Monday, August 29, 2011

Northern Hemisphere Recap and on to Quito

The southern hemisphere!
Here we are at the biggest milestone of the trip, and we haven't given any sort of stats so far, sorry! Here are a few:

Total miles traveled since Lawrence: 9,420
Fuel consumed (approx.): 224 gallons
Days since leaving: 129 (including 25 back in Kansas)
Days on the road: 104
Average miles per day on the road 90.6
Longest riding day: 510 miles (on day one!)
Shortest ridng day: 12 miles (Veracruz to Boca del Rio, Mexico)
Put bike on a boat: 5 times

The Tampico PD, on the same bike as we have. Even this picture couldn't get us out of the "ticket" and "fine" from the next police, half a block later. Our crime: riding in the left lane.
Border crossings: 10
Searches: 4 (all on the first day in Mexico)
Traffic stops: 2 (both on one day in Tampico, Mexico)
Bribes paid: 3 (one to cops in Tampico, two at the El Salvador/Honduras border)
Money lost in bribes: $60USD

Not a breakdown, just $1500 worth of maintenance...
Breakdowns: 0 (thank you very much)
Oil changes: 3
Flat tires: 1 (in Nicaragua, easily repaired)

Beware of dog (getting caught in your wheels)
Stray dogs nearly run over: 200+ (seriously)
Stray dogs actually run over: 0 (somehow)
Tip overs: 3 (all while standing still, no injuries, very minor damage)

There's everything I could come up with off the top of my head, please comment or ask on Facebook if there are any other stats you would like to see!

We spent the night a few yards into the southern hemisphere, and first thing next morning headed into Quito. As the pilot on this trip, entering big cities is my least favorite part of the trip. Actually, I hate it. No matter how beautiful the roads are, how nice the weather is, and how straightforword the directions are, once you hit the city it always proves to be a hot, stressful two hour ordeal. Funny what you complain about after being on vacation for four months...

My glow-in-the-dark helmet in a tunnel on the outskirts of Quito
We were looking for the Marsical Sucre neighborhood, and after the obligatory two hours of wandering we found it! One of our major goals in Quito was finding relpalcement tires. On the way into town we say a V-Strom 650 with "Freedom Motorcycle Rentals" stickers all over it, and the Freedom shop turned out to be a few blocks from our hostel. So, we had a connection for motorcycle parts, but first things first...
Kim and Anna, the ever-present Kiwis, had beat us to Quito, and we went out for a reunion party! We've been meeting up with these girls since Flores, Guatemala, and that requires a toast!
We wandered around the very cool Mariscal neighborhood, and stumbled upon the absolute coolest bar that any of us had ever seen. We only had our third tier camera, but this is sort of what it looked like:

All of those photos are from ONE BAR. As I mentioned, none of us had ever seen a bar like this, anywhere, so it was a great introduction to a new city. After that we went to a salsa club, which was far too dark for photography. Kim educated the locals with her truly amazing dancing skills until three or so, and then we all headed home.
The next days the girls headed for the Galapagos islands, and we spent the day hanging around our hostel. Much to our surprise, there was a rather large hail storm that afternoon, 30 miles from the equator, in the middle of August.

I'm glad that the weather is not weird, or people might think we shouldn't burn every possible thing we can dig up.

$8 worth of really, really good Indian food.
When we finally got around to the Freedom bike shop, Court, the owner, was more than ready to help with our tire search. He handed us some half-helmets, and told us to jump on a scooter and follow him. What followed was a mad dash through the midday Quito traffic. Going from a 100 horsepower motorcycle to a 12 horsepower scooter was quite a change, and it was funny to give the bike full throttle at every stop light and barely pull away from buses. We visited four or five shops before realizing that the specific tire we were looking for did not exist in Quito. Not only that, thanks to the 90% import tax, even the tires we didn't want were twice as much as usual. Here's a visual on why we didn't settle for what was there:
The street only, double price tires available

The rugged, dual purpose tires we need
 Even though we were unsuccessful in our tire search we had a great time with the guys at Freedom Bikes and were able to see the city in a way we wouldn't have otherwise.  Our friends Anna and Kim recommended that we visit the Secret Garden Hostel at Cotopaxi (where a 19,000+ foot volcano is located) so the next day we packed up and headed out.

Attention! The Toilet Now Flushes In The Opposite Direction

It was hard to say goodbye to this man!
After reluctantly leaving beautiful Valle de Cocora (and saying goodbye to our new buddy, the yellow lab we made friends with their,) we headed off for Popayan as we made our way closer to the border.   After spending the night there (not much to report) our goal was to get to Pasto the next day.  After a beautiful drive on windy mountain roads we came up to a town where a big Supermoto race was just finishing up.  Ty knew what it was right away and was disappointed that we had missed it; we did get to see one of the bikes used in the race though.  Traffic was crazy and as we kept inching down the road we noticed two Colombian guys on motorcycles in a parking lot.  One of the guys was riding a BMW GS 800 and the other guy was on a KTM 990 (Ty's dream bike) so we pulled over to chat with them.  We found out that they both lived in Pasto and had driven up for the race.  They were super nice and asked if we wanted to follow them back into town.  Traffic was bad, so when we finally got into town it was close to dark.  The guys, Jaime and Javier, helped us find a hotel and even took us out to dinner that night...What a great welcome to Pasto!
The guys pose for a picture amidst the chaos
The next morning we headed off for the border town of Ipiales, but planned to stop at Laguna de la Cocha on the way.  The lake was very beautiful despite the fact that it was quite cold outside!  When it started to rain we decided to stop in a nice little restaurant on the lake for some coffee and crema de trucha (an awesome soup made with fresh trout.)  I swear we saw snow flakes outside!

Warming up with a cup of coffee...

Ty and I by the lake
We made it to Ipiales that evening, but not much to report here either; it was just another border town.  I did manage to pick up a new pair of hiking boots in Ipiales, which, despite the financial hurt of the purchase, have been an absolute lifesaver.  No more cold, wet feet which makes all the difference in the world on the bike!  On the way out of Ipiales the next morning right before we reached the border, we drove by El Santuario de las Lajas, a beautiful gothic church that has a giant bridge spanning over a river and gorge that leads up to it.  We wanted to go in, but couldn't leave the bike all packed up in the parking lot.  We were afraid these guys would steal something off of it...

Never trust a llama in disguise... :)
El Santuario de las Lajas
After crossing the most legitamite, well-organized border of the trip (what a difference a continent makes!) we headed in the general direction of Quito, not exactly sure where we wanted to end up for the night.  It was a beautiful drive through mountains and valleys for several hours.  As we came around a curve in the road, I saw a tiny sign out of the corner of my eye mentioning something about the equator; Turns out, we were there!

The GPS proved it!
 We turned around and finally noticed the monument that had been built for visitors to check out.  A really nice girl (who also spoke perfect English) was waiting at the entrance of the monument to give an explanation of the significance of the landmark and why Ecuadorians say it is the center of the world.  It was a very important moment for both of us since neither of us have ever been to the Southern Hemisphere...New half of the planet here we come!

We made it to the Southern Hemisphere!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Soldiers, horses and 180 foot tall palm trees - Salento Colombia

As always our main intention was to go south, but, as always, Jill found us an amazing place to visit along the way.  Salento is a small town about 12 miles off of the main road between Manizales and Armenia, and is part of a tourist route called the "Coffee Highway." The entire route was beautiful, but the final stretch into Salento was amazing.

We ended up staying a few miles past Salento, in a campground on the edge of a national park. It happened that during our visit, the soldiers who patrol the national park were passing through the area, and would be sharing the campground with us for the night. We attempted to chat with them in Spanish, but didn't get very far - Colombian Spanish is faster than what we're used to in Central America, and the guy who I was talking to explained to me that Colombia is a confusing place for language, as there many local variations in vocabulary. For example, a drinking glass is called at least three different names in different parts of Colombia, so the fact that I know it only as "vaso" has made my progress in learning to get around pretty slow. We thanked them for the Spanish tips, said  goodbye, ready to set up our camp. The altitude was between 8-9,000 feet, so it would be a nice, 50 degree night to bundle up in our sleeping bags - which was a nice change from the hot, sweaty camping in Belize. Before we could turn in on a cold night we needed a nice hot meal, so we went to the campground restaurant and Jill tried the local freshwater trout, which was very good, and I had an amazing steak.

The next morning Jill talked me into going horseback riding, which, as most of you probably know, is not really my scene. The horses looked well fed and healthy, so it was a better opportunity to do some riding than many stables we've seen along the way. It's hard to get used to being up high and tilting back and forth constantly, and I can report with confidence that after two hours in the saddle it's still not my scene. Anyway, we had a great time, and got to see the countryside and jungle via a 200 year old trail.
The waterfall we visited along our ride
After  two hours of beautiful riding we headed back to the stable and ate lunch. We spent the afternoon riding around the area, and went for a walk in the national park at dusk. Along the way we made a new friend - a yellow lab who became our tour guide for the evening.
Jill making some sandwiches for dinner at the campsite

The horses from the stable turning out for the night...pretty nice digs!

The surreal landscape at dusk
We turned in for another cozy night in the tent, in awe of the beauty of this place.  Our new perro friend slept right outside the tent up against Jill's door for the entire night.  Our time in Salento was one of the highlights, if not the highlight of the trip so far, and had both of us wondering what else awaited us on this continent.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Medellin, pronounced May-day-JYIN! (and points south)

We peeled ourselves away from San Gil, westbound for Medellin, of Pablo Escobar legend. Once again our map was deceiving, and the two inches between San Gil and Medellin represented two days of riding. Luckily it was two beautiful days of riding, and it was punctuated by a night here:

Party time!

Room with hot tub, stocked fridge, king size bed and locked garage for $22 a night
These hotels are intended for...parties? If you don't know I won't say.
So, in apology, these roadside hotels are pretty common, always have secure bike parking, and are usually pretty cheap. We were the only guests in the ten room hotel, and we slept like rocks in the A/C after a long day on the Colombian highway. We woke up the next day, and rode through this to Medellin:

Most of the day was spent weaving through pastures of the greeniest-green that I've ever seen; it was like riding through the Lorax's neighborhood before the Once-ler came onto the scene.  But eventually we came back to reality, and found ourselves in the mid-day traffic of Medellin.

Once-lers by the busload
After inadvertently touring most of the city, we finally found our way to the hostel where our friends Anna and Kim were staying. They thought we were high in the mountains of El Cucoy with Charlie and Andy, so you can imagine the look on their faces when we showed up!

They were "keen" to take a gondola ride to the top of the city, and we were "keen" to go along. Check it out:
Anna and Kim + assorted ponytailed and un-ponytailed foreign men.

You should have been there!

Foggy camera blues...

Crazy reflections in the gondola station. An important difference between a camera and an eye is the ability of the eye to percieve depth and differentiate between fields. Cameras make one flat jumble that your eye can't sort back out...
It was an incredible view, and my camera did it's best, but after 10,000 plus photos, 20 plus drops, a few moist incidents...well, like it or not, it was time for it to retire. We headed to the mall, shopped around a bunch, and dropped a bunch of money we don't have on a new Sony Cybershot. It's almost the same as the old one, but it can do this!
A trippy, panoramic teaser from a future post! In the framework of this narrative this hasn't happened yet!
So, unwanted cash disposed of, friends dispached to Bogota, we had little left to do but continue south ourselves. We could never have know what sort of animal husbandry and Dr.Suess references awaited us at our next destination, Salento, Colombia...

Colombia Dry Roast

 First off, here's a new youtube video of our V-Strom being loaded onto the Stahlratte for our voyage to Colombia. It's fun to watch now, but it was a bit unnerving at the time. Here's the link:
Loading the V-Strom!
Unloading the bikes!
Cartegena Fort
 Once on dry land, we were all primed and ready to go for a ride on a new continent...after a three day wait on customs. Somehow the fact that we had arrived on a Saturday, and would not be able to do the entry paperwork until the following Monday, had not been made known to us until an hour before we arrived in Cartegena. Whoops!

With a few days to kill, we set out to explore the city. Cartegena was as "charming" and "colonial" as Lonely Planet had promised. It was also around 95 degrees and humid. Unfortunately we had visited somewhere around 10,000 humid "charming colonial cities" in Central America, so we were actually just ready to get on the bike and head into the mountains. The customs work started at 8 am Monday, and ended at 5:45, making it the longest border crossing of the trip by several hours. Oh well.
Cartegena street corner
The next morning we headed east and then south, bound for San Gil. Tom and Alex had bike work to take care of, so we left with Charlie and Andy and made plans to meet up in a few days. It took us three days to get to San Gil, which is still technically in "northern" Colombia. It was much cooler though, thanks to the 8,000 foot elevation.

Sunset over the Colombian Andes

Charlie and Andy on the road to San Gil

A tiny bit of the massive canyon on the road to San Gil
 Here's a video clip of that ride, it was beautiful, and only moderately terrifying. Luckily there were no guardrails to obstruct the view!
Chicamocha Canyon, Colombia

San Gil from the hilltop

The streets of San Gil - not a good place to ride a motorcycle in the rain!
We got settled into a nice hotel in San Gil, and then went for a walk around town. There is a Mother Mary statue on top of the hill that overlooks the city, so we made the hike up and got a great view of the entire valley. The next day we went out to visit a nearby waterfall, and went for a very brief swim in the pool at the bottom.
The very bottom of the waterfall
On the hike up Charlie pointed out some crazy plants, the likes of which Jill and I had never seen. Are you familiar with the Mimosa plant? Neat stuff, check out the video:

Mimosa plant

Somehow we spent four days just hanging around San Gil, and finally we decided that it was time to move on. Charlie and Andy wanted to head up to El Cucoy National Park to do a few days of hiking, but after a review of the finances we realized that going 150 miles the wrong way and spending another four days hanging around one place probably wasn't the best idea, so we parted ways and headed for Medellin.