Adrian does some switchbacks on his own

A blue lake surrounded by mountains

Laguna Paron at 4170m above sea level in the Peruvian mountains

20 October – Day 90

Caraz, Peru to Huaraz, Peru
Distance: 70kms

The weather was lovely this morning, so Adrian jumped on the bike on his own to head up 75 switchbacks and a vertical rise of 2kms all on 32kms of dirt road. Jeremy and I did just under two hours of interval training in the courtyard of the hotel where we’d camped for the night. It was excellent! I’ve been doing some form of exercise – even if it’s just a bit of stretching – most days on the trip so far, but never for this long and usually by myself. It was great! And… I know I’ll feel sore tomorrow.

We finally got going after a lunch in the town centre and probably managed about 30 minutes before the rains came. After that, it was a long, boring, wet ride with limited visibility through cold air. That said, inside my heated jacket I was lovely and warm – and dry.

Just as we arrived at our hostel, the heavens really opened up. It bucketed down! Huaraz is supposed to be a lovely little town with lots of hiking and other outdoor activities, but all I saw was a bleak grey sky. Even after the rains eased off and we walked into town for dinner, it just wasn’t that impressive.

On our way to dinner, we stopped to help a stranded overlander, Tim from the US, on a BMW 1200. He was on his way out of town this morning, stopped for breakfast, and then couldn’t start his bike. He’d been by the side of the road all day trying to fix it. Apparently it was the battery; Adrian and Jeremy played around with it for a while without any luck and so decided to go back and get “the mothership” aka Beamsky aka Adrian’s bike and see if they could use it to jump start Tim’s bike. No luck. So then Adrian took the battery out of Beamsky so Tim could ride back to the hostel where he’d been staying, and then walk back with the battery so Adrian could ride back to our hostel.. and then we all went for dinner.

A narrow windy road through the mountains

That skinny light brown ribbon is actually the road.. some of the many switchbacks Adrian enjoyed!

When a short day is long…

16 October – Day 86

Cuenca, Ecuador to Loja, Ecuador
Distance: 197kms

We’re getting close to the border with Peru now, and decided to break up the ride there into two 200km days, with Loja being the halfway point. A shorter day on the bike meant that we had time to spend the morning wandering around Cuenca again – only to confirm that yes, we did really like this place. Possibly the highlight of Adrian’s morning was spotting two other overlanders (on 250cc bikes, fully loaded with gear!) from NSW, complete with NSW number plates. I honestly don’t ever see Adrian as happy as he is when he’s chasing down, and then speaking with, other bikers. I think it’s somehow related to this special visual skill he has for spotting bikes… seriously… I will see a tiny black speck on the horizon that could be a car, or a bird, or a spot on my sunglasses… just as Adrian lets me know, through our intercom, that it’s a Suzuki Vstrom xx model (or whatever it is). Unbelievable.

Anyway, the ‘short’ ride to Loja wasn’t actually that short – at least in terms of time. The road was very windy, constantly up and down, and wet from the pouring rain. So it took us over five hours to make the 197kms, by which time we were very hungry and just a tad cold. The latter was not helped by the fact that our riding jeans got wet before we put our wet weather gear on… so we were essentially riding in wet clothes. Not fun.

Loja was ok.. we didn’t really see much as by the time we’d found accommodation and food, it was dark and (predictably) raining. The town centre area seems pretty nice though – and it would be somewhere that would be worth having a walk around some other time.

A whirlwind tour of southern Colombia – and crossing into Ecuador

A gothic cathedral in Colombia

Las Lajas Cathedral in Colombia, just north of the border with Ecuador

10 October – Day 80 – half way!

Pasto, Colombia to Otavola, Ecuador

Distance: 232kms

Today we and visited a unique gothic Church built into the side of a valley and then crossed the border between Colombia and Ecuador.

It was our first border crossing for a while and probably took an hour and a half, which really isn’t too bad as these things go. A first for me was having two bikes to look after instead of one… I was on ‘bike duty’ while Adrian and Jeremy organised the paperwork. Another first was that Adrian was able to use my passport to check me out of Colombia as well as himself – even though I wasn’t actually standing anywhere near the immigration building at the time! Can’t see that happening in Australia…!!?

There were a ton of roadworks along the way, which meant that the relatively short distance actually took most of the day… we only just made it into Otavola by nightfall. We also had a bit of a challenge in finding petrol; the first four petrol stations we went to were either completely closed, open but totally out of fuel or open but only had low grade fuel available! Given that we’d deliberately not filled up before crossing the border because we knew the petrol in Ecuador was significantly cheaper, we did really need some! It was a good reminder of the fuel situation in South America, where it’s not always easy or possible to get fuel.

Adrian and Jeremy wiggling the bike through the door at our hostel

Adrian and Jeremy wiggling the bike through the door at our hostel

We parked the bike inside the foyer of our hostel… nothing out of the ordinary there, other than the fact that the doorway was slightly narrower than the bike’s handlebars are wide! So Adrian and Jeremy had to sort of wiggle it through.

 

9 October – Day 79

Cali, Colombia to Pasto, Colombia (via Popayan)

Distance: 390kms

Today was a bit of a whirlwind tour of southern Colombia, taking in the cities of Popayan and Pasto.

Popayan is also known as ‘the white city’ because all of the buildings in the centre of the town are painted glowing, snow white. It was really noticeable after the bright colours of previous cities.

White buildings in a white city!

White buildings in a white city!

On the ride into Pasto, we met up with another overlander on a BMW, Jeremy from France. He’s in the middle of an epic multi-year world tour combining travelling and working. We ended up riding to Pasto together and will probably ride together for the next few days.

Getting my city on!

Colourful buildings in Bogota old town

One of the streets in Bogota old town

1-3 October – Days 71-73

Bogota, Colombia
Distance: 0kms

And so phase three begins. Having completed our travels – for this trip – through North and Central America, it’s time to explore South America. Adrian’s been here before; it’s my first visit to the continent.

So we’re in Bogota. It’s really nice being back in a big city for a change! And by big, I mean a city with a population of 10 million… so we’re talking a serious city here!

We’re staying in a hotel that’s close to the financial district in the CBD, or the ‘downtown’ area, and about a 3km walk from the old town. It’s near a couple of universities and lots of office buildings and residential towers, which means there’s a ton of restaurants nearby… from street vendors to fine dining and everything in between.

It’s cooler here than we’ve had for a while – probably because of the altitude; Bogota is at 2620m… which is high enough that I’ve been feeling just a little breathless for the past couple of days. The city was founded in the 1538 and is an interesting mix of old and new, rich and poor, arty and business/financial etc etc. The people-watching is excellent!

There are also some different cultural things… like the fact you can ‘rent’ a mobile phone to use like you would a payphone! Every 20-50 m in the CBD, if not more often, is a person wearing a small placard around their neck and/or holding up a sign saying something along the lines of “Minutos 200” or “Minutos 150.” That sign means they have mobile phones available for rent. The phones are generally on chains (that look very much like a dog leash) and are attached to a pole or board or the owner themselves… it’s the modern payphone, at a cost of 150/200 pesos per minute (about 20c)! And they are very popular; we saw loads and loads of people using them.

Also popular on CBD streets is guinea pig racing, where people bet on which upturned dish the racing guinea pigs will reach first…

We met up with a couple of other bikers in Bogota … Andi and Ellen, of www.twomotokiwis.com fame, who are essentially doing the same trip that we are but are taking three years instead of 6 months to do it (!!), and Austrian Juergen, who has ridden to Colombia from the East Coast of the US and is now riding south, aiming to arrive in Ushuia about the same time as us… so it’s highly likely that our paths will cross multiple times from now on. We spent a full day with Andi and Ellen walking around the old town, sharing stories… and hiking the +/- 1500 steps up to the peak of Cerro de Montserrat (3030m high). There’s a church at the very top – and an unrivalled view over the city sprawl. We were lucky to get a really clear day and so could see all the way across the city to a mountain range on the horizon. It was excellent!! And yes – at this altitude, I definitely feel less fit/more puffed than normal. It’s not a feeling I’m used to, being puffed from walking?!!

We’ll be keeping track of Andi and Ellen now and long after our trip is over and highly recommend their blog for a good read and photos of places that travellers don’t often visit.

I like it here, and could easily spend more time in Bogota, exploring more of the old town and also some of the other parts of the city… however time is ticking and the road is calling us southwards… so we’re off tomorrow towards the city of Medellin.

 

By Adrian

I had quite a few bike things to do while here, including obtaining the obligatory insurance, getting the bike serviced and getting new tyres… three fairly straightforward objectives that took the best part of a few days to achieve. Unlike in Central America, insurance wasn’t available at a shack immediately at the border crossing. I’d heard that other travellers had been stopped by police for a paperwork check and made to leave their bikes to find insurance before proceeding… so insurance was high on the priority list.

SOAT (auto insurance) is available at petrol stations and bike shops everywhere, however after visiting four or five, none could offer insurance for a period of less than one year. Upon a recommendation to proceed to a main office for a particular insurance company, we finally found Seguros del Estado could issue a one month policy for a princely sum of $17US (as opposed to $115US for one year). Insurance done.

Next was servicing and tyres. Autogermana (BMW dealer) have received a very good rap by most people who drop their bike off for service, and tend to make space available even without booking in advance. I managed to find my way to the nearby service centre without realising it was for cars only and the service centre I was after was some 90 blocks North through the city (on Calle 127b). I had thought that the perilous driving of Central America was behind us however the ride from the airport to our hotel on the previous day had opened my eyes somewhat. Lane splitting in Bogota is the norm with hundreds of 100-200cc bikes rushing past precisely carving up the traffic. Taxis merge without thought or indication, buses too, and if you’re not ready for it, well you shouldn’t be driving here. It’s not exactly aggressive driving if it’s simply their normal manner and seems to work well most of the time. The traffic was slow and thick and the only way to make decent headway was to join in on the fun. Even though I had the panniers off, trying my hand at following these little bikes through the gaps was difficult, while aided by my turn of speed off the lights, I simply got in the way through the narrow stuff.

Upon arrival at Autogermana, the barriers of my Spanglish were quickly realised and an interpreter arranged (in the form of one of their engineers) to relay what I was after. What I thought was a quote of US$450 turned out to be COP 500,000 (US$250) for a complete service including changing the driveshaft oil. The only thing missed was re-setting the service reminder on the dash, no biggy. Tyres were offered at a premium + fitting and so advrider.com (motorcycle forum) offered the solution of Moto Service on Calle 100. They had better stock of different tyres to suit my bike than any dealership in Sydney all in the space of a tiny garage. While the current tyres we had were good for a few thousand more kms, the timing and convenience offered by switching them out here outweighed their premature demise.

A crowd of people ready for a guinea pig race to start

Guinea pig racing on the street in Bogota

Ellen, Adrian and Andi in the main plaza in Bogota city

Adrian with Ellen and Andi of twomotokiwis.com in the main plaza in Bogota. This square was where recent riots took place (if you click on the photo to open a larger version and look closely, you’ll see paint marks on the building from paint balls/bombs that were thrown during the protests).

 

Brightly coloured graffiti in Bogota

Some of the pretty impressive graffiti in Bogota old town

 

Antigua – go there

Brightly coloured houses in Antigua

Antigua streetscape with one of the volcanoes in the background.

8-12 September – Days 48-52

Antigua, Guatemala
Distance: 0kms

Antigua smells like fresh cut grass and summer rain – and, when you walk past one of the many cafes in town, coffee. It looks like old towns in Europe, with a distinctly Spanish colonial feel, and is surrounded by volcanoes. Apparently, at night in the dry season (ie – not now!!!), you can see the red hot rivers of lava running down the side of the one currently active volcano. For us, we were able to glimpse the volcanoes first thing in the morning, before the clouds seemed to whisk them away.. sometimes as early as 8am; some days as late as noon.

The cobblestone streets made for bumpy riding – but it didn’t matter, as we didn’t ride that much. It was too easy to walk everywhere. To a café – a different one each day… truth be told… several different ones each day. To the markets, the churches, the arches. Past the rows of brightly painted houses. To my Spanish school.

I’ve really had a few lovely days off the bike!!

I had heard that Antigua is one of those places that sucks you in.. you go for a week, stay for a month; go for a month and stay for half a year. Having been there, I can understand why. It was just so easy, comfortable, safe, convenient, interesting, fun and unexpected.. I too could have stayed for longer and really settled into a routine of four hours of private Spanish classes daily, with the rest of the time spent walking/exploring/yogaing/catching up with friends/coffeeing etc.

Catching up with new friends – this was one of the highlights of Antigua for me. Earlier in the trip, a couple of fellow Aussie motorbike travellers who are doing a route similar to ours but from south to north told us about the famous Julio and Luisa in Antigua, put us in touch, and really stressed that we had to catch up with them. Readers of advrider.com (a motorbike blog) might already be familiar with Julio and Luisa, as they’ve travelled the Americas extensively by bike, and Julio blogs on the ADV forum (Guaterider).

The Aussies were right – it was so great catching up with some locals, and Julio and Luisa were incredibly hospitable including having us over for a home cooked meal (my first in over six weeks – so, so good!!), helping Adrian with route planning, showing us some of the slightly less obvious places to eat/go in Antigua and more. It was so great connecting up with some other travellers – albeit travellers currently ‘at home’… so much so that it’s motivated Adrian to be more active on the ADV and HUB forums so see if he can find some other bikers to meet up with. I’m sure this new focus is because he really enjoyed Julio and Luisa’s company and wants more of that… rather than less of what he had pre-Antigua… surely?!! Hmm…

It was also great being in the one place – a fabulous little BnB – for long enough that it was worth putting my motorbike boots away in the cupboard rather than leaving them strewn, along with my small collection of clothing, all over the room. The thing with travelling light is that every time we stop, I literally need to go through everything I have with me to find the one thing I need!

Antigua was fantastic – a great place to spend what will (fingers crossed) be our longest time off the bike until Buenos Aires in December. I definitely recommend it to anyone travelling in the area or wanting to do an intensive Spanish course. There are apparently 65 different Spanish schools in the city – and I’m pretty sure all of the classes are one-on-one. It’s affordable, and the city is lovely.

Julio and Luisa cooking up a storm

Julio and Luisa cooking up a storm

Main arch in Antigua at twilight

The main arch in Antigua – our BnB was pretty close to this

Packets of human pheromones for sale

Just randomly – it made me laugh to see that cafes in Antigua do what clubs in Australia do: sell ‘wipe on’ “real” human pheromones to women for a few dollars so that they can make themselves irresistible to men.
 I thought that, in general, that was already the case?!! 😉

Streetscape in Antigua - brightly coloured houses

Streetscape in Antigua

 

 

 

 

 

Copper Canyons

18 August – Day 27

Creel, Mexico
Distance: 0kms

On closer inspection, there’s not all that much to do in Creel. There’s one main street with shops (mainly tourist shops selling tshirts, hats and Tarahumara handicrafts) extending for about 100m… and that’s it!

After a leisurely morning that included breakfast at our hotel (where we were able to identify and name two out of the three things on our plate), we jumped on the bike and headed to the Copper Canyons. The Copper Canyons (or Barranca del Cobre) consist of six distinct canyons which, overall, are bigger and deeper than the Grand Canyon in the US. So – it’s pretty impressive!

The trip up to the main lookout point over the Canyons also resulted in the most noticeable old and run down vs new and deluxe juxtaposition for the trip so far: the road up to the main lookout is potholed and in some parts, just plain old dirt that is so rough, they don’t let all cars go through there – there’s a free shuttle train like the one that does the rounds at Darling Harbour from a carpark to the lookout. There’s an entrance station with a boom gate at the start of the road – with several windows broken, cement chipping off the outside wall – and the boom stuck in the open position. Then there’s a brand spanking new ampitheatre, a shiny cable car, a mini golf course, bungy trampolines for kids and more – all super deluxe, no expense spared type productions. And yet neither the mini golf nor the trampolines were staffed (or looked like they’d ever been used). It was bizarre.

The view, however, was amazing – it’s just so vast. Much greener than the Grand Canyon, with a few Tarahumara houses and small corn fields dotted around.

We had to move hotels for tonight, as the hotel we initially stayed in had a tour group coming in. So we ended up just down the road – and in a room next to an Aussie couple from Adelaide who are travelling from South America up to Canada two up on a bike. So we had dinner with them, which was great – it was nice to share tips about what’s ahead, given that they’ve been where we’re going and vice versa. Although we were only at the restaurant/pub until about 10pm, we were the last people to leave – and had to get security to let us out of the premises; they’d locked the gate! That’s a first for the trip – getting locked in to a restaurant…!

Copper Canyons in Mexico

Copper Canyons

Catholic shrine with horse in background

There are lots of Catholic shrines like this one by the side of the road. Not all of them also have horses in the background though!

Adrian squished into a very small shower

This is the result when a 6’10” man tries to shower in a country where the average height (according to Wikipedia) is 5’7.5”!!!!

Montana – and more national parks

Adrian and his GSA r1200 next to a row of Harley Davidson motorbikes

Adrian with his cousins

5 August – Day 14

Great Falls, Montana to Red Lodge, Montana
Distance: 449kms

Red Lodge is one of those very picturesque towns where the houses all have manicured lawns, the buildings in the downtown area are adorned with flowerboxes brimming with purple and pink, and the local ladies all have nice, well set hair.

Yet, scratch the surface – according to the concierge of the motel where we’re staying tonight – and there’s a Very. Different. Picture. Oh yes – a small local population, multiple personalities vying for town mayor, the school’s ladies’ auxiliary committee being a law unto itself.. and more.

So – things are not always as they seem.

Unlike today’s ride, which was pretty much exactly as it seemed: farmland, then more farmland. Wheat, then cattle, then wheat. It wasn’t all that interesting really. It got up above 30 degrees C though – the first time since Adrian was at the Arctic Circle; and the first time since I’ve been away. It’s a little strange to think that the only time it’s been this hot was in the Arctic! No wonder the ice is melting. Needless to say, I was pretty keen to strip the two liners from my jacket and open all air vents.

It was also very windy… we were being buffeted all over the place! The wind kept catching under Adrian’s helmet, snapping his head back like a hippo in that ‘Hungry Hippos’ game, when there’s only one ball left and everyone is going crazy  to get it.

Red Lodge is full of Harleys tonight; I call them Adrian’s cousins (a ‘brother’ would be a BMW rider). They’re all on their way to Sturgis. For those from Canberra… think Summernats on steroids and for motorbikes.

Adrian ate Elk for the first time at dinner… apparently, it’s nice!

4 August – Day 13

Whitefish, Montana to Great Falls, Montana
Distance: 351 kms

We rode through Glacier National Park today. I haven’t written it up… suffice to say it was stunning!!

Mountain in Glacier National Park

Logan Pass, Glacier National Park

Lauren standing next to a snow floe

Snow near the road, Glacier National Park