat Lisa & Dan

07-Amazon Napo River

08-Amazon Napo River (2)

The trip included a visit to ‘AmaZOOnico’ which is an animal rehabilitation center in the jungle started back in the 90’s. The project survives on donations and is run by volunteers. Our tour guide was a German girl who had just started 4 months of volunteering at the project. http://www.selvaviva.ec/amazoonico/

A lot of the animals at the center were birds and monkeys as these are the most popular animals for people to have as pets in their homes and restaurants, where they are generally poorly treated. Any animal which can be released back into the wild is eventually released, but the ones we saw are the ones that would not be able to survive. Tourists are not permitted to visit the animals which they hope to release.

09-Amazon Tucan

10-Amazon Monkey

11-Amazon Monkey (2)

The birds generally have very sad stories as they’ve usually had their wings broken to prevent them from ever flying again….just to entertain tourists in restaurants. We couldn’t help but laugh though as we walked by the bird enclosure and they were all squawking really loudly when suddenly one shouted out ‘Burritos’!

12-Amazon Parrots

13-Amazon Turtle

14-Amazon Monkey (3)

15-Amazon Cat

17-Amazon Turtles

18-Amazon Bird

There were some quite unusual plants around too….this tree can walk!!

16-Walking Tree

After the visit to the animal rehabilitation center, we headed back up the river to visit a butterfly farm which was pretty amazing……

19-Butterflies

20-Butterflies (2)

21-Butterflies (3)

22-Butterflies (4)

23-Butterflies (5)

24-Butterflies (6)

25-Butterflies (7)

26-Butterflies (8)

27-Butterflies (9)

28-Butterflies (10)

29-Butterflies (11)

30-Butterflies (12)

31-Butterflies (13)

32-Butterflies (14)

The next part of the trip was a jungle walk. The guy who was driving the boat moonlighted as a guide. His family grew up in the Amazon and his father was a Shaman. He was pretty knowledgeable on the flora and fauna of the rainforest.

33-Jungle Walk

Our guide also had amazing eyesight, he spotted this tiny poisonous frog in the undergrowth, known as a ‘dart frog’. Amazonian tribes use the poison on the tips of their blow darts.

35-Jungle Frog

Also, we stopped for a mid-afternoon snack…..of lemon ants….urghhh. Actually, they did just taste of lemon – Dan enjoyed them more than I did though!

37-Dan Eating Ants

More unusual rainforest plants……

38-Devils Penis

34-Jungle Walk (2)

36-Jungle Walk (3)

39-Amazon Guide

41-Napo River Trip

42-Napo River Trip (2)

The locals pan for gold along the river banks – apparently they can make $20 per day.

43-Panning for Gold

44-Amazon Plant

45-Amazon Animals

The animal below is a Capybara – kind of looks like a giant guinea pig.

46-Capybara (2)

47-Capybara

We tried a Cocoa Bean in its natural form….not nearly as nice as when it’s made into chocolate – I much prefer its manufactured form 🙂

48-Cocoa Fruit

After being bitten by all sorts of bugs, we decided to head back into the mountains away from the rainforest. Our next stop was the town of Baños – which is Spanish for ‘Baths’.

It’s Christmas time so what do you do when you have no snow to make snowmen?……

49-Banos Snowman

50-Banos Church

The town of Baños is famous for a few delicacies –

Toffee made in shop doorways…..

51-Banos Toffee Making

And ‘Cuy’ aka Guinea Pig – fried up on the streets….yum 🙂

52-Cuy aka Guinea Pig

Baños is of course most famous for it’s natural thermal baths, which has also led to a lot of Spa’s opening up. Time to take a steam bath I think!

53-Steam Bath

Although I’m pretty sure the lady that worked there enjoyed giving us ‘the cold water treatment’ in between our sessions in the steam bath a bit too much…..

54-Steam Bath Torture

55-Banos (2)

56-Banos Waterfall

Later that evening we headed for more pampering at the local thermal baths. I’ve never been in thermal baths that are so hot. I could hardly bear the pain from the hot water in one of the pools – the locals must have super thick skin as they were loving it!!!

58-Thermal Baths

As we left the town of Baños we got a great view of the nearby volcano – which has erupted and caused the town to be evacuated on several occasions. We found out it actually erupted the day we left – everyone in town was given a mask to cover their mouths – if only we’d stayed one more day we could of got some cool pics!

60-Banos Volcano View

We had some pretty spectacular views as we drove south towards the old colonial town of Cuenca. We drove passed the volcano of Chimborazo, which it turns out is actually THE HIGHEST POINT ON EARTH – figure that one out. It seems that as the earth not an exact sphere – the area around the equator is ‘thicker’ and therefore the top of Chimborazo is the furthest point from the center of the earth. As opposed to Mount Everest which is the highest point above sea level. I had never heard this before – I wonder if people risk their life to climb this too?

61-Highest Point on Earth - Chimborazo (2)

63-Ecuador Views

64-Ecuador Views (2)

Our hotel in Cuenca was really nice, but I’m glad room 13 wasn’t ours…..

65-Small Door!

66-Cuenca Lady

67-Cuenca

68-Cuenca Man

69-Cuenca (2)

70-Cuenca (3)

We celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary whilst we were in Cuenca….mmmm, good food and cocktails 🙂

72-Anniversary Meal

73-Anniversary Meal (2)

We then headed for the small town of Vilcabamba on route towards the border with Peru. We decided to stop off here after reading that this place is famous for its inhabitants growing to a very old age. Apparently it’s not uncommon for people to reach 100, and some are rumoured to have reached 120 – 135. It’s no wonder that lots of expats are moving here. We were sure to drink plenty of the water whilst we were in town 🙂

74-Vilcabamba Water

75-Vilcabamba Church

Our final experience of Ecuador was to take the route directly south from Vilcabamba to the border…a road which would only be paved for about 35km followed by almost 200km of unpaved road. We had read some horror stories from people who had done this in the rain…thankfully the weather was pretty good. We had been told this route would be well worth it for the spectacular views. This turned out to be very true, as Mike will confirm. He was busy looking at the view and wiped out on a bend! By the way, I’m not just watching him lift his bike whilst Dan takes a photo – we did help him once the pic was taken. It’s just compulsory to take a photo in these situations 🙂

76-Ooops Mike!

This is the view so you can probably understand why….amazing scenery!!

77-Ecuador View

78-Ecuador to Peru views

We were warned about the construction work on the road which can cause delays. We weren’t too impressed when we arrived at one road block and had to wait 1.5 hours. This section of road was only open for three 1-hour slots each day. We sat and twiddled our thumbs for a while…..then Dan pondered if there was anything he could tweak on the Transalp to pass the time – well it has been a while since he had it apart!

79-Ecuador tp Peru Road Closed

80-Ecuador to Peru Road

81-Off Road Ecuador to Peru

83-Ecuador to Peru Road Fork

Because of the slow going road, the construction work and more computer issues at the border it was dark before we finished getting the necessary paperwork to enter Peru. A tough decision followed – sleep at the border in the hotel below….or ride in the dark on more dirt road for 40km.

84-Peru Border Hotel

So we rode on, against our normal rules of never drive at night!! Shhhh don’t tell my Mum, she’ll only worry 🙂

Later On The Equator

After drying out and chilling out in Salento for a couple of days with Uli, David and Mike we decided to head to Cali in convoy.

Before we left, the hotel owner helped me relocate the tool box on the Trannie as it had been bashed around too many times by the front wheel hitting it so after a bit of drilling and remounting it, we are now prepared for any pothole that we might encounter.

01-David and Uli

02-M&M

03-Car Leg

Trying to merge in with the locals ain’t so easy…

04-David Uli and Bikers

Some of us needed new tyres and other bits and bobs before leaving Colombia as they can be difficult to come by in other places south of Cali.

We had 3 days here, most of which was spent in several bike shops getting a service and spare parts organised.

05-Asturias

06-Man and Cart

Midday snack at “Crepes y Waffles” – yummmmm

07-Waffles

Bikes now sorted, we rode from Cali to Popayan. It was only around 150kms so should have been an easy day but finding a hotel which had secure parking was a bit more difficult.

When we thought we finally struck lucky, the hotel manager moved sofas around in the lobby to make rooms for the bikes and ran around trying to find planks to get the bikes up the pavement and through the front door – then we realised that the handlebars were too wide for the entrance…eeek

Luckily – the hotel next door had a wider doorway and would let us park inside.

08-Colonial - Popayan

It was a tight squeeze getting past reception!

09-Colonial - Popayan 2

10-Colonial -Popayan 3

I wondered around the old town that afternoon, killing time before dinner. Traveling appears to revolve around eating and drinking and as we are on two meals a day – dinner time can’t come soon enough!

13-Popayan2

11-Man and Llama

12-Popayan

14-Popayan 3

15-Popayan 4

As there wasn’t very much to do in Popayan, we carried on to Ipiales which is the border town to Ecuador.

Some pretty nice scenery on the way but we didn’t stop as it’s Farc country and we were advised to keep riding through it.

18-Road to Pasto 3

19-Road to Pasto 4

16-Road to Pasto

20-Road to Pasto 5

21-Road to Pasto 6

22-Road to Pasto  7

Just outside of the town of Ipiales sits a unique church that was built in a canyon above the Guáitara River. We stopped off on our way to the border to take some pics.

30-Las Lajas 6

24-Las Lajas

23-Las Lajas 2

26-Las Lajas 5

25-Las Lajas 3

27-Las Lajas 4

28-Las Lajas 7

29-Las Lajas -Transalp

An old guy walked over and chatted to me for about 5 minutes. Not really sure what he said as my Spanish is still rubbish and he was missing most of his teeth which made it even harder to understand him.

31-Las Lajas Viewpoint

32-Las Lajas - Girl

We were then on our way to the Ecuador border. We heard it was easy so didn’t feel the need to rush there early in the morning.

Checking out of Colombia was a breeze and took 5 minutes for both of us and the bike. Unfortunately the lines were down at Ecuador’s Aduana (customs) so they couldn’t grant us a temporary bike permit until their systems were back online.

As we waited, more bikers turned up and joined the queue. It was nice to chat to other travelers and exchange stories.

35-Ecuador Immigration

We had met Hugo from Argentina briefly before on a busy main road just outside of Cartagena. He was traveling around South America with his wife on their 1150 GS.

34-Hugo from Argentina

What to do when waiting around at borders?…..

……get your boots shined of course!

33-Shoeshine - Lisa

36-Shoeshine 2

New shoes?

37-New Shoes

4 hours later and we were back in business – systems were online and they were processing the permits quick smart.

They didn’t even check the bikes and we rode into Ecuador with our stamps and permits although you could have crossed from Colombia into Ecuador without stopping as nobody asked to see our paperwork.

It was amazing how the scenery changed dramatically as soon as we entered a new country. Winding roads around huge mountains made for some good biking!

39-Ecuador

And petrol is cheap…….US$6 fills the tank!! 😀

38-Ecuador - Cheap Gas

We met up with Uli (Triumph Tiger 800) and David (BMW 800GS) again in Otavalo for food and drinks before waving them off as they headed south. It was probably the last time we would catch up with them as they are on a tighter schedule than us and Motomike, and need to get to Chile within a few weeks.

40-David and Uli - Otavalo

I wondered out the next morning to find an ATM and noticed a lady stood next to 3 goats tied to a lamppost. A guy was kneeling down in front of one goat and filled his bottle before paying the lady some money. Self-serve goats milk. I wish I had the camera on me at the time.

Later we walked around the markets.

41-Otavalo Markets

45-Otavalo - Markets 2

48-Otavalo - Markets 3

49-Otavalo Markets 4

42-Otavalo - Old Lady

I needed a haircut so popped into a barbers around the corner from the hotel. I forgot my Spanish phrasebook and was trying to figure out what I need to ask for when it came to my turn.

Then I realised that the other locals before me just sat down without saying anything and let the barber work his magic – all for $2. Sweet!

43-Otavalo - Barbers

46-Otavalo - Puppy

47-Otavalo - Little Girl

Deep fried bugs of some kind….

50-Otavalo Markets - Bugs

Mike decided to head south to Baños and we wanted to check out the Amazonian jungle so parted ways for a few days after visiting the Equator. It seems so long ago since we passed over the Tropic of Cancer in Mexico so felt good to finally reach the earth’s half way point.

52-Ecuator - Lisa and Dan

53-Ecuator - Dan

00°00’00.0

51-Garmin Equator

54-Ecuator - Dan and Mike

We were the only tourists there so messed around sporting our best poses until we got bored enough to leave on our way to the jungle.

We arrived pretty cold and wet in Misahualli after riding across a 4100m pass and then through heavy rain for the rest of the journey. We’ve found a nice guest house so think we’ll hang around for while and see what the Amazon has to offer.

Misahualli

Colombia….Back On The Map!

Before we started this trip I had read and been told that Colombia was ‘Back on the Map’ in terms of tourism….it’s true and you can see why – what a beautiful country, full of super friendly people 🙂

Our first few days in Colombia were spent in Cartagena – for me that meant recovering from a few days being ill on the Stahlratte (I have decided that sailing really isn’t for me!!). It took a few days for the sensation of being on a boat whilst lying in bed to disappear.

We also met up with our fellow sailors for final meal together on dry land before all heading our separate ways. We met some great people and enjoyed exchanging stories of our trips.

01-Stahlratte Dinner

Dan also had some free time to ‘tweak’ a few things on the Transalp….I’m not sure what the other guests at the hotel thought about having 4 bikes parked around the pool, especially when everyone was carrying out maintenance too.

02-Pool Side Repairs

03-Poolside Repairs 2

A slight lack of concentration by Dan, who was chatting away whilst tightening a bolt, led to him shearing the bolt off. It was the clamp which holds the front axle in place. Unfortunately he continued to tighten the other 3 bolts but the uneven pressure caused another one to pop off….uh oh! A bit of research online and it seemed that Honda had discontinued these.

04-Broken Studs

With the bike now unrideable, Dan caught a Moto taxi into town to a local bike shop recommended by the hotel. Amazingly, they had the exact parts we needed…..panic over!!!

We did make a rather odd purchase of an old shoe whilst in Cartagena too (just the one, bought from some strange man selling them on the side of the road) – we needed a thick piece of rubber to stop our center stand banging under the bike – it seemed like a good idea at the time, but it didn’t do the trick so Dan had to pop to a DIY shop for something more suitable 🙂

12-Old Shoe

This did mean that we ended up staying a bit longer in Cartagena than the other bikers as we hadn’t yet ventured around the old city to see the sights.

Cartagena is an old walled colonial town, the supposed setting off the film ‘Romancing The Stone’. Although it turns out none of it was even filmed in Colombia – so walking around looking for familiar ‘sights’ from the movie wasn’t possible. Here’s a few snaps of the old city though…..it is a pretty cool place.

05-Cartagena

06-Cartagena Art

07-Cartagena Lisa

11-Cartagena (3)

09-Cartagena (2)

08-Cartagena Wall

10-Cartagena Ship

When we finally left Cartagena, we headed north towards the old fishing village of Taganga. We drove through the town of Barranquilla, which was a pretty unpleasant experience. It was super hot, the roads were crazy busy and the town was dirty and not a place most people would want to be – anyway, it turns out this was in fact the hometown of Shakira – I bet she never comes back here now though!!

Taganga was a nice place to spend a few days (especially because Dan wanted to watch the final F1 race of the season so we had to check-in for a couple of nights), although the heat and humidity was almost too much and a/c was a must.

13-Taganga Bay

15-Taganga Village

They did sell some odd gifts here…..

14-Taganga Gifts

Next up we started heading south towards the start of the Andes. We had an overnight stay in the town of Aguachicha at a really friendly hotel. They couldn’t do enough for us and then in the morning the husband and wife very excitedly handed us a gift – a porcelain Colombian mini truck. They looked so happy about giving it to us that we couldn’t say no – even though it’s way too big for us to carry with us – we don’t really have space for things like this. So we’re going to have to post this one home I think 🙂

29-Don Jose Gift

Horse and cart is still very much used over here – you often see them riding along through towns alongside brand new cars – it’s like they’ve moved on with the times….but also stayed in the past…I like it.

16-Aguachicha Hotel Parking

17-Aguachicha Horse & Cart

After Aguachicha we headed into the mountains to the town of San Gil. The scenery in Colombia is amazing, it changes so much throughout the day as you ride along.

19-Colombia Roads (2)

18-Colombia Roads

23-Colombia Roads (4)

24-Colombia View

26-Colombia View (2)

21-Colombia Roads (3)

25-Colombia Roads (5)

28-San Gil Church

30-San Gil Breakfast

The roads can be a bit scary though, lots of big slow moving trucks and crazy overtaking locals.

20-Colombia Crazy Trucks

27-Colombia Traffic

One of the good things in Colombia is that motorcycles don’t have to pay the tolls on the roads – they have a little motorcycle lane along the side so we can just nip down through and be on our way. The first time we did this I was sure I had read that this was correct, but it wasn’t signposted as a motorcycle lane and I wasn’t 100% sure, so I was looking back after we went through to check we weren’t being chased by any officials for not stopping to pay, thankfully I was correct and we’re not now on the run.

22-Colombia Toll Free

Next up we headed to the picturesque town of Villa de Leyva, a really quaint little town. We also caught back up with Mike, Uli and David who were on the Stahlratte with us. Mike helped to guide us to their hotel when we arrived in the main square looking lost.

32-Road to Villa de Leyva (2)

31-Road to Villa de Leyva

33-Villa de Leyva

And, just for a change, Dan had the Transalp in bits again when we arrived – nothing serious, we had just developed a squeak and needed to make sure everything was all nicely greased. This is becoming quite a regular thing though, the bike seems to require lots of attention – I guess that’s what happens when you ride a 25 year old bike.

34-Villa de Leyva Repairs

36-Villa de Leyva (3)

35-Villa de Leyva (2)

The following day, Uli and David headed off early as they both needed to go to Bogota to see their bike dealerships. We rode with Mike to Zipaquira to check out the underground Salt Cathedral.

38-Catedral de Sal (5)

37-Catedral de Sal (2)

40-Catedral de Sal (3)

39-Catedral de Sal (6)

41-Catedral de Sal (4)

42-Catedral de Sal (7)

They even had an LED display in the entrance tunnel to the salt mines which was displaying the flags from around the world – so we stopped for a while to wait for the Union Jack.

43-Catedral de Sal

We stayed at a hotel near the center of Zipaquira, which was also being used by a school as a base on their school trip. The children and teachers were all excited the following morning when they saw the bikes in the car park and we spent half an hour chatting with them – us practicing our Spanish and they were practicing their English.

44-Zipaquira Children (2)

45-Zipaquira Children

We planned to ride that morning to Salento, which would be around 380km’s – a long day but not impossible – we’ve ridden further before. Uli and David were also headed that way, so hopefully we would all reunite.

There were quite a few patches of roadworks which held us up a little bit and we did get lost a few times early in the day as we tried to navigate some minor roads to avoid the need to ride through Bogota.

46-Colombia Roads (6)

47-Road to Manizales roadworks

We stopped in the town of Honda for gas, a quick drink and of course, a photo of our Honda in Honda 🙂

48-Honda

As the day went on, the roads got more windy, the altitude got higher, the clouds thicker and lower (we were riding through them at times with zero visibility), the weather got colder and the rain started. With still well over 100km’s to go and our average speed getting slower, it was time to reassess. At another long wait where the road was temporarily closed, we got the guide book out and decided to just head to the city of Menizales which was closer.

49-Road to Manizales

By the time we reached the city we were soaked and freezing cold. Mike had had a puncture, which thankfully he was able to re-inflate and keep riding – changing a tube on the side of that road in that weather would not of been fun. We had picked a hostel out of the Lonely Planet and after getting a bit lost around the one way system, we finally arrived. The hostel had no parking, but they decided that as they were not opening their restaurant up for a couple more days, we could just park up in there.

50-Manizales Parking

A quick check of the email when we arrived and we discovered that Uli and David had also re-thought their plans before they headed off that morning and were heading our way. They had heard that 4 of the other bikers from the Stahlratte were staying at a hostel in the city as one of them had broken down – it turned out their hostel was right across the road from ours….so within a couple of hours, 8 of the bikes from the boat were all back together, even though it seemed none of us had planned on staying in Menizales intentionally….. 🙂

After a catch up over drinks that evening and then breakfast with some of the others the next day, we hit the road with Mike to head onto our previously planned destination of Salento. Uli and David would follow on later in the day – Uli needed to go get an X-ray first due to a slight mishap on some rough road – all is well though, no broken bones and no serious damage to his bike!!

We met up in a hotel in town and headed out for dinner…..

51-Salento Meal Time

And then shot some pool in town whilst some of the locals played dominoes and cards in the corner – this small town has a really great feel to it, in fact, this country has a really great feel to it 🙂

52-Salento Pool

53-Salento Dominos

We all had a bit of a laugh when a lady walked around the bar giving all of the guys free condoms. We were all looking intently trying to figure out what she had in the box as we wouldn’t want to miss out on a free gift – so they made sure they got one too!!

55-Salento Condoms

….perhaps something they should try in some other countries!

It’s definitely time for a rest day off the bike….we’re now relaxing and planning our onward journey. Not too sure how I feel about the prospect of being in the Andes for the next few months though – I’m missing the hot weather and not enjoying feeling cold – it might be time to buy some thermals 🙂

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