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Alumbrado

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Alumbrado

Medellin, 30-Dec-2010

Nothing beats a hot shower after my tedious ride from Tierradentro… except having a good dinner with beautiful company ;).  I dedicated the next day to rest and I went strolling the city with Arianda.  Popayan is a very picturesque town with its white colonial buildings boasting typical XV century Andalusian architecture (Mudéjar) with heavy Arab/Moorish influence: Colonial houses have an enclosed courtyard surrounded by arches and in the middle a patio and sometime a water fountain.  We even managed to have a peak inside a couple of them while visiting the town.  We spent most of the day hopping from church to museum and dropping by Popayan Art College to witness their Christmas Novena celebration before heading up a small hill for tremendous views of the city.  At night, we went to admire the Alumbrado Navideño, i.e. Christmas light, in Plaza Mayor: it is a custom all over Colombia to illuminate the central Plaza with beautiful X-mas lights in a multitude of shape and forms.  It’s nothing like you ever seen before and it really puts you in a joyful X-mas spirit.  And since it was the Novena, we were treated to a concert by the local school children with each class vying to win the X-mas prize.

Next morning, my riding cloth + booth still wet, I rode up to Cali, a short 2 hour drive from Popayan: Kilometer 35,563; Cali, 17-Dec-10 @ 13:10.  This is another famous Colombian city: no, not because of its cartel history, rather its women and salsa dancing.  And being the weekend, I was going to be treated to a few wild nights.   While the nightlife surely lives up to its reputation and the party doesn’t end until the wee hour of the morning (although it continues longer if you want to ;), the city itself is a letdown.  Poor, dodgy, somewhat dirty and a badly maintained center will only solidify your plans: Party hard, dance all night and sleep during the day.

By Monday, I was ready to leave Cali and head to Salento, a small village close to the enchanting Valle De Cocora and a perfect getaway to relax and rest after my long weekend.  Yet again while riding I was caught up by the rain and I was drenched in less than a minute.  That’s it: next time I see a hint of a black cloud, I am putting on my rain suit. (The reason I don’t wear it defacto is because it’s some sort of non-breathable nylon, once you put it on, you sweat as if in a sauna).  Kilometer 35,777; Salento, 20-Dec-10 @ 13:10: Salento is a typical Colombian village except for the hoards of gringos that visit it, a matter exacerbated by the fact Salento is so small:  you bump into a tourist at every corner.  But I was in luck; at my hostel I hooked up with a cool bunch of backpackers and we formed a fun group for the next couple of days: we ate from the many street vendors in the plaza, walked the city and surrounding viewpoints, savored cakes from the local pasteleria and shared a few drinks with the local in the town’s tavern/bar where the “paisanos” congregate to play pool and cards.

The following morning the rain stopped and we were treated to a beautiful sunny day.  We all headed to the Valley de Cocora to hike through the wax palm tree.  These palm trees are endemic to this valley and they grow thin and tall up to 60m with the palm branches only in its top extremity, a mesmerizing sight (check pics!). It was definitely worth the strenuous hike through the muddy trail caused by the heavy rains pouring on Colombia since October.  Back to Salento late afternoon, we visited a local coffee finca (we are in the midst of Colombia’s coffee region) to learn about the coffee plantation process and to savor the different coffee they grow here.
I wanted to stay longer in Salento but since everyone was leaving today I just followed suit and saddled up to head to Medellin; finally I will discover and live the city so many travelers crave: Kilometer 36,038; Medellin, 22-Dec-10 @ 17:50.  I checked in at Casa Kiwi, a nice hostel right in the Zona Rosa (where all the nightlife is) and with a beautiful patio looking into a small wooded park.  Again, there was a cool bunch of travelers also crashing here, each on her/his long travel journey, and we all hooked up to visit the city during the day and hit the bar and club scene during the night.  Medellin center is OK, nice to visit for 1 day, but the city’s true beauty lies in its people.  Yes, the girls are gorgeous but what I mean is everyone around here is out to have a good time and people mingle, chat and dance with any inviting soul.  No wonder tourists love it so much (specially guys ;).  And being in the holiday season only adds to Medellin social scene.  For example, when we went out to check the tremendous alumbrado Medellin is crowned champion for, it took us 4 hours to walk along the river lights: Many locals wanted to chat or take a picture with us: it’s as we are celebrities surrounded by our fan; got to admit, it felt sweet.

For X-mas day, we prepared a huge BBQ dinner (I made my avocado specialty 😉 but what I am really waiting for is New Year’s Eve celebration.  Tomorrow, I will be heading with Alvaro to his home town Jardin – which Carlos didn’t stop raving about during the 15 days we spent it touring Cusco and its surrounding.   Can’t wait.

Ride up!

Sami

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As The Rush Comes

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As The Rush Comes

15-Dec-2010

The Llama Show hit the road again!

Sure, my stay in Ecuador had no shortage of rides and adventures but it’s just not the same: The enthusiasm the morning prior to hitting the road, the rush when riding new routes heading toward the “unknown”, the discoveries and surprises along the way (for the good and the not so good) before reaching a new destination awaiting to be explored, savoring new food and fruits, meeting new people and sharing a few moments of our lives, … before laying your head down remembering the day and dreaming about tomorrow.

Travelling by motorcycle can loosely be planified, the roads always hold a few surprises:  Flexibility, patience and a smile are de rigueur; just enjoy the ride and go with the flow.  I left Quito on Thursday 9 of Dec in the morning (Kilometer 34,018; Quito, 9-Dec-10 @ 9:15) and I was supposed to meet Raul for breakfast but, leaving out the details, it turned out I could only see him for a few minutes in downtown Quito and thus exiting the city by 11:30.  On the way to the border, I caught up with a couple of Ecuadorian Highway police on motorcycles and we stopped for a chat.  Upon reaching Ibarra, I crossed 2 riders on BMW GS650 and we stopped at a gas station for a ½ hour chat (Kilometer 34,163; Ibara, 9-Dec-10 @ 13:00): they are a Canadian couple, Carol and Ralph, on their way south to Tierra del Fuego.  A further hour riding and the rain was to the rendez-vous, accompanying me up to the border.    There, I tackled a 45 minutes traffic jam since this is the unique “official” border connecting Ecuador to Colombia.  Upon reaching the Ecuadorian customs and immigration offices my delays just kept on accumulating: my name did not show on their electronic database.  See, when I crossed into Ecuador from Peru back in October, I used the remote border crossing of La Balsa.  The custom agents there are not connected to the immigration’s computer network; I don’t know if I told you before but at La Balsa I was the unique vehicle which crossed during October!  During all of 2010, there were a total of less than 25 vehicles crossing this way.  AnywayZ, the immigration/custom’s info is written in a log book which is sent to Quito for it to be entered into the database.  Surprise, surprise, 6 weeks later and it was still not done.  It took 3 hours before Quito gave the permission for me to exit the country.  There’s nothing I could do and I’ve grown used to these wait so I just chilled and shared a few laughs with the border agents.  At one point they even invited me to head back to Tulcan, the Ecuadorian border village, to spend the night there and go out for a drink with the boys.  I just told them the Colombian girls were awaiting me on the other side and I don’t want to disappoint ;).
By 18:30 I was finally on Colombian soil and since travelling at night in southern Colombia is a no-no (to the west up to the Pacific and to the East into Colombia jungle, it’s mostly guerillas & narco traffickers controlled lands) I just decided to stop in Ipiales, the Colombian border town; Kilometer 34,305; Ipiales, 9-Dec-10 @ 18:35.

The next morning I decided to leave the surrounding sites to visit on my way back and took the thrilling road to Popayan, a continuation of the cloud forest that covers most of Ecuador’s Andes: roads zigzagging up and down the cordillera Occidental, lounging the mountain sides, dropping into valleys before climbing up to its summit and revealing an incredible panorama of lush and vibrant green forests. The icing on the cake was the thousands of white butterflies which are present in this region and on the roads.  It was sort of a fairytale ride; it felt like I was flying with them.  Check the vid!

Kilometer 34,649; Popayan, 10-Dec-10 @ 17:10: I stayed in a fun hostel in Popayan, hooked up with other fellow travelers for dinner and my first night out in Colombia.  Got to tell you, Colombian are the nicest people you can ever meet. They are quick to come and chat with you or invite you for a dance, offering you a few shots (of Aguardiante… wacala) and most of all, telling you that Colombia is not about drugs and violence, rather fun and beauty, like they are :).

From Popayan, I wanted to visit the archaeological ruins that lie in the surrounding village of San Augustin and Tierradentro but I was debating how.  The extensive rain that La Niña dumped and is still dumping on Colombia caused significant landslides and washed away roads on the already extremely bad off-roads around here.  And in the surrounding areas, the guerilla has been known to pop its head out once in a while to remind people of their “cause and struggles”.  So riding solo these roads might not be the best of options.  To top it off, everyone has a different opinion and advice about what I should do: The hotels owners mentioned it’s pretty safe and many tourists and a few riders went there without encountering any issues (other than the horrendous roads). Asking the locals in the city, opinion defer from “don’t even think about to” to “just go but be careful”.  Military and police tells you they are in charge but if any person in military camouflage wants to stop you, just do so, do not run.  Worst case, if I fall in the wrong hands I will be treated to a 2 hour lecture and probably “lose” my cash but nothing more.

So I just went for it… 🙂 don’t ask, I’ll probably won’t be able to make my case.  Suffice to say: the thrill of the ride, the adventure, the difficulty of the terrain, the adrenaline rush during the trip and bathing in the sweet scent of accomplishment by the end of the day drives me.  These sensations empower me, surmount any hesitations and push me forward.

The first 30Km where bad asphalt but as soon as it finished I was immediately faced with rough, muddy and potholes infested gravel road… not even some sort of preliminary “bad gravel road” to adapt to the condition!  Nop, just bam, welcome to the jungle. To top it off it was still raining heavily and visibility was limited.  At least no guerilla would be sticking around in these conditions ;).   On the other hand, the military where everywhere: In the bushes, on top of hills, in barracks, road check, in every village, in helicopter,…. I don’t know if I should feel more secure by their presence or to the contrary, they are here because the situation is “that bad”.  Actually, everyone here wears military fatigue: army, police, tourist police, guerilla, paramilitary,… so technically I had no idea who they really were (although, yes, there are differences in each vestments but I had no idea how to distinguish it).  AnywayZ, I always gave a peace sign when I crossed any of them and the few times I stopped to chat, they were all extremely nice, mentioning the situation is perfectly safe… and were so curious about the bike.  What really made me feel at ease where actually the many trucks and buses that ploughs these roads.  Work is also underway to asphalt all the roads in the region to facilitate movement of both the people and army, thus driving out the last pockets of guerilla, sort of what Fujimori did back in the 90’s to squash the “Sendero Luminoso” (“Shining Path”) movement.  Although here we’re still talking about a very well financed militia(s), > 1billion U$D/year industry.  That can pack a lot of punching power… and “influence” a few government officials.

Back to my road, the breathtaking moments, other than sliding in the mud, was the surrounding scenery and nothing better can put a smile on the trip… other than the sun wish came late afternoon to accompany me during my last few kms toward San Ignacio.  Raul, I think you’ll be the only other person who would be as eager as me to ride these roads.

Kilometer 34,794; San Augustin, 11-Dec-10 @ 15:30: San Ignacio is famous for its pre-Colombian statues scattered in the hillside the ancient civilization left behind.  Not much is known about them but their burial sites and their many sculptures withstood the test of time.  I took a horse ride to check the nearby statues before heading to the main archeological complex which contain several burial chambers, mainly for their leaders and a multitude of statues.  These tribes used to perform many sacrifices, including children, during the burial ceremony and it’s evident with the many statues around the tombs.  The other highlight of my tour is meeting so many Colombian along the way, so friendly and eager to chat and I even hooked up with them again at night for some drinks and dance.  Next morning I was back on asphalt road heading north toward the Desert of Tatacoa, riding in the valley between the Cordillera Occidental and Central.  Kilometer 35,089; Villavieja, 13-Dec-10 @ 13:30: I checked in into a local bungalow (and look at the pic below to see where Llama stayed) before heading to the desert.  Just to clarify, Desierto de Tatacoa is really not a desert:  It’s green… and it rains here.  It’s actually more a dry tropical forest than anything else. It is different than anything I saw before and since I headed there for the sunset, the visual effect was even more grandiose, really stunning play of colors. I kept venturing out with Llama on the dirt road until reaching its end, a platform called “Ventanillas” (i.e. windows) with stunning views. I rode back after sunset toward the local observatory at the edge of the desert.  There, I met Javier the local astronomer who explained to us about the stars, constellations and the universe while we gazed at the stars via a couple of telescopes.  Then by 22:00 we set outside to watch the Geminids meteor shower (http://www.meteorblog.com/2010/12/geminids-meteor-shower-peaks-in-december/).  It was fun and we were joined by a few Colombian visitors from Bogotá and we started counting the shooting stars:  a total of 113 of them in 1 hour.

My next destination was Tierradentro (Kilometer 35,298; Tierradentro, 14-Oct-10 @ 13:05), another unique archeological site in Colombia (and South America) where ancient cultures practiced complex burying tradition:  The deceased were first buried in small holes (in an “L” shape, the entrance being the top of the “L” and the bodies lay down in the bottom right part of the “L”) scattered around the hillsides.  A couple of years later the bodies where exhumed from this primary tomb then buried in hypogea (i.e.  collective tombs).  For this secondary burial the skeletons were placed in ceramic jars and sort of cremated (remains of ashes and calcined bones can still be seen in the jars). A typical hypogeum was dug in the volcanic rocks, has a spiral staircase heading down to the main funerary chamber, usually 5 to 8 meters below the surface.  The walls of the tombs were painted with geometric pattern and anthropomorphic figures usually with red and black paints on white background.  The big chambers have columns holding their roof and depending on their size, they could contain 40 or more jars each.  Unfortunately as in most South America tombs, the huaceros (or tomb raiders) were always first to find these tombs which they dugout (and thus destroyed them in the process) in search of artifacts, gold and ceramics to sell in the black market.  Even painting or sculptures on walls were ripped out.

The final leg of my tour, the road from Tierradentro back to Popayan was the most difficult, both from the road conditions point of view and the dodgy situation.  The roads here lounge steep mountain sides composed of red earth which in this rainy season are ideal conditions for landslides.  And I had many of these. Worst, I left early afternoon and the sunny skies were soon shrouded by dark clouds and it started to rain heavily and didn’t stop for my whole trip.  I was drenched in seconds, not even having time to stop and put on my rain pants. The roads immediately were flooded, huge ruts dissected them and they turned into mud pits.  A couple of small landslide I had to cross didn’t make it easier either.  In 10 minutes, I was literally sitting in a pool of water which formed in my pants and my shoes were flooded.  It reminded me of the Carretera Austral…. at least, it’s not that cold here.  Funny, during my whole trip last year I only had 5 or 6 rainy days, where is now, I am not even getting 1 dry day.  To make it worse, few vehicles were on the road; I only passed the odd truck along the way.  Army was also non-present… or non-visible.  Probably everyone, the good, the bad and the ugly, were hiding from the rain… at least that was my wishful thinking.

Kilometer 35,415; Popayan, 15-Dec-10 @ 17:50: I only arrived to Popayan by sunset, averaging less than 20Km/h during this trip.  I was soaked and I knew I will be spending the next few days to wash and dry all my gear.  But in absolute all honesty, I was so happy to have done this tour with Llama and visited these villages & sites and I will venture out again if another occasion present itself.  It’s all part of The Llama Show :).

Ride up!

Sami

Photo Album

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Home For A Rest

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Home For A Rest

27-Nov-2010

It is really good being back in Quito and reuniting with Alisson, Barry, Gina, Raul,… and all their families and friends.  It really felt like if I was back home: Night dinners, weekend BBQ, family Sunday gathering, cooking at home, doing a few fixes in Alisson’s apartment :)…. and not to mention I did not have to pack my suitcase anymore :).

What else did I do? Well, I spent most of my time setting up the website you guys are religiously reading and commenting on… right?  Otherwise, we went quite a few times riding, mostly with Raul who is as passionate about riding as I am and knows the best off-roads circuits in the area.  A highlight was when Raul managed to get us into the beautiful Parque Cayambe-Coca, normally an intangible area for vehicles: I was the researcher from Canada who’s doing a study on the effect of pollution on the plants photosynthesis process which affects the growth of Polylepis trees and…  you don’t buy this shit, do you? Doesn’t matter, they did :).   I only went hiking once and it was a great day. I hooked up with Alisson and Barry’s co-workers to climb the Iliniza Sur, a 5,126m.a.s.l. peak.  It was loads of fun with lots of joking and teasing going around.

Today Sunday 28-Nov is Ecuador census day.  What’s so special? Well, you don’t fill the questionnaire on-line at your own leisure as we do back home; they pass by each home like the good old days.  Here’s how’s things goes here:  First, “la ley seca” is in effect for 3 days, since Friday noon: no drinking is allowed anywhere (resto, bars, streets,…) and selling alcohols is prohibited.  On census day, i.e. today, a curfew is in effect and no one is allowed to go out of their house; Police and army are patrolling the streets and will arrest anyone who ventures out in the streets.  Fines vary from U$D10 up to 3 month in jail… wonder how they choose which fine to give!?  Everyone has to participate, even tourists.  As for the question themselves, check a sample below, it will give you an idea on the priorities in this country:

  • What is your house roof made off? The outside walls?  The floor?
  • How many families share the kitchen? Do you cook with gas?
  • Do you have running water? Electricity? If so, do you use energy-saver lights?…

Interesting, isn’t it?

On the sport front, La Liga again was in the hunt for the Copa Sudamericana and I went to watch the game… but this time they were eliminated in the semi-final.  Back to Quito, the effect of La Nina is horrible.  It’s been raining every day and the temperatures hitting record lows.  Last year, we had beautiful sunshine and I would happily trade in this rain for last year weather even if it meant returning to the 6 hours of daily electricity shortage.  As for me, I am still debating what to do next but spending a few months in Colombia is so tempting.  Security concerns, spending X-mas with family, money matters, “having” to go back to the real world,.. are all factors holding me back.  Not to mention weather:  Colombia’s situation is even more horrendous then in Ecuador.  28 of its 32 states in a state of emergency due to flooding.  On the other side, every traveler I met who visited Colombia, either on motorcycle or backpacking, was absolutely enchanted by this country and ranks it as the highlight of her/his trip in South America, with Medellin being their favorite city: Food, people, dancing, scenery, beaches,… all conglomerate in this hidden jewel called Colombia.  It’s kind of perplexing.  I mean, from my point of view and after a year of travel to so many different places, it is impossible for me to choose the best country or the most beautiful city or my favorite place,… and it intrigues me how so many traveler crown Colombia as a the best country and Medellin as the best city with such ease.  I want to go and discover this treasure but trust me, the decision is not that easy.  For now, I’ll stick around for the Fiestas de Quito and then decide what to do.

Ciao

Sami

Photo Album

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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...

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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Huayhuash

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Huayhuash

Huaraz, 30-Sep-2010

I went early morning for my meeting with Juan Pablo, Peru’s Suzuki motorcycle country director (Kilometer 29,958; Lima’s Derco office, 21-Sep-10 @ 10:20).  We had a very interesting and enlightening conversation about the moto industry in Peru.  It was a long meeting, definitely well worth it but it meant I left for Huaraz just after noon time.  Normally, it should have been ample time to reach Huaraz except it was raining and I was again caught up in Lima’s horrendous traffic and its many road constructions and detours.  When I finally exited Lima I was hit by a heavy fog, reducing my visibility to less than 5 meters.  An hour went by before I exited the fog only to be stopped, yet again 😦 by the Peruvian Transit Police (Kilometer 30,164; intersection with Huaraz route, 21-Sep-10 @ 15:00).  This time they had a radar and they “caught” me riding 71Km/h in a 65Km/h zone.  Great!  One cop started writing me a ticket in the crazy amount of S/.680 == U$D240!  I laughed at his face and bluntly told him this is theft and I will not pay.  Who in Peru can pay the almost minimum monthly salary as a fine?  Surprise, surprise, he then hinted that allowing me to leave depends on my “cariño”, i.e. my love.  Well, he wasn’t going to get that today.  But he was a stubborn little fellow and kept me there waiting…. enough time for me to see him stopping other cars, usually luxury SUVs, and showing them the same frikin 71Km/h radar reading!.  But these people were used to this game and their love consisted of handing their license papers with S/.10 Nuevo Soles before immediately being let go.  All this in a very ordinary and casual way, right in front of my eyes.  I guess you figured out what I needed to do…. Damn, at this rate, that little fucker can buy a truckload of chickens every day ;).

Kilometer 30,388; Huaraz, 21-Sep-10 @ 19:00: Huaraz lies in a valley between the snowy Cordillera Blanca to the east and the dry & windswept Cordillera Negra (i.e. no snow) to the west.  And what an extraordinary sight is the Cordillera Blanca.  Snow capped mountains and glaciers litter this chain, each summit more magnificent than the other.  It is home to the Huascaran, the highest peak in Peru @ 6,768m.a.s.l. and the beautiful pyramid shaped Alpamayo.  Looking at these peaks just made my heart race and I quickly jumped on the phone to call Roy:  Let’s climb one of them!  Unfortunately, Roy was getting ready for his jungle work and anyway, it was the end of the season and dangerous snowy conditions are upon us… no worries, it will be for another year.

There are still many things to do in Huaraz.: I visited Chavin de Huantar, the religious site of the “oldest” civilization of the Americas. (Side note: Caral culture is 1,500 year older than Chavin, dating back to at least 2,500B.C. (and older), yet there’s a heated debate between archeologists/researchers upon calling Caral a civilization: no major ceramics, sculptures, drawings, musical instruments, tools, weapons (hunting or military),… were found there.  I visited Caral’s pyramid complex back in January and I am no expert but to my eyes and after what I saw, Caral definitely deserve being called a civilization).  Chavin archeological site has recently been painfully restored after a mud slide in 1945 covered the complex.  Nowadays, I could visit the many ceremonial plazas, temples, the labyrinth like quarters and not to forget its many monolith and stone carving representing their gods.  I also visited and hiked Laguna Llanganuco before heading back to town to prepare for my 8 day Huayhuash trek.  This trek is extremely popular with Israelis and a group of 18 of them (most were loud and “agitated”) registered for the hike.  Ouch! That doesn’t sit well with exploring nature.  To my luck, 5 of them, extremely cool, funny and open minded decided to split from the others for exactly the same reason and hike it separately:  they too wanted to fully enjoy Huaywash, undisturbed, dwelling in its beauty and absorbing each moments and I was more than happy to tag along.  To do so, we had to leave Huaraz at 2:00AM and start our hike by 8:00AM to get a 1 day head start over the other group.  During the next 7 days, I joined Ira, Shachar, Amir and Shay to hike the incredibly marvelous cordillera Huaywash, a route lying between 4,000 and 5,100 m.a.s.l surrounded by a gorgeous mountain chain of breathtaking snowy peaks & glaciers and walking through steppe plains beside gorgeous turquoise lakes reflecting the mountains,…  Add to that we really hit it out as a group (and with Theo and Tonio, our guide + ariero) so we had great fun all along our hike (Ori, the 6th guy in our group had to drop off of the hike and return to base after the first few hours due to severe altitude sickness).  Bref, I would describe it as the absolutely most beautiful trek I ever did.  Again, pictures speak a thousand words and I’ll let you enjoy all 120+ of them ;).

And that’s not all:  As a group we developed such a strong friendship that we decided to undertake a few more activities together… read all about it in my following update.

Ride up!

Sami

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Diversity

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Diversity

Lima, 20-Sept-2010

Peru is an amazingly rich country, cradle to many cultures, home to an incredible diversity of flora & fauna (it boasts to have 84 of the 117 recognized ecological microclimates in the world, and 28 of the 32 world climates) and is inhabited by welcoming and warm Peruvian.  So my decision was easy:  I will take the beautiful road on my way to Lima vs. the short & easy one.  I will pass by Abancay before veering north through unpaved roads and breathtaking scenery toward Ayacucho.   From there, I plan to head to Huancayo before turning west to Lima.

Kilometer 28,633; Cusco, 14-Sep-10 @ 9:45: The trip started on beautiful fresh tarmac along an undulating road passing again next to Cachora and reaching Abancay (Kilometer 28,833; Abancay, 14-Sep-10 @ 13:05).  Not much to see there, Abancay being a crossroad between Nazca to the West via an asphalted road and Ayacucho to the North via a beautiful off-road.  I kept heading north as my plan was to ride as far as possible today, stopping in Andayhualas for the night (Kilometer 28,981; Andayhualas, 14-Sep-10 @ 17:00) and reaching Ayacucho the following day in the evening.  My route turned out to be spectacular, a real sweet ride and the off-roads good enough to fully enjoy the surrounding nature.  The only hick-up were the on-going construction: some stretches were pure loose gravel & sand and many road blocks ensued.  Twice I had to ask the locals for detours and avoid the hours of blockades mandated by the construction crews.  However, just an hour before Ayacucho, a major construction site blocked the road for 1.5 hour with no way around it.  We were only allowed to continue by 18:00, sundown.  It is one thing tackling these roads during daylight but a totally different ball game to do so at night: it’s hard to distinguish the perturbing rocks popping up from the ground, the sand patches I need to slowly cross and the best/safest path for my tires to ride over.  But this is how the game is played and I’ll tackle whatever is thrown at me.  I arrived late to Ayacucho and immediately went ahead looking for a hotel with a built-in garage (Kilometer 29,237; Ayacucho, 15-Sep-10 @ 19:30).  After knocking on a few doors and explaining to the owners that I sleep wherever my bike sleeps, I finally found a hotel which allowed me to park my baby inside the main hallway, safe and dry.  They were so nice they even brought me a hose the next morning so I can clean my bike’s chain from all the sand and dust accumulated.

Ayacucho is a nice small city, with many lovely churches scattered around and a beautiful plaza de Armas surrounded by colonial buildings.  The churches in Peru and worst, in Bolivia, have unpredictable opening hours, if they open at all during the day that is.  So I long figured out the best way to visit is after sunset during the night masse: so go ahead, go confess all your sins J.  Back at my hotel, I hooked up with Jacob and Yagna, a polish backpacker couple and we decide to visit the major Wari ruins outside Ayacucho (it was the capital of the Wari state) before continuing further afield toward Quinoa.  So my bike will stay put today and we will take the combi to our destination.

The Wari culture was renowned for their expertise in urbanization and social planning.  Their cities were very tightly ordered, organized in square sectors, crisscrossed by wide streets and surrounded by high walls (sometime a double set of outer walls with a street in the middle) and harboring up to 20,000 people.  The Incas took much of the Wari urbanization expertise and further improved it, allowing them to better build and manage their cities.  Even the famous Inca roads were actually built on top of the earlier Wari roads and then further extended to cover the Tawantinsuyu (i.e. Inca empire).  Although not as well preserved (read “reconstructed”) as Pikillacta, quite a few sectors, walls and temples are marvelous to see and I spent a couple of ours just strolling a tiny part of this huge complex (estimated at 10 sq.km).  Our trip then took us to Quinoa, a tranquil little village whose inhabitants are masters of ceramic work, renowned to decorate their house’s rooftops with their sculptures.  It’s a joy to stroll Quinoa’s small cobble streets before heading uphill to the plains were the major battle of Ayacucho occurred back in 1824.  It is here where General Antonio Jose de Sucre (him again :)) fought the larger and better armed royalist forces in a final and decisive battle.  His victory on 9th December 1824 finally granted Peru it’s independence from the Spanish after years of civil war which started back in 1809 and the tide only turned in favor of the Nationalists following San Martin initial attack from southern Chile back in 1820.

Today I will head to the sea :)! …and what an exciting thought it was.  I left the Atlantic coast more than 4 month ago and now I’ll finally reach the Pacific.  All I was thinking about was the endless extent of blue sea, the smell of the ocean and the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.  I decided to stay in Paracas, next to the peninsula of the same name renowned for its beautiful dunes and shoreline.   To top it all off, the excellent asphalted road from Ayacucho to the coast provided an amazing track of twisty roads that went up and down mountains until reaching Abra Apacheta @ 4,750m before starting my long and winding road down toward the Panamericana.  The strong Pacific winds met me again on this final stretch bidding me welcome back to its territories.  Just before reaching the Panamericana, I stopped at Tambo Colorado, an ancient Inca city and a major resting place for the travelers up to Cusco (Kilometer 28,543; Tambo Colorado, 17-Sep-10 @ 15:00).  It’s one of the few, definitely the biggest, Inca city built from adobe vs. the usual stonework.  But Inca signature abounds with its typical trapezoidal doorway, baths, zigzag motif and the 3 level Chacana.  The dry weather of the coast even preserved a few walls with the original red, yellow and white painting adorning the city (hence the name).

Kilometer 29,602; Paracas, 17-Sep-10 @ 17:25: To my surprise Paracas is a very touristy beach town.  In the morning, heading to the quay with July and Helen for a tour of Isla Ballestas, hordes of tourists, mostly middle aged, were waiting at the dock.  It felt like a retiree reunion of some sort and I couldn’t help but compare it to some Florida beach towns.  Here, everyone wanted to marvel at the tens of thousands (maybe hundred thousand?) of birds living on the islands.  A half an hour boat ride took us there (no one can disembark as it’s a protected area)  and I was surprised, even shocked, to witness such a huge number of birds: they were using nearly every free sq.inch of the island to stand on or doting the skies above us while flying (watch out for bird dropping!).  To give you an idea on the number of birds in these islands, the guano, i.e. bird excrement, was so abundant that in certain areas it was up to 50m deep!  The Incas used the guano as fertilizer to increase crop yield but the European only discovered its benefit back in the 1800’s.  Because of the regions’ dry weather (it barely rains) the guano preserves its properties and especially its nitrate content making it the much thought after fertilizer.  And so started Peru’s guano golden age:  from 1840-1880 Peru had a tremendous boon exporting ~20 million tons of guano and earning around U$D 2 billion in profit.  To put it in perspective, it exceeds current Peru’s GDP numbers!!  The advent of synthetic fertilizer killed this golden “fecal” mine and the birds were left to do their thing.  Guano today has a second breath as a natural fertilizer vs. all the chemicals we use:  it is harvested once every 7 year (for it to accumulate and for preservation of the environment, the birds and their habitat).

Once back on shore and after a quick breakfast with Julie and Hélène, I loaded all my stuff on my bike and headed toward the peninsula.  The scenery was high in color were dunes, red volcanic hills, sandy beaches and blue water mix.  I took my time riding this 21Km circuit and admiring its beauty.  By mid afternoon I stopped at the tiny fishing hamlet of Lagunillas where a few restaurants conglomerate near the shore and waiters fight to offer you their services (Kilometer 29,641; Paracas, 18-Sep-10 @ 14:35).  A delicious grilled fish with a Pisco Sour was to culminate my excursion and I headed (late) toward Lima.  I arrived on its outskirt after nightfall right in the middle of the drive home rush hour.  Crazy drivers & aggressive buses were my welcoming committee.  It was such a stressful stop-and-go ride that I completely missed my exit; I was more concerned about the cars surrounding me, forcefully trying to make their way passed me.  I exited the highway, did a u-turn and asked for directions.  And that’s the other nightmare: Similar to Bolivia, everyone will tell you to just go “recto”, i.e. straight.  But buddy, the roads split in a “Y”, left & right, which way?  “Recto amigo, siga no mas”.  Great… and then?  “Just turn and follow the road”…  O-Kaaay… the name of the road?  Where do I turn?  “Just turn this way” gesturing in the air.  The way I understand it is that people won’t tell you they actually don’t know the route, instead just gesture their way out of it.  You ask someone about a certain direction and just 100 meter later someone else tells you something completely different.  Even taxi drivers throw you on a zigzag trail (well, they know all the shortcuts, so can’t really blame them).  And I was asking to reach a very famous roundabout, not even the street I wanted to get too!  I played this ping-pong game (me being the ball) for a good half-hour, slowly honing-in to Miraflores and miraculously I stumbled upon Avenida Arequipa.  That’s the major thoroughfare that crosses Lima from its center to past Miraflores.  All I needed to know now was which way to head: left or right?  Once I had 3 different guys telling me the same way to go (OK, I am exaggerating now 😉 I just rode in that direction.  And I knew that I will remember exactly the streets I needed to take once I reached the neighborhood I stayed in back in January.  Sure enough, my visual memory never fails and I was happily making my way through the streets up to my hostel, Kilometer 29,939; Miraflores, 18-Sep-10 @ 19:35.

I only stayed for a few days in Lima: it was Saturday and I hit Barranco club’s street again and the following day just visited the Museo Nacional de Arqueologia.  On Monday I went to visit Suzuki Lima and managed to get a meeting for Tuesday morning with Juan Pablo, general manager of Peru’s Suzuki motos.  The plan is to continue straight on to Huaraz; the summer might be arriving into the Southern hemisphere but in the cordilleras, it’s the winter and rainy season is at the doorstep.

Ride up!

Sami

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