Day 152 – Zumba, EC to Bagua Grande, PE

Day 152 – Zumba, EC to Bagua Grande, PE      01/20/11      Mileage: 171

After a quick breakfast across the street from the hotel, I headed south for the border. It was only 15 road miles to the border down a 1 lane dirt road with nice views of the surrounding mountains.

I passed through the last military checkpoint in Ecuador, and this time I had the helmet cam going. Like all the other checkpoints I passed through, both police and military, they were polite and very professional. They asked questions about the bike and what I was doing and one of the soldiers almost fell over when I said I had ridden here from the U.S.

Checkpoint formalities complete, the pointed me in the direction of the border outpost of La Balsa a few miles away.

 There was nobody else crossing the border and the customs official was only busy with his morning paper, so he had bike processed out of Ecuador in just a few minutes.

 Next I got stamped out by the policia and I was done…..and with that it was goodbye Ecuador, and across the bridge to Peru.

 Like the Ecuador side of the border, I was the only one crossing, so it was nice and chill…just the way I like it and a far cry from many of the frenetic Central America borders.

 First stop was the immigration office, followed by checking in with the national policia.

This is the Peru immigration building…

 Next was customs for the bike which took around 45 minutes to complete all the import permit paperwork. I looked at his customs log and I was only the 4th vehicle to cross the border here this year!

….and the Peru customs building…

…and the Per customs officer, opening the gate for me!

 With that done, the customs official opened the gate and I was off into Peru…country number 13! The road continued to be scenic as it wound its way through the mountains towards the town of San Ignacio where I stopped for a quick lunch.

Pulling into the town of San Ignacio

Back on the bike I continued south along the Rio Chinchipe towards the town of Jaen.

 I still had some daylight left so I kept rolling until nightfall caught me in Bagua Grande…a hot and dusty roadside town. I did however find a nice room for the night with secure parking for around $10.

Tomorrow I plan to plunge right into the heart of mountains of northern Peru…one of the highlights I’ve been looking forward to on this trip…

Day 151 – Loja, EC to Zumba, EC

Day 151 – Loja, EC to Zumba, EC      01/19/11      Mileage: 109

This morning while I was out at an internet joint, the package that I’ve been waiting weeks for showed up! Now I was free to make a run for the border, so I quickly packed up the bike and rolled south towards Peru.

Looking back at Loja on the way out of town…

The road from Loja turned to dirt and stayed dirt all the way to Zumba…about 15 miles north of the Peru border.

Yep, another fresh land slide that I have to wait to be cleared…

Along the way I met 2 bicyclists from Scotland. They started out in Buenos Aires 5 months ago and plan to ride all the way to the U.S….and people think I’m crazy…ha! We chatted for a bit and exchanged maps…they gave me their Peru map and I gave them my maps of Ecuador and Central America.

I rolled into Zumba around 5 and found a hotel room for $6…no running water though.

The view of the Zumba town square from my hotel…

Not bad for $6…

No Egyptian cotton here, just alphabet sheets…

I had a bodega dinner…4 beers, crackers, and some spongy twinky like thingy. Tomorrow it’s on to Peru!

Day 149-150 – Loja, EC

Day 149-150 – Loja, EC      01/18/11      Mileage: 0

Squat. Well, I did go out to use the internet, made some calls, and did do some writing for the blog. But after that I basically did squat. Oh, and I did drink some beers if that counts. Why all this sitting on my ass you ask? Well, let’s just say I’m waiting for UPS to get their head out of theirs…and deliver my &%¥$# package that was supposed to in Ecuador in my hands on Jan 5th.

Here is my token shot of the Loja town square…

Day 148 – Banos, EC to Loja, EC

Day 148 – Banos, EC to Loja, EC      01/16/11      Mileage: 382

My hotel room overlooked the Sunday local market, so before I hit the road I went over to have a look around. Even though I’ve been to many of these local markets now, I’m still always amazed by the quantity, quality and variety of the fresh produce.

Fresh whole pig…it’s whats for breakfast…

I bought one of those delicious croissant like rolls….the price, 12 cents.

After my walk around the market I packed the bike and split town. It was basically a straight bomb down the Pan American, which I often try to avoid in lieu of for more interesting roads. But much of this section of the Pan American was supposed to be a very scenic and fun to ride, and it was! The only thing slowing me down was the pea soup fog I was in and out of all day long. The following 6 helmet cam shots were taken at 1 minute intervals…




So when the fog wasn’t blocking the scenery, here’s what the view from the road looked like….

After pulling into Loja I found a room, for $8, and then went out for some dinner. Being Sunday night, it seemed there was only fast food joints open, so instead I went to the market for some groceries and went back to the room. I also stumbled on an blue law in Ecuador…and that is you can’t buy beer, wine or booze after 4pm on Sunday. I tried to buy a few beers at the market, but got the wave off by the cashier. WTF…are they trying to make sure everyone get’s to work on Monday? Luckily though, I carry a bottle of Jack D for just such an emergency…   😉

Parting Shot: A heavenly day of riding….

Day 147 – Banos, EC

Day 147 – Banos, EC      01/15/11      Mileage: 0

This morning, or more likely long ago, I ran out of anything remotely interesting to say about the morning ritual of breakfast and updating the blog and email. I also spent a fair amount of time on the phone with UPS loosing my mind. I had sent some maps and parts for my helmet from the states and it was supposed to be delivered to Hostal San Blas a good 5 days prior to my arrival. Well, it never made it and UPS in Ecuador is NOTHING like the generally efficient and well run company in the states…it’s a total shit show…and that is to say nothing of the apparently equally as inefficient Ecuador customs. So, I’m now trying to have the package sent ahead to southern Ecuador…time will tell if that will work out or not. Afterwards I ran some small errands before heading back to the hotel to chill for a bit.

Another KLR policia bike….

What trip to Banos would be complete without a visit to one of the famous thermal pools, so in the early evening I went over to the Banos de la Virgen. It was Saturday night and it was packed! The cost was only $3 to get in and I did manage to find a bit of space in the upper pool, so it was all good.

After a good soak and a shower, I went over to the Swiss Bistro for a little dinner. Swiss food you say….in Ecuador? Sure! Why not, after all it is in the mountains, they do have a bit of snow on them and there are many cows…that’s close enough in my book!

Roughing it yet again….   😉

Day 146 – Banos, EC

Day 146 – Banos, EC     01/14/11     Mileage: Local miles

The Llanovientos is not much to look at from the outside, but it’s a very nice place to stay and the view from my room is great!

The garden patio…very nice….    😉

The view from my room…not to bad!

I took a walk around town before breakfast went and over to the waterfall and bath house at the east end of town.

The famous baths in Banos. The water is a brownish color because of the high dissolved mineral content…or so they say…  😉

Breakfast was at the Blah Blah Cafe, where I had a REAL coffee, not hot milk with Nescafe, which I now know from my visit to Cafe Ruiz in Panama is No-es-cafe. I got the “Americano” breakfast, eggs, toast and juice. I often order the “tipico” local dish, but always feel like an ass as an American ordering an Americano coffee, Americano breakfast, or even a hamburger…it feels like I’m falling into a stereotype trap, and maybe I am. Do Italians feel weird ordering an espresso in Ecuador instead of that steamed hot milk shit? I should have asked those Italians back at the Equator. Anyway, after breakfast and a wee bit of internet, I fired up the KLR to have a look around the area, specifically the road east of town towards Puyo.

The first stop was to the cross perched on an overlook above the town. Actually, the very fist stop was a police checkpoint, but all he want was a look at my license.

View of town from the overlook…

And the truth in advertising awards goes to…..Secret’s…

In spots where they had built new tunnels through the mountains, you had the option to take the “old road” which was only a single lane wide and sometimes cut right into a cliff face! It’s no wonder why they built the tunnels….there’s no way two trucks would be able to pass each other. Oh, and the views from the old road were spectacular!

I stopped off at a cable car that took you across the river gorge above two waterfalls. It was a great ride, but definitely not for those afraid of heights! The view of the river canyon and waterfalls was amazing from the dangling perch high above the gorge…and it only cost $1. Back on the bike, I followed the road along the gorge which had great views of the river and surrounding mountains.

You can see the cable car gangling above the gorge in front of the right waterfall. Got to do that!

The cable car was powered by an old truck engine….I guess it’s better than pulling by hand!

That was a great ride for sure! Back on the bike I enjoyed more of the great road…

Damn, I hope that ain’t a train coming!

Further down the road I pulled off to tour the Pailón Del Diablo (the Devil’s Cauldron) which was very cool. The river crashes down into an upper pool that is almost like a cave, then thunders down the last big drop into the gorge below….wow!

You had to walk across this rickety plank to get to one of the overlooks…and the view was great!

Back on the bike I headed back towards Banos, but made one more stop to watch a couple jump off a bridge.


Another great day on the bike complete…

After more pictures of the road back to Banos, I parked the bike at the hotel and went into town for a bite, which I found at a cool little joint called Ayahuaska. I’m definitely a sucker for tapas, so I had to give it a whirl….the hummus specifically….with a Pilesner chaser. They even gave me an iced coffee frap on the house to top off my snack…very nice!

So, when in Banos, check it out! After that, no surprise, I worked on the blog at an internet joint….and chased that with several more Pilesner’s before stumbling back to the room…

Day 145 – Quito, EC to Banos, EC

Day 145 – Quito, EC to Banos, EC      01/13/11       Mileage: 213

I skipped breakfast and just had a granola bar while I worked on getting another post up and return some emails. Once that was done I packed up the bike and headed south for Banos.

My camouflage parking spot….

I had read about a detour off the main road that went high up into the mountains through some small villages, so that seemed to good to pass up.

I left the main road near Saquisili and started up into the hills. The road was paved and full of twists and turns and the scenery was phenomenal! The best part about it was aside from the occasional farm truck, I had the road to myself.

After about 45 minutes, I came upon a fresh landslide that had buried the entire road and was still in the process of being cleared. They were building a path around the slide, as it seemed the entire hill at slid onto the road.

After about 30 minutes though, they allowed me and the few trucks that were waiting to sneak through.

Here’s a pic looking back at the slide, you can see that part of the hill just slumped onto te road.

The road then began to climb steeply and soon turned to rough cobbles up a series of switchbacks. The bike was floating over them like Muhammad Ali…it was awesome.

The iconic image of Che…

The cobbles soon gave way to a rough dirt road that was in spots full of washboard, holes and very rutted…but the bike was handling it great!

It seems the Ricor parts were working their magic….I know the bike did not handle this well last week on the dirt roads back in Colombia. It was confidence inspiring and it allowed me to ramp up the pace. Soon I was hauling ass over hill and dale grinning from ear to ear in my helmet. That was of course until reality, and the limits of my skill, brought me back down to earth…almost literally. I was jammin around a right hand corner when the front end began to slide out in some soft dirt. Once again my butt was sucking up my bike seat and it was just luck and perhaps a fresh new rear tire and a bit of throttle jockeying that saved it….probably more the luck though. Well, I had my near miss for today, glad I got that out of the way. Ha. The temperature was dropping as the road continued to climb right up into the clouds and topped out at around 12,500 feet.

Once over the pass the clouds cleared and before me was an idyllic high alpine valley with a little town of Quilotoa nestled into it.

The road also soon turned back to fresh pavement and they seem to be in the process of paving the entire road…though I think it will take them some time yet to pave the whole thing.

The road continued to twist and turn and started up one last pass, this time topping out at over 13,000 feet!

Great spot for a break and a granola bar…

 The bike handled the altitude great for a carbureted bike. The only noticeable difference being a loss of power, say maybe 20% for a round number…which still proved plenty to make some passes on the way up.

Just beyond the top of the pass the road came to spot where you could see for miles up and down the valley below and a volcano off in the distance.

At that point the road plunged into the valley below down a series of switchbacks and soon after I was back on the main road south. I pulled into Banos shortly before dark and settled into the Llanovientos hotel. They gave me a great corner room with a fantastic view overlooking the downtown. Once I dropped my gear I went out for dinner and a…eehhmm…few beers.  😛

Day 144 – Quito, EC

Day 144 – Quito, EC      01/12/11      Mileage: Local miles

The coffee that came with breakfast the last few days has been un-drinkable, and I’m not super picky by any means. Today, I figured out why. When my coffee came this morning, there wasn’t any coffee in it….just a hot steaming cup of milk filled to the rim. And by milk, I mean unpasteurized, whole milk as thick as cream….but piping hot. The coffee part of the coffee was Nescafe instant that you added yourself. So, coffee con leche was really leche con however much instant coffee you put in it yourself. Like yesterday, when left alone for a minute to cool, a skin forms on the top that one would need to scrape off the top before you drink it. No complaints though…I’m eating in the super local joints, where my complete breakfast, eggs, bread, cheese, fresh juice and leche con coffee, was only $1.80!

After breakfast I returned to the hostal to get another blog post up and return some emails. I also decided to replace my rear tire now after looking at the roads ahead of me and knowing the next place I could for sure replace it would probably be Lima…which is 2,000 miles from here. I also decided to save the the more aggressive T63 tires I’m carrying for Bolivia and the Altiplano, so I’ll get them put on in La Paz. That was the plan anyway, so I set off for the Kawasaki dealer in Quito. The traffic was horrid getting there, which made me wonder why anyone would drive a car if they could ride a motorcycle. At least on a motorcycle you can splits lanes and weave between the traffic and make some progress. Anyway, I arrived and was greeted by Andres who spoke very good english….probably because he did his undergrad at Iowa State and lived in Atlantic City for a year!!

They had two tires that would fit my bike, the stock Dunlop tire and the Maxxis 6006, which I have on my ’05 KLR, so I knew that tire well. The stock tire sucks, and I had good luck with the Maxxis, so the choice was easy…and I also picked up another oil filter. I was surprised they didn’t have more of a selection, since they sell…get this…over 800 KLR’s per year!

Here are just SOME of the KLR’s they have in stock!

Yep, you read that right boys…almost $12, 000 US dollars for a KLR down here! The price does include tax though…  😛

They had the new Maxxis mounted in half an hour and I was on my way.

That’s Andres on the right…

Ahhhh, nice chunk of fresh rubber goodness….  😀

Back at the San Blas, I parked again in the living room and then went out in search of dinner. Since I only spent $1.80 on breakfast and $2 on lunch, I splurged on a nice (but lite) dinner of tuna tar tar at a wine bar called the The Atrium.

And no comments from the peanut gallery because I’m having red wine with fish…  😛

Day 143 – Quito, EC

Day 143 – Quito, EC      01/11/11      Mileage: 0

Today I combined a walk around the New City with a few errands.

Two cops and a KLR…


This is a fast food chain…funny!

The top of the list was to find batteries for my SPOT Tracker. It runs only on AAA lithium batteries, and it eats them like candy. They are expensive at $8 for a 2 pack and down here they have proved difficult to find as well…I’ve been looking for them since Panama. I checked a number of stores but finally found them in a supermarket….score! I don’t remember the last time I was in a supermarket, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I missed it a little. Even at half the size of one in the U.S., it had everything you need, all neatly organized under one roof…ahhhh…no hunting around in 20 different stores. There, I said it! I’m a hypocrite….because as many of you know I don’t like shopping in supermarkets at home…I like Trader Joes and other small markets.

Nothing says convenience more than sangria, already in a carafe with the fruit on the top.

Next I did what has come to be my favorite thing to do no matter what city I’m in, and that is to sit in a sidewalk cafe and watch the city pass by. I also use the time to do some writing for the blog…if I didn’t the blog would be somewhere back in Baja Mexico! After my fill of passers by, I started walking back towards the hostal when I saw a Buel Ulysses sitting in the window of a shop. I went over to have a closer look and was greeted by Court, the owner of Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental. It turns out he was from NYC working a corporate job and got fed up, quite and rode his Buel down to South America. Hmmm, sounds eerily familiar. He liked Quito so much, he came back and opened up Freedom Bike Rental.

He does tours and rents everything from mountain bikes, to scooters, to KLR’s, to BMW R1200GSA’s. He also has self guided GPS tours available. We chatted for a bit and about my route through Ecuador and he gave me some good ideas. I’m so glad I stopped in! So, if you’re in Ecuador and need to rent a bicycle or motorcycle or want a fully guided tour or anything in between, Court is your man.

Here are his contact details…

Ecuador Freedom Bike Rental
Jeronimo Carrion E4-133 y Amazonas
Quito, Pinchincha, Ecuador
Tel: +593 (02) 600-4459
Owner: Court Rand

I said adios to Court and went back to the hostal to get some work done for my task master…I mean blog.  😛  After getting two more posts up, I’m now only 2 days behind…righteous! I think I’ll celebrate with a Pilsener or 10…and maybe even a Jagger if I can find a bottle…

Day 142 – Otavalo, EC to Quito, EC

Day 142 – Otavalo, EC to Quito, EC      01/10/11      Mileage: 68

So after the morning fog lifted outside and from between my ears, I walked out for breakfast and strolled the market in Otavalo.

Not bad for $7 with a private bathroom. I’ve stayed in much worse for a lot more!

The famous market in Otavalo, or I should say the main market square, because on Saturday I hear the whole town is the market!

This artist had amazing paintings. I wish there were room on the bike…

The morning tasks check off, I packed the bike and rolled south for Quito which was only some 60 road miles away. However, the big event for the day was crossing the equator! I had the GPS screen displaying my current coordinates, and I was watching the latitude decrease with every passing mile working it’s way to 00.0000. Just south of Cayambe, I made it official and crossed into the southern hemisphere!

There is also a small park and sundial marking the equator’s position. The only other people there were a small group of 5 of Italian tourists, and I listened in on the tour they were getting and took some pictures.

Two of the Italian gals wanted their picture taken with the smelly gringo biker, so who am I to disappoint a lady.

After they left I had the place to myself, so is asked the gal working there if I could pull my bike onto the equator line for a picture.

This is the gal working there who let me bring the bike onto the sundial…she’s also pretty cute!

There have been some spots along the way on this trip that I knew I wanted to get the iconic picture, like the sign at the general store in Deadhosre, the Tropic of Cancer, the Arctic Circle…and of course this one. I’ve got many more to go…the Tropic of Capricorn, The “Man of the Dessert”, and of course the National Park sign in Tierra del Fuego to name a few. Pulling away I was laughing in my helmet, because at times this whole trip seems so surreal even to me…and that I’m living it. I’ve seen a hundred pictures of that line at the equator with dozens of other bikers and travelers standing in front of it…so it somehow seemed strange to finally be there in person.

Here are some stats for the first hemisphere of the trip:

Days: 142
Countries: 12
Border crossings: 17
Miles: 19,831
Kilometers:  31,915
Top speed: 89 mph (Not sure where the GPS recorded that?)
Ferrys: 5
Airplane rides: KLR – 1      Me – 2
Sets of tires: 3 (4th pair going on any day now!)
Oil changes: 4
Repair welds: 3
Flats:  0   (I may have just jinxed myself there!)
Weeks in spanish school: 3
Least expensive hotel: $7 (Hostal Maria, Otavalo, Ecuador)
Most expensive hotel: $110 (Hotel Barcelo, Guatemal City, Guatemala)

The road south continued to be fun all the way into Quito. I made a reservation at Hostal San Blas and the route there took me near Albert’s old bar, The Turtles Head, so I detoured for a picture. It was closed at the time or I would have went in for a few pints for sure.

 At the San Blas I dropped my stuff and pulled the KLR into the living room right outside the door to my room….now that is as secure as it gets short of putting her in the bed with me.

Hostal San Blas is the house in the middle…

Then, armed with my Footprint Guide to South America for Quito (Thanks to Bob W for that going away gift!), I set out to explore Old Town Quito.

Plaza San Blas outside my hostal

I toured the Basilica del Voto Nacional which is an amazing gothic church with outstanding views of the whole city from the spires. I’ll let the pictures do the talking here….

This catwalk goes across the roof of the sanctuary to the spire on the other side of the cathedral…the views from up there were great!

This is Jen, my photographer, and she’s visiting Quito from a small town 5 hours south of Quito.

Inside the clock tower…

After that I walked down to Independence Plaza in the heart the Old Town which is a great place to relax and people watch.

The National Policia down here use many different motorcycles…but also KLR’s!!

Plaza San Blas at night…

That night I went to the Vista Hermosa which is a nice bar/restaurant on the 6th floor rooftop of a building in the middle of the Old Town. The night views of the city were fantastic so I lingered up there for hours…or maybe it was just the cheap beer….but either way it was great!

Although I only rode 68 miles, it was a very full and rewarding day…the kind of day that will stand out from the rest as a truly great day.

Day 141 – Pasto, CO to Otavalo, EC

Day 141 – Pasto, CO to Otavalo, EC      01/09/11      Mileage: 164

There was no power in the hotel this morning, so that slowed down the packing process a bit as my room had no natural light. I skipped breakfast and just had a granola bar while I did some routine maintenance on the bike. Once that was done I hit the road for Ecuador, but there was one more stop I wanted to make in Colombia, and that was to visit the famous Las Lajas Sanctuary.

Here are some bullet cam shots from the road…

There is an overlook on the road to the church that affords a great view of it, and from there I could see that it was packed.

It was after all Sunday around noon, so I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise. I decided to pass on going in for the tour, so I just took my pictures and split for the border.

Getting out of Colombia took only 15 minutes for both me and the bike, much less time than any of the gents in the picture above I suspect.

This nice lady had the bike processed out of Colombia in 2 minutes!

No lines at immigration to stamp myself out of Colombia…sweet!

Changing my Colombian Peso’s into good ‘ol U.S. greenbacks…

Ecuador took quite a while but was very straight forward and didn’t cost a dime. It took about 2 hours, partly because of the long line at immigration and the one gentleman working at customs was, shall we say, deliberate in his pace of work. Well, at least he won’t die from stress!

Pulling up to the Ecuador border buildings…

This is the immigration line inside the building…it went out the door and around the building, but I forgot to get a pic.

The KLR patiently waiting for her import permit at the aduana office….

With that done, I was set loose in Ecuador…country number 12 for this trip! The scenery continued to be rivaled only by how much fun the road was. There was some rain here and there along the way, but that certainly didn’t dampen my spirits.

The road from the border to Ibarra was fantastic both in scenery and fun to ride factor. The bullet cam was out of juice which was too bad, I might have had more great road shots. I stopped for the night in Otavalo which is famous for it’s local market, in particular the Saturday market. I found secure parking and a private room w/ bath at Hostal Maria for only $7. It was also nice to not have to convert all the prices to U.S. dollars, as Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as it’s currency. The only thing missing at the hostal was wifi, so I set off to find dinner, beers and some wifi. Each country so far has had what amounts to a “national beer” (or maybe 2 or 3), and Ecuador’s is called Pilsener. Of all the “national beers” I’ve had along the way, this is by far my favorite and is very drinkable….and that’s the excuse I’m using for drinking my body weight that night. I certainly paid the price the next morning…