September 2013
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Month September 2013

desert 1 (to Chiclayo)

We leave Mancora a little wobbly. The night before an impressive pack of 9 Bolivian ADV riders was staying at the hotel. They were riding the coast north to Cartegena. I pulled out my Bolivia map and we talked routes. They were very helpful and the timing is great for that. We marked the routes in blue for safe and red for scary. I’m going meet them down there. Here are 5 of them. Great guys on a mix of F800GS’s, Triumph 800’s and GSA’s

We chewed a bag of this to keep our strength up. It makes your mouth numb but you can do route stuff way longer

A couple of coffees and off we go

The day’s track
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There were two options in the mid-picture. To head straight for the mountains or to ride through the dry Peruvian desert. I love desert, we haven’t ridden any since Baja, so we picked that. We’ll head for the mountains from Chimbote and go for the classic entry.

Right behind Mancora are the mud/sand hills and gorges Mancora is built on. Choss basically

Soon we hit a town and gas up. It’s our first regular town in Peru. I’m a little surprised at the random architecture. Little did I know how strange it would get

Very suddenly we go through huge rice fields

Some of the houses have their own plots

It’s all quite nice

Then, the reason for the green, a terrific river

And the green stops abruptly. We head into the beginnings of a desert. The last structures are miles of these small homes. The walls are mostly a woven material

Then a small group of tiendas by the road

Selling honey. This goes on for a while. I kept bees in my youth and wonder where the flowering plants are that support this industry. Nothing in sight

Then drier


Then dry

After about 100 miles of this there’s a desert road to a distant hill. I’m curious so head out to it head out to it but it never gets any closer

So on we go. The wind starts picking up and we go through some miles of low dunes

The wind picks up and soon we’re leaning radically into it. Not so bad as it’s not gusty. But tiring after another 100 miles. Then, the beginnings of life again

Dusty, windswept and gorgeous

And into the bustling town of Chiclayo. I really liked it. I met an English guy, Dave, on a Triumph (he loved it) way back outside Mancora at the side of the road and we meet for dinner more by luck than arrangement. He’s hurrying from New York to Buenos Aires. Amazing the good people you meet, all with interesting stories.

anniversary in Mancora

It’s Lucinda and my first year anniversary on the road. I was thinking about what to do on our special day. A new paint job? Go for a ride? So we just chilled and (mostly) caught up on the never-ending homework living on the road involves.

Some shots of Mancora, while I go through some stuff from the year.

Total miles 26,114. Average per day: just under 70. Adam and Hans have similar numbers to each other (and both rode Africa), so I use them as a benchmark. Adam’s look like this:

Total RTW miles: 106,800

Total days (approx): 1650

Average miles per day: 65

My geographic progress is not as far south as it should be and it’s going to get worse for a month. I had planned to be in Ushuaia for Christmas and we’ll be late. I have a habit of doing loops off the main track, not pushing south consistently. This needs to change or I’ll be out here for a stupidly long time.

Some brief lighthearted personal opinion trivia after a year (I thought about excluding the negatives, but some of them are helpful):

Best country so far for this activity: El Salvador for being consistently great . Small like a jewel. Nice loops. Not everyone’s experience though. Mexico for the overall mosaic. Colombia for the warmth (when they’re not pissed off) and the hills. Guatemala for indigenous interest.

Best city/town: None of the cities stood out as a favorite. Medellin is beautiful and nicely sinful. Campeche is an aristocratic colonial beauty.  For villages, tiny Alegria, El Salvador is nicely situated parked on a ledge up a volcano, and the paved road in and the dirt road out are both great rides.

Best riding: Highlights in every country. Sorry for the cop-out.

Best ride: Xinantecatl, Mexico. A great volcano, a fun ride, great views and most importantly great company. A day like this and you never want to do anything else. Runner-up, the Nicaragua improvised ‘water three ways’ day for having no idea where the hell I was going and being happily surprised at every turn. These were both easy rides with just enough of the ADV spirit to keep them honest.

Best landscape: The hills east of Medellin, Colombia. Surreal and sublime.

Best food: Consistently terrible since Mexico. But maybe the carrots in Guatemala, the pastries in Colombia and cerviche right here in Mancora. It seems to be a lack of caring – the ingredients are often plentiful.

Worst cops: Nicaragua. Shaken down 4 times, including a really bold shake down of five of us at once.

Best cops: Colombia. Hilariously, when you fly by at max twist they wave at you happily. And they’re always good for a nice long bike chat. This makes Colombia the fastest country to ride in. Although it seemed that you could also ride with abandon hassle free in Guatemala, but that might have been luck.

Worst town stayed in: Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, hands down. An expensive and useless tourist trap is more depressing than a scary village.

Worst border: El Salvador/Honduras at Santa Clarita. Corrupt beyond belief. Seriously upset a friend of mine.

Best border: Mexico/Guatemala at La Mesilla. I couldn’t have gone through any faster and very friendly on both sides.

Flawless gear: Sidi Adventurer boots, Giant Loop tank bag, Rev’it thermal socks, OR stuff sacks, Ziplock freezer bags, Lumix DMC TS4, ROK straps, ITM paper maps, Visine.

Worst gear: Garmin Montana/Basecamp GPS. Beware.

I have no philosophical or cultural observations to share, and Lord knows zipping around on a bike doesn’t enlighten you on anything by default, despite some of the bike-travel books implying it does. So Deer Park is a ride report only.

I love the ride. The old cliché about the freedom is true. You feel it as soon as you leave, knowing the whole world is ahead. Occasionally I’m hit with a wave of exhilaration unlike anything I’ve ever felt. When I either think about the moment or the future sometimes it feels unreal. You feel very able as you move across landscapes. When things are threatening you don’t feel threatened. It’s like the very act of doing this protects you.

Your biggest fear is harm to the bike. You have to find secure parking for her every night and much of the time you don’t know for sure how that’s going to happen. Mostly you can’t let her out of your sight. I can’t even process the idea of her loss. I distinctly remember how she felt as we turned the key and left Ambleside Beach together – the bond is intense.

The second fear is of crashing. My trip has nearly ended twice. First, the broken valve in Mexico. Second was losing the front end on a sand patch rounding a curve and very nearly going under a bus in El Salvador had Lucinda not grabbed some road at the last second.

I have some specific goal issues that I’ve spoken to a couple of friends about. Perhaps more about that another time.

The look ahead: Putting plans-to-blog is a dangerous activity.


into Peru

We’ve been looking forward to Peru for a while. Not so much for Machu Picchu-like attractions, which I may even pass on, but because the Andes riding is a test and a reward for the solo rider. Big distances, barren landscapes, good dirt.

Also, Peru is huge. Three times the size of California. 50% bigger than BC.

But first we have to cross the border today. Lonely Planet guides are a bit huge for me so I use apps called Viva! on my iPad mini for basic beta. The paragraph about the Huaquillas crossing ahead reads this way. Click for a fun/scary read


Well thankfully that isn’t going to be our experience of it, but they’re right, Huaquillas is a full-on lawless dive. But most Latin border towns are.

The day’s track. The Garmin has decided to not track me south of the border today, so just pretend I follow the coastline where the track straightlines. I can’t wait for Google to come out with GPS hardware for Google maps.
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The ride is over 200 miles, plus an unknown amount of hours at the border, so it’s an early start. If something goes sideways we’re going to have to return to Machala, another lawless dive. Fingers crossed, we have a nice green start out of Cuenca

We’re headed for a long-distance-rider mecca: Mancora. A fishing village on a long beach with the best food in thousands of miles. Specifically the ceviche.

It goes dry very fast and we ride through a high canyon for a couple of hours

Hey Lucinda baby

Speaking of who needs a bath

We haven’t seen a soul in hours then these guys fixing a power line make for a nice pic

Whoops, fog

Then it goes green again

Down to an interesting mountain town on a river

Worried about the time we speed up and soon we’re in Ecuador’s Nanaimo visual equivalent, Huaquillas. We speed through because Lucinda’s in no mood to be raped today

Then we go through miles, really, of banana plantation. It’s harvest time

Further on we arrive at the border for the usual procedure: Ecuador immigration, aduana, Peru immigration, aduana then seguro. It’s ridiculously modern, what a surprise, no more than a year or two old. And incredibly, Ecuador and Peru share the same immigration building. There’s a bit of a hang up as my adauna guy is in training and can’t figure out the paperwork, but after all this time I’m up to speed enough to know what we need and we’re through in about 90 minutes. Wow

Here’s the SOAT lady’s son. She’s gone off to find the money changer for me who only screws me out of .17 Peru solas per dollar. About a 6% haircut

That done, we pass through the Peru-side border town of Aguas Verdes, which is not so bad, and we see for the first time Peru’s equivalent of a cab

Then rice fields

I think…

Very quickly it’s arid as we head south

Into Mancora. The sky has alternating low patches of pelicans and high patches of frigate birds


through Alausi

I think you can ride the whole way from Alaska to Patagonia on the PanAmerican Highway. Some people, possibly most, do but it’s considered bad form. Sometimes you have no choice, like through Panama. Sometimes you can get around it but the route would be rediculously contrived, like Costa Rica. Most of the time it can be avoided without being silly. It’s useful for some of the better border crossings and that’s when most riders jump on it for a while.

So Hans, a while back, surprisingly tells me that the PanAmerican between Riobamba and Cuenca is one of the best paved rides in Ecuador.

That’s convenient because I want to head south quickly now.

The day’s track
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It looks like this for most of the distance to Cuenca
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Leave funky Riobamba

The road starts through heavily farmed and prosperous looking hills with huge Chimborazo in the far distance

Views of hills miles away

Stopped by construction and have to ride ripio for some miles. I was in the mood for it, so it’s good

Stop at a small town and watch some futbol

Then up into mountains. You can see the road clearly here. Perfect high-speed twisties – 3rd and 4th the whole way. Fantastic

Around one corner we can see a town in the Valley. Alausi – I’d heard about this place

Click on the video to the left for a panorama of this special town. We ride in and explore. If I wasn’t kinda desperate to get south after too much slack time I would have spent the night

Back into the mountains. The pic is worth a click

Clouds start building

As we topped out they started rolling across the landscape



It had been nice to ride fast for hours. But we’d been goofing around too long in Alausi, time to stop taking photos and head into Cuenca before the final ride out of Ecuador


This is a two day ride post. The route was designed by Ben in response to my boat trip idea. It’s also going to be the end of our travels together as I need to be going solo again. More on why this works so well for me another time.

The day one track
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But as usual it was more like this
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The first stop is in the town of Saquisili. Importantly Ben’s timed it so we arrive on market day, Thursday morning. It’s a gigantic affair. We’re in a very rural area and it’s just locals so we have to be careful with what we photograph, and at close quarters ask for permission, which we occasionally don’t get.

But anyway. Pigs by the part. His remaining trotter is on sale I guess

Fruit and vegetables

Rope, which the men weave on site

Sewing stalls where you can get stuff fixed. Very cool

Lambs. They were making that last-chance desperate bleeting sound, hoping a gringo will buy them and take them home to a nice safe field in Canada

We had lunch here, at the food court. We’re all pretty brave but this wasn’t a winning day for us here

Rodents, specially guinea pigs. Shoppers would grab rabbits, guinea pigs, whatever and throw them into a wriggling kicking sack which they’d carry around and shop some more


Oranges, pineapples, watermelons and baskets

Time’s pressing and we’re headed high into the mountains to see Quilotoa. Off we go up a small paved road

Into high agricultural hills


Various sections of our road can be seen here

The road turns to a really crappy dirt, sand, broken stone affair that’s a bit technical in parts.

A view here a couple of thousand feet down to the river plain

A couple of hours of riding later we arrive in a desolate, chaotic landscape

We’re at Quilotoa, a huge crater lake, 12,800 feet

From Wiki

…a water-filled caldera and the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. The 3 kilometres (2 mi) wide caldera was formed by the collapse of this dacite volcano following a catastrophic VEI-6 eruption about 800 years ago, which produced pyroclastic flows and lahars that reached the Pacific Ocean, and spread an airborne deposit of volcanic ash throughout the northern Andes. The caldera has since accumulated a 250 m (820 ft) deep crater lake, which has a greenish color as a result of dissolved minerals…

A major geological feature, there are a few hostels for visitors

It’s really f***ing cold. We struggle to warm up. The Hostel has a small iron stove and that’s it in the main building. Each room has a stove but we’re given two little logs each which just fill the room with smoke. I sleep in my clothes again

In the morning, frozen, we blast off down the mountain to Riobamba

The second day’s track
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I’m sure you’re getting the idea. I think the last straight stretch of road of more than a half mile was back in Panama
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Half way down we get a great view of Cotopaxi

On the plains we pass Chimborazo. Because of the equatorial bulge it’s the highest mountain in the world, although only 20,600 feet above sea level at this latitude

I’m riding along and there are big-bikers ahead. Curious, I speed up. It’s the Riobamba chapter of the Latino Americanos. What a gas.

Ben and Maddie appear unexpectedly, stop, and we take some photos

The bikes

Then it’s a short ride into Riobamba

Ben, Maddie and I go out to a celebration/farewell dinner where there’s a one-man play. They’ve been great riding companions. Normally I don’t think either of us would ride with others for so long but we went through the Colombian epic together and some kind of bond formed over that. Young, tough, smart and savvy. Ride fast, ride safe, amigos.

to Banos

(I’m over a week behind after 5 days riding and the internet here, way south of my last post, is super slow for image uploading, so the next four posts will be brief)

The third and final leg of my little out-and-back Amazon adventure is the road to Banos.

But first, for riders, we found a terrfic lodge in Misahualli, the Banana Lodge, on a river to hang out at. $18 a night and the best place at that price in a few countries

It’s right on this great swimming river. Don’t pee in the water or a tiny candiru fish may swim up your urinary tract and require surgical removal. Really.

Tons of butterflies on the banks. To the right of the boat

Butterflies are the thing in Ecuador

Catch a red one in flight

Swarm! Well, almost

It’s a ten minute walk into town for meals. Misahualli is a very small village and has monkeys in the main square

We get a bus into the nearest largish town, Tena. Tena is a dump.  It’s the objective of riders to identify dumps in advance and not get caught overnighting in the palces like Tena, although it often happens. Often there’s no choice, like Coca a couple of days ago. Anyway, here are some flattering shots

Central Park

If they had a tourist attraction this bridge would be it

On the flip side, Tena is big enough to have maybe 100 taxis and they all cruise up and down the main street. As soon as we get in the cab the driver honks at another cab. I ask why, he says mi amigo. Then he honks again at another, and another, and they’re all honking at him and each other. So we cruise down the mainstreet listening to all this and for some reason I think this is the best thing in the world and crack up, happily thinking what a great thing the Latin American community, again, is.

The next day we ride to Banos. We’re headed there to end my trip idea and start Ben’s route the next day. It’s his turn and he has a cool plan

The day’s track
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It rains heavily most of the way. Some shots of when it wasn’t. Dense jungle

Another beautiful rio

A tropical canyon. Fantastic riding through this for maybe 100 miles

And into Banos, a town famous for hotsprings

A typical street

My front tire pressure is low (again) and I can’t find my pencil guage which used to live in my tank bag so I drive around looking for a parts store and find Auto Fantastico. Awesome name, typical

And run into this guy, who left Vancouver 35 years ago. I think, wow, one of the very few who left. The only reasonable explanation is maybe another Canuck’s playoff disaster affected him deeply

Rio Napo 2 (con moto)

As previously mentioned, the owner of Freedom Bikes in Quito said there was a route he was working on but hadn’t done. The theory was that you could get big motos onto a boat in Coca and run them 6 or 7 hours up the river to Misahualli. The big problems are that there are no ramps or boats set up for it, and that the upper reaches of the river are very shallow and require a skilled and experienced operator in a flat bottomed canoe.

I had suggested this route to Ben optimistically thinking this could all be sorted out somehow. It went sideways on us a bit to start with, but it happened and ended up being a great day.

Here’s the day’s river track. It didn’t occur to me to turn the GPS on until we were well upstream, about 15 miles back in Puerto Francisco de Orellana (Coca). The track length is 77.7, so a total journey up an Amazon river of about 93 miles. A damn long way considering how sketchy it got up river and how long it took to get going
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We’d chartered the boats a couple of days earlier – two different boats for two different jobs. The first guy, who introduced us to the second guy, gave us assurances that there’d be no problem.

This morning we waited at the agreed place and it was a no-show. Rather than bore you with a huge quantity of detail we eventually met up at a new location on a small dock. The boat looked fine as it was what we expected.

(all the shots of loading and unloading were taken by Maddie)

We wait about 15 feet above the river for the boat guys to get their stuff together while the locals look at the bikes

A precocious kid

Trying the bike for fit

Then we go and have a chat with the boat owner at the bottom of the ramp about how this is going to go

We chuck our gear in the boat. I leave my cans on for a few minutes so I can get my feet down on the ramp if it’s slick

Then down the ramp. We’re not sure about the surface so Ben stands ready in case it gets weird

The bottom step. Simple, no problems obviously. It’s the boat that bothers us.

Ben’s shots are in Ben’s camera and he’s gone to Banos as I write this, so I’ll update it in a couple of days.

Both bikes down, we think about the next step after my boxes are off

There’s not much to think about. Put a ramp in the skinny canoe

Back her down

And twist her in, after dropping the rear off the ramp

Roll her back

And tie her down. I pick the drainage holes which aren’t wide enough apart and Ben picks canopy rails which look to me to be too weak. As it turns out both work fine

Done! Not too bad

We go over to the riverbank while the owner gets gas. That’s our boat in the middle. We have a crowd all morning

Which he floats out

Then we’re off! The owner has two helpers and his girlfriend along. We’re going to need the helpers at the far end

Life on a riverboat in Ecuador is very good

Get the customary Lucinda glamour shot out of the way

The river’s quiet and wide at the start and we settle in to enjoy it. The boat is fast but we’ve got at least 6 hours of river ahead, maybe more. Needless to say we’re pretty happy about it
We pass indigenous people fishing. From here on we only see traditional dugout canoes except at the village 40 miles away

It’s an uneventful first two hours and we just enjoy the view


Then the sky goes dark and we’re in a huge rainstorm. The driver puts on a bike helmet. Cool
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It’s beautiful when it dies down

There’s one chance to buy food in the 90-ish miles and we stop. The bikes look great in this context I think

It’s here

We eat at the place on the right

One of the two streets. This is a river servicing village I guess

Then back to the river

Then the fun starts. We start running out of deep water in places. This goes on for a couple of hours.

Two guys watch the water depth and use hand signals until they get nervous, then they give direct instructions. In the video to the left, we’re close to bottoming out the boat and he asks us to get our weight forward

Testing water depth

Hand signals

At one point we’ve bottomed out then the engine dies and we drift fast backwards towards a bank. It’s all smiles when it re-starts. The guy furthest forward is the mechanic. He has to fix the engine twice. It doesn’t take him long

Another Lucinda shot since this is all about her having a new experience

There are mild rapids, but nothing of consequence since (according to the GPS) we’ve only risen 490 feet all day.

Navigation becomes the thing for the rest of the day as we travel through this exotic place, completely removed.

At about 5 o’clock we reach our destination, bank the boat and beach the gear

Then start figuring out how we’re going to get the bikes out of the boat. We have several ideas. The only thing that seems to make sense is somehow getting the bikes onto the front platform. What we do from there we’re not sure about at first. Finally it’s obvious. Lift them off in one heavy drop.

Moving them onto the platform requires a small ramp and a bit of luck. The benches are from a previous idea. Some locals hanging around the beach jump in to help (we later give them 10 bucks to split)

Almost there

Then, when on the platform, a careful drop to the ground


It’s been a perfect day

As bright as the last pictures are however, by the time we get the gear back on the bikes and leave it’s getting late. We ride to our lodge in the dark and demolish a vast quantity of the local pilsener, sharing the recent memories.


Rio Napo 1 (sin moto)

Yay Ecuador!

(most of these pics are from a robust point-and-shoot Canon G15 I’m using with the Cybershot. I miss my little Lumix)


There’s a reason for being here other than wanting to visit the Amazon forest. It’s in two parts but both require chartering a boat, or two boats.

Ben and I set off early yesterday morning looking for a boat. The back up plan was to find the Harbour Master, or whatever passes for that here. I’ve been worrying for a few days that my plan might not pan out, but we find a boat operator and tell him what we want. He considers it and says part 1, no problem, leave in the morning. Part 2 he needs to talk to someone about. He gets on the phone, we meet someone and have a long technical chat and within an hour we have a plan and I’m not only excited but relieved.

So this morning we’re doing the first part, getting a boat ride down the Rio Napo through the Amazon forest. We meet at 5:30 in the morning here

Off we go east, downstream into the sunrise

At times, when the river runs shallow, it’s very wide

We make our way to the southerly riverbank

And when it brightens it looks like this – dense and beautiful.

It rains. Me and our indigenous guide. We can’t remember his name, yikes

We spend a few hours cruising the embankment to our destination. They’re occasional small villages in the trees

And once in a while industrial freight, headed somewhere crazy

We stopped after a few hours and went into the forest. It looked like this

As you know I like butterflies. Here are some I saw  in the forest and elsewhere today

On a riverbank

I only saw one of these and felt lucky to get the pic


Very small

OK, here’s a gorgeous one. On the assumption this butterfly has never ever been seen by man before, I’m hereby naming it (Ecuadorus – bookmark until we find the family name)Ecuadorus lucinda. If no objections appear in the comments below we’ll assume it’s a done deal. She couldn’t believe it when I told her. Now on top of naming Tropical Storm Lucinda (a gale that came through Lake Nicaragua one evening we were there) her international fame grows.

The butterflies gather on clay to drink

Quite large, maybe 3 inches. Oops, bad shot

These ones had ragged wings

Other things on the forest floor. This frog. But I think it’s a toad

Our guide said this one is poisonous

A lizard

A very large spider that was being attacked by a huge swarm of ants. We freed it up a bit

This thorny spider was about an inch across (Ben pic)

And a happy discovery – this huge fellow who’s a very close relative of the spider in Panama we wrote in some detail about. The back markings are different only as far as we could see

There’s something called a clay lick in a steep ravine where parrots come to lick the surface apparently for potassium. If you click on this image you’ll see a few top right.

We get back in the boat and our guide takes us to a village where we get a display of native customs from a girl and her sisters. It’s unfortunately not random and they’ve done this before for visitors, which takes the edge off it, but at least we don’t pay for the experience. But anywaIMG_0275y it’s fascinating

We’re given a strange sweet/sour drink from a local plant. It’s unlike anything I’ve tasted and quite good. After a few pulls on it I suddenly think ‘bloody hell, I hope I’m not about to launch into a rip-your-face-off 10 hour ayahuasca trip one country before planned’. I look over at Ben and can tell from his big grin he’s thinking the same thing

Back on the river again

We ask the boat guy to stop at a playa on a big mid-river island

Great walking

We go and explore the little forest

Walk around it a bit

You don’t want to walk in here at night

Back in the boat

Off to see some monos on monkey island. I’m a bit turned off by monkeys right now because of a bastard monkey incident that happened to Maddie and me a couple of days ago. Nope, I can’t talk about it. Just imagine what the grossest thing a guy in the street could do in front of you. Anyway, here are a couple of the little creep’s cousins

This bird is an owl that spends the day parked on top of a post, pretending it can’t be seen. You can walk around it, wave at it, talk to it, generally try and make it move but it won’t. It just stares at you convinced it’s invisible.

Hanging birds nests. Bigger than the ones in Costa Rica

Then, 12 hours after we left, we set off for Coca before dark. Fantastic

A volcano in the distance

The big day is tomorrow. I’m seriously hoping nothing goes wrong, as it easily could.