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!!
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!!!
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 🙂
A new tunnel had also opened which reduced the travel time to Tarija….and it had stunning views on the other side!
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!!
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!!
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!!!
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.
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.
Then we hit Ruta 42, little did we know what we were in for!!
It all started off very civilized….nice gravel road and stopping to take photos with the cactus…..
Then things got interesting…….the nice gravel road was no more!!!
Riding in a straight line became a bit tough….
At least the scenery and views made up for the hard riding conditions 🙂
The wheels were now caked in the muddy, sandy, clay like red stuff!! No tread anymore….
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?…
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.
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!!
It got worse before it got better……
Oops…it happened again!
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 🙂
We managed to stay upright for the rest of the ride!! And eventually the nice gravel road did return….happy days!!
We made it to Cachi in one piece 🙂
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.
It’s amazing how the scenery changed throughout the day….we took so many photos – the views were incredible!
Time to take a break and relax!
The scenery changed yet again, it’s hard to describe how spectacular this route really was 🙂
We spent the night in the town of Cafayate….a really nice tranquil little town – I could have stayed here longer.
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….
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.
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.
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!!
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!
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.
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.
Wow! I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of this country later on if it is more of the same!
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.
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!
We arrived in the city of Potosi and planned on exploring the worlds highest city over the next few days.
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……
First stop is the miners market to pick up supplies.
Everyone stocked up on cigarettes, alcohol, coca leaves and dynamite………yes dynamite……
Everyone gives the alcohol a try. 96% and pretty disgusting.
We get kitted up ready to explore….
The guide shows us around the refinery plant…
A worker adjusts the mixture of cyanide and some other dodgy chemicals…..
Lisa hands a bottle of soda to the workers that are extracting the mineral from the rock….
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.
Our guide stocks up on coca leaves in his cheek pouch before we enter one of the mines….
It doesn’t take long to realise that health and safety doesn’t apply here. There are very few supports in the tunnels.
We stop to chat to miners that have already started celebrating the Miners Carnival which starts the next day….
Another miner prepares some 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.
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….
We all cram into a small mud hut while more coca leaves and alcohol is passed around.
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…..
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.
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?
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.
Interesting/uninteresting fact for you: The dollar sign is thought to originate from the Potosi monogrammed mark on pieces of eight (PTSI)
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.
Iron chests with 12 locking mechanisms were built by the Spanish to transport the silver back to Europe.
Later that day, the Miners Carnival was now in full swing….or is that full swig?
Free WI-FI in public areas…..in a 3rd world country!
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?
More dancing and festivals through the week….
We’re getting back on the bike tomorrow, not really sure where yet but that’s half the fun.
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.
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.
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….
But then it got weird…..okay, frogs legs I can understand!
…..but what on earth are these for!!! Ergh!
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.
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.
Luckily the scenery made up for the chilly weather…even on a dull day it looks amazing.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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 🙂
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!
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.
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.
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!!!
A new country means new beer……for some anyway – I’m just here for the wine 🙂
We hit the coastal road for a couple of hours before heading inland deeper into the desert.
As we neared the town of San Pedro de Atacama the scenery changed again…so many different landscapes in one day on the road!
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??
We also used the day off to check out the local salt flats of 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.
More great roads and scenery en route to and from the salt flats.
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 🙂
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…..
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.
We rode through beautiful landscape on the way to Chiclayo, getting in some foggy mountain riding before dropping down to lower altitude.
Sharing the road with some wildlife too…
Our first taste of crazy Peruvian traffic – in Chiclayo.
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.
Huanchaco. It’s been a while since we were on the Pacific coast and the water was freezing!
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…..
….with his 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.
A llama with extra bling….
Dodging more animals on the road….
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.
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….
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….
Canyon Del Pato is only 100kms from Huaraz so we unloaded the bikes and set off early on Boxing Day for some offroad fun.
35 hand carved single lane tunnels meander alongside a river which makes from some spectacular riding.
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.
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 🙂
Chris helping the locals (over) load a moto taxi on the way back down the mountain…
We spent the last few days just walking around the town of Huaraz, checking out all the popular restaurants and generally not much else….
The view from our hostel….
Chilling out in the thermal pools in the town of Monterrey nearby….
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!!!!! 😀
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.
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!!
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 🙂
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!
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…..
The following day we took a day trip along the Napo River to see more of the Amazon.
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.
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’!
There were some quite unusual plants around too….this tree can walk!!
After the visit to the animal rehabilitation center, we headed back up the river to visit a butterfly farm which was pretty amazing……
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.
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.
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!
More unusual rainforest plants……
The locals pan for gold along the river banks – apparently they can make $20 per day.
The animal below is a Capybara – kind of looks like a giant guinea pig.
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 🙂
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?……
The town of Baños is famous for a few delicacies –
Toffee made in shop doorways…..
And ‘Cuy’ aka Guinea Pig – fried up on the streets….yum 🙂
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!
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…..
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!!!
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!
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?
Our hotel in Cuenca was really nice, but I’m glad room 13 wasn’t ours…..
We celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary whilst we were in Cuenca….mmmm, good food and cocktails 🙂
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 🙂
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 🙂
This is the view so you can probably understand why….amazing scenery!!
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!
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.
So we rode on, against our normal rules of never drive at night!! Shhhh don’t tell my Mum, she’ll only worry 🙂
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.
Trying to merge in with the locals ain’t so easy…
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.
Midday snack at “Crepes y Waffles” – yummmmm
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.
It was a tight squeeze getting past reception!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What to do when waiting around at borders?…..
……get your boots shined of course!
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!
And petrol is cheap…….US$6 fills the tank!! 😀
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.
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.
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!
Deep fried bugs of some kind….
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.
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.
It’s been a pretty busy week or so since the last update! A few long days on the bike combined with lots of power outages where we are now has delayed this post. We’ve since traveled out of Guatemala, through Honduras and are now relaxing in the coastal town of San Juan Del Sur in Nicaragua.
We spent our 2nd week in Antigua doing the same as the 1st week, it was nice to have a bit of a routine after so long on the road. We would go to school in the morning, maybe do some chores in the afternoon and then head out into town in the evening……and we threw in a Salsa class too. It was quite entertaining – the room was tiny and there was at least 12 of us so after about 45 minutes of laughter and stumbling around, all that was left was a room full of very sweaty people. I would imagine that it would take a lot of lessons to make our stumbling look the way Salsa should, we definitely were not moving like Latinos 🙂
On the 1st November, Guatemalans celebrate ‘Day of the Dead’ which mostly involves the locals visiting the graves of their family and celebrating their life. Our school organised a trip to see some of the celebrations in the nearby town of Santiago Sacatepequez – the celebrations involved a huge kite festival and party in the local cemetery.
Transportation to the town was by an old American school bus, aka ‘Chicken Bus’. Central America is where all of the old US school buses are sent when they’re knackered, they then continue to use them for many more years so most are falling apart and emitting plumes of black smoke!! Anyway, it was a funny experience, especially when they parked on a steep hill and made us get off the bus via the emergency exit at the back – okay for most, but there were a few older people on board.
After over an hours walk through crowds of people (almost being crushed) and busy market stalls, we made it up to the cemetery to the kite festival. One of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. There were some huge kites strapped up and thousands of people wandering around (and over) all of the graves.
It was like ‘Party in the Park’ only in a graveyard!! I saw a pizza delivery man wandering around, I guess someone had ordered take out 🙂 And an ice cream lady pushing her cart over the graves whilst wondering around trying to make a sale.
Apparently, fancy dress was also an option for these celebrations…..
From superhero costumes to wearing a bucket on you head – anything goes here!
Amongst the crowds Dan was trying to discreetly take some photos of the locals – sometimes they spotted him though, like this lady – and I don’t think she was too impressed 🙂
Back in Antigua, one of the nearby volcanoes, Volcan de Fuego, decided to show a little bit of activity. It erupted few weeks ago and is still pretty active. It was only a bit of black smoke, but we did watch for a while from the hotel roof terrace to see if it was going to put on a proper show…..but unfortunately not this time. I want to see some lava 🙂
We enjoyed our last few days in Antigua wondering the streets and eating great food.
There was also another street procession – you just never know what’s going to happen next in these countries – there seems to always be some sort of celebration, procession or fiesta going on. As we were sat planning out some more of our route, this procession went by. Apparently in remembrance to the death of Christ. When we first saw it the large float was being carried by women, and some of them looked in pain with the weight, but we were told that it is an honour to be able to carry it. The was some sombre music being played by the band that follow on behind.
We bumped in the procession again 3 or 4 hours later, I think the whole town was out following it by this point.
So, eventually, the time came to say goodbye to Antigua, we had thought about changing our plans so we could stay longer, but that would only just delay the inevitable! Here’s me looking pretty unimpressed on the morning of departure. We’d had the best time and met some great people too.
One of the people we had met was Mike, an overland biker from Canada. He is on a pretty similar route and timescale so we decided to head off together to Honduras – a bit of company on the road and someone else to talk to other than Dan 🙂
The border crossing to Honduras was pretty simple, just took a while, but once processed we were on our way to Copan Ruinas – a small town just over the border from Guatemala (see border crossing page if you want more info about this border). At the border, I practiced my Spanish skills on some locals kids whilst Dan and Mike sorted the paperwork – apparently my Spanish is not yet up to the standards to talk to children!! 🙂
Copan Ruinas is another colonial town with cobbled streets – and very steep streets too!
We checked into a hotel for a couple of nights so we could go and explore the nearby Maya ruins. A nice hot shower was in order after a long day on the bike – you just have to be careful not to get electrocuted in the process 🙂
Here’s a few shots from the ruins.
And as is the norm for this part of the world, seeing things you don’t expect, whilst wondering around the ruins we seemed to stumble across what appeared to be a Miss Latino competition. There were photographers, cameramen and a group of girls wearing sashes from different countries around the Americas.
We also saw some Macaw parrots near the ruins….really pretty birds – although Dan was probably more interested in the Miss Latino ‘birds’. 🙂
The following day we rode with Mike right through Honduras down towards the border with Nicaragua. It was good to have company on the road – especially as we had read that Honduras had the highest rate of intentional homicide in the world in 2010 & 2011. That always makes for a ‘not’ very relaxed days riding. There were loads of police and military check points too, a few of which pulled us over, but then allowed us on our way – especially after Mike discovered a tactic of fumbling around trying to put his kick stand out and then making it look difficult to get off the bike – by that time the police were bored and sent us on our way without even looking at our documents….good work Mike!
We arrived in the town of Choluteca pretty late and by the time we found somewhere to stay it was getting quite dark – not really ideal in this country – but it was good to have got down near the border ready for the next day.
The next morning, after eating some left over pizza for breakfast (urgh), we headed for the Nicaraguan border of Guasaule – along one of the most pot-holed roads in the world – yes, even more than the roads the UK 🙂
We went through all of the necessary border processes once again (see border crossing notes).
Here’s the bike being fumigated (who knows what chemicals they were spraying!) and Dan & Mike riding to the immigration office.
And without too much hassle we were on our way into Nicaragua.
This country had a much nicer feel to it than Honduras did – it instantly felt safer and more friendly. The landscape was pretty cool too….more volcanoes.
Some of the roads weren’t in the best condition, but that’s as expected as this country is pretty poor.
We decided to head straight for the coastal town of San Juan Del Sur so that we could enjoy a few days off the bike (again) and also enjoy some sunshine 🙂
From here, we head to Costa Rica and then onto Panama….although all I really want to do is go back to Guatemala!