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Archive for October, 2010

Voyages

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Voyages

Quito, 26-Oct-2010

The rain was again to the rendez-vous this morning as I got ready to ride north toward the Peruvian border.  I was looking forward to slice through the twisties of Chachapoyas road down to Pedro Ruiz but it wasn’t to be.  I just put some trance music on and cruised the way down.  I still managed to make very good time to reach Jaen early afternoon.  And Peru’s road crews significantly improved the gravel road between Jaen and San Ignacio, now being well packed compared to last January’s loose gravel.  It allowed me to reach San Ignacio early enough to stroll around the city and taste its local pastries and liquors (San Ignacio is known in Peru for its Cacao & Coffee plantations) (Kilometer 31,818; San Ignacio, 19-Oct-10 @ 14:15).  However the rain didn’t take a break; it rather intensified and it poured heavily the whole night up to mid next morning.  I wasn’t in a rush to reach the border and even less eager to tackle these roads in muddy conditions so I just decided to wait out the rain; the pleasure of riding has its moments and today was definitely not a good one.  So I hanged out around the city, talked to a few locals and met the other resident of my hotel.  Quite a few were farmers and plantation owner who were in San Ignacio stocking up on provisions and they too decided to stay put today; these conditions are not suited for their work.  So we spent the day chatting, had a few drinks, went out for dinner and then had some more drinks.  Living the local life I guess.

My decision to stay an extra day turned out to be excellent: the following morning the sun was again shining bright.  The roads will be drying up soon and I happily rode again.  Another advantage of crossing through this border is the fact it’s isolated and I knew here I had a better chance to get out of some tricky situations.  In particular, my bikes ownership and insurance both expired and the Ecuadorian law mandates that you present the original ones prior to renewal.  Well, the original are with me and Alisson & Barry tried in vain to get them renewed threw agencies in Quito.  Side note as I think some of you would be thinking along these lines :): It would have been worse if we told the Transportation Ministry that my papers were stolen/lost so the renewal can go ahead without the original ones.  It will just put me and my bike in deep trouble crossing the border.    Kilometer 31,868; La Balsa, 21-Oct-10 @ 9:30: Once at the tiny Ecuadorian border outpost of La Balsa, I made it known loud and clear 😉 I was sooo happy to come back “home”: “Whoo-hoo, no more corrupt Peruvian Policia de Transito!” (hint: Peru and Ecuador had a war here back in 1996).  The immigration and custom guys were just ecstatic with my reaction, not to mention they were more interested in my adventures than anything else.  The entry procedures were a breeze and I spent the majority of my time chatting and laughing with the officers.   By the time I hit the roads again after both border formalities, they were fully dry and I was singing in my helmet.  I passed through Palanda followed by Vilcabamba (my original destination) and decided to keep riding up to Loja.  What took Barry and I 16 hours last January (2 miserable days under rain) took me a cool and enjoyable 6 hours today.

Kilometer 32,076; Loja, 21-Oct-10 @ 16:20: Loja is not a highlight on anyone’s travels in Ecuador but I still wanted to visit.  All I did was walk its streets and a couple of its plazas and parks which was good enough for me.  Next morning I headed north to Cuenca which, to the opposite of its southern neighbor, is a beautiful city.  To my surprise, the 220Km road was excellent cement paved and being back “home” with no more Peruvian police 🙂 I let it rip and took immense satisfaction and pleasure slicing through these twisties.  I arrived by noon time to Cuenca (Kilometer 32,295; Cuenca, 22-Oct-10 @ 11:50), settled in and went for a stroll in the city before hitting the party scene at night.   It was also great listening to some good Latin music again (salsa, meringue, batchata,…), the ones I have grown to like while living with Barry & Alisson not to mention listening during my trip to the music given to me by Gina.  It really felt as I was back home 🙂

I spent a total of 3 days in Cuenca just enjoying the city.  I was reminded that the coming weekend is Cuenca’s fiesta and it’s a wild celebration.  I won’t stay here until then but I am trying to gather a few of my rider friends from Quito to see who’s up for the ride.  For the time being and since the weather is holding up I wanted to discover a new route; I can head straight north and be in Quito in about 6 hours:  it is still an amazing ride through what is known as Volcano Highway but I wanted to ride a new road with another type of wonderful scenery:   heading east and climbing the Cordillera Real before dropping from the Andes to the tropical forests and then back up to Quito: You’ld be surprised how vivid and vibrant are the green colors here in Ecuador, unlike any other country I visited.  Analyzing the route on my map and talking to a couple of local riders I met on the streets of Cuenca, it will require me 3 days to tackle this hard terrain assuming no rain.

Next morning, I headed east climbing higher through the Andes toward a pass at 3,800m.  As expected, the route was very rough, a muddy mix of gravel and sand, holes, bumps and protruding rocks from the ground.  But I’ve grown up to love these routes and trust me it was worth it:  Looking down from the high mountain to the vast extent of lush and vibrant green tropical forest.   Kilometer 32,407; Limon, 25-Oct-10 @ 12:15: 3 1/2  hours and 110km later, as my route veered north and to my great surprise, I hit asphalt!!  Hmmm… “Must be a village up ahead” I thought.  Few kilometers went by and still ongoing asphalt.  I rode alongside another rider (lots of small Chinese bikes in South America) and shouted: “Up to where does the asphalt extends?”: “Hasta Quito!”… Damn! And I wanted a challenging ride through the jungle.  Disappointed, I kept riding and passed Macas by noon time, the village I expected to reach late afternoon and sleep in tonight.  But since the day was young I decided to keep riding and see if I can reach Baños…. which I did, even after taking the opportunity of ridding through Baños famous old road and snap a few pictures.

Kilometer 32,723; Baños, 25-Oct-10 @ 17:00: Baños is a village at the footstep of the Tungurahua Volcano and a very popular tourist spot.  Surrounded by majestic mountains and a strong river, it’s an outdoor adventure getaway.   I visited Baños a couple of time before and all I wanted to do this time is go to the thermal bath.  The thermal pool reaches 49oC, fed by the mineral rich hot streams heated by Tungurahua’s entrails.  There’s also an ice-cold glacier and snow melt water from the mountain top which reaches the pool in a superb 40m waterfall.  So at night, I joined the locals in their daily therapy session, relaxing in the hot pool then dipping into the cold one and so on.

… and that’s it!  Today is my final riding day on this adventure.   Wow… who would have imagined my trip would have taken so long?  Or who would have said it will actually end? :).  Well, not to disappoint you guys, I prefer to think about it as a pause vs. a stop.   As I was saddling my bags on the bike, I felt slow, tired as if I was lifting a heavy load behind me.  Something was holding me back… something didn’t want this to end.  I knew this moment will come but never gave it a second thought.  Now it seems the thought is paralyzing me.

And what a coincidence.  In my hostel was a Polish couple on a Honda Africa Twin.  They had a sticker on the bike saying: “Singapore 2 Poland”.  They made it all the way here?  Now that’s a weird path on a route to Poland: Personally, I would have chosen to ride through Asia, Russia, the Middle East,….  As I questioned Kamil about his trip he answered: “Yeah, we did Singapore to Poland via China, Mongolia, Russia down to Kazakhstan, Pakistan…. then we decided to just keep riding: UAE to Yemen before crossing to Africa: Kenya to South Africa then all the way up the African west coast to Morocco.  We shipped the bike to Cuba then Venezuela and we’ve been touring South America for 10 month.  We left 2.5 years ago, 125,000Km under our belt and next we’re going to Australia”.  Wow!  Talk about temptation.

~250Km separate me from Quito and my friends.  During this final ride, I was replaying the many moments, adventures, discoveries, laughter,… I lived on this trip and remembering the many new friends I’ve met along the way.  I felt so rich & overwhelmed by what I have experienced and done, feeling lucky to have the opportunity and courage to have accomplished it.  And it will not be the end, oh no!  When you set your soul free, you can never tie it back down.  Other adventures await me: They might not be as free or wild as what I have done (hey, I might surpass it 🙂 but it will definitely be as enlightening and pleasurable.   I am looking forward to this next chapter in my life.

What would I do now?  I really don’t know.  I have lots of plans and ideas boiling in my head and I am eager to put them to action.  But all in good time and I am sure when the moment is right, I will take the best decision.

32,981 Kilometers, 305 days (10 months), 6 countries, 1 continent…

The Llama Show

Ride up!

Sami

 

Note: Out of the 32,981Km I travelled, less than 1,300Km were the same road twice (excluding daytrips to tourist sites).  Majority of this 1,300Km were in the last weeks while riding back to Ecuador.

Note 2: I invite you to read my final thoughts after viewing the Photo Album.

Photo Album

Final thoughts...

 

 

 

 

 

or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.

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Cordilleras

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Cordilleras

Chachapoyas, 18-Oct-2010

What else can we do in Huaraz? A whole lot more.  I could stay for months on end here and probably still wanting for more.  Shachar was a rock climbing guide and he was eager to introduce us to his sport.  Ira, Shai and I were also excited by this opportunity and being here in Huaraz we couldn’t have chosen a more convenient venue.  We went to Andean Kingdom agency and its owner Andres, a very cool & professional Argentinean rock climber.  He has a refuge 15min away from Hatun Machay, a very diverse rock formation and a climbing Mecca in this region: We could stay at his refuge (which was very well equipped), rent all equipments necessary from him and go wild on the rocks.

So after a night of party and dance in Huaraz we headed toward Hatun Machay.  Shachar was very meticulous and a good instructor which gave me the confidence I needed to start my climb: remember, me and heights are not the best of friends.   We started by tackling a 5+ graded cliff and by the end of day I was able to climb a 6.  The following morning, we tackled a few more 6 / 6+ before I tried my luck on a 6a (yeah, I know, the ranking of each climb is complicated & I still need to get my head around it: it depends on the size of the holes, supports, cliff angle,… and most probably the guide’s opinion).  While climbing this 6a, I fell 1/3 of the way up though but I wasn’t to be stopped.  Ira and I, joined by Kevin (a strong American climber of intermediate level but this guy will improve very quickly!) decided to stay 1 extra day to practice.  Andres had no issue for us crashing one more night at his refuge even if he had to head back to Huaraz.  He left us in charge of the refuge, gave us food for dinner and will be bringing lunch with him tomorrow.  How cool is that?!  Lead by Kevin, I got 1 extra day to practice my 6a which I made it up 2/3 of the way before I fell: during the climb, I had no force left in my arms and couldn’t hold on (any climber will tell you you should only use your arm for support, but it’s easier said than done).   All in all, it was an exhilarating experience and I was more that satisfied with my rock climbing initiation.  I might have found another hobby to follow…

Back in Huaraz, after yet another “pollo” diner (to the great pleasure of Shachar), it was time for another challenge: Vallunaraju, a 5,765m snowy peak.  It is ranked as an easy climb and I would have skipped it to save the costs except for 2 major points: 1) the views of the cordilleras Blanca and Negra will be outstanding from the top; and 2) I couldn’t say no to another adventure with Shachar, Shay and Ira, especially this being their first 5,00+m.a.s.l. mountain climb.  Again, we hired Andres’s company service to undertake the climb and as usual we had a blast as a gang.  For the ascent, we had 2 guides: Shachar and I went with Edwin while Ira and Shai went with Rolando (“mono”).  We had the speed advantage on the other groups and out of everyone, we made it to the top first, witnessing the sunrise above the cordillera Blanca.  It also meant we arrived early to camp and had a 2 hour rest and sleep before the others came back.

But all good things have to end and it was time to say goodbye: Shachar, Shay and Ira were heading south to Ica, Nasca, Cusco,… while I was heading north.  I was sad to leave the guys but as I told them, I am sure one day, not in the distant future, we will meet again.

I saddled up the next morning for a short ride up to Caraz (Kilometer 30,460; Caraz, 7-Oct-10 @ 10:40).  There, I checked into a hostel, unloaded my bike and then rode up to Laguna Paron, a total of ~2,000m of vertical denivelation (Kilometer 30,494; Laguna Paron, 7-Oct-10 @ 15:00).  It was a very tough ride especially inside the park, with narrow loose gravel roads zigzagging their way up the rock face.  As usual, the descent was the hardest part and it took serious effort to keep the rubber side down.  But the trip was definitely worth it, riding between 1,000m high granite walls all the way up to the lake with its turquoise waters and surrounded by magnificent peaks of the Cordillera Blanca.

It was also a good practice for my next ride.  I was to head north through “Cañon del Pato” a stunning canyon where the cordillera Blanca and Negra almost meet, separated by a mere 20m at their closest points.  Kilometer 30,550; Cañon del Pato, 8-Oct-10 @ 9:45: It was a terrific road, a narrow path lounging the vertical cliffs of the cordillera Negra to the west, while to the east sheer drops plunge straight down to the rio Santa below before the cliff façade of the cordillera Blanca rise vertically to the sky like a rock wall on the other shore of Santa river.  What was even more stunning was passing through 45 or more tunnels during this route: these tunnels are 1 lane wide, just enough for a truck to squeeze by (watch out for incoming traffic, although very rare), they were drilled by hand in the sheer cliff of the mountain and are as-is, i.e. pure rock walls and roof.  At some point you have 3 or 4 tunnels in a row, a few of them twisting and turning.  I am not exaggerating when I am telling you it was a mesmerizing ride: only about 17Km long but it took me around an hour to ride through it, thanks to the million picture break I took :).  To top it off, on the road toward the sea I asked the local mine to allow me to cross through their land and cut approximately a 50Km on my route (Kilometer 30,648; red bridge, 8-Oct-10 @ 13:50).  The guards where more than happy to allow me through and I even took a long break at the exit to eat and chat with them: of course the discussion centered around Llama (she loves attention ;)).   As for the road itself, it was a very easy off-road ride with colorful scenery surrounding me.

I reached Trujillo mid-afternoon but headed straight to Huanchaco, a nearby fishing town and surf favorite; Kilometer 30,784; Huanchaco, 8-Oct-10 @ 16:20.  It was way more tranquil than Trujillo and I needed this break.  Perfect timing as Kevin was also here practicing surf and I crashed in the same hostel as him  Trujillo itself is a bustling town and its main tourist attractions are the presence of major pyramids and religious complexes nearby dating back to the Moche culture (Huaca  de la Luna y del Sol) followed by the Chimú culture (Chan Chan city, Huaca Arco Iris, Huaca Esmeralda,…).  As in the majority of South America’s archeological sites, we learn more about a culture and its people, their traditions, lives, believes,… through their dead: the tombs are usually filled with artifacts, ceramics, jewelry,… and studying the actual body, its position, the way it was buried and/or mummified, the tombs layout, architecture and surrounding building; who and what accompanied the dead,… everything teach us a little about these people.  Through death they live on… and we have to look beyond the objects to understand its creators.  During the next few days I visited these various complexes with Huaca de la Luna being an absolute highlight, an extraordinary site not to be missed.  And when I took off my tourist hat, I hanged-out with Kevin or the hotel chicos, gouged on cebiche at the many beach vendors and even got my initiation to surf…  which the locals were quick to point out:  just like any newbie, I was a “payaso”, a clown, in the water trying to stand on the board.

After a morning stop at El Brujo archaeological complex, a Moche culture temple where was recently discovered the tattooed mummified body of a high ranking priestess, I headed to Cajamarca: Kilometer 31,162; Cajamarca, 12-Oct-10 @ 17:00.  Not only I wanted to visit the city where the Spaniards caught and executed Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor who reigned over this marvelous culture, but it was also the start of my route that will take me again to Chachapoyas (remember, I was there with Barry back in early January).  Couple of things pushed me this way:  1) I hate riding the same route twice and love to take new and less travelled roads; and 2) it is described as an amazing drive by the locals.   But it’s also not an easy option: While the route from Chiclayo to Chachapoyas is all asphalted (Barry and I took it last year in the opposite direction) the route from Cajamarca to Chachapoyas is pure gravel.  No issues so far: this route goes up 2 mountain chains: first the Central Andes Cordillera up to 3,200m.a.s.l. then down to Balsas @ 950m.a.s.l. and crossing Rio Marañon before going up the Andes Eastern Cordillera up to 3,600m.a.s.l. through the dreaded “abra del Barro Negro” (Black Mud pass).  Just the name gave me chills and this was my great concern: the rainy season has already started (it rained heavily on Monday here) and I just didn’t want to tackle mud terrain alone.  I couldn’t find any rider willing or going this way so it was up to me.  Asking the locals (bus drivers, tourist info,…) they quickly pointed that the route is solidly packed & well maintained and since the rain is not permanent or strong enough yet, I should just go ahead.  The only warning I was given was to watch out for fog; when it covers the region up there, it’s so dense and opaque the drive becomes extremely dangerous, sometime tragic:  I could fall off the sheer cliffs on one side or get hit by fog-blinded incoming traffic (few people take this road but there are the infrequent buses).  So you might ask why do I even want to head that way?  Especially since I am only 3 riding days away from Quito if I take the asphalted coastal road?!  Well, take a look at the satellite pics below, I think you will understand :).

On Friday the sun was shining on me and I rode early morning; Kilometer 31,162; Cajamarca, 14-Oct-10 @ 7:40.  I really don’t remember the last time I was that early and even punctual for a ride; I usually just take it as it comes.  Well, I needed to leave as wide a margin as I can for any climate change.  But today luck, like the sun, was on my side: I couldn’t have asked for a better weather.  It was absolutely gorgeous allowing me to admire the views, stop for many photo & snack breaks along the way and enjoy my day to its fullest.  I arrived to Leimebamba (Kilometer 31,421; Leimebamba, 14-Oct-10 @ 15:20), a small village in a lush valley, way ahead of my estimates which allowed me to just go chill and do like the locals do:  sit in the local plaza, watching the people stroll by and chitchatting with the elders.  The next morning, Don Julio form the hostel I was staying in provided me with a guide for the 3 hour hike toward Congona (which I did in 1:45min to the astonishment of my out of breath guide), a small Chachapoyas site with some very unique structures and a couple of beautifully decorated house outer walls.   The afternoon, I went to visit the famous Leimebamba museum displaying artifacts and mummies (up to 211 of them) found in the sarcophagus and tombs on the cliffs of Lago de los Condores.  I also met a group of 11 retired Quebec birdwatchers at the museums and I spared time for some hummingbird watching: amazingly, I saw the marvelous Colibri dos Espatula, so small yet so graceful in its flight with its twin tail feathers.  At night, we all went out for dinner before I headed out with a couple of local “friends” for good laughs around a few beers. By the time I went back to my hostel it was raining heavily. What I thought would be a passing cloud decided to stay for the whole night and greet me in the morning.  I took my time packing hopping it will stop but the rain just didn’t want to subside.  So I just saddled up and headed to Chachapoyas; it was mostly light rain, not too much discomfort and I reached Chachapoyas at noon time: Kilometer 31,509; Chachapoyas, 16-Oct-10 @ 11:50.

A quick wash of my bike’s chain (followed by washing “me”) before heading out to see Janet and Carlos again (they vaguely remembered me until I mentioned the bike) and booking a tour for tomorrow: there were a few excursions I missed the last time I was around here due to Barry being in a rush.  While at the agency, I met with Francois (a Quebecois) plus Eliana & fff (Arg): we were all going to visit Carajia tomorrow.  They were great fun, reminded me of why I liked so much Argentina J.  The day after, with Uri (Israel) and Helene & Julie (France) we all hiked to Catarata Gocta, a 771m waterfall and the 3rd highest in the world.  Needless to say the hike was amazing: the valley was lush and vibrant green and I was treated to a spectacle of life and color:  we saw a group of baby monkeys all huddled together and the famous Gallito de las Rockas, Peru national bird.  Once we reached the falls, Uri and I couldn’t resist jumping in: It was a powerful shower and extremely cold.  My body was numb and I was dizzy for  ½ hour after I exited!

Tomorrow I will start the final leg of my trip.  I plan to take the gravel road through Peru’s and Ecuador’s tropical forests toward Quito.  It will be an interesting ride, I just hope rain will hold off as the memories of last January are still fresh in my mind and I really do not want to re-visit them again.

Ride up!

Sami

Photo Album

or click on “page 2” below to see the photo album.