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