April 5, 2006

Moto > Airport  2:00 / 17k / .5h
Once again back to the airport in the middle of the night. Another delayed flight, this time at least eventually arriving...

!!! ROSA ARRIVES !!!

And there she is... half excited, half tired, and fully confused. After having spent 9 months talking of traveling with me ever since I left Buenos Aires it is surprising to see her standing in front of me. Packed light and carrying only the package I had my mom and Wie Ming put together to send her and ready for a ride.. Plans to travel together over the next 6 months back to her home in Lima, Peru.
Moto > Las Salinas, Venezuela  3:00 / 17k / .5h
Back to Las Salinas and bed.

The first wave in the necessary task of 'Reducir Cosas'. To combine our gear and reorganize, getting rid of anything not absolutely necessary. Little by little I manage to uncover nearly a kilo in facial creams and other girly sort of stuff. Already it is a tight trip on a 125, now it is even tighter and it isnít easy to convince a girl to give up on such things. To make it clear that the next 6 months isnít about fashion, it is about function. A bit of negotiation, leaving the remainder for future waves.

Rosa esta loca. Tenemos todas las cosas basura y no podemos andar. Estoy contento pero poco.

April 6, 2006

Moto <> Caracas, Venezuela  10:00 / 33598 106k / 8h 6h (return)
A day trip to the center of Caracas just to say we been there. Actually not such the nasty place that everyone has warned me of, but not so nice either. A broken bridge enroute has us a few hours waiting in a lineup of vehicles stretching the whole way to the city. Back after dark.

Plans to set out on our first real day of travel tomorrow.

April 7, 2006

Slowly pack out, taking the time to recognize how much gear we still have to reduce.
Moto > Chichirivichi, Venezuela  11:15 / 33704k 25k / .75h
Further down the coast and over mountains on a single trail of dirt to Chichirivichi. Loaded full and with an extra bag for Rosaís excess stuff on the back, the bike struggles to climb. A beautiful ride looking down over an impressive coast.

Negotiate our stay with a village lady in her extra house besides the church, 20kb. A trashy unmaintained shack at half the price of the next cheaper stay in town. Good enough for us.

Off to the nearby hot springs. Across a river crossing of cement and the bike unexpectedly slides out from under us on a slick surface. My fall saved by landing on Rosa, who didnít fair so well of it. Lying on the ground crying and slow to stand from landing on her tail bone. An emotional moment hard to handle so early in our trip together. To reassure her that this sort of thing doesnít happen everyday.

A bent left foot peg that I manage to break off trying to bend it back into position.

Arrive to the springs to find nothing more then a baby pool of mud barely deep enough to sit in but with a good steam of sulphur. Soothe our bruises for an hour before a group of retired locals arrive to work on their ailments. One with a broken arm, another with a bad back, a third recovering from a similar fall and a forth to mix up the cocktails. Pass around the 'Blanca Nieve' (Snow White); Vodka, Rum, Grenadine, Passion Fruit, Sugar, and Nutmeg. I potent however agreeable brew sure to ease the pain. Invited to their place for dinner.

Back in town a pirate does a decent job welding the foot peg back on, 10kb.

A quick visit to the beach before picking up a bottle of the finest hard apple cider we could find. A decent but heavy fried fish and rice and a few types of fried bananas. A drunken night of Hotel California.

Back at the shack mosquitoes and reggaeton music no dejan dormir todo noche.

April 8, 2006

Pack out, anticipating Colonia Tovar as our next destination.
Moto > Colonia Tovar, Venezuela  11:00 / 33732k 40k / 2.5h 1h
Struggling hard on a steep and rough dirt road that highlights our clear need to lose weight. A few tight sections and tough climbs prompts another 'emergency' wave of 'reducir'. Stop to leave her 2 pairs of blue jeans on the doorstep of an unoccupied shack mid-trail. A surprise gift to whoever lives there if they ever return.

More heavy climb onward with Rosa huffing the extreme bits in fear of a repeat spill. Eventually we meet pavement which takes us over a pass at 2050m before dropping into Colonia Tovar.

Colonia Tovar - A picturesque mountainside German village hyped on tourism and today in overdrive coincidentally celebrating its 163 years anniversary. Already a bit of an Epcot Center type of porqueria of a place, now an absolute scene which I am not totally excited about. Follow the parade down main street to the center of town where the crowd is so thick we are forced to detour. A side street down to the old church past street vendors busy hawking anything remotely German. Carry a carton of strawberries along while desperately and hopelessly searching for a stay. Completely booked and with nothing under 50kb we decide to just skip it.
Moto > Riverside Camp  4:00 / 2.5h .5h
Out of town and upward even steeper this time stalling the bike and leaving Rosa to more walking. Things arenít looking promising with this bike and the two of us, but I know it isnít the norm. I try to convince her that these are some of steepest roads I have been on my entire trip. And the coincidence that it is with her on our first week is just that. It wonít be like this all the way. Maybe never again. Rosa keeps a good spirit but I can see she is wondering if this wasnít all a big mistake.

Put forward a solution to ease her concerns. That if this is to continue then not only will we need to drop more weight but make some changes to the bike. To replace the low ratio chain and sprockets installed for the pampas of Argentina with the high ratio original parts. Parts that will trade off 25% of the speed of the bike for more power. Parts that now I am wishing I had bought back in Brasil when I had the chance.

And just as the thought lingers we happen into a motorcycle shop. Out of luck on the chain and sprockets but manage to wrestle up some other parts to change in the near future. A set of clutch pads for 22kb and front brake pads for 22kb.

Up to a second pass at 2100m and along an impressive mountain spine with views straight down on both sides. Above our heads even higher paragliders are playing between the clouds. The road begins its down and lands us in a valley at 800m.

Find ourselves a perfect riverside camping spot in a field where the experienced pilots land. Gather wood and start a fire before heading off to La Victoria in search of food to cook. A few legs of chicken and some vegetables for tonight and ham and cheese for sandwiches tomorrow, 25kb. Steep prices in the supermarkets leave us wondering if it is any cheaper cooking for yourself here.

Back at camp we setup the tent and score a success on grilling the chicken using an old fan screen. A memorably rich meal, tastier over wood then anything a restaurant could ever offer.

Our first campout.

April 9, 2006

Today we start our mutual budget of $10 each ($20 together) by transferring 50kb ($20 x 2500b:$1) from my silk safe 'stash' to my pocket each morning. What doesnít get spent in a day carries on to the next. A 'stash' that we take turns filling and I start using the $300 exchanged in the airport.

Teach Rosa how to pack up as I trim the excess wires from our new BBQ and rig it to the back of the bike.
Moto > Maracay, Venezuela  11:15 / 33825k / 1.75h .5h
A beautiful day, hot and dry to Maracay where we take a break in the shade of a service station garage for a sandwich before tackling another hill to Choroni. After showing a tough stance I soften up and give in to Rosa jonesing over a can of Coke, but not before her promising that it will be the last. When you are on a tight budget do you take the can of Coke or the liter and a half of water? It is just something our 'diario' can not afford. A learning experience for the both of us.
Moto > Choroni, Venezuela  2:30 / 33876k 60k / 2h
Stopped by the Guardia National at the entry to the Henri Pitter National Park for Rosa not having a helmet. A fixed checkpoint where they really are not interested in things like helmets as much as they are about taking bribes. Refuse to 'pay the 6 officers lunches' as offered and sit by the roadside waiting for other options to arise. Absolutely every vehicle is stopped for whatever reason they can think up. Some turn back and others pay up.

Our break comes in the form of a group of 5 scooters loaded high with teens and their girlfriends all without helmets. An upper-class gang from the 'alta suciedad' that the guards know will pay their demands. For fear of admitting them without admitting us and blowing their cover they wave us through first. You gotta take the money when it presents itself, otherwise you are just hassling people. This is your responsibility as a Guardia National.

An easier then expected (especially after the guards warnings of it being such a dangerous road) over the mountain pass at 1600m and to the coast at the tourist port town of Choroni. Another coincidence of time and space as what is normally a heavy tourist town is now even heavier during the holiday of ®semana santa®. Another difficult and desperate search for any available rooms under 60kb. Seems like we are destined to land in every porqueria during its most chancho day.

Drop off Rosa at the bridge in an attempt to do the research leaner and meaner. A final loop around town that lucks me into the last room in town and somehow negotiated down from 30kb to 20kb with the condition I pay for 2 days upfront. Hecho!

Back to the bridge find Rosa has wandered herself off. People pointing in all directions to the description of Peruvian girl with big hair. A half hour of combing the streets and questioning around to finally find her a good walk down the coast at her at Playa Grande. A vast white sand beach carpeted in an organized beach camp of rental tents of the like I have never seen before. A swarm of the cheapest of the cheap bottom of the barrel hippie types paying more to camp then what we are for our room. Take a moment to appreciate just how lean and mean we are. Maybe there is hope.

Out for dinner and a stroll along the main plaza. A seaside strip heavy in rich local tourists as well as their poor hippie moving jewelry shop counterparts. Rosa is interested in learning to make trinkets and be a hippie, the problem being she doesnít smoke. Choroni is definitely the hippie hangout of Venezuela.

!!! Happy 36 Birthday To Me !!!

April 10, 2006

My 36th birthday, marking the official end of my 6th year of travels and the beginning of the 7th. I am pretty sure it is the last, but then again you never know where life takes you.

A day spent laying around on the beach relaxing.

Treat ourselves to a budget busting birthday dinner of schnitzel and calamari at a posh restaurant run by Germans, of course. Rinse it down with a bottle of their finest red wine, Gato Negro imported from Chile. 50kb after the roundings and service fees, a day of travels. To camp the next few days to recover.

April 11, 2006

Moto > Beach Shack Camp, Boca Aroa, Venezuela  10:45 / 33931k
Out early and back over the mountains to Maracay on the same road we came in on. Take a break on the way into town for lunch roadside. Mango, chicken, liver, overcharged.

Las Trincheras further ahead is famous for its hot springs, and so that has become our dayís motivation. The busy highway to Valencia where we turn North and pass Las Trincheras by 10k before realizing. Turn back and squeeze past a fatal accident lineup of cars to find the unmarked exit.

A resort setup and charging 6kb entry. Manage to sweet talk the guard to let us in for free for 15 minutes (read half hour). Cement pools full of fat locals and tourists but excellent hot and ultimately relaxing. Well worth nothing and perhaps even worth the entry.

Further North the road splits at the coast. Do a bit of a loop around and continue North along the coast toward Coro. Make it as far as Boca Aroa by sunset.

Setup camp on a beach of fine white sand behind an abandoned old restaurant and far away from any disturbances. Motor back to town to search out something to throw on the barbee. Fail in finding a chicken and succeed in negotiating a fish from a restaurant nearby, 2kb. Back at camp where we deliciously grill it up in no time. The legendary fan screen BBQ that produces almost magically good meals.

Nice and cool night. Surf sounds and light winds.

April 12, 2006

Moto > Coro, Venezuela  8:00 / 34166k 220k / 5.5h 1.5h
A long day and a dull ride to Coro with Rosa poking me in the back every 10 minutes to stop. Take lunch at a popular service station stop about half way. A half chicken and arepas that remind us just how heavy the food here sits.

Hotter and drier as we go. Janeís Addiction on the mp3 keeps me motivated. Another pause at a mirador enroute without much of a view of anything.

Coro - 'The Gateway to Peninsula Paraguana', famous for its desert-like sand dunes. Climb a set near the entry to the peninsula behind a crowd jockeying for photos with a poser camel. The only camel in perhaps all of Venezuela. A nice set of dunes covering an area of a few kilometers. Nothing much really.
Moto > El Chupi Camp  2:00 / 34387k
Drive the neck of the peninsula to where it connects to the 'head' and turn right toward Adicora, where the beaches are. Across a desert of cactus and small salars and through heavy winds. An afternoon at Adicora Beach with crowds of local tourists. Nice place but nothing special.

Pick up a chicken and head out of town to find our camping spot besides a lagoon of white and red flamencos. Mistake setting up the fire over a colony of ants fleeing from the flames and anxious to find whoever is responsible to bite. Setup the tent a good distance away. A stuffy hot and humid night threatening of rain.

April 13, 2006

Moto > Cabo San Ramon, Venezuela  9:00 / 50k / 2h 1h
More playas North along the coast and past an impressive salar with its cultivated formations of salt crystals and its maroon knee deep waters. Make it to Cabo San Ramon the northern most extreme of Venezuela to find a stone lighthouse and a dozen Efe ice cream vendors fighting over the business of a dozen tourists. Infact this is within degrees of being the northern most extreme of all of South America, beat out by a peninsula just over the border in Colombia. Plans to visit if we ever indeed make it that far.
Moto > Beach Gang Camp  11:15 / 34503k 47k / 5h 3h
Continue around the point on an unmapped dirt trail with hopes of meeting back up with the road somewhere along the west coast. 5k of sliding over sand to reach a stone fishermanís shack where I suspect the true extreme point to be. Sold a soda to quench Rosaís addiction and invited in for a quick sopita.

3 hours later we are still waiting. Eventually served a Dixie cup of soup which we are eager for by now. Really we think they were just bored and wanted a song. Playing dominos and haggling over a trip to Aruba on a drug smugglers boat which has stopped to fix a broken prop. They say they arenít from Aruba to keep us away, but the dead giveaway is the flag they fly. Definitely not fishermen, that is for sure.

A splash of rain passes overhead delaying our trip even more.

Wave goodbye and continue down the sandy rough trail, plowing through a few big dunes. 40k and 2 hours of difficult negotiations through mud and over rough stone with sharp pricker bushes to each side. Along a beautiful and unknown coast with great wildlife and nature.

It becomes obvious we are near the road as we begin to pass family campouts and shacks along the coast. Stop to ask just how far we have to go and invite ourselves in to the semana santa party for a beer. Music and good spirits and then the food comes out and we find ourselves our camp for the night. A gang much more welcoming to us with bellies full of brew, sure to dull tomorrow.

Light rains pass and the night is cool. Setup the tent in a clearing away from the beach and their noise. Donkeys in the distance hee-haw through the night.

April 14, 2006

Curious goats in the morning.

Bathe in the sea and return to our friends for a brutal coffee as the tent dries. We have done enough camping in the last 3 days to work off the birthday dinner. Time for a posada and a clean up. A few dull goodbyes as expected.
Moto > Coro, Venezuela  9:00 / 34550k / 7h
Another 17k and we finally reach pavement at El Pico after a total trail of 57k of dirt. Take a break in the plaza for a panaderia breakfast of ham and cheese sandwiches and pear juice.

Continue along, passing through Punto Fijo and its 'zona libre', a customs free zone where a 1mp digicam is going for 800kb! What a deal!?!? There maybe no tax but someone here is sure making a hell of a profit.

Rosa once again confronts me with an addiction, this time window shopping instead of Coke. She knows we cannot buy anything but she needs to spend an hour looking at shirts and shoes. Seems that her preferences in fashion mimic the flashy trends of her Latin culture. Anything bright and shiny and preferably with a big logo impresses. Actual quality seems to go unnoticed.

With nothing else to see or do on the peninsula we decide to shoot for Coro. Heavy rains shower down just as we leave town, forcing us to a roadside bus stop for shelter. Everything is soaked. Decide to take advantage of the condition and give the bike a bath.

An ugly day with light rains continuing to fall as we cover the final stretch.

Coro - I cannot imagine it to be a nice town, especially in the middle of a storm. Stuck searching for our stay in a nasty scene. Streets have turned into rivers, flooded with a foot and a half of water and sewage. To worsen the problem they have just completed tearing out the main street in preparation to leave it in a state of muddy construction for the next month of rain. With such an important road out of the picture we are forced to loop around side streets even worse. The smell of human waste fills the air.

After a considerable effort we finally manage to find one place with a dodgy room for 30kb. Cold and soaked and feeling lucky to even have found anything we check in to get out of the storm. Hang everything to dry and out for food. Chinese for a change of pace.

Of course now that we have a place the rains begin to taper off. Take a walk about and fall in line behind a semana santa parade through the center of town. Load up on small 500b bags of popcorn from the 10 year old vendors to take back to the room for a night of movies on TV.

April 15, 2006

Slowly up and out by midday. A decent day.

The big decision between Barquisimeto and continuing South or Maracaibo and heading directly to the border with Colombia to see the true northern extreme. Decide it best to do from here; otherwise we will have to cover the south to north in Colombia where the gas is a whole lot more expensive.
Moto > Desert Camp  12:15 / 34691k 206k
The long and dull Rt3 to Maracaibo.

Stop halfway in Dabajuro to clean the chain and air filter. Abandoned puppies in the rubbish heaps keep Rosa occupied as I salvage bits of oil from a mountain of trashed bottles to lube the chain and filter. Picks out one to give a bath before returning it to its cardboard box home.

A bit further a popular roadside parrilla stops us for dinner. A long wait for a relatively decent but nothing special 'cuatro carnes' (4 meats), 20kb.

Within night shot of Maracaibo we decide to camp the night off of the main road instead of an after dark arrival. And so we turn off on the back road to Borojo in search of adventure instead of fighting with the bastardly road warrior cars whizzing by within inches. A dirt road along a gas pipeline to San Felix. Detour the detour to a small village on the 'coast' and after failing to find the sea setup camp in an old lakebed of cracked clay and cactus just outside of town.

Lightening without thunder but no rain. Another hot and humid and sleepless night.

April 16, 2006

Start to teach Rosa how to drive a motorcycle. The flat and obstacle free clay makes for good learning grounds. Fast learner on the starts and stops in 1st, but without the confidence to switch to 2nd. Enough for one day.
Moto > Maracaibo, Venezuela  8:45 / 34897k
Another 50k of dirt turning itself to muddy mess before finally reaching pavement somewhere past Quisiro. Take a right away from our route for the chance to finally see the sea. Another 5k and we reach the beach, popular with locals but anything other then attractive especially after the past 3 days of rains have turned the water brown. Back out and past Alta Gracia and finally return to the main road that we left after almost 150k of detours.

The bridge over Lago Maracaibo, the largest lake in South America and the most bastardly bridge. Stopped by Guardia National of course claiming that my moto isnít up to the challenge but really looking for handouts. Of course one of their first claims is Rosa needs a helmet, and so we solve that by putting her on a bus. This is followed by me needing a heavier jacket and pants for the strong winds. This is followed by them checking my turn signals and brake lights (which to their dismay work). As their evidence diminishes I manage to talk my way through and they let me go under the condition that a maintenance truck follows me over. A truck that keeps itself content hollering over his loudspeaker at me the whole way across. One of the most impressive bridges in South America, spanning a total of 8k from end to end. A light shower across the highest part in the middle but absolutely no wind and little danger of anything whatsoever. Pick up Rosa waiting on the other side.

Roll into Maracaibo and straight to the Plaza Bolivar in the old town center. Empty streets aside from a few dodgy drunks lurking about lend the city a scary thievery feel on Sundays. Ask directions to one who tries waving me into his lair for what I assume to result in an assault. The standard of considerable effort goes into locating a stay of considerably poor quality for its price, 20kb. An aircraft engine of an AC, a broken bathroom, and a weirdo old man for an owner who is paranoid over everything. A fat lady who thinks pushing a mop means cleaning.

Out for a bite and led by another kniving drunk to the only open Chinese food stall in town. Lingers around while we eat until I drop a few bolos in his grimy hands for the help. Not exactly the kind of place to take your family on vacation.

April 17, 2006

Today is a story about fixing one thing and breaking another.

Today was to be about quickly swapping out the new clutch plates I bought in Colonia Tovar. A job that shouldnít take much more then a half an hour. A job that took exactly 2 days after 3 of the cheap side cover bolts I replaced in Brasil and one of the 4 clutch plate bolts broke.

Without transportation it is much harder finding the parts you need. Followed yet another drunk across the entire city to find a torneria. A pop of solder and a few seconds to remove the culprit bolt, 10kb. On to a hardware store to replace it with something similar, 5kb.

Put it all back together roadside to find a steady stream of oil dripping from the side cover. Tomorrow to work on removing and replacing those broken bolts in the same way. Carry a liter of cheap oil to fill at each stoplight on the way back.

A cheap but excellent pizza for only 3kb just across the street from the torneria. The first pizzeria I have been in the world selling pizza for its true value. A real find.

Forced to change rooms to one with a fan and an even more broken bathroom, 15kb.

April 18, 2006

Another long hot and dirty day of moto repair.

A search for a cheaper torneria finds us one who manages to remove 2 of the 3 bolts (of course failing to remove the most important one) after a strong effort, 20kb. Back at the hardware store I replace them all with hardened Allen head bolts, 5kb. Silicone shut the side cover and with a bit of luck the leaking has stopped.

The Rosa motorcycle school continues as I teach her how to give an oil change. A liter of Castrol SemiSyn 20-50 12kb for the next 5000k before switching to the Mobil 1 Synthetic 5-50 27kb we picked up in Caracas. Clutch seems to work fine but my confidence in the repair is not high.

Break the turn signal lens popping the bike up the half meter entry to the hotel. Superglue it back together like a jigsaw puzzle. Stroll the plaza to the church in the evening.

Tomorrow to Colombia to see the real northern continental extreme.

April 19, 2006

Slowly pack out. Today is a holiday. Rain in the morning.
Moto > Colombia Border  12:00 / 35080k 125k / 3h .5h
All the way to the border to Colombia to find out two interesting things. Firstly, that they are strictly enforcing an official 33,600b 'exit tax' (whatever that means) to passing gringos. In all my travels through all the countries I have been I have yet to pay an 'exit tax' and I assured them I wouldnít start today. Successfully argue my way through all the checkpoints to the final chain link separating the two countries. Secondly, Since Rosa arrived by air she must leave by air and if she does leave here they will not let her back in. This wouldnít be a problem if we hadnít planned to return in a few days to finish the rest of Venezuela through Merida.

Lofty standards for a border heavy in corruption with a thriving black market for fuel. A border that sees fuel prices as high as 1000bpl, quite a step up from the pump price of 70bpl. A patrol that I am sure allows it to slide with a bit of a kickback.

After a bit of a squabble we come up with no easy solution with the residing officer. Too tired at this point to push the issue further, decide to just call it off and make the trip later after we finish Venezuela for good.
Moto > Maracaibo, Venezuela  4:15 / 35209k 125k / 3h .5h
Back to our home in Maracaibo.

The black market in fuel is so extreme that it has us on fumes all the way back. Absolutely every gas station enroute is dry after 5pm. Finally find one still pumping into plastic bottles just 15k outside of Maracaibo.

Check into the same room dirty, disappointed, and tired. In the end a bit pinched to have taken such a long trip from Coro for nothing. At least the moto is running great.

April 20, 2006

Put in a half work day before leaving town.

Our stash is not yet dry but decide to change money here just incase it is hard to change in the mountains. Manage to find a man in a fabric store offering 2500:1, Rosa changes over $300 to add 750kb to the stash. Should be good until Merida at the least.

Find a sasteria willing to let me use his professional machine to sew together the new GroovySac II, using the waterproof ThermaRest material that Wie Ming sent. A couple hours copying my old blue bag design but making it slightly larger to account for the extra gear. That and a few silny stuff sacks to fit various things.

Another wave of reductions and we are now packed into one bag only slightly bigger then my old scheme. Add to that the impulse purchase of a pillow at the fabric store and all the way we are better then ever. Move the moto parts and tools into the old sac and carry along a second small bag of things to ship home. Looks like we are finally on the right route as far as gear goes. There are still things to reduce but it is now manageable.
Moto > Lagunillas, Venezuela  5:30 / 35331k 65k? / 1h
Speedometer gears break on our way out of town. The same gears I replace back in Sao Paulo for a small fortune. How can I be sure they will not honor any warrantee?

...Broken Speedometer Gears Again...

Back over the bridge, this time without being hassled and without the rain. Take a right through Santa Rita along the coast of the lake. Pass through vast forests of petroleum refineries and storage tanks. A lake clearly responsible for nearly all of Venezuelaís oil. Barracks of petrol workers and military the entire way.

Make it to Lagunilla by dark and find a discrete plot of land in a neighborhood of such to setup camp. Another hot and humid night. Mosquitoes.

April 21, 2006

Return lakeside to look out across a virtual city on the water. Hundreds of platforms and pumps as far as the eye can see. Boat speeding their way with the next shift to their respective sites. I am sure the water is terribly toxic but take a quick bath anyways. Besides, it is the biggest lake in South America. Seems more like a bay to me. Semi-salty water.
Moto > Carora, Venezuela  8:00 / BROKEN / 3h
The long hot and hilly road to Barquisimeto, stopping at Carora to rest off the midday heat. Find a post office to send home the gear I no longer need, freeing Rosa and the bike from carrying it any further. She is now left with only the guitar on her back.

The package includes: my old SLR, well broken and tired of traveling, 11 rolls of undeveloped film, a second pair of moto goggles, my HighLite sleeping bag now replaced by my old MityLite just big enough for 2 if opened flat, and various other odds and ends. 2 kilos sent by slow post for 36kb and predicted to arrive in 2 months if ever.

Tired from the heat of the day, change our course and decide to stay it the day here instead of pressing on. A quick trip to the Alta Gracia Winery, closing its doors for the day on arrival and refusing to let us in. Buy a bottle back in town to imagine what it would have been like, 14kb. Check into a hotel/bar/parrilla for 20kb along the main street.

Pick up a street stall asado and crack the bottle to celebrate our meeting a year ago today. Actually it is tomorrow, but who really cares.

April 22, 2006

Moto > Barquisimeto, Venezuela  11:30 / 100k? / 2h
Against heavy wind to Barquisimeto.

Piri Piri Pollo on the way into town. Expensive and only so-so, but extremely popular with the locals. Maybe it is just our bad luck to pay so much for such a flavorless dry chicken. Maybe I am flawed by always comparing it to the ones we cook on the barbee. Maybe it really is just so-so.

Check into the Hotel Conquistador in the center of town, 20kb. Walk about the various plazas. A nice city but missing the population of musicians I was told to expect. Sit down with the local chess club for a few games, lost. Busy streets on Saturday.

Nothing much to do after nightfall when everything instantly shuts down. Venezuela is definitely not a country with a night life. Contrary to my expectations.

April 23, 2006

It has been 15 days and $300 since starting our budget and we are exactly on track, $10 a day each all included. Move the 750kb of Rosaís to the stash for the next 15 days. She has successfully weaned herself off Coke. Facial creams are still a touchy subject.

Sunday and the city as expected has turned to ghost town. The only thing we can scrape up for breakfast is an orange juice and of course empanadas which we are well sick of by now. A walk about on the empty streets, sharp in contrast to yesterdays bustle. Luck across a practice of the municipal marching band. Nothing special actually but finally fulfilling my desire to see some musicians here.

Back at the hotel the water is off. It has been off actually for the past 2 days but they said it would be fixed. Stir up an argument over the service and demand a refund. Only raises the argument to new levels until I threaten to call the police. Throw our money back followed by personal verbal attacks as I drag the bike out of the garage.

Late at night we go from one street to the next in finding a new stay. A step up in price for 25kb, but with AC and water. A water that pounds down in one solid stream strong enough to tear a hole in your back. An AC that shocks you trying to turn it on and off. A strong population of transvestites.

April 24, 2006

An excellent night of sleep, one of the best.

Take advantage of the street activity sitting down to a breakfast of Cachapas (heavy corn flour pancakes), 2kb/3. Take them without their traditional slab of cheese and instead mix in fresh banana and mango for something a bit more continental. Fresh orange juice on every street corner, 1kb.
Moto > Biscucuy, Venezuela  10:15 / 3h
Out of town back the way we came in and off again at Quibor where the road turns South and begins its ascent into the foothills of the Andes. A twisty ride passing small Peru-like mountain pueblos, friendlier and more colorful and energetic then 'low' Venezuela as I now am referring to the rest of the country.

As we climb the temperature chills quickly, raising back on the drops. A more extreme alive feeling sort of travel that I prefer.

Stop in Biscucuy for lunch and on impulse take a room too, calling it an early day.

The ultra friendly Posada Maria Leo. A small and rough room but with a great family atmosphere and full use of the kitchen for only 10kb. Not the cleanest or most luxurious place ever but certainly our best deal so far. Sancudos and mosquitoes are in full force. They offer spirals.

Coincidentally, the final day of their week long Coffee Fiesta. A town of coffee growers celebrating their year of harvest. Down to the fairgrounds to sample the coffees, ice creams, cakes. Gambling in a 3 dice game with 6 squares which I still am not sure how the dealer is profiting from (I won 6kb off of 1kb). Traditional music up on stage and a lively crowd filling the street with dance below. Taps my interest in learning more about coffee. Good fun.

A bit of curious internet research which as usual leads to other more interesting discoveries and soon I find myself copying down instructions to build a Pepsi Can Stove. We have a bit of space and it weighs nothing, wouldnít it be nice to not be so dependent on restaurants? At least to be able to make small things like coffee. The start of a new phase in our travels.

Pick up 3 cans of Pepsi on the way home. With the heat and the mosquitoes and my mind fixed on ideas around the stove I cannot sleep. I always wanted to try making one, and so it seems like now is the time.

April 25, 2006

An overcast and rainy day, perfect for a day of work inside.

A rash of accomplishments. Get Marie to cart out her antique Singer sewing machine (certainly worth a fortune on EBay) to hem up the two new pairs of Groovy Convertibles sent by my mom for Rosa. Take 7 hours down at the internet putting together a small weeks worth of update between chats. And last but not at all least, building the stove.

Building the Pepsi Can Stove - A much more timely process using a dull kitchen knife to cut the cans and a sewing needle to poke the holes. A few hours of carefully measuring everything twice and then in the end fighting with it to put the two stubborn halves together. The rough cuts of the dull knife leave the edges with ridges that make the job much much harder then it needs to be. With the experience of making the first one and using good tools I reckon you could make one in under and hour.

Fill her with 50ml of 70% rubbing alcohol from the drug store, 250b. A nice blue flame with only a couple small leaks where I dinged it during the struggle to fit it together. Brings 1 liter of water to a boil in 15 minutes with a maximum burn time of 30 minutes. A residue of the water that the alcohol is diluted with is left behind.

Tomorrow to build a better one and to try using a purer grade of alcohol. Make a pot stand using an old clothes hanger and a wind screen by doubling over aluminum foil. A light weight aluminum pot and some coffee and condiments and we are set!

April 26, 2006

I have become a small Pepsi Can Stove factory, turning out one for whoever asks in 30 minutes.

My new stove turns out 4 boiled eggs in 15 minutes on 30ml. Pure alcohol burns much hotter and longer and does not leave the water residue as expected but costs 5 times more. Not worth the difference.

The new excitement over the possibilities grows. Down to the market to stock up. Tea, coffee, eggs, pancakes, popcorn, pasta... Another bag to throw on the back of the bike.

April 27, 2006

Another day of perfecting our cooking supplies and techniques.

To leave tomorrow.

April 28, 2006

Heavy rain all night and day keeps us one more day.

The next to final wave of reducir has Rosa all emotional. It was the big plastic heart earrings she had the most trouble parting with.

Another round of creating stuff sacks, one for the stove and one for Rosaís underwear. Success cooking fried eggs, popcorn, and even oatmeal. The menu is growing...

April 29, 2006

Again overcast but now determined to make a move. Pack out and to my surprise we are much smaller and lighter somehow, even with the pot and stove inside the bag. A sad goodbye to our 'family'. Biscucuy is a great little town and Marie Leo is a great little posada.
Moto > Bocono, Venezuela  11:00 / 2h .5h
Off toward Trujillo. A brilliant mountain road in ascent to a small pass at 1500m. Stop enroute for a snack of cheese and crackers. Over the cold and wet pass and angle down into warm and dry.

Pull through the considerable town of Bocono and on our way out are detoured by directions to a 'moto encuentro' just outside of town. A 'Trial' motorbike competition by the river where the early arrivals are busy practicing. Incredible balance and skill in popping their hybrid enduro/bicycles over rocks my bike would never pass with a tow truck. Tomorrow at 10 begins the competition. Instructed to a lagoon near town for camping.

Back through town and up to the lagoon for a look about in the day. A nice little tranquil lake deep in the mountains with a healthy crowd of local campers. Borrow a park bench to cook up a spaghetti on before returning to town with hopes of catching up with some of the trials gang for dinner. A social night with the gang before returning to camp to setup in the dark. A cold night, but not so.

Rosa is starting to feel useless. She wants to make some decisions, which I am fine by but she has to do it. She tends to shy away instead of taking the initiative.

April 30, 2006

A day of trial.

Red is for beginner, green for intermediate, and blue for advanced. An amazing sport that inspires me to learn more. Some incredible riders who somehow manage the entire river course without putting a foot down once. Hundreds of spectators. Great fun running alongside and watching.
Moto > Trujillo, Venezuela  815m  3:00 / 3h 1h
Back on the road to Trujillo where we left off. Frigid over a cloudy pass at 2170m where we stop for a quality feed at a popular rest stop. Papellon Criollo - A shredded roast beef in brown sauce with black beans, rice, fried egg, and fried banana, 7kb. Chuleta de Cerdo - Pork Chop and rice, 7kb. Hot Chocolate - 2kb, another idea for the stove.

My harsh viewpoints of Venezuela are starting to soften. Or maybe it is just that I so much prefer the mountains to the lowlands. Less trash (almost clean), nicer views, fresher air, lower prices (1500b internet drops to 800b, 25kb posadas to 10kb, 8kb food to 6kb), and tastier food. Friendlier and warmer people living a slower lifestyle that seem more interested to lend a hand. I rather enjoy it here now. I should recommend you hit the 'low' sites as fast as you can and spend more time in the mountains.

The final wave of reducir comes unexpectedly early and easily when Rosa offers to toss the remainder of the things she knows are not important without the usual emotional collapse. It must be past her time of the month, or maybe our discussion yesterday had an impact. We are now packed within reason. Upgrading the motorbike is no longer so critical.

Seem to be going through my monthly cycle too. Since Biscucuy my stomach has been dodgy and it is now just all starting to flush out. Must be the water.

Steep down 1500m in a half hour of single lane decent asphalt heavy in curves and light in traffic with a commandingly impressive view over Trujillo in the valley below. A highly recommended ride.

Trujillo - Dodgy outside of its 3 street historic center where we find our hotel, 12kb. A bit of trial of my own managing the moto up a half meter step and in. An early night. Music in the plaza.

May 1, 2006

Up to the cement and steel Virgin Mary on the hill in the morning. 2kb entry to the frighteningly robotic looking lady. Nice view from her eyes but nothing really special. Back down to pack out and pick up a half chicken for a barbee enroute.
Moto > Nidal De Nubes Posada  1:15 / 4h 2h
A half hour straight up and over a pass at 1600m. Stop to grill up the chicken roadside. Rocks and bamboo. Storm blows through always threatening but never spilling. Down to Santiago, a very Peruvian pueblo where we stock up on canela.

Over another pass thick in clouds. Instead of pushing through without a view of what is to be a spectacular quebrada below, we decide to call it the day and hope for a clear morning tomorrow. The Nidal De Nubes Posada, an eccentrically decorated and elegantly posh posada empty and desperate for business. Rosa manages to work us in for 20kb to a room surely going for 60kb on busier days. A hot water shower, the 1st in I cannot remember how long. Cama de piedra (bed of stone) which to the contrary is one of the softest beds so far. White towels that don{t stink of mold. In-room satellite TV.

Empty their tank in the shower as Rosa fires up the stove for a hot chocolate. The scalding waters impart a baby like feeling I have been missing since somewhere back so long. This alone is worth the price of the room.

An evening enjoying the comfort or a stone bed while flipping through the channels. Vegetable stir fried rice for dinner, our most involved dish so far. Popcorn during The Simpsons.

May 2, 2006

Blue skies and an incredibly clear view of the canyons we would have missed out on if we hadnít stopped. Enjoy the view while whipping up a batch of cachapas for breakfast. This stove is absolutely incredible. Can{t imagine living without it.

Slowly clouds begin to form, reminding us that we don{t have all day before they close in. A final hot shower before packing out in a rush to make some distance before things change.
Moto > Apartadero, Venezuela  10:45 / 7h 3h
More impressive views along another recommended route, winding down to La Quebrada where we stop for miss-directions. To continue through town and down toward Cuevas Del Quebrada (which has no caves or anything of interest other then chicken vendors) in place of our interest in taking a secondary high road. Realize our mistake as we meet up with the Trans Andina Rt 7 at La Mesa, too late.

A road that begin a slow but steady ascent through more Andino pueblos enroute to Merida. A road that on my map appears significant but really is not much of anything. A single lane of occasional truck and local tourist traffic.

Stop in Timotes, the biggest of pueblos, to catch up on internet and eat lunch. A deep dish pizza tasting alot like Pizza Hut and costing 12kb, just sufficient for two. Decent but pricey in comparison to our deal in Maracaibo.

Continue the climb. The moto starts to sputter at 3500m. Stop to drop the needle one notch, the sputtering stops but the power is lacking. Still it manages to find the strength to keep us going. Still much stronger then it was back in Peru. It would have never pushed 2 back then.

Reach Laguna "Los Guaches" at 3800m on my watch, a sign claims 3990m. Continue through heavy clouds to the highest road pass in Venezuela. A frigidly cold and windy Pico Aguila at 3950m on my watch, a sign claims 4118m. Stop for a prayer at one of the highest churches in Venezuela, on a hill 10m above the road. Appropriately the Virgen de Coromoto (running motorcycle) and just in time to watch the old lady change the flowers.

Drift downhill without hands, stopping briefly to see the caged condors in the Parque National Sierra de la Culata. For all the hype about being condor territory here it is strange to see them in cages. The rangers say that really there are no natural condors here. That would explain it.

A bit further down the hill we settle on the first reasonable posada again with hopes of returning to the pass on a clear day. The Mystic Farmhouse Posada, a yellow house on the left where we once again score a luxury room of ultimate comfort for a bargain basement price, 25kb. Another evening of hot chocolate, popcorn, and the Simpsons.

May 3, 2006

More heavy cloud cover, only slightly more promising then yesterday.
Moto <> Pico De Aguila, Venezuela  9:00 / 2h 1.5h / 22k (return)
Back up to the pass where the clouds still prevent us from a view. Return under a light spray of icy mist. A hot shower thaws my frozen hands.

Continued showers through the day keep us yet another. Rosa fights a fever and a headache, possible signs of altitude sickness. Take advantage of the stocked kitchen to prepare pasta and something bigger. Fresh bread that doesnít rise at 3600m, anyways its good.

Thhheeee Siimmmmmsonsssss... Los Simpsons.

May 4, 2006

It actually looks decent.
Moto <> Pico De Aguila, Venezuela  10:00 / 1h .5h / 22k (return)
One final try at the pass. A brief opening in the clouds offers us a lucky view across the range. A view that actually wasnít worth the wait.

A slow checkout and another even more fatal attempt at fresh bread.
Moto > Merida, Venezuela  12:00 / 60k? / 2h .5h
Drift downhill slowly past rashes of posadas and artesenatos toward Merida. A windy chop down of 1000m in 60k with the motor off. Stop to pick up a bottle of honey at the Casa De Miel 8kb and again to raise the carb needle back up a notch. 3000m appears to be the altitude to make the change.

A detour off the main road and straight up a choppy cement trail to the Santa Maria hot springs. 3kb entry, negotiated to 2 for 1. A cement pool announcing 37į but really about 27į, not at all worth the admission and a natural sauna announcing 50į and worth every cent. Sweat myself fresh for a half hour.

Pick ourselves a quarter kilo of ruby red coffee beans off of the trees on our way out. To give a shot at home roasting after another schooling over the internet.

Arrive to Merida just as light rains begin to fall. Check into the first reasonable place we can find to get out of the wet. A rash decision that in hindsight should have been considered a bit longer considering this is to be our home for some time. To play the waiting game for a couple care packages to arrive.

The Waiting Game

Many thanks to Blaine in California for donating his old Canon A400 digicam and Cesar in Brasil for organizing motorcycle parts to send. 3-5 days express mail that I fear has absolutely no chance of arriving for at least a week. "A Revolution in Mail" claims the sign above the post office door. Somehow I find that hard to believe.
Express Tracking
EC 911 092 373 US - Digicam - Left California on 6th, arrived on 18th, no taxes
EB 009 534 775 BR - Moto Parts - Left Brasil on 8th, arrived on 22nd, taxes

May 5-14, 2006

10 rainy days bunked up in the ultra dodgy Los Nevados Posada, 20kb. Days spent working on my website, adding a nifty interactive map and some navigation arrows to my journey. Nights spent trying to sleep while whores next door work their clients into frenzy. "ahhh mamacita... chupalo... no te disculpas nada... ahhh mamacita..."

Success in burning the coffee beans.

Start on a half hour early morning run every other day.

May 14, 2006

Tired of the scene, we file a change of address and make a move to Posada Patty next to the teleferico. Welcomed in by a varied gang of backpackers on their way to or from Los Llanos. A monster tall Swede who turns bright red with rash after mixing drinking with giardia pills. A hippie chick from Scotland who knows all the words to Pink Floyd{s Lunatic. A Buddhist vegan photographer from Texas who plays blues guitar and shows us how to make yogurt.

Fresh yogurt has become our new breakfast fad. It is amazingly easy to make. Why does it cost so much?

May 15, 2006

A rainy day spent changing the front fork oil. BP Dextrol 3 ATF, bought for 6kb half price from a confused kid sure to get a beating later. Swapped out at a friendly mechanic shop who lends some tools and the space to do the work. A burnt and black spray of old fluid from back in Patagonia some 20,000k ago. The unbelievably smooth response I have been missing. Like your first peer through glasses after years of bad vision. Why did I wait so long?

Plans to give it another change in Colombia to flush out the grime.

May 17, 2006

The camera arrives!

! Thanks to Blaine for Donating Old Canon A400 !

So it seems that 3-5 day express really means 12 days. And had I not been such a pain in the ass at the post office it would have been returned to sender for "wrong address". Apparently the hefe who took my change of address form used it as toilet paper? A half hour fight with the irresponsible man and the fat lady to lift a finger to find it. Quite a revolution in mail it is indeed.

Still no word on the moto parts.

May 19, 2006

Put a call into Caracas to track the package down, as the local office is of absolutely no help. Told that it was put on a plane to Merida this morning and should arrive tonight, good news ;) And since the box is over 2kg (900 grams over) it will go directly to customs, bad news ;( Customs is in yet another office quite a long ways outside of Merida.

A valuable and hard to find toll free number to someone who actually answers the phone in Customer Service...
iPostal Customer Service
Tel. 0800-476-7835 
Ask for Angelo Moreno

But first to follow through on the prerecs for picking up any package from customs. Purchase the first and almost reasonable requirement, 900b in Timbres Postales (Postage Stamps) which actually cost 1050b after 'tax'. Decide to hold off on the second, 8800b in Timbres Fiscales (Tax Stamps) with hopes of somehow talking them out of it. That and not wanting to find the one pharmacy in town that is authorized by the government to actually sell them. Brings me back to the inane grocery store tow-yard pay-point system of Brasil. Why they can't handle payments in one place is beyond me. And of all things why am I even buying postage stamps to pick up a package anyways? The logic boggles me.
Moto <> Customs  2h .5h
Take the 45 minute trip out of town to customs only to find out that it has not arrived yet, or at least they don't know it has. And since it is closed on Saturday and Sunday, I should give a call on Monday to see.

Another very valuable and hard to find phone number direct to Customs...
Merida Customs
Tel. 2216755
Ask for Miguel Ilarriza

Do yourself a huge favor and make sure anything you send to Venezuela is under 2kg.

Finish up the web update after a countless number of hours and days in various cafes around town.

May 20, 2006

The first nearly beautiful partly blue sky day since arriving. A perfect day to begin the 2 day teleferico/trekking trip to Los Nevados and back.

Teleferico Merida - The largest, longest, and highest teleferico (gondola) in the world. A rather ancient and meager beast built by Applevage in Paris, France in 1958. From Merida at 1577m to Pico Espejo at 4765m along a distance of 12.59 km with 5 stations in total.
Merida Teleferico
. STATION              ALTITUDE   DISTANCE   TIME   .
. Barinitas (Merida)   1577m      -          -      .
. La MontaŮa           2436m      3454m      12m    .
. La Aguada            3452m      3290m      11m30s .
. Loma Redonda         4045m      2775m      10m    .
. Pico Espejo          4765m      3071m      10m    .
Pay their ridiculous 55kb return ticket fee for the whole route not even knowing whether we will be using the return portion. In retrospect, buy each segment of your ticket as you go as there is really no discount in buying it all at once. Also they don't check the tickets after the first station and so there is a good chance of doing it all for nothing. Just be careful, as they seem to informally keep track of the passengers as they go. But there is nothing stopping you from staying at a station to catch the next car. Worst case is they catch you and you pay the ticket.
Teleferico > Pico Espejo 4765m  9:00 / 1.5h / 55kb (return)
Teleferico > Loma Redonda 4045m 11:15 / .25h
Take er all the way up to the peak for some 'look at me' photos and then back down to the start of the trek at Loma Redonda. The teleferico trip isn't really all that actually, but I guess you gotta do it to say it. At the very most take it just one way.

I actually recommend doing the whole trip in reverse. Take a jeep to Los Nevados for 25kb and rent a horse for the trek to Loma for only 10kb. The trek is a real breaker and better experienced on the back of an animal for such a bargain price. From Loma chances are you can board the teleferico down without a cent. In the case that they catch you it was still worth it. And finally, don't bother paying the park entry ticket as no one checks.
Trek > Los Nevados, Venezuela 2700m 11:30 / 4.5h / 15k
A rough trek to Los Nevados climbing from Loma at 4045m to a pass at 4200m in the first hour and leaving you exhausted for the rest. Stop enroute to pick some wild berries and rest in a high river valley about half way. Stumble into Los Nevados tired, aching, and with a rocky downhill high altitude headache. Could be done in an hour less if you were pushing it hard, but we weren't.

Los Nevados - A single stone road deep mountain picturesque handful of residents tourist pueblo chock full of posadas. A beautiful view of the old plaza church from the trail above as you approach.

Difficult negotiations for our stay with the only fat lady willing to break the town rules in room prices. A communist community where everyone offers the same package for the same price and will not budge. Clean room and board for 20kb a person with chicken for dinner or dirty for 15kb without. We manage to work her down to 35kb for the two with chicken.

Save yourself a good bit by bringing a tent and food and camping it the night here. If you arrive by jeep from Merida you won't have to carry the food for the trek. And if you take a horse you won't need to worry about the weight of the tent.

A decent and eagerly received dinner after all. Soup, white rice, quarter chicken, fried banana, and small salad.

Plans to trek it all the way back to take advantage of our return ticket instead of spending more on the jeep.

May 21, 2006

An early before dawn breakfast before hitting the trail back. A couple fried eggs, a stack of wheat arepas, local cheese and coffee. A few arepas in the pockets for the long trip ahead.

Failure to reach accord on a discounted price for 2 horses we resign ourselves to foot. Anyways, it is the pain and challenge that we are after. And pain and challenge it certainly was.
Trek > Loma Redonda  4045m 7:00 / 5.5h / 15k

Huff it out of town at a good clip just as the sun begins to rise. In the shade of the mountain and at low altitude and light rise makes the first hour and a half third an easy go. The sun shows its power as we cross the midway valleys and climb further with concerted effort for the second hour and a half third. But it was not until the final hour and a half third of sweltering sun, high altitude, one step per breath, straight up climbing that broke us.

Not so sure I would make it and having to coax Rosa along, even more desperately then myself. Pulled muscles in the legs from the rocky climbs and reaching the pass in tears and on our knees. At this moment the view down the back side to the teleferico appears almost surreal. Clear with passing clouds and snowy peaks in the background.

Take a break at the pass to appreciate the beauty of the moment and its proximity to heaven. Tear desperately into the crumbled arepas as though they are of the body of Christ himself. Limbs slowly stop shaking and the tears start to dry as we realize we are almost there. A magical moment.

With a renewed vigor I brisk it downhill as Rosa limps on a pulled limb behind. And after nearly five and a half hours of climbing we are at the station. It would be hard to do it faster.
Teleferico > Merida, Venezuela 1577m 12:45 / 1h
A definitely more enjoyable trip down after such a struggle. Busted and beaten we find ourselves back in Merida. Out of the station and into the plaza where a shaved ice vendor surely sent from heaven serves us a slush. We did it!

The feeling of invincibility takes us back to Patty's where our stuff sits waiting. A long hot shower and a nap.

Looking back on the trip, I would say that neither the teleferico nor the walk itself was all that impressive. Unless you do it by jeep and horse as I recommend then I may not recommend it at all.

May 22, 2006

To the post office enroute to the customs office in a last try on our way out of town.

Dispatch number 184 has arrived!!! Infact, it arrived last Friday as quoted but just that nobody knew it. Unfortunately, it is in a sealed sack awaiting delivery to the customs office. A process of efficiency that will take at least another 4 days for this express delivery to fully find itself to me. A day for the post office to put it on a truck and send it on the 45 minute trip to customs outside of town. A day for customs to realize they got it and send a notification back to the post office. A day for the post office to deliver the notification to me. And last but not least a day for me to go to customs and claim it. Lets not forget that this process stops on Saturdays and Sundays. So even though my parts are here I have a week to wait. I can even see the big burlap sack sitting in the corner. It has got me crazy.

Seeing my obvious desperation they do me the biggest of favors, stepping outside of 'the system'. Out of the bag and into my hands directly, with a smile. And to make the day even brighter, without tax. Sometimes people make me proud. Finally we are free!

Tear open the package to find the correct Kasinski parts happily waiting.

! Thanks to Cesar for Sending the Parts !

Drive to a mechanics garage on the outskirts to swap out the faulty speedometer gears and cable. To swap out the drive chain and sprockets some time later. Once again I know how far I am going and when my gas will run out. The gauge begins to move away from kilometer 35347 it has been stuck at since Maracaibo. What a feeling to have confidence in something so simple.

Fill the tank and off we go! Not a single cloud in the sky. The first true blue sky day since arriving. Perfect timing for our trip onward toward Colombia.
Moto > Jaji, Venezuela  4:30 / 35348k 34k / 1.25h .25h
Out of town and off on a side road to Jaji. A brilliant paved mountain road passing a half dozen tremendous waterfalls. A recommended trip.

Jaji - A quaint little weekend day-trip two stone streets tourist pueblo. A attractive square and a handful of posadas and fresas con crema and not much else. Completely deserted during the week. Pick up some supplies for dinner and continue through.
Moto > Cocina Campout, Lagunilla, Venezuela  6:15 / 35382k 16k / .5h
Across a few significant rivers without bridges and over a pass with impressive views around and into a valley 1000m below. Shut off the engine to coast down in peace as the sun sets casting its final glow on the mountains across the valley. Pull off on a small dirt road and find ourselves a camping spot aside an abandoned warehouse.

Put together a decent pasta dinner on the Pepsi Can Stove as dogs bark at us from a distance. Our first true cocina campout and a relative success at that. Clear skies provide us a beautiful canopy of stars.

May 23, 2006

Last nights cooking success is this mornings cooking disaster. Attempts at oatmeal and hot chocolate fail when the milk boils over and spills into the stove and onto the ground. The bad luck continues as Rosa reveals the bite of a good sized spider that she obviously slept on. It is a clear and hot day but it takes a good time to dry the dew from the tent and pack out. The sluggishness of our movements suggests we didn't sleep so well after all.
Moto > El Vigia, Venezuela  10:00 / 35399k 72k / 2h
Drift the rest of the way downhill into the pleasant little town of Lagunilla and eventually find our way back on the Pan America. As soon as we are on, we are off again on another side road to El Vigia enroute to Puerto Concha with hopes of witnessing the famous catatumbos. The past weeks of rain has the road torn and a collapsed tunnel puts on a 30k detour around the mountains.

Finally pull into the busy and commercially trashy town of El Vigia with a thirst. Pit stop at the market for some fruit, a huge slice of watermelon and a bag of mamon, a bitter sour grapelike fruit. Continue through and pick up a 1/4 pollo on the way out for sandwiches a bit further along.
Moto > Abanico, Venezuela  1:00 / 35471k 28k / .5h
Take our picnic lunch under a tamarind tree in the crossroad town of Abanico.

A fierce storm passes with hurricane like winds as we finish up. Wait it out as Rosa collects the fallen seeds from the trees with thoughts of crafting hippie jewelry. The local kids show us how to shell the nuts from the seeds of an almond tree. A mentally retarded man walks around screaming at everyone. Poor man.
Moto > Puerto Concha, Venezuela  3:30 / 35499k 33k / .75h
Across pampa and past vast plantations of bananas, the local livelihood. Brightly painted wooden houses half flooded from the recent storms. To the end of the road at Puerto Concha.

Puerto Concha - A lazy 3 store pueblo punctuated by a river pier where a handful of 14 foot fiberglass boats wait to shuttle tourists to the catatumbo viewing platforms on the lake. Tourists passing through here are normally organized in Merida and so catching a boat in the moment on demand isn't so certain. Sit down dockside to pop up a batch of popcorn while waiting for an idea to arrive.

Immediately approached by the "guarda parque", interested in selling us on his boat for the bargain rate of 50kp each. He explains to us that tours from Merida pay 400kp so we must be so lucky to get such a price. Still it is too rich for us and besides we are in no hurry. Instantly the price drops to 40kp each. We just look at him and kindly smile. Still, we have time.

As the popcorn ripples away, a crowd of curious kids and adults form. This little stove really impresses people, regardless of how simple it is. An ingenious little treasure that surprises me that no one knows of. Pass around the pot for all to enjoy.

As the kids happily stuff their treat down, they open up and let us in on the "big secret". The viewing platforms are only 15 minutes away and really any fisherman would take us if we just asked. And so with that we setup camp riverside with hopes of catching a ride tomorrow morning.

Join the gang on a swim across to an excellent tree swing jump. A friendly old man who owns the property aside invites us in for dinner. A fierceness of mosquitoes of which I have never seen before.

Woken in the middle of the night by Rosa poking me on the shoulder. Glaring out of the tent through its mosquito net meshing. Flashes of light fill the sky, yet there is no sound. Excited for tomorrow.

May 24, 2006

The neighbors dog is relentless in trying to be our friend. He seems to have identified us as the only ones in town who don't kick it and so now he wants us to play. Awaken at the crack of dawn by the dog jumping on the tent and pulling out the stakes. I manage to get out before the tent finally collapses on Rosa.

Scare up a round of cheese and potato empanadas for breakfast, 500b each handmade by an old lady on the corner. The smell of potatoes in the air has Rosa up and out in a hurry, a true Peruana. Pack up and quickly find ourselves our friendly fisherman.
Boat > El Chamita Platform, Lago Maracaibo, Venezuela  9:15 / .5h / Free!
A fast and free ride to the first platform on the lake, the guarda parque at El Chamita. And as coincidental as all things usually are, the stay of the same man who tried selling us on a trip with his boat. A park guard doing his job by keeping post on a state park lookout platform, possibly the most perfect place of all to see the show. Without any other options (and certainly nothing better) we take dock against his wishes and take a survey of the platform to find our camping spot. Before long we prove ourselves to be worthy companions in chat and song and eventually he resigns himself to our stay. Besides, without us he would be bored to death out here in the middle of the lake alone. From then on we are friends.

A bit later he admits his position to us. That he was kinda irked at first for us having denied him, but now he admires us for doing it on our own. That we have come so far on our own and not to have taken one of those "porqueria" tours from Merida. An admission that he offers us as a boat full of Germans paying 400kp each passes. Points to the boat laughing to himself over how much they are paying.

A long hot day of rest with really nothing much to do. Take a swim and find that the water is only a meter deep across the entire mouth of the river. Walk myself to some of the other platforms to talk to the local fishermen that have made it their home. Flag down the crab boats on their way home at 5 with hopes of a luxury dinner. The going rate is 1600b (75 cents) per kilo, but being friends of the park as we are they gift us a couple kilos. Even still it must be the cheapest crab I have ever seen.

Another old fisherman is happy to show us the proper way to prepare the crabs. To removing the back shell and the lungs and all the crap inside before boiling them. A cleaner preparation then the "just throw em in the pot" manner of the states, but not quite as pretty in the end. It is so that when it is time to eat, you can do it like a pig; not worrying about all the innards.

And like pigs we ate. Put down the first kilo at the table, reserving the second kilo to mix with rice for lunch tomorrow. Some of the most delicious crab I have ever tasted.

An intense sunset floods the lake in a brilliance of oranges and reds. Lay out our mattress on the edge of the dock to face the show and arrange ourselves a big bowl of popcorn. Lightening flashes on the horizon as the sound of water gently laps up against the platform. A warm breeze slowly lulls us to sleep. Spectacular.

May 25, 2006

Oatmeal for breakfast before packing out.
Boat > Puerto Concha, Venezuela  10:00 / .5h / Free!
Hitch back with the first returning fishermen of the morning. Appears that they use this platform on their return to scale and clean the fish. 30kg of mano mano, amardillo, and corvina is the catch of the day; gutted and ready to go in one hour. The going rate on fish is 5kp ($2) per kilo, surprisingly to me more costly then the crab.

Back in Concha the moto waits.
Moto > Machiques, Venezuela  10:30 / 35532k 336k / 8.5h 2.5h
A scorching hot ride back across the Argentina-like pampas to Santa Barbara. Take a break roadside for our reserve of crab salad. Onward, the Argentina pampa slowly turns to rolling hills and the heavy truck traffic broken road reminds me of Brasil. By Casigua we are beat and take a short break for a refill before turning North on the flat and fast 6 toward the border to Colombia. One checkpoint after another every 40k and a hard push all the way to Machiques by sunset.

Only a day away from the border and with an extra 100kb in our pockets we decide to treat ourselves to a 30kb room. Relative luxury with a private bathroom, an air conditioner, and a TV. Take the rest of our money to La Vagueria parrilla to celebrate the end of Venezuela. 15kb for an asado easily on par with the best of Argentina. A true find.

May 26, 2006

With one more day on the visa before it expires we decide in a lazy fashion to relax it another. A bit of small shopping to use up what is left of our Bolivares. A tube of Active C to remove the wrinkles on our travel aged faces, 70kb. A new Oral-B toothbrush, 7kb.

An even better session back at La Vagueria. Heavy down storms flood the streets as we sit under the awning licking our lips from the feast. Back at the room I prepare a pot of fresh yogurt from powdered milk for tomorrows breakfast. Movies on TV and popcorn in bed.

May 27, 2006

A slow pack out.
Moto > Colombia Border  10:30 / 35868k 245k / 4.25h .25h
For a lack of signs and an abundance of bad directions don't plan to find the most direct route to the border. I think we passed it somewhere back in Rosario. A maze of secondary roads eventually puts us through La Paz and meets up with the Maracaibo-Colombia road just past San Rafael (the last gas station) and before the toll booths. The same road we had taken a month ago in our 35kb tax / Rosa cannot leave the country episode. This time the plan is to not pay the tax and actually leave the country. A long, hot, and windy feeling of dejavu.

Get our last fill from asking the patrol at El Tigre for some of their black traffic stash. Offer us a fill from the mountain of illegal gas containers seized from passing traffic. I only regret not asking them if we could take a few more bottle for the road.

Roll into the frontier pueblo of Lo Filu and spend our final 10kb on lunch. A half of a grilled chicken, a few chunks of boiled yucca and a bottle of grape soda.

Another 15k to the official exit point, excusing along the way to the checkpoint guards that we are actually not leaving the country and that we only want to talk to someone at the border; thus avoiding the tax. Park just past the final gate where the street guard waves me inside to have my passport stamped. Of course inside the man refuses to stamp me out without having paid the tax and Rosa for not being able to leave over land. Walk outside with confidence and get on the bike as though we have been stamped and drive out of Venezuela. The roadside guard just assumed we were clear to go.

A savings of 70kb between the two of us and avoiding a huge hassle with Rosa and her illegality of even exiting in the first place. This was the plan and it worked!

Happily arrive to the Colombia entry gate a few hundred meters further along and walk in for our entry stamps. After a bit of dodging the question as to exactly why Venezuela never stamped us out, and we are stamped in for 60 days. A small wait for the aduana to carbon copies the bike numbers onto a few papers and we are in. It all went a whole lot easier then I was expecting actually.

Colombia

VISA
60 Days FREE on Arrival
ECONOMY
2400 Pesos = $1
1 Bolivares = 1 Peso
Diem = $/d ($ over  Days)
Extras = ...
Food = 4kp-8kp (comida corriente (soup + meat, beans, rice, salad + drink), chicharron, arepas)
Room = 6kp-15kp (broken bathroom cold water, decent bed, relatively clean, breakfast not included)
Web = 1kp-2kp/hour (Fast)
Gas = 6kp-8kp/gallon (Free)
NOTES
In many ways a blend of both Brasil and Venezuela.
The prices and quality are decent, similar to Brasil and not so high and dodgy like Venezuela.
The budget accommodation is easy to find and is usually pretty clean and orderly.
The people are very friendly but they couldn't give directions to save their life.
The people drive like maniacs and seem to think they always have the right of way.
The country is beautiful with lots of nice views and not covered by trash like Venezuela.
The food is decent and filling but comida corriente can get dull after a month.
ESSENTIAL COLOMBIAN
Fairly straight Spanish but with the 'll' pronounced 'j'
Huevon = Friend (same as Chile)

Welcome to Colombia! Turn the clock one hour back.
Moto > Maicao, Colombia  3:30 / 36113k 15k / .25h
Maicao, the first city and just a push down the road. A big and unorderly frontier type city with alot of commerce and nothing much else of it. A swarm of motorcycle traffic, much heavier then Venezuela and with everyone wearing reflective vests. Start to wonder if I will be required to buy one myself.

First things first, pulling pesos. Rosa afforded us Venezuela on her cash in hand and so we switch to my ATM for Colombia. An ATM that actually works and without a fight, something I have almost forgotten is even possible. And with a non-black market exchange of 2500 to 1 the economic pressure wanes. Venezuela was such a pain in the ass that this almost feels like freedom. Reasonable prices without having to act like a criminal.

Decide to settle ourselves for the night to give ourselves time to acclimatize and prepare. A dodgy Venezuela grade motel near the start of town for 16kp. About the same thing I would have expected to find in Venezuela but much easier to find. Rotten bed, stinking hot, broken bathroom, mosquitoes, and a fan that doesn't work. An owner that is neither friendly nor gives a damn about providing a good service.

Pick up some supplies in the market, happy to see everything a clip cheaper. A 1.5 liter bottle of water in Venezuela was 2kp, here a 5 liter bottle is 3kp and in bag is only 1kp. To an internet where I download my scanned map of the North and have it printed and laminated. Internet is a bit more expensive, at least here.

The people talk much slower and clearer. I can actually make some sense of their directions.

May 28, 2006

It is Rosaís week and she gets moody.

Load up the tank and our empty 5 liter bottle with black market gas at 2kp per 2.5 liters, a 10x jump from Venezuela. Still the price is about half of the 6kp per gallon pump price elsewhere in Colombia. Carry the reserve for what I expect will be a heavy trip to the extreme North of South America.
Moto > Taroa, Colombia  10:00 / 36128k 216k / 8.75h .75
20k out of town and a right turn alongside coal rail tracks to Uribia where the road turns to dirt. Continue along the tracks to KM 134 where we were told is the turnoff to Taroa, the northern most town on the peninsula. From my low detail map I am not quite exactly sure where is the northern extreme but figure that Taroa might be a good place to start the search.

A faint jeep trail across a parched cactus desert, reminding me of southern Bolivia. As the trail progressively deteriorates into a bouncing bronco gully, the rear suspension begins to squeak. The front shocks begin to leak he new fluid we changed out in Merida and it is clear to see some repairs are needed. The start of a long day of sand spills, getting lost, and driving in circles. Carrying a rough compass heading and questions at every shack on the horizon. Indians speaking not a word of Spanish and with absolutely no interest in helping us.

One overly jolly man inspires confidence by breaking the trend and offers us coffee. Assures us we are on the right as he drops a chain he is holding up across the road. Across a salar and up a hill where a 5 man ejercito (army) division is camped out. Kind to refill our one liter bottle of water, but determined not to let us continue on for fear of some uprising if the president doesnít win re-elections today. Sensing their reluctance out of boredom more then true danger we manage to talk them off and continue on. Anyways, what could possibly be the danger here of all places? There is absolutely no one else as far as the eye can see.

Across more salt plains and over more rough and sandy jeep trail, spilling us out of exhaustion. The bike digs into an unexpected patch of mud in the flats and cements the wheels in deep. Rosa takes another beating as we hit the ground and in a moment the emotions get the better of her. Push out and scrape it clean with a stick while trying to calm her down.

As the sun begins to set, indications are that we are actually close but with no clue how far. Reach a principle trail actively in use by jeeps and are informed it is not far off. Rattle into Taroa a half hour after dark.

All the way we were somehow expecting it to be somewhere or something. No more then a half dozen stick and clay shacks in the dust, and with absolutely no indication of anything important. Pull up to the first shack with a deep hunger and in some sort of desperation. "ŅHay Restaurante?" After a good round of laughs the friendly family sees our predicament and offers us a stay.

Mama prepares some fried fish for dinner as the kids fill buckets with salt water to wash the caked dirt and mud off. All the while papa remains in his hammock and calls the shots, doing everything they can to make sure we are comfortable. Sympathetic saviors.

Prepare a mattress for us on the raw floor of the stale shack but prefer to pitch tent in the fresh outside. Storm clouds threaten us overhead, but they assure us it absolutely never rains here. After all, we are in the middle of a desert.

May 29, 2006

Our goal here is to somehow find the northern extreme of South America. And so after a quick breakfast of salt cured chiva (lamb) and panela con limon (lemonade), papa orders the kids to show us to the beach. A short walk to the end of the road and over some sand dunes and what appeared to be the middle of nowhere is now the coast. A peninsula like point jets out into the Caribbean that they point to as the northern extreme.

And so at exactly 9:29 I arrive with compass in hand to the tip of the tip where the waves crash in. As eager to take a swim as Rosa is to a session of sun tanning. Around the bend sits a single crab fisherman shack, empty. The kids head home leaving us to appreciate the moment.

On our way back and happen across a man caring for a goat that had his eyes bitten out by vultures. As we are excited to explain we came here to see the northern most extreme of the continent, he looks at us puzzled. Points his finger off into the distance to the west and just a little to the north and informs us of the real extreme, Punta Gallinas. Resign ourselves to extend the adventure after lunch and a siesta.

The Northern Extreme

Moto <> Punta Gallinas, Colombia  3:00 / 36344k 36k / 3h 2h (Return)
"There is only one road, you can't get lost..." is the jest of it as we get lost for another 16k. A maze of sandy trails leading to an unexpectedly large ranch operating as a lobster distribution / confused tourism post. Sit down for a hot beer as they fill up our gas reserve which we have already consumed enroute. A fierce consumption through the heavy sand, nearly twice that of normal. An unexpectedly great price at only 1kp per liter.

Finish up and they point us back the way we came. Exactly 5k back where a wiry small faro (lighthouse) marks the spot. And so finally at exactly 4:52 and KM 36365.2 we arrive at Faro Punta Gallinas, the northern most extreme point of South America. My third of the four extremes of this continent, and leaving only the West to go.

Back on the compass I survey out the exact spot where the land meets the sea and take another swim. A rough coral coast with a heavy surf, strong current, and full of things that pinch. Take the token photos as Rosa wanders off on her own. Want a sunset photo but not to return after dark and so I round her up and turn back early.

Back at the shack dinner waits. Some foul and surely infected salt cured fish that we eat only out of respect. Wash it down with a session of popcorn that they share with us surely only out of respect. Another night in the tent.

May 30, 2006

Out early to get a head start on what we are sure to be a hot and heavy day of adventure. Hand our stay a 20 as we say our sad goodbyes.
Moto > Uribia, Colombia  6:00 / 36380k 161k / 8h
Only lose ourselves one time leaving town. And then again across the first arroyo (dried river bed) for a total mistake of around 15k. Returning to find our way and the front wheel flats.
Front Wheel Flat  9:00 / 36410k / 2h
A cactus spine that I am surprised waited so long to find its way in. Lucky to have a good spare in the bag. An hour and a half replacing it in the middle of nowhere and without the right tools.

Directions in these parts are nearly impossible to give, but incase it helps you in any way. In the middle of the arroyo you take a right at the fork in the road approximately 15k from Taroa. The rest of the trip is anyoneís best guess.

From one wiggly finger to the next we somehow find ourselves back a completely different way. Your best bet is to bring a GPS and at the very least record your own route so you know how to get back. Otherwise, you just need to use a compass and your best intuition. My feeling is that almost all the road eventually make it out.

At 12:45 and just as if the moment would never come we reach the train tracks at KM 120. After almost 7 hours of driving hell and covering only 100k since Taroa, assuming our mistake. By now the shocks both front and back, steering bearings, and drive chain are completely destroyed. Repairs that will have to be made as soon as possible.

These are the adventures that break the bike. I could have easily circled South America twice without problems if I could just learn to stay on the black. But we were there. We saw it. The northern extreme of South America. On a trail seldom traveled.

A paved road that feels like a cloud takes us into Uribia; beaten, burned, and exhausted. With extreme hunger we settle into the first restaurant on the way in. Push back a pollo guisado and a bistek a la plancha and the soups and the salads of the two comida corrientes in seconds, 10kp.

The food fills our stomachs with a weight that convinces us to call it a day. Check into the only hotel in town, paying little mind to its 20kp price tag. Clean up and spend the remainder of the day starting on the repairs. Clean, oil, and adjust the chain; clean and oil the air filter; clean and grease the rear suspension linkages. The squeak is gone, but it really needs new bearings.

May 31, 2006

Load up the tank and fill all the plastic bottles we can find with 5 gallons of black market gas, 17kp. A quarter of all the gas we will need for Colombia. With a 5 liter bottle in each of Rosa's hands, two 2 liter bottles strapped to back, and a few more strapped to me we are surely a moving violation. Should be enough to nearly make it to Medellin.
Moto > Riohacha, Colombia  10:30 / 36545k 103k / 3.5h 1h
Paved to the coast at Manaure where it turns to dirt and to the South past vast and beautiful salinas to Riohacha.

Stop at the first moto shop in town to pick up a new Pirelli MX tube to replace the spare, 14kp. A lineup of moto repairs shops that have me on impulse to repair the steering bearings. Rent the tools of a shop and the help and advice of a bad mechanic for 15kp. Take er apart only to find the bearings unavailable. Luck across someone with a DremelTool and re-shave the bearings smooth as I had done before in Argentina. Almost like new, and a whole lot cheaper. Another bad mechanic welds my failing license plate back together, 2kp. A class act.

Too late to keep on we check into a 20kp hard find on the outside of town.

June 1, 2006

Switch hotels to a 15kp across the street and surrender ourselves to a day of relaxing. Take our 5kp savings to lunch from a street vendor and then a bit of internet catch-up with the rest.

Riohacha - A nice town after all. Through the small and pleasant old commercial center to an impressively clean and orderly white sand beach. A forest of cultivated palms shades locals drinking beers and laying on hammocks. Vendors pass selling "tinto" (coffee) and "aromatica" (cinnamon tea), 200p. A young boy sells us on a few tasty hard boiled eggs loaded with fixins, 1kp. Another lady serves up a mixed fruit cup with cream, 2kp. Alot more street options then Venezuela. It all reminds me alot of Brasil.

Rain on the way back as we scan the markets for canned tuna and vegetables for dinner. It is the spinach we are after and of all things it is what nobody has. Take avocados instead and put together a nice salad with crackers.

June 2, 2006

Another rainy day but decide to pack out anyways for lack of another idea.
Moto > Camaronera, Colombia  10:30 / 36648k 15k / .25h
Don't make it very far before realizing it was a bad idea after all. Heavy showers pelt down on us and force us to take refuge at a camaronera distribution shack enroute. Prepare coffee and crackers as we wait out the storm.

Peso on their official balanza: Me = 68kg, Rosa = 56kg
Moto > Los Flamencos, Colombia  12:30 / 36663k / .25h
Push it a pinch further and distracted by Los Flamencos National Park. A few shacks on the beach doing their best to prod tourists into taking their guided canoes across the lagoon to see the birds. Negotiate our tour at half price. Not alot of business on a rainy off-season day.
Canoe Tour <> Los Flamencos National Park  1:30 / 1h / 10kp
A 4m cut from single tree canoe pushed by stick across a knee deep lagoon. You could actually walk across to see the flamencos if you really wanted, but for the few dozen birds it isnít really worth it. Skip it.
Moto > Roadside Restaurant  2:00 / .25h
Another small push and the rain returns even more fiercely then before. Take cover and lunch at a dodgy roadside restaurant, 4kp.
Truck Hitch > KM 62 Truck Stop  3:45 / Free!
Offer by a friendly and obviously lonely truck driver to cargo the moto to Santa Marta. Load it up and off we go. Pass the Palomino Bridge Viewpoint to the mountains enroute and decide to unload at the next truck stop with hopes of seeing it clearly tomorrow morning. A small dive at KM62 where we take a bare bones no lights room for 7kp.

June 3, 2006

Moto <> Palomino Bridge Viewpoint  7:30 / 36694k 24k / .75h
Out early and back 12k to see the mountains from the viewpoint we passed yesterday in the clouds. A clear blue sky morning that is just closing as we arrive. Lucky to catch a glimpse before it covers.
Moto > Santa Marta, Colombia  10:00 / 36718k 73k / 2h? .5h
An easy and beautiful ride to Santa Marta.

Stop on the way into town for a medicine box reload of the amoxicillin I gifted the family in Taroa who's child had an ear infection. A full treatment, 10 tablets of 500mg (2 per day for 5 days) for only 3kp. Also stock up on 2g of Secnidazole that I used leaving Brasil for Venezuela for only 2kp.

Take a typical comida corriente for lunch, 4kp. Return to the bike to find gas dripping from the carb, a faulty float valve. Pick up a replacement at a moto shop and swap it out, 4kp. Noticing metallic particles in the oil filter I swap that out and give it an oil change using the Mobil 1 oil I been carrying since Caracas, 10kp filter + 17kb oil. The metal is in small bearing-like spheres which I suspect to be from the man who tried removing the broken side cover bolts with solder. Chances are they have damaged the cam shaft bearings and timing chain which is starting to ratchet and whine slightly.

Into the center we find our stay at the Hotel Aristi, 10kp. To the beach for a beautiful sunset.

June 4-5, 2006

A day of relaxation and a day of rigor. To Playa Blanca and back walking over cactus hills with no path because Rosa is scared of the sea. It is about time she learns how to swim. Pierced by the spines of a large cactus through my hand and broken off inside, extreme pain. Confused military as we return to Santa Marta via the "backdoor".

The DaVinci Code in the evening; 6kp, half price on Mondays. Interesting in a way but really kinda dumb.

June 6, 2006

Moto > Barranquilla, Colombia  12:00 / 36808k 90k / 3h
100% dirty truck traffic and lots of it. A black face entering the rough and trashy city of Barranquilla. Straight into the moto repair district out of curiosity and end up deep in repairs as usual. New front rim, spokes, and a Pirelli MT40 tire to replace the rusted and Brasil bent original, 160kp. New rear brakes and drum insert and reseating of the wheel bearings which should have been done a long time ago, 82kp. New basket on the rear to hold spare parts and food to replace the Argentina one now thoroughly busted, 12kp.

Take an hourly hotel for the night, 15kp. An in room TV broadcasting only porn.

June 7, 2006

Another day to finish up the repairs for a total of 271kp in parts and services. Another night in the hourly hotel.

I cannot describe how much more smoothly the bike rides with a new rim, tire, and after having the wheel bearings reseated. Every repair was well worth it.

June 8, 2006

Moto > Cartagena, Colombia  :00 / k k / h
An attractive and touristy (albeit a bit Epcot Center feeling) old city center inside original castle walls. Nice for a day walk but to be aware you are doing it in the thief capital of Colombia. The easy pocket snag with so many wealthy tourists dangling of riches. A near miss for us trying to get a good deal on a black market money exchange with a couple suspicious corner hawkers. Lured in with an unreal 3000:1 exchange and curious to see just how they try to snatch us we follow them to their cove for the slight of hand. Rosa walks behind with $200 in her shoe. Count out and verify the bills are real. Throw a wrench in their plans by demanding the actual exchange occur in another place, at the door in front of the hotel. Secretly passed the USD on the return. The man gets nervous at the door and I call it off, quickly entering and closing behind me. Rosa watches as 2 professional pickpocket thieves come from behind and try to force their way inside. The incompetent little girl helper at the door doesn't see what to the rest of the world must be obvious and lets them in. They make it upstairs and luckily they are scared off by the gang in the living room. A close call...

Wipe the sweat and continue the entertainment by watching from the second floor balcony as they continue up and down the street slipping hands into ladies purses. The whole tourist heavy scene and the thievery reminds me of Salvador in Brasil. Eventually the police are called and we are asked as witnesses, but nobody gets caught. They know who they are, the whole street knows who they are, and there is no secret. My feeling is the police are in on it.

The Posada Pirata (10kp) - Run by a lady frighteningly identical to "La Loca" of Buenos Aires. A hippie-esk "artist" type who refurbishes old junk, has pets as lovers, and thinks she plays the tambourine and bongo. Another nerviosa who is anorexic and takes out her frustrations of hunger on everything around her. A couple German "getaway" type hippies on vacation who incidentally were just robbed by knifepoint for 20kp. And a solo German man who is celebrating his birthday and also incidentally just got robbed by the very same men. And just after our escapades...

To the main plaza for chess in the evening.

June 11, 2006

A few days relaxing and doing little of anything besides taking a walk to the beach with the gang and trying to figure out how to enter the castle without paying the exorbitant 11kp ticket price. Failed on that project, instead settling for a walk around the outside in a sun so hot we had to complete it in parts. The Germans are off on a sail boat to Panama, 4 days and $250 and we are off tomorrow so together we organize a final night parrilla on the roof (that La Pirata tries to mooch in on). A full moon.

June 12, 2006

Gift the two with my extra Pepsi can stove on their way out and slowly pack out ourselves. It is when La Pirata truly turns La Loca and tries pulling a "the rate is per person" on us. An hour of arguments finally compromises us on the difference (15kp).
Moto > Tolu, Colombia  12:15 / 37060k k / 4.5h 1.5h
Take the long loop around the entire peninsula, not realizing it was a peninsula until the end, before finally finding the road out. A long, hot, and dusty 25k to finally reach the countryside. And at 37,100km finally empty into the tank the last drops of the 5 gallon reserve Rosa has been carrying ever since Maicao. Consequently your best place for a final fill at the discount 3000kp/g ($1.35) rate is Palomino just before leaving Guajira. The price here is double, and rises to an absurd 8000kp/g ($3.65) for the "good stuff".

Mango season is in force and we stop for a few and end up with the box. A crude wooden crate full of a good 5 kilos of perfect and juicy golden mangos and a steal at only 1kp. For only .08 cents a kilo, why not? Reminders of southern India as we sit on the curb stuffing our faces and failing to put a dent in our supply. The cheapest and best tasting mangos I can ever remember. And so quickly after lightening the load Rosa's cargo hands are again full.

Pull into the tranquil beach town of Tolu and find ourselves a decent stay beachside at La Tourista (15kp) in front of the docks where tour boats embark on a 45kp daytrip to the San Bernardo Islas. Take an evening stroll along the waterfront and back through town after dark. Plans to find a cheap option to the islands tomorrow.

June 13, 2006

Out at 10am, too late to work a deal alongside the 8am tours and too early to deal with the 12am fishermen on their return home. Explore all the options and sit around before finally catching a lift at 1pm.
Boat > Isla Islote, Colombia  1:00 / 1.5h / Free!
A 16' fiberglass local carrier who scopes us out as tourists and tries charging 50kp for the one way trip to Islote. A good natured fat man who by the end of the trip has become a friend and doesn't charge us. An hour and a half in the 40hp speedboat loaded with supplies and a handful of others.

Islote - An itty bitty island of 100m on side chocked full of 90 houses and 1230 people. The most densely populated island in the world they say, and it appears it. An island that supposedly was built using coral from the sprawling reef. An impressive and entertaining scene of drunken fishermen surprised to see anyone arrive outside of a tour. Happily welcome us aboard their mountain of bones.

Take a quick stroll from one side to the other. Borrow a mask for a snorkel. Great crystalline waters but littered with heaps of trash. Immense schools of minnows, tropical fish, crabs, and lobsters. With very little to see and do other then drinking it up with the rest of them we thumb a ride to the next island out.
Boat > Isla Mucuta, Colombia  5:00 / .25h / Free!
A bigger resort quality boat headed to Mucuta and towing a lot of 30 school kids to perform for the schnitzels at the 300kp Punta Faro Resort. Quickly upon disembarking, resort staff had it on us that we needed to get lost, helping us on our way pointing to the opposite side of the island. A quick hike across to a white sand beach where we setup camp. Pitch the tent among empty open air Marley-esk grass hut restaurants, apparently a popular lunch stop during any tour. A few crab fishermen trying to pull the beasts out of their holes in the thick mangroves. Nightfall comes and they go leaving us alone.

Intense and constant flashes of silent light fill the sky much more awesome then our Catatumbo experience. It isn't long before we are met by a thunderous roar and the greatest perfect storm I have ever witnessed. Flee the tent, pulling the stakes in a hurry to repitch it under cover of one of the huts. Shut ourselves in, and just in time as sheets of water fall so heavy they sheer the grass roof we are huddled under. Hurricane force winds follow and before long everything is completely soaked. Flee once again, this time with fear. Failing to prop up the wooden benches in an attempt to build a shelter. Eventually find ourselves refuge on the bathroom porch under the only solid roof on the beach. The raging sea advances to fill where we slept only moments before. The perfect storm. A very rough, long, cold, and wet night.

June 14, 2006

An absolutely beautiful morning welcomed by a dozen locals desperate to clean the wreckage off the beach and setup their junk stands before the tourists arrive at noon. Failure to find a friend in this gang to borrow a mask off of, instead to be hawked on for a shocking 20kp and for only 3 hours at that, thanks but No. A milk the tourist cow mentality that definitely thrives here.

Avoid the scene by cooking up a breakfast of oatmeal and mangos (of course) and finishing it off with a nice coffee. Together we feel like survivors after having camped through such a storm. I it Rosa finds the courage to push her fears aside and take her first lesson in swimming. A noble try, but the small waves that still lingering from last night scare her off.
Boat > Isla Islote, Colombia  10:00 / .25h / Free!
Hitch back to Islote with a restaurant boat running to pickup the days order for the 2 dozen ultra-tourists that eventually arrive. Grilled lobster at 50kp apiece, happily chucked into the boat between swigs by the drunkards we left yesterday.

Sit around until a passing cargo barge offers us a lift back to Tolu.
Boat > Tolu, Colombia  2:30 / 4h / Free!
An awfully long and slow trip by a 30' wooden beast pushed by a 20hp Chinese diesel. The mind numbing pace turns Rosa seasick and I gotta pee. Finally pull into port at sunset.

No mention of any intended charge until we disembark. A deckhand comes running after us demanding a cool 50kp for the dirt shit of a trip. Denied. Together we argue along any line we can to make the guy feel like a lunatic for even asking. All the while I keep myself feeling honest telling myself I could have swam so fast. I could have.

Check back into El Turista where the now power-washed Murphy waits. Tired and sunburn we treat ourselves to a lobster dinner at the restaurant aside and for only 10kp. And why not, having paid nothing for the entire "tour".

June 15, 2006

Moto > Monteria, Colombia  12:00 / 37237k 102k / 2.25h
A fast and easy ride along the coast and cutting inland toward Monteria where we stop for lunch and our first official gas pump fill in Colombia. A 12kp ($5) fill, quite a step up from Venezuela's 700p (.30 cents). Things get alot pricier for us from here on. Made it a good 1212km on that reserve.
Moto > Arboletes, Colombia  6:00 / 37345k 70k / 1.5h
Just begin our push back to the coast toward Arboletes when another storm pushes through. Take roadside refuge at a ranch where we prepare popcorn and coffee as the showers pass. Multi-colored tie-died chickens peck around my moto. A sure sign that a kid has been up to no good.

Light rains onward until dark. A short circuit triggers upon turning on the lights and has us stalled. It is either the motor or the lights, take your pick. A long slow drive without lights for the last 30k into town.

June 17, 2006

Take a morning at a local pool for Rosa's second lesson. A bit less fearful but still too damn stubborn she is.

June 18, 2006

After a few days of rest, rain, and fighting with the electric we finally continue on.
Moto > Almost Necocle, Colombia  10:00 / 37415k 70k / 2h
Out of town on a dirt road toward Turbo. A good test of the new tire, perhaps too good. Rattle our room fan grill right off the back, catching in the tire and bending the grill in half. Continue on the dusty truck traffic road, stopping in a crossroad town enroute for lunch.

The bike has somehow since Monteria become an extremely rough start. With the electric problems still perplexing the starter is for not. A fast run pop the clutch into second is what it takes. Sweat and dirt.

Out of town at 37485km and just upon overtaking a truck the engine stalls. This time the usual rough push start is even rougher, leaving us pushing it up and down a hill without success. It is acting like I remember so many times from Brasil and I suspect it is bad gas. Flag down a passing truck to give us a lift to Necocle.
Truck Tow > Necocle, Colombia  2:00 / 10k / .5h / 10kp
Fighting the bucking horse of a moto and sharing the rough ride with a load of apples from Chile.

Straight to a Mobil Station to dump it all out and open it all up. Indeed, expensive bad gas from Monteria splashes out a deep blood red in color, just like Brasil. A good 2 liters mixed with a healthy helping of dirt and indicating the need to remove the carburetor and clean that. That and chased out by a good quantity of water that I now suspect was the real reason for the hard starts. Think back upon the perfect storm.

I've had it with water problems after rains. The straw that broke the camels back to finally make me decide to do something serious with the open gas cap vent. Together we take apart everything cleaning the tank thoroughly and replacing the broken choke cable and the spark plug. Change out the fuel filter and put another with a piece of rubber tube to the tank. In the process do a bit of troubleshooting on the electric to find that the short is infact inside the battery. The cheap Chinese battery I bought in Buenos Aires that has been tagging me ever since. A battery I need to replace once again if we ever make it to Medellin.

Fill er up and fire er up, alot easier with the battery disconnected.

Too late to continue on we take a room in a residential, 12kp. A late night walk along the beach and to the central plaza where the town is well busy into a fiesta for whatever reason. This country has far too many fiestas and for far too many reasons, or none at all.

Swatting at mosquitoes seemingly oblivious to our Raid electric apparatus.

[In Retrospect - Possibly where Rosa catches Dengue]

June 19, 2006

Push start the bike and make our way out of town on a rough and recently rained trail.
Moto > Turbo, Colombia  10:00 / 37485k 45k / 2h
30k of muddy pools that turn paved just 15k before Turbo. Otherwise with the fresh gas the moto is running fine.

Stop in Turbo, a rough frontier town before the Darien Gap jungle to Panama, just long enough for lunch and to contact Sebastian in Medellin to tell him we are enroute. Excited to hear from us and to call back when we arrive. A decent half chicken and papas, 7kp.

[In Retrospect - Most likely where Rosa catches Dengue]
Moto > Mutata, Colombia  2:15 / 37536k 114k / 2h
An easy ride along bad Brasilian grade asphalt in light rain. Past vast banana plantations and grazing pasture to the foothills at Mutata, where the road forks around the center to avoid yet another unexplained fiesta. Take refuge from heavier showers under a tin roof and aside the festivities. Apparently it is their "Day of the Bridges", whatever that means. They celebrate anything here.

Listen to the band warming up as Rosa whips up a batido to go with a bag of donuts bought from the bakery across the street. A nice break with some memorable donuts.
Moto > Dabeiba, Colombia  5:45 / 37648k 55k / 1.25h
From here the road begins a beautiful climb through the mountains. Delayed by the rains we find ourselves 15 minutes into the dark and still 15k from Dabeiba, the next small town. Luck across a gang of 8 knackered drunks and their posse reckless on their bikes and on their way back from their favorite bridge (I guess). Fall inline with their lights on a dangerous final few into town.

Roll into the single boulevard town and park the bike at a service station for the night. Take residence besides in a room better then the last and for half the price, 6kp our cheapest stay so far. A large and clean room with a private bath and a fan that makes us wonder why we have been paying double that up until now.

The more I see the more I think of Colombia as a mix of Venezuela and Brasil. It holds alot of traditional and cultural likeness to Venezuela, mostly in the food and mannerisms. However, like Brasil it has so many more options for places to stay that are far cleaner and cheaper. And also like Brasil the people are far warmer and friendlier.

To arrive in Medellin tomorrow.

June 20, 2006

A couple disasters in the morning before pushing off... The cheap Chinese zipper has broken off a pair of my pants in which a senile lady fails to stitch back together. The bungee cord on the bike was stolen surely by the service station staff and replaced by a tire tube. Somehow last night I had the feeling something would happen.
Moto > Restaurante Laura  10:45 / 37701k 67k / 1.5h
A paved and thoroughly potholed and miserable but beautiful twisty mountain ride toward Medellin. Take a break from the rattle for lunch at a strategic roadside diner enroute with a refreshing view back and over the range.

Restaurante Laura, with an impressive comida corriente. Trucha fresca al ajo con papa frita, banana, arroz y fideo, ensalada, sopa de res, y una limonada all for 6kp and all absolutely lip smacking. A definite find and a recommended stop.
Moto > Medellin, Colombia  1:15 / 37768k 110k / 3.5h
The road continues its climb and over a pass at 2120m. A much improved road on the downhill with few holes but heaps of fallen boulders and landslides consuming the half of it. Washed out and obviously ignored more then any road I have ever seen. Around every corner heaps of gravel narrow the road to a single lane.

Drift down precautious of crazies speeding up from the local tourism haven of Santa Fe. A bit of a posh "campestre" full of weekend ranches for the rich of Medellin. Surely at one time and possibly still the resting post of kingpins.

A long final stretch over more mountains and finally down into the immense city of Medellin. A La Paz-like valley full of sprawling poorhouses as far as the eye can see. Heavy air pollution as we drop down into the wildly busy center, brutally shocking after the campestre paradise. Find the central plaza and give another shout.

Before long we greet the smiling Sebastian, excited to have us for a stay. Pack into his house and out again together with Adriana for a traditional Colombian feed. Really great to see the two again after such a long time since our Greek island experience together. They haven't changed a bit.

June 23, 2006

In the morning follow a friend of Sebastian in to Moto Angel, the "Medicos de Motos" to see if they have a remedy for my ill and tired bike. Word has it that they do all service for free to passing travelers, only charging for parts. Walls lined with photos of other happy travelers lets me know it must be a quality shop. Mechanics that seem to have a clue and are actually using the right tools for the job. A very rare find in these parts, a service I must take advantage of. Full until Tuesday so we decide to make a day of it touring around.

To the park of bare feet, where the masses rest their dirty feet in cold pools of heavily chlorinated water as school tours from the upper-class districts splash about in the fountains. Take the obligatory walk over the stone slabs to the Asian rough rock and bamboo forest before continuing on across town to the tourist village of Sabaneta. A nice retirement town on the outskirts of the city with a colonial aire, incidentally in preparation for the start of a 4-day banana festival. Shake hands with a famous local sculpture in the central plaza, busy cutting yet another statue of Simon Bolivar in white marble. Back to the house we drop of the moto and take the Metro and teleferico for some really nice views over the city. The only chair lift I have ever seen being actively used for mass transit. Impressive.

Meet the gang back home for an evening of bar hopping in the Andino pueblo of El Retiro.

June 24, 2006

Rosa wakes with a strong fever and headaches and body pains. Take her to the hospital for a cautionary check and to make sure it isn't serious. For some reason I suspect something serious. I think back on Turbo and the jungle we passed through and the mosquitoes. I try to keep my suspicions to myself.

A long wait through 3 lines for a doctor who prescribes acetaminophen without any checks. Useless.
Car > The Finca, Damasco, Colombia  3:00 / 70k / 2h
Out with the family to the "finca" for a long weekend rest away from the city. A similar weekends are made to get out of the city culture as that of Buenos Aires. The asado in the private campo getaway that upper-class intercity south American families take almost every weekend. A long ride to a brilliant vacation house in the middle of a 50 some odd family stone street pueblito deep in the mountains.

Walk to the town cemetery together at dusk. BBQ in the evening.

June 25, 2006

Rosa's fever worsens. Invited to visit the family doctor in town who prescribes trimetoprim antibiotics and a stronger 800mg dose of ibuprofen. Her hunger for eating anything has diminished, and what we manage to force her to eat she immediately throws up. More nervous for her we take a trip into the nearest health center for a blood test for malaria, results tomorrow.

Teach them to make yogurt. Another BBQ.

June 26, 2006

Sebastian invites us on an early morning walk, but Rosa is too weak and so she stays in bed. Up to a paraglider launch for an impressive view over the entire range. Invited into the owner of the land's ranch; rustic, small, and simple. Fills my head with ideas for a similar ranch of my own someday. Overhead, paragliders fill the air.

Offered a ride back in his jeep. Rosa is feeling a little better and the fever and headache has gone but gripping pains continue. This illness oddly seems to be coming and going in waves, stronger each time. The results are negative on malaria, but there are other tests to be sure. Take it as good news hoping she will be better soon.
Car > Medellin, Colombia  5:00 / 70k / 2h
The long ride back leaves us both dizzy and sickly.

June 27, 2006

Take the moto back to the shop where they admit the bike with a smile. A long day in the shop swapping out parts while Rosa sits sickly aside in misery only trying to feel better but feeling worse. A new battery, front shock seals, spark plug, wheel alignment, and finally the transmission we've been carrying since Merida. 9 hours of work in total and still not finished. To finish tomorrow.

June 28, 2006

Another long day with the bike. Not much progress really as I seem to keep getting stuck with not having the right parts and not being able to find them. On the positive side we changed the brake fluid to a DOT 5.1, happened into an Osaka rep offering me brakes and t-shirts, and set the valve clearance. On the negative side we broke more of the side cover bolts and Rosa admitted herself to the General Hospital of Medellin. The emergency room.

Rosa's Dengue Experience

Wait for 2 hours to get in to see her. Room #3 Bed #15, next to a crazy old lady screaming about peeing her pants. Laying pale and hopeless with a pool of vomit on the floor next to her bed, which the nurses have neglected for 3 hours. An incompetent staff that offers no information as to what she has or really how long she will stay. Whispers in the halls indicate anywhere between 3 days and 2 weeks. A plaque on the wall claims "Excellence in Service".

She appears deathly ill with bloodshot eyes and a full body rash. She says she is seeing double and can hardly move at all. It is then I admit my suspicions. We are terribly worried.

Sebastian must be wondering what happened to me. The bastardly nurses prod for me to leave. I must go.

June 29, 2006

In a bad state of mind I return to the shop to finish up the bike by midday. Replace the broken bolts on one side with outrageously priced HeliCoils, resigning the bolts on the other side waiting to break. Determine infact that although the battery was indeed bad, a burned out alternator is really the cause of my battery woes. Presented with a shocking bill of 354kp! Maybe they didn't charge for labor but somehow it feels like they did. And still the fundamental electrical problem persists, the only thing I really wanted to fix. Disappointed.

To the hospital during visiting hours where Rosa looks one day more hopeless. She has begun bleeding out of her skin and around her teeth and still they have no word for her. I resign the diagnosis to a long session on the internet searching for anything I can find. I find Hemorrhagic Dengue. It is often fatal. There's no cure. I'm scared.
Moto <> Retiro Test Drive  6:00 / 37950k 90k? / 5h 3h (return)
Again Sebastian is worried and waiting as I catch-up with the two for a test ride of the bike. In a hurry I follow them screaming ahead on his 650 back to El Retiro to meet a friend of his arriving from the states. The headlight works with the new battery and it has more power but only until it is drained, at the top of the hill. Catch up with his friend at a parrilla over an exquisite steak, better then any I have had even in Argentina. Drift down cautiously in Sebastian's lights trying to console my 354kp woes in the fact that at least the brakes are much stronger and the suspension is stiffer. All the while it is obvious the job isn't done.

June 30, 2006

As I try to break the sad news to Rosa about her Dengue, she tells me that they told her the same this morning. That there is nothing they can do for her but keep checking her blood and treating the symptoms. That her blood count has dropped to a fraction of normal and if it continues... that could be it.

Together we break down. It is only consoling that she is feeling better, but that may just be the calm before the next storm. Together we try to turn it positive. If it doesn't kill you it can only make you stronger. A twisted perception that at the time was assuring.

For the first time she writes for me her parents address in Lima, and their phone number incase anything happens. She weakly scratches an email for me to send to her family and friends on the back of the coloring book I got her. Again the bastardly nurses make me leave.

July 1, 2006

Sebastian takes off for another long weekend, but this time with some friends and I am not invited. He has been nothing but an ultimately excellent host and the fact that he seems a little tired of my stay is understanding. We have been camped out in his house over a week and with Rosa's condition and my bikes problems it looks like it could be longer. To make a move into a hotel closer to the hospital and the shop, and so we say our goodbyes.

A shabby and expensive proper hotel in the city center, 23kp the cheapest I could find under the circumstances. A bit more internet research about her disease and on a side note China running the first train to Tibet. Looks like it is already too late if you have yet to go.

In to see Rosa for the rest of the day. Her blood count is still dropping and has reached 60 platelets, dangerously low and she is bleeding from the stool. The good news is that the turnaround for this disease is in 3 days according to the website. If she makes it till then she should slowly get better over a months time. This idea keeps us both positive. Its the only thing.

The problem is being a long weekend they won't be taking any tests for 3 days. Most of the staff and doctors are on vacation and so she will get no attention, even less then the little she already gets. As far as we know she is in critical condition and anything could happen in those 3 days. It is make or break as far as the hospital is concerned, and they don't look concerned. We are.

Back to my room. I cannot sleep. Nightmares.

July 2, 2006

Up early to spend the entire day with Rosa in the hospital. Arrive to find her condition once again deteriorating, and we still have another day before anything happens. The more I read about the disease the more it scares me. I decide not to pass on the news to Rosa, who definitely doesn't need it. Her symptoms appear to be following the acute strain.

My nerves have me unable to eat or think or do anything else but to sit beside her. The nurses don't like that I visit. For some reason it makes them nervous. I rationalize that with me around they feel like they have to do their job, and they don't like it. The problem is they just don't really seem to care. They seem more interested in trying to milk money from her, which she already told them she doesn't have.

Without me Rosa would be alone and with no one to hold or to care for her. I just cannot believe this and their level of service or interest for that matter. They don't even bring her water when she is obviously dehydrated, when staying hydrated is one of the only ways to help fight this beast. Their only responsibility seems to be bringing a shabby meal 3 times a day which I must force her to eat.

Back to the hotel at 8pm after the security guard forces me to leave.

July 3, 2006

The doctor just back from his vacation leaves running out of the room after she tells him of her bleeding. A day too late perhaps? And he is wondering why nobody told him? She told the nurses yesterday, just nobody cared. This place could be the end of the road and even more sadly for the worst of reasons, human disregard.

The 10th full day of sickness. The day that according to the website she should begin feeling better, and consequently she is. Last night was her first good sleep since day one. She eats the fruit and drinks the Sprite I brought for her with a healthy attitude. The mood is brighter and together we are hoping it is finally through.

The guard kicks me out by 12 and with a wink he tells me I can return after 2. After the past few days of nerves getting the better of me it feels good to see her smile again. Manage myself to push down a small lunch before returning.

Only let back in a half hour before the nurses are on the guard about letting me return. I am just thankful she is feeling better.

An awful quarter chicken for 3kp that was really just a dry 8th.

July 4, 2006

Got the call from the hospital at 7:30am; to pick up Rosa, she has been released! It isn't that she is better, but that she isn't getting worse and they no longer need the liability. In her stable condition they don't believe it will get her and there is really nothing "more" they can do for her, as if they did anything for her at all. She looks good, but still there is a chance it will get her. You never know.

Happy to motor in to pick her up, but not so fast. Find her trying to explain to the social worker for the fourth time that she cannot pay. From day one even before they admitted her she told them she couldn't. A witch who continues on to demand 2000kp and threatens this sick girl that she cannot leave until she pays. They just don't seem interested in actually listening to her and the situation is absolutely ridiculous. After realizing she isn't getting paid by Rosa, the lady turns to me. Quickly denied. "... and that Colombian friend of yours..." Even quicker.

Rosa is a tough girl and even more so today. She has learned quite a bit about dealing with ignorant people in our tour together and so I off and move out of the hotel and back to Sebastianís, leaving her to work it out.

Eventually I get the expected second call back, that she is free to go. Somehow they managed to convince the Peru consulate to cover the bill. Sitting on the bench outside with her "records" in hand and a smile across her face I will never forget. Records that consist of nothing more then an x-ray showing nothing. A weak and weary but ready to go Rosa, feisty and just as stubborn as ever. Pokes at me for a slice of pizza from the nearby Exito Supermercado on our way home. Impossible to convince to take it easy.

Sebastian returns from camp, surprised to see us back but happy to see Rosa.

Bake her an even better pizza for dinner. It was all part of the deal.

July 5, 2006

Leave Rosa for a full day of rest (against her will) while taking the bike back to the shop for the final fixes. A scratchy sound during acceleration that I suspect is somewhere in the cam or valves. Replace the bearings once again, starting to think there is a problem with the oil pump. Break down and pull the left side cover off, breaking the final remaining cheap Brasil bolts in the process. Manage to dig the bolts out without enlarging the holes and replace then without the help of the HeliCoil pirate. Remove the alternator and drop it off at a shop to have rewound by hand, ready Friday.

A couple Japanese on 650 scooter heading to Ushuaia and a German (now resident) stop in. Invited to their hostel for dinner. Pick up Rosa, now well ready to get out and take an evening at the Hostel Medellin. A hostel coincidentally full of all the travelers I met back in Venezuela. The circuit is definitely small when you travel by guide.

The German shows us his dazzling website linked to Google Earth. The Japanese follow us out to dinner at an awful Chinese restaurant. The English stoner sits on the porch playing guitar. A normal hostel.

July 6, 2006

Work on a web update in the morning as Rosa pushes me to go to a triple matinee, 6kp. Some corny documentary on the rare mating pattern of penguins in Spanish at 3, followed by XMen - La Batalla Final at 5 skipped in favor of chess in the plaza, and El Descanso an ultra gory movie about a group of women in a cave with man eating monsters at 7 in English. Sickening.

July 7, 2006

Finish up the moto with the freshly rewound charging coil, 120kp. Runs smooth but still with the odd scratching sound not solved entirely by the bearings. I am suspecting it is worn rockers from the hot valve adjustment in Manaus. Fill the tank and make some fine adjustments, ready to go tomorrow.

A farewell pizza, this time even better.

July 8, 2006

As Sebastian packs for yet another long camp weekend we pack to finally carry on. After 3 weeks here our stay has definitely expired. A final and sad goodbye.

Thank you so much Sebastian for everything!
Moto > Cisneros, Colombia  10:45 / 38175k 100k / 3.25h .75h
Out of the heavy traffic and thick pollution and into the peaceful fresh air by Cisneros. My lingering headache of 3 weeks slowly vanishes. If there is one problem Colombia has it is air pollution. Bellows of smoke pumping from every passing truck and bus. Regulations regarding this foul traffic would really clean things up.

A beautiful ride on a fiercely hot and sunny day, nice. Aside from the faint rasping sound and another which seems to be coming from the rear wheel, the moto is smooth and climbs with ease. To take it easy as we haven't been at it for sometime and Rosa is still recovering.

Stop in the typical church-centric pueblo of Santiago for a grape soda and a few hard boiled eggs and again in Cisneros for an ice-cream.
Moto > Puerto Berrio, Colombia  3:45 / 38274k 96k / 2h
Slowly the mountains dim to fields of rolling green hills and grazing cows.

Tired from the ride as we pull into Puerto Berrio, a raw energy breaking point for all travelers on the Colombia-Venezuela cross country route. Loads of cheap hotels, distributors, bars, loud music, and street scene. Take a decent room at the Hotel Brisas alongside the river, 10kp. Heavy mosquitoes swarming about make us nervous.

A memorable and delicious catfish soup dinner at a riverside market stall just down the road, 3kp.

July 9, 2006

Moto > Giron, Colombia  10:45 / 38373k 203k / 4.5h .75h
The battery is at full charge and the bike is high on its new found energy. Finally the starting is not only easy, but I have to lower the idle speed to compensate.

Stuff toilet paper in the ears in attempt to ignore what sounds still worry me and push it hard to find or set its new limits. The new rear sprocket is a good 30% increase in power at the expense of speed, speed I need. And so I push the revs higher to see if I can get it. The moto responds well and actually seems to be reseating the piston and valves around its new curves. Top out at 85kph on straight and flat and with plenty of power. Thinking to swap out the 14 tooth front sprocket with a 15 as sort of a compromise. Pump the chain with lube and readjust frequently but there still seems to be something wrong.

155km of plains and into slight rolling hills, eventually reaching the second major mountain chain which should take us to BogotŠ. Beautiful scenery of a furious muddy river down below as we climb up through.

Stop for a bite and a rest and some adjusting as we reach the first tunnel. Vendors selling huge bags of sweet mandarins for next to nothing. Talk about the impact of the train and Tibet and how it is too late. You really gotta go now.

Heavy mountain all the way to Giron, a nothing much stone street pretentious world heritage tourist pueblo. Stop for a rest and unsuccessfully scout out a reasonable stay before deciding to skip the "attraction" and push on.
Moto > Piedecuesta, Colombia  6:15 / 38575k 22k / .5h
Make it as far as Piedecuesta (foot of the peak) before nightfall gets serious. Stop for an excellent asado across from La Argentina at the 1st asadero upon entry, 6kp. Follow a few nervous for our own good cops to a "cheap but safe" stay in an otherwise rough area.

The smallest room of my entire world tour, 8kp. Only 2' wider then a small twin bed and just as long. Only marginally bigger then my tent.

La Molienda - Run by the kind of family who doesn't seem to be interested or aware that they are running a hotel at all. Rather a cine with the adults watching 3 TVs at full volume all in competition with each other and all night, a sweatshop with the maid hammering on the dishes and moving furniture, or a preschool with the kids screaming and throwing plastic toys down the hall. A constant racket from the moment we arrive till the moment we leave. Absolutely no respect for anyone that might want to sleep. An owner who sings in the shower.

July 10, 2006

Moto > San Gil, Colombia  10:30 / 38607k 105k / 3h .5h
Drop into a beautiful canyon Chicamocha and climb back out to the mirador above Cepita, 1700m & 73km. Ride the table mountains to the pass at 2000m & 82km. Down slowly through banked rolling hills to the tourist capital of San Gil. Stop to sample the fried hormigas culonas (big ass ants) enroute. Taste like a salty nut.

Arrive just in time as heavy showers begin to fall. Take shelter in a restaurant for a half of a broaster chicken to let the storm pass. Check into the 1st cheap find. The nothing special but with a kitchen Hotel Palacio discounted in desperation to 10kp.

San Gil - A pleasant stone street small pueblo famous for its extreme adventure opportunities and its natural surroundings. Streets that climb the hillside the town is built on quite extremely. A beautiful plaza, lots of hotels, and tour agencies pushing all sorts of "opportunities". To see what we can do on our own tomorrow.

July 11, 2006

Moto <> Waterfall & Cave  12:00 / 50k / 5h 4h (return)
Just out of town for an afternoon at an impressive waterfall. Cascades from a few hundred meters, nice. Stop to tour Cueva de Indio on return. Deny their 25kp apiece agency required guide and purchased 2 Chinese flashlights instead for 7kp to do it ourselves. A true adventure and with Rosa scared of everything. 1.5km and 1 hour through with lots of bats and a deep river passing through. A flooded out exit requiring a 200m swim across. Significant trauma for Rosa, scared of water. In the end she made it, desperately clinging to a rope leading the way.

A great adventure alone but probably dull were we in a group. Congratulate ourselves for doing it alone and saving a bundle with a pasta dinner and beer.

July 12, 2006

A quick walk through town before packing out.
Moto > Barichara, Colombia  1:45 / 38750k 22k / .5h
Barichara - A nothing much historic town famous for its old church which to me looks like any other heavily restored old church, Skip it.
Moto > Charala, Colombia  2:45 / 38772k 61k / 2.25h
Back through San Gil and past the waterfall and cave on the road to Charala. A seldom visited town with no touristic structure or things to see but nice just the same. Too late to continue on we check into a terrible mosquito infested dive that worries Rosa into feeling sick. Could be something from the bat shit water she slurped up yesterday, a recipe for hepatitis. I kinda feel dodgy too.

Take a stroll through the plaza and watch Mana on TV while sharing a Coke. Decent beefsteak from a street stall near the hotel, 3kp.

July 13, 2006

Moto > Santa Ana, Colombia  9:30 / 38835k 90k / 5.5h 1h
A very heavy dirt and stone road that advances Rosa's sickly stomach into pains and diarrhea. It seems to come and go daily but I am guessing it isn't the dengue so much as the dirty water. Her lungs grip like the air is too thin every time we are over 3000m and I have learned it is just her way of whinging. I on the other hand have slowly developed a sore throat and a slight headache and fever. We are both in poor shape and our defenses are down. We really need a rest but our visa is expiring soon and there is the possibility they won't extend it for us in BogotŠ. We are pushing it harder then we should be.

Take a break at the pass (3520m & 38911km) in a small almacen for lunch, boiled eggs and cheese and crackers. The rear shock is broken, clicking back and forth instead of up and down along its piston. I am guessing it had something to do with the Moto Angels hammering on it sideways while trying to stiffen it up a notch. The shock bought new in Sao Paolo but was already ceased up in oxidation so much that any other method wouldn't do it. Just hoping my friend Odair didnít trash my old one that I asked him to hold onto just incase. Pump some oil into it and the sound goes away.

Bouncing downhill we reach the asphalt (3000m & 38925km) once again at Santa Ana. Rosa doubled over by now lets her body limp in protest falling to the ground and immediately to sleep. A good effort goes into rousing her up for the final stretch to Paipa.
Moto > Paipa, Colombia  3:15 / 38925k 25k / .75h
Continue down windy asphalt that feels like a cloud after such a disaster. Pass through Buitana, a dusty 6 lane boulevard town after 8k and turn right to Paipa another 17k further.

Paipa - An absolute disappointment after being told by so many how great it is. Nothing much more then an artificial lake town setup for high society tourism but really offering very little of interest. I just cannot believe I broke my moto and slaved over that pass for this. It is what all the locals recommend and maybe that is exactly why you should skip it.

Stop at the central service station for a fill and decide to give the chain its first full clean and lube.

Sheer luck! Upon inspection the master link is open and just waiting to fall off. Must have bounced itself loose during the rough ride, but that doesn't normally happen. Closer inspection finds that infact the master link is the wrong size for the chain itself, an o-ring wide link on a non-o-ring chain. The original link that actually came with the original chain for this bike all the way from the Sao Paolo Kasinski in Brasil. I can't believe they did this. It could have killed us.

I start to wonder if this has anything to do with the additional clicking sound from the rear wheel. Clean it up counting our lucky stars for avoiding a certain high speed disaster and put it back together with a spare link of the correct size and still the clicking continues. Take a chance at reversing the front sprocket and at once the clicking stops. In a second I imagine all the damage I have done to the chain by putting the sprocket on backwards. The flat face goes to the outside altering the alignment ever so slightly. I didn't even know it mattered. Live and learn.

Too late to continue on we take the cheapest dodgy overpriced dive, 15kp. Turn down a room where the floors have just been cleaned with kerosene and ether fills the air for one with a hammock of a bed. At least the broken electric on demand almost hot water spray in every direction but down eases the days pains. A strong night of sleep folded in half.

July 14, 2006

Moto > Tunja, Colombia  12:45 / 38960k 40k / 1h
Trucks and busses and smoke and dirt everywhere. A nasty commercial artery to Tunja, an equally nasty commercial city.

Stopped for pushing a red light while trying to avoid a stall at such an incline. Convenience has it the police station is just across the street and so we are taken in. A police force more fixed on making money then true concern for the law. Corrupt through and through and nobody is even trying to hide it. Negotiations with the director to trade off a ticket for the purchase of the final 2 weeks of required insurance we have neglected up to now. Manage to work our way out of it as the only open shop selling it is in the center of town and no one wants to waste their time to follow us down. The shifty lieutenant officer gives a final petition for dirty money on the way out. Denied.
Moto > Villa de Leyva, Colombia  3:30 / 39004k 36k / .75h
Over the hills and down to Villa de Leyva just in time to be booked out for their Virgen of whatever week long fiesta starting tonight. A perfect segue between their Festival of Trees last month and their Festival of Comets next month. A town living purely off of tourism for whatever reason they can think of.

A pleasant and attractive historic town none the less, making up for our skipping out on Giron & Barichara. Basically the same all white houses and stone streets nothing has changed here even though everything has theme. Comb the streets of the entire town to luck upon the only 20kp room in town, no bathroom and no TV but right beside the plaza.

Fireworks at night. Crazy with their fireworks. Launched within feet of historic wooden houses and straight at the cell phone snapping crowd. The logistics of digital photography has changed.

July 15, 2006

Start the day with the idea of selling popcorn for tonightís show. 2kg fills 50 bags cooked up in the kitchen and setting us back 10kp.

Thousands of people and all day on foot to ultimately sell 8 bags for 5kp for an unexpected loss on the project. Who would have thought in a crowd of thousands of fiesta goers you couldn't sell popcorn? They will buy anything else it seems, it just doesn't make any sense. Imagine walking around for 8 hours trying to sell good popcorn for only .20 cents a bag to a crowd of thousands and making only $1.60 at it? Absurd! Couldn't feel more failed.

Retire back to the room at midnight fully resigned. I could have made more money picking up empty cans.

July 16, 2006

A final round of heavy pressure sales in the morning manages to break us even. Gift half of the remaining 30 bags to beggars and pack the other half away to eat enroute.
Moto > Zipaquira, Colombia  12:45 / 39044k 150k / 4h 1h
Rolling hills of cow past a good sized marsh lagoon and climbing through freezing light showers. Take a break from the chill at a roadside asadero across from the Rey del Cerdo (King of the Pig) some 10k past Capitania. Another real find and recommended stop. Half a delicious roasted chicken and a basket of beef and cordero for only 8kp, enough to stuff us both well full.

Pull into Zipaquira in heavier showers and revisit our Coro experience in trying to find a cheap stay miserable in the rain. Escape the storm in an internet cafe for a couple hours before braving the downpour to find our stay at the Hotel Torre Real, 15kp. A bit on the pricey side, but a clean room with a comfortable bed and most importantly a truly hot shower that works.

July 17, 2006

Moto > BogotŠ, Colombia  12:00 / 39193k 53k / 1h
Straight to the house of Diego Alfonso, the brother of Angelica & Claudio two bicyclists met in Igatu, Brasil and now in Florida, who offered me a stay. Met by dad Claudio confused at the gate as 2 from Holland just left and he wasn't expecting more. Home turned into a hostel.

Invited in and shown to our room. Diego, our mutual contact won't be home from work till 9. Blanca the maid shows us around the neighborhood taking the dog Boomer for a walk. Find a clinic for a blood test for Rosa to see if she is indeed improving, tomorrow at 8.

Back at the house we relax on the couch and watch news on TV, BBC. War is brewing between Israel & Lebanon & Syria & Iran & ... nothing new really. The first space shuttle since the disaster a few years ago safely lands. A tsunami in Java takes out 100.

Make pizza for dinner. Itís our pizza phase.

Diego doesn't show.

July 18, 2006

Heavy diarrhea in the morning.

A day about town, both of work and play but first the work. Rosa's blood platelet count is up to 250 from the under 60 it was when we left Medellin, looks good.

Extending the Visas - Bus downtown in search of the visa extension office which we were told over telephone by Information 113 is in the Ministry of Exterior Relations. A long slow traffic bogged ride across town to Calle 13 Carrera 93 where we are informed it is actually in the DAS. A half hour walk a few large city blocks further to Calle 15 Carrera 100 where we find the long line to wait in. 3 hours of ultimate beaurocracy and an outrageous 60kp each for a weak extension of only 30 more days. Foot it another 15 minutes to the Ban Cafť at Calle 17 Carrera 100 to pay and stamp the receipt. Pose for 2 photos and make the required 2 sets of photocopies of absolutely everything before returning. To the end of another line for a series of full finger scans done twice by computer and then again by ink just to make sure. Hand in the copies and the photos and they snap another on their computer, again just to make sure. I just wonder where all these copies and crap goes and for how long until they throw it all away? And does anybody really ever look at any of it and if they even wanted to could they find it? An unbelievably heavy and unnecessary process that even puts Brasil to shame.

And that is only the half of it. Sent to DIAN for the motorcycle extension. An hour walk back across town to Calle 15 Carrera 75 only to find that renewals are handled from a second office of course even further away. Too late and tired to make it we decide to hold off until tomorrow and leave a little time for play.

Jump on the cram-packed "TransMilenio" bus to the center, an expensive and awful public transport, and further the walk to Candelario, the historic center. Stroll the stone streets looking at the historic plazas and churches and trying to find the small cafe I visited passing through at the start of my South America tour, without success. Alot has changed since then and it already appears to me that alot of the history and culture that was here then has been lost to commerce.

Down hill in the plaza the city is busy blockading the streets in preparation for a festival later in the week. A security lockdown for a military parade where the president will supposedly pass to give everyone a big thumbs up on his successful re-election. Could be quite a scene, one that I am not sure I want to be a part of. Pictures of the military posing in front of their tanks. Looking good pres.

Back at the house we tune back in. Tsunami deaths have reached 400 and the count is expected to double. Still no sign of the infamous Diego.

July 19, 2006

A 1kp/h happy hour from 9 to 1 in the local internet cafe finds me putting together a StealthSend update for Jim, 4h 4kp. Add recursive folder copy capability and fix a few bugs to call it v0.5b the "b" for Beta. Meanwhile Rosa spends her morning coloring her hair and putting together an impressive lunch of homemade mashed potatoes and meatballs in tomato sauce, black raspberry juice. Fed Ex arrives with my new ATM card from mom and an extra pair of Groovy Convertibles 3 hours early of all things. Sent out yesterday and in my hands by 3pm, quite a different experience to the 3 week express post of Venezuela.

On the bike and to the DIAN II at Avenida 68 Carrera 22-81 (the confusing numbers system of Colombia). Submit once again photocopies of everything and actually a letter personally requesting the month extension for my moto which they for some reason cannot read and stamp right off. Told to wait a week and come back in to see if they get around to it, a week in which my motorbike will be illegal. The same contra-sensible system I had to deal with in Chile during my final visit. Why can't anyone just stamp the damn thing and why should a motorbike be a lengthier extension process then me? And why was the process to get in the country so trivial if extending it needs to be so complex? It was a hell of a day down at the DAS but at least it was only a day. I'm not asking to live here, I just need a month to get out.

Pick up an extra master link for my chain on the return, just incase. It has been running smoothly since the awakening.

Finish up the pizza just as Diego finally walk through the door. Back from his restaurant in the countryside, just outside of the city. It is good to see he actually exists and doesn't mind that we are indeed using his house. Invites us to the restaurant for a couple days of fresh air before we get going.

July 20, 2006

Plans to hang out downtown and see the parade changed to watching rental movies on VHS for bad weather and lack of interest. Girls Interrupted - Mental hospital girls and their drama of eventually getting out, ok but cheesy. Boys Don't Cry - A girl/boy who breaks hearts and then gets shot by rednecks, good and shocking.

July 21, 2006

Another happy hour morning spent sending photos to my website, 4h 4kp.

Plans to make it the day and Diego's restaurant broken by another movie on TV. Perfect Storm - Fisherman George Clooney dies trying to catch big fish in a hurricane, ok but kinda dumb. Too late to make it before dark we stay it another. A comfortable living in a nice house can be a hard habit to break.

July 22, 2006

Moto > Curubital Restaurant  2400m 10:30 / 39276k 33k / .75h
Curubital Restaurant - KM 98 on the Mosquera-LaMesa road heading out of BogotŠ. A short hop out of town to witness the family business and second home for Diego and dad. A roadside diner set in the fresh green and foggy rolling hills just outside of the city. Smiled in by Diego and Claudio and gordito Osbaldo and of course Boomer.

Spend the day sampling everything on the menu and the evening returning the favor by showing them to make pizza and soft pretzels. Without a doubt the best food we have had in all of Colombia. Something more then just a find, a must stop.

Invited over to Osbaldo's farm ranch in the property aside for the night. Fold out the couch and light the fire. Impressionably friendly folks.

July 23, 2006

A beautiful morning walkabout the ranch. Heavy cold and damp clouds fill the air, lifting by midday offering a glimpse through the mountains and over the squirrelly road down to La Mesa. Tour the vegetable and herb garden, the pig pen, the cow stalls, all the while distracted by hundreds of beautiful wild flowers for a photo. All the while a half dozen farm dogs pouncing along and playing, a real getaway from the city life. I can easily see why Diego and dad spend most of their time here. More seeds in my head about someday having something similar of my own. The cows can stay but maybe without the pigs.

Invited in for a final feast before a day trip down to see just where the tempting trail indeed leads. A continental breakfast fit for a king of kings, great fresh milk and bacon. As we sit and stuff it in, a swarm of bicycles from BogotŠ take a break from pumping their way uphill to enjoy some of this great food before their final coast into BogotŠ. A very popular spot for the crowd who seem to take their sport seriously. Everyone decked out in the latest Tour de France fashion. Offer my tools and a hand to one with a broken spoke. Location is everything, and they even got that. An excellent business it is.
Moto <> Apulo, Colombia  420m 10:00 / 39309k 117k / 8.5h 5.5h (return)
Work our way from one town to the next further and further downhill until the 2 lane nothing town of Apulo before turning back. Nothing special really, just a bunch of BogotŠ elite carrying out the same weekend at the finca routine.

Lots of police checkpoints and questions over Rosa without a helmet but never any problems. The federal military police that govern most of the roads are usually very friendly and not at all corrupt like the local police forces which only govern within the cities. A nice break from the heavy corruption of Venezuela and Brasil.

Back to Curubital and another night on the couch.

July 24, 2006

Get up extra early to try our hands at milking the cows. I must have but I cannot ever remember having done it before, and it isn't easy. A very firm squeezing rhythm from the base to the tip that after a few squirts has you tired. Finish up 2 of the herd of 28 with the help of their hired farm hands to walk back a bucket of hot milk.

Cows go for around 1.5mp ($600) apiece and can give up to 10 liters of milk twice a day during their peak. Sit down with Osbaldo and family browsing their farm technology magazines and talking about the economics of farming. It is infact quite a good business on its own, but you need money to start and alot of lessons are learned enroute. Apparently the biggest problems in the area are with cow theft.

One final caldo criollo before saying a sad goodbye to a gang we have become family to. An inspirational bunch of people who really know how to host strangers. Invite Diego to my soon-to-be bar/cafe in New York if he ever is.

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Moto > Honda, Colombia  10:45 / 39426k 164k / 5h 1.5h
Back to Mosquera where we turn left over the mountains and toward Manizales. Stop enroute in Villeta for a quality sancocho de bagre (catfish soup) 5kp and again a bit further roadside for a strong chicha 500p. Drop down to 250m and cross the bridge over Rio Magdalena into the relaxed mini-Pittsburg-esk bridge town of Honda.

Check into a desperate hotel with a pool for only 10kp before the lady tries raising the price to 15kp once we hit the shower. My first shower in a week and I am not about to leave it for her sorry ass. A deal is a deal lady. Denied.

An early night after a long and tiring day on road.

July 25, 2006

Avoid the crazy lady price inflation by moving downhill to a residencia for only 6kp.

Hot as hell in this valley between the ranges just downstream from Puerto Berrio. 45c and above has us laying under the ceiling fan and doing pretty much nothing all day. A good effort required in leaving momentarily to send a package of junk home.

Nightfall brings the temperature within operating limits and we find ourselves strolling among the various bridges alongside the rest of the town. An attractive and interesting town for its array of bridges which have all been constructed seemingly without regard for the others. A hotspot of its own at the base of the biggest of them, steaming with vendors selling fish from the river. Pick up a couple patalon to cook up back at the hotel, 5kp.

BBQ in the garden, spiked through stick Indonesia style. Loads of bones, one getting me good in the throat. Swallowed down with the help of a chunk of banana, Colombia style.

July 26, 2006

A slow and hot pack out.
Moto > Manizales, Colombia  10:45 / 39426k 164k / 5h 1.5h
Climb back into the western (Medellin) range of mountains that will eventually take us to Ecuador. Over the pass at 3600m and then down again to 2100m at Manizales.

Stop on our way into town to zinc plate some rusted exhaust and axle parts, 5kp. A group of kids running the shop take a break from their stock of zinc grills to offer me a hand. An interesting process of bathing in a catalytic acid that is sure to have stripped my sandals of a week of tred. A nice result sure to last at least until I sell the bike in Lima.

Direct to an internet cafe in the center to hear the word from Japanese Taka who we may be meeting here. No word.

July 27, 2006

Today is officially the last day for the moto extension and so I figure it a good time to "check back" on their progress. Another adventure at the local DIAN and another round of photocopies and another "correspondence" taken in without action. A bit of desperate pleading has them assuring me they will look at it tomorrow.

A rainy day puts me in the internet. ISRG is plummeting from 120 to below 100 and dropping hard. For some technicality my trade triggers to sell never triggered and now I am stuck. What a crock! What to do?

The mail is in form Taka. He passed straight through from Cali to Medellin non-stop and so well I guess that is that. He has been in contact with us for weeks about meeting up and then this? Strange guy.

Clears to a drizzle and take a trip to the plaza in search of the local chess players union, found. A few games with a crazy man who decided it convenient to quit and clear the board when the rains returned.

July 28, 2006

To our surprise the moto extension is ready and waiting for us and without more undue hassle. 3 cumbersome pages the director personally typed out that going on and on about basically nothing and basically saying "ok" where a simple stamp a week ago would have been sufficient. And with that she apologizes to us for being part of a system so twisted and drawn out. So now we are officially legal once again and with 3 weeks to get out.

More rains that hold us back on that plan until tomorrow.

Move my chess ambitions to the local billiard hall where another senile old man takes stand. A man whose brain seems not to work at all other then for the game. A condition that I am sorry to admit many chess players have. A condition that works pretty well for him, but not well enough. 3-2.

Kill the rest of the day with movies on TV. A gato (hooker) takes the room besides. Obnoxious noises for hours. No sleep.

July 29, 2006

A blue skies sunny day, most welcome after so much rain.
Moto > Pereira, Colombia  10:15 / 39735k 48k / 1.5h .5h
Short push to Pereira over rolling hills of coffee. The usual heavy truck traffic, dusty and smoky.

Rosa is triste over some triviality, as usual. At least once a day she likes to exercise drama and find something to crag about. This trend of something always having to be wrong is getting on my nerves. I confront her about it. Why the drama? Women.

Circle about through town to find it of no interest before pushing on. The standard big city scene when right now I would prefer a small town. A misplaced nervousness which the nagging has aggravated.
Moto > Salento, Colombia  1:00 / 39790k 37k / .75h
Along the Autopista de Cafe (Coffee Highway) in search of a smaller town enroute to Armenia.

Pull off a secondary road taking us to Salento, just what I had been hoping for. An agreeable Argentina-hippie-esk tourist pueblo, very relaxed and very easy. Very little traffic and without noise or confusion. A place to let things cool off.

A tough find on a cheap home stay negotiated down to 15kp. Tough in that contrary to my first impression they are suiting up for a festival over the next few days. Pay for it straight through to avoid the raise the price the nearer the fiesta habit. A quaint little room in the house of a friendly family.

Up to the mirador for a nice view over the town. Light rains and a brilliant rainbow over the backside of the hill facing Cocora National Park. Sit down with some Argentina hippies who take a break from selling their trinkets for a few rounds of chess. Very good but not good enough to win the double or nothing on some earrings for Rosa. My skills are definitely improving.

A bit of an experiment resulting in a tasty pasta and local trout dinner, 3kp. Talk of showing a curious mama to make pizza tomorrow. She talks of showing us how to make trout the local way.

July 30, 2006

Back to the mirador with the sun to our back for a nice photo and a chess rematch in the process.

Decide on a day of motoring through the park to see its famous palms.
Moto <> Cocora National Park, Colombia  1:45 / 39828k (return)
One of the few free attractions of Colombia and absolutely stunning with its ultra high palms against a backdrop of rolling pasture. Excellent photo opportunities missed for lack of a professional camera.
Hike <> Almost Finca Bosque  3:15 / 1h (return)
A short hike at the end of the road taking us halfway to the Finca Bosque before running out of time. Nothing more special then what we have already seen by just arriving to the end of the road. On the return we treat ourselves for such a great afternoon to a patacon con queso at one of the many rip-off tourist stalls, 4kp. Patacon is like Mexican nachos but of fried smashed platano (big starchy banana) instead of corn, nice.

Back at the house we share our recipe for pizza with mama Amelia and her son Hector and daughter Karina. An easygoing and comfortable friendship has formed and so we decide to stay it a couple more days.

July 31, 2006

A day of rest and experimenting with a Patacon of our own. Amelia starts returning last nights favor by showing us properly how. At 200p a banana and 300p more in cheese it isn't hard now to see just how much of a rip-off that stall was.

Continues returning the favor by making good on her trout recipe. Trucha al ajillo - A melt in my mouth fish that maybe the best I have ever had and certainly will never forget. Slowly cooked in a creamy garlic sauce in a special fish shaped clay dish.

A payback so nice that I have to up the ante by making her curious daughter a Poker cerveza can stove. The simplicity of it dazzles them for hours.

August 1, 2006

Moto > Almost Quimbaya, Colombia  9:00 / 39854k 34k / 1h .5h
A nice and easy scenic ride through the heart of coffee country to almost Quimbaya. Stop a couple k short at a roadside carpenter workshop to give Jose a face lift. To sand off the orange peel wrinkled lacquer from Chile for a new coat, equally wrinkled. A piece of bone on the ground gives me the idea to make a proper bridge to replace the fret metal original. Hours of grinding it down to the precise shape using only a bad piece of sandpaper. Definitely better sound.

Invited to stay the night.

August 2, 2006

Finish up the guitar in the morning, once again sanding off the bad finish (and accidentally some of the snake). With success on the bridge I decide to make er a matching bone nut. It is midday before it is all strung back together and sounding but not looking so good. With his tail cut off, I will have to have someone airbrush him a home.

Wave goodbye to a really good group of guys.
Moto > Quimbaya, Colombia  12:00 / 39854k 34k / 1h .5h
Coast downhill into town. A relaxed but real town, not solely a product of tourism but not a bad stay. Check into Hotel 14, 8kp.

Take a walk about and happen into an airbrush studio to submit Jose for his housing project, ready tomorrow. Stop in a pharmacy to get a second opinion on our weights: Me=66kg, Rosa=56kg.

Tomorrow to spend the day at the Parque del Cafe (Coffee Park), the main attraction nearby.

August 3, 2006

Lost a day somehow???

August 4, 2006

Moto <> Parque del Cafe, Colombia  1:45 / 39828k 96k? / 4h (return)
A quick daytrip out of town to the Parque del Cafe. Pick up our discounted tickets (5 adventures for 25kp) at a hotel near the entrance. A nice park, beautiful in its nature walk, meticulously gardened and with a full spectrum of Colombia's flora. A handful of amusement rides at the bottom of the bowl, only worth laughing over with a friend. And most importantly a photo opportunity with a Juan Valdez impostor and his sorry looking herd of mules. A lively dance show to end the day. Nice, but only worth the visit alongside friends and bring lunch as they seem to think they aren't making enough money on admission. Pick up some Cafe Quindia "gourmet" ironically at a supermarket on the way back for being half the price they are selling it for inside the park, 7kp 250g.

Back to find Jose in his new home. A nice home, but quite a bit simpler then I were explaining to the guy, 10kp. Just hope the lacier dries correctly this time.

August 5, 2006

Moto > Armenia, Colombia  10:45 / 39924k 25k / 1h .5h
A rough battle with the police enroute over lack of helmets and chalecos. What broke them was my story of the 2 police and 2 kids I saw yesterday also without helmets or chalecos. They seem to be getting tougher as we go.

Pull into Armenia tired from yesterday's adventure to continue on. An upscale hotel as far as our standards goes, 16kp. A walk around town and to the only attraction we could find, the Parque de la Vida. A nice city park but really nothing special and not worth the admission.

August 6, 2006

Borrow a feeler gauge in the morning off of perhaps the only mechanic in Colombia to use one (besides the Moto Angel) to adjust the valves. The Portuguese manual I copied in Sao Paolo say between .08mm and .12mm for both intake and exhaust and so I set them all to .1mm. They were all a bit tight since their adjustment in Medellin and I expected that from wear-in on the new bearings.. Empty and clean the carb while I am at it.

Find Rosa a junk bin helmet and chaleco to be finally "official" and "safe" but mostly to avoid further hassle.
Moto > La Union (the long way), Colombia  12:00 / 39950k 105k / 3.5h 1.5h
Decide to cut West to La Union for some wine before our southern run toward the border. The valves are a lot quieter now and it seems to have a bit more power. Incidentally, Murphy turns 40k according to the odo. The real number is somewhere around 60k.

A 30k mistake as a result of a road not appearing on my map before realizing and turning back. Stop for an excellent sancocho de gallina at a roadside shack enroute, 9kp.

Luck into a motorcycle race while passing through ZarZal. The "Campeonato Occidental De Moto Velocidad" (Fast Motorbike Championship of the West). A rag-tag competition poorly organized but still well entertaining.

Past the vineyards in the heart of the grape growing region and straight to Punto Grajales in La Union for a tour of the winery, 5kp 1h. My very first paid wine tour if I remember correctly (they charge for everything in Colombia), and also my last. An absolutely horrible tour and an equally horrible wine of the likes of Peru are finest. At least the Dixie cup sample assured us not to waste ant more money on a bottle. I did it so you don't have to. Consider yourself warned.
Moto > Balcones de Carolisa Lodge  1700m 5:00 / 40055k 15k / .5h
A flyer in town sends us up hill toward Versailles to the Balcones de Carolisa Lodge to take advantage of their promotion. Not much of a deal at all actually for 20kp, but with breakfast and a great view over the valley. Besides there wasn't anything better in La Union.

Breakfast may be included, but dinner isn't and their menu is right shocking. Hours walking around the top of a hill in a desperate and failed search for anything else. Bring food.

August 7, 2006

A rather decent breakfast actually. A really nice view.
Moto > Buga, Colombia  11:30 / 40070k 116k / 2.75h .5h
Drift back downhill and push through on an easy going ride to Buga. Check into Hotel San Fernando just aside the basilica plaza with a nice room, TV, private bath, parking, and swimming pool for a discounted 15kp. The Basilica de Milagroso, one of the few "miracle" churches in South America, and the tourist draw in town. As far as miracles goes I can't say, but it is a nicely reconstructed church in an interesting shade of brick with great contrast to the sky. At the very least it offers a postcard quality photo from any angle.

Having snapped that we continue the stroll, making a big loop around town. To the mirador tower, claimed to be the "best mirador of the valley" and actually quite nice. Back across town to the Parque Santa Barbara for a few games of chess with the boyz. A talented gang.

August 8, 2006

Plans to use the pool to give Rosa another lesson spoilt by rain and "maintenance". Plans to see a movie instead spoilt by the theater being closed. Leaves us with no other options then another day of chess. And internet.

August 9, 2006

Against the maintenance man's wishes we manage to convince them to let us in the pool. Rosa's 3rd lesson, treading water. Definitely not the fastest of learners. Or maybe it is that Iím a bad teacher.
Moto > Cali, Colombia  1:15 / 40186k 75k / 1.75h
Across a hot, dry, and flat valley of sugar cane.

Stop at a sign cutting shop on the way into Cali to test OptiCut, one of the many software projects of mine. A fault in setting up the COM ports that I need to fix later.

To the crowded and hectic center and over the river into the high-society housing to eventually find a reasonable stay. Residencial Chalet, the cheapest stay we could find where we get a dodgy small room for 14kp. Bring the bike inside down a 100m hall nearly as wide.

Walk around the bar strip and sit down for perhaps the world's finest coffee at Palo Alto Coffee. Sample a cafe con leche (drip) 1.8kp and a cafe French press (press) 2.5kp. An introduction to learning about the relationship between the grind of the coffee and the method used to make it. A Medium grind makes the Drip which is the American Standard, and a Rough Grind makes the Press which is the French Standard. Only missing the Fine grind which makes the Espresso which is the Italian Standard. Tomorrow...

August 10, 2006

Spend the day walking through town, busy and commercial as I already mentioned. A nice riverside plaza but really not much else of interest.

Another round of coffee, written off in the name of business. An espresso mocha helado 5kp and a standard cappucino 3.2kp. Very good coffee, perhaps the best, but has us sick of it for at least a few days.

Back at the hotel Edward, an older Scottish bicycle traveler with 17 years on the road makes for good chat over popcorn. With all the facial character of a well worn and somewhat tired traveler, a face I myself am starting to inherit. Interestingly he follows a lot of the same philosophies as me as far as travel goes. I wonder if it is inevitable.

August 11, 2006

Moto > BuenaVentura, Colombia  10:45 / 40273k 150k / 3.75h 1h
15k out of town before realizing the last gas station is 12k back, absurd. A 24k mistake that throws an hour of our day.

Over the pass at km18 where an icy mist and heavy clouds put on a chill. Drift down, ducking below the white and into a lush and tropical valley of deep green. My first pineapple field sighting where we stop for a photo and are gifted a few by two friendly workers. Turn off onto a road under heavy construction and with heavy truck traffic that clears the final few hills by tunnel before arriving at the Pacific coast in BuenaVentura.

Little Africa - A rough port town of what was once (and still is) African slave labor for a large commercial port. A sprawling and ratty city with its only attractions being some islands 20 minutes away by absurdly priced speedboat, 40kp. Instead we decide to make good on the long trip here by just observing about. Drop our gear into the equally ratty Naranja for 13kp.

Pool halls and bars. A lively street scene. A memorable bakery.

August 12, 2006

Moto > La Colima, Colombia  10:45 / 40426k 107k / 3h .5h
15k of sprawling slum to finally clear town. Back along the same rows of heavy trucks dusty construction road. A cleaner and lighter trip before the midday rush breaks through.

Left at Lobo Guerrero where the climb steepens to Lago Colima, the lake resort for Cali. Stop at a mirador at the pass and drop in for a quick trip around the lake before making our way back to Cali. An attractive lake popular for windsurfing.

Plans to continue straight through the small town of La Colima on the opposite side disrupted by yet another fiesta, the Festival del Verano (Summer Festival). Streets full of color and excitement keep us from continuing on to see just what all the hype is about.

A tough find on a hole in the wall, literally. A terribly infested shoe box with a crazy old lady in charge, 10kp. A half empty bottle of whiskey in one corner and a half full bottle of piss in the other.

Out to witness the parade of locos and queens and kids on stilts. More fireworks five feet from the old wooden houses. A stage and music all night.

Good news from email buddy Wie Ming, he is in Colombia and should be within reach in a couple days. Plans to wait for him here.

August 13, 2006

Off to a 4 wheelers race in the morning (a terrible race), and kicked out by midday. A panic attack by the crazy old lady because the real owner of the room managed to stumble home and is wondering what happened. Caught renting out a room she doesn't even own and having the nerves to want todayís rent because it is after noon. Claims to have told us to leave by 6am when we checked in but didn't say a word when we saw her at 8am. Whatever.

Already tired of the local scene it was the straw that broke the back on just packing up and leaving. Email Wie Ming that we've had enough of that fiesta and head off. To meet either in Cali or some small town enroute.
Moto > Restrepo, Colombia  3:15 / 40534k / .75h
Finish rounding the lake and over the hills on a beautiful secondary road toward La Cumbre. An impressive view down on the small pueblo of Restrepo with its unusually large and impressive church for such a nothing small town impresses us into calling this our home until Wie Ming catches up. Drift down to the plaza and take the first hotel we see, the Hotel Conto a great deal at 10kp. A relaxing and friendly town.

!!! Rosa's Birthday !!!

August 14, 2006

Start the celebration with a good bakery breakfast next door.

Continue to scan the streets for something to do on such a special day, and find absolutely nothing. Back to take a nap from the sweltering midday heat and awoken by a knock on the door...

!!! Wie Ming Arrives !!!

Talk about special days!

Introduce myself to the guy that until now I have only met as inspired by my website to do a trip of his own and thereafter in a string of emails along the way. A few months into his own motorcycle adventure from the states South to Ushuaia before making any "work decisions". A job he left in much the same manner as myself but different in that he has the option of returning in a year. A year that we both know will inspire a few changes.

A Suzuki 650 well too big and heavy for the trip in my eyes but already a sacrifice in his. Modified with a large aluminum box on the back, side bags, and GPS. But it is the immensely oversized gas tank that takes it over the top. Some things you got to learn the hard way. We'll work on it.

A brilliant smiling face fills the room, surprised himself to have made it after months of online organizing. Checks in next door we head out for some lunch and beers to celebrate. A really good guy to see and on a really nice day in a nice town. For awhile I wondered if it would ever really happen.

Plans to travel together until whenever... possibly Peru.

Continue the birthday celebrations with an asado dinner and a "surprise" not so surprise cake. Finish it off in the only open bar in town for a few aguadientes.

August 15, 2006

While Rosa gets her birthday hairdressing, me and Ming take the bikes down to the service station to prepare for the trip to Cali. Cleaning the chains, and at one instant distracted by a question, and the next thing I know my finger is being cut in half. Drawn in between the chain and rear sprocket, sheering my right thumb nearly off before spitting it out the side. Immediately all that goes through my mind is what it would be like to live the rest of my life without a thumb. Instinct is to save what is left and within a second I am cupping the bloody mess and running for the hospital.

Lucky to be only 4 blocks away and to be taken care of in a true emergency manner. Straight to the table where two nurses dowse it with alcohol and saline and antibiotics while the intern doctor crudely stitches it back together. I think I was 7 stitches but hard to tell for the huge mess. All the while Ming is aside snapping pictures of my blood and bone and whatever else serves as evidence. Eventually when things have calmed a bit he runs out to get Rosa. A morning of distress and disaster. They want 70kp, I pay 20.

The plan is to somehow get me to Cali as soon as possible to have a second look at what can be done. And so with that we ready my bike (the chain still stained of blood) and organize Rosa to take a bus and meet us in the same hotel.
Moto > Cali, Colombia  12:00 / 65k / 1.5h
Ming navigates well over the hills on the terrible dirt and stone road as I gribble over my finger behind. Surprisingly there is little pain for nearly losing my finger and I can only think myself lucky not to have lost it.

Check back in to the chalet and walk straight to the nearest private clinic. An outrageous 250kp they want just to let me in the door and so we taxi to the public hospital instead. An entirely unprofessional event where we must convince the nurses to stop searching for boyfriends online before getting any attention. The pain begins as they try tearing and cutting the gauze off, tearing far more then cutting. And there it is, an awfully ugly and well mangled finger. The first time I have dared look. It doesn't look at all good. I worry if it will heal.

The doctor even more of an intern then the last passes briefly to say basically nothing and we wrap it back up. The consensus seems to be it has a good chance of healing. That and the internet dating service charge 10kp.

Out of options we return back to the hotel where Rosa nervously waits. It looks like we won't be going anywhere too soon. Ming decides not to push ahead, but to stay with us.

Out to dinner to catch up with Edward, still around and surprised to see us again. A night of chat until midnight when I take my 500mg Cefalexina & 800mg Ibuprofena, the start of a every 6 hours for a week routine. That and tying my hand to a chair next to the bed to avoid trouble. I should be counting my lucky stars, but instead I dream that there will be no permanent disfigurement. It looks highly unlikely.

August 16, 2006

Surprisingly a good sleep and still with hardly any pain, I imagine the elephant dose of Ibuprofen is responsible.

A day spent in try to stay out of trouble mode. Together Ming and I fashion me a plastic thumb shield from a water bottle. A cast of sorts that is definitely needed to prevent the slightest bump from dismembering myself. Regardless of the lack of general pain, it hurts a hell of a lot if you bump it.

The changing of the dressings. An hour long "sterile" process that gives me a chance to look and ponder. It actually looks like it is healing.

August 17, 2006

The lack of pain has me brave enough to drive Ming to the bus station to return to Restrepo and pickup his bike as a sort of test drive to see if travel is indeed possible. With the protection of the cast it is but speed bumps and stupid traffic are to be avoided.

He returns late in the evening and so we decide to give it a try tomorrow, offering me one more night of healing.

August 18, 2006

Moto > Popayan, Colombia  11:00 / 40649k 168k / 6h 3h
Follow Edward out of town on his claimed 35k "shortcut", all for the use of an empty bus lane under construction. Fill up the tanks on the outskirts and wave him goodbye. An interesting guy to say the least.

A bit further along an old man with a fat warrants our attention. And between the three of us, like a pit stop crew of professionals we patch him up in under 15 and send him on his way. He must have thought it strange.

Cross the final stretches of sugar cane before the rolling hills return. Rain forces us to take refuge in a roadside ice cream shack. Snack on coffee and cookies while the showers pass.

Pull into Popayan and straight to the center to meet Mauricio, another promised stay from Claudio. Unfortunately his house is currently full and so with an apology he shows us to a hotel nearby. Agrees to show Ming to a moto shop tomorrow for some needed repairs.

August 19, 2006

Spend the morning with Ming at the shop groovy-tising his motorcycle a bit. Replace the chain and sprockets for new, reversing his front sprocket to rectify his clicking the same as mine Remove the hand guards and chop off a good 2 inches of his handlebars to ease narrow entries. Replace the front and rear brake pads for new, providing a good deal more braking force. And last but not least, adding a fuel filter and changing the oil. All significant and noticeable improvements.

Together we take a walk through town in the late afternoon. Rosa and Ming shop for a new pair of sandals to replace Ming's heavy hiking boots at the central market. I take the time to play a bit of chess with the vendors. Net a 2kp double or nothing victory giving me my first income playing chess. It's now official, I am a professional. Up to the mirador for sunset. A nice colonial city pretty in the evening.

An in-room spaghetti dinner turns Ming on to the idea of making his own Pepsi can stove. A further wave of reducir assures he isn't taking 2 jackets the whole way to Patagonia. A few kilos to send home and a few kilos to gift away. A few kilos closer to groovy.

And at last with surgeon Ming by my side I take out the first 3 stitches.

August 20, 2006

Move out and into a cheap residencial where we are all 3 sharing a room for 10kp.

Sunday and everything is closed. Spend the dull day furthering the groovy-tising. Noteworthy achievements being changing the brake fluid and revising his GPS mount.

To the empty center at night in search of food finds us a nice street shish.

2 more stitches come out.

August 21, 2006

Moto > Past Mercadero, Colombia  12:30 / 40818k 157k / 5h 2h
Sad news... Murphy is eating oil again. It appears about 1/8th liter per 2000k but really not sure. Will see for sure after the next oil change in Quito.

Over rolling hills and through dry Arizona-like canyon desert. Turn off on the side road to the small town of Mercadero in interest of a diversion from the main road. Climbs up steeply to a higher plain on a much more relaxed and enjoyable road.

Pick up some noodles to mix with Ming's Oregon tuna for dinner. Just out of town to find a perfect camp spot besides a small lake. Our first campout with Ming. Stars, a beautiful night.

One more stitch.

August 22, 2006

Breakfast on oatmeal and raisins and Quindio coffee and powdered milk during a slow and easy pack out.
Moto > Pasto, Colombia  10:00 / 40974k 115k / 6h 2h
Over more mountains on an impressive but ugly dirt trail to Pasto. Over a large yellow suspension bridge spanning a deep river canyon. Invigorating views all the way. A recommended route.

Stop for coffee and fried dough and mandarins enroute.

Pasto - Nothing special. Reminds me of Puno but without the lake. A bit of a rough air that leads me to believe a lot of trouble passes here. To be careful and aware.

Find ourselves a 16kp hotel willing to let the 3 of us share a room and with parking for both bikes. A combination of requirements that makes for a hard find. Out for a walk.

August 23, 2006

More walk. Rosa and I have been with some friction ever since Ming has joined along. I think it has to do with her missing out on the 100% of my attention. Ming and I get along in English and it makes her feel left out. Something she really needs to make an effort to learn.

Anyways, her feisty mannerisms are at an all time high and I get the silent treatment. A bad attitude that is unfortunately leading me to consider putting her on a bus home. Even more unfortunately, Ming is caught in the middle and it is making for an uncomfortable voyage. It is all building up and something has to collapse soon.

Pass a coffee distributor and invite ourselves in for a tour. An interesting process of receiving the beans from the farmers and grading them for their value. A spear spoon is jabbed into the sack to extract a random sample for analysis. Precisely 100 grams are weighed out digitally. A small machine strips the bean of its paper casing and a master separates out the defects on a mesh. The good from the bad are again weighed and the ratio determines the purchase price. From there the sample goes to a lab next door for roasting and tasting.

Invited in on an extremely enlightening personal demonstration of tasting...
Professional Coffee Tasting
1. Add 13.9g of drip grind per cup
2. Dry Aroma - Tap on sides and smell paying close attention to fragrance
3. Add 225ml of 90-95c water and wait 5 minutes
4. Wet Aroma - Again smell classifying into 36 distinct odor categories
5. Romper Tasa - Break the crust with spoon and smell the spoon confirming aroma
6. Taste - Fill spoon with liquid and atomize with force into mouth, swirl & spit. Repeat 3 times: hot, medium, & cold. Categorize according to:
   a. Acidez - Acidity
   b. Sabor - Flavor
   c. Cuerpo - Body
   d. PostGusto - After-Taste

Take my turn following the master from one cup to the next around the table. I'm definitely no "catador", but I must admit that I tagged one as chemical and indeed it was, correctly determining the better of 3 varieties. The trick is in atomizing it into your mouth with force. That and pretending to look like you know. Interesting.

Push it down with a few excellent Toluense tamales on the walk home.

Remove the final stitches as Ming makes himself a Cola-Pola stove. He seems to be affected by the tension between Rosa and I. I expect he will carry on soon.

August 24, 2006

Another wave of "reducir" for Ming trims off another 4kg from his gear, shipped home on the way out of town. Air-mail - 51kp for the 1st kilo and 11kp each additional to arrive within a week. Another wave and he will be certified groovy.
Moto > Ipiales, Colombia  10:00 / 40974k 115k / 6h 2h
The price of gas has dropped from 6500p/g to 5200p(g in anticipation of cheaper prices in Ecuador.

Start climbing into the heart of the Andes for the first time since leaving them after Bolivia. And with it has returned the Andino culture. The cuy and the corn fried cancha.

Rest-stop enroute for more coffee and fried dough. A bill that requires a good fight over 3 rounds of discounts until the correct price is found. Shady over-charging with the hopes you will just pay whatever and leave. Back to the take advantage of the gringo culture.

A windy downhill to the border town of Ipiales through freezing rain and ice. Stop in the plaza to warm up over lunch and decide our destiny. With nothing really to see and Ming in more and more of a hurry we decide to call it quits on Colombia and cross the border.
Moto > Border Ecuador  2:00 / 41177k 4k / 5m
An easy stamp out in 15 minutes with no questions. Change our excess 160kp to $33usd and add it to the $33usd lent to Ming. Over the bridge and into Ecuador for an equally easy only slightly longer and more cumbersome process of entry. 90 days and free, something Colombia should take closer note of.

Goodbye Colombia!

Ecuador

VISA
90 Days FREE on Arrival
ECONOMY
$1 = $1 (uses USD)
Diem = $/d ($ over  Days)
Extras = ...
Food = $1-$3 (soup + meat, beans, rice, salad + drink, chicken, pig)
Room = $3-$6 (broken bathroom hot water, decent bed, relatively clean, breakfast not included)
Web = .60-$1/hour (Fast)
Gas = $1.50-$2/gallon
NOTES
In many ways a blend of both Peru and Bolivia.
The prices and quality are slightly below that of Colombia.
The budget accommodation is easy to find but isn't so special.
The people are friendly after an introduction but not so outwardly welcoming like Colombia.
The people drive relatively carefully outside of the big cities, a pleasant break from Colombia.
The country is beautiful with lots of nice mountain views.
The food is decent and filling but gets dull after a month.
A country where you pay a quarter for 2 choco-bananas and wait for your 5 cents change.
ESSENTIAL ECUADORIAN
Fairly straight Spanish

Welcome to Ecuador!
Moto > Tulcan, Ecuador  4:00 / 41181k 10k / .25h
Into the 1st town of Tulcan and literally drift into the gas station on empty. A surprise to see the pumps delivering in dollars and even more surprised by the price, $1.50 a gallon. A huge and half priced drop over Colombia's nearly $3.00 a gallon. It isnít Venezuela, but it isnít so bad. Clean the chain (this time a lot more carefully and with the motor off) and adjust the carburetor to the altitude, 2850m.

With the sun setting on the horizon decide it best to take a night before pushing on. Check into Pension Avenida, $4.50 for the 3 of us including real hot water. Cheaper then Colombia and better service.

August 25, 2006

To the most beautiful cemetery in South America, some say. Intricate bush carvings all the work of one old man high on a ladder. A really nice visit and all by the luck of asking if there was anything to see in town. Finger pointing by a few men in the plaza fiercely proud of their town.

As expected, Ming finally decides to make his break. Wave goodbye and within seconds he is lost in the mist, over the horizon and out of sight. A runner distancing himself from his work as fast as he can. A really great guy who was a pleasure to meet and travel with. Good luck in getting there.
Moto > San Gabriel, Ecuador  2815m 10:45 / 41200k 40k / 1.25h .25h
And with the stress of getting anywhere gone, we continue on at our normal and slow pace.

Relations instantly improve now that she once again has my 100%. Issues like this may be the biggest problem between us. She is a lot less needy then she was back in Buenos Aires, but still we have a ways to go.

Through more freezing mist and over the hills. Indigenous faces have replaced the cell phone culture of Colombia. The altitude is steep and the conditions are extreme. The scenery is vast and inspiring. The feel is Peru.

Climbing even the smallest grade puts a heavy strain on the bike at this altitude, and more so with the weight of two. I start to think maybe it is good Ming throttled ahead as we struggle along at 50kph to clear the smallest of bumps. Our pace must have been too slow to handle on a bike as powerful as his. Gets in the way of really feeling the wind in your hair. You gotta feel the wind.

I cannot help but wonder if the problems in the performance which seem worse now then ever before are the result of using a 20-50 oil. For reasons without logical reason 20-50 is one of the only oils you can find in either Colombia or Ecuador. A desert climate oil way too heavy for the cold climate that I have experienced during 90% of the journey. I recommend a 10-40 in general and 5-30 in the mountains. Could also be the reason for the hard cold starts. Will search in Quito.

With a sore thumb wrapped tight and now nearly frostbitten I decide to call it the day early. To take a couple days in the next town to relax and rekindle. Pull into the historic pueblo of San Gabriel and find our spot.

The Residencia Ideal aside the plaza. Small and attractive and with plenty of personality. Rustic creaky wooden plank floors, wide doors, and laundry hanging from the colorful carved balcony. $3 including use of the kitchen and a true gas tank hot shower (thankfully because their wiring leaves a lot to desire). Gone are the complimentary toilet paper, towel, and soap that I have become accustomed to since Brasil, but the price is right. Run by a friendly family who isn't obsessive over where I park my bike. They've seen all types.

In general, prices here are about 3/4 that of Colombia for food and stay and gas is 1/2. The people are friendly and helpful but no where near as open on approach as Colombia, rather quieter and more reserved. The culture however is more interesting and the landscape more magnificent. I like the feeling of being back in the cold and forgotten "altiplano".

Take a walk about. Visit a doctor who advises me to let the wound open and dry to help it cauterize. Good advice perhaps were it not cold and dry enough outside to break it in half. Decide to keep the gauze on it at least until reaching a better climate.
Moto <> La Paz Grotto  4:30 / 34k / 2h 1.5h
Afternoon trip to the grotto nearby, 10km toward Quito and 5km down cobbled dirt. An immense and beautiful massive cave with a river flowing through. A temple carved in the walls and some small thermal water baths, .65 cents. Too late to really take advantage we decide to return tomorrow.

Back for a half pollo a la brasa con papas, $3. Pick up a liter box of CampiŮa, "the wine of Ecuador" on the return, .85 cents. The same ultra-sugar-sweetened fruit pulp mixed with rubbing alcohol that I thought I left behind in Peru is back. If only the French had a say in them labeling it with "French Technology - Export Quality" and putting a French flag on it.

August 26, 2006

An overcast day decides us against the grotto.
Moto > Lago El Voladero  3800m 12:15 / 41274k 50k / 1.75h .25h
Instead to climb above El Angel on a rough dirt and stone trail to Lago El Voladero at 3800m. Fogged in and freezing and without a view. Invite ourselves into the guarda parque lodge to share some heat by the fire. Share back hot chocolates as the guards dazzle in amazement over our stove. Pull a couple beer cans out of the trash to make one for them as we wait for a clearing. And just as the final kernels are popping in a successful test of the new stove the clouds part.

An absolutely stunning landscape of endemic plants over rolling hills to the horizon. The setting sun over a brilliant lagoon. An hour's easy stroll along a nature trail. One of the most impressive sights I have seen in the past year, or even the whole trip.

Still not sure if my awed impression is the result of the rough arrival, the tranquility of being alone, the timing of the day, the luck of the weather, or just seeing such immense natural beauty that made it most special. A round of snapshots that in no way do it any justice. Should like to return with a professional camera someday.

Guard offers to take Rosa down by car and so I rumble ahead.
Moto > El Angel, Ecuador  6:15 / 41325k 15k / .75h
Bouncing downhill after dark with killer trail dogs nipping at the heals while Rosa and the ranger follow in his beat-up Pinto. A friendly ranger who goes out of his way to arrange us a free stay in the municipal's big auditorium. He must have really appreciated the stove.

August 27, 2006

Moto > Ibarra, Ecuador  10:00 / 41348k 71k / 2.5h .75h
For still unknown reasons the gas mileage of my bike has gone to hell so fast it has caught me off guard. Push the bike to a service station after only 160k on the odo. when 240k is the norm. Such a drastic and rapid difference that I suspect it is not purely a result the rings leaking as I had hypothesized in Popayan. My guess is really bad quality gas near the border where everyone is cheating to make a buck. Decide to empty the tank and readjust the carb.

Even more miserable cold and rain on an autopista of heavy trucks and speed racer busses across barren mountain to Ibarra. Single story cement block houses, unfinished and in drab colors. Sure looks like Peru.

The rains get unbearable as we pull into Ibarra. Step out of the storm and into a restaurant for almuerzo. Popcorn, Sopa (weak potato soup with bits of bread), Seco (10g of fried chicken, scoop of white rice, tomato cucumber salad, boiled peas & corn), artificial pineapple juice, $1.50. Keep ourselves mesmerized by Ecuador's first international Grand Prix on TV, broadcast from a lake just outside of town. Determined not to let the foul weather stop this inaugural event, they start the race after a dozen rounds of delays. Half the cars slide off the track in the first lap. Half the remaining drivers quit in the second. Still, the winner feels proud.

For lack of interest and after a failed hard search for a decent stay we continue on.
Moto > Otavalo, Ecuador  4:15 / 41419k 30k
Pull into the well established tourist town of Otavalo where after a good search we find our stay, $5. Early preparations for their annual Fiesta Yamor, a 10 day festival starting on the 1st, and supposedly the biggest festival of the country. Book the room for a few days just to be sure the price doesn't change.

Breakdown with Rosa, who has now run well out of money for the trip. The agreement was that we would cover the distance in 6 months and she would need $2000 for it. Turns out she only brought the half, with the other half supposedly tied up in loans to friends and family. And that the plane ticket was more then she expected, and excuses that go in circles.

Decide to take a month break in Quito to cure my thumb and refresh, giving her time to somehow find the money to make it to Lima. Still things between us are rough and I offer that maybe the better option for her is the bus. Tears come to the eyes as we realize that maybe this whole thing isn't working. Still, the thought of arriving in Lima without me seems out of the question. I start to wonder exactly what the question is. Anyways, she will need to find work. The mood is dim.

August 28, 2006

Walkabout all day. A nice small town of convenient indigenous trying to make a buck off tourism. Through the colorful fruit and vegetable market to the plaza in heavy preparation. Past the old churches and up to the cross on the hill for a nice view. Back to the center in a long sweeping circle.

Last nights Chifa has my stomach churning. A condition that I seem to always find myself in after Chifa. Do yourself a favor and stay well away from Chifa.

August 30, 2006

The day I have been waiting for... kicked out of the room for the doubling of the price 2 days before the festival. Plans to see the ceremony cancelled to just continue on.
Moto <> Nowhere  1:15 / 41449k 24k / .5h
Out of town to eventually change my mind in a flurry of contradictions to return and check into our first proper hostel. Feeling sorry for Rosa in that in all this time traveling she has yet to see what travel is like for the majority of "traveler". We have been budgeting so hard to keep within her limit that we have neglected a big piece of the travel scene. ie. - How many gringos can we met per day? And how many tours can we do together?

Check into the Hostal Chasqui at 15kp each, more then what we normally pay for together. An ultra-friendly owner who welcomes us in with gusto. He doesn't get too many on motorbike, he admits. He just opened the hostel recently.

Inside, as anticipated, the gang forms... Hickary - A Japanese girl who after some years has returned to see her Ecuadorian "boyfriend". Take a walk with the two through a eucalyptus forest to gather samples for a steam bath. Carla - An American lady from Florida who returns to Otavalo every few months to fill her suitcase to sell in craft markets and on EBay. Claims to work one day per week to earning $600 without even having to lift a finger. Anita - A Swiss girl on vacation and with plans to make it to Ushuaia in a few weeks. Martin - An English bloke just looking for a good time. Tal, Itamar, Ben, & Eyal - A gang of Israelis at the right place at the right time. Plans to join them to some volcano lake tomorrow.

A full dinner table full of typical travel talk. Now she got the experience. A nice one.

August 31, 2006

Moto <> Lago Cuecocha, Cotocachi, Cascada de Peguche  9:15 / 41473k 55k / 8h
The boyz by bus and us on moto. 25k to Lago Cuecocha, a lake filling the crater of what used to be a volcano. Nonstop through the gate to avoid the $1 tourist (who always stop) .50 cents local (who never stop) fee. A decent sight with a backdrop of snowy peaks and nice views around. Skip on the 5 hour hike around the crater lip.

On to Cotocachi where quality leather goods are sold cheap. Finally make good on Rosa's birthday with a hippie-esk multicolor leather purse to hold all the "necessities" I am tired of carrying in the pack, $13. A Kosher lunch.

Back to Otavalo stopping a Cascada de Peguche. A nice park with a falls of 15m, free. It is where I happen into Chris, a welsh hiker just over the mountains from Ibarra and setting up camp in the park. Cursing at the lack of good firewood he counts for me his Post 911 experience of them not letting him on the plane with his stove gas. Offer to make him a stove. Seems I have become a small stove factory.

A grand lasagna dinner with the Israelis. The perfect hostel experience.

September 1, 2006

Fiesta Yamor begins today.

Stroll about the fruit market in the afternoon with Hikary and Anita buying for breakfast tomorrow. Promised them I would whip up a batch of fresh yogurt. Rosa will make the muesli.

Another Israeli dinner forms, toasted by a prayer with wine in Hebrew.

A Yamor chicha in the restaurant downstairs before heading out to the party. A massive (and quite boring actually) parade through the entirely packed out center. Disco dance in an overpriced club that let us in for free to try and attract locals. Chill in an Arabic bar with a bubbling water pipe of apple smoke. Rosa takes a drag.

September 2, 2006

A memorable fruit salad and homemade yogurt and homemade muesli breakfast.

Together we take the day down at the artisan market. The biggest in South America, and even bigger on this festival Saturday. The place to come if you want to be successful on EBay or in hippie markets in the states. Dirt cheap and of an impressively high quality and assortment. Handmade alpaca jackets for $20, leather sandals and blankets for $5, Bob Marley pants for $2, silver jewelry... Easy to fill a duffel bag that everyone will admire you for here.

The dinner gang continues stronger then ever.

September 3, 2006

Hike <> Holy Tree  1:00 / 2h
Join Martin on a hike to some Holy Tree up on a hill and a Condor Park. Nothing special, skip it.

A second round of lasagna. Every night the dinner gang grows. It is where the plans are made for the following day's tours. Plans to join a gang to some hot springs tomorrow.

September 4, 2006

Moto <> Cachimbiro Hot Springs  9:00 / 41528k 90k / 7h 4h
The gang is up at 6 to catch the bus chain to the hot springs, we follow at 9.

Cachimbiro - A well put together park of iron rich hot water. General entry $3 and another $3 to enter the executive area which includes a Turkish steam room and medicinal hot pools. You can avoid paying the second $3 if you walk quickly and silently and pretend to belong.

4 hours of utter deep cleansing and relaxing. A picnic lunch followed by another round before turning into a complete prune. Highly recommended, even if you have to pay.

Back in flat tire city. A nail from the waterfall 2 days ago and glass today, the first 2 flats since Punto Gallinas 3 months ago. Luckily we made it back before the tire gave out, as we hadn't brought any spares along. It wouldn't have mattered much anyways as my spare somehow got a hole in it too. What luck?!?!

Consume the evening walking around searching for spares. Across town where I pick a used one off a tire repair man for $2, already with 2 patches. Tomorrow to find a true new tube to carry as a spare.

September 5, 2006

Finish up with the bike in the morning eventually finding my new spare, $4. Clean the chain (again carefully), and the air filter, and the carb. Turns out it was indeed bad gas that had me pushing.

A sad round of goodbyes to the gang we will "never forget" and we are off.
Moto > Quito, Ecuador  12:30 / 41630k 130k / 5h 2h
Decide on the rough dirt and stone route to Quito as opposed to the autopista. Very rough dirt and stone that has me thankful to be carrying a spare and trying to ignore the fact I could never pry it off if it did break given the tools in my bag. For some reason this rear tire that I bought in Bolivia and changed in Brasil is stiffer then the last. Strange because they are both the same make and model.

Stop for chicken in San Jose de Minas after 35k, where thankfully the road continues on paved.

Cross the equator and into the Southern Hemisphere at 0.0'0"s & 78.23'40"w 2075m at exactly 4:00. Stop for a few photos and failed which-way-the-water-flushes experiments. Join up with the big road and pull into Quito just before sunset.

Passing an Este Cafe on the way into town has me thinking back on Claudio and the Colombian couple of bikers met in Igatu and how they said that was the cafe of the www.PatagoniaAlaska.com gang met way back in Mexico. Stop to see if it is true, and indeed it is; however, the main branch is where I will find Daniel, one of the three from way back then. A star on my map guides me to the main branch, conveniently in the center of new town tourism. Daniel's out but maybe tomorrow, and so we find our stay nearby.

In describing this posh Galapagos weekender part of Quito, pricey would be an understatement. $4 each is a very hard find, and I wonder about what apartments are going for. Anyways, I have made up my mind about staying here and so the plan is to find an apartment as soon as possible.

September 6, 2006

As Rosa runs off to "find her food" working in an Indian restaurant for $5 a day I find my way back to Este Cafe and eventually find Daniel. Good to see. Shares his insights into running a coffee shop, safely tucked away in my mind for my HotSpot waiting in Troy. One of his workers offers an apartment for only $60 a month, to see tomorrow.

September 7, 2006

The apartment falls through as a result of the kid talking to me before talking to his mom. And then her deciding that a gringo should definitely be paying more then that. And then him failing to show up to tell me that the deal has changed. And then me calling him to find out and to say thanks but no thanks.

Spend the day in search of another. The Happy Gringo, just 2 streets from Rosa's work where Rodolfo lures me in with chess and then sells me on an empty room upstairs, $100 for 3 weeks. And so over another game of chess it is a deal. To move in tomorrow.

September 8, 2006

Move in to my home for the next 3 weeks.

Run across Martin slumming the streets and out together to an English pub for a beer. Follow him back to his hostel where three times a week they give out free Rum & Coke to guests. Of course, Iím a guest.

Should be an interesting 3 weeks...

September 9, 2006

Surprise drop in by Murray Watts, last seen in the drunken haze of Oktoberfest in Blumenau, Brasil. Passing through on his way North and interested in a daytrip together to Mitad Del Mundo (Center of the World).
Moto <> Mitad Del Mundo, Ecuador  1:00 / 41792k / 5h 3.5h
And so by 1:50 I am once again sitting on the equator, this time at 0.0'0"s & 78.27'8" 2483m. Actually the real equator is a few hundred meters North, it is just that no one had a GPS when they built the monument some years back. Take part in the token gravity experiments, retrying the failed water experiment and seeing that the trick in which way the water goes down is infect in which way you fill the bucket. The difference between North and South in a matter of meters alone isn't significant. The water goes basically straight down no matter where you stand. Balancing the egg on the nail was the real highlight.

Share a few "inconfundable" empanadas on the return and just as quickly as he appears he disappears again... never to be seen nor heard from again. Strange passing.

September 9-29, 2006

Rosa working and me sitting in the internet everyday. Bringing StealthSend out of Beta. Updating over 3 months of website stories and photos since Cartagena, Colombia. Playing chess with Rodolfo and the Canadian. Distracting Daniel every now and then. Touring the historic center a bit. Souvenir shopping for the coming Christmas. Curing my thumb. Nothing much really. Exactly what I needed.

Leaving Quito

October 2, 2006

Organize and pack out after 3 weeks and 3 days ($115 rent) at the 'Happy Gringo'. Box up xmas gifts, shaving the tabs off the carton to weight in at EXACTLY 3.000 kg (including tape). $29.50 ($13.50 1st kg + $8/kg) and to arrive in 8 days with any luck. Rosa takes her last $100 of her $250 in money transfers here.
Moto > Mitad Del Mundo, Ecuador  12:30 / 41855k 30k / 1h
Fire up the rather rusty murphy and wave a sad goodbye to everyone before turning the wheels once again. A quick trip back to Mitad Del Mundo just for Rosa where we enter for free using the 'backdoor' through the restaurant besides. The token 'look at me' photos. Running from the rabid dogs.
Moto > Mindo, Ecuador  1:45 / 41885k 75k / 3.25h 1.5h
A quick pass by Pula Crater swamped in late afternoon clouds and downhill toward Mindo. Stop at a roadside waterfall to argue with a crabby lady over 'entry fees'.

Back on the road heavy rains fall for the first time in 3 weeks, what great luck. Forces us to take refuge in a roadside guarda parque where we keep the park guard family entertained making popcorn and tea until it passes. Wild butterflies flutter about themselves also taking refuge under the tin roof.

Continue on and the rains return in perfect lockstep with our every move all the way to Mindo. Completely soaked, we pull into town and the skies immediately clear in some sort of certain celestial coincidence.

A few rounds around the muddy streets of town find us the Gypsy Hostel with the best rates and willing to haggle a small upstairs room for two down to $8 the night. Back through town we cross a peace corp. gang of gringo teens helping the community drink beer and play pool. Dinner chat over a tasty sopa and trucha.

October 3, 2006

Up early for a birdwatch walk about.
Trek <> Waterfall Nambillo  7:00 / 10k return / 5h 1.5h
But still an hour too late to really see any birds. Birds and wildlife is what this place is famous for but it isnt really the season for it.

Continue down the trail anyways to the waterfall Nambillo where we talk the owner out of charging us the $3 entry as we pose as 'Happy Gringo' travel agency reps. Sent here to take photos for some promo material we are putting together for the famous travel guide GroovyDomain ;) A nice 15m jump into icey water and having forgotten to take that last breath before going under. Thought i might die.

A nice afternoon aside a group of proper eastern european tourists on guided tour.

The long walk back.

October 4, 2006

Up even earlier and this time by moto to get up there fast and then slowly coast down and do some serious watching.
Moto <> The Birds  5:30 / 41960k 22k return / 4.5h
Success! Here are the sightings counting back from the Nambillo turnoff and coasting downhill to the bridge so you won't need a guide...
Mindo Bird Sightings
TIME  KM   SIGHTING
6:00  0.0  Nambillo Turnoff
7:00  1.5  A couple tulcan above a small shack on the right
7:15  2.5  Various parrots in the palms in the sun
7:30  2.7  Various random birds near the wooden door on the left hand fence
7:35  3.0  A few long tailed brown birds in the bamboo
8:00  5.2  The bridge

Having happily found some birds and down at the bridge we are inspired to take the fork toward the 'Mindo Mariposeria'. The rough road ends at a locked covered bridge and so we leave the bike and cross the river by a rickety and ingenious little 2 man cable car. Follow the trail past Climate Rock (is wet if it rained and dry if it didn't) to a camp of deserted cabanas beside an artificial lagoon. Deserted yet left open and with running water, electric, and gas! To move in for some 'real sightings' in the thick of it. Back to town for brunch and pack out and back in secrecy, excited to stay the night in our private own 'resort'.

Take a couple hot showers and setup bed under a mosquito net inside the nicest of cabins surely reserved for the den master. A tulcan lands on our window sill amazing us with it's absolute brilliance. Cook up a feast of rice and chicken in the kitchen.

October 5, 2006

Pack out early and in a hurry to the sound of a construction tractor where we parked Murphy. No problems, but a minute later and there might have been. A couple confused workers wave at us as we leave.
Moto > Pula Crater  8:00 / 41991k 80k / 3h .5h
Back through town and back toward Quito on the same road we came in on. Pull off at Caracol for a chance to see inside the crater that has yet to fill with clouds. Down a dusty road 15k following the lure of some announced 'aguas thermales' that were never to be found. A bit more adventuring inside the crater leaves us realizing how much time we wasted on it and without really anything about it. Take my advice and skip entering the crater, there is nothing really special.
Moto > Mitad Del Mundo, Ecuador  12:00 / 20k / .75h
Backtrack out for lack of a moto strong enough to climb us more or less straight up out on the trail the tourists enter by horse. Back passing through the middle of the world and onward back toward Quito stopping for a lunch of chicharron enroute.
Moto > Papallacta, Ecuador  3060m  1:45 / 42109k / 4h 2h
Looking for a shortcut around the city we find ourselves redirected the long and really roundabout way to Papallacta via Guayabamba and Pifo. A seriously cobbled stone and dusty construction ridden old road that only recklessly heavy trucks not allowed to pass through Quito use anymore.

With the engine showing obvious signs of overheating on such a hot day with the well spent 20 weight oil it was last filled with in Medellin we decide to take a break and change it. A small hole in the wall grifo where we manage to find the first 10-30 weight oil I have seen since Medellin. Amazing how hard it is to find a normal range oil in these countries.

Back on the bike and over a high and cold pass where the police check our papers to make sure of something we aren't sure of. Could we be thieves up here at 4100m trying to get our valuable payload to Brasil? Of all places to harass obvious tourists.

Drift down and pick up farm truchas for .75 cents on the way. Too late for the imfamous Papallacta hotsprings we find ourselves a homestay across from the municiple pools for half the price of the cheapest residencia, $4. Cook up the fish with the help of our hosts, a family of local trout farmers. Al ajillo, but not anywhere near as good as it was back in Colombia.

A long hard day on the road passing from one extreme to the other.

October 6, 2006

Big plans to waste the day at the hot springs this grubby tourist jaunt from Quito is famous for. And to do it right, bypassing the loads of cheaper secondary springs for 'THE' Papallacta Thermales with disregard for the outrageous $6 per person entry. We made it here the hard way, so we figure we should treat ourselves to the best. And after all of that I am not so sure it is the best after all.

A relative ripoff with no where near the variety or quality of Cotacachi back near Otavalo. Denied a refund for an inoperational 'Gruta del Vapor' that was actually my real interest in coming here. Absolutely aweful customer service, as should be expected. Recommend you save your money and take a bath in the $2 community pools in town.

Back at home we watch the Big Fat Liar on the kids DVD, dumb.

Return in the evening to the thermales with the police to try and claim our Gruta, now operational but still a huge dissappointment. A late night final soak in the pools. Wrinkled like a grape.

October 7, 2006

Moto > Parque Cotopaxi  10:15 / 42237k 123k / 3.75h .75h
Back over the pass in heavy frozen mist without the tremendous view we suspect we are missing. Angle down to Pifo and drop below the clouds where it starts to warm up. Turn South to Sangulqui again to avoid passing through Quito.

Turn in at Parque Cotopaxi to camp the night and with hope of a clear view tomorrow.

$10 foreigners $2 locals and a fat Pat of a guard and his/her old man sidekick who aren't into any of our stories that don't involve a bribe. Determined not to fall for their corruption and instead to create our own we setup our camp right beside the post and wait for things to change.

And sure enough after witnessing a few 'ticketless transfers' passing by they wave us through. In for free but only until sunset and so we leave our gear in their office and motor in against a new regulation that says motorbikes are not allowed. It was the 3 Quito professionals leaving on their full offroad trail bikes that opened the doors.

Around the base of the volcano to the North face clear of clouds and with an absolutely brilliant view. Drop off Rosa as the bike begins to sputter and make it alone up to base camp at 4600m before Murphy gives up. An impressive and iconic volcano.

Back after dark we pass 2 russian tourist in a rental car lost and looking for a stay. With hardly a word of spanish in their vocab, no english, and a half an ounce of common sense makes for some difficult arrangements. We show them to the gate where the guards are now huddled together in a jeep all glassy eyed and drunk on whiskey and aguadiente. Manage to organize for them a few kids (who shouldn't be there anyways) to show the russians to the nearest hotel. Off they go grateful and we are invited into the jeep for a drink.

Before long we are all such good friends and singing together. The last drop is gone and we are offered a bed on the floor inside their cabin. We hit the floor hard and fast as Pat and the old man giggle over each other and retire together in the room besides.

October 8, 2006

Moto > Latacunga, Ecuador  9:00 / 42409k 33k / .75h
The 'what happened' wake up and pack out.

Short push on the Pan Americano South to Latacunga where we stop for some internet and a caldo de gallina. A quick loop through town, historic and quiet on Sundays.
Moto > Lago Quilotoa  12:15 / 42448k / 3.5h 1h
Become aware that here is where begins a side loop to Lago Quilotoa and so we jump on it, clockwise. Dogs are in full force as city becomes rural becomes rough and Rosa scared for her life after my rabies story carries with her a stick. A couple very close calls.

Lago Quilotoa - An impressive volcanic crater of 1500m down to a clear emerald lake of atleast a kilometer across. Plans to hike it tomorrow in hopefully nicer weather.

Score a deal on top of a deal after some hard bargaining at the Hostel Chosita for $3 per person. A gang of 4 italians are our roommates. Share with them an evening of local entertainment put on by the hostel for our friends and a take bites from their royal dinner of cuy, meaty and much better then my previous encounter back in Peru. Must give it another chance. It is tuna out of cans for us.

A bitter cold night. Back to pinball whino.

October 9, 2006

Trek <> Crater Lip  10:00 / 10k / 5h 1h
A strenuous but beautiful hike all day around the crater. Deep blue skies and a hot and heavy sun overhead, a bit of luck and a bit of pain. Exhausted back at the hostel where a bad bad very bad ecuadorian instant coffee fails to revive me. Resist the temptation, stick with Nescafe.

It has been since Papallacta without a wash and Mindo without a change of clothes and this is not the place for either, well stinky. An american couple of Minnesota who have decided to give their work as cellular service contractors the busy signal have become our new roomates. Throw a log on the fire before bed and smoke out the house.

October 10, 2006

Moto > Latacunga, Ecuador  10:15 / 42526k 113k / 5h 1h
Complete the loop over a light and sandy powder and at times cobbled stone road around every contour of every mountain all the way back to Latacunga. A tiring and at times dangerous trip of twice the km of our arrival and really offering nothing more. Recommend you turn back and take the paved shorter route out.

Find ourselves a cheap stay at the Residencia El Salto aside the market. Wash away pounds of sucio in a hot hot just barely dripping from the short circuiting electric on demand but hot shower. Stock up on blackberries at the market for $1 per kg.

October 11, 2006

Get some more berries to make jam before taking off. Call to Enrique of Ambato who we met at Moto Angel and is waiting for our arrival. Start Amoxicillin at 2 per day for my infected battery acid burns that we used to remove a 'veruga' on my finger back in Mindo. It's always something...
Moto > Ambato, Ecuador 12:30 / 42645k / .75h
Take our time on the short trip to Ambato stopping to give Murphy a badly needed wash and lube, $2.

Meet Enrique at the Commercial Center and he checks us into the luxurious Hotel de Flor owned by his friend. A spacious 6 bed room with clean towels on the bed for as many nights as we need and for free. Invited out for a quick paella lunch and a tour of town and later to his house to witness the slides of his tour over some pizza and champagne. Take good advantage of a seriously hot shower that leaves me dry and peeling and put our clotes through a real 'silver ion' washing machine. Enrique is the chief of MasCorona, one of the biggest flour and grains distributors in the country and he lives it large. Cook up our blackberries into jam.

October 12, 2006

A late rise after one of the best sleeps I have had in a long time.

Out to lunch with Javier, Enrique's good travel buddy also met at Moto Angel on their trip to Alaska. Stop at the parts shop in town for a few small moto accessories, a new front fender $10 and a rear brake lever $1. Picked up again by Javier in the evening for dinner and his friend Lechero's suprise marriage proposal party. Mariachis and champagne. She said 'yes'.

I play Stand By Me and function as the party photographer. The talk is about booking me for gigs around town tomorrow but I don't think my finger is ready quite yet.

October 13, 2006

Breakfast and across town with Enrique to introduce us to a shop to paint the bike, probably better to wait for a sunny day. To the market for a traditional Ambato llapingacho, a layered salad with fried mashed potatoes, fried eggs, and avocados. A Frukiss soda to wash it down. From one meal to the next Enrique picks us up for dinner with his kids, pollo a la brasa. Plans to go together to Banos tomorrow.

These guys are just way too hospitable I am starting to feel guilty.

October 14, 2006

Car <> Banos, Ecuador  11:00 / 8h 6h
Daytrip to Banos with Enrique and his kids. I am scared for my life in his car. Parked under the waterfalls and immediately ushered into beers and fritada with some long lost friends of his. Devils Falls. Hotspring soaks. Sugar cane on return.

October 15, 2006

Today they vote for their new President and the shops are closed.

The hospitality is getting too much for me to handle and I decide perhaps already too late we should make a move before we outstay our welcome.
Moto > Guaranda, Ecuador  2:00 / 42713k 100k / 3h .75h
Midday and enrique shows us out of town on the road to Babahoyo. A heavy climb into the clouds and past the llamas to a stunning volcano but completely shrouded. Freezing winds at 4300m.

Down through a freezing rain on a pothole road where a big one swallows us whole and claims my new front fender as a victim. The speedometer is also damaged and no longer shows the velocity but only counts the mileage. More rain stops us in Guaranda where a considerable search finds us Pension San Jose, $4. Whatever price advantage ecuador had over Colombia is now no longer.

Each endless night of music, TV, and rawkus by the neighborhoods best drunks has me more and more eager to return home to a country where mutual respect runs deeper then lip service, verbal games, and kisses on the cheeks.

October 16, 2006

Moto > Volcano & Hot Springs  7:45 / 42820k 110k / 4h 2h
While Rosa catches up on lost sleep from last night's any excuse for a party, I steam back to the volcano to catch up on my lost photo ops. A beautiful clear blue sky morning on top of the world. A suprising 20k roundtrip detour down the old cobbled road to an excellent little known hotspring, .50 cents. 3 pools of progressive temperature from relaxing to a perfect 60c. A nice casual trip back.

Start Centrum multi-vitamin and B-complex.

October 17, 2006

Moto > Babahoyo, Ecuador  11:00 / 42930k 110k / 3h .5h
Slowly out of the final throws of the mountains passing down through an inversion at 1500m and further down until we drop below at 1200m and to the base at 100m where the Andes abruptly end and it turns to absolutely flat tropical plains Gone are the potato bug andinos and their clay houses, replaced by a colombian friendly venezuela trashy populice with their wood on stilts. Many more motos buzzing around. Darker skin. Our breathing smoothes and the moto is pushing harder then ever with the abundance of air. Our first sub-1000m experience in a couple months.

Stop in Babahoyo for lunch and to strip off the layers we have been living in for some time. From high, cold, harsh, and dry to low, hot, lazy, and humid and with nothing comfortable inbetween. The perfect climate for 20-50 motor oil after having just changed to 10-30. Typical extremes of South America.

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