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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ecuador & Colombia. Bloody beautiful!


Distance: 1,388,3 kms
Moving Average: 49.9 kph
Max speed: 131 kph
Moving time: 27hrs 48mins
Total distance on my “Rooney”: 15,939.3 kms

The nice paved roads of Peru finished at the Ecuadoran border. The border village itself was a shit fight. Ramshackle buildings and a mud hole riddled street. Several bars and everyone in town seemed to be pissed. The Immigration guy was immaculately dressed and extremely efficient. The Customs bloke was also excellent, although he had not processed foreign motorcycles before. In time, he figured it out and several hours later we rode off. They were both sober. I don't know how they work in such chaos. We met Mark, a Pom from London, been on the road for 12 months. A bloody good bloke as well.

After about 4 minutes of riding along a nice jungle track it started to rain. Actually it pissed down! We rode for hours, had to stop at a couple of Army check points. In a lot of countries border areas are very sensitive. Ecuador is no exception. The track wound through rainforests, across rivers and up and down hills. The rain got heavier. The mud got deeper. My life’s total of mud riding had increased by about 1,147%.

Eventually arrive at a Palanda. Found a Hostal and parked our bikes in the owners wife's Haberdashery Shop next door. The father in law made us a magnificent coffee. In spite of a cold shower, I was dry and warm. I told the boys it wouldn't be raining in the morning.

Bullshit! It had rained all night and the mud was inches deep, the road became a river.. And there were road works. I had spoken to soon about not trying my Heidenau K60 in mud. She got a workout now, and behaved brilliantly. I was scared stiff I was going to drop it, in the end I didn't even put a foot down, not once! After many kilometres the shit fight of a track turned into a new concrete road. And it stopped raining. Life was good again.

We stopped for fuel. I talked to a bloke in a car. He was Allan and invited us to his place for an early lunch and a beer. We left 20 hours later. Allan is Canadian, he and his beautiful wife, Lorena, have retired to an area with a fantastic temperate climate south of Loja. They have a magnificent home, like a country resort, with views to die for. Allan has a shed nearly all blokes would envy, complete with a beautifully restored 1948 International Farmall Cub Tractor. Bloody beautiful. Lorena cooked us an incredible meal. We drank Allan's beer and his Flora de Can Ron (Nicaraguan rum) until I nearly fell over. Even their dogs made us welcome. Allan and Lorena are coming to stay at my house next year.

Shortly we joined the Panamerician Highway. This is the road sensible people use to travel from Peru to Ecuador. No one has ever called us sensible. The Panamerician, for the first couple of hours, was new, concrete, with almost no traffic and plenty of sweeping constant radius corners. Traffic slowly built up. A couple of months ago I would have said this was a magnificent ride. Now I only classed it as bloody good.

It started to rain, the traffic got heavier, fog came down. The visibility was almost non existent. There were many trucks, buses and cars. And a few cows. Almost the worst conditions I have ridden in. The globe blew in my tailight.We stopped at a San Pedro de Alausi. Didn't see much of the place as the fog was still around in the morning.

Todays ride was only short, about 170 kms to Banos. This is a really lovely joint. We swam in the hot mineral baths. Dale read the sign and noticed the high concentration of hexavalent chromium, the same water born chemical that made Erin Brockovich famous. We quickly had a shower and retired for a tremendous massage.

The ride today was stupendous, taking us from 1,800 metres in Banos down to the Amazon Basin at 497 metres and back up to 4,080 metres. Quito is about 2,800 metres. Once again a good surface and little traffic. We have forgotten what a traffic policeman looks like.

Finally made it to Quito, are staying in “Hovel No.3”, this place is a dirty shit fight of a dump. I am outa here in the morning.

Our new hotel in Quito, Hostal Petite Maison, is magnificent. Extremely comfortable and cosy. Exceptionally clean as well. You need good security in Quito, this place is like Fort Knox. We have booked a trip to the Galapagos, took Allan and Andrew's advice and are staying on a couple of different islands.

Yesterday Lindsay and I went out to our new best mate Carlos' workshop ( ) to get some tires and to service our bikes. They both needed a little TLC. Carlos did some work for us and let us use his workshop and equipment to do most of it ourselves. We had a great day. It was just like 3 mates working on their bikes and talking shit. Carlos has an Airhead and an Oilhead BMW, as well as a few other nice bikes. He has ridden from Prudoe Bay to Ushua. He is the man.

A Taxi picked us up at 0600 for an 0900 flight to the Galapagos. Two flights, two ferries and two taxis later we were showering in a little Hotel on Isla Isabela. The last boat ride was 2 1/4 hours in the cabin of a boat about 30' long, with 3X200hp engines and absolutely zero ventilation for the 20 or so passengers. Not to many lifjackets either. It must have been 35-40 degrees inside. Sweat ran off us. Sam would have a heart attack if he Audited this vessel.

I don't think anyone comes to the Galapagos for the scenery. It is a little different, actually, bloody different. The whole joint is bloody different!

We disembarked at the main wharf on Isabela, there are Sea Lions sleeping on the wharf, on the seats, under the seats and on most of the moored boats. Big bastards as well. Giant Turtles and penguins swim in the bay. Iguanas walk along the wharf like they own it. It is a National Park, so I suppose they do. No one cares.

Early next morning a “bus” (no sides, no windows) picked us up for a half hour ride up the hill to the base of a Volcano. We walked 8 kilometres up to look at the crater, it is 10 kms across, the largest of any active volcano. Our guide was terrific. We learnt a lot. The thing last erupted in 2005. No action on the Volcano front today, so we walked 8 kms back and went for a snorkel. With the Sea Lions. Incredible.

Today we was diving day. An hour on a fast boat, with plenty of ventilation. Snorkled with Giant Green Turtles, swam into caves to see sleeping White Tipped Reef Sharks. Saw Moray Eels, Giant Octupus' and Sea Horses. They were giant as well. Swam through underwater Lava Tube Arches. Walked over Lava Tube Arches. Saw 5 copulating Manta Rays. (6 metres across) I thought you needed an even number for this sort of action. It was the grouse! Our Captain advised us not to swim with the Manta Rays. The thinks they are a little unpredictable when they are mating. Sounds a little like some people I know.

We found a bar on a wharf. Drank Caprihinas while we watched the sun set over the water. It has been a damned good day.

Another 2 ½ hour ferry trip back to Santa Maria Island. Did an 8 km round trip walk to the beach to look at Sea Iguanas. They are ugly, weird looking things who seem to like surfing. There were hundreds of the bastards. It was bloody hot and the 3rd beach was made for swimming. A pity our Guide didn't speak any English.

After lunch we went to the Charles Darwin Centre. This was to be a highlight of our trip. They do brilliant work breeding endangered species of Tortoise. This guide didn't speak English either. I had to pull rank on our Tour Organizer. The next Guide spoke English, but knew fcuk all. It was still very interesting.

Surprisingly, we found another great Bar. This time in a Hotel with a deck overlooking the harbour. Happy hour, 2 for 1 Caprihinas. Sea Lions slept on the deck, in fact, on the deck chairs. Iguanas lazed in the sun. Very, very weird and unreal. Found a sea food market. That was good food.

Another fast boat ride to Isla Floreana, this time only 1 ½ hours each way, although the 30' boat had 2x 200hp and 1x300 hp engines. More Sea Lions sleeping everywhere. Heaps of Land Iguanas. Big colourful bastards . Extra bright and colourful as they were having their mating season as well. Our fantastic English speaking guide took us up to a place where the earliest settlers had lived. His excellent description brought the hills alive. The highlight of the morning was walking among many, many Giant Tortoises. Everything seems to be a giant over here.We were lucky enough to see a pair of Giant Tortoises copulating. Seems everything around here is getting laid, except me.

This afternoons activity was snorkelling, this time with Giant Sea Turtles and sharks, with a couple of Rays thrown in. Plenty of colourful tropical fish as well. These Turtles are big, bloody big, over 1 metre across. Not afraid of us either. Probably something to do with having a hard shell and weighing a couple of hundred kilos more than me. I swam beside, over and under them. Stroked them. We bumped into each other in the surge. They didn't mind. Neither did I.

Back on Santa Cruz we showered, gave our hopeless tour organizer the flick and headed to our favorite hotel deck for another 2 for 1 Caprihina drinking, Sea Lion and Sea Iguana watching session. Somehow we had gathered together a group of Canadians, German, American, Argentinian and Chileans to dine with. This turned into a very late and enjoyable evening. I had breakfast with my new favorite German and American (Mona and Patrick) before we flew back to Quito.

Lindsay's Diode Board was still causing trouble. He had ordered one from the UK, to be sent to my mate Riccardo in Quito. Two weeks is not long enough for shipping from the UK to Ecuador, so we went back out to Carlos' workshop. He pulled Lindsay's Diode Board apart and built a completely new one in a couple of hours. And it worked. I was super impressed. So was Lindsay. Carlos is still the Man!

On the way out of town we went to the Middle of the Earth. That's what the Ecuadorian's call 00 degrees 00' Latitude. I was leading, my GPS was being silly, taking us on a shortcut through the back blocks. Shitty, rubbish strewn dirt tracks. Going up a hill, trying to read the GPS, watch where I was going, and looking at a gigantic dog running out to chase or eat me.

Fcuk me! Some prick had strung a steel cable across the track. Luckily my “Rooney Cycle” has superior brakes. I locked the front wheel, but still hit the bloody cable. My new $600 front fairing, imported from Canada, broke off. There were wires, cables and all sorts of shit everywhere.

A bloke came out of his house, in excellent English, asked if we needed a hand. I said an electric drill would be nice. No problems, ride into my garage. We drilled 8 holes and used 4 cable ties, joined some wires, and except for my lovely Vince Strang heated hand grips, the oil light and my indicators, everything worked. I better get Paul to order me a new fairing and a set of Vince's heated grips. 

At "Middle of the Earth" you can do experiments to watch water go down a drain clockwise, anti clockwise or even straight down. 

Funny thing, my Spanish is shit. So is Lindsay's. Dale's is reasonable. Sometimes when we speak to people we start talking in Spanish. Sometimes they even understand us. Weird, eh?

Otavalo is a quaint little town. Travelers come here to relax and spend a week or so. I sit on the balcony of our room, sipping a Club beer, looking at the sun set over the Andes, and trying to write this Blog. On Saturday they have the best markets in South America. Fortunately that was today. Most people know, I don't usually do markets. This one was pretty damned good though.

Paul and Bails will shudder when I say I spent the afternoon fixing the wiring on my “Rooney”. A new flasher can, some new connectors and a few more cable ties. My beautiful new fairing is now held together with 8 cable ties. (WTF did we do before they were invented) Hopefully my Vince Strang heated grips will work again, as everything else does. Lindsay was doing similar work to his bike, although his problems were Salar de Uyuni (salt flat) induced.

Tomorrow we hit Colombia.

I fueled up in Quito. The boys decided to fuel just before the border. Fuel is a lot cheaper in Ecuador than Colombia. The Ecuadorian s are not silly. They don't want to subsidize people riding in Colombia, so would only give them $3 worth of juice!


Distance: 952.7 kms
Moving Average: 60.2 kph
Moving Time: 15hrs 45mins
Max Speed: 147 kph
Total Distance for South America on my “Rooney”: 16,892 kms
South American distance including our Dong Feng S30: 21,442 kms

An extremely pleasurable ride from Otavalo to the Ecuador/Colombia border at Ipiales. Little traffic and a lovely road. All my electrical work was OK, except for my heated hand grips. They normally have 2 temperatures, pleasantly warm and self immolate. Up this high in the Andes, self immolate is the one I mostly use. Fortunately this is the only one that works now, although on the bloody low setting. Guess I should stick to driving Ferries.

Leaving Ecuador was a cinch. Colombian Immigration and Customs was not a problem either. Lovely people. We said we would buy Insurance at the first town. Didn't bother though.

We changed USD for Colombian Peso's. The rate at the border is 1,900 Peso to $US1.00. These numbers are a little hard to get my head around. The slimy prick we were dealing with tried to take advantage of my lack of mathematical skills, did the figures for me on his calculator several times. We swapped our cash. I smelt a rat, a fcuking big rat. Did the sums again, this time on my i phone. The prick had ripped me off for 150,000 Pesos. Fixed that little fcuker up. I told Dale,turns out he had touched him for 41,000 Pesos. I had to get the Coppers to sort Dale's problem out. In the end, we both got our money.

Sometimes a funny thing happens. We want to talk to someone and we address them in our childish Spanish. Amazingly, they mostly understand!

Colombia, surprise, surprise, has a network of great roads winding through the Andies. We rode for a few hours, down to 615 metres, stayed at a lovely tropical village whose name I didn't think to ask. Traffic was chaos. Every Colombian must like to take his family out in the car, or on their motorbike, for a Sunday drive/ride. We haven't seen traffic like this, out side of a major city, before.

There is a large Army presence in this area. Apparently the Farc Rebels (I have always liked that name) still operate in the south of Columbia. Every major bridge is guarded, mostly from a machine gun post, occasionally by some sort of armoured vehicle with a machine gun on top. I haven't seen these before. Neil will know what they are.. Soldiers,on foot and carrying machine guns, patrol the streets. Cars, bikes and trucks are frequently pulled over for inspection. We were always waved through with a thumbs up. I think I will like the Colombian people.

Lindsay spoke to a guy who warned him to be careful as Gringos (that's us) sometimes get shot in the south. We talked over breakfast and decided to make sure we rode together for the day.

We left at 0730, early for us. Lindsay and Dale took off like cats shot in the arse. That's the last I saw of them. So much for our security plan! I waited at the first intersection, as per our back up plan. Jimmy Walsh, an Irish guy on a 1200GSA we had been riding with came along. I was concerned I had passed the boys while they were getting fuel. Jimmy thought they must be ahead. We waited a bit and Jim and I decided to ride to Calli together. A new security plan. The Colombian Army killed 10 Farc rebels in a shoot out in this area last month .

What a magnificent ride. Little traffic and good roads. Seldom have I seen such beautiful country. Politics aside, I could probably live in this area. Jim and I waited at the outskirts of Calli. No sign of the boys. Fcuk knows where they are. Maybe they are the Farc's sexual playthings by now.

Jim headed for Medelin. I waited a while longer and headed for Bogota. It was about 400 kms, so I went for it. Beautiful dual carriageway, sweeping turns, my “Rooney” sat on 115 and loved it. I would be in Bogota well before dark. You don't ride after sunset here, under any circumstances.

One thing I hadn't planned for. A 3,100 metre pass. Single lane, with many, many trucks. But a great road, up nearly 2,500 metres and back down again. Rode behind two locals on smaller Japanese bikes. They knew the corners, the lines and the passing spots. Made it easy and more fun. Until one of them came off. Shit happens. He had been sliding around a lot. My new Pireli MT60 rear tire sticks to the road like shit to a blanket.

Unlike most of South America, bikes here nearly all Japanese. Elsewhere they are Chinese. I think the Japanese motorcycle industry could be in trouble. Maybe someone in Japan should read Bert Hopwood's book, "Whatever happened to the British Motorcycle Industry".

In Bolivia large trucks were almost 100% Volvo, a lot second hand from Europe. The conditions were very harsh. The further north we travel, the roads are better and we see more American trucks. In Ecuador most bogie tippers were Mack. In Colombia large trucks are about 95% Kenworth, almost no European trucks. A lot of rigid trucks, both bogie and single axle, are old American trucks from the 60's and 70's. Mostly in immaculate condition. Beautiful. I keep looking to see if Mike Malone or Jerry Austin from Cannonball are driving one! It is like a truck museum.

Heading north towards Bogota, I don't see so many soldiers. The Farc must have been farced off from this area.

On the flat again and no bloody hotels where I could park the bike and get wifi to try and contact Dale and Lindsay. It is getting dark. The roads are good. Pointed my “Rooney Cycle” north and nailed it. Sat on 140,what a buzz. Hopefully Farc can't go this fast. Found a great Hotel, well after dark. No security parking. No problem, they say, and pointed to my new best mate. He wears a pump action shotgun and is on duty all night. I slipped him 10,000 pesos and went to the bar. Only 154 km from Bogota now. Had been a 630 km day. And I loved it. The boys have surfaced, alive and still in Calli. They had been watching my progress on my Spot Tracker.

A new day, another sunny, tropical day. And my “Rooney Special” sits proudly, alone in the carpark. The 10,000 pesos and the shotgun must have done the trick!

An early start and another great pass to ride before Bogota. Then came the traffic. Nearly as bad as La Paz. And that was fcuking horrific. I wanted to go to visit the Air Freight Companies at the Airport. I was having a shower by 1200, after visiting 2 firms. Had to ride along the footpath 4 times, ride up and over 2 medium strips and do a couple of one way roads the wrong way. No problems though. I think the Columbians love me as much as I love them.

The boys turned up at 5pm, in time for a beer.

Next morning we dropped our paperwork off with Veronica, our Shipping Agent. (a good choice as it turned out) Time to play tourist, headed into the city to walk around “Old Bogota” Bloody lovely. Even took some photos.

Thursday morning, we were at Veronica's office early. Her right hand man, Edwardo, took us to the airport and held our hands as we went through the airfreight process. All went well, of of there by 3.45.

We had a date, dinner with our friend Judy, (ex Cuzco, ex Lima) she is a Bogota girl and a lovely person, took us to the best bar in town. As luck would have it, a micro brewery with exceptionally beautiful beer. We intended to have a couple of beers before going to a restaurant. What a good idea. A pity it didn't happen. Judy told us the Volcano in Banos has just erupted. What a pity, we were there a couple of weeks ago and all want to see flowing, red lava.

Two of Judy's friends turned up. We got to bed at 2am. Had to get up a 6 to get an 0830 flight. What a bastard. Then, we had a problem with our tickets. Our 0830 flight turned into a 1430 flight. Shit happens.

That my friends, is the end of the South American section of our  trip. Bring on Central America.


 Fortunately, the rest of Ecuador was much better than their border town.

 My "Rooney Special" inside the haberdashery shop for the night.

 Allan and Lorena's "resort".

Allan's tractor.

Flor de Cana Ron. A beautiful Rum. Allan thinks it is the best in the world.


 Dale and Lindsay stare into the World's biggest Volcano crater.


 She is sleeping on the deck at our favourite bar.


He deserved a pat on the back, after the performance we had just observed.

Carlos' shop.
"King Carlos" gives advice, Dale works. 

Lindsay fitting the new diode board Carlos made for him.

Middle of the Earth.

 Otavalo Markets.

 WARNING. Bargaining with Lindsay for an hour can be tiring.

 This Guard was a good bloke. But then, I wasn't trying to rob his service station.

Good-bye Ecuador
"Rooney" and her body guard.

A wash and shampoo ready for her flight to Colombia.

A three section" Bendy Bus"

Bogata traffic light Buskers.

We do sight see, sometimes.

My gear is strapped to"Rooney" and she is ready to fly

Shipping bikes or border crossings are 90% waiting, 8% action and 2% arguing.


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