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Posts tagged ‘Quito’

Pachamama

Quito, 21-Jun-2011

Pachamama or Mother Nature.

Ecuador like many other South American countries have much to offer. I took you to the Galapagos, the Pacific coast, the Andes,… but we’re still missing the jungle.

So here you go: 4 days on the outskirts of the Amazon with Piranhas, Pink dolphins, Spiders, Alligators,…

And let’s do a final visit to beautiful Colonial Quito, its cobblestone streets, historical buildings & churches many of whom are built on the foundation of Incas palaces and temples. And out of the many museums one can visit, a few pictures from Guayasamin museum, Ecuador (and probably South America’s) most famous aboriginal painters.

That’s it! hasta luego amigos. My South American trip comes to an end but (as you know) new challenges awaits.

Welcome to the Jungle

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Touching The Stars

Quito, 17-May-2011

Llama is gone but my adventures are still on-going. A few challenges were still on my to-do list as well as a few places to visit here in Ecuador. But let’s start with the challenges:

Would it be a surprise if I told you its mountain climbing or “Andenismo”? Didn’t think so. Well I wanted to conquer the top of Cotopaxi volcano once again; it’s probably the most beautiful snow capped volcano in South America (and maybe the world?) and a difficult climb. Last time I reached the summit, the weather was cloudy with low visibility and I am hoping for better luck this time. I have been training for a month and the time has come to rise up to the challenge. At 5,897 m.a.s.l. the Cotopaxi is also the perfect training to reach another very special summit: Chimborazo volcano at 6,268m.a.s.l.. Why so special? Keep reading.

I hooked up again with Rafa, the same guide I hiked Cotopaxi in the past and probably the best guide in Ecuador. At 52 year old, he’s still going strong and he’s been training Ecuadorian climbers to summit Mount Everest. He’ll be flanked by Ivan, a little guy whom you wouldn’t guess how strong he is by just looking at his small and skinny stature. As for the climb, 2 French guys: Florian and Romain will be accompanying me.

Arriving at Cotopaxi’s upper camp, the weather looked good and we all went to sleep dreaming of the summit. But when we started our midnight climb we were hit with a blizzard of freezing rain. We were the only one who dared to climb up and we faced horrific conditions: our feet were digging in the soft snow and the strong wind & ice pellets were blinding us. 5 hours later, at about 5,700m we had to call off the expedition. We couldn’t distinguish our path anymore and we were walking between crevasses, a recipe for trouble to say the least. I felt so frustrated but it was the only sensible choice.

Back in Quito, I was still adamant on climbing the Chimborazo (a.k.a. Chimbo) but I needed a break to rest and refocus. So I went hiking for 3 days around the Quilotoa caldera, a gigantic water filled crater with a rim of 3,000m in diameter.

The Chimbo was not only another tough challenge but it also hold a record with a very special meaning. On the challenge side, if you think the Cotopaxi’s ~45% summit reach success rate is low, just consider the Chimbo a <15%! Wow, why? Well, the Chimbo lies on the Andes’ western-most mountain chain immediately facing the Pacific Ocean which means most climbers often face ferocious winds rendering the climb impossible. But there an even bigger issue: the climb from Camp-2 at ~5,000m.a.s.l. to the 6,268m.a.s.l. Whymper summit is a whopping 1,300m in denivelation!. No other mountain I know off requires such physical effort at such altitude, not even Aconcagua. At above 5,000m, hiking on snowy slops, every 150m in height is an hour climb. To top it off, the last 2 hours are above 6,000m; combine altitude + strenuous effort and AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) hits many climbers hard.

And what about that record? Well, remember your geography class and the earth’s shape? The earth is a squashed sphere bulging on the equator by ~21.5Km (radius). Well, the Chimbo lies just south of the equator and although its Whymper summit is ~2,600m lower in elevation than Mt. Everest, it is still ~2,150m FARTHER from the center of the earth than the highest mountain on earth. Chimbo’s summit is actually the farthest point on earth from its center, period. Or from a different view, on earth and once at the summit you’ll be the closest possible to the sun and stars.

As bad as the weather was during my Cotopaxi climb as good as it turned out to be during my Chimbo climb. Moderate winds, few clouds and cold enough temperatures to keep the initial snowy part solid. It was a very difficult climb though; we started at 22:00 the night before and made our way up via the northern face glacier, zigzagging between small penitentes. Midway through my climb, I felt as tired as during Aconcagua summit but I had this strong urge to keep pushing and reaching the top ASAP, fearing the wind which usually always picks up by sunrise. Result – and to the great surprise of Ivan who was repeatedly forcing me to slow down – we reached the summit at 4:00, 2 hours ahead of schedule. Problem was I wanted to see the sunrise so we had to kill 2 hours of freezing cold temperatures and winds picking up on top of a volcano. We had to constantly keep walking and doing exercises for the arms, legs, feet and hands otherwise our limbs would freeze in pain. At one point I was so tired I couldn’t move anymore: I decided to dig a small hole in the glacier and huddle in.  Ivan was very concerned I would fall asleep and not wake up.

But then a stunning view began to be drawn all around us. The morning lights slowly slipped away the night’s veil uncovering the most amazing spectacle I witnessed in all my climbs. I was in awe! Not in my wildest dreams I could have imagined such a show. The cold, pain, tiredness,… all disappeared in seconds and we spend the next 1 ½ hours marveling at mother nature’s outstanding power and beauty.

Discover these moments by checking the video and pictures below.

Ciao

Sami

Photo album

The Hardest Part Is Saying Goodbye

The Hardest Part Is Saying Goodbye

Quito, 4-May-2011

The last leg of my journey… damn these words are heavy. But I am not there yet so let’s put this though on hold and move to more important things.  Colombia is a marvelous country mainly because of its people. During my entire South America trip I felt welcomed wherever I set foot, people eager to chat with me, to invite me into their homes, help me discover the beauty of their village, city & country, to learn about their culture and to share a few moments of their daily life. But nowhere was it as heartening as here in Colombia.  And the fact that there’s only 1 official/safe border between Colombia and Ecuador, I promised all my new friends whom I met along my way up to visit them again when riding back south. It started here in Medellin and the show will carry on through other cities and villages.

First and foremost I will do a huge detour to pass by Bogota and visit Adriana. It was April fool and Adriana had no idea I was coming, I played the trick that my girlfriend (i.e. Llama) was jealous and didn’t want to start ;).  But sure enough, I left early morning under blue skies and knowing that my sun is in Bogota both Llama and I were just eager to get there and we roared up and down the cordilleras to reach Bogota in an amazing 5 ½ hours! (Kilometer 42,773; Bogota, 1-Apr-11 @ 14:30). As Adriana was still at work I just caught up with a couple of other friends, Diana and Tim, before heading to the Suzuki dealer to get a few bolts (yep, more fell) and chat with the boys until sundown. Tonight I will stay at Pilar’s place, one of Adriana’s best friends, before heading out with Adri to a lounge to catch up re-counting my stories.

Adriana had organized a weekend getaway for us: Pilar, Enrique, Adriana and I were to go visit “Los Llanos” in the Meta department.  Los Llanos or grassy plains are a huge swath of land to the east of Bogota, stretching from the foot of the cordierra all the way beyond the Venezuelan border.  Its total area across both countries are up to 1/5th of Colombia superficies and it’s teaming with wildlife; to give you an idea, Los Llanos have more than 700 bird species roughly the same amount of bird found in all USA & Canada.  As for the sight, imagine the Canadian prairies but now filled with trees, rivers and marshes where hundreds of animals roam and birds soar. With yours truly at the car’s helm, we first headed through extraordinary roads (and tunnels) in a tremendous ride down the Andes to Villavicienco, the gateway to the Llanos.  We briefly visited the city and its famous zoo before heading to eat typical “asado llanero”, the region’s specialty BBQ. The Llanos flat grassy plains are ideal for cattle grazing and the meat here rivals an Argentinean parillada or Brazilian churasco. After lunch we didn’t have a destination in mind, just go with the flow and see where our curiosity and passion will take us. I was so impressed by this ecosystem that I wanted to head deeper into the Llanos: “Up to the border with Venezuela? It’s only 500Km from here…” ;).  Well, we had a less extreme choice; Enrique who grew up in Villavicienco was our guide and he suggested heading toward Puerto Lopez, a small village 100 Km from here where we could find a nice finca for the nigh and spend some chill time while enjoying the flora and fauna. We bought a couple of Llanero music CDs from a street vendor and just headed deep into the Llanos.  It was just perfect! With Adriana by my side and good friends with us, we just savored every moment, cruising leisurely and enjoying the scenery, stopping every once in a while for a drink, for some pictures or to treat ourselves to some delicious fruit cocktails. And as if it was all choreographed, we arrived just before sunset to the Alto de Menegua, the so called “Ombelico de Colombia” (i.e. the geographic center of Colombia). This small hill also boasts a tremendous viewpoint on the infinite expanse of the Llanos and the nearby Rio Meta with a gorgeous sunset to top it off.  Even with the heat and humidity, we huddled together and enjoyed the moment.

As darkness set on the region, we decided that it’s about time to find a place to lay our head for the night and we were in luck; a few kilometer after the Alto, there was a beautiful finca-hotel with a pool set within a large swath of land including a couple of lakes where we could kayak. And what is the first thing we did? Hope in the pool! A perfect end to our day: A bottle of rum, some appetizers, good music and we stayed until 23:00 cooling off and having fun in our small paradise.

The next morning, we headed to explore the finca’s surrounding area especially the lake.  It was a serene environment, a swath of water surrounded by marshes teaming with birds. Adriana and I hoped on the kayak and ventured through the marshes and we were rewarded by seeing up-close and personal a proud and gorgeous chestnut eagle (and hearing its astounding scream), some martin-pescadores, cormorants and many other multicolor birds including ones which are bright orange, almost fluorescent!  We also saw a few babillos, i.e. little crocodiles, which were enough for Adriana to mandate that we head back :). Well, the hotel pool was safer, no babillos here, however we were joined by a couple of huge iguana sunbathing on the ledge.   We bummed around the pool until 15:00, relishing every moment we had together until our stomachs started screaming for some asado and we reluctantly headed back to Villavicienco for lunch before driving back up the mountain to cold and rainy Bogota.

I knew that on my trip’s last leg it will be hard to say goodbye but it was especially arduous and emotional to do so now and leave Adriana. We met for breakfast in the Zona Rosa and spent most of the morning chatting away, not wanting to leave. But you can’t escape reality: some have to go to work and some had to keep living their adventure. However, we were sure that somehow, someday, somewhere we will meet again; hey it happened before, it will happen again.

My next stop was Pereira to see Alvaro, Cesar and J.E. as well as Joana, Carlos, Raul,… and what a great feeling it was to just pop up and say “Hola”! (Kilometer 43,147; Pereira, 4-Apr-11 @ 17:20). Everyone was so surprised to see me show up; no one really expected me to actually do the detour and visit them again.  But here I was and I spent the evening chatting & laughing with my “parceros” and only checked in into my hotel late at night.  I wanted to stay another day here but time was running out on my visa and needed to move on.  The morning I dropped by again to see Alvaro & the boys and only hit the road just shy of noon time. It had rained all morning and the sky was still grey and menacing but the rain was holding off.  As I was riding south I could see to my left (East) the big black cloud that dumped its payload on us in the morning and to my right (West) another depression, a huge & tall black cloud carrying with it round number 2. As for me, I was riding in between these 2 fronts with white clouds above me, revealing from time to time the blue sky above from where the sun would pierce through to warm me up. Sometime the road curved far enough for me to touch the rain falling from either one of these fronts but only for a few minutes before I returned to my middle path. It was an astonishing ride, almost miraculous, as if someone out there was watching over me. My sun was by my side and I felt happy and at peace riding under my natural cover. And it lasted for the whole ride! Well, almost. I probably “abused” my luck, stopping for a drink here, a few pictures there,… until I guess whoever was clearing my way felt exasperated and 15min before I reached EL Bordo, these 2 fronts of black clouds started swirling and in minutes they touched and the heavens opened up on me. I barely could see anything in front of me: I switched my high beam, turned on my 4-ways and kept riding up to reaching Jana’s hostel where I drove my bike right inside the covered patio-dining area (Kilometer 43,587; El Bordo, 5-Apr-11 @ 18:15).  You should have seen the look on everyone’s face as if saying: “What the heck?!” but as soon as I removed my helmet, the smiles shone while hugs and handshakes welcomed me. Word spread fast and in a few minutes, Elvio and others showed up to meet me. Jana and Karen offered me a warm soup and a delicious Bandeja Paisa was served for dinner. Same as everywhere, we spent the evening catching up; everyone wanted to know where my adventures took me and if I had any update from Dan (he was in Quito for the past 3 weeks).  I even tried to Skype Dan, hopping he could answer the deluge of questions being thrown on me about him.

It’s so hard leaving El Bordo and now I understand what Dan meant. The people here are so friendly, so inviting and very persistent, you just can’t leave. So I just gave in and settled down comfortably for a day of rest, sharing my time mainly between Karen and Elvio+family. Even by Thursday morning when I was adamant I had to leave, I couldn’t do so until late morning as I had to allocate enough time to chat yet again with everyone before saying my goodbyes. At least I didn’t have a long road today: I was heading to Sibundoy, a small native village south-east from here.  I still wanted to allow myself enough time to get there for several reason: 1) I am leaving Cauca and entering Putumayo and both these area are dodgy to say the least, definitely need to be in a village by late afternoon; 2) I will be passing by Laguna de La Cocha which is rated as spectacular by both the locals and my guide book and 3) I will be hitting gravel/dirt road and with the rain we’ve been getting, I expected it to be a tough, muddy and slippery ride. Well the Laguna is definitely impressive, set in the middle of a cloud forest giving it a fairy tale look, but not enough to justify lingering more than ½ hour around here.  The dirt road however was a great challenge and it felt rewarding tackling them on steep hills, snaking path and sharp U-turns going up and down the Andes… it’s been a while. (Kilometer 43,830; Sibundoy, 7-Apr-11 @ 14:30).

So why am I here in Sibundoy? And why did I allocate 5 days to this village? It’s not like there’s any touristic sights around here.  Well it’s a long story and I prefer putting it in a separate section. Follow the link Ceremonia del Yage to head there and learn about the Kamentsa natives and the Yage ceremony or keep on reading below about the rest of my trip.

***

As it has been for the past couple of weeks, leaving was accompanied by sadness and I rode away slowly and heavy hearted.  Today I will still stay in Colombia, at the border town of Ipiales; I was still weak from yesterday’s ceremony and I also wanted to do my last tourist visit tomorrow. I arrived before sunset, had a hot shower, a light dinner and crashed (Kilometer 43,979; Ipiales, 11-Apr-11 @ 16:50).

I woke up the following morning rejuvenated and rode to the “Santuario de Las Lajas” (Kilometer 43,987; Las Lajas, 12-Apr-11 @ 8:15) a spectacular neo-gothic church inside a gorge with a bridge spanning across the thundering river.  Las Lajas is a very important pilgrim site in Colombia since back during the 18th century the image of the Virgin Mary appeared to a child and her mother right on the rock wall of the ravine where the church now stands.

That’s it for my time in Colombia; I used up all the days allowed on my Visa, only 8 hours left before it actually expires. Out of all the countries I visited, none attracted me and called me as much as Colombia did.  Even with all the political and security problems this country faces, it is still on a fast track of development. Excellent universities and hard working people with lots of determination, passion and the will to succeed make Colombia a prime place to settle down. Not to mention my sun shines in Bogota.

Back home in Quito (Kilometer 44,268; Quito, 12-Apr-11 @ 16:00) I just took a week off, doing absolutely nothing other than catching up on my e-mails, sorting my photos and writing my stories. And the weather was even more horrendous than in Colombia: cold and rainy, very depressing and definitely not encouraging to head out. A few days later I met up again with Diego (my good friend and best mechanic), Dan (whom had the accident in El Bordo), Perrine & Jocelyn (from Guatemala + Belize), as well as all the good friends of Alisson and Barry.

However I can’t deny that deep down inside me, I was sad: the Llama Show is coming to an end.

Do I want to go on? Don’t tempt me, I would turn on the bike and head to Brazil… but I know it’s time to stop and move on to other challenges. I have been preparing myself to this eventuality for a while, got everything lined up to do the final tune-up and rejuvenate Llama for her to be attractive in front of potential buyers. Still, when the moment came to publish the for-sale add, I felt heavy. I was facing another goodbye, my hardest one yet.  The toughest part of it all is: it’s up to me to pull the trigger…

During Semana Santa Barry and I escaped rainy and cold Quito to head to the beach.  This was more a riding trip vs. a beach trip: I wanted to take the Ruta del Sol all the way north before heading back inland then south to Quito (I did the south part of Ruta del Sol back in December ‘09 when the Llama show started). It might also be my last outing with Llama and I was looking for a challenging ride through gravel roads.  However, to my great disappointment the government construction projects were in full swing and cement or asphalt roads were all what we faced. (Where the money came from to build these infrastructures and how much it cost and to whom it went is still the heated debate of corruption in this country). Regardless, although it was a beautiful and picturesque coastal route, it was boring from a riding point of view (Kilometer 45,565; Quito, 24-Apr-11 @ 18:10).

Back in Quito I rushed to clean up Llama and replace all the broken parts as 4 potential buyers were waiting to see it.  Luckily, Dan, Diego and his father all helped me and by Tuesday Llama was parading on the catwalk.  Got to tell you, even with 57,000+Km, she still looked ravishing, turning heads in the street and impressing all the guys who came to see her.  Yet none was willing to shed the money I was asking for. Diego warned me the market was very bad, he has been waiting for 6 month to sell his bike with no luck. Yet more e-mails and calls came: some were offering to exchange their car for the bike, other a piece of land with river view, another offering to give me ½ my asking price, an “oferta super seria” he added. Well super-seriously, I am not in a rush to sell and I had 1 month to see what I could fish. I didn’t have to wait long though, one of Diego’s good friends, Daniel, was interested and on Thursday, without him even looking at the bike, we found a compromise and shook hands on a deal. This is probably the best sale experience anyone can hope for, between good friends, the whole process done in honesty and trust which is even more important here in Ecuador as thieves and opportunists lurk around. I will also be giving everything away to Daniel: my riding jacket, helmet, gloves, rain suit, panniers, tank bag, all the bike’s protection gear, my tools, spare parts, the bike cover,… everything! Except the bikes’ tail-bag adorned with all my stickers; it will be the only physical souvenir that I’ll keep.

On Saturday night, I stayed home silent and pensive. The money transfer was executed and all I have to do on Monday is go to the notary to certify the purchase agreement and hand Daniel the keys. The final curtain is about to fall on The Llama Show. As I was washing my riding cloth and cleaning all the equipments I felt empty and senseless, like a robot executing his task. I sat down with a glass of wine, feeling disheartened and dejected as if I was betraying a friendship. Reality finally hit home: I was about to part away with my 17 months travel companion. Llama was my dream become reality, she accompanied me throughout my endeavors, faithfully by my side, always ready to go, plowing ahead wherever I set sail. You know that within my 17 months adventure, riding 45,804Km through snow, sand, mud, deserts, jungle, crazy hwy speeds, under diluvian rain, from -10°C to +38°C, from the beach up to 5,300m.a.s.l., she never ever complained?  A couple of times in the high & cold Bolivian altiplano she was cranky to wake up in the morning but otherwise not a single mechanical problem. Absolutely none. That says it all. As I was remembering our adventures I couldn’t hold back and tears rolled down my cheeks…

45,804 Kilometers, 493 days (17 months), 7 countries, 1 continent…

The Llama Show

Ride up!

Sami

What next now? Well you will find out soon. In the mean time, I would like to leave you with a quote from Fernando González, an early 20th century Colombian existentialist philosopher. I tried my best to translate it into English.

«Leer es un viaje, pero el mayor viaje posible es el estado onírico. Allí, bajo la corteza del sueño, podemos hacer largos recorridos, dejar que poseamos alas y llegamos a países entre lo maravilloso y lo trágico. La cama, el solo hecho de yacer, es el barco primario, nuestra primera nave posible. También sabemos que el alto riesgo fue dar nuestros primeros pasos, asumir la condición erguida, atrevernos a dejar de gatear y darle jalones al mantel para evitar caernos, toda una Odisea. Ese primer intento de dejarnos llevar por nuestros pasos podría ser el símil de nuestros primeros viajes. Después de eso, los pies andan, han caminado barriales y autopistas, han hecho posible que todo nuestro cuerpo pueda sentir el cambio profundo entre un jardín doméstico y un bosque de encinas y de árboles silvestres,….»

Fernando Gonzàlez

« Reading is a journey but the greatest possible voyage is the dream state. There, under the veil of our dream, we could embark on long trips as if we have wings, to reach faraway lands between the marvelous and the tragic. The bed, the mere fact of lying, is the primary boat, our first possible ship. One of our greatest fears was taking our first steps, to stand up, dare to stop crawling and to let go of the table cloth to prevent us from falling… what an odyssey.  This first attempt to get carried away by our footsteps could be compared to our first trip.  After that, our feet keep walking, they travelled through neighborhood and highways, they made it possible for our whole body to feel the profound change between a garden and a wild forest,…»

Photo album

La Ceremonia Del Yage

The valley of Sibundoy is home to the Inga (yes, with a “g”) and Kamentsa native people and Sibundoy itself is the outermost center to meet with a traditional Taita. Taita??? A Taita in the native language mean “father” but it is also used to refer to a Shaman, a traditional native medicine man. In Putumayo, native families still faithfully follow their culture and traditions and the Taita medicinal knowledge is passed down from generation to generation, dating back long before the Spaniards conquered these lands. I wanted to live a few days with a native family, with a Taita, experience their daily lives, learn about their culture and if I gather enough confidence in their knowledge, maybe participate in the Yage ceremony. Wait, what is “Yage”? Yage is a brew made from the sacred Ayahuasca vine and other plants, like Chaliponga and Mapacho. The Yage “remedio” (i.e. medicine) preparation is very complex and its potency and effects highly dependent on the knowledge and experience of the Taita. It is a sacred potion intended to purify body & soul and its psychedelic effect allow each person to embark on a voyage of “self discovery”.  More on that later.

Arriving to Sibundoy my original plan was to settle in a hotel before going on a quest to find my Taita.  Some “hippies”, i.e. Colombian youth & wondering backpackers as they are amicably known here, whom I met along my road, told me to look for Taita Kirwin, which means “Angel” in Inga language.  Unfortunately Taita Kirwin was in Bajo Putumayo, the deep end of the department and definitely a no go zone for me as it is an un-controlled & lawless area, bastion of the guerilla. Talking to a few older native men in the plaza they pointed me to Taita Angel-Gabriel, as did a group of young Colombians (Andres & Sebastian) and a Pais-Vasco guy (Iñaqui) which have been living with the Taita’s family for the past couple of month, learning from them, sharing their lives and offering all-around help. So I just rode my bike there and was welcomed with open arms by Taita Angel-Gabriel. He invited me to stay with them as long as I wished, helped me settle-in in a small wooden room in the back before inviting me for lunch; Mama cooked us homemade traditional food followed by chicha (not the drink, rather the corn mix) and a warm cup of panela (a sweet herbal drink). That afternoon I chatted away with my Taita trying to learn more about him and the Kamentsa culture which Taita Angel-Gabriel was so eager and proud to do. He then took me around the street and introduced me to his kids and grandkids.

Most of Taita Angel-Gabriel family lives on this same dead-end street. They all are down to earth people, living in the simplest of means but in harmony with Pachamama; Miguel-Angel is aTaita too, Jose a.k.a. Chepe like his father is a sculpture, Anna and Rosario work in artesanias making mostly bracelets, necklaces and earrings out of Chakiras,…; they all cultivate the earth, growing corn, potato and other vegetables to satisfy the essential part of their daily dietary needs and they also raise chicken & pigs. They even search for gold in the nearby stream whenever they have time. 20 or so exceptionally well raised grand-kids help their parents in and around the house while the parents and grand-parents teach them the Kamentsa way: Most of the kids speak the native language, learn to play the traditional musical instruments from a young age and participate in the ritual songs and dances (I witnessed a couple of rehearsal, absolutely amazing talent). But kids are always kids, they are very curious about me, asking a thousand questions, always wanting to show me around or taking me to the surrounding farms and of course, dragging me to play games with them in the street.

The next few days I became part of the family helping around in any way I can: cutting firewood, collecting potato and corn from the garden, preparing food for the kids, becoming intimate with their culture and traditions,… I was also growing more comfortable with Taita Angel-Gabriel, earning each other’s trust which for me was necessary if I wanted to take part in the sacred ceremony. Chepe and Taita Gabriel also gave me an introduction lesson to wood carving. A side note to all: It’s definitely impressive to witness the skills Chepe and Taita Angel-Gabriel use when sculpting; they use machete and knives to do most of the carving and the few sculpting utensils they have are more ancient rusted and dull relics then real wood sculpting tools. So here’s what we are going to do: I would like all of your help to get wood carving tools donated to us so I can bring them back to Colombia. Please ask around, ask your friends and acquaintances to see if we can get good second hand tools.  Otherwise, I guess we can also try to raise money and buy them.  I am counting on you guys! Remember, this is their daily living and these people lack money. To give you an example, when going to the market, they count each penny they spend; buying 20 bananas for a mere U$D1 is an expenditure they think twice about… yet they welcomed me as one of them, shared their home and food without asking for a penny. Of course, I bought lots of their artesania, brought home chicken, vegetable and fruits, treated the kids to the local bakery, went to the neighboring farms for milk, yogurt and cheese,… as a form of saying thank-you to all what they have done.  But buying them tools will go a long way in improving their livelihood, making them skillful and more productive. Thanks!!

I delayed my ceremony until the last possible day. I would have loved to live longer with Taita and his family but my Colombian visa was due to expire in less than 2 days and I was still a day ride away from the border. I was still cutting it very close; anything could happen on the road or worst to me. And participating the night before to the ceremony was not helping; I might have to sustain the next day effects of the Yage: it can be difficult riding if I am sick and exhausted. But things fell into place quite nicely: some called causality, I called it just a lucky consequence, but Camila, Iñaqui, Andres, Sebastian and Urdina all decided to join me for the ceremony.  That night, we decided to brave the cold and be out in the open air, closer to Pachamama and we setup our stage around a campfire behind Taita’s house.  We all met there at 20:00 and Taita Angel-Gabriel made his grand entrance dressed in his multicolored ceremonial poncho, adorned with century old necklaces made out of Puma claws, precious stones, sacred seashells and animal bones, holding a Shacapa (a bouquet of medicinal herbs) in his left hand. He was a little annoyed though: he was missing his feather crown as his son Miguel-Angel borrowed it on a visit to Bogota to participate in another ritual and he still wasn’t back.  Taita sat on his desk and started talking to us about his ancestors, their knowledge about Yage, how the “remedio” would be taken, how we should relax and let the potion take us away. He would always be by our side, watching over us, monitoring our reactions and trying to analyze our feelings; he would be there to help us and guide us during our transcending voyage.

The celebration starts with Taita playing a traditional flute followed by singing ritual songs in Kamentsa while we are relaxing and preparing ourselves body and mind. Taita then lights up a cigarette of Mapacho tobacco which smoke will protect us from any negative energy and bad spiritual influence. He then passes me a cup with the “remedio” which I take in both hands, offer my respect and prayers to this offering before saying “salud” to all and drink the potion. The others follow suit and for the next hour, while awaiting the Yage to take effect, we were invited to let loose on our journey to a higher state. We each pick up a musical instrument and a free for all jam session starts; it reaches it apogee when Camila with her beautiful voice starts singing spiritual and traditional song-tales about natives, spirits and Pachamama.

It is time now for each to reflect upon oneself and silence is requested; we all take a 2nd dose of Yage and start our purge.  Purging is an essential part of the ceremony from both body and mind perspectives: On the physical side, vomiting and diarrhea allow you to cleanse your body from parasites and bacteria.  Preparation is essential for this step; for the past 4 days I followed a strict diet based on vegetable, soup and aromaticas (no meat or fried food, go easy on the sweets). The mental purge starts with a self induced state of relaxation, of spiritual purification to clear your mind from any disturbing thoughts,… I just thought of Yasmina :). Then the Yage starts taking effect and a psychedelic feeling takes hold of me. This is not hallucination and euphoric sentiments as when taking hallucinogenic mushrooms. Quite the opposite I would say; I felt relaxed, conscious of where I am and of my thoughts, yet on a serine voyage. I was flying, riding animals or just walking during my trip of self discovery.  It felt like hidden thoughts and feelings were brought to light through my visions and while conversing with the people I met along my trip. You’ll excuse me if I leave the rest of the details to myself.  To just resume my experience and put everything into context, I think the Yage ceremony is a travel within oneself, an awakening, a glance into our own sub-consciousness. An introspective look providing hints of a path to follow or even sometime the actual answer I have been looking for or even maybe trying to hide it and/or dismiss it. They might not be the expected outcomes and perhaps sometime not the most “beautiful” conclusions, although they are definitely compelling, making me see and hopefully face my future from a different point of view. In short, we all have the answers within us, the Yage just call them out.

By 2:00AM Taita takes each one of us separately into his lab and performs a purification session, a cure to eliminate the remnant negative energy, cleansing body and soul to only be left with the positive energy gathered during the ceremony.

Next morning I felt at peace although very tired. I went to the market to buy a chicken for Mama to prepare us a “caldo de galina” and invited everyone for this goodbye lunch.  After this improvised sharing session I started loading my bike when Taita Angel-Gabriel, Mama, Chepe, Ana, Rosario,.. and most of the kids, all came out to wish me farewell.  Even if I stayed here just for a few days, it was enough to bond with the family.  The grand-kids were begging me not to leave while the parents were reminding me that they will be awaiting my return.  As for Taita, the emotions got the best of him and a few tears dropped down his cheeks to the surprise of all… even his kids were astonished at their father’s reaction.

Continue with rest of the story or go to the Photo album.

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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This Is It!

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This Is It!

Quito, 25-Dec-2009

Merry X-mas!

I am still in Quito but tomorrow I’ll start my trip early morning.  Yeah, this time it’s the “true” one… really ;).

My bike was finally ready on the 23rd, but I already decided to stay here and celebrate X-mass with Alisson, Barry and the family.  And finally Guillo will get his “wish” to sleep next to me, can call it his X-mass present : ).  But man, this kid didn’t stop tumbling and kicking the whole night and then at 6:30 he woke me up to go play with his new toys… actually he told me he’ll let me sleep a little bit before he woke me up.  Ain’t he sweet?  AnywayZ, I was like a Zombie the whole day.

The other reason for me to stay here is Raul, one of my first Ecuadorian ridding buddies, invited me to his wedding.  It’s tomorrow (Sat 26-Dec) in Bahía de Caráquez, a small village on the coast.  It’s a 7 hours or so trip from Quito and I need to be there early afternoon to find a hotel, rent my suit and be ready to party.  Sounds like fun :).

I am packed and ready to jump into this adventure.  My baby too is ready.  Check the pictures below on the work we did on the bike.  Sweet no?  And the crash bars really work: Right when we finished installing everything, the bike fell on its side (uh-hmmm…did I mention I was on it? 😦 ).  Call it a baptism of fire, but hey not a single scratch on my bike :).  As for my journey, the only thing for sure now is my whole trip route has changed and I decided to just go with the flow and figure it out a day at a time.  We’ll see how it works out.

Ride up!

Sami

Photo Album

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