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Month September 2013

Coca (Puerto Francisco de Orellana)

From Wiki

… named for Francisco Orellana who explored the confluence of the Coca River and the Napo River. It is believed that he set sail from the current location of the town eventually making his way into the Amazon River seeing the “Amazon” or tribes in which the women also fought. Eventually Francisco de Orellana made it to the Atlantic. He made a second expedition leaving but died on the Amazon delta unable to find a way through.

It looks like this. A very favorable shot. It’s rough
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It’s a port of small boats, mainly servicing downstream towns and villages as far away as Iquitos, Peru. I even saw one boat marked with Manaus,  Brazil, which may be a two-week journey across the continent.
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There’s no tourist trade in the streets so it makes for an interesting walk. You can see fisherman with nets on the river everywhere, so naturally the fish market is fun.
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This look like a bit like Parana, but actually it’s Pacu
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Catfish
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Tilapia, which is a basic you eat the whole time in Latin America
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Whoa
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Tilapia for lunch
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Here
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A lady selling oils, bloods and extracts
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Even oil from boa constrictors
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Cool truck
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Fruit
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It’s sometimes more like this
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Getting my gringo flipflops repaired
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Later, out to find dinner. The walk from the hotel
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Past this corner
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Up this street
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To Las Delicias! The best restaurant in town, our hotel told us. Good but not so good ceviche. Peru apparently is the best at that.
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into the Amazon

A few days ago I visited a bike shop in Quito hoping for good route information. Specifically I asked about the Amazon. Peru is also a good entry point from this side of the Andes but wouldn’t fit with what I have in mind for down there. The owner told me they were working on an idea to take a journalist who wanted to go to the Ecuadorian Amazon as part of a bike experience. He told me his idea.

This is a multi-day thing so I’ll save the complete story for the next posts, but it’s pretty obvious how this is going to go, if it plays out…

The day’s track. A shame Basecamp doesn’t have nice relief in this case
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Since we’re talking about Basecamp, here’s a detail of the sort of screw up you can have when your GPS isn’t giving you legible info in cities. A messy error in downtown Quito rush hour right after we left. But to a previous generation of riders, complaining about a GPS is laughable, so.
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Anyway off we went. It’s an aggressive ride, 258 miles up and over the Andes and foothills on the far side, then into the Amazon to the end of the road, the town of Coca.

I like to take photos without holding people up so we agreed on a waypoint to meet up about 200 miles down the track, once we were out of the city, and took off.

We were travelling away from Cotopaxi (19,300 feet) but I got a shot of her over the outskirts of town
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And one more later before she disappeared from view
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Then the trees cleared and we started the long climb. First this
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The excellent small road gained altitude through gold and green hills
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The road construction started
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And turned to ripio for about an hour. Spectacular. I had no idea what to expect, certainly not this
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As we got closer to the top the trees returned
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And peaked out here at 13,200 feet. Very cold. Flip the heated grips on
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Some huts about 1000 feet down on the far side
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We round the corner and there’s thisDSC00342

Here’s a better one, says Lucinda
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Three shots of the same thing is pretty bad blog form but I didn’t know which on to pick. It was special

Down a bit, an alpine village
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Small streams appear frequently
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Which became waterfalls
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Exotic landscapes and crags
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And then ahead, trouble. Rain ahead. We had to ride the Andes for another 100 miles, then the Amazon for another 75 and if we got slowed down we weren’t going to make it by dark
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Worse yet, as we passed through a small village we got fogged in
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Luckily the rain only lasted a short while.

The next couple of hours was riding endless twisties through this wonderful tropical forest
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Eventually we descended to the forest floor by which time the rivers were big
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It was time to make serious progress and let her rip. This is a bit of a risk in Ecuador as speeding gets you three days in jail, really. We met up with Ben and Maddie at the waypoint and set off for Coca.

Then the very best thing happened. A ferry crossing. Bikes onIMG_0196

We passed some local motos coming the other way. Happy days
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Then we rode fast into Coca. The temperature had gone from freezing this morning to furnace heat.

Coca’s a tough town at the junction of the Rio Coca and Rio Napo.
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It’s the end of the road, there are no tourists and we are oddities here. They’ve never seen bikes like ours. We all agree that we like it here and we’re happy to be in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon. But we’re very tired, it’s been a big day.

Saludos
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0 00.000

I haven’t ridden in a few days. The fact of the matter is that it’s been hard to go through Medellin, Carti or Quito without a bit of partying. I haven’t fessed up to this before, but now I can, because I’m comfortable that  ‘it won’t happen again‘ because there seems to be a big social blank ahead on the map for quite a long way, like thousands of miles. Maybe.

This morning Lucinda and I headed off into the mountains, alone together for the first time in awhile. The track
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Quito is at 9300 feet and we’re rapidly over 11000 feet passing through small villages. Lucinda’s happy to be the focus of attention. This is someone’s driveway
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The mountains are lush but steep sided and the riding requires concentration
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The trees are high canopy
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We arrive at Mindo, a town that’s famous for being in a reserve with one of the highest concentration of birds in the world – over 450 species. But I’m doing an out-and-back, shaking cobwebs out and do a u-ey through the eco industry town so don’t stop
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Back down through the mountains
IMG_0127To here.

I’m trophy hunting for something in this valley, the reason we headed NW this morning
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I’ve set my GPS earlier in the day with a waypoint crossing the equator.

But we’re out by 97 feet
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I find the exact hit, mas o menos about 2 feet, just a bit away around Moraspungo street
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Here we are exactly, at the side of the road, the equator, 0 00.000. I sit on the opposite road side and look at her for a while, appreciating our many miles together, how pretty she is, how she listens quietly to every trouble I have, how she carries me through when I’m finished and have nothing left, and I wonder if she knows I’ll never leave her for another
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A detail from the day’s track
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We’ll be crossing 0 00.000 the other way together, with luck, on the other side of the Pacific, in about 10 months. But that’s just an idea, who knows what will happen.

historic Quito

A big plaque on a wall in Quito’s parque central says
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Which is – THE GLORY OF QUITO, THE DISCOVERY OF THE AMAZON RIVER.  Whoa, that’s effective

Very briefly: Quito, capital of Ecuador, pop 2.2 M is in the Andes and (along with Krakow) is the least altered historic city in the world (wiki), and was the first UNESCO heritage site. The Spanish arrived in 1534 and unfortunately it’s inland so Henry Morgan’s ships couldn’t get here to make it 36/0. Until the Spanish it was part of the Incan empire.

I wondered around the old city trying to get used to my horrible new Cybershot taking random shots. For instance the large Gothic church on a ridge
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Some of the central streets are pedestrian only
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The vast convent and church of San Francisco
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The interior… I’ve never seen anything like it. A 2 acre jewel box. This is the oldest church in Latin America and is on Inca foundations
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The Bank of Ecuador, very nice
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And a bunch of this. I miss Guatemala and the thousands of short shotgun waving ‘tecos
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Once grand residences
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What would Ecuador be without this hat on the ladies?
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A shopping street
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Being the capital, elite military here and there
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Mary on the hill
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Saludos
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to Quito

The day’s track
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We’d been told the road to Quito is closed by a landslide so we plot an alternate into the GPS, after talking to a local, and shared the file. It’s not a long ride so we’re pretty relaxed about the day.

We take a short diversion to Lago San Pablo
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You can see from the track things got a little complicated. We’d got bad beta at breakfast and ended up doing a big loop. No pictures from the riding because we were scrambling, trying to find a way to Quito with both a supposed landslide and closed roads (construction this time) and no time for pics.

Anyway, we arrived and headed off to our different destinations in town. A complete update, on Quito and life, to follow.

Saludos
(testing a little Sony Cybershot here)
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escape from Pasto

Everyday we check the news and everyday it’s the same, the roads are still closed. But things have been better – the motos and buses are back, people are more relaxed.

The three of us quite like Pasto. It’s a bit dull, but seems prosperous compared to other towns of a similar size. And it’s populated by Colombians, who we agree ar mostly the friendliest (when not at war) of the Latins except (imo) perhaps the Mexicans, who were also gringo-friendly for the most part.

We’ve been walking and exploring everyday. Here’s a better-than-average street in Pasto
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It looks nice here, but there’s not much historic interest, window shopping or good food, everything is pretty dull, in contrast to the recent violence. Except the clumps of Agapanthus here in the median. Another escapee from South Africa. It seems the only perennials blooming in the last 5000 miles have been from there. Very strange.

So this morning there’s been a ceasefire and it’s announced that 5 roads have been opened, including ours to the border. The day’s track
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Off we go. The pictures today, excluding the above are screen grabs from Contour video. The Lumix is gone and a serious blow as it’s been a trusted part of the team. More on this later.

We set off up the main drag, past rows of semi’s that are raring to go. They’re all honking their horns either in celebration or frustration as they manuever to get the hell going.
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Into the countryside. It’s mountainous
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The remnants of blockades and fires are continuous. Generally the roads have been blocked with stone
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There are plenty of police and army with riot gear making sure things stay on track
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The road is blocked by huge boulders at one stage. We wait while heavy equipment clears it
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Motos are sometimes above the law in parts of CA and SA so we roll to the front of the line. Looking back are a mixture of observing protestors, farmers and police
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Close to the border we take a detour to see the beautiful Sanctuario de Las Lajas that bridges a gorge (photo borrowed from Ben)
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This is where I’ve lost my camera. I rolled away from a viewpoint above this church with the camera most likely on my duffel. We check thoroughly for it when I discover it’s missing and of course it’s long gone. Very sad but it doesn’t spoil the great mood we’re in to be on our way south again.  Th three of us have been through a lot and it’s good to be riding out of the epic together.

At about 2 or so we get to the Colombia/Ecuador border at Tulcan. The stories are that the borders in SA are much faster and more efficient that those in CA. The procedure is the same however with the usual requirements, procedures and complexities. But without being the torturous 4 or 6 hour battles we’ve been through a dozen times. I have a friend I rode with for a few days who said it upset him so much he’s never coming back. Be warned.

The border is modern-ish. So first, the usual – clear through Colombian immigration and get the temporary bike permit cancelled at customs. They’re both in this building and it’s a breeze
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Then off to Ecuador immigration, insurance and customs for a permit, in that order. Ben and Maddie up front
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The thing that’s good about the Equador border is that they have computers. Hooray. But they’re really slow across the street where we buy insurance and slow again at aduana (customs). All up I think it took about 90 minutes. So a big improvement over CA borders. We’re done, we’re into Equador ahead of any of the other riders backed up north of us (maybe 4 couples and a solo stuck mostly in Medellin). We’re happy.

But with the road block, the church and slow border we’re behind and not going to make it to Quito. But first, lunch in Tulan. A border town so not pretty. We stop for lunch
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We rip down the highway, new destination Otavalo, as it becomes dark
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Ben and Maddie
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We have some trouble finding a hotel in Otavalo but eventually do.

But we’re here, out of Colombia and south into the increasing exotica of South America, very happy.

But we’ve broken the number 1 rule of distance riding: we rode at night. There are many reasons not to, personal security being the top one. But secondly, the riding risks go up and surviving long distances is about reducing all risks where possible. A mutual friend of ours rode through into Ecuador two weeks ago and roughly at Tulcan, after dark, crashed into the back of a stalled car, broke his pelvis in 4 places and is now back in Australia. His damaged bike has been stolen, his dream over for the time being.

Saludos
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