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.
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
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
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
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
It looks like this for most of the distance to Cuenca
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
But as usual it was more like this
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
…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
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
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
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.
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
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.
(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
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 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 anyway 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
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.
… 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
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.
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.
This look like a bit like Parana, but actually it’s Pacu
Tilapia, which is a basic you eat the whole time in Latin America
Tilapia for lunch
A lady selling oils, bloods and extracts
Even oil from boa constrictors
It’s sometimes more like this
Getting my gringo flipflops repaired
Later, out to find dinner. The walk from the hotel
Past this corner
Up this street
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.
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
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.
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
And one more later before she disappeared from view
Then the trees cleared and we started the long climb. First this
The excellent small road gained altitude through gold and green hills
The road construction started
And turned to ripio for about an hour. Spectacular. I had no idea what to expect, certainly not this
As we got closer to the top the trees returned
And peaked out here at 13,200 feet. Very cold. Flip the heated grips on
Some huts about 1000 feet down on the far side
We round the corner and there’s this
Here’s a better one, says Lucinda
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
Small streams appear frequently
Which became waterfalls
Exotic landscapes and crags
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
Worse yet, as we passed through a small village we got fogged in
Luckily the rain only lasted a short while.
The next couple of hours was riding endless twisties through this wonderful tropical forest
Eventually we descended to the forest floor by which time the rivers were big
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 on
We passed some local motos coming the other way. Happy days
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.
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.